Elk Double: Not bad for a chick with asthma from sea level

IMG_0116The Elk Double is Vacation Races Rocky Mountain Challenge race.  It consists of a 5k on Friday night followed by a half marathon on Saturday.  For a total of 16.3 miles.  Now, I routinely run these distances.  However, one tiny tiny detail, I don’t run at 7600′.  The entire game plan? Survival.  Not speed.  Not time.  Survival.  Quite the change for this competitive (against myself) girl.  I like pushing myself against myself.  However, this time, I had to just sit back and enjoy the experience.  Besides, this is all just training for #ECSUT.

Friday night was strangely humid.  Overall if I had to use two word to describe the 5k: complete cluster.  Lack of communication followed by miscommunication made even starting the race a disaster.   The 5k follows the path around Estes Lake which is paved with concrete.  My poor knees were not happy at all.  Ultimately, finished in around 40 minutes.  Not great, not horrible.  Two highlights? First, there was a wedding that was taking their pictures up against the shore line…yeah I photo bombed them.  Second, an ENTIRE TABLE of piles and piles of Picky Bars.  OH MY!

Saturday morning came super early (0330). I had already packed my hydration the night before with Tailwind and stuck it in the fridge. I also packed a couple of Picky Bars and Stingers just in case.  (My motto; Better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them.)  I made my standard pre-race shake (Vega, fruit, squash, and chia) to keep my stomach happy. Even though I wasn’t hungry at 0330 I knew I had to eat.

FullSizeRender 2The start of the half was much more organized than the 5k.  Vacation Races started right at 0600 as they said they would.  While 0600 is super early I’m incredibly grateful for it.  The temperatures were cooler and the sun wasn’t quite high enough in the sky to be baking on my skin.  The course itself  was a beautiful, albeit challenging one.  The elevation profile doesn’t lie that’s for sure.  It was extremely easy to discern the locals from those that had traveled in from sea level.  The locals were galloping down the course with ease.  The rest of us were just happy to be breathing!

The course itself was hard to access by spectators.  Occasionally IMG_0140we would hit a pocket or two of random supporters.  They were most welcomed.  While out on the trails I enjoy my peace and quite,  on road races I truly do enjoy the encouragement.  I think it helps.  Hands down the best sign I’ve seen in a long time was this one.  I am thankful for the folks who did manage to find their way onto various spots of the course.  Thanks for your support!

The aid stations were well stocked with water, electrolytes and Honey Stingers.  Around mile 7 there was an aid station stocked IMG_0143with bananas and oranges too!  Oh and the “Village People”.    When I asked them if they were the Village People they laughed and started doing the YMCA.  I love people with a sense of humor.  Thanks guys!  I took the opportunity to fill up my hydration pack again.  Mile 7 and I’d almost polished off 70 oz of water.  Yikes.

The next couple of miles had the best views of the entire course. After a nearly 3 mile climb those views were worth it.  Talk about take your breath away gorgeous.  That right there is hands down reason enough to run this race.   Did I happen to mention that this was also the downhill portion of the course?  Even better.

The aid station at ~11 was probably the best aid station of the whole race.  It was staffed by a bunch of teenage girls who had turned up the tunes from their car and were dancing while cheering us on.  At mile 11 it was most welcomed!  Thanks girls! You guys rocked.  Finish time 2:58.  Not too shabby for a girl with asthma from sea level.

While I still hate the pavement, this race was a great one.  It was really awesome to get some training time in at a similar altitude to what I will be running at in Utah.  Thank you to the town of Estes for supporting this race.

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New level of crazy

So I’ve hit a new level of crazy.  Or is it badass?  Not quite sure, either, to be honest with you.  I had to come to Colorado for business so of course I managed to sneak in some pleasure while I’ve been here.  Today, though, I’ve hit a new level.  See, I managed to find a race to do this weekend while I’m out here.  (Shocking, I know.)  I’ll be doing Vacation Races Elk Double (a 5k followed by a half).  In the meantime, though, my soul needed/wanted/craved some mountain time.  Plus, let’s face it the chick who lives at sea level needs to get some altitude training in for #ECSUT.

