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.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.