Who I am – Without Running?

When did it become commonplace to define one’s life by a single subjective thing? When did we start whittling a person’s existence to a singularity; a career, a relationship or single attribute? Throughout evolution mammals never fixated on  one thing – if they had, they never would have survived. So why do we choose to judge, assume or react to ourselves and others based solely on one single attribute? Whether that be a physical characteristic, a personality trait or a job, modern society – enhanced by social media – encourages these snap judgements and generalizations.
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Photo Credit: Mike Thurk

I’ve certainly fell into this trap, especially when it comes to the activities I do. Since finding the sport, I have built a whole new life around running and the person I am as a runner. It’s an empowering community. To be surrounded by people who share your passions and can relate about gross toenails, ducking into the woods for a quick “break,” and especially those tiny moments where you feel so small, yet so connected to this vast universe. It’s addicting and can quickly become all you care about.

 

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Photo Credit: Greg Mionske

Recently, I’ve been forced to reevaluate this lifestyle. Now, the community and environment that has been a source of joy, belonging and acceptance has become painful. Running doesn’t come naturally to me now, it’s a battle of recovery, to regain strength so I can walk normally. Instead of finding solace in this community, connected and cemented in the life-centering activity of running, I find myself angry and consumed with grief. It has become isolating – a self inflicted ailment. Since I’m not running at the moment, I feel as though I have lost my identity, who I am. I’m lost in getting back to the “runner I was.” Trying desperately to prove to myself that this emptiness I feel can be fixed if I can just run again, if I could just walk down the street like a normal person, if I could just push through the pain of each step, if I could only go back in time and not step on that rock that cast me off the mountain side. If only . . . .

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Am I really that unbalanced? To be someone who defines their entire self-worth solely on one activity? Before my accident I would have defined myself as a balanced person. I have a Masters degree in Neuroscience and I teach Chemistry, Biology, and Physiology at a small college in Colorado. Anyone who knows me can see my extreme fascination and intrigue in the world around me, with science, especially with bugs, lizards and frogs. It’s been a passion of mine long before I became a runner and will likely continue to be something that captivates me long after I stop running competitively. I do have a life outside of running and I enjoy fostering those interests.

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Yet, I am still devastated by this state of injury I find myself in, and the halo of sadness that constantly surrounds me. So much so that it has begun to negatively affect my life outside of running, those interesting parts of me that have always been there. I’m realizing now that I have intertwined my identity with running. My injury is temporary, and as I continue to show signs of progress to regaining my strength and a sense of normalcy, this feeling of disconnection still persists. It can be dangerous, especially when ‘health’ and being ‘injury free’ seems to be the only cure – the promise of a wholly better self in all capacities, even those that weren’t directly injured in my accident. It is the utopian idea that once I can run again, all of my problems will disappear. But this is not true. Real life problems, the ones that running once helped alleviate, have a persistent nature and lay in wait for the next time I slow down or find myself injured again.

So I ask the question: who am I without running? Beyond my job, my hobbies, my relationships, what lays in wait there? I’ve struggled immensely since my injury and it’s forced me to take a deeper look and connect with who I am at my core – without the preconception of a job, activity or physical attribute interfering.

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Photo Credit: Greg Mionske

It’s a difficult question to ask, one I still struggle with. In fact, I’m still amid the process of introspection. It is the part of the injury recovery process that most people don’t get to see, and one we most often try to keep private, attempting to hide our struggle from others to save face. Why? I’m not sure I have those answers quite yet. I’m finding a sense of ease in the process but I still struggle. The biggest impact of this rebuilding process has been that I no longer look at myself through the lens of singularity. I can see a more complete and complex person beneath the brightly colored running shorts and shoes. One that enjoys being outside, with eyes glued to the ground in search of bugs, or frogs, simply because it makes me giggle and brings me joy. I want more of that complexity and diversity in my life. This injury and break from running has been immensely difficult but the blessing has been the lessons it has taught me about myself.

Of course, I’ll get back to running – it brings me so much joy to move in that way – but I’m no longer allowing my happiness to be fixed to that linear timeline. In the meantime, anyone want to go bug hunting?

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Resting Into Greatness

 

Resting is recovery. Resting IS recovery. Resting is . . . well . . . it’s hard. I’m a person of routine, and running is part of it. Running, moving, getting outside is part of me. It makes me better. I can focus; I’m more patient, and more productive. When I rest I find myself restless, not sure what to do with my pent up energy.

