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

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Sage Burner - a successful end of the racing season

I won't drag this long, as during the 50k on Saturday I had plenty of time to have one thought: boy, I will have nothing to write. And I like it this way! It was as uneventful of a race as it can be, which lead to a great day in many ways.

For a couple of weeks I dreaded the decision on what to do with my last race entry. I even emailed RD's, lovely Justin and Denise Ricks, for the exact rules, and then had Larry forward me hotel reservation in Gunnison to read when would be the last moment to cancel. On Wednesday morning, as I drove to the gym, I looked at the clock in the car: 7:45, I still have 15 min prior 72 hrs cancellation cut off. Got inside, started workout, and after each set, I would be like: I can still walk into the gym's office, get on the computer, and cancel. At 8 am that part was over. I still had until Thursday 4 pm to cancel hotel and recover that money. The clock ticked, and I kept stalling. Once I passed that moment, too, I was committed. I texted Theresa: at the minimum, we're going to Gunnison, seeing Annie and Noah and helping out. The weather prediction for the start of the race was 11F. What do you even wear in this temp?!

The drive was good, the coffee in Gunnison was yummy, and with 8 am start and 10 min drive from the hotel I had a full night sleep. We showed up 6:45 am, got nearly a first parking spot, and waited. At the last minute I decided against the hat and extra pair of sleeves, and went with long sleeves shirt, short sleeves shirt over it, a windbreaker, and half-tights. While it was frigid cold those 5 minutes before the "gun" went off, I could have done with less. Good lesson. We chatted briefly with Annie, Noah and Elliot, and started on the long uphill into the race course at Hartman Rock Park.

I didn't take my phone, so there will be no photos (and I don't believe race had any photographers on the course). Nor would I need it - there was nothing to look at. I mean, far away you could see snow-capped peaks, but around, it was just dirt, brown naked hills, and a whole lotsa nothing. As far as scenery goes (I know I am spoiled) this was the least exciting course, although maybe that wasn't a bad thing: I resolved to stare under my feet all the time, and had no determents for that.

I had my goals, and they were simple: number 1 - NO falling or cramping! That's all I truly wanted, to finish my last race in one peace, no injuries, no negative stuff. Number 2 was to break 7 hrs. Number 3 - my "pace chart" predicted 6:45 and it'd be nice to land 15th female, give or take, to be in top third of 46 female entrants. With that, I was firmly planning on staying within myself  and go easy.
Sage Burner sends 50k and 28k runners together. I was letting all the hurrying up folks go as I power-hiked that first long climb. The race course doesn't have insane hills, it just rolls undulating the whole time on dirt bike paths/single track, up and down, seemingly inviting everyone to run it. It is one big loop, some single track is pretty smooth, but a lot of it is technical and rocky, and we even had plenty of places to navigate huge granite rocks to run on top of those either up or down. Other than that, pretty mellow run with about 4,500 feet of gain per that loop, all going between 8,000 and 8,600 feet altitude. There are 2 great things about Mad Moose events: the AS's are always close enough one never have to worry about dehydrating and can run on 1 bottle if so choses, and the course marking/flagging is impeccable. I never questioned myself if I am still on the course or considered which turn to take. It was all clear, and the confidence markers provide a relief when I do space out (happens a lot).

