Why live a life that’s perceived as mad?

Why live a life that’s perceived as mad?
It’s 3am. I’m surrounded by darkness and a crisp breeze. Goosebumps line my skin, I feel groggy, unmotivated and tired. I lace up my running shoes, as I try to silence the voices in my head: “You’re going running again today? Why so far? Why so long? Why?” . . . . I stare into the darkness, turn on my headlamp, start my watch and go.

 

I was living a life perceived as mad. My family didn’t understand, most of my friends thought I was crazy, sometimes I didn’t even understand why I running. I didn’t understand until I was out there, moving; when I was feeling the mountain air, listening to my footsteps, breathing and pushing my body forward, it all made sense. All questioning dissipated, it didn’t matter what they thought, what anyone thought, I was in my element, my own world. A runner.

 

I haven’t always been a runner, let alone an endurance mountain runner. I was on track to a life defined solely by my job, the amount of money I made, the car I drove and the house I lived in. Not a life guided by my passions, providing freedom to dream and pursue goals other than those associated with a job. This transition, to be a mountain runner, an ultrarunner, to a life focused on the outdoors, has been met with skepticism. Most people didn’t understand what I was doing. Why was I running? What was I running from? What was this ‘obsession,’ this gratuitous hobby?

At first I didn’t know. It’s unexplainable and complex; this desire to run extreme distances through technical terrain, over high-mountain passes through unexplored territory. Is it mad? Some days I think it is. When I’m suffering and battling through the pain, the desire to stop, the raw state of my body exposed to the relentless mountain. Is this life mad? No. In fact, it’s the opposite. In these raw moments I find strength. I find the power within myself to continue and face any challenge that comes my way. It’s a feeling, a place where my mind is clear and I am connected with the world, my heart, and my thoughts. It is the place where I feel the most at home in my own skin, where I can challenge myself, learn, grow and become stronger. It’s a deeply personal form of self-exploration, yet it transcends into every aspect of my life, making me better. It’s powerful, rewarding and beautiful. This madness, is not really madness at all, but a steadfast desire, guiding my heart, mind and soul to a greater purpose and belonging.

 

#QuestionMadness

 

From the Sea to the Sky

Skyrunning has quickly become my favorite form of trail running. The rules are simple: start from the sea and run to the sky and repeat. This form of racing is popular in Europe and is growing popularity in the US and around the world.

Besides the views, I love this race style for its simplicity. Courses are encouraged to find the most direct (and steepest) climbs, exposed ridge-lines and most direct descents, usually technical. The challenge is something I love.

Transvulcania

I’m competing the the Skyrunner® world series this year, in races all around Europe. The first race kicked off with Transvulcania, an epic 75km race across a volcano! This race is one i’ve wanted to compete in ever since I started ultra running. Not only does it bring the world’s best ultra runners, but the trails are stunning and unrelenting. 13179426_765219168288_6401162083133656090_nskyrunning

photo credit: Meghan M. Hicks

This year at Transvulcania, the women’s filed was stacked. I was nervous to compete, but excited to explore new trails. Getting around on La Palma is quite difficult, so the course is actually the most efficient way to see the entire island.

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photo credit: Jordi Saragossa

The variety of terrain on La Palma is incredible, including lush forests, ferns, pine trees, sand, ridge lines and volcanic terrain. But the best part of this race, for me, was literally running into the sky. La Palma is situated such that thick layer of fog roll in constantly and just sit at around 5,000ft. The result is an inversion. We ran through this dense mist to the ridge-lines above. All I could see for miles and miles were ridges, rock and sky. This is sky running at its finest.

The course at Transvulcania is quite runnable and pretty fast. It’s famous for its unrelenting 8,000ft descent off the high point of Roque De Los Muchachos, about 51k into the race. The descent is technical and once you reach the cities by the harbor of Tazacorte there’s a fair amount of pavement to fully annihilate your quads. I was severally undertrained for this downhill. I couldn’t practice this amount of descent, nor steep grade on my Colorado trails due to snow. I was quite surprised when I moved into 5th position on this descent and finished the race with a lot of energy remaining. I left a lot out there, so i’m encouraged to see how fast I can run next year. Ian Corless does a great write up of how the race played out. Stellar performance from the winner, Ida Nilsson.

ladies

 

Madeira 55km

The second race in the Skyrunner® World Series was the Madeira 55km in Madeira, Portugal. This island, although quite near to La Palma, is completely different. Even though it’s volcanic, it lacks an arid environment and is entirely green, lush, humid and wet. It’s a perfect location for a sky race, since the island is filled with mountains and ridge-lines. Plus the organizers weren’t afraid to make some new trials especially for the race; adding in more distance, vertical and technicality. The competition was top notch again.

