Monday, July 20, 2015

All. The. Fears. - First Fastpacking Trip this Weekend

I have my first "fastpacking" trip this weekend, which now that I've tried out the pack and knowing the route is an average of 300' of gain and 300' of loss PER MILE, may be more a "slowpacking" trip. I'll be doing the 27 mile Four Pass Loop of the Maroon Bells area outside Aspen in Colorado.

My anxiety has been growing and growing. I feel completely unprepared (which isn't true) and low on confidence. I'm a high-anxiety worrier anyway, so here's all the awful things, and me having to deal with each fear.


  • I didn't pack the right gear. I've never been backpacking and don't feel like I know what I'm doing. Deal with it: I have researched a lot, asked a friend for her gear list from a recent trip, relied on another friend for recommendations like knife and good military style compass, and I'm keeping it simple yet comfortable where I could since it's only one overnight (no camp stove or fire. Just bars, GUs, jerky, and trail mix!).
  • I have no business backcountry camping many miles from a trailhead all by myself. I've camped TWICE ever. Deal with it: I'm really happy with the tent I selected, I've practiced setting it up, and one of my skills in ultras is my ability to be okay being completely alone for hours on end!
  • I like to plan, but backcountry camping means finding a campsite on the fly and what if I can't find one. There are lots of rules about where you can camp, and it's high tourist season of lots of people camping everywhere. Deal with it: This is one of those gloriously irrational fears of every serious planner. Uh, there's thousands of acres of space. I know not to be within 100 ft of trail or water. I know not to be in marked restoration areas. There have to be unoccupied flat areas with wind break that will be suitable, and I will find it when I need to!
  • This pack is heavy. How will I haul this up and down for 27 miles? Deal with it: I picked a great pack. My test run showed me I could run a little with it, and it sits well on me. I fitted it correctly and packed well (tent up and down along my spine, bear canister at the top with the food, sleeping bag attached at the bottom underneath the pack). The ultimate deal-with-it: I just will suck it up even if it's heavy because I'm an ultrarunner and that's what we do.
  • I've never been above 10,800 feet altitude while running. This has 4 mountain passes in the 12,000 to 12,500 feet elevation range! I won't be able to breathe. I'll have to go like a mile an hour. Let me say again - I won't be able to breathe, my lungs will explode, I'll be woozy and fall off a mountain, my head will explode from the headache. Deal with it: I'm not going to die if I just take my time. If there's anything I've finally learned from races at altitude, it's that. I used my altitude tent to acclimate decently to about 9,000 feet. It has shown me at races that it takes the "edge" off higher altitude. And while I am still susceptible to altitude problems, a low-dose aspirin beforehand helps the headache, and I'm okay if I go slow. 
  • I'll get lost. Deal with it: I have turn by turn directions from the forest service, I have a basic map. And now a friend of mine sat me down and taught me how to use my compass to actually figure out where I am on a map and then how to use it to sight out where to go next. I also met someone from Denver at the Beaverhead Endurance Runs race a week ago who had done the loop and said the signage was fine.
That covers most of the freakouts that have landed in my brain recently. And as you can see, I'll be okay. I just have to keep telling myself that if a problem comes up, I'll just DEAL WITH IT!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Our Running Lives are Composed of More Than Race Finishes

So ever since my race last weekend, I've been struggling with feeling really run down. I did two midweek runs, one on trails, but this weekend, the bed and relaxing baths have been my friend. My left hip was still tender yesterday, then I napped Saturday afternoon, and then I overslept big time for my run this morning, getting a solid 8 hours of sleep.

I can't understand why I'm so tired and worn out when I've only run 3 ultras this year, and only 1 in the last two months. It's funny the measuring stick used to decide if we've accomplished something. We so often judge it by race finishes and not the various experiences and the efforts surrounding races and experiences!