With that being said, I really don't have much. For the first 3+ miles or so we were all locked up in a single file on a technical single track going up and down. I could out-hike the up sections when folks walked it, and out-run down sections as those around me seem timid, but they also jogged little rollers where I was not in a hurry, so I resolved to simply be. I got to the first AS at mile 5 on time, passed on the aid (I carried 2 bottles), worked next 4.6 miles as easy as miles before, still on pace chart. Passed aid there as well. Shortly after 28k and 50k split, I followed the signs, used a quick bathroom break behind a rock (not an easy task when it's bare around and I wear pants instead of shorts, but I got lucky), and kept doing my thing. Around mile 12 3 guys jogged behind me, loudly discussing how it'd be great that they would pass runners and nobody passed them until the finish. Cocky, dudes! They got around me, but literally a quarter mile later the downhill started, and I re-passed them. The 3rd AS approached, I filled one of my bottles fast, and took off on the lollypop loop. Slowly but surely I pulled away from those 3 guys, and a couple of girls who were right behind. And that, my friends, how an ultra is run. One should never over-estimate own ability until way after half-way point. At 15.3 mile (AS #4, that I didn't stop at) I was exactly in 3:15, per prediction chart. I didn't do ANYTHING different from there on. I did my thing: power-hiked the hills, ran downs. Nobody passed ME from here on. Surprisingly, I was able to run lots of small rollers, flats, and even occasional incline. I completely trusted my body. If it wanted to run, I let it run. If it wanted to walk, I let it walk. I had this amazing connection that I was going with, never breathing hard, yet from time to time coming on one human or another. I by-passed AS #4 and 5 (Justin manned this one), refilled at #6 one bottle, passed 3 (or was it more?) runners on yet another loop, refilled one last time, and locked in gait behind 2 young gals for the last 4.5 miles. I truly don't have much more to describe. I was still, at mile 27, able to jog, and still had no plans to push. There was more downhill from here to the finish, with still some short ups for variety. I was a happy camper and determined to stay this way, and by now, way ahead of my predictions, too. I wasn't interested to chase those girls, but kept them in sight without forcing it. Somehow, I did pass one of them, and closed on another, but she sensed it, and put an effort to keep her distance. By then, trail became quite technical, again, and I had no interest falling in the last miles. Together, we pulled on yet another gal. The two of them really took off and duked it out all the way to the finish (some 9 seconds apart, a minute and half ahead of me), while I simply jogged all the way to cross the line in 6:25:59, with a smile. It turned out I ran a negative split (see above, 15.3M in 3:15). The best thing? I was 10th female (having worn a bib 10 assigned to me by Ultrasignup), and with 33 female finishers, I was in top third, plus I was 26th overall (71 finishers, 96 starters), AND THE OLDEST in the first over half the field (male or female, only a couple 40+ yo dudes ahead). Take that, kids! 
That's about all I can say about the end of my racing season. Out of 8 races I had participated in 2021 (after 8 years of not racing), Sage Burner 50k was one of 3 best (which also included Cheyenne 50k in April, and Mace 100 in June). It went like a textbook, even though I didn't race - I didn't push myself. Seems this style gives me an opportunity to allow my body to do its thing. It's a really great feeling to be trusting myself. I never cramped, never tripped, didn't fall. I never hit a wall or had a low point. The energy was flowing very evenly the whole time. I had 3 bottles of 300ml and 2 bottles of 500ml total, 12 gels (alternating those with salt, with caffeine, and just plain, taking on spot every 30 min), 3 salt tabs, I took 3 Advil prior race for my tailbone bruise, and 3 mid-race, just in case, for the same reason. I finished without a limp, or, as Larry put it, looking fresh as a daisy, not haggard. I was able to change clothes without wincing, I wasn't tired or sore - even after 3 hrs drive home, I got out of the car and didn't feel locked in in any single muscle. Go figure.

While I did my "jog in a park", Larry found a great coffee shop for breakfast (in which we stopped after the race as well), fished a bit, and spent countless hours volunteering at the finish line with Annie and Denise (RD), having awesome conversations and being part of the community. It was the best of times for both of us. I am so thankful he came with me for my closing race of 2021.

Now - I am taking a month completely easy. This 50k gave me a confidence boost that I still can control some of the things and do "it" right, after a cramp-fest at Staunton marathon and Sawatch 50k (not to mention the nasty fall). It was a perfect ending. At 52, the experience is all I have to offer to this sport. My longevity goes on. Fingers crossed, I will have a few more seasons in me. I know I will try.

And the October is not over yet:)

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Celebrating 52 circles around the sun.

4 days after Sawatch madness I flew to Portland. It was pretty much a red eye flight, as I arrived close to midnight, and didn't get to my friend Natasha's house until 1 am. Which is 2 am by CO time, if I may add. My sleepless week continued. However, the next two days granted me a beautiful sunshine and upper 60's, which I totally appreciated. It was a great trip, as far as my Portland visits go last years. Morning walks with Natasha in her green neighborhood - she's the last friend standing in PNW still, and to think, I actually met her years after I left this city, and through my boys. So much for friendships withstanding years and miles...dwindling down to barely a handful. That's what happens when you move many times, I guess. But I digress. 