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It’s a distinct feeling from tapering. For a taper, I’m relieved for some rest and recovery. I am motivated to save my energy for an upcoming race or hard effort. I have an end goal. Extended periods of rest are a bit more difficult for me.

I like to take an off-season from competitions. I need the mental reset. Generally my off-season is October until my first race of the season in May, which leaves me with no real goals until the following spring. Of course I’m running during that time, but my intention is to reduce volume and intensity; I do easy running mixing in skiing and strength work. This time is important for me mentally and physically, so I feel rejuvenated when it’s time to train hard again.

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Logically I can talk my way through this, but when it’s actually time to rest, to recover and take a break, I struggle. Maybe you can blame this on my type ‘A’ personality, my goal-oriented way of thinking, my determination and discipline? All of these qualities make me a great runner and hard working; however, they also make it hard for me to chill out!

Recently resting has been a challenge for me. I spent the summer in Europe racing. I was focused, training every day, making sure I was prepared for the challenging races I committed to. So, once it was over and I returned home, I found myself at a loss. I was bored, unhappy and dissatisfied. It wasn’t due to disappointment – I was happy with my season – so what was it, this profound sense of uneasiness? So I went searching for it, trying to run through the boredom and uncertainty. I would stay in Boulder during the week to teach my classes, and then I would take off for 4 days, meeting up with friends or spending time in the mountains alone in hopes of shaking this unease.

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But I didn’t find it. I only ran into tears, fatigue and more dissatisfaction. I wasn’t giving myself permission to enjoy the down time. I was terrified of where my mind would go, what I would do with my time, of feeling unproductive.

Finally, after too many runs spent crying and wondering why I was still pushing, I realized rest was really what I needed. In fact, after a few days, I got pretty good at it. I just needed permission to rest, and some time to figure out the transition; to establish a new routine.

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I’m learning these periods of relaxing and allowing myself to move at a slower pace are a treat. I come back stronger, more motivated and eager. It’s not always easy. There are definitely days where I have to be more patient and not be so hard on myself, but those days are getting easier. I’m letting myself rest into greatness.

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Check out more articles at Trail Sisters, and thanks to The North Face for their continued support.

Run The Rut 50k

This year, I was really looking forward to Run the Rut 50k. What’s not to love? The race is in beautiful Big Sky, Montana, it’s a super technical course, has a ton of climbing, and attracts stout competition. I had run the race last year, so I knew what to expect (as far as difficulty and technicality), which mentally helps a great deal.

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Coming off a win at Speedgoat, where I had broken the course record (previously held by Anna Frost), I now knew I could hang with the top ladies. I just had to race smart, something I’ve been learning to do all season. My technical running had improved throughout the summer, so I was confident in my abilities to run technical descents, and on courses with big elevation gains and losses.

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Despite all of these reinforcements, I couldn’t help feeling tired. Not only physically, but mentally. I had reached an unambitious point in my training, but mixing things up helped like cycling, rock climbing and peak bagging. I still did a few workouts prescribed by my coach (Mike Aish), however some were unsuccessful due to either lack of motivation or the feeling I might be getting sick. This had me worried to race, since I knew my competition would be fresh or such seasoned racers they could constantly compete at a high level.

I did what I always do; forget about the competition and focus on the event, the location. I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to travel to Montana to run around Lone Peak, or let outside pressures get in the way with my enjoyment of ultrarunning. I got to the race early enough to watch all the events. The Vertical Kilometer race on Friday was a blast. I did the course before the race started to wake up my legs and do my favorite climb along the ridge to Lone Peak. The 25k on Saturday was impressive; for the competition, the technicality and steepness of the course. My friend David Powder Steele ran the whole 25k course with an American Flag on his back!

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The 50k was sunday, and I was thrilled to discuss my race plans with Meghan Hicks during my first interview on iRunFar:

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Race morning was chilly; 22 degrees, dark, still and clear. I focused on maintaining an even pace on the first climb, before heading downhill and then hitting some flat trails around a lake as the sun came up. Early on I became discouraged. Maybe it was my legs which felt heavy in the cold, or my stomach, upset, telling me I couldn’t eat too much that day, or my 5th position, I wanted to be higher. Regardless my head wasn’t in it. It took extra effort for me to focus my thoughts. I contemplated dropping (only 10 miles in). I scolded myself for getting caught up in negatively and urged myself to see the positive: the beauty of the course, running in Montana, going up Lone Peak.

