The San Juans; Day Two-Sneffels Highline

Feeling good, and confident after the run up to Blue lake on Day One I thought I would try a loop, rather than an out and back.  I never know exactly how I will feel going from sea level to running/hiking up to 13k with no real time for acclamation, and because the first day went so well, I felt a bit better about doing a looped trail where there were fewer people.

I contemplated the See Forever Trail, that connects the gondola trails over to the Wasatch Trail, or the Mt. Sneffels Highline Trail.  After seeing pictures of the wild flowers and views from the Sneffels Highline Trail I was sold on it! (Seriously the wild flowers were taller than me!!)

 

I started from the house again, running up a block to the trailhead for the Jud Wiebe Trail.  I followed it away from town and then took the right up the Sniffles Highline Trail running the trail counter-clockwise.  The trail begins by meandering through a field of amazing wildflowers and aspen groves.  Seriously, there was some flower that looked like Queen Ann’s lace, but was the size of a dinner plate!

After the aspen groves and flowers it follows up some steep switchbacks that take you to and then away from several amazing views overlooking the town and the mountains across the way. Up and Up until 4 miles have gone by and you reach 12,300 feet.  I think this was mile 6 for me since I began at the house.  I might add that with no oxygen and no hiking poles I may have struggled a little bit.Sneffels Highline Elevation Profile

The views were worth every gasping breath, and I found that if I stood tall enough and breathed with my diaphragm I was ok to keep moving at a pretty good pace, passing several of the early morning hikers on my way up.  Beyond the meadow the trail leads to Pack Basin, which apparently used to be called Park Basin, but a typo ended up changing its name permanently, but I digress.

The saddle descends steeply via rocky switchbacks, which would be the theme of my week as it turns out.  It drops into Mill Creek basin, where the wildflowers were back up to my waist again as I crossed several creeks on my way back down the mountain.

The saddle you cross from one basin into the next

 

Unlike going up, the altitude didn’t seem to have any affect at all on the way down, and the smooth trails made for a really fun, winding, 8-mile downhill run.  I, of course, had to stop a little along the way for pictures.  I tell myself that the pictures can never actually capture the grandeur of the mountains, but I take them anyway.

It seems like everyone hikes in the same counter clockwise manner, after passing one last couple going over the saddle I didn’t see another soul until I was back on the Jud Wiebe trail once again.  The MSHT ends in the same manner it begins, down a switchback trail, through the aspen tress and flowers, and back to the Jud Wiebe trail once again.  I would recommend this trail to everyone staying in Telluride.  It can either be taken as a nice slow day long sightseeing loop with its views of all the mountains around the town, or a speedier trail run.  Only the descent over the saddle is tough to run on, the rest of the trail is quite non technical.

Round trip it was 14 miles and took this flat-Lander right around 4 hours, with picture taking and a few stops to admire the views!

Of course another bonus, the mountain stream at the end to soak my happy feet in!

The San Juans; Day One

I want to share my experience so I am going to try to recall each day of my trip one by one; beginning with Monday.

After a solid Night’s sleep, which was a little weird since Telluride is at around 8,500 feet, I popped out of bed unable to contain my excitement. Let’s hit the trails!  I only had a dinky little rental car for the day, so rather than try to get it up and over a mountain pass, I opted for a run from the house.

According to a guide book I found at the Scott’s house, Bridal Veil Falls is a must see.  It was on the way up to Blue Lake, and I could hit it from the house on foot.  The run began on the road, which turned into a dirt road to Bridal Veil Falls.  It was beautiful and swollen from the snow melt and the rain the previous week.  The spray felt good on my hot, dry skin.The dirt road continued up and eventually turned into beautiful single track.  The trail was quite runnable, but as I got further up, the lack of oxygen forced me into a fast hike.  UP and UP to Blue Lake.  This was quite a popular trail, if you had a car with some clearance you could drive up and only have a 2.5-3 miles to hike so I passed many families out enjoying the day.  This particular area of Colorado was once bustling with miners, and there were still leftover buildings and mining debris all around the trails.

I  continued up all excited to take pictures of the unnaturally blue water of the lake, as my battery died….wah, wah.  This was the last picture I tried taking before the phone shut off.

 

So much for pictures!  The day was beautiful, and the run was awesome!  Door to door it was 16 miles round trip with right around 4k of elevation. (I think Blue Lake is officially at 12,500ft.)  The run back down was pretty awesome, and so much faster than the way up.  Quad trashing part uno.