After breakfast, I got to visit my younger son Stephen, and then spent nearly a full day with my older son Alex. We did what normal families do - had lots of coffee in the park, went to random stores, I bought him a sketch book - he's a very talented artist (along with a very smart science guy), and I bought myself lots and lots of yarn - something I haven't done properly in a couple of years. I guess I was happy, because for me, yarn and knitting are signs of a passion coming from the heart. Lets the knitting commence...

Saturday, the next morning, was more of the same. A walk with Natasha, a chat with Stephen, and quality time with Alex. I was at peace, and after a quick lunch with Natasha's church friends, I was on the plane back home. As I flew over Mt Hood, I waved. It stood solo in the sea of green, as it always does, and I said to it, I'll be back. Of course, I will...
I got home just around 10 pm. Larry was visiting Harrison in Lubbock, so I made a quick decision to go for my 10th this year Pikes Peak, October edition. So, yet another sleepless night, 4 am wake up, though I took it slower in the morning hours, knowing I don't have to be in a hurry. I didn't set my foot on Barr trail until 5:30 am. It being Sunday, I passed many hikers, even though I committed to going nice and easy. It's amazing what the perception of "easy" does - my time was a bit faster than September, but I never even breathed hard. My legs did hurt, as it was a mere week after them cramping like there's no tomorrow, but it was worth it - the sunrise, a great weather above tree line, a top all to myself and first to get there (literally past last guy 100 yards before the cograil tracks). The Aspen were bright gold, and near the top there was dusting of snow. Hello, winter. On the downhill, I continued with the "nice and easy" slog, and mostly walked. I needed to preserve my body. October was just starting.
Larry came back in time for dinner, and the work week began. Once Thursday evening rolled, we officially entered my birthday weekend. I had big plans originally, climbing not one, or two, but 3 14-ers. It started with idea Grays/Torreys double (their tops are within 0.5 miles), then staying in Leadville, and going Huron next day. We studied the website, and decided we hate dirt bumpy road access to all those, and settled for 2 other (both with asphalt trailheads): Yale and La Plata. By Thursday, it was obvious we need to re-think it all for a totally different reason: Friday noon the front was coming and bringing not only snow, but, more dangerously, wind up to 50 mph. It would have been dumb to do it. So, I decided to go back to Grays/Torreys first day (hoping to hit both before the bad weather really comes full force), stay in Leadville (the hotel was pre-payed, so we were stuck), then lazily hike low trail around Leadville Saturday and drive home earlier. Well, that turned out to be not quite as wished.
Wake up at 3:30 am, and a relatively short drive (took us 1:40), we parked at the lower trailhead, still not interested in driving the 4WD 3 miles to the higher spot. We figured, we can add 6 extra miles to the trip. We started in the dark, and got to the TH proper as the light was getting grey. Both 14-ers stood in front of us, as we began our hike. Grays is onb the left, Torreys on the right. It was cold, but at that time, for the most part, the wind was at our backs - until we turned and turned and gained altitude, and had to put our Gortex jackets on. The hands quickly went numb. The last 600 feet of climb was packed snow, but on the way up it didn't really affect us. We kept passing people, slowly, and had a top ALL to ourselves! However, the wind began really affecting our temperatures and comfort level, so there was no time to hang out (we actually never do, come to think about it), Larry's phone died in the cold, mine was barely there, I took 3 shots around, including one with the path to Torreys (descending to the saddle and climbing steeply ip on the rock scree).
