Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ultra-Trail Du Mont Blanc: Why 103 miles...because 100 miles won't get you around the mountain!

Time and time again I am reminded as to why I am drawn to trail running and ultra trail racing.

Courmayeur pre-view
 Photo c/o Topher Gaylord
UTMB-- Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc.  This race has been on my radar for a few years and because of the fan fare that follows this race it landed on my wish list of races to run.
What is the UTMB?  It is a 103 mile race that takes place in the Alps across France, Italy and Switzerland.  It boasts 30,000+ feet of climbing and it takes you ALL the way around Mont Blanc. The race accepts through lottery more that 2300 entrants and they are given 46.5 hours to complete the race.  Couple of added twists this race has that I had not experienced before...runners are not allowed pacers during the later stages of the race. The race is in open country, in mountainous terrain with weather conditions that can change very fast.  Due to this each runner has a list of required gear that is to be carried for the entire race (about 8-10 lbs worth). Lastly, and just because they can, the race starts at 6PM!
Feast at Maison Vieille, thanks Toph! 

I had a rough go of it at Western States this year.  Stomach issues during the heat of the day, stomach virus the week previous and a candle that I was burning from both ends had me wanting to call it a day at Michigan Bluff.  But, my steadfast crew along with the help of Jimmy Dean Freeman got me out of a chair and back on the course.   My sub 20 hour goal was back burner-ed and the finish line became my new goal.  I made it to that sometimes elusive line and not long after WS I began looking forward to UTMB.  I took the two following weeks off and with 5 weeks to hone my training I can say that I was truly excited for UTMB.  Excited and terrified that is.  I had yet to run a race with 30+K of climbing and I was unsure on what to do to prep for this.  So, for the next 5 weeks I slept in an altitude tent, trained with a 15lb weighted vest, used poles, carried my pack full of fluid and gear of which I had no need for and I repeatedly climbed buttes and mountains around Bend.  Training complete.
Chamonix, France at the Patagonia Chalet and home for the next 2 weeks!
We arrived in Chamonix, France (race start and finish) 2 weeks prior to the race with plans to preview some of the 10 notable climbs around Mont Blanc.  And while we did eventually preview 5 of the climbs, lack of luggage for the first 3 days delayed our running.  Seriously, I brought a carry on one would think that I would know to pack essential items in it...lesson learned!
Pre-race tour
Col du Bonhomme
We still got in some pretty amazing runs, opening my eyes and my heart to the TMB...I was and am in love with this amazing countryside.
Mountain music...cow bells!
Once in Chamonix my prep for UTMB did not stop.  While physically I was ready, the hay was metaphorically in the barn, my mental prep had just begun.  The power of positive thinking and attitude can create happiness and success.  I believe this, so began my prep.  I committed to myself, my husband and my friends that on race day I would only be expressing positive thoughts. Nope, no complaining, no whining no bitching to my crew or those around me.  To help secure this I would be dedicating the first climb of the race to my mother and the last climb to my brother.  The first taken from my world way to soon and the second who has been living in the shell of his former body and suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig's).  They would be with me on all the steep climbs leading to majestic mountain tops as well as the rocky descents leading to the picturesque villages brimming with spectators and volunteers.  I was ready.
1st day--Flash-Sport Photo
I made my way to the start, fortunate to be in the elite corral at the front of the 2500+ runners.  It was 5:30PM, I had just topped my belly off with a Picky Bar adding to the pasta I had eaten at 2:30.  It was 80ish degrees and the forecast was looking excellent for the next few days.  I settled in with a group of familiar peeps from the US to wait for the start and then we were off.  Crazy good energy from the thousands of spectators lining the streets sent us on our way.  I was kinda waiting for the tidal wave of runners to overtake me and was happy when it did not happen.  We were running perhaps faster than one should for a 103 mile race in the alps but over the 10k distance of open road it allowed everyone to settle into place. And so it began.  As we spread out I found myself high fiving children and adults along the route, smiles exchanged with shouts of, "Aller Denise!!" filling the air.  Sharing the trail with a US runner, Jamil Curry and while tapping hands with some youngsters I said to him, it's like they are refilling my energy stores with each high five, the smaller the hand the bigger the boost!
My fella rocked the TDS...
because it's not always about me :)