So a friend told me to sit down and write all the things I've done this year so I can understand why I feel like I do. He sees all the pieces and wanted me to appreciate them as well. Newsflash - this year alone I've traveled 7 times for running and ran in 2 states for the first time (Utah and Idaho)!! So here's my list...

  • January - after directing New Years Double, double ear infection and strep infection with a bad cold knocked me out most of that month. Blergh!
  • February - Paced 22 miles from 8 pm to 2:30 am at Run LOViT 100 Miler in Arkansas after crewing the whole day
  • March - Traveled to Oakland, California to run the Canyon Meadow 50K. 3800 feet of elevation gain/loss

  • April - Traveled to and ran the Hells Hills 50K, just two weeks after the previous 50K. 
Then, I directed the Fairview Half Marathon. My first time camping was also later that month!

  • May - Flew to Denver, drove 9 hours each way with a bunch of fellow ultrarunner crazies, camped 2 nights in Bryce Canyon National Park where it was snowing and 28 degrees. Ran 22 miles through Bryce Canyon. Altitiude to deal with the whole weekend as we were between 7500 and 9500 feet the whole time. Elevation gain of about 4500', loss of about 5500'.

  • June - June 1st I started sleeping in the altitude tent some but wouldn't use it fulltime until a couple weeks later. Mid-June, I traveled to Denver for a family vacation weekend. Drove an extra 1 1/2 hours each way to run the South Park Trail Half Marathon. 16 miles, all between 9900 feet altitude and 10800 feet altitude. The course was 8 miles going up 1750', then turnaround and come back down the same way. 
2 weeks later, I went to Western States Endurance Run and had all the activities surrounding that race, especially because I'm a sponsor (The Active Joe).
After my runner had to drop 30 miles in, I ended up doing a big driving trip and running trails in the Marin Headlands north of San Francisco. 6 miles with 1400 feet of elevation gain and loss!

  • July - Jeremy and I flew to Salt Lake City then drove 5.5 hours to Salmon, Idaho. The next day, I ran the Beaverhead Endurance Runs 55K. At 8000-10,000 feet altitude the whole time, and 5900' of elevation gain and 8900' of elevation loss, I spent 15 hours, 52 minutes on what ended up being mostly very technical terrain, including scree fields.

I've been preparing for my first ever fastpacking trip to Colorado. Not a run, not backpacking. It will be a 20 lb pack that includes my camping gear and over two days I'll be doing 27 miles in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness Area outside Aspen on the Four Pass Loop trails. It's 4 mountain passes up above 12,000 feet altitude (I've never been above 10,800 ft), and it will total 8000' of elevation gain and loss. I'll be camping in the backcountry for the first time, and I'll be camping alone. I feel like I have a lot of anxiety about all the new things of this trip. And there's been a lot of work to get prepared, including buying an ultralight tent, buying a Spottracker so my husband knows I'm safe out there, getting a new pack geared towards fastpacking, and just wrapping my head around all the challenges of the trip.

As of today, I've been sleeping in an altitude tent for the past 7 weeks to take the edge off in high altitude races/running. I sleep at 9000 feet elevation, which results in my oxygen saturation in my blood to sit around 90-94% (depending on other variables). And to some amount your body is constantly having to adapt again after being at sea level during the day. The drawback of what can be referred to by some as "legal blood doping" of growing more red blood cells is that it's really hard work on the body. It's exhausting.

After the Colorado fastpacking trip, the altitude tent will be put away for the year. That tent has been invaluable. This has been my 3rd year using it. But I am definitely looking forward to restful nights of sleep!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Beaverhead 55K - Volunteers Worth Their Weights in Gold

I want to write a race report when I get a moment, but I wanted to take the time out for a story from Saturday from the Beaverhead Endurance Runs 55K race in Salmon, Idaho.

The 10 miles leading up to the Janke Lake Aid Station at mile 23.5 were pretty miserable. A sometimes trail, talus crossings, overgrown sections of sage bushes and pasture grass with lots of rocks. Lots of big climbs.
Talus crossing

Then a long while of cold steady run with strong cold winds (as soon as the rain started, I put on my rain shell jacket, my gloves, and pulled my buff over my ears under my running hat).
"I love cold rain!" Keep smiling and fake it 'til you make it!!