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Still, I was struggling. I was in 4th position going up headwaters and I could see 1 of the girls ahead of me. I kept pushing. I saw my friend Myke Hermsmeyer at the top of the climb. I burst in to tears. My stomach hurt worse now and I was still discouraged, defeated and tired. He urged me forward as I took on the first technical descent.

The Rut 2015 Photos for Competitor Web Gallery. Photos by Myke Hermsmeyer. michael.hermsmeyer@gmaill.com / mykejh.com / @mykehphoto on Instagram and Twitter

Hillary Allen descending on Headwaters Ridge at The Rut 50k on her way to 2nd place. Photo Myke Hermsmeyer / michael.hermsmeyer@gmail.com / @mykehphoto

When I reached the aid station atop Swiftcurrent lift I still hadn’t snapped out of it. I even managed to go off course for 3-5 minutes, which frustrated me further. I saw my teammate, and race director, Mike Foote at the aid station, still in 4th position. I told him I needed new legs, that mine were feeling dead. He could tell I was discouraged and assured me I was running a great time. If I hiked steadily up to Lone Peak, he told me, my legs would come back. His words stuck with me as I urged myself forward, behind Anna Mae Flynn, trying to close in on Martina Valmassoi (who had overtaken me when I went off course).

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I am a strong hiker and as I closed the gap on the girls ahead of me, I started to formulate a strategy to finish the race. I was confident descending off of Lone Peak and I overtook Anna Mae here, pushing forward to catch Martina, who I could see just ahead of me. I knew Emelie was in the lead (which was impressive, since she had competed in the VK and the 25K the two days prior to the 50K).

The remaining part of the course was mostly downhill, so I pushed myself as hard as I could on the uphills to get to them. I passed Martina on the ascent to the final aid station to learn I was only 8 minutes back from Emelie. I was ready to get this thing done, and to not anyone pass me!

On the final uphill of the course (about 1 mile from the finish) I glanced at my watch:6:22. I realized I was running a fast time, and could actually finish under the course record from last year (set by Emelie Forsberg)! I had held my 2nd position, and when I finally crossed the finish line I had goosebumps and couldn’t stop smiling. Not because I finished in 6:30 (under last year’s course record), or that I had qualified for the World Mountain Running Championships next year in Slovenia; I was so pleased I fought through to the very end, I didn’t give up, and pushed through when I wanted to quit.

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My Mom even came to cheer me on, and my friend John Fitzgerald. It was great to see them along the course and celebrate at the finish. I even had a little dance party at the finish (a warm up for the ‘Cowby-up’ party later that night).

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2015 The Rut photos for CBS consideration. Photos: Myke Hermsmeyer / michael.hermsmeyer@gmail.com / mykejh.com / @mykehphoto

Check out my post-race interview with iRunFar and USL.TV (and a little round table action with USL.TV):

Thanks to Myke Hermsmeyer Photography for all of his amazing photos: Myke Hermsmeyer / michael.hermsmeyer@gmail.com / mykejh.com / @mykehphoto! To The North Face for their support, Hammer Nutrition, Swiftwick Socks and team Run Steep Get High. Huge thank you to Mike Foote (@mikefootemt) and Mike Wolfe (@wolfepaw) for putting on such a spectacular event.

March Madness and an Antsy Allen

March did not go according to plan for me – and I love plans. After competing in the Way Too Cool 50k I was excited to get back to training in Colorado again. I felt like I was getting fit and I wanted to keep pushing.

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BUT, my body told me otherwise. I kept on having issues with my right calf. It was infuriating! When I would land on my right foot or push off, it would feel as if my leg might collapse . . . this sensation of pressure and weakness radiating down my right lower leg. There was no pain at all, just a nagging sensation that something wasn’t right.

I tried to push through it, ignore the fact that I was starting my runs limping  – until things loosened up. I was stretching, resting, but things weren’t getting better. I was getting increasingly more frustrated. I was scared to run, to feel that sensation of weakness and that I didn’t have control over my body. It was overwhelming. I felt helpless. Since there was no pain I wanted to keep running through it, but my fear and anticipation of that feeling would lead to tears, negative talk and stress. I decided to do something about it. I needed answers.

