Monday, June 29, 2009

Gaining some perspective.

The weather in Silverton has gotten much better. After changing my plans to run my last long day on Saturday to running Sunday instead I was treated to a great day in the mountains. Only bits of rain and a few dark clouds on the high passes yesterday. Since my last entry I have done my final hill repeats on Engineer Pass. I chose this spot because of the mild grade which I felt I could run even at 11-13K elevation. I would also be able to re-fuel and change clothes when needed. It ended up being a bitter sweet day. Given my state of mind I spent the 5 hours deep in my own head plus I got in a great workout at the same time. Many times ultra runners solve or discover their best stuff while on a run. I came to the understanding that for me…not all epic experiences are going to be joyful and carefree every time. Learning to accept, adjust and simply go with the flow are not qualities easy for me to embrace. I am a control freak! I like to know exactly what I am getting myself into, decide, make plans and move through the situation or experience with grace. This is not one of those experiences. Instead, I’m having to adjust, maneuver my plans, my attitude and mostly realize I don’t have control….this course does.

I always bring my favorite pre-race running book with me so I can brush up on the mental part of racing. These long ultras are generally a race against the clock for me but Hardrock is going to be a race with the mountains. Since this book is about racing and competition I need to change some of the words to fit my situation but it still works. Since my mental oneness seems to be missing I am using these words to come around. The paragraph is called. “Letting Go” and it says this: “Racing is a process, the outcome of which simply measures how successful you have been moment by moment throughout the event as well as your training and preparation. Success in the now is a factor of the joy you experience in the execution of the plan, the quality demonstrated in your technique and skill level. When you acknowledge that winning is beyond your control, you can begin to fully experience the emotional rush of competition: well-trained athletes seeking greatness together. Seeing the race as a journey, you feel the freedom to run in the flow, a state of relaxed intensity.” All I have to do is replace a few words about winning to finishing and it works. There is a whole chapter on this stuff. Generally I read the parts about dealing with pain and visualizing your day but I had to go back a few chapters this time. The book is called “Running Within”.

Yesterday I made some huge progress with the course. We ran from Chapman Gulch to the finish. We had to go up and over Grant Swamp Pass. We started at 6am and arrived at the snow fields at about 7ish. We got really lucky and the course was marked. Apparently they moved the marking schedule around because the rivers were really high and they wanted to avoid crossing some of the big ones. When we got to the first snow field Steve put one foot on it and found it to be a sheet of ice! He couldn’t use his foot the break the snow down. We walked down the hill to the river and crossed it instead. We then had to hike up back up to the markings and continue on. We were wondering what the next snow field would bring? The sun was not over the mountain yet. I could see our destination and just tucked it back in my mind and would deal with it when it came. This pass was a series of scree and snow that we had to weave through as we made our way to the top. When we came to the next snow field again we found ice. I suggested we use a rock to dig steps so that’s what we did. Steve did the work with a rock and his heel and we made our way across using this method time and time again. I suspect this will be the case during the race depending on time of day a runner arrives at Grant Swamp or the snow could be gone by then. Now for more growth! We were now at the base of the last steep pitch to the summit and it was all snow. The sun was hitting the mountain and warming things up but it was going to be a nail biter for me. We stood at the base of the pitch for about 10 minutes waiting for more sun and hopefully softer snow. I looked around and found the perfect rocks to use as my ice ax to help me up the snow field. I was pretty much shaking all over but was determined to get up and over it. We began the climb and found the snow was softer but did have to use our feet to pound secure steps. I used my rocks to give me security and it worked. When we reached the summit I needed a moment to pull myself together. Sitting on the 3 foot wide ridge looking back at where we came from was both rewarding and nerve racking. It was cold so our break was short and we began the descent. We found some more ice on the back side. These snow fields were extremely short and only one was icy forcing me to sit on butt, smack my heel in the snow and work my way off. I wasn’t a fan of this either but once we got around the corner it was bliss. Making our way down the ice lake trail was awesome and the views were so wonderful it’s hard to describe. The rest of the day was great. The next pass which is Putnam-Cataract Ridge was super sweet. It’s a lovely high meadow as far as the eye can see surrounded by mountains. We ran into a couple of other runners one who has been training on this course for 6 weeks. He asked where we came from and said that Grant Swamp is the worst of the passes. At least on Virginias they will provide a rope and cut in steps. I felt a ton of relief and reward knowing this information. Knowing I was able to get over it gave me more confidence I can do the others. We also ran into the folks marking the last section which was neat to see. It makes it more and more real which in turn will force me to start putting my plans down on paper making my way through the course in my head. Hopefully more calm and excited than anxious and fearful.

