Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ragnar Trail Zion: Adventurous Attitude Needed

Let me preface this entire post by saying I am was not a trail runner prior to heading to Southern Utah for Ragnar Trail Zion.  I had great looking trail shoes {because that's what's important, right!?}, but zero trail experience....

I'm guessing Megan wasn't aware that the last item on the packing list she sent out, an adventurous attitude, would be perhaps the most important and widely used item on the list.

Wind, rain, snow oh my...

Upon arriving in Utah, it's safe to say that Ross and Ned truly saved the day, providing Bry and I with all of the camping necessities from duffle bags to sleeping bags to camping toilet paper.  It if weren't for them, I would've shown up to camp like one of those girls, with my Vera Bradley duffle bag, etc. In my defense I knew they would be providing us with a bunch of the camping necessities, as its hard to pack everything in a carry-on when flying, but they went above and beyond...

...as evident by our camping set-up. 

5-Star, Saudi Arabia style accommodations

I love running, and I especially love relays! There are so many reasons why, but perhaps the most important is the friendships I have been blessed with through these crazy adventures.

I was so excited to be relaynited with Bry.

We arrived at camp, set up our tent right along the start of the yellow loop & near the fire pit, and started taking in the sites and scenes of Ragnar Trail, as we had over 3 hours until our start time.  I played the role of course commentator, noting everything from the wide array of running attire {everything from bootylicious shorts to denim daisy dukes}, the speed of the runners {for some reason people took off like a bat out of hell; pardon the language, but I can't think of a better way to describe it}, and the vast amount of injuries.  It was like the walking wounded...people being carried by their teammates with ace bandages AND braces on their ankles, knee wraps, oh and yes, a girl running with her arm in a sling! And THIS my friends is why I absolutely LOVE relays...everything goes!

As our start time approached, we braved the high speed wind gusts and headed over for our safety briefing and the ins & outs of how this trail relay stuff works! Once again, I was beyond impressed with the organization of the event.  It was almost time to start, and I would be runner #6, running the longest leg first, and then getting easier from there.  When Bry went to pick her legs I asked her to just put me down for one of them, I really didn't have a preference.  She picked runner #6 for me, with the longest leg first {in theory I would run it during daylight}, and then my distances would decrease with each run, and I would run the "haunted" leg during daylight the following day.  She truly was looking out for my best interest...

3:30 pm....Finally GO TIME

Rira led us off, followed by Catey and bambino, and then Megan.  They all rocked their legs. Everything was going well, and as seen by the pictures it was shorts and tank top weather...

Team NUUN showed up on the TV screen, meaning Bry was .2 miles out and then I was up. Into the exchange I went,  heading out for my run around 7:40pm, with really no clue what I was getting myself into.  Side note...I had way too much stuff to deal with at the exchange: handheld water bottle {while they had water along the course, it was a cupless event}, knuckle lights, spibelt, slap bracelet and the race belt with bib {everyone on the team wears the same belt/bib with a timing chip}. 

Once again, notice the outfit.

I finally got all of my stuff situated and was off.  The first 4 miles or so were great, I got into a groove and was really enjoying it.  I was surprised by the fact that I was basically running in sand, as if I was at the beach, but I felt great, including my breathing. I wasn't sure what to expect at 7,000 ft., especially since my allergies had been giving me trouble leading up to the relay.  

8:30pm hits, the sun goes down, and now its a whole new ballgame.  

My pace drastically slowed because I couldn't see, kept tripping, and was struggling with my footing. Several times I did the whole trip, flail my arms in hopes of catching my balance and not falling, and then hope no one saw me.  This went on for about 4 miles...I didn't fall, but my calves were killing me from the sand followed by the extremely uneven surface...it was almost like running on a washed out trail/utility road, with both sides slanting in, making it impossible to find any level surface to run on. But that's trail running, right!? Surprisingly,  I wasn't scared running at night, and finished the 8.2 miles with a smile on my face, ready for the next run.