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I went to see several PTs (i’m a skeptic, so I needed multiple opinions). This is where I discovered dry needling and an imbalance in my hips. These people really knew their stuff! The imbalance was causing me to put extra strain on my right calf (and let’s be real – my calves work hard enough running uphill as it is, so this added stress was making them very unhappy).

I had developed really deep knots and my calf was so tight that It was pressing on the peroneal nerve (causing that weakness and pressure). I was relieved to find the root of the issue and to start a treatment plan: dry needling, massage and hip strengthening. I do well with plans. The part that was the hardest was the rest part. Remember that 4-letter word? Yes, rest. I hated it.

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But, as much as I hated rest, I needed it. I’ll admit, I became a slight head case, ranging in severity from day to day . . . imagining all the fitness I was loosing, saying my race season was screwed, becoming antsy, impatient, sad – I realized (after talking and crying to some wise friends) that all of this panic would do nothing to help me get through this set back. A positive outlook changes everything and I definitely needed to adjust mine.

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I took the time off from running to go crazy in the mountains a different way. Spring time skiing is the best, so I decided to ski some 14ers. Something I never thought I’d be capable of doing. I ended up skiing 3 of them – Quandary Peak, and then Grays and Torreys Peak in one, epic link up! Although, boot packing is a son of a bitch.

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I also got on my road bike. The biking in Golden and Boulder is spectacular, plus it’s always so fun to explore the foothills in a different way . . . say going 45mph down some hills 🙂

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My coach, Mike Aish, even taught me the ways of aqua jogging . . . although sometimes I still feel like i’m trying to kick something underwater. Goats don’t swim.

I focused on rock climbing too, and of course resting. I realized that I needed to find a way to be happy with my training and do it because I love it, not because I should or needed too. Movement is the best way for me to relieve the stress I feel from graduate school, work through problems, mediate and relax. But, I can experience movement in many ways, not just through running. Although running is where I feel the most free, I discovered it’s not the only way I feel free – an important lesson to learn.

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I never want to get caught up in “shoulding’ myself to run. I want to do if for the enjoyment, because I love it . . . I want to push myself, and I also need to listen to my body. It needed a break and my mind needed to be reminded that running wasn’t the only way to experience the mountains. Plus – I just needed to chill out. Several of my friends helped me to realize that one.

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Now i’m back to running and it feels so rewarding! Although it didn’t happen as fast as I would have wanted, and i’m keeping it in check, i’m happy I can address a problem that would have eventually come to haunt me. I have to think of these set backs as character builders, or else I drive myself into an antsy frenzy. I found the silver lining, and sometimes I have to keep looking, but I’m letting go of expectation so I can enjoy the journey.

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Rest: a runner’s 4-letter word

Take it easy, take some time off, put your feet up . . . lie still . . .  When I hear these phrases I get an overwhelming urge to go for a run. This might be irrational, and I embrace that dichotomy.

Running feeds my soul, and never lets me down. Even on a bad run, I’m never disappointed that I got out the door and into the fresh air, trails and mountains. I’ve grown from running and it’s a part of me, so when there comes a time when I can’t or shouldn’t run, there’s always an inner battle to fight.

Logically, I know my body needs rest and recovery to keep performing and running without injuries, but sometimes my mind tells me a different thing. Especially during taper weeks for races, when I feel fat, lazy and inactive. My mind plays tricks on me, that I’m losing fitness, or getting slower . . . I have to constantly remind myself that these times – where I move more slowly – are necessary, just as necessary as my long training runs.

I learn best through trail and error. I learned a valuable lesson about rest this season. So let me take you through what I did first:

1) No rest after tough races.

My first 50 mile race was in June this year, Big Horn 50 mile (you can read my blog recap of it: https://hillygoat.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/bighorn-50-race-report/). I raced it pretty hard. The steep, uneven, off camber downhill left my quads and IT bands wrecked.

But, I soon forgot the pain of the race and was still riding my adrenaline high, so I rested for 2-3 days and started running again. I knew I was tired and my muscles were still beat up, plus I had a weird pain in my foot (when I would propel myself uphill). But, my IT band was the real issue.