 

July in the San Juans; Pictures

I had been to Telluride before, but only hiked the local trails.  This trip out I spent 23+ hours out on the trails all over the San Juans and I have to say I am still in awe of the beauty of these mountains. I will leave you with these pictures from Grant Swamp Pass, Virginus, and Handiest and write a more detailed post later.

 

Reflexology and Acupressure; A Personal Review

I often do shoe and gear reviews on this blog, but thought I would write a review about something a little different today.  I am interested in whole body health, not just running as a form of exercise, mostly because I am interested in ultra running longevity and not abusing my body into burnout.

Reflexology is defined as a system of massage used to relieve tension and treat illness, based on the theory that there are reflex points on the feet, hands, and head linked to every part of the body.  There is no scientific data specifically relating to this, however there are numerous studies about barefoot running and how all the neurologic pathways at the bottom of our feet can send signals to the rest of our body helping to correct our running gait.  It may be a leap to go from our feet telling our bodies how to move, to points on our feet curing us of illness.  All I can offer is my own personal experience.

Image result for reflexology

A friend of mine, Tom Griffen, reopened his practice just recently and offered a discounted session, so with my curiosity getting the better of me I signed right up.  I mean I don’t have any illness, per se, but if nothing else I LOVE a good foot massage! I mean, what ultra runner doesn’t?!

The treatment began by  soaking my feet in Epsom salts and lavender for 15 minutes as we chatted.  After the soak I hopped up onto a massage table and he visually observed my feet.  Its not only the parts of the feet that resist touch that “speak” to our health, but also things like callouses or cracks on the feet.  He noted one on my pinky toe, which correlates to my sinuses (I have had sinus problems ever since I began ultra running and pushing my body, coupled with an old broken nose I am.)  He also noted that my digestive meridians were blocked..yep, food allergies and bouts of poor digestion are a chronic thing for me.  As I stated earlier, I went to him more for overall wellbeing, so I wasn’t expecting too much as far as acute illness healing.  I went during my taper, a time when insomnia is a regular frustration for me.

He followed, what I assume was a specific plan covering my toes, and the spaces in between, the pads of my feet, the arches, and finally the heels.  I can’t tell you exactly the order because it immediately relaxed me and I might have fallen asleep… ok I did fall asleep.

Afterwards I felt really relaxed, but awake.  He said sometimes it brings different things up for different people.  Each experience is unique to each individual.  Some even have emotional responses to the treatment.  For me it just brought peace to my chronically over excited being:)

He followed up with a personal write up.  I won’t get into too much detail, but will share a little excerpt as an example;

Your body is actively involved in change. There’s a gathering in of energy in preparation for movement (both literal and figurative). Growth and transformation are poignant in this meridian and, as such, you might find yourself challenged managing the fear that comes with it. The kidney/bladder is also strongly associated with personal will/desire and overall perception. Have confidence that whatever obstacles are on your path will be seen through. The contra-indicator is to give in to this fear and experience apathy and despair. But I don’t believe this applies to you.  Additionally your the pineal gland – the gland that secretes melatonin and whose regulation is necessary for deep sleep. Ultra runners are sleep-deprived more than “normal” people. Again, your feet are simply telling your story.

Growth and transformation and managing my fear and sometimes lack of confidence that arises as I try to push myself to grow is a theme in my life.  I will say, I know Tom socially, but this is something he wouldn’t actually know about me, this was purely the information he gathered from feeling certain points on my feet.

I had the treatment about 3 weeks ago and I have been having really deep restful sleep ever since.  Related? Maybe? Maybe not.  I’d like to think so because I never sleep well post race, and this has been heavenly.

Tom can be reached here on his website.  For now sessions begin at $50.  Send him a note!

 

Ultra Running Reflections and Personal Growth

The last few days I have been thinking about ultra running and what it as taught me..

Relaxing in the summer heat with my sister.

Coming off a hard two week training cycle which included two 40 mile runs, two long back to back heat training runs, a few trail tempo runs and lots of core work I slept almost all day, ahh recovery! I had wanted to get in one more quality long run, but it wasn’t happening. On Sunday I got 5 miles into a 30 mile run and just new things were off, and not in a just-push-through- it way.   A weird 48 hour virus struck…I thought I would put off the long run till Sunday, till Monday… today I gave it up.  My husband asked if I still need to get in one more long run, probably expecting me to say “yes, I hate this, I need one more long run.”– probably expecting me to be grumpy and stressed because I missed ONE last run… But instead I replied, “meh, the time has past, it wasn’t meant to be, I will trust my training and not worry about that one last missed run..no big deal.”(who am I?) I know in the past I could have very well let that one little thing freak me out, that one little missed run could have put me off my whole taper..” it wasn’t meant to be..” huh, that’s a better attitude.