Now it’s taper time! I feel really good physically and the altitude has seriously been on such a back burner it hasn’t been bad. I think come race day the lack of air will be just fine and just be part of the experience. So far I think I have gotten a really good taste of what’s to come on race day. I got the amazing weather day on Handies. That was an eye opener and will surely help me plan appropriately. I got the icy snow pitch on Grant Swamp and figured a way to get up and over it so Darin and will be able to get it done. Bill, Alex, Darin and Micheal arrive on Thursday and I am so looking forward to that.

All in all I think I have grown! Funny but seriously I didn’t think I was such a baby, homesick and needy. :) I do know that I have been running on adrenaline for a few days now and suspect I will have loads of it come race day. Now I just need to put that drug to good use, not fight it and hopefully be able to have that epic experience Hardrock in known for.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Way out of sorts!

After some great runs in Utah I left for Silverton, CO on the 24th. While in Utah I had one of the most incredibly hard track sessions I have ever experienced. Doing 1000’s and 1200’s at 7000 feet is quite humbling. Though it was a lung buster I was really happy I stuck it out and completed it.

Arriving in Silverton on the 24th was exciting and I pretty much had my runs already planned out. Some would require a shuttle. I booked Brady to drive Steve and I over to our destinations and my plan was to get as much exposure to course as I could in this final peak push before the taper. Little did I know I would have a whole new set of elements to deal with?

On the 25th Steve and I took a trip up to Columbine Lake. It’s a sweet trail very close to Silverton and offers some wonderful views and an incredible basin. It was to be an easy day and our first trip above 11,000 feet so we mostly hiked. When we reached the basin I was in awe of the landscape. I felt like a tiny pebble in the sea of the San Juan Mountains and I was. As we continued through the basin to our first snow crossing I got extremely anxious. I am not necessarily afraid of snow and have traveled it before but the drop offs and my unsure footing turned my stomach into knots. I continued on through a series of small snow fields and rock. Not really a big deal but when we came to the pass before crossing over to Columbine Lake I was done. I was a complete wreck and announced I was through for the day. I was not going on to Columbine Lake. The snow fields were simply out of my comfort zone and looked like one small slip and you were a goner. I did decide to climb a grass peak instead and enjoyed to 360 degree view of probably the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Despite how wonderful the view was I was completely engulfed by fear. For the first time ever I had thoughts of not starting a race I have put so much effort and time in. I wanted to break down and cry but chose to go deep in my own thoughts. As we made our way down the snow fields I just got worse and worse. I wanted to be done, home and driving back to Portland.

That night I went to my room at 5:30 and was simply fretting all my future run plans. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fear and anxiety. I wasn’t sure what to do with it all but just lay there, process and take day by day. That takes us to today. We went from Sherman to Grouse Gulch. The weather was less than kind. We had very little snow travel but I was still a mess, quiet and unreachable. The wind, snow and sleet made the trip super challenging. We were prepared for weather but there is only so much you can do when water is covering your entire body. I suited up with my yak traks (thanks Susan) for the snow pitch to Handies summit. They were not necessary but I wanted to try them and hoped it my calm my nerves. They worked great. Of course the beauty was there but not for my eyes today. Besides the clouds and sleet covering everything I was still just consumed with my own thoughts of failure and fear. I could feel it throughout my whole body. On the positive side I was able to deal with the snow and high country much better but maybe that’s because I was so focused on moving forward and staying thawed.

I am not sure what or why I am such a wreck. It might be because I miss Bill and Alex. This is a long time for me to be separated from them and I really could use Bill’s strength and reassurance right now. I know this is what Hardrock is all about; the big mountains, the tough terrain and the unknown. Hopefully I can start to embrace all of that soon because right now I can’t seem to find that excitement. I am lucky to have my phone so I can call him and friends. Without there words of encouragement and confidence I might just lay in my bed until race day…..kidding. Generally I am pretty strong and sturdy but this event has really got me shaken. I am hoping that each day on the course and in this environment with help me get my head in the right spot. Right now I am counting down the days for Bill, Alex, Darin and Micheal to arrive. I am also hoping for a turn in the weather. One thing for is for sure. With my head completely consumed with this junk I have forgotten I can’t breathe! Tomorrow I am attempting hill repeats up Engineer Pass. The weather still looks iffy but I will have my car at Grouse Gulch for aid.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rocky Mountain High!

