Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Respecting the process

My summer obsession has been preparing for the Quebec City marathon, at the end of August. It's been a fun challenge, learning to run by pace, putting down the miles and then more miles but not indiscriminate miles; eschewing the mountains that call me to run quickly over flat surfaces. The goal, of course, is Boston 2018.

I'm starting to understand why there are so many runners across the US who are so obsessed with marathons. The training is purposeful, and you see the results. For many people this is probably the first time they've set a goal and are clear about the process steps to reach it. That's a totally addictive feeling, and probably the reason I keep ski racing as rabidly as I do. You gotta respect the process, even when it sucks, and you'll see the results.

Three weeks ago, I tripped over a cobblestone on an easy jog to work. I slammed my kneecap into the ground, and have given myself either a small fracture or a bad bone bruise. Not much to do except rest it and try the occasional cross training, but most activities that bend my leg are out.

Unclear right now if I can or should race at Quebec. My PT thinks it's doable, but "it'll probably suck." Nothing I can do about this, because my knee will just take as much time as it needs to complete the healing process.

And you gotta respect the process, even when it sucks.

Spending time working on my weaknesses. And entertaining 3-year-olds. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Skyline trail race

I'd never gotten the chance to do the Skyline race in the Blue Hills, so when it didn't conflict with anything this year, I made sure to get in on the super-short registration window. With a cap of 100 runners, this race fills up. I had just gotten back from coaching ski camp, so the legs were hardly fresh, and with so much humidity in the air I knew it might be a bit of a slog. Luckily for me, the field was thin on the women's side, with my usual competition not making the first cut of speedy registration.

TARC is running this race these days, and they do a very grassroots feel. Minimal trail marking (including two "mystery" turns, that aren't marked, and if you miss them, you add about a half mile to your race - you're supposed to either be following someone who did the race last year, or memorize the course), and popsicle stick timing. Good times!

We took off toward the west side of Great Blue Hill, and it wasn't too crowded. I settled into a pace, and only a few men passed me up the first steep climb, which was nice. I was projectile sweating already, and because of the early hour, the sun was still low enough that as we picked our way across the rocks westward, the sun was in everyone's eyes, making it tough to see the trail. Should have worn a hat!

The skyline trail is a fun one, lots of rocks and constant up and down. I didn't have much in the tank today, but since I found myself running mostly alone, it was easy enough to settle into a comfortable rhythm and not worry about pushing too hard. I had had some ideas about how fast I wanted to run this course, but the combination of fatigue and humidity changed those ideas, and I tried to remember to enjoy the moment. Coming back from the second water stop, there were more guys around me, including at least one who had made a wrong turn somewhere. This was motivating, and I started to put out a bit more effort, wondering if maybe I could actually get under 1:20.

The final descent was nuts - down a relatively smooth trail on the ski trail, there's nothing to keep you from just running full tilt. Too fast for me, and I felt that for a day or two. Two men had passed me on the final climb, but the descent wasn't technical enough for me to make up any ground, and I ended the day in 18th, first woman. Followed by brunch, it was a nice way to wrap up a pretty heavy training week.

That feeling after a long hilly run of a job well done. Loving the TrailRocs.

The rest of the photos are from ski camp, which was really excellent. I don't think I've coached at the Winchendon Camp since 2011 or something, and this was just a great crew of kids and coaches to spend a week with.

Monadnock in the background, me in the foreground, and a bunch of CSUers in the middle!

Proof that we did indeed eat blueberries along the way.

This is a girl after my own heart. She finished it!

Thinking that we should stick to skiing. Tweedo's finest.

Preparations for the agility test. Extra support on the ankles, and wrapping the sharp V2 speed reducers with some tape. 

I'd spend a week coaching with this crew any day!

Doing some visualization on a perfect evening.

Mountaintop cartwheels!

Another stupid selfie!

So then I got home and discovered that my parents were in the Boston area. They wanted to go to Rockport, so off we went. Wonderful day for touristing!