I’m sort of on a taper, but not racing anything serious, so its a not-so-serious taper that I am on.  Meanwhile, many of my friends have been on their “A” race tapers with Bighorn 100, WS100 and Hardrock coming up soon so I have been reading quite a few social media posts about tapering.

Having been there, and looking in from my position…which isn’t from exactly a veteran standpoint, but not a newbie place either..how many Ultras have I done? (stops typing to go check Ultrasignup.com) 15, ok wow, 15 races… time flies when you are having fun I guess!

Anywhoo, I have seen all sorts of ways that people react to their “A” race tapers.  There are those who freak out- not trusting in their training.(I have surely been there before!!)  They can’t sleep, can’t concentrate, can’t relax.  There are others who love the taper, perhaps they have worn themselves out training and welcome the break from training.  Others have so carefully plotted out their few weeks leading up to a big race they don’t have the time to react to the change in their training lives.

It often seems like many people fall into two camps, those who deal well with the weeks leading up to their races, and those who don’t.  Perhaps those who have learned to trust in themselves, and those who haven’t?  Or maybe who can take responsibility for their success and failures but who also know that sometimes “shit just happens” and believe in themselves to make the best out of every situation.

I think I used to be in the camp that didn’t do well in the weeks leading up to an “A” race.  I fell into that place where I wanted to control everything, if I didn’t sleep well one night, or I missed a run it would send me off into a whirl wind of self doubt. I think I also spent a lot of my life in my 20s in this place as well.  Wanting to control every aspect of my personal life because the outside world itself is so uncontrollable.

What I now see is that the most successful people in life, and in ultra running are able to roll with the punches.  Those who are hyper controlling and inflexible can be successful as well, but I think burn themselves out easier.

We can’t actually control much in our lives, the best we can do is control how we react to situations.

Life, as in ultra running, is unpredictable..messy at best.  Sure, I still try to stick to training plans, and life plans, but when things go awry I don’t quite have the same freak out reaction that I used to have.  Its quite liberating to “grow up” and learn to trust yourself and (or) your training.  I recently read an article about ego vs confidence.  Confidence was explained as feeling ready because you know you have the work to back up good results, where as ego is just being overly self-assured while you may not actually have any hard work to back that up.  I think I have found confidence recently.

Thank you ultra running for helping me grow up… not too much though, I like being a kid at heart still.

Topo Athletic Shoe Review

I will start by saying this review and opinions are of my own. I bought the shoes myself and Topo doesn’t know I am reviewing them.  Full disclosure I do run for Carson Footwear, but they only make trail shoes so there is no conflict of interest since they do not have road shoes.

In a quest to find a road shoe I like I am trying out many in the next few weeks.  I have predominantly been running trails since 2010 and haven’t really owned a road shoe since then either.  If I run on roads, I usually run in old trail shoes.

This June I signed up for a 50 on the roads.  What was I thinking? I’m not sure, but it was the only 50 I could find relatively nearby and during the last week of June… so I guess that’s my excuse.  And, because..why not?  Its something totally new for me.  Last marathon I ran on the roads was in 2006, so I guess every 10 years I run a long road race.

Anyway, I need to find a road shoe I like.  I have a particular fondness of lower drop/minimum shoes, even when running roads.  I don’t think we are meant to toddle around in high heels, nor do I think a 12mm drop road shoe is appropriate.  For me it puts pressure on the front of my feet and lower back.  So many “traditional/popular” road shoes are out.

That leaves companies like Altra, Topo Athletic, New balance minimus, and some others for me to try out.  Added to the fact that I do barefoot strides and foot strengthening exercises so my toes splay widly across my forefoot and I like ground feel, with some padding..it makes my options limited, and makes me worry about my race coming up.

SO anyway, this is about the Topo’s FlyLyte.  Here are the specs according to their website:

  • 4mm rubber outsole
  • 3mm drop
  • 22mm stack height
  • Wide toe box for toe splay and natural foot shape
  • Weight 6.7 oz

I wore them straight out of the box for a 30 mile road run.  That may seem weird to some, but for me a shoe should be comfortable out of the box, there is no such thing as breaking them in. Since then I have worn them for both walking around running some shorter distances.  I have about 400 miles on them.