Wednesday Alex and I headed to Park City, UT in search of a rocky mountain high. Steve joined us for the drive while Bill flew in a day later. It's been a long time since I have driven this far. Bill has always done any long driving but not this time.

I wanted to do my track workout at sea level. Tuesday I was completely spoiled by my friends Kris and Steve. They both came to join me for my final speed workout at sea level. After last weekends runs I had very low expectations for this track session. It is normally scheduled for Wednesday but I bumped the workout up a day so I could drive to Utah on Wednesday. The schedule called for 1X800,1X1000 and 4X1200. Kris likes to do 400 and 800 meters and since Steve hasn't been to the track for years he wasn't sure what he would do. While I was warming up I felt sluggish in the legs. I still had some residual tightness from Sunday's run. For the speed session Kris said she would run the first 400 meters of each interval and Steve said he would do the last 400 meters. That gave me no opportunity for slacking. The first 800 meters was right on schedule. It felt clumsy but I made my time. The next 5 intervals were amazing. All of them were faster than any other track session in my history except for once I did a 1200 in under 4:48. I was on fire and shocked. My legs just found their groove and went for it. I was pumped and Kris and Steve made it incredibly fun. At the end Kris felt like this picture was appropriate when the real truth is they kicked my butt! I left that track with an incredible high that lasted all day!

With the car loaded to the rim Alex and I left our house at 5:30 a.m. to pick up Steve for the 12 hour drive. We grabbed Starbucks and hit the road. We weren't two minutes on the freeway before Steve starts commenting on how fast I drive. I do drive a bit fast at times. It wasn't 3 hours into the drive before I got a ticket! I was speeding so I didn't even try to get out of it. Alex is sitting in the back seat with a huge grin texting Bill to tell on! It was cruise control from that point on.

We arrived in Park City around 6:30 and prepared for our 2+ hour run with Deborah and Herb. Deborah knew I needed to do hill repeats 3X55 minutes on Friday so she took Steve and I to the perfect venue, Bert and Ernie. This is a 4 mile 2,900 foot climb to 9,250 feet. We met them at 9 on Thursday and had a great climb up the trail. The weather wasn't great so no views but today was a different story. We woke up to clear skies as far as the eye could see. Heading to the trail in the morning with a great hill repeat plan.
We started heading up the hill and I felt surprisingly good. I was able to run almost all of it making it all the way to the saddle just before the grunt climb. I turned and began the descent feeling pretty about myself. It was very rocky and much steeper from the downhill angle. I got back down and Steve was just heading out for his second trip. This time we were going to run as far as we could then start the power hike session to the summit. If that wasn't enough time we planned to summit Bald Mountain as well to make up the 55 minutes. The second ascent was brutal on me. I got a bit nauseous! I think I went up to fast on the first one. Steve was sure to remind me that speeding does not pay! I even tried to channel Micheal and Cheri who were at home crushing the PCT trail for their hill repeats but it didn't help my system uptake air any faster. Climbing up to 8,500 feet so fast was hard on my sea level lungs and legs. I was 6 minutes slower on the second one! That is just wrong! Both Steve and I struggled but had a great sense of humor about the whole thing. The grunt climb to the summit was just brutal. I stopped to cough and almost puked but got it all under control. Steve felt it appropriate to snap pictures of me during my dizzy pathetic moment. When we got to the summit we were treated with amazing views of Mt. Timpenogas, Jupiter Peak and others. We got so excited by the terrain I left my bottle sitting on the summit post. Of course I didn't find this out until we all the way back down. For a brief moment we thought I should just leave it but I couldn't. Despite how hard the grunt climb was it was short and I knew I would get home and kick myself so off we went for number 2. Needless to say we had done plenty of climb but chose to climb Bald Mountain anyway. We were both a wreck, tired and ready to be done. 4.5 hours of hard running at altitude wiped us out. We made out way back home descending another 3,000 feet, ouch.