The 1st climb of the race I had not previewed but I knew what to do.  I took my poles out of my pack and with thoughts of my mom I began to climb.  While not familiar with the 1st descent, the words of Topher rang in my head, warning of length of this descent (2nd longest of the race) and to take it easy...loads of racing ahead.  At about mi 18 and just before the 2nd climb I would see Ken, this was the first crew spot, it was about 10pm.  I stopped long enough to change my socks and eat a few calories.
The technical terrain had me regret starting the day in my thin Patagonia wool socks and while I had hoped to change into the thicker pair, sadly I had not pack them in my bag of goodies.  And so I changed into what was available with Ken making plans to go back to the Chalet to retrieve the thicker pair for later, should I need them. (Fellow crew we had meet at Gorge Waterfalls 100k this year offered her socks, small world!)
With a kiss I was off, leaving that aid station in company with the friendly bearded face of another US runner, Sean Meissner. The 2nd climb was up the Col du Bonhomme, I had seen this climb and was looking forward to passing familiar points (even in the dark).   As promised I saw Topher at the start of the climb, he joined step with me, offering up supportive words and advice from his treasure trove of experience.  Topher was hugely instrumental in UTMB becoming the race that it is today.
1st night, love the bonfires!
FlashSport Photo

Night time pasta feed!
Photo c/o Ken S.
Did I mention an almost full moon??? Dropping down into Les Chapieux the moon was full in the sky. Running along a road leading up to the 3rd and 4th climbs I found myself shutting off my headlamp and running by the light of the moon.  Moments like these are truly lifepoints!  Up the next two climbs I went.  The air was getting chilly, made more so by the howling winds.  As  I climbed, squinting my eyes from the wind, I started to feel tired.  I thought for a moment, perhaps, just perhaps I would need a nap once over this climb.  I credit the thought of a nap to Ken, who had raced the TDS on Wednesday and who during a very low point in the race for him...took a nap.  Lucky for me, once over the climb, thoughts of napping were gone from my mind.   Instead I was energized by the familiarity of Lac Combal (toured this section with Topher) along with the following climb that would take me up and over Arete du Mont-Favre and down into Courmayeur where I would see Ken again.  Mile 47.  As I made my way up the climb, the skyline began to brighten with the rising sun.  I had made it safely through the night intact both physically and mentally.
2nd Day; Flash-Sport Photo
Courmayeur found me with a bowl of pasta and some coconut water, yum.  I was getting hungry and my gut was solid.  My race fueling was working well.  I had started out with Honey Stingers and only just started swapping to GU, taking advantage of coke, soup and sweet bread at the aid stations.  Cheese, salami and chocolate were also offered but I could not bring myself to sampling any.  Another kiss and away I went excited for the daylight and the trails ahead, so far so good.
Flash-Sport Photo
This next section took me by surprise.  I had previewed it but due to the weather, I did not get to experience the beauty of it.  By far my favorite section, Courmayeur up over Refuge Bertone and across to Arnuza.  The breathtaking scenery made me forget all else. I had the permagrin of someone who was punchy drunk by the views, adding fatigue to the equation and I was feeling pretty dang happy, if a bit goofy!
Climbing up and over Grand col Ferret on my way to La Fouly I could see the familiar bouncing ponytail of a friend up ahead and had hopes of sharing the trail with her.  Sadly La Fouly would be the stopping point for her and she would become one of the 600+ runners who would not make it to the finish line.
2nd Day; Photo c/o Davide Verthuy