Nighttime hours were upon us and we headed to the house where Ned's neighbor and his team were staying! Let me just say, this was a lifesaver.  We had some food, changed, and then curled up on the couch for a couple hours of sleep.  Around 2am we headed back to camp, surprised by the fact that the forecasted rain hadn't started.  We still had some time before it was Bry's turn to run, everyone was tucked away in their tents, so we curled up in our sleeping bags, just in time for the rain to show up.  It quickly went from a sprinkle to a downpour...

Bry headed out on her run, and Sean came to drop off her jacket and said it was like a mud skating rink out there; he fell 5 times! Umm...what!?!?

Well, now it's my turn.

My prior commentating of the yellow loop runners might've came back to bite me in the booty! I couldn't even get out of the campsite without slipping, flailing my arms, and falling.  After making my way through the camp ground I headed out on the trail, only to find people slipping & sliding, going into the splits, and hanging onto tree branches for dear life! About 2/3 of a mile in, after debating with myself for a while, I decided this was crazy and started heading back towards camp.  I passed two of the people I passed on the way out and let them know I was heading back and they were welcome to join me.  The guy contemplated it for a while, but decided to continue on as he didn't want to let his team down. I then ran into a lady who didn't want to go back, but appeared a little nervous about the entire situation so I said I would go with her and we would stay together.  The snow rolled in, people had branches they were using for walking sticks, our shoes had a couple inches of mud caked on them, volunteers were wrapping cold runners in mylar blankets, and 2 hours later we made our way into camp and towards the exchange.  As we ran by Alicia's camp her friends ran out, relieved to finally see her, and said something like, "F this, just come to camp, we're done!" With less than .2 miles to go, I grabbed her arm and said, "No way!! We have ran the entire way together and are SO CLOSE, we are going to finish!" And finish we did, and Alicia successfully completed all 3 loops.


I came into the exchange to see Sophia bundled up, fully clothed, with no intention of heading out on her 8 mile run; I was so relieved because the conditions were quite treacherous. The exchange was filled with bibs that teams had already turned in as they were pulling from the event.  We decided to have a team meeting in which we would discuss continuing, and at about the same time as we decided we were done, the race was called. 

Bry, Ned and I loaded up the car {which was conveniently close by as it was parked illegally in the drop-off/loading zone} as quick as we could, peeled out of there, and headed straight for a warm shower.  I was seriously so cold, that I jumped in Ned's car while they loaded the last of the stuff up and didn't even say goodbye to everyone; I felt horrible. 

Sometimes you just have to laugh, smile, and enjoy the memories being created.

A fire has never been more amazing.

This called for a team picture! {I was so thankful for the oversized jacket courtesy of Ross!}

I was beyond impressed with how the Ragnar staff handled the situation...quick to react and really looking at the best interest of the event and everyone involved.  Ironically enough, the girl with the least trail experience, ME, ended up running the most miles, but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything! Memories were created that will last a lifetime and I think it's safe to say we all left with a smile.  While our time was cut short and I can't say that I fell in love with trail running, I will always remember the fun facts my teammates shared about themselves and be grateful that I was able to share this experience with each of them.

Sophia said it best, we reached our hardcore limit 

Bry, Ned and I ended the day having dinner with Vieve, laughing about our adventures and reminiscing about past #highNUUN experiences. The perfect end to the perfect storm.  

Will I run a Ragnar Trail Relay again!? I sure hope so! Will I run a trail race anytime soon!? I am signing up for a 10 mile trail run at the end of the month...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pear Blossom '14: Some Things I Just Can't Explain

Some things you just cant explain...
  •  Why is grass green?
  • Why is the sky blue?
  • Why do people close their eyes when they sneeze?
  • Why are yawns contagious?
  • Why do I run the worst race of the year every Pear Blossom?
James & Makenna ready to rock the Mayor's Cup Mile 