I had a huge knot in my left quad and even with stretching and rolling, it was difficult to relieve. But the real issue was my left IT band. It was tight, going downhill hurt my left knee had this clicking noise. Every time I would extend/bend my knee it would click/snap . . . I learned this was because my IT band was so tight, that it was snapping over the bone at the connection point in my knee, coming off its normal ‘tract’ . . . basically not good.

I still kept trying to train on it, but I soon realized I would have to cut back if I wanted to run Speedgoat 50k in less than 3 weeks. This race was pretty important to me, being my first big competition race, so I really wanted to compete and see what I could do.

I had to alter my training, I had to take more days off and focus on stretching and rolling. I could run flat without it hurting, and biking was fine, although I had to be careful to not climb too much. It was really frustrating. I also had to be diligent with daily glute and hip flexor strengthening exercises. If one day I forgot those, or to roll out, I would suffer for 2 days with pain and the clicking knee.

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It wasn’t until I had 4 days of running pain free that I decided to run Speedgoat 50k, and even when I stepped on the start line I knew I wasn’t 100% recovered. Not a good feeling, especially since Speedgoat was notoriously hard. During that race, I hit a wall by mile 15, and had already started to feel my IT cramping up. Plus, I stepped on several rocks, so my feett felt horrible too! The only thing that got me to the finish line was me repeating to myself “I’m taking a whole week off after this!”

 

So now I will tell you about scenario #2, where I take significant time off after tough races.

2) Listen to your body, quiet your mind and REST, damnit!

I literally couldn’t walk normally for a day after speedgoat. So it was definitely time to rest. Even by Monday, my mind was wandering and telling me to run, but I was stubborn and went to yoga insteadd. I made sure to stretch, roll, do easy yoga and sleep for 7 days straight. It was challenging to switch up my routine (remember I like this running thing), but it was a needed break, physically and mentally.

Once I started running again, I was surprised at how strong I felt. I hadn’t lost any fitness, but was motivated, and ready to start training again. I eased back into the training week and before long, I was out doing big loops in the mountains, feeling really strong. I made sure to keep up my foam rolling and strength exercises for my IT, I definitely didn’t want that issue again.

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My next race was Run the Rut 50K in Big Sky Montana, and I was feeling strong. I raced very smart and was very pleased with my 5th place finish, but most of all, with how I felt during and after the race. My IT didn’t cramp up, and I wasn’t completely thrashed after the race. To me this says I trained smart, since my muscles were recovered and ready for such a hard effort. A stark contrast to Speedgoat (which was an easier race). 2 short weeks after Run the Rut, I was even able to race Flagstaff Sky Race, and win the US Sky Running Ultra Series.

 

This is definitely a plan I will be sticking to. Rest is a 4-letter word I have learned to like.

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Loops in the high country: Mount Belford, Mount Oxford and Missouri Mountain

This is the first summer I’ve spent a lot of time running in the high country. And I’m addicted. Want proof? I’ve only done eight 14ers in my life, 5 of them being this summer alone. My goal isn’t to climb all the 14ers in Colorado . . . it’s more about the beauty of the high country, exploring new trails and loops, with the bonus of getting killer altitude training!

A few weekends ago I completed a loop with boyfriend Jon. I had my heart set on a 3 mountain loop that I’d been reading about on 14ers.com. It involved massive Missouri Mountain, Mount Belford, and Mount Oxford. The trip reports on 14ers.com are extensive, but after looking at several maps and routes I decided to do Mount Belford first, traverse over to tag Mount Oxford (a common duo) and then descend through Elkhead pass and head up and over to Moussouri mountain.

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I printed out a couple maps and trip reports to help me out along the way. These two were the most helpful with descriptions and pictures:

http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=15130&parmpeak=Mt.+Oxford&cpgm=tripmain&ski=Include

http://www.14ers.com/php14ers/tripreport.php?trip=13031&parmpeak=Mt.+Oxford&cpgm=tripmain&ski=Include

 

Based on the reports I read, the loop was around 15 miles with 7,000+ ft of ascent. Hikers reported 11.5 hours round trip, but I figured with power hiking, running the flats and downhill, 7 hours would do it.

We camped the night before about a mile from the Missouri gulch trailhead, about 5 miles down county road 390 (off hwy 24). There’s plenty of dispersed camping along county road 390.