On I went, into Champex-Lac mi 75.  Along the way I found myself holding pace with a French runner, Emir.  I don't know French and his English was just as limited yet, we held company and enjoyed shared smiles brought on by our attempts to communicate.  At times he would hold up, preferring to wait for me rather than running on alone.  We separated after Champex-Lac crew/aid station as I needed blister attention before I could push on.  The hot spot had reared it's head and so off to the medical tent I went, getting what looked and felt like a cast placed on my big toe, post drainage.  At this point it was clear that I would be running back into the night again.  My fueling continued to be working well.  Outside of smelling like someone who had run 75 miles in the same cloths, sweating periodically off and on throughout the course of the day, the night, the following day, going into the night again...I was doing okay.  Mentally my race strategy was working well, not once had I expressed negative thoughts and for the first time in ALL of my 100 miles races (this being my 12th) negative thoughts were oddly absent.
Blister care and applesauce! Photo c/o Ken S
I left that aid station and a short time later was joined in company with a runner from Canada, Matt...finally, someone to chat with!! Onto climb #8 we went.  Ken would be at the Trient aid station mi 86.   Not spending much time in the aid station, I left Trient with once again my headlamp in place, not quite needing it but knowing I would be flipping it on soon.  Ken had shared that I was 13th or 14th female (I had hopes of breaking the top 10 for women) he said that the female runners in front of me were looking tired and slowing up and to keep pushing but I too was also feeling symptoms of fatigue.
While I was not experiencing negative thoughts, I was getting emotional.  Taking a spill on a soft part of the trail and finding myself in tears, no injury, just tears.  Thoughts of my mom had me crying as well as thoughts of my brother.  I had been up for 32+ hours, racing for 24 of those hours and I still had a good 7 hours ahead of me.  This does a number on any runner and I was no exception.  I found myself grateful to have my Canadian friend holding pace with me.  This was his first UTMB and while he had thoughts of sub 30 hours, he was ultimately looking for a finish.  And so, as my climbing became slower and my descending even slower, I was in good company.  We chatted and joked making our way up Catogne the 9th climb.  He agreed that this climb should be named the stair master climb, we even saw an Ibex, and the moon was full!  I passed a couple of female runners on the climbs up only to be re-passed on the descents.  I saw Ken one last time at mi 92 in Vallorcine, he told me to be strong, one last climb to go...he shared that he had been keeping my brother up to date on my race and that he was sending his love.  What more did I need.
Final miles in great company, thanks Matt! Flash-Sport photo
I traded spots a couple more times with Jen the speedy downhill runner from Australia (she offered to wait up and run in with me, amazing!!) and Nicole Studer what felt like an eternity later, Matthew and I finally dropped into Chamonix, touring our way through the streets of town before making it to that incredibly special sight...the finish line.

31:39:39; 14th Female; 146th overall. While my goal time/ place was not achieved,  I achieved so much more. Thank you to all my sponsors who support me in my passion for trail running.  I am so very fortunate and appreciative that I have the ability to be an ambassador for this amazing sport.

What went well:
  • Pre-race--Pasta, Picky Bars
  • During--GU's, Honey Stingers, CarboPro, soup, coke, applesauce.  I started with the Honey Stingers until they became too sweet then changed to Chocolate GU, tolerated this until mi 95 where I may have vomited.
  • Black Diamond Z Poles-- did I mention that I LOVE my poles, huge value add for me in using them.  Many of the climbs lead you up and then down super technical terrain.
  • Black Diamond Headlamp/ waist pack 
  • Ultraspire Zygos pack--fit everything perfectly, easy in/out access for my poles (20sec to store)
  • Julbo Access sunglasses with the Zebra lens
  • Patagonia Cap 1 sleeveless tank/ skirt during the day, adding rm warmers with mittens at night.
  • Nike Wildhorse shoes--felt good the entire time (socks were the issue).
  • Pre-view of some of the course!! As my first race with 30K of climbing, it set my mind at ease to see some of it.
What I would do different:
  • Thicker Patagonia wool socks.  I went with the thinner pair because of the heat.  Should have remembered I use the thick socks at Western States.
  • More technical downhill training.  My climbing was strong but lost loads of time in my slow descents.
  • Not sure what to do with the evening start to better prepare for it....open to suggestions.
  • Move to the Alps to train :)