Tomorrow is 7.5 hours on the Wasatch course plus a couple of side summits. We are going to climb Mt. Aire and Jupiter Peak on our way to Scott's Pass from Lamb's. I love this section and am excited about the wildflowers and a possible moose sighting.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Threepeats! Whose idea was that anyway?

Saturday I got give the threepeats a try and they did the trick. 4 of us ventured out onto the PCT Saturday. There is just something about going from almost sea level to bear grass in 50 minutes. It's incredibly rewarding and the high is enhanced by the numerous amount of endorphins pumping through our veins. Watching black dressed streaks against the lush green background is a good time. My quads were gently hammered when we were done. They had the feeling of a good solid ache but not trashed. Past Black Saturday's have been hard but this method definitely stepped it up a notch. The third 50 minute power hike was tough but once we were heading down I really felt the love. My workout yielded 7,500 feet, 24 miles, in 4:47:32. I was stoked about those numbers. My repeats were right on par to the second clearing on the PCT so no improvement there but my downhill was over 3 minutes faster per descent. I am not a great downhill runner so any improvement on that front is worth stuffing in my brain.

Speaking of brains.....I have decided I am either peaking or losing it. I prefer to think I am peaking. I have a lot of mental craziness in my head right now. It's sort of like being buzzed or glucose deprived. Some folks get cranky, some cry and some get happy when under the influence of a good glass of wine, a few beers or if they are deprived of food oooooooorrrr they just might be peaking for a race. I seem to find everything and everyone funny. I have entered the land of crazies and I feel right at home. However comfortable I feel in this state keeping all the voices in my head clear is a bit of challenge. There's a lot of daydreaming and visualizing going on throughout the day plus a ton of giggling.

After hill repeats it was necessary to take a serious ice bath. Usually Bill or Alex will come in and keep me company so I can ignore the frigid waters but they were gone. It was just me and my cat who likes to teeter on the edge and see how close he can get to me without falling in. He will stay there the whole time. When he starts dipping his paw and flicking the icy water on me that's when he is asked to leave! Since I am sort of nutty right now talking to my cat as if he is human doesn't seem abnormal.

Sunday was 7 hours of running. We chose the route from Bonneville Trailhead to 3 Corner Rock with an added bonus trail. The trip to 3 corner is a gradual uphill climb on the PCT. It's a great trail but narrow and rocky in places. We found areas to be super overgrown this time of year. My body was fatigued and my legs a bit tight and mildly sore. I was surprised at how well they worked and warmed up as we made our way to 3 Corner Rock. Steve started earlier and Beast took a shorter route so Micheal and I were to catch them. We found them just before the turn off to 3 Corner. We needed to do some threshold work in this run so when we hit 3 corner rock at mile 15 we headed down the 2 mile trail leading to the Washougal River on the backside. When we got to the bottom we turned and ran up the 1200 foot climb to get some time in the higher zone. I was able to run up the 2 miles but it was hard and I had to really focus my mind. There were absolutely no views at the top. The fog and clouds were thick which was a bit of a bummer.

Our trip home was going to be a sweet run to the barn. Mostly downhill and only gaining about 1200 feet for the 15 miles we are talking blazing fast single track! My plan was work hard to the high point then let it rip. I told both Micheal and Steve to run hard and not wait for me. One quick bathroom break and they were gone. That left me by myself with my crazy mental friends. As I reached the high point on the super rocky section I could feel myself checking out. My legs were mush and they were sore. I was separating myself from it. My mind was wondering off. I knew I better flip a new switch soon or my plan to rip it home in a decent clip would be over. Auto pilot it a good skill but when you want to crank things up you need to take control of the wheels. I was going to that special place in my mind.....checking out, feeling nothing and letting gravity guide the way. No way....I am thinking...oh no ya don't....get back in the game. I was hungry and had the feeling of low blood sugar, groggy and spacey. I had to get myself back in the present, feeling the pain, dealing with it and pushing through it. I grabbed a whole bag of GU Chomps and downed them like that last piece of chocolate cake. The one you were just about to throw away but instead stuffed in your mouth while no one was watching! I savored the orange flavor. When Chomps get treated like chocolate cake you know your in trouble. Right after the Chomps I downed 2 salt tabs, chased them with G2O and cranked up my music. I wanted to turn this boat around. Mostly I wanted to see if I could. My eyes were tired. They felt like like a basset hounds look. Droopy with heavy lids barely alive. I needed them to be sharp. When I get tired I tend to look down at the ground instead of 10 feet in front of me. The action is in front of me not under me. To run downhill fast you need to look at what's coming, take it in and let your feet process the data. Looking down at your feet gives your body no ques to obstacles. I tried to get my eyes to see the future, read trail instead of just letting the trail happen. It was hard and I don't think I ever found the real Zen Zone but my quest was hard fought. If nothing else I tried to pull myself out of my funk. I can use this at Hardrock.