I have to say this was on of the hardest races I’ve done yet. It’s unrelenting. Climbing over 5000ft in the first 8k of the race was just the warm up. The race ended up with about 13,000ft of elevation gain over the 34 miles (55km) it covered. Even with those extreme stats, there was a fair amount of flat running as well. The technicality was top notch too. Good thing I got in my sight seeing before the race started.

Although I tried to put myself in a good position in the beginning of the race, I wasn’t feeling that strong so I held back. Thankfully, I was able to catch up in the back half of the race and I caught Anna Frost on last climb of the course (which was a vertical kilometer – super steep, on tired legs). This was after we had run through a river for 1/2 mile 🙂

river

Overall I was very happy with my patience and overall race. However, what I remember most from these tough races is the incredible terrain, the challenge and how much I enjoyed the journey. Another aspect I was impressed with was the organization of this race. They had everything dialed and I can’t wait to go back to Madeira to explore and compete again.

 

Thanks to my sponsors, without whom this would not be possible: @thenorthface, @skratchlabs, @ultimatedirectionusa, @swiftwicksocks, @skyrunner

Team Tassy: A Hillygoat in Haiti

When The North Face approached me with an expedition idea in Haiti, I jumped at the opportunity. They are partnering with Team Tassy, an incredible organization changing lives in the Haitian community.

tassy-running-young-girl(photo by Taylor Rees, Outside Magazine)

In 2010, a catastrophic earthquake killed almost 300,000 Haitians and left about 1.5 million people homeless. Ian Rosenberger was anxious to help, but quickly realized the need to work together to rebuild communities and develop resources, including healthcare, education, and employment. This was the beginning of Team Tassy. They put together a fundraising run, and not just any run, but an outrageous 230 mile run, across the entire island. You can read more about the full story in this article by Outside Magazine – Runners: You’ve Never Seen Haiti Like This

Despite being incredibly inspired to run with Team Tassy, I was scared. I knew it would be a challenge for me. The route is epic, a 230 mile run from Cap Haitian (the northern point of Haiti) all the way south, and along the coast, ending in Jacmel. Distance wise, this will be the farthest I have ever run. The terrain is also different, much flatter than I am used to; my specialty being mountainous terrain. Climate is another challenge; the humidity and heat in Haiti are the antithesis of the conditions in Colorado in late February (Boulder is still thawing from the 18 inches of snow). Additionally, I’d have to worry about clean water and mosquitos, carriers of Malaria and Typhoid.

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But, despite these issues, the opportunity is one I can not pass up due to fear or doubt. I know it will be hard, I know I will suffer, and therein lies the beauty.

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I’m excited to start this journey with fellow North Face teammate Dean Karnazes, and Team Tassy. Together we hope to prove that Haiti is not a place to be afraid of, and with our continued effort we can end global poverty by funding access to medical care and education.

The run starts February 20-27. We will be sharing our journey along the way, so follow along on my facebook twitter and instagram as we #RunAcrossHaiti! Also, check out some other videos to learn more about the cause, and be sure to follow Team Tassy on their instagramfacebook and twitter.

 

 

 

Quest for the Crest 50k: One Hell of a Sky Race

Quest for the Crest 50k, advertised as the toughest 50k in the world, had crept up on me. After battling with an injury earlier in the season, I was nervous my fitness wouldn’t be up to par for this race. I managed to get in a solid month of training (focusing on more technical ascents and descents) before I hopped on a plane to Asheville, North Carolina.

I had never been out east for a race I was excited but also scared . . . for a couple reasons. One, the humidity could destroy me and two, they boast some of the most technical trails in the U.S.. Sure, I’ve run technical terrain in Run the Rut 50k and Speedgoat 50k back in 2014, but from the pictures I had seen, the stories I had heard, and the constant warnings posted by Sean (Run Bum)’s race website, I was beginning to get a little scared.

snake

Plus, the race required me to carry my whistle, an emergency blanket and a jacket. Why on earth would I need all these? I thought it was a bit much to have these requirements . . . it wasn’t until Friday, on my shake out run, that I realized why I would need them. These mountains (the Black Mountains of North Carolina) are remote. Unlike in colorado where there are many roads that can intersect trails, there are very few points of access to these trails, a fact made explicitly clear by having only 2 fully stocked aid stations on the entire 50k course. On my shake out run, I made it over to Mount Mitchell trail (the final descent of the race) to test out the trails. Rooty, rocky, gnarly. This race was going to be fun!