At 0530 I headed out to get to the Long’s Peak trailhead parking area to head up to Chasm Lake.  The good news is that there is lots of parking on the shoulder of the road once you get to the trailhead.  See, Long’s Peak is one of Colorado’s classic 14ers.  While my body was screaming out to do Long’s Peak (you technically can do it in a day) I also knew that doing Long’s Peak the day before a half and the day of a 5k was DEFINITELY not a good idea.

The hike up to Chasm Lake is a drop dead gorgeous one.  It’s 4 miles of straight up followed by 4 miles of straight down.   Worth every single step.

IMG_0087The trail starts around 9200 feet or so in elevation.  For those tracking that’s ~9180 feet more than what I live at. The trail doesn’t lure you in with a nice gentle grade, either, oh no you start marching straight up hill right out the gate.  The tree line is only about a mile or so up the trail, so be prepared with LOTS of sunscreen.  I laughed a bit in my head when I saw what the trail looked like.

Even at my 0530 start I was running into folks coming DOWN the trail.  A group of girls who started at midnight to summit Mount Meeker.  A group of guys who summited Long’s Peak.   Around mile 2 I heard the distinct sound of a trail runner.  I shimmied over on the trail and a 65(ish) year old ultra runner passed me.  Can I be him when I grow up?  In typical Mountain Pony fashion I just kept turning my legs over.  I passed a group of gentlemen heading up the trail.

“It got hot quick!”

“Well, that’s what happens when you are running up the trail.  You training for an ultra?”

Can I just say how much that the first question they had wasn’t why are you doing this or why don’t you just slow down.  Nope, it was that question.  It made me smile wide.

“YEP!”

“Which one?”

“North Face Utah.”

“Oh Wasatch Mountains, you’re going to love it!”

IMG_0099The trail continued to climb way past the 10k, and even briefly flipping into the 11k range.  I don’t think I’ve had a bigger smile on my face than doing that trail.  The constant up, up, up.  I was incredibly thankful I remembered my trekking poles.  It helped not only with the up, but also to help absorb some of the impact on the way back down.

The lake comes after a small rock scramble (beware those with a fear of heights).  It sits in the saddle, but is absolutely gorgeous.  I was lucky enough to only share the spot with a couple from Wyoming.  On the way back down I saw the long line of folks headed to the lake.  Totally worth the 4 hours!

Now, off to take a nap before my 5k!  Hey even Mountain Ponies need their rest!

 

 

 

 

VHRTC: Catherine’s Fat Ass 50k

**CAUTION: Very long wordy blog post.**

What is a Fat Ass and why am I talking about some chick named Catherine?  A Fat Ass is a term utilized in the ultra-running community.  Basically, it translates into “No Fees, No Awards, No Aid, No Wimps.”  If you want more information on how they came about go here. Now technically, this particular race wasn’t a “true” FA as a true FA doesn’t have aid, but as the former RD of this race said, “this race is too hot and too hard to not have some kind of aid.” All of the runners received a list of an item that they needed to bring and it was divvied up among the aid stations.  Now what/who is Catherine?  Catherine’s Furnace made pig iron.  If you want to know more about it go here. It still stands and it’s HUGE.  

I was supposed to have a dry run 50k before #ECSUT, but my back decided on a different course of action.  Therefore, I decided that the next best thing was to volunteer at a 50k as we all know I can’t run in the middle of July in the mid-Atlantic.  Combine that with the cortisone shot in my back this week; I was definitely not running.  So at 0300, I dragged my ass out of bed and drove 125 miles to the start line.  As my alarm said, “At least you aren’t running it.” 