Meandering alone on the PCT was just fine but I wanted to catch my Hardrock brothers. We have always said if Steve ever trained he would be dangerous. With 10 sub 3 hour marathons under his belt way before electrolytes and gels he has some natural speed. Well this year he has trained and is leaving me in his wake. About 5 miles from the car on the long switchbacks I looked down and saw both Micheal and Steve. I yelled down, "What are you guys doing here"? Feeling pretty good about myself since I thought I caught them I skipped down the hill to find Micheal tending to his bloody knee. Apparently during his reckless abandonment on the very fast downhill he launched himself from the upper switchback down to the lower one. It was about a 30 foot drop. Steve accused him of trying to cut the course....friends....ya gotta love em! Micheal said he was busting out to Bohemian Rhapsody, clipped a toe, flew over the edge, and rolled to the bottom. Grasping any and all limbs possible to stop him from landing in the rocky creek he managed to walk away fairly unscathed. Once we determined he was fine and cleaned up his yard sale we laughed our heads off during his instant replay.

Off we go for the last 5 miles and they were looooong. It seemed like we zig zagged in and out the woods forever. In the end we ran 34 miles and climbed 7,040 feet. This entire run was running. There is very little walking necessary on this trail. It's a good 2nd day effort on tired legs. When I got to the parking lot Micheal and Steve were waiting. Steve yells, "Can you walk any slower"! I replied, "As a matter of fact I can and if you were a real friend you would drive over here and pick me up". I was beat! As I am hunched over on the curb in the shade drinking my recovery drink Steve says, "Now Tuesday's track workout.....". I stopped him mid-sentence. I couldn't even think about the track and told him, "One work out at time"!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Why 1000's and 1200's???

What happened to ladders? What about 400 meters and 800 meters? Isn't foot speed developed on the track? Those were some of the questions I asked Scott when we created my Peak Phase training schedule. How come I have to do 1000's and 1200's? Those are just brutal distances on the track. During the Specificity/Competition phase of training I got to do some 400's and mostly 800's. Just before the Peak Phase started I had to throw in 1 1000 meters. Now it's all 1000's and 1200's, why? During the Peak Phase the goal is to drive my VO2 max up as much as possible. 400's and 800's simply don't have the duration needed to force my heart rate into max long enough to make a difference. I keep meticulous records of my workouts and for my track workouts I log the time spent above my lactic threshold. That way I know exactly how much time I get in Z5. The track is the only place I see any numbers above 174 which is my lactic threshold. As crazy as this may sound it does work. My max heart rate on my 1200's has risen 2-3 beats in 4 weeks. I also know this works because I have had VO2 Max and threshold testing at Seattle Performance Center 4 times since working with Scott. My VO2 has gone from 46 to 62 due to his coaching.

I begged Scott to give me at least 1 800 meter each track session to get my legs spinning. He agreed but didn't feel it was necessary. On Tuesday my track session consisted of 1X800, 3X1000 and 2X1200. On paper that didn't look so bad and since I am not a track person I really don't have a good gauge of what that kind of workload will feel like. After my inner athlete made up we hit the track for by far the best track session I can remember having. All my times were fast and solid. I was shocked as much as I was elated to have this experience. Given how I felt the prior week I was not expecting to see such great results. At times I felt like was just running aggressively. Compared to my normal account of my track session which is more like needed torture this was strikingly different. My times were:

