If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky enough.

When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.

The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott

Monday, April 08, 2013

A throw-down at Hells Hills.

What a day!!! Hells Hills was a blast, a totally awesome one to boot! This Tejas Trails race is the mildest one where terrain comes (yet as a first one in a season when heat suddenly comes that very weekend onto non-acclimated bodies, it certainly gives enough challenges). The trails at the ranch are put on by and for mountain bikers. It's the trail that reminds me the beloved PNW the most - there are pine trees, so we have soft dirt, at times covered in pine needles. There are some rocks and roots, but by Texas definition, totally nothing worth mentioning (although if you read discussions on Tejas Trails Facebook by new-comers to trail runners, there are complains and exclamations beyond imagination, and I can't even picture myself calling this trail "technical"). It had dips and steep climbs, but all very in very short ditches, some twisting, and an estimated total elevation gain measured by a bunch of folks between 600 to 1000 feet (lets round to 800, flat, really).

I met all my "challengers" an hour before the start, and we continued trash-talking. This race is a buzz, as always, Joe's races bring all Texas together, lots of fun, it was also our HCTR club's picnic day (past 10 am since I was to distribute food tickets). Total insanity how many people I haven't seen in a long time, good friends, awesome times. All of us going for 2:30 tucked in together with Larry locating himself in the front with Melanie Fryar, Alison Bryant and Meredith Terranova. The 25km version of this race (featuring also 10k, 50k and 50M) is a Sportiva Cup championship, so it brings a handful folks wanting points, but the rest is all locals. Of course, I yelled a lot of insanities and kept newbies entertained and scared:)

And we took off. Once I put my music on, nothing else mattered. All "my" boys kept behind, for a bit I heard a chatter, then got lost in the tunes and turns of the trail...

Mike Ruhlin and Brian Ricketts right behind.
The first mile beeped on my Garmin and scared me some - 9:03. Uh-oh, slow down, sissy! I felt a little bit of working, but not too much. It is a weird distance, and you can't quite nail the effort for 25k - not hard as in 10k, but surely not chilled like in 50M, right? I have no clue how to race in-between...

2nd mile beeped in 9:06. Oh, shit, I am going to break. Breathe, stupid! I did, and soon felt smooth and in control. OK, honey, much better, keep it like that - just to find out my 3rd mile went in 8:54.

From there on, it was like that non-stop. Every time my Garmin beeps on a mile, I'd look, make huge eyes, get scared I'll break down very soon ("No, no, no way I can keep up-tempo pace for 15 miles! And on trails to boo!") and keep moving. I was just simply going for it, wondering where my limits are.

First manned AS (there was a water stop I didn't stop at) came around 6 miles, and I zipped in for a mere 10 seconds to fill my bottle, and as I turned my head, Brian went by. Bu#$%D! I yeled out with a smile. He responded without breaking a stride or turning his head: "If I have a chance to beat you, I am sneaking by!". Rest assured, Brian beat me by 20 minutes last year, so I was ok, but it didn't mean I wasn't trying to stay on his heels!

The next 5 miles were totally uneventful in trail description (actually, that was the easiest of 3 segments). The only thing was (besides slowly catching up with some 50k runners who started 1 hr ahead of us) 2 girls passing me, neither had a water bottle, both seemed almost professional. I didn't blink as they pulled away quickly, and in a minute actually thought - "Dang, they must be 10k front runners! No bottles, super-fast pace, I never studied the course, so who knows where we merge...don't go after them!". Of course, there is a little pull when you're passed, but in general I believed what I thought and didn't care.

Not a couple miles later, I saw both of theirs purple shirts right ahead of me. Hmm, am I an idiot of going too fast? I wondered. I was running very even at this point, kind of working, but not overdoing anything, smiling, talking to each runner I am passing in full sentences, so breathing in check, legs ok, fuel on spot, water still in the bottle...I passed girl #1 a mile before AS. I remembered the course from 2 years ago and knew aid is coming. Ran into it - and my friends Hor Hey and Diana - and actually spent 30 seconds chatting while filling my bottle. Hor Hey reported Larry is up front and running well, and chased me out.

As I got out, I pass the girls #2 with words "Common, honey, 5 miles left, just a morning jog!!" and she disappeared behind in a blur. Wow! I need to finally look at the watch!

All this time I was only trying to comprehend the fact that my miles vary between 9:02 to 9:29 at most, and since I never try to figure out my pace ahead of time (this is my 3rd race with Garmin, and I don't know "pacing", I know "going by feel"), I wasn't sure what it all meant besides "Holly cow, this is my road morning moderate effort run pace!". So, at mile 10.5, with 5 miles to go, I was at 1:38. What the heck does it mean?