No Inov-8s in sight.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Greylock trail race and June craziness

In the three weeks since Soapstone, life went a little crazy around here. I write that like it's all factors out of my control, but I should know better than that - everything is a choice, and I'm really good at making choices that emphasize the short-term endorphin rush at the expense of longer-term health.

I've been whining about how getting old is cramping my race style, and it's true. Not so much in the way it makes me slow, but rather in my ability to recover from hard efforts; what used to take one day of recovery is now taking two, or three, or all week. I could choose easier races, or do fewer races, or try less hard. Yeah, right. So, because my brain refuses to admit what my body knows, I followed Soapstone with a heavy week, pretending like I'm still 18 and can do two quality workouts back-to-back and a speed workout embedded in a lot of volume. In the midst of this, my Honda shit the bed, about 100mi north of home, on our way north to hang out with my parents for Memorial day. Have you ever tried to rent any sort of vehicle on zero notice on a long weekend holiday? I don't recommend it.
New Roclite305s to test!
Dang. The oil is supposed to stay in the engine.

Beautiful day for touristing along a mountain stream at the Flume

Despite being car-less, I had a lovely weekend with my family, involving a very relaxed hike around the Franconia loop that we love, and then a variety of shenanigans to get both Ed and myself and my poor dead car back to Boston. It all worked out. So, the next week was filled with a lot of visits to various car dealerships, because we decided a new car made the most sense. Yikes, big adulting decisions to make! Naturally, I picked up a cold that week, because not only was I trying to shop for a new car, work a full-time job, and organize an Orienteering USA coaching clinic for the weekend (and also a four-day orienteering event the following weekend), I thought that miss Wonder Woman could train through this. Not so much.

My mom, the original Wonder Woman.

Picnics done right meet two requirements: 1) there are goldfish; 2) they're eaten on top of a mountain.

So, anyway, the coaching clinic went well, I took enough rest days that eventually my lungs functioned again, we got all the exercises and races and lunches and pizzazz sorted for the Sprint Camp weekend, and I bought a car, all in the next week. Sprint Camp was a lot of fun, and the people who came really enjoyed themselves, which totally makes it worth the effort to host, but I was pretty shattered by the end of it. Enough that by the time I joined CSU on the track the following Tuesday, I only made it through a single interval before realizing this was a bad idea (see? sometimes I make smart decisions). But of course, because I'm an idiot, when my juniors lined up to do a June time trial of 3000m at the track on Thursday, I was like, yeah, I'm ready for this! I'll join you!

Nope, that wasn't a good idea either.

Setting up for Sprint Camp. 28 maps each might have been excessive.

So, by the time Saturday rolled around, and I took a bunch of kids (in my new car!!) out to western MA for a training weekend, the fact that I did a 2-hour rollerski, a game of ultimate frisbee, and a game of wooded capture the flag the day before the Greylock trail race didn't even make a difference - my oomph bucket has been near empty for three weeks.

Oh my goodness is that a lot of paragraphs about excuses. tl;dr: Life has been kinda nuts, and I'm tired.
So shiny. So flashy. Need some mud, asap!

Some sweet thunderheads on my bike commute. Thankfully they'd already passed through...

Greylock half marathon
So even with all those excuses, there was no reason to miss this race. It may not play to may strengths (as in: lots of uphill and non-technical downhill), but the trail race works perfectly as the second day of a mini-training camp for my skiers, that we call an adventure weekend. Just getting them out of Boston is good for the soul. Saturday we were rollerskiing, cliff jumping, strawberry-eating, playing games, doing yoga, and generally having fun, and then Sunday was race day, with most of the kids (and accompanying parents) doing the short race.
Those cliffs are a good height - not so high as to be scary, and plenty of water below.

What it's actually all about.

We stayed at Notchview overnight, and they hide their grooming equipment in a field of wildflowers.

This was my fourth trip around that loop, and I was hoping that it would be a good day, because I'm ever the optimist. But it was humid, so I knew times would be slow. My process goal was to pace myself well up the hill, run the downhills hard, and enjoy myself along the way. It was sort of a weak field this year, but I didn't let that fool me.