800 = 3:11
1000 = 3:59
1000 = 4:06
1000 = 4:02
1200 = 4:49
1200 = 4:52

When I got home to log my data I had spent over 20 minutes above lactic threshold. That's a lot! If I was to race a 10K I would spend only about 4 minutes in that range and rest hovering around lactic threshold. Why do I care? Because data does not lie! Data always brings my emotions back in check? Fear and doubt are strong and powerful emotions that for me can always be shelved when I have data. Kind of like two doors in my mind. One opens to doubt, fear and anxious feeling. The other to data and benchmarks which can quickly put a pad lock on the other door. Don't get me wrong....I can use a crow bar to get it open when I want, have my pity parties, lower my expecations and become filled with negative thoughts. As Hardrock closes in and my healthy fear of the course, the altitude and the very long days (plural!!!) and night creep in I need the data to quiet the riot and stay focused on what's really going on with my training.

My inner athlete feels back in the game but I need to continue to nurture the fragile relationship. Tomorrow is serious BS! The workout is 2X50 min. running followed by 1X50 power hiking. The workout will be around 24 miles with over 7,500 feet of climb. Sunday is 6.5-7 hours and about 33 miles. We are running to 3 Corner Rock via the PCT. This is sweet run.

On the fashion front Day Glo is back in style! Be prepared to see the bright colors on a trail near you soon. :)

Monday, June 8, 2009

My Inner Athlete!

Uhggggg....My inner athlete went missing this last week. It was a recovery week and that is really the only reason I was able to save last weeks workouts. I am not sure if my inner athlete was really on vacation or just laying on the couch with her feet up watching bad movies on HBO. One thing I know for sure is she was not part of any productive athletic pursuits! I was on my own with all my sleepy demons alive and well on all my runs. After the canyon I had a recovery day on Wednesday which felt really good and made me super optimistic for Thursday's track session. Since Bill and Alex were on the school trip for the week I was home alone with no responsibilities which meant I could sleep in, not cook dinners, let the laundry pile get the picture. sweet as that sounds it really brought out lazy Ronda and I felt like a slug. Apparently I only have 2 speeds...on or off.

My track workout was awful, slow and all I wanted to do was lay down and cuddle the white lines on the hot black top. It felt like I was dragging a tire and working really hard going no where....very slow. I cut off my last 1200 meters, sulked to my car and went home to take a nap with my inner athlete. The nap didn't help! Friday I did my recovery run in the afternoon and it must have been about 94 degrees. Instead of feeling re-charged and ready for the weekends workouts I felt yucky. Is this post beginning to sound like someone who is describing a lot of over training symptoms??????? I know I am riding the edge big time right now. When lots of sleep, good eating and an easy week doesn't bring my inner athlete back in action I know I have pushed her over the edge and she is pissed!

Saturday was a mini Black Saturday and with very grey clouds and a mood to match it I sheepishly dressed myself for the workout. I have an added element to BS for then next 3 weeks. This last weekend was the tester. Besides the 2X45,55, or 60 minute hills I get to add another one but power hiking instead of running. Okay, that sounds like no big deal but it jumps the workout another 1.5 hours and adds another killer descent. This is added to be sure my legs get enough single track downhilling so their lasting power at Hardrock is increased. I have never done this before until last Saturday. Fortunately it was a recovery week and the workout was only 2X20 minute running and one 20 minute session of power hiking. I think all of us were somewhat tired and wearing ho hum attitudes but no one announced it except for me.....big buzz killer...except the buzz was really low so I dont' feel bad. I've been told by pretty much everyone who knows me I have no poker face. Forcing a smile and an upbeat mood when I don't truely feel it is much more of workout than any of the running I do! The hill repeats were over before I knew it because after 45 minute sessions 20 seems over before the next song on my Ipod starts. I actually felt strong on the climbs which lifted my mood and teased my inner athlete (look what your missing.....)but when it came to busting down the hills it was another story. I felt like an 8 month old wobbling for the first time but since I am 42 there were no helping hands to steady my limp legs. I had very little static contraction and my head and eyes were not in touch with my legs. The synapses must have been on the couch with my inner athlete. I still did an acceptable time but nothing like I know I can do and BETTER DO!

Sunday was a 2 hour run in Forest gorge, just running. I did have 2X10 minutes at threshold and picked just the right spot to force that heart rate up. I got things moving so it was an okay run in the end.