mt mitchell

I planned to carry all of my own fuel (200 cal per hour, so 14 hammer gels, and a couple Hammer bars for good measure). I also filled up a bladder to carry along with two Ultimate Direction soft flasks. My pack was so flipping heavy, the heaviest pack I have ever raced with, but I didn’t want to chance not having water or food. I was definitely nervous about racing. I wanted to do well, I wanted to win. But, above all, I wanted to have fun. I was psyched on exploring these gnarly trails and the technical ridges and rooty descents. This was why I came to North Carolina, to play in the Black Mountains and explore new trails.

hills

On race day we were all shuttled to the start: a junction of two country roads out in the middle of nowhere. Once everyone arrived Run Bum started us off running up the road to a trail on the right. The first mile of trail was runnable, but then it got steep, fast. We were starting the 50k with a vertical kilometer, climbing about 3500ft, in about 5km, not an easy thing to do. I was impressed. Properly steep trails through lush, green, dense forest. I couldn’t see where we were going, just up up up.

At this point in the race I was ahead, but Becca Much and Sarah Woerner were pretty close behind. I wasn’t trying to push things too hard on the VK,  mostly because I couldn’t. My calves were screaming at me! So much so, that I had a nauseous feeling in my stomach. OH well I thought, hopefully I feel better on the second uphill. I tried to focus on the beauty of the terrain and to drink water, since I was basically already drenched in my own sweat.

The course was simple: 3 climbs, and 3 descents in about 31 miles. I was almost done with the first climb, looking forward to stretching my calves out on the downhill. But first, I had to stumble my way through some overgrown grass and rocks before I could really open up. We had 4.5 miles of downhill only to turn around and run straight back up. It definitely was a runnable climb. I tagged the table at the aid station, grabbed a salted potato and some M&Ms and was off. I was with Becca ad Sarah at this point, but as soon as we started the climb I found myself alone again.

trail

My race strategy was to fuel, DRINK, and run as much as I could. My calves felt a lot better and it was fun to see all the other racers coming down the hill as I ran/hiked up. I was really enjoying the trail.

Running on the ridge was breathtaking, sweeping views of the green forested hills in every direction. The trail threw me around a bit, but I was feeling pretty good, confident that I had two climbs over and only one more to go! But first, I had to tackle the technical descent from Colberts Ridge (6100′ down to 2700′ in only 4 miles). My quads were gonna be toast! I focused on quick feet as I danced and jumped down the rocks and roots. By this point I was needing the mile 18 aid station, my bladder of water was empty and I was soaked in sweat.

view

I couldn’t drink enough water.  I was quick at the aid station. I re-filled my soft flasks and was off. I had managed to catch a few guys and made the goal of breaking into the top 10 overall. I needed to catch a few more guys to do this (and keep my lead). I had no idea where the other ladies were, but I figured they were close behind.

We had a 7 mile climb until the next aid through “switchback hell”. This climb was a tough one. It was all runnable grade, but on tried legs it’s hard to run all of it. I made the goal of run/hiking. This is a really good strategy for me late in a race to keep a good pace moving forward during the hardest miles of the course. I usually hit a wall close to the marathon point, so I play games to break up the trail into run sections and hike sections. It really helped.

runnable

On this climb I ran into some new friends I’d met the night before. I passed Tim Sykes early on, he seemed to be having quad cramping issues (humid conditions were brutal), then Michael Owen. I was pleased to see Michael on the climb, it was great to have some company. We definitely helped each other work our way up this climb, doing our run/hike routine, and chatting to keep our minds off the never ending switchbacks.

We were both out of water at the top, and we had to run along a never ending ridge-line before reaching a spring. I got a bit frustrated on this ridge-line because it was hard to move fast despite it being fairly flat. The trail was so overgrown I had to be very careful I didn’t twist my ankle. We finally reached the spring and could only get a bit of water before heading up a steep riverbed to reach the highest point on the course. I wanted this to be over quickly so I really turned on my power hike. Sometimes I just have to get angry at the hill. It definitely hurt.

After stamping my bib at the top of the climb I let out a yell and then a big smile and started to run down. I didn’t see anyone heading up while I was descending the riverbed . . . Yay! I just needed to run strong on this downhill and I had the win. The ridge-line was tricky though. Super uneven footing and overgrown trail with hidden rocks and branches to trip and slip on. I passed Michael Barlow on this section with cramping issues, this course was brutal . . . I think the GU roctane gels saved me from cramping.

I was moving well, but my mind was starting to wander, I was definitely ready to be done. I knew I had to focus for the last descent, since it was equally as technical. However, I was a bit discouraged that my watch ready over 29 miles at the last aid station with about 4.5 miles to go. Time to focus and dig deep. So I took a gel, concentrated on my breathing and quick feet as I descended  through the rocks and roots. I was so impressed with how consistently technical the course was. There was no letting up, EVER.

roots

The last few miles of the descent were familiar from my shake out run a few days earlier. I was getting closer. Progress. I tired to keep a positive mind and focus on my feet, moving well. It wasn’t until I rounded the corner to enter the campground that I smiled knowing that I had won the women’s race. I finished right around 7 hours  (7:02:39) and took 8th place overall.