The big hill out of the start was good, actually. I started comfortably, sitting in maybe 7th for the women, jogging where I could, and my legs didn't feel *that* bad. When we started to hit the steeps around 2mi in, I started to pick people off, and by the time we got to the AT I had moved into 5th, with 4th place in sight, and passing men. I usually get passed by men on the climbs, so this was actually really good. I hit the top about three minutes slower than in past years, but feeling really good about myself.

Down the hill as fast as I could, and here's where I started to notice that I just wasn't recovering the way I should be. Usually the downhills, even at breakneck speed, bring my HR down into zone 3 or even 2, but I was still hovering at or above my LT. Not good, because I had 8 miles left. I kept trying to slow down, trying to recover, and I just couldn't. Bad omen. But, I had moved up into 2nd place on this descent, and was starting to think that it was just a tough day for everyone, and I would be ok with a slow time if I netted me a top 3.

But then Jones Nose kind of climbs for a while, and I just had nothing. Sarah passed me back, Michelle got me shortly thereafter, and I was in no-man's land, listening to my breath and wishing I could put out some power on the short uphills. I managed to stay happy, but I was suffering.

Caught back up to Michelle and Sarah down the nose to the aid station, but I knew that was to be short-lived, as we had that never-ending jeep trail climb left. I managed to keep running, but there was just no power to be had when I asked for it. No cramping, just no strength. Totally a survival game, and I was starting to question why I do this to myself. Finally the trail pitched downhill, and I kept repeating to myself that it's not over til it's over, but I knew that this downhill just wasn't technical enough for me to pull back Sarah or Michelle. Passing a group of my skiers with half a mile left really raised my spirits, they're such an enthusiastic bunch, and the cheering was helpful. That was a high point, and then getting to the finish and sitting in a stream, that was also a high point.

The low points... well, it sucks to run slowly, especially when you can't turn off your brain from being a competitive jerk. I didn't have the legs I wanted, and I spent five paragraphs explaining to myself why, but it doesn't take away the sting and the self-confidence-shake of "maybe I'm just not fit enough."

Arguably, I should have skipped Greylock, in favor of resting a bit for the Westfield Half Marathon this coming weekend. With the Quebec City marathon looming as a potential BQ, I should probably have prioritized the half a little more, but that doesn't have any mountains in it... so where's the fun there?

Looking forward to the next adventures!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Soapstone Mountain Trail Race

I hadn't run this one before, but Ed did it last year and wanted to go again. Sure, long run can be a trail race, why not? And actually, this one was pretty runnable, so that fit the bill nicely. And you can't go that wrong with a Grand Tree race. I took a look at the Ultrasignup predictions and some past results, and decided that I'd be pleased with a 2:10, but aiming for closer to 2:05. That would be averaging a little over 9min/mi, so knowing that number would give my brain something to crunch while running.

The race started down a gradual dirt road, so the first mile basically felt free. It was fun to cruise down that road in a tight little pack, just letting the ground roll away behind us. Then we turned onto some flattish/rolling singletrack back up toward the main paved road, and it was so pretty. We've had such a late spring, all the leaves were still in that light green/golden glow, with some stuff still flowering. What a day for a run! At the main road, we crossed and headed up Soapstone Mountain. Rutted and washed out and dirt, but not mud, which would have been tough at that incline. At this point I was sitting as second woman, with Kehr out of sight but no real challenges from behind. I'd built an ~3min buffer on my goal time over the first two miles, which disappeared quickly hiking up Soapstone. Breakneck tumble down the other side (wheeee!), and then some flatter/rolling trail. It was a fun trail, definitely runnable and fast but technical enough to keep me happy.

Thanks to Shenipsit Striders for the photo. Downhills go "wheee!"

Given the cool temperatures and aid stations every ~3mi, I had elected to not run with a water bottle. You'd think I learn from my mistakes, but I repeatedly prove that I'm too stupid for that. Not running with a bottle means you have to spend much more time at the aid stations, and then you run off with a belly sloshing full of water. D'oh. Future self, please don't do this again. So, I was definitely losing more time at the aid stations than was ideal, around 30-45 seconds of drinking.