So here I am today wondering and hoping my inner athlete is over her lazy spell and is ready to get back in the game. We have had several discussions, some not so sweet and loving but I think we're on the same page. I have to manipulate her well because I am basically and empty shell without her. :) We talked about the workouts ahead and how this is it....our last chance to push the fitness level. We went over Hardrock together and we both know it will be us against the mountains so we need to be working together like never before. With a week of rest I am pretty sure I have her convinced to dial it up a notch for this next 3 weeks of peak training. I am now pretty sure I have multiple personalities and most of them are stubborn. We're heading to the track tomorrow for a whopper!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Big Ditch!

15 of us ventured to Arizona last weekend to enjoy 3 days of running in the Grand Canyon. We left on Saturday and on Sunday we did the Rim to Rim to Rim run starting from the North Side. This was my 4th time in the Canyon and once again it was epic and special. A bunch of us had been before but a few were running it for the first time. The weather forecast was favorable and not to hot. I have been in the canyon at 118 degrees in the shade and it's right down awful so I was excited to see temperatures forecasted at Phantom Ranch (canyon floor) at around 95 degrees.

One big group started at 3 a.m. and another at 4 a.m. I started at 4 a.m. with Micheal, Trisha, Darin, Cheri and Gary. Anna, Kris, Maura, Stan and Erin started just after us. We were on the hunt for Steve, Beast, Susan and Drake while Stan would sleep in and catch us all! I have never started from the North Rim before so I was excited to go this direction and see if it was any different. Right off the bat the 15 miles of mostly downhill running to Phantom was different and I knew right then that coming home on the uphill grade on the canyon floor would be a hot grind. My goal was to beat my fastest R2R2R running time of 12:39. Micheal was on board for a serious training day in preparation for Hardrock so we were pretty focused from the get go. Not too focused to miss out on any of the beauty and fun the whole gang was having though! It was light out before we knew it and just as I was putting away my flashlight we came across Steve and Beast. We all stayed together for about the next 15 minutes then Micheal, Steve and I peeled off at Roaring Springs water stop. Now on the canyon floor in lovely 60 degree weather we made blazing time to Phantom Ranch. Here we catch Susan, fill up water bottles and make our way across the Colorado River on the hanging bridge. Just as we cross the river we are treated to some wonderful sand running. It's as if someone specifically dumped sand just in this particular spot since it's a unique feature for the next 1.5 miles. Since this run was the end of a Peak week Scott wanted me to treat this run like a training race. That meant I needed to do a good threshold workout during the run and push hard. Micheal and I agreed to do our threshold workout starting at Indian Gardens to the South Rim. That's a 4.8 mile ascent on a pretty good grade so it fit the bill perfectly.

When we arrived at Indian Garden we decided to hang our packs on a tree near the stables (for mules) and just carry handhelds. We would be without our packs for about 2.5 hours at the most. Since Indian Gardens is a camp ground and they provide poles for hikers packs we felt pretty safe in doing this. It sure helped to lighten the load for this part of the run. With two handhelds, my Ipod and a lot of inner determination I chased Micheal and Steve (who took an early start) up the South Rim of the Canyon. With the many switchbacks I could keep them in my sights even among the many hikers because they were the only ones running. Since we are at a bit of altitude here my breathing was heavy but I was strong. I wanted to run the entire 4.8 miles no matter how slow it was...that was my goal. The trail was pretty darn technical and had millions of step ups. I had forgotten about the stair like system. It seemed worse this year than any other and the holes were filled with much more mule pee (later we found out all the mules trains were using Bright Angel while repairs were be done on Kiabob). I worked my butt off literally! Those step ups were was just like running stairs. It was getting warm too. I made it to the top in 1:18:33. I was able to run about 80-90% of the trail. Sometimes the step ups got wacky and I couldn't get my leg to lift and turn fast enough and was forced to walk. This was an absolute blast and a good challenge. I loved it! Micheal kicked serious butt and Steve challenged me to the very end. I was on cloud nine and really ramped up. We ate and re-filled at the South Rim then began the descent. Again Micheal and I were on a mission and were flying down the technical pee filled stairs. On our way back to Indian Gardens we ran into everyone and it was like a total party on the Bright Angel Trail. Everyone was looking super strong and having an awesome day. Continuing on our complete threshold high we made amazing time back to Indian Gardens just to find out packs GONE! We freaked, we looked around, we panicked momentarily and then began planning. How are we going to get back home with no food! Fortunately Micheal was smart enough to stash $10 in his pants pocket so we began forming a plan. We continued to look around and finally found a official park like person. Micheal asked him if the mule trains would take our packs. He replied most definitely not. We knew a hiker would not take them. They were heavy and most hikers have their own heavy packs and the last thing they want is more weight. The maintenance guy told us to go check the ranger who was located about a quarter mile back up hill. We marched over to the ranger just to find him with our packs. I was so happy until he told me, "Wipe the smile off your face...we have a squirrel problem and these packs have 10 pounds of food in each of them". I was very apologetic but began to tell him we hung them for that reason. He was pissed and gave us our packs. I still wanted to talk about it while Micheal grabs the packs and walks off then tells me to come along. I was so pissed! I was totally on board with what he had to say about the squirrels but jeopardizing someones safety by taking the pack without leaving a note or ticket??? Really is that safe? Certainly not in all the literature they throw at you about Canyon safety. There were packs hanging all over Indian Gardens so there is definitely a precedence set and if the squirrel problem is so bad then I suggest they pick up all the food and garbage left by bad people on the ground at Indian Gardens. Anyway, I stewed on this for about 10 minutes and it was kind of buzz killer but I got over it and was happy to have my heavy pack back on my shoulders. Big lesson learned there!