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The North Face Endurance Challenge Costa Rica

TNF Endurance Challenge Costa Rica, truly a great experience! Photo c/o Juan Mata

No, not the outcome I would have liked to have seen with my first international race but it is the races like this one that reminds me of how much of what I do is about being an ambassador of ultra running and not just about running a specific time or even the finish line.
Traveling home from Lake Sonoma 50 miler I received a message from the promoter of The North Face Endurance Challenge Costa Rica.  The message started with an apology for the informality of contacting me via Facebook and went on with an offer for me to travel to Costa Rica to run his race.  I read it twice completely taken by surprise with the offer.  I consider myself a good runner.  I am fortunate with my running ability and typically race toward the front of the pack, with this along with my love for the sport I have gained the sponsorship listed on my blog page.  Yet, this was the first time I had been invited to an international race.  What an honor, what a privileged!  I immediately moved a couple of things on my calendar and responded with a thank you and Yes!
But first a race I had already scheduled and three weeks prior to Costa Rica, Quicksilver 100k.  My training had been solid and I anticipated on having a good race.  QS had 13,000+ vert ft, and was mostly on very runnable packed dirt roads.  I was racing with some speedy ladies and was having a pretty good race up through around mile 40.  At about that point my body started to feel beat up with all the hard packed surfaces (I was racing in the Adidas Adios).  About mi 45 my guts revolted, first experience with ischemic bowel causing me to stop multiple times with abdominal cramping and bloody diarrhea....ugh!  At one point I thought about the cougar sightings as I ducked into the bushes to take care of business.  11 hours 8 minutes later I finished the race, F5 with F2-5 all within 15 minutes apart.  Not my best race but not a terrible race either.  Perhaps if I return to QS I will run with shoes with a bit more cushion!
QS100k; Photo c/o Greg Lanctot
With 3 weeks until TNF CR, I recovered a bit, ran a bit and tapered a bit.  As I began my travels to CR I was feeling ready for the 80k I had signed up for.
"Pura Vida", translates to Pure Life.  This is a saying used in Costa Rica as a greeting or a farewell or really anytime.  How beautiful is that.
I landed in CR Thursday afternoon and lucky me, Jorge Maravilla, his girlfriend Ashley and baby "King Joaquin" were on the same shuttle taking us to the race headquarters. Not sure what to expect I was completely wowed by our accommodations as well as the generous hospitality of our host and hostess, Federico and his wife Ligia.  We were staying at the Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin.  This hotel had about 12 different adventures you could explore right outside your door.  Our hosts, knowing how busy they would be with the race (TNF Endurance Costa Rica is the largest race in Central America) arranged for an activity planner.  She would help set us up with any of the adventures we wanted to go on and take care of any of our needs while we were there.
First time for everything!! Photo c/o Jorge M.
 Amazing first class service and accommodations!
Sooo serious :)
Our race would start at 0530.  Not bad and considering the heat and the humidity we would be experiencing it was good that it was an early start.  The course touted 7k of climbing and so the challenge for the day would be the weather.  While I had never raced with the kind of heat as well as the humidity we would be seeing I was feeling confident that I would be able to manage it. I have raced hot races and I have raced humid races...and did relatively well with both.
The race started, no need for headlamps as it was already getting light.  I wore my Spry hydration vest with a 1L bladder and a collapse-able bottle in my front pocket for later in the race when I would maybe need additional fluids.  A high-five with Jorge and we were off.  I ran a steady pace for the first 5 miles, although my legs felt like lead and my head was throbbing...not a good sign.  Within a few more miles I started to feel better and was able to enjoy my surrounding a bit more.  The terrain was said to be technical and fast.  An interesting combination that was oddly true.  Roots, rocks, and slick surfaces at times and at other times fast dirt roads.  Technical and fast defined :)