It was a great feeling to finish such a technical and difficult 50k even though I didn’t’ feel so great during it. The beauty of the course was worth it. So remote, technical and steep! I can’t wait to come run again in the Black Mountains and explore other areas out east. Run Bum did not disappoint on this race.

mewin

Run the Rut 50K: a crazy-talus-filled-super-technical mountain race.

The first thing I see when I roll into Big Sky on Friday afternoon is Lone Peak. Massive, alone, barren, terrifying! Especially since I knew I was going to run up that beast the next morning.

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I had recovered well since my last race (speedgoat) and was really enjoying some quality training in the high country. I had heard Run the Rut was even more difficult than Speedgoat and even more competitive (it was the the world series sky running championship race!) so I was doing my best to prepare for a grand adventure. I’ve realized that no matter what I do, I will be nervous as hell at the start of the race (and the day before) but all the preparation is done and it’s all out of my control. As soon as I start running it all comes together. Clarity in my breath and footsteps.

The first climb of the race wasn’t terrible, about 1500 feet in a few miles. The only difficult part was that there were a lot of people on a single track trail in the dark. But that only lasted for a few minutes and we soon descended onto Ullery’s Lake Loop trail just as the sun was hitting Lone Peak off in the distance.

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I knew after this lake the climbing would begin! I was trying to execute my plan of eating every 20-25 minutes (to try and keep a few extra hammer bars/gels down) since I knew this was such a demanding course. In this point I was 8th place. My plan was to stay conservative and move up as the race progressed so I could finish strong, my goal was to finish top 5, so it was kinda driving me crazy that so many ladies were ahead of me.

As we made our way up and down we descended over some pretty loose rock fields and I knew we were in for a treat during this race. Before we reached Deadgoat ridge there were some runnable flatish sections . . . the climbing in this race was very concentrated. Deadgoat ridge had me pumped up as soon as I learned the name of it (since my nickname is Hillygoat, I definitely didn’t want to be a Deadgoat at the top).

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It was steep, loose, off trial. Awesome! Geoff Rose was even there encouraging us and snapping photos of the ‘pain cave’ faces. Once we reached the top of the ridge we had a pretty technical descent on loose talus rock and some off trail sections. My favorite part was when we reached a roped section to help us down some loose gravel ‘trail’ where I bypassed the rope and glissaded down the rocks/gravel. I cut my hands a bit but it was worth it.

rut_5

After we descended off the technical terrain we ran some hilly off trail sections underneath the ski lift. I realized I had forgotten to eat for some time and was feeling quite tired whenever an uphill started again. Espresso Hammer gels are good for that!

I was anticipating the huge bone crusher ridge and ascent up to lone peak all day. I couldn’t wait to see what big sky looked like from way up there. Sprout Films had set me up with a go-pro before the race, so I was trying to get as much footage as I could of all my ups and downs.

Lone peak was fantastic. Super technical trail and STEEP! I was a little scared to run downhill on the loose talus rock fields, but I flung myself down the rocks so Ellie Greenwood wouldn’t get too far ahead of me. Ellie, Becca and I were fighting for 4-6th position all day.

ellie       ellie_2
The talus field and off trail descent made me say to myself  “i’m done with these sky races” . . . . but I didn’t mean that at all, pretty sure I just needed to eat again. I get hangry during these races! Plus I had a tumble on some icy spot, so I wasn’t too happy about my bruised and scratched bum.

rut_4       rut_2

The descent into the woods was gorgeous. Flowy, single track mixed in with some open service roads. I was having a blast trying to catch 5th. I knew there was one big climb (and a little one at the very end), so I made a plan to stay strong on the climbs and bomb the downhills. I was holding back a bit until now. I was very encouraged when I saw Becca and Ellie only 30sec-2 min ahead of me. I told myself that I only needed a couple minute cushion and I could really push it up that last climb 1 mile from the finish.

bigsky

When I reached the last aid station I was ready to gun it. I knew there were some girls behind me and 5th place was only 10 seconds out now. I raced by her and challenged myself to push it the remaining 5 miles to the finish. I knew the last 1.5 miles very well (I had run on them the day before for a shake out run. Best idea ever!) so I was mentally prepared and waiting for the last climb up to the finish. I couldn’t believe I had clenched 5th place. I finished beaming! Emelie Forsberg even gave me a hug of congratulations! Maybe next time I can race more agressively, but I was super pleased with my race and so proud to have conquered such a beautiful and technical mountain race.

finish