Suddenly, that fuzzy math begins to make sense and scary and elate me simultaneously. Even if I run 10 min/mile to the end, I am breaking 2:30! Oh, s&%T! I am totally doing it!

This fueled me big time. That, and the fact that I wasn't going to let those girls re-pass me back. After a couple of miles, the trail entered its kind of "worst", with a long incline, then the "Grunts" (a series of steep ditches and twists, which I ran EVERY STEP of, just as I ran every step for the whole race!), more incline, some field...I came on a man who ran with me first section, then ran away, and yelled "Don't let me pass you, lets go, a mile and half left, work it, pull it!" - and within 10 seconds got around and lost him too.

The field crossing came extremely fast, and I picked it up. And in the last tenth of a mile, with all the folks (runners, volunteers and families), it was like running through the Boston's Wellesley girls tunnel...at least it seemed to be:) The yelling "Olga!!" echoed from one to another as I was passing, and it felt fantastic, will all the friends cheering and being there seeing my finish, and rooting for me, my family, my life, reason I stay with it, reason I want to do well always...

So, I pumped my fist and yelled some insanity as I finished as well:)
Yeah, I was that crazy...Photo courtesy Enduro Photo.

"You looked amazing today. One look at you face after you crossed the finishers mat and I saw how much you love running. You were shining!"
" This made my day even sweeter! I do love it all, the hard work, the exuberance of racing, the single track, the trees, the push, the smiles, the support, the finish line, the hang out and war stories exchange...wouldn't want my life any different! "

As I was there, reliving the fact I had just finished in 2:23 (!!!), over 10 minutes faster than my far-fetched goal (did you really think I believed I could go for 2:30? My goal was 2:35!), 19 full minutes PR on the course, feeling like nothing happened, like I could have given more to it if I ever thought, while out there, that I could...Larry comes over with a grin mixed with disbelief and points me back - "Go, get back on the course, no, not supposed to yet!". Ha! He finished in 2:00 flat, and since I had 30 minutes handicap, it means I beat him! Brian Ricketts finished a mere 3 minutes ahead of me! And Chris Russel...well, he will have to come back to this course, because I ate his cushion from 2 years ago and saw him for extra 5 (minutes)!

Happy Larry, 5th guy in an extremely stacked field, and Harrison, who was being a real boy!

With Big Chris, who is 6'8", by the way, rubbing it in.

Cris Strong, a good friend.

The rest of the day was just as amazing. After a shower, I was giving away tickets to HCTR members for food cooked by Ranch owners, chatting away, hugging, kissing, trash-talking, poking fun, loving every minute of it. Simply high. Too bad we had to leave earlier (to pick up Stephen from work). I didn't want it to end.
Photos from event.

(From my email later that day to the HCTR club: "4 weeks ago I wanted to be done with the position and tend to my own personal life. Last 4 weeks proved to me that this Club is united and exists and wants to continue going on. I feel blessed to be part of it. We are good people. I am still getting out:) I do need to re-charge. But rest assured, I am not out of the club and its activities. You'll hear from me, as always, loud and clear. Because I love y'all.")

The rest of Saturday went mellow, in chilling and being in two stages at once: elated for what happened and scared that I just set a bar for myself higher. As we discussed how next 9 weeks (7 weeks of training) will have to be focused and real, I got chocked on tears. I don't remember last time my goal meant that much, but this time it does, The way I got into San Diego 100, the way I almost gave up running competitively, how I struggled with adrenalin fatigue, my come back, sticking to me eating Paleo and seeing benefits of it so grand, refusing to "age", to slow down, to "retire", to stop inspiring - and in return being inspired back - all of it was so real.

Sunday was "into the grind". One hour on Treadmill with 2x20 min 7% hill repeats at 11:00 pace, and 2 hrs on trails to follow. Recovery, hard training, and a lot of those new projects/prospects I wrote last time. Next 2 months are going to be epic.

I am going to make it happen.


Danni said...

"Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years"

Anonymous said...

Don't need to ask where all that speed is coming from. U R the best and Happy doing it. That is so Cool. U deserve the reward for all your hard work.
Doing 70 mile weeks. Running with Scott Martin most weeks. The boy is kicking my Ass. He is running the kinda paces that I used to at his age. its easier to get fit if U train with peolpe faster then U r.

Great race report. I could feel your Joy.

Yours always

ALM said...

I'm living vicariously through you! Great job, keep it up!

Sarah said...

I'm so happy for you!! I love, love, love how you always encourage people and want to bring them along with you. Can't wait to see what the rest of this year holds for you.

Carilyn said...

Fantastic, Olga! I'm so happy for you and glad to see you have your mojo back!

Carilyn said...

That is so fantastic, Olga! I'm so happy for you! Glad to see you have your mojo back!

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