On our way back to Phantom Ranch it was getting HOT!!! I could feel my body getting warmer and warmer. When we came to the beach just before we crossed back over the Colorado we got stuck behind a mule train. There is no passing a mule train so we just walked behind them for about 10 minutes when the leader pulled over so we could get around them. Once around the mules we boogied so they weren't right on our tail. At Phantom we fueled up again and got ourselves all stoked up for the grind along to canyon floor. Just as we were entering Phantom Steve spots a rattlesnake. He loved the pink reptile while just the knowledge there was one in the area creeped me out. I never saw the snake but I was pretty jumpy for the next hour....I hate snakes! It was right down hot now and I had a rough go for at bit. I was trying to force myself to move as fast as possible and it was hard. I was soooooo hot! I finally gave in to the roar of Bright Angel Creek and jumped off the trail and dove into the river. Micheal wasn't far behind me. I went in front first, whole body and rolled around. It felt so good and cooled me down enough to bring new life to my legs. I was moving much better now and we plugged along to Cottonwood.

About 1 mile out from Cottonwood the North Rim began to darken with heavy clouds. Then the sound of serious thunder. It was amazingly loud and awesome. We loved it. It cooled the air and was a welcomed sight. We never did hit any rain but could see it coming down in the distance. Finally at Cottonwood we re-filled for the final climb. It felt pretty darn good and I knew I was going to beat my 12:39 time by a lot. I was actually excited to dig deep for the final ascent to the North Rim. Micheal took the lead and within about 2 minutes he was out of sight. Susan was just ahead of him and Steve was just behind me. I thought I could make the climb from Cottonwood in under 2:15 if I really worked it. My quads were talking to me but my climbers were still in good shape. However, you do need your quads to climb and they were feeling it. The dark clouds had blown through and we were left with just spotty white puffs but the temps remained cool. Those cooler temperatures were a real treat for this climb. As I made my way up the hill I decided to see how long it took me to climb 100 feet. I used my altimeter and found it was taking me about 3 minutes and 10 seconds to climb 100 feet. I then played this game the whole way to the top. It was crazy how close I kept coming to that number. It kept my mind busy and before I knew it I was touching to top in 11:40:42 running time. I was excited about beating my best time by so much but more excited about how good I felt.

Everyone did a great job in the Canyon that day. All of them had some good experiences in the big ditch and I think everyone wants to go back. The next day Micheal and I planned to run the Ken Patrick trail on the North Rim. It meanders along the North side to Imperial Point so the views were going to be nice. Cheri and Gary were up the next day challenge and we all made our way on the 10 mile trail. It was really overgrown in many places and climbed around 2000 feet in 10 much for flat. It was a slow rough start on our R2R2R legs but we all loosened up and enjoyed the trail.

That ended my first cycle of peak training. I only have one more cycle left before tapering for Hardrock. Scott has given me more of a workload for the next one and I think I am ready. My recovery is so rapid right now. I have never experienced this kind of recovery before so I am both excited and scared to see how this final push goes.