As we pointed our shoes down to the saddle, the wind REALLY got bad, gusting to 40 mph, everything was frozen, plus we were on packed snow/ice covering sharp rock. Of course, I slipped. Of course, I hit my tailbone, exactly smack in the middle of the top of my butt crack, on a (of course) rock standing like a shark fin. I am not kidding. I rolled to the stomach, waling, yelled at Larry a few words of choice, got myself up. He wanted to turn off the mountain right away, I got angry and wanted to give my best shot for Torreys. We got down to the saddle and began the traverse. The wind was knocking us off pretty bad, and neither one of us felt our hands or faces. I looked up, at the much more steep scree than Grays had - and thought to myself: fuck this shit, I hate going down it as it is, and with these gusts, I'll be risking sliding down. On my birthday! Who needs this misery? I turned to Larry, and motioned to go back. He was only happy to oblige. 
We met so many people, once past the intersection of two trails, still going up Grays, and Larry, my social butterfly, told everyone how we had to abandon the second peak. Mostly, folks are thankful for the information (though I am one of those who barely nods my head on the trail, pardon my seemingly unfriendliness). Once about 1,000 feet below both summits, the wind was comer, we peeled out jackets off, and jogged/hiked all the way down, to the upper TH, then on the dirt road to the lower. These peaks will be here next year, and my ass was really hurting me, so all in all, it was a good decision.
On the road portion, we passed by an old building, and explored it a little. As we got to the car, there was no way I could sit down in it. Oh, man, memories of my Cactus Rose 100 in 2009 flooded, and I inspected the damage. The top of the tailbone was screaming in pain to touch, and I had a bloody bruise on the side of the top of my butt. 
I hit it for real. Half-laying on my side in the passenger seat, Larry drove me to Frisco's Safeway, where I hobbled and bought a big bottle of Advil - and some chocolate. 4 pills took an edge off the pain, and I was able to actually enjoy our favorite coffee shop in Leadville, City on the Hill. After that, we checked into our hotel (gosh, Leadville needs better accommodation, their better option we keep staying in is just bad, really bad). For dinner it was another local favorite, High Mountain Pies. Before dinner, we (finally!) hit a Melanzana store, and finally got ourselves Mellies! I know, how pathetic, we got to have a popular thing. But really, support the locals - they sew it, literally, in front of your eyes (we got overstock, not personal order), it's fun, and the quality turned out to be exactly what people are raving about. Super-soft and super-hot! I was sweating in it, sitting outside the pizza in a drizzle.
We woke up to a total misery of the weather in Leadville, and very quickly decided to forgo local hiking trails. Muddy and wet, what kind of birthday would that be? Indeed, it was my official birthday. I called my sister, we packed, and hit City on the Hill coffee place one more time. The drive was uneventful thanks to lots of Advil, and once we passed Buena Vista, the sky cleared up. Oh, if only...but we did check the mountain weather, and for sure, it had those 50 mph winds and snow as promised. As far as I saw on FB for 14-ers, no brave souls summitted in Sawatch/Front range on Saturday. The rest of the day I did absolutely nothing, which was different from every other celebration I had before - I love adventuring on my birthday. It was a first when the weather didn't cooperate on October 9th, I swear.
But, I was ok with that, too. I guess I am truly getting old. On Sunday I managed to jog 4 miles with the support of more Advil. Larry blew our sprinklers lines (winter is coming fast), and then we picked our apples.

Now, I have a decision looming in front of me: next Saturday I have my last race for this year, I am all signed up for. Sage Burner 50k in Gunnison, CO, 4 hrs away. By Tuesday evening, there are 3 options I have to chose from. #1 and most sane (especially according to Larry) is to cancel this whole thing, get 50% credit for future racing (which I don't know if I want any of Mad Moose races as of right now...). My butt hurts, and my whole body is tired (see Sawatch report). #2, relatively tame: drop down in distance to 28k. I hate shorter stuff, I am so bad at speed, and now that I am tired, I wouldn't even be able to count on attrition rate...#3: walk it in. I mean, it'll hurt, I'll be pathetically slow, it'll be bad for my ego, but I'll finish what I signed up for, while Larry hangs out with Annie after her Moab 240 (and gets to fly-fish). 2 more days to decide. For tonight, we're going with our friends/neighbors to Patty Jewett Grill for some food and maybe even a drink to celebrate 52 more properly. Hello, year 53! Welcome to another circle!