I tried to keep my mood up, remembering how remarkable the place was that I was running. I spent miles 10 to 23 using a mantra I created during that section: "Suffering is a little easier when you're somewhere this beautiful."
Headed up the pile of rocks

So when I came into the Janke Lake aid station about 9 hours into the race, I was feeling pretty worn down. I was not sure if I could do the next section (long scree field, climbing to the highest point on the course which was above 10,000 feet, and a drop down of 3000 feet in two miles) which was scaring me. The volunteer met me 20 feet out from the aid station in a field at the top of a big climb and asked how I was doing.
The aid station was at the top of this long, yet very nontechnical (thankfully for half a second) hill
I had been assessing my needs for this aid station for a while and had a plan. I said, "I'm cold. I'm tired. I'm a little sleepy because I think the altitude is starting to get to me. I'm scared that I'm about to spend 4 hours doing what's supposed to be the hardest part of the course. I need to sit and take the time here to eat and drink and get my head right." 

They sat me down in a camp chair. I said, "I just need to get really psyched up about what I'm about to do next." 

They didn't judge. They didn't fret that I was considering dropping, because I really wasn't. Two guys immediately put my legs into a sleeping bag and had me put on one of their jackets.

They made me up a bowl of potato chips, pretzels, and M&Ms, and got me some Pepsi. And then we went through all the things I knew but needed to hear again.

I've made this cutoff? "Yeah by 2 hours!"
And it's the LAST cutoff? "Yes, now just take your time and finish."
And what time is it? "4:30. You can get the scree field done before nightfall!"
"See that mountain over there? You're just climbing that. That's the scree field." Of course I can't see the scree, and hey, that mountain doesn't look so bad.
Brilliantly done, volunteer!

Then, we saw two lightning strikes in the distance. Bring on the next freakout. I was worried about getting hypothermia out there. But I was also worried about lightning strikes while being on the scree field. You're completely exposed, and they had covered this in the trail briefing. First, a volunteer assured me the path of those storms and clouds have been passing to the north of the mountain I was headed to. Then, a female volunteer walked me through how to handle lightning again: "Get down on the slope side of the scree some. Get off the top. Squat down low with just your feet touching the ground. Cross your arms and put your elbows on your knees so the current runs through the most direct path."

Nothing like a lightning strike briefing to make you feel better. LOL
Dark clouds ahead

As I sat and ate and chatted, I finally said, "See? I'm starting to feel better." I was smiling and laughing again, and my attitude was much improved.

Towards the end of the 12 minutes or so I spent there, the older gentleman asked me if when I was ready to go, could he take me this 10 feet out of the way to look off the cliff so he could show me Montana. Way to help get someone psyched back up!

We got the sleeping bag off me, the volunteer's jacket off me, and strapped back on my pack with their help because my gloved hands were tired and having trouble with the straps. Then, the volunteer walked me over to the cliff and pointed out Janke Lake and we looked out on the whole state of Montana. It was really really cool. He said, "How about we take your picture?"
Yep. I look COLD. That gusting cold wind would tear right through you.
Another volunteer was concerned that I was saying I was still cold. This was really worrying me. He ran off and returned with two hand warmers he had just started. We wanted to warm up my core so we put one in my compression shorts on my tummy and one in my sports bra below my armpit. Thankfully, the sun would start to come out shortly after that, and it would warm up again.
Getting a little happier now
I thanked them so much and headed out. I owe them a lot. I ended up spending 4 hours and 40 minutes on the next extremely scary 4.5 miles avoiding falling off cliffs or seriously injuring myself, thanks to my complete lack of grace and balance.

More on my race when I have time, but I had to share this. If you ever volunteer in an ultra, please realize that these little gestures help runners immensely!