The weather already felt like fall that night, and it was a brisk 40 degrees that morning. I decided last minute to hike in capri pants (good call for sure!). We started a little after 5am with packs and headlamps (my trusty Salomon pack filled was full of water and food). Initially we started running the flat sections but pretty soon transitioned into a strong power hike. It was steep right away!! In 0.9 miles we had already climbed 1000ft. Having the headlamps helped to focus on the steps in front of me, and not on how steep everything was!

 

I had read in some reports that there was a crucial intersection/river crossing early on in the route. This was at about 1.5 miles in, where we could cross a creek (over two sets of log bridges). I knew Belford was over to the left so we needed to go that way. I’m pretty sure going straight would lead to a dead end, but I didn’t go find out.

We knew we were on the right path when the trail went steeply uphill through fairly rocky terrain. There were definitely some runnable sections in this section, especially once the trail started to reach tree line. At about 2.5 miles in we reached the junction for elkhead pass and Mount Belford. We continued left at a solid pace, mostly power hiking at this point.

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There were quite a few people on the trail by this early hour. The more I looked up, the more I was surprised how steep the trail was. Just how steep? Well, in under 4 miles we had climbed 4500ft to reach a red, jagged out-cropping of rocks (the abrupt summit of Belford). We ate something quickly and started running the downhill and flat traverse over to Mount Oxford. I was super pleased with my shoe choice for the day: La Sportiva, Helios. Light weight, super sticky rubber and surprisingly protective for being so flexible. These shoes did great on the uphill, but the true test of loose gravely, winding downhills my Helios were still very grippy.

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We were having a grand time, enjoying the sweeping views, they were literally breathtaking, especially when we started on the uphill again. We had descended around 700ft, which meant we needed to ascend that to reach the Oxford summit. My legs were not happy with me at this point, I guess the lack of oxygen at 13,500ft has it’s effects after all.

The summit of oxford was windy and desolate, mainly just a pile of rocks marking the summit that were slightly higher than the mountain plateau. The traverse took us about 40 minutes, But we had to stop at the top and take in the spectacular views of Mt. Harvard and Mt. Yale in the distance. (I’m already planning a Mt. Harvard-Mt. Columbia duo).

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We hunkered down, at the summit of Oxford and ate some food while we looked at some maps to decide where we needed to take the trail down to Elkhead pass. We had to ascend not quite on the top of Belford, but to that same ridge-line and take a left to head down to a 4-way junction, towards Elkhead pass.

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Once we reached the ridge-line of Mount Belford, the trail we had to take was quite clear and we could see it stretch down and over towards Missouri Mountain. The downhill was fun and playful, we had to descend about 1700ft before the junction to Missouri Mountain. I was mentally preparing myself for the grueling uphill, for my legs to feel like jelly, to grind my way to the top. But after refueling with delicious hammer bars and espresso gels before the trek up, we summitted in about 45 minutes.

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Missouri Mountain is a beast!! The sketchiest part of the loop was on this section, not really due to technicality, just due to foot traffic, a really small single track plus loose gravel and a steep sweeping scree field. Once we reached the summit, we felt a profound sense of accomplishment! 3 summits in one day! We also had a visitor at the top.

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We then started back the way we came, to the junction at Elkhead pass. We started bouncing off rocks and dancing down the mountain. Descending through Elkhead pass was incredible. The bubbling creek and sweeping meadows were breathtaking. Plus is was only 10:30 in the morning! We were making great time. Storms were already blowing in across Missouri Mountain, so that helped us to move along at a good clip.

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We met up with the trail junction to Mount Belford (the one we took early that morning) and quickly descended into the dense forest. The trail became really steep again, and the technicality of this section really tired out my quads. Pretty soon, we were back at the creek crossing (neither of us managed to catch a toe on this descent, although we had many close calls).

We were now on the final descent, and it was steeeep! I didn’t realize how steep until I saw it. The darkness in the morning hid the steep drop offs and the intense vertical angle of the trail.

We made it back to our car in 6 hours and 30 minutes total time, which made our moving time around 5 hours 45 minutes. We made it back to camp before noon and passed out in our tents before the rain came in. It was a perfectly planned early morning loop in the high country.

Speedgoat 50k, a Cruel Mountain Race.

When I signed up for Speedgoat 50k, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. I had my sights set on Bighorn 50 mile, which happened a month before. It wasn’t until after I finished bighorn I began to think about speedgoat, a 50k that had the same amount of decent as my 50 miler and 4,000 ft more vertical gain, for a total of 12,000ft of vert and decent.