I always enjoy giving back to the community that has given me so much.  Plus it was grand fun.  Not only did I get to see all of the runners come through, but I got to check out how they handled everything.  I was placed with the former RD of the race and he told stories all day long. I just listened and didn’t say much (shocking for those that know me, I know) but I was soaking it all in.  Overall the observations I made were incredibly reassuring; 

Observation 1: Everyone was having a great time. Even those that were decidedly hurting, cutting the course, or were quitting were all polite and smiling.   

Observation 2: Most of the gear and supplements I’ve picked (without knowing any ultra runners at the time) is all the same stuff that they use and these are folks that have run Western States 100 and multiple 200+ mile races.  I did good!  I got to answer some of my burning questions as to how they cope/carry some of their own aid. 

Observation 3: Everyone was so nice! There was a girl who accidentally forgot her running shoes (she drove to the race in flip flops as we all have done) and the RD asked everyone if anyone had an extra pair of size 9 shoes she could borrow.  That’s true community right there. 

Observation 4: LOTS of power hiking even by the big kids. As a Mountain Pony, this made me happy.  I may not be fast, but oh can and do LOVE the climb.  

Overall I had a grand time, met some amazing people, was introduced to an awesome secret swimming hole, and learned a crap load. I’m really looking forward to this journey to see where it takes me. 

Weight Loss the long and winding road

“Many times I’ve been alone. And many times I’ve cried. Anyway, you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried But still they lead me back to the long and winding road.”-Paul McCartney & Wings

No offense to Sir Paul who was talking about a lover I find this song to be a battle cry for my weight loss journey.  I realized this morning that it has been nearly two years since I said img_0962enough was enough and I started (on my own) to get my sh!t together.  Sainted Mary has been in my life for 18 months.  When you are in the day to day fight to not put something yummy into the hole under your nose or trying to motivate yourself to go workout when it’s 100+ degrees with 80%+ humidity it’s hard to see the bigger picture.  Until, that is you actually sit back and look at pictures.  The picture on the right was taken in Fall 2013 at my brothers wedding.  That dress has long ago made its way to someone else’s closet.

I wish I could say that after two years everything was easy.  Ha! Um, no.  There is no magic pill.  There are days that I’m literally dragging my inner monologue kicking and screaming into my workout much like a petulant elementary school child who doesn’t want to go to school. BUT I DON’T WANNA GO…..  Then there are days where I’m actually excited and looking forward to my workouts. Ok, if I were to be 100% honest those are my running or cycling days I still haven’t gotten to the point where I say “YAY! CrossFit!!!” (I’m working on it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it’s good for me and good for my running.  It’s like vegetables, gotta eat ’em.)

There are days that I forget just how far I’ve come.  Especially when I’m playing with the IMG_9134“big kids”.  See, the “big kids” run faster/further, lift more, etc. I want to be a big kid.  I want to run faster, run further, lift more.  Then, every once in a while, a friend says something poignant that makes me realize that I am playing with the big kids. Recently that came in the form of GardnerGirl saying, “You are a beast.” I certainly don’t feel like a beast, especially when I have friends that are out running 50+ mile races or are competing (and winning) CrossFit competitions.  That’s when I realize that I have these friends.  Three years ago those people did not exist in my life.  Heck, two years ago those people didn’t exist in my life (well, except TheSaraD and that’s because we rode horses together).  These people have become my new role models.   I’m thankful and grateful that these people have allowed me into their inner circle, encourage me, and don’t let me beat myself up when I’m barely keeping up, if I’m keeping up at all.  My inner sloth whimpers.