Overlay and Upper

For the most part I liked them.  They were more shoe than I am used to.  What do I mean by that?  The overlay over the toe was hard; I was aware of it, not necessarily in a bad way, just aware of it.  The heel cup is quite firm and gave me blisters around my ankles.  I’m use to pretty soft uppers and never worry about them rubbing skin off of my feet.  Another thing I would comment on is that the tongue seemed a bit short.  Didn’t make a difference one way or the other to my run, but I felt like most tongues I am used to are higher.

Picture taken from Gearist

 

Under foot: Midsole and Responsiveness

They were firm ride with medium responsiveness.  Aside from the heel blister they were quite comfortable, I’m betting if I wore a higher sock they wouldn’t have rubbed me at all.  However, if I had a perfect shoe I would change a few things.  Softer heel cup, more flexible sole.  I’m not a heavy runner and have a light foot strike so I felt like the toe off was a bit less springy than some of my more flexible shoes.  As I stated above they are very natural feeling, good foot shape, firm, low drop.

This is weird, but I like to take the sock liners out of my shoes and play around with different ones, and the Topo Athletic shoes had their sock liners glued in, so they were hard to take out.

Outsole

I guess for road shoes all you can test is wet or dry.   They worked well for both wet and dry and I have minimal wear on them after a few hundred miles.

Parting thoughts,  these will stay in my road shoe rotation.  I think its important to use a variety of shoes to challenge different muscles, however, maybe not the perfect 50 mile shoes for me.  Anyone have any other ideas of shoes I should try?

Next review: Altra One2.5

Leatherwood Ultras; My first 50k, and First race after MAF HR Training.

Leatherwood Ultra 50k

A happy finisher

Leatherwood would be my first “real”50k. ( I have run a 50k fatass in my backyard for years, and this fatass is anywhere from 30-35 miles depending on who markets the course each year, and is right after Christmas so its usually a post overindulgent waddle-food and friend fest.) So I really had no idea what to expect, how to pace myself or exactly what my race goal would be. Coupled with the new HR training I have been doing I really just didn’t know what kind of performance to expect.  So I looked online at the course, and made an outrageous pace plan; A goal; course record.  The previous CR was 6:19, so I set my goal at 6:15…you know, sometimes you need a crazy outlandish “A” goal.

Picture

Course profile

My “B” goal was what I thought was more realistic was 6:30.  With 9k feet of gain over some short but steep UPS and downs (as seen from the elevation chart above) I wasn’t sure if my few weeks of hill training thrown into lots of slow flat mileage would wreck my quads or not.  My “C” plan was just to finish and have a good time.

 

With my husband signed up for the 10 mile we, plus our friend Nathan, set off for rainy Leatherwood.  This race is notorious for super greasy, slick, NC clay and lots of rain.  Spring here is wet wet wet!  We were fortunate to have a dry week leading up to the race, but arrived at a rainy packet pickup.  As I got into the race I found that my shoes were really great in the slippery mud and rocks.  I was super impressed that I didn’t slip on anything.

We grabbed our bibs and headed up to the house to settle in.  Other friends trickled in later in the evening as they got off work and could head to the race start.

I’m not going to lie, what had me the most worried was that since this race is held on private land, a mix of horse trails, hiking trails, and mtb trails, it folded back onto itself a lot, and loop directions had me a bit concerned that I would take a wrong turn.   We started off on a road and went by a cabin, that we would pass in different directions at least 3 more times… so the turn flagging could have been confusing.  Fortunately it wasn’t.  The RD had said he’d put something like 700 flags out on the course, which sounded extreme, but in the end was well worth it since we were running different loops that had contestant intersections, some were other trails, others were paths to private residences.

Garmin data

The course was really beautiful, it popped in and out of the woods, allowing for some pretty views.  Even one of Grandfather mountain in nearby Boone.

View from our cabin rental

 

SO back to the race, the course begins with a 4 mile climb up (there was a little dip down, but basically up for 4 miles uphill.)  On the way up I was listening to all the chatter around, we began with the 50 milers, so it was hard to tell who was running what.  Different colored bibs, but who has time to look at those when there is steep uphill climbing. I think at one point my Garmin data says 30+% grade!  I heard someone say ” let them go ahead, so many people don’t pace themselves at the start of an ultra,” which stuck in my head.  I began to assess how I was feeling and realized I was probably not running fast enough.  I am so used to pacing for 50+ miles.  I was thankful for the comment and picked up the pace, even though I know the opposite was meant, it helped me think about what I was running and what my goal was.