Somewhere after the first aid station, the trail took a sharp bend left off a cliff, and I was coming down a hill approaching that junction, thus going fast enough that my eyes were watering a bit and I was really focused on my footing. I saw a yellow blaze on a tree and race-brain thought that was good enough, even though I was supposed to be looking for white blazes or yellow flags in the ground. Rain-brain really isn't very smart. Whoops. That cost me a bonus hill and ~1.5 minutes, along with a good number of the damns I'd brought to give along the way.

The next few miles were flat/rolling and gradually trending downward, and I tried to pick people off but they weren't coming back to me very fast. It was sort of nice to have my watch beep every mile, and I was only a little behind my desired pace, but with my little bonus tour I didn't know how much extra distance I'd done. The downhill culminated in a stream/trail, over loose rocks, and my busted/abused ankle really did not like that part, so I ceded even more time.

On the gradual rollers back up toward Soapstone Mt, I put out an honest effort, but I was tired. Definitely riding the edge of that pace where most of your thoughts are concerned with stopping, or maybe hammocks and beer and a nice breeze. The trail was rocky enough that when I lost focus I'd slow way down, so I tried to stay focused on moving forward efficiently. Anyway, my efforts yielded me two dudes, but no ladies, and it was a real relief to start the climb back up to Soapstone, since that meant I was almost done. The descent was hard on my ankle, which was complaining about all the micro twists from the river running, and I backed off a little in the name of self-preservation.

The final 3/4mi was painful, and felt like it took forever. I passed two ladies with a dog, and one reprimanded her dog "don't interfere, dog, this lady's having a hard time," which made me chuckle, and she immediately tried to justify "but a hard time in a good way!" I guess I didn't look like I was having a good time at that point. Eventually I lumbered across the line, 4th woman, about a minute slower than I'd hoped, and not feeling particularly positive about my shape. But that was a fun course, and had a nice race vibe.

This lady's having a hard time. Shenipsit Strider's photo.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Sisters-Billygoat double

Two of my favorite races fell on the same weekend this year: 7 Sisters trail race was on Saturday, and the Billygoat was on Sunday, at Ward Pound Ridge. The good news was they were on separate days! Sorry, body, you didn't actually need to walk on Monday, right?

7 Sisters Trail Race
This race is amazing. It packs the vertical relief of Mount Washington into 11 miles or so, with nearly every step requiring finesse and agility. The uphills are steep enough that you have to hike, often using your hands to pull yourself up rock faces, and the downhills are best described as a barely-contained tumble. As far as I'm concerned, this is about as good as it gets!

I actually targeted this race, focusing on the uphills and the downhills with the only easily-accessible vertical on my commute - Harvard Stadium. I was starting to feel pretty good about my fitness, and then I actually rested properly leading up to the race. Morning of the race, I felt good, and knew that despite the wet weather, this could be a very good day. My plan for the race was to start conservatively, let the speedsters take off, and run my own race. It's a long enough race that I wanted to save something for the return trip, and after getting completely depleted last time I ran this (protip: don't throw your food to the side of the trail because you think your water bottle belt is too bouncy), I had a feeding strategy and planned to stick with it.

Part of my tapering plan was to get a massage, which was dearly needed. Sam Peck is a master. But thanks to my crazy schedule, the only time I could get in was on Thursday, and that was a little too close to the race. I decided to go with it anyway, but that was a mistake - I could feel the sore bits as the race went on, and really just needed one more day in there. Argh, I hate preventable mistakes!

The second preventable mistake I made was to swap my shoes at the last minute. I had been planning to go with the X-Talon225s, an awesome racing shoe that I use for pretty much everything. They're hands-down my favorite Inov-8 shoe. But, I made the mistake of also bringing the TrailTalon250s to the race, and suddenly I had given myself choices. And we all know that before a race, if you have choices to make, you will agonize over those choices, and then you will probably pick the wrong thing. In this case, it wasn't wrong per se, because the TrailTalons had phenomenal grip and I have been doing a lot of my long runs in them. But, because they have a little more room in the toe box, I wanted to make sure that my feet wouldn't slide around at all, so I cinched down the laces way too tight. Like waaay too tight.