Most days I don’t realize just how much my body has changed.  I am still me.  I’m still the goofy, snarky, girl that I’ve always been.  Then I do something like turn down a food that I love because I don’t have any of the exchanges for it; put on a size that never in my wildest dreams I’d ever fit into and my head hurts; or I’ll see a picture of myself and I’m stunned.  Who is this person???  I’m still a work in progress, but this long and winding road has led me here.   I still have a few more pounds I want to loose.  I still have a lot of muscle that I’d like to put on.  I still have goals. This long and winding road will be the rest of my life, but I’m very curious to see what’s around the next corner.   Just please don’t be a bear……

 

 

 

 

 

ISO: An asthmatic mentor

“You are quite literally doing everything you can do INDUCE an attack.”–Doc

Ah, summer in the mid-Atlantic.  Nothing says glorious days like 81 degree temperatures at 0430 with a humidity percentage hovering some where between wet sponge and steam room.  It is days like these that make training for #ECSUT, hell, walking to the mailbox next to impossible.  I’ve had to switch to a 0500 CrossFit class just to hope that I can maybe breathe at that hour.  Running?  Unless I drive two hours out to the mountains and start at 0600, or worse run on the dreadmill, running is off the table.  

Bear with me for a moment to describe to you what it’s like to be me (without the science speak).  I want you to stick a straw in your mouth.  Now breathe through it.  Now I want you to go running with the straw in your mouth and attempt to breathe.  Welcome to being an asthmatic on any given day. Oh wait, but there’s more.  Now, find some peas and stick them in the straw and try to run.  That is what an asthma attack feels like.  Now for the science-y stuff.  (See diagram on the left) airway

This is the reason why many asthmatics just say they can’t.  I, however, do not have the word ‘can’t’ in my vocabulary.  Yes, on occasion this has gotten me into a bit of trouble.  I am not about to let this control my life.  I want to live my life. 

After nearly two years of this journey I am now at a place where I am starting to run into (no pun intended) issues that are beyond the scope and capacity of my asthma doc.  Why?  Well, my asthma doc doesn’t have any patients like me. If you aren’t new to this blog you are probably nodding your head right now in agreement.  If you are new to this blog I highly encourage you to go back and read some of my stupid learning moments.  

I recently had a discussion with my pulmonary doc and my osteopath asking this basic question; “How long is my fast acting inhaler good for?”  What prompted this question was that as my runs have started to surpass the four hour mark (because yes, I’m slow) I’m finding that my chest and lungs are NOT happy.  My pulmonary doc answered very wryly with, “Why are you doing that to yourself?”  Where as my osteopath answered frankly, “You are quite literally doing everything you can to INDUCE an attack.” Both then proceeded to answer my question.

IMG_9125What I really need is to find a long distance, ultra runner who is asthmatic.  Not a little asthmatic, but someone who is a HUGE asthmatic like myself.  Someone who has already been down this road and learned the lessons so that I don’t have to learn them on my own.    In this great big world of ours there has to be another crazy pants like myself.  Right???

Spruce Knob: We would have done just fine on the prairie.

Ah yes, Fourth of July.  Long weekends in my house mean #ECSUT altitude training.  Given the fact that I practically live at sea level the only way to get any kind of altitude in is to go west.  This weekend also meant bagging the highest point in West Virginia, Spruce Knob.

Friday morning Perry and I packed up the car, made one slight side trip to the vet, and then we got on the road and headed to Monongahela National Forest.  Full disclosure, I’m a huge sucker for Forest Service and BLM lands. Why? They aren’t nearly as overrun with people. This is due to a whole host of reasons, but the main reason why is amenities.  Personally, I’m there for the trails and the scenery not the gift shops. The drive out to Spruce Knob campground is not for the faint of heart due nor the technologically dependent.  Somewhere about 90 minutes from the campground I lost cell and didn’t get it back until I returned on Monday.

After I set up the campsite (and Perry supervised) we headed down the Spruce Knob lake.  There is a mile trail around the lake and I just wanted to check it out.  As we were walking down from the campsite a couple in a Subaru passed us on the road.  We met them again when we got to the far side of the lake.  Turns out Allison and Bobby were on their honeymoon.  Even more coincidentally, Allison just graduated from the exact same program at the University of Maryland that I am getting ready to start.  As we were sharing drinks later in the evening we started to pull the thread and we found out that we had even more people in the common.  Apparently we had to travel 300 miles to the middle of the woods to meet each other! Looking forward to hanging out with them when they return from their honeymoon.