I would say a majority of this race was on single track, with a 1 mile paved start, and a 2 mile paved connection between trails later in the race.  So it was green, lush, and curvy.  If you look at the Garmin map all those squiggles were really steep and tight up or downhill switchbacks.  In the first 10 miles I think I thought to myself “what have I gotten myself into, this is more like the trails at Cruel Jewel than anything I was expecting.  It was hard to get into a rhythm in the first 8 miles because there was no break..either uphill hiking hard, or practically free falling downhill trying to avoid breaking your ankle on the rocks…. it was kinda thrilling though.  Fortunately I got into a rhythm by mile 12, only falling once on one of the rocky-leaf covered sections of trail.

At mile 16 we circled back through the start/finish, which is oh so tempting for many people to stop.  Unfortunately one friend did, though she was running only because her husband was, and she was happy that she saw the 16 miles and was done.

We runners were sent back out for the second loop, which was easier than the first.  I had written my splits on my arm, and sometimes would hit right on for my “B” goal, and sometimes be behind in the first 16 miles, which was a little disheartening.  Little did I realize that the second half was so much more runnable and downhill that I made up a lot of time.   This is where things got a bit confusing.  Because the trails were so winding my Garmin dropped a lot of mileage, so when I got back to that last 1 mile stretch of road and only had 27 miles on my watch I started to panic.  I walked back up the hill to an intersection that was basically a 4 way intersection of where the race went in and out of… I re-read all the signs, and then started to get down on myself.  I slowed, I asked a woman on horseback if she knew if I missed a turn, I asked a few 50 milers if they had done a little loop… and then my brain said “oh man, all that work and you just lost first place and the CR because you missed a little 3 mile loop…” the minute that thought entered my head I had to counter it and replied to it, “you know what, I’ve had a good day, I am really enjoying this race, if I missed a turn I’ll just grab Nathan and finish it out with him after I come though the start/finish.”

I picked my pace back up and headed to the finish.  Because my friends had seen that I was behind my “A” goal after the first (harder) loop they didn’t expect me for another 30 minutes… so I surprised them as well!  After figuring out that my Garmin, and everyone else’s watches weren’t catching all the mileage, I finally relaxed and allowed myself to celebrate.  50k pr, 50k first place, and a new CR for Leatherwood 50k at 6:05!

Even though this race went so well, I still think I learned from this race.  I think its important to me not to just celebrate a well executed race, but to also take something away from it.

My take away;

  • HR training does work, at least for a hilly 50k!
  • It was my first time EVER eating gels/gu’s and not having them revolt at the end. I think, even though I was racing, I was still keeping somewhat of an even HR the whole time, only spiking in the first mile or so as my HR settled into running.
  • One honey stinger an hour keeps the effort level and this girl happy and even.
  • Always swish the honey stinger plus water around in my mouth, it helps it settle into my stomach, and doesn’t hit like a sugar bomb when I just eat it straight.
  • Use the people ahead as motivation
  • trust yourself!  Man this is a hard one for me to do, especially as fatigue sets in later in a race… self doubt does too.
  • Strength training is just as important as any other part of training.   I had slightly sore quads after, everything else felt good.  I didn’t have much of a chance to practice downhill running, but I did lift (squat etc)

 

Friend and superstar Alana who won 3rd!

 

Food;

  • 3 honey stingers, 3 strawberry banana gels (by the way why are so many gels full of caffeine?! I don’t need to poop during a race..hehe)
  • 3 pieces of watermelon
  • Bunch of pickles
  • 1 vespa pre race

Gear;

  • My Orange Mud VP1 of course!  Made it easy to carry all my gels-wispfriends for a discount on all their products
  • Carson Footwear Blue Tigers with their sticky traction kept me from slipping on many of the steep inclines, fyi these are as minimal (also 0 drop)as I would wear on any rocky ultra, but they worked well for this race, and I have been wearing them all winter for training to get my feet and lower legs strong- discount code: wisp

I gotta send out a thanks to both Orange Mud and Carson Footwear for making great gear and supporting my running.  And a special thanks to my knowledgeable friends at Balanced Movement Studio, where I take most of my yoga classes, get body work, and help tweak my strength and mobility!  Of course to my husband and training friends who help me stay accountable, motivated, and keep me balanced, sane and on an even keel.  Especially Nathan this training cycle!  Thanks for being a great early morning-long distance partner!