This would be the fast part...Photo c/o Juan Mata
Within 40ish minutes I found myself soaked, the kind of soaking you would get if you were to take a shower...with all your running cloths on.  I wondered about the possibility of chaffing, you see, I have NEVER chaffed before and it was now a serious thought.  I had taken the lead at the start and as I came into the second aid station at mi 10 I found myself being passed by two women.  I took my time refilling my water, filling the collapse-able front bottle and was off.  It was hot and humid, just as we were told it would be and somehow I was already not managing with it. Along one of the roads we were running on there was a truck with a young man standing beside his small red cooler.  I saw him hand something to a runner in front of me and I thought to myself that he must be with that runner, crewing for him.  Only after I saw the runner raise his arms above his head and squeeze water over himself did I get it.  I trotted back to the truck and was rewarded with a chilled baggie of water (Spanish not needed)!  Which I poured over my head, did not drink :)
Fortunate to race with this great group of ambassadors!
Federico and Ligia, Pura Vida!
I came into mi 20 and sat for a bit, using ice to help cool off.  After some time I put some ice in my bra as well as my hydration and reluctantly left the shaded cover. The next aid station was 7 miles away.  At this point we climbed to the top of the canyons. This area had been burned, the landscape was black and the running surface was hard pack white stone.  Eerie and yet beautiful.  As I climbed up the canyon I could feel the moisture evaporating from my cloths, my skin. Within a short time I went from soaking wet to bone dry.  As I trotted and walked I could feel my body temperature rise.  I used my front bottle to pour water over my head.  My head was throbbing and my heart was racing.  THIS was not a good sign.  At about mi 25 I stopped and tried to get my heart rate down.  I laid down in the shade of a burnt out tree.  A couple of runners came by and while they looked concerned our language barrier prevented us from communicating.  With me making fan like motions to indicate the heat I got from them that the aid station was near.  I got up and started walking again.  I would trot a couple of steps but would immediately feel ill.  The aid station turned out to be 2 miles away and it felt like it took an eternity to get to it.  Once there I sat in the shade and began to ice myself down.  I was scared with how my body was behaving (traitor).  My head was killing me and I was burning up.  With broken communication with the aid station volunteers I called it.  I had been invited to Costa Rica to run a race and here I was DNF'ing.  Was I disappointed in myself for not finishing...YES but I also knew something bad would have happened if I had continued on.
I was fortunate that there was crew for a runner who spoke English and was able to get me back to the finish.  This is the part of the ultra running community that is the same regardless of what country you are in.  The unwavering support for the fellow runner.
No, not the race I had anticipated running.  Upon seeing Federico post race, I apologized for not finishing his race, but Federico was more concerned about my health then having me finish his race. He had invited me to CR as an ambassador of the sport and while my ability to race is valued being a true ambassador of the sport is even more valuable.  He complimented me on being that ambassador, it's not about the race it is about the person.
Federico had said the Tico (Costa Ricans) were friendly and handsome people.  This could not be more true as evidenced by he and Ligia as well as the many other people I was fortunate to meet. Thank you for inviting me to your amazing race.  I would absolutely recommend Endurance Challenge Costa Rica to anyone looking for an international race, it is incredibly well organized and supported and it is in a beautiful country with beautiful people.