I've done this before. It's a bad idea. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson.

We took off and as predicted, Kehr and Kelsey were off the front and a couple others followed them. I found myself in 6th place, with a couple other girls getting pushy, but they didn't seem very confident on the rocks, so I knew they wouldn't last. I felt pretty good and light up that hill, but cresting the top I discovered that my shoes were too tight, and that was making my calves cramp worse than usual. A smart person would have stopped and loosened her shoes. Did I do that? Noooo.

We started to catch the end of the elite men's wave on that first climb. and it was nice to be passing people. I wanted to throttle back the effort a bit, but was struggling to do so. When I finally passed Ed, who had hiked out to the low point to cheer, I was settling into more of a rhythm. Hike the uphills, generally with hands on knees (gotta put that extra skier weight to use somehow), tumble down the hills. I was going back and forth with a couple guys at this point, who were generally better on the ups and I was better on the downs. This is how it goes for me.

At the Summit House road, I was 2 minutes behind my 2014 split. I was more depressed by this than I'd anticipated. Even with the tight calves and muddy trail, I'd felt like my training was more than good enough to make up for that. How had I gotten so slow? I couldn't speed up much more without paying the consequences later, so maybe my training hadn't been as good as I thought. Maybe age is starting to catch up. Maybe I could have been actually pushing a little harder. But then I lifted my gaze as I climbed up to the Summit House and saw a female figure disappearing over the crest - that's 4th place up there! Maybe I can catch her on the downhill.

After a welcome walk across the porch (forced by race organizers), where I tried to drain my bottle and rest the calves, we were into my favorite part - the sustained downhill to the turn-around. It's not only downhill, there are a couple lumps along the way, but it's all technical and all awesome. I quickly caught up to the 4th place woman, and had a partner in the descent as a guy in a Tough Mudder shirt was keeping pace, and this was nice actually. The front of Wave 1 was catching me by now, but not that many of them. Eventually I started seeing the leaders coming back, and then Kelsey, then Leah, and finally Kehr, touchable but only with a massive effort. I hit the turn-around about a minute behind 2014, and thought, maybe I can make that up on the return! Silly me.

I actually did feel really good climbing back to the Summit House. I was keeping pace with a guy in a red shirt, and only two guys from Wave 1 passed me, so that was good news. My calves were still tight, but not exploding anymore, but I was starting to notice my heels - almost like they were falling asleep, but not really, more like they were just starting to ache really badly on the bottoms. Again, a smarter person would have stopped to loosen her shoes. At this point I certainly had the leeway.

The wheels started to really fall off after crossing the road. My butt was so sore, it just wasn't working anymore, and it turns out you can't just use your triceps instead of your glutes. My calves hurt, my heels hurt, my quads hurt. By the time I hit the low point, it was sheer survival. The bottom of my heels were in sheer agony. Again, all I had to do was stop and loosen the damn shoes. I tried to drown out the pain with positive mantras. "I'm so strong!" on the uphills, "this is fun!" on the downhills. Over and over and over. The final two climbs up Hitchcock and Bare Mountain I actually wasn't sure if I could take another step. I dropped an additional 6 minutes to my 2014 self from the road crossing back to the finish, and all I could think about was how excited I was to sit down and take off my shoes.

Upon actually taking off my shoes, I found I couldn't stand. Ed carried me back to the car, and over the course of the next hour or two I tried to relearn how to stand, walk, and move around. I've never been so hobbled after a race. It was terrible, and it was entirely my own fault. This doesn't take away from the awesomeness that is Sisters, it just ensures that I'll be back, to try for that elusive 2:20 again.

Post-race leg-soak in Puffers Pond was heavenly. And frigid. 

The Billygoat
Overnight brought no relief. I didn't really sleep at all, the pain in my feet keeping me tossing and turning as though maybe if I lie on this side my feet will hurt less. Come morning I still couldn't stand. Last night I'd sort of been able to tiptoe around, this morning my arch muscles were in as much pain as my heels, so tiptoeing brought no relief. 400mg of ibuprofen with breakfast got me to the point where I could lurch to the car, and I decided that this wasn't the sort of pain that was likely to cripple me long term, so I'd better just take some more ibuprofen and do the race. I really badly wanted to win the ugly billygoat doorstopper back. And you can't win a race if you don't even start it.