Total for the day: 2.5 miles

IMG_9665Saturday morning I woke up in a FOUL mood.  Altitude always does that to me.  I don’t sleep well my first night therefore the next day I’m a little on the cranky side.  Normally I can push through it just fine, but Perry decided that he was going to be a major jackass on the trail.  I had decided to do Allegheny Mountain Trail to Tom Lick Trail to Seneca Creek.  However, there was one tiny problem.  Even though AMT sits on top of the ridge line, it was still a huge mud slick.  Combine over 20 pounds of water on your back with the mud slick with a dog who smells deer and it’s a recipe for slipping and sliding.  One hyperextended knee later my mood was upgraded from foul to downright bitchy.  We both managed to make it back to camp, alive, but there were some tense moments in the woods.

Saturday afternoon GardnerGirl arrived.  She was laughing when she got out of the car.

“I saw a BEAR! On the road! And I didn’t get a picture!!!”

I was stunned, “How could you not get a picture?”

“I was too busy staring at the bear!”

“But you grew up in Maine, how could you never have seen a bear before??”

We decided to drive up to the top of Spruce Knob to do Huckleberry Trail.  The plan was to do 10ish miles and be back to the summit by the time the sun was going to set.  Ah, yes, plans, amazing how those change.  Once we found the trailhead we started to pick our way down it.  Rocky doesn’t even begin to touch this trail.  It was becoming less and less fun as we went along.  An hour in and we had only done 2.5 miles.  I looked at her and said, “I want to turn around now, this isn’t fun any more.”  Sometimes you just have to know when to say enough.

IMG_3847We went back to the summit and posed for pictures and wandered around the summit.  Ok, now this is fun again.  The view was absolutely stunning from the top.  You could see for miles around with hardly a house, building, or anything to be seen.  IMG_3848We headed down the mountain to make dinner.  We had appetizers of grilled tomatoes, melted mozzarella and basil with a drizzle of balsamic glaze.  Followed by steak, potatoes, and grilled asparagus.  As we were piling our plates up with super yummy food GardnerGirl remarked; “I think that we would have done just fine on the prairie.”

Total for the day: 15 miles

Sunday was going to be a long day.  Seneca Creek is a 5.2 mile out and back trail.  On the fly we decided to make a slight adjustment to the plan and decided to go up Judy’s Spring (which is a near vertical climb) up to Horton’s Trail and then take Hortons back down to Seneca Creek. It was going to add a bit more mileage, but would make things a little more interesting.  As we turned onto Judy’s Spring we turned right instead of left (misreading the sign). We cleared a ridge and I was not feeling super confident due to a lack of blazes on the trees.  Despite GardnerGirls wanting to go on, I dug my heels in and we turned around went back to the last sign and turned left instead of right.  Ah! Blazes.  Sometimes being a chicken about ‘exploration’ goes in my favor.

IMG_9712I need to say this: God how I love the climb.  The steeper the better.  It just makes me happy.  I don’t know why, but I just do.  Judy’s Creek may only be 0.7 of a mile up it’s straight up.  I just engaged MountainPony mode and up we went.  I may have gone a little too fast for GardnerGirl.  You see that tiny pink spot in the middle of that picture? Yeah, I think I may have gone a bit too fast.  Perry and I waited for her at the top of the ridge line.  Oops.

Horton’s Trail down from Judy’s Creek was nasty.  It was rocky, wet, and slick. We were shocked that mountain bikers were going down (we assume down) the trail given the number of trees that were down.  While it wasn’t as bad at Huckleberry it was a fairly close 2nd. We connected back up with Seneca Creek and started making our way back to the car.

Total miles for the day: 11.5(ish) my GPS died so mileage is estimated.

Total miles for the weekend: 29(ish)

I’ll take it! While 4,000′ may not be the 10,000′ I’m going to run into in Utah, at least it beats 0′.