Post race beach time in Tamarindo!
As always, big shout out to my sponsors, Patagonia, Ultraspire, Julbo, and Picky Bars, thank you for providing me with the best of the best!

Pura Vida!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Lake Sonoma 5...1st race report of 2015!!

Lake Sonoma was not my first race to kick off 2015 but, it was the first race I finished.

HURT100....I will be back to finish what I started.
HURT 100 in January was to be the first race of 2015.  This was a race I was excited to return to.  I had grand plans to erase my 2012, 33 hour finish.  My goal was to replace it with a much faster time and instead I exchanged it for my first 100 mile DNF....In brief, I was fit and ready for a great race....I took a hard fall at mile 20, continued on until mile 47 and had a mental block at the idea of hurting for the next 53 miles.  Just like that I was done.  While I tweeted #noregrets and posted fun pics on the beach with friends I did spend the next 2-3 weeks in a depressed state.  All of the training and sacrifices with no finish line.
Yup that would be our age!
#noregrets...my A@!
The 100 mile DNF is a pill I hope I NEVER have to swallow again and I will forever have this will me at each start line I toe.
It took me a good 4 weeks to allow myself to even think about training again after HURT. Physically I was fine but mentally I was broken.  I work 50ish hours a week in a high stress environment.   Monday-Friday I have to be focused and intentional in order to get my training in and I was not ready to go there yet.  And then like a flip of a switch, mid Feb, I was ready.  Lake Sonoma 50mi was about 7 weeks away and this was something I could wrap my training brain around.
Prior to HURT, I had started Bikram yoga, this is a 90 minute yoga session in a room heated to around 105 degrees.  While not "fun" I figured it would help me train for the humidity of Hawaii, and lucky me... I found the heated yoga helping with my long standing hip issues (piriformus syndrome) that I had been dealing with for the past year.  So even if it is 1 time a week, I have continued with Bikrams.  With my hip feeling better I was able to resume speed workouts in my training up to Sonoma.  I even threw in a 10 mile race the weekend prior to Sonoma, Horse Ridge 10 miler.  I had raced this before and found myself with a 3 minute PR ....good enough for 1st Master! Onto Sonoma!
TJ does an excellent job in recruiting for a stacked field of talented athletes....this year was no different.   I raced Sonoma in 2012 in a time of 8:18 F4, and again in 2013 in 8:52 F9.  2012 was a wet year, lots of mud and while I had a good race, I knew I could run it faster....2013 was a dry year but unfortunately a bit of a shit show for me :) we all have them!  This year, I was feeling fit, the course was dry and there would be plenty of competition to keep me company and help push the pace.
Not exactly floating across the water!
TJ's wife arranged for my accommodations in a beautiful home in Healdsburg and Carrie was my traveling companion.  One of our roomies' in the house is a newbie to the ultra running scene Keely Henninger, all of 22 years old and we picked up on our way to the race another youngster Ashley Erba 18 years, both needed transportation as...get this... they were to young to rent a car!
A beaut of a day!
Just a girl out for a run!
As anticipated the race started out fast, first couple of miles are on the road allowing everyone to find their pace.  I settled into my groove, feeling relaxed and happy to have the race begin.  After a bit of time I found myself in pace with Jimmy Dean and enjoyed his chatter for a handful of miles before his leggie stride loped away from me.  The trail was dry and fast, a few creek crossing that if you placed your feet just right you could avoid getting wet.  It was going to be a warm day and so I tried to embrace the early morning chilly temps. Greetings were exchanged with Meghan , Pam and Kaci as we exchanged spots and then with Keely around the half way point.  I was hoping to stay within the top 10 and at the turnaround mi 25 I was sitting in 8th and in short order 9th as Kaci passed me just outside of the aid station. This is where I would sit for the remainder of the race.  Although I did toy with the 10th place after taking not 1  but 2 solid falls.  The second fall I was a bit slower in collecting my wits about me and was passed by F10.  But was able to chase the F9 spot back down. Having broken my watch with the second fall, I was content to run my race through to the finish.  With 6 miles ish to go, I came upon F8 walking, she had tweaked her calf.
That would be the last female I would see and so with my focus being to stay on my feet and not slow down I finished F8 in 8:24.  Not my fastest Sonoma and not my slowest, and while I had hoped to run it faster, a solid race is always a good day!
I will be back to race Lake Sonoma.  John and Lisa and the rest of their team put on an amazing event from the pre race festivities, the aid/ crew stations to the post race celebration!   I will be hanging around for the wine tasting next time!!
Can I get a.....

What took care of me during my 8+ hours of fun in the sun....
Pre race calories: Picky Bar Smooth Caffienator, coffee, banana, yogurt
Patagonia of course, mesh trucker hat, wool socks, bun huggers,
Julbo's Whoops
UltrAspire Spry
UltrAspire collapsible bottle
Picky Bar Blueberry Boomdizzle
Flask w/GU coconut water, Scaps, CarboPro
Coconut water at the aid station...thank you Carrie!