I went into this years Pear Blossom with a this is the year, can do attitude, determined to finally bring home a course PR.  Everything was perfectly lined up for that to happen...my training has been solid {comfortably hitting paces that used to be hard}, I was well rested & hydrated, felt mentally prepared, and the weather was ideal.  I started the race with two great friends and running partners, inspired by motivating & encouraging text messages, confident that this was the year.  My goal for the race, and what is key for a PR, especially on this course, was to negative split.  Well that didnt happen.  We went out faster than I had planned, but I also told myself, YOU CAN DO THIS! I backed off a little, but not much, hitting the half way mark averaging 8:24s.  Evidently, too fast! Things went downhill from there! I was struggling breathing, not sure if it was a result of my flared up allergies, being tired, the heat, or a combination of everything, and my legs seriously had NOTHING in the tank.  When I turned onto Main St, with 3 ½ miles to go, my goal of kicking it in {like I had successfully done during my two course trial runs} quickly turned into just finish! I even took a couple walk breaks {Yes, I said, it I WALKED} in hopes of regrouping and finishing strong.  Lets just say it took everything in me {physically and mentally} to finish AND to not completely lose it.  To say I was disappointed:

noun: The feeling of dissatisfaction that follows the failure of expectations

would be an understatement.

This year was supposed to be different! I was supposed to finish with a smile and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and joy as I ran the race I KNOW I am capable of running.  Not a slow-struggfest- you wouldn’t even know that I have been training race.  For me, the race was SLOW!!!  I am not going to share my finish time, not because I am embarrassed or ashamed by it, but because I want to be sensitive to everyone reading this as they might consider my pace fast.  Pace is SO relative and one persons fast may be another persons slow, and vice versa; its important to focus on your own goals and improvements, without comparing to others.  Feel free to look it up if you feel so inclined. 

More things I cant explain:

  • Why did I run the course twice during training significantly faster than I did on race day?
  • Why do I constantly train faster that I race {by 30-45sec/mile}?
  • Why can I run a ½ marathon, with 3 potty breaks AND a 15K with a gnarly climb and a bathroom break, faster than I raced the Pear Blossom?

I dont have all the answers.

What made this day and race still enjoyable was celebrating others victories, and the support, love and encouragement from friends & family.  My friend Sarah crushed her first Pear Blossom, exactly a year after deciding to take up running! She ran the 5K last year and immediately emailed me about running a half marathon just 5 weeks later.  She did it, and has been cruising & inspiring ever since.  Another friend had a goal of breaking 2 hours, and it brought me so much joy to see her cross the finish line in 1:55 with a huge grin on her face.  Words like youve got speed hiding in you, the message you send/represent is so much MORE that the results, keep your chin up, and You are an athlete and awesome runner; todays run doesn't define you” along with the cheers and hugs from family and friends at the finish line,  made running the Pear Blossom another year worth it.

Today I cry tears of disappointment, but tomorrow I will lace up my shoes with joy, determination, and confidence, as I continue to do what I love and focus on what I know I am capable of...running fast.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Relayniacs Talking ULTRAs

When a team decides to take on the challenge of running a relay as an ULTRA team {6 runners instead of 12}, the first question they contemplate is whether to run the relay with each person running 3 longer legs {2 legs back-to-back} or 6 shorter legs {running every 6 legs}.  With more and more teams being up for the challenge of going ULTRA, and the question being brought up more frequently, I decided to recruit some other relayniacs to provide input, from their personal experience, on how to go about running an ULTRA relay.  

Lauren, who I have had the privilege of relaying with twice, joined 5 other bada$$ women last summer and took on Ragnar Northwest Passage for her first ULTRA relay! I think Leslie, who has run on 3 ULTRA teams, just might love relays as much as I do {which I didn't think was even possible!} I have my work cut out for me, as both of these ladies prefer {and think its the best way to go} running 3 longer legs, where I, hands-down, think running 6 legs is the only way to go! 