What the heck was I thinking?! This thought went through my head so many times the weeks after bighorn, when my left IT band was still tight from all the descending. I hopped right back into training, running probably too soon after my race . . . I felt that I had to. I didn’t feel recovered. I thought: “I’m never doing this again, signing up for back to back races . . . I might not even get to run speedgoat if I don’t recover!” I was panicked, my silly nickname (anxious allen) seemed to fit me quite well.

I gave myself the option of withdrawing from the race. It wasn’t worth it to run on an injury. My IT seemed to get better after taking a break from downhill running, but on a test run I did something to my foot. My body was telling me something, I was tired. I switched to biking for a few days and was convinced I had a stress fracture in my foot . . . It wasn’t until the Wednesday before speedgoat that I decided to actually run the race. I  saw a doctor/PT who assured me my foot was just bruised and inflamed. I was so relieved, I really wanted to run the race! irunfar had done a preview of the woman contenders for the top 10 spots and I had received 2 whole sentences. That was enough to get me really jazzed about going and competing against some national and world class women. Oh, yea, it was enough to make me super nervous too.

nerves

Race morning I got there an hour early. I just wanted the race to start so I didn’t have anything to worry about anymore, so I could just run, get lost in the sea of people, listen to my breathing and propel myself uphill (plenty of hills in this race). Myke Hermsmeyer (the Hammer nutrition rep) was there taking photos of the race, he definitely caught plenty of my nervous and pain faces throughout the race. When the gun went off, I finally felt a calm rush over me. All I had to do was run. I was worried my foot would hurt, my IT would flare up, but I pushed those thoughts away and focused on the uphill.

prerace

start_2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This course was insane. I was prepared for the course to be basically straight up then down then up then down . . . repeat as needed until 12,000ft have been reached. I wasn’t surprised when we started climbing right of the bat. I wanted to run as much as possible, and keep a few strong woman in sight (Kerrie, Becky, Ashley). My goal was of course to finish, and I wanted to place in the top 10. This was my first super competitive race, Anna Frost and Ellie Greenwood were running! I couldn’t stop staring at them.

The first climb’s summit was Hidden Peak, a little over 11,000ft. I was running in my Salomon Sense Pros, a lightweight yet protective shoe, I was pleasantly surprised my foot felt good. My Swiftwick Aspire 4 socks also provided a bit of compression so that helped too. Plus they were bright pink! When I reached the top I was in 6th place, Kerrie Bruxvoort and Ashley Arnold were just ahead of me and I felt pretty comfortable in this position, like I hadn’t gone out too hard. I was alternating between hammer gels and hammer bars every 30 minutes, I had already taken 2 s-caps too. It was a super hot day!. But regardless of the difficulty of the course, this race was lively! It was so fun to smile for the cameras and my friends (Jon and Myke) at the aid stations; there was so much great coverage at this race!

hidden peak

I then began my steep descent, which didn’t last very long, in only a couple miles we began to climb uphill again, on very rough, uneven and STEEP terrain. There were some sections of this course which made me laugh out loud, because they weren’t really a ‘trail’ more like a scree field or loose gravel terrain which gave way even in well placed steps. I had to throw myself down some of these sections, or crawl my way up. The most ‘fun’ part for me was descending into the halfway point through a river bed; slanted side walls, huge rocks, a bit of water, the real deal. Rocks moved when I landed on them, I slid into rocks trying to run on the slanted side wall of the river bed. I gave up trying to avoid the rocks and just flung myself over them, at them, hoping I wouldn’t fall, somehow I didn’t. But the weird steps and awkward landings agitated my foot and it began to hurt. Then, my IT began to flare up a little bit, when I stopped to refuel at the end of the only flatish section on the course. Was I going to have to drop? I tried to be patient and once I got moving again, both my foot and IT relaxed.

 

dowhhill_2             dowhhill_3

I still had about 6000ft of climbing to go! On the long uphill section I did my run-hike strategy, switching between running and a strong power hike. I was already feeling tired and thoughts about bighorn, my lack of recovery, crept in. When I moved into 5th place I regained some confidence and was determined to stay strong the second half of the race.