Here is my story...
A little over a year ago, NUUN was putting together teams of ambassadors for several of the Ragnar Relay events.  After scheming with Meghan, in hopes that we would be able to run another relay together, we along with 2 other ambassadors, selected Ragnar Wasatch Back as our first choice.  When an email started circulating with the question, "Should we run this as an ULTRA team!?" I knew it was ON! All 4 of us quickly agreed, recruited 2 other runners, and then started asking people who we knew had run on an UTLRA team if they preferred 3 vs 6 legs, and the majority of people said 3...cue major freak out! What had I agreed to??  I reached out to the girls of Team Sparkle, as I knew that they had not only run Ragnar SoCal as an ULTRA team, but also won; they preferred 6 shorter legs. While getting advice from others, Meghan did what she does best, organized the data.  Within minutes of us agreeing to run it as an ULTRA team {no lie} she created a google doc that compared the legs {difficulty & distance} for running it both ways. At this point I am REALLY freaking out, as I see that several runners would have to run legs longer that a half marathon. Umm, what!?! "Don't mind me, my second leg is going to be 16 miles!" For us, the deciding factor was that one runner would have a 19 mile leg, and another would have some astronomical amount of climbing.  At that point we unanimously decided to run 6 shorter legs...cue sigh of relief! 

For me, it was and is still SO much easier to wrap my mind around {approximately} 6 10Ks rather than 3 half marathons.  In addition, in terms of time {if that's important to your team} you can run the shorter distances significantly faster than the longer ones.  With anything that's challenging, it is so much more manageable to break it down into smaller segments, and focus on one segment at a time.  From my experience, I can't comprehend setting out on a 12 mile run after already running over 20 miles within the last 15 hours or so.  With that being said, I can see where it would be beneficial to map out the legs and possibly run a few back to back.  For example, some of the legs are only 3 miles, so it might be beneficial for one runner to take on two back-to-back shorter  legs, potentially distributing the miles more evenly amongst the runners.  

Two arguments for running 3 longer legs are rest and fuel. Well, I hate to break it to you, but sleep is minimal during any relay and fueling is always an obstacle to overcome.  No matter how you decide to break up the legs you still {hopefully} stop and cheer on your runner during their leg and at the exchanges; therefore, unfortunately, there is no "off" van that is able to go park somewhere, allowing the runners to get rest.  The van is constantly stopping and going, runners are constantly climbing in and out, and everyone is constantly cheering and cowbelling.  Every relay has a few no support legs, some more than others, allowing the van to head straight to the next exchange, providing the runners an opportunity catch a few ZZZZZZs.  

Regarding fueling, with an ULTRA relay you are constantly on the go and don't have much spare time to stop, so you need to be prepared with everything you need in the van.  Of course, there is always time for a quick stop at a gas station for extra salty potato chips {its crazy the things you eat during a relay}.  While the window of opportunity is smaller when running an ULTRA relay, it is crucial to fuel in between runs, with lighter, high protein snacks being ideal.  When on a 12-man team, its fun to stop and eat during your off time, but not only do you not have the time, a large meal would NOT sit well in the stomach of an ULTRA runner {and usually doesn't for any relayer...can we say #codebrown}.

Regardless of how you breakdown the relay, I highly recommend only one van/vehicle! The team camaraderie is perhaps the best, most enjoyable part of any relay.  And with only 6 runners, the team bond that forms is truly like no other.  I also, highly, highly, HIGHLY recommend a driver. Running on an ULTRA team is exhausting, and its nice to have one less thing to worry about! In addition to making things go more smoothly and efficiently, the driver has just as much fun, if not more, and almost instantly becomes a valuable, irreplaceable part of the team.  

Find a driver, break the relay down into manageable segments, recruit 5 FUN running friends, and conquer a relay as part of a winning {I couldn't resist!} ULTRA team.  

Now for the reasons supporting 3 longer legs...

Leslie, a 3-peat ULTRA relayer prefers 3 legs,  primarily due to the fact that she only has to pack 3 different outfits.  Simplicity at its finest.  The added rest in between legs and an opportunity to eat a real meal are an added bonus.  Read about her love for endurance running and relaying here! While you're visiting her blog, make sure to check out her Ironman Canada training...such an inspiration! 

Lauren had so much fun running on an ULTRA team that she's doing it again this year!  Touché, she throws out the #badass card when discussing why she prefers 3 longer legs; read more here

If you are even thinking about running a relay as an ULTRA team..do it!!! It's an amazing experience.  And no matter how you decide to break up the miles, its the runners who truly make the entire relay experience one to remember! 

All this relay talk is giving me relay fever! Good thing I am running a relay in a few weeks....