I had some really big climbs ahead of me. Around mile 22 I had caught up to Kerrie. She had been running strong all day and it was great to chat a bit to lift my spirits. We were both dehydrated, chugging water at the aid station before we left . . . we should’ve worn a vest. Our hand helds were empty between every aid station. Kerrie was great encouragement, we stuck together as we began a HUGE climb. It was great to run into a friend out there, especially on a really tough part of the course. I knew we had to tag 11ooo ft at least 2 more times.

pic

The climbs didn’t mess around. It was steep, steep, steep up to the top of Mt. Baldy, on this climb we ascended over 11,000 ft twice. I remember using my hands to ascend up the last ridge on a loose-earth trail. After a much needed descent and sweet traverse over an exposed ridge I reached the Tunnel aid station. I was only 2 minutes back from the 3rd place woman.

I thought the course was mostly downhill from here, but boy was I wrong. I must have been delirious from the sun/heat. I remember looking at my watch, seeing 9,300ft, thinking10,oooft would be the end of it. Once I reached 10,700ft I knew I was going to Hidden Peak again. AAHHH! I let out a couple yells, cursing the uphill, cursing Karl, cursing the ‘extra climb’ he said he added. I thought to myself ‘this is what 12,000ft of climbing feels like in 28 miles, like absolute hell!’ Of course I was exaggerating, but I was getting pretty sick of climbing. When I came closer to Hidden Peak, I heard my name, I tried to smile, but as my friend Myke took pictures of me all I could say is “This. Is. So. Cruel!” I’m pretty sure he wanted to laugh, but instead, he captured my ‘pain cave’ face pretty well. As I reached the top, Jon was there cheering, taking pictures, smiling. I told him how cruel I thought this was. He acknowledged my pain and quickly got me on my way, I was 2 min back from third.

climb   cruel

I knew it was downhill from here, so I tried to push it as best I could. I wasn’t sure I was going to catch Ellie, she was super fast on the downhills . . . but I was going to try. My foot and IT were impeding my confidence on the downhill, it was making me pretty frustrated since I felt I couldn’t just bomb downhill, but I had to be more calculated. I felt fatigued and remembered I should keep fueling to the end of an ultra. I learned that vanilla Hammer gels sit well with me on an iffy gut.

I think it was this focus that made me miss a turn and continue straight where I should’ve taken a left. I began to panic when I didn’t see course markings and my stomach sunk when I realized I was off course. This had never happened to me before! My heart rate spiked, I became frantic as I retraced my steps back uphill to find where I got off-course. Thankfully I found my missed turn, but now I was panicked Kerrie had passed me, I knew she was a strong descender. I had ruined my chances of catching 3rd, now I just hoped I was still in fourth. I tried to fling myself downhill as best I could, I was really feeling my IT now. On the last little climb, I felt really deprived of fuel, the adrenaline rush from getting lost took something out of me.

I saw a photographer on the course and asked him how many women had passed. When he said 3, I felt a little surge of energy, choked down some fuel and ran the longest 3 miles of my life to the finish. My legs and feet were pretty tired at this point. I was doing well on the descending switchbacks, but I had to let out a few yells when the course took me straight down a ridge through loose dirt, rocks and uneven terrain. Definitely a true mountain race.

down             finish

When the switchbacks finally spat me out onto the big dirt road to the finish, the biggest sense of elation and joy came over me.  I had finished 4th woman in the biggest race I had ever run. Sure I made some mistakes with water, not fueling enough for the last climb and getting lost, but I was so proud of myself for pushing through and running the best I could on the toughest course I had ever done. The finish line was surreal where I got to chat with Ellie, Anna, Kaci, Kerrie and a bunch of other super-strong, inspiring woman. This race was insanely tough, but I’ll take the pain and beauty of the mountains over practically anything else. I would say I can’t wait to do my next mountain race, Run the Rut, in september . . . but I actually can wait. I’m taking some needed rest and recovery, moving slower and doing lots of yoga. I’m sure in a week I’ll be counting down the days until my next meeting of pain and beauty in the mountains.

ladies of legend         smile_

 

 

 

 

Many Thanks to Myke Hermsmeyer for the Hammer Nutrition, and his great photos at Myke Hermsmeyer Photography, Swiftwick for my awesome Aspire 4 socks, Jon Clinthorne for his support, and photos, Runners Roost, and all the runners, volunteers and supports of the Speedgoat 50k near and far. It was an amazing experience.