Another 800mg and I got through a short warmup test jog. The pain was now at a level where it just felt like a dull ache, no more stabbing. Let's do this thing! We started off, and I immediately felt the effects of doing neither a cooldown yesterday nor a warmup today. Those legs were STIFF. Everybody was running off, and I was left in what felt like the dust. But I focused on being efficient, and despite climbing up that first hill at snail pace, I found myself a loose group of Jeff, Andis, and Keegan for the first controls. This was a good group!

I then decided to abandon my reliable group and strike out on my own to 5, going left on a trail, that gave me bonus climbing, bonus mountain-laurel-bashing, and bonus cliff-scaling. That cost me about 4 minutes, and now I was alone and depressed. My everything still hurt, and I knew Izzy had a big lead, and I kind of just wanted to sit on a rock and listen to the birds. When I saw a pheasant flapping away from me I knew nobody had passed through in a while, and got even more glum. Figured it was about time Izzy won one of these things, anyway. Too much hubris to think I could do both a tough trail race and a tough orienteering race in one weekend. I'm getting old, need my recovery, don't have the snap that I used to.

About three controls of wallowing later, I finally started to pick up some runners. That lifted my spirits enough to pick up the pace a little, and I managed to get back into the game. As I headed to #9 I saw Izzy leaving it, and from the direction she was going, I figure she was skipping #10. In this race, you're allowed to skip a single control, which adds a different element of strategy to it. Seeing Izzy skip 10 firmed my decision to skip 14, which looked about equal in its skippability. Gotta try something different, see if it'll lead to an advantage. Like that, the competitive embers stirred, and the flames began to grow. This race isn't over yet.

I started to run a little more aggressively and moved up through the pack. The thing I love about the Billygoat is that I pretty much know everybody who is racing it. Definitely one of my favorite communities, that I wouldn't trade for anything. By the time I finally got to #13 and headed off towards #15, confident in my skip choice, I was feeling a lot better about my placement. I'd been steadily moving up, and had a long trail run ahead of me. My body was cooperating, the sun was shining, life was great.

At 15, I ran into both Izzy and Kseniya. Yay! Contact made! I relaxed a little, to try and recover, knowing that at some point, somebody would attack, and I wanted to make sure I could match it. We were together, with a few men in our pack, until about control 21. We had a long trail run then, and I decided to stretch the rubberband a bit and see what happened. It wasn't quite enough, but I could see that my trail running was a little stronger. We converged on 23 again, and then Kseniya got a bit of a gap coming down a steep rocky slope in the woods. She hit the trail by the river and accelerated, and I knew that this could be decisive if I didn't cover it. Definitely burned a match to close down the gap, but that had been a bluff - I could see her fatigue as we hit 24. Her attack had dropped Izzy, and I knew that with a mostly-uphill finish on trails and fields, things were in my favor. I took the uphill side of the wall leaving 24, which was more packed-down than Kseniya's side, and this gave me a few seconds. We hit the trail, up a hill, and I gave it some oomph, determined to not look back. I couldn't tell if the footsteps behind me were the West Point cadet or Kseniya, so I kept driving. One final uphill through the field, and as I turned 90 degrees to head to the finish I risked a look, and saw a comfortable gap. Phew!

I was very proud of the end of that run. It had been a mental game from the beginning, and came down to determination and motivation. I was very pleased to have been able to summon the oomph that I needed near the end. And, I hit all my goals of the race:

1. Finish, in under 3.5 hours
2. Beat Ed
3. Win the women's race

So I collected the ugly doorstopper for another year, as well as a delicious victory pie. A great end to a tough weekend.

Monday felt a little creaky, but my heels appear to be recovering, and by Tuesday I could run. So glad this isn't permanent damage!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Orienteering in CA

Two weekends ago was the US Ultralong Orienteering Championships, in the Bay Area of California. I had to be out there for a board meeting anyway, so figured I'd do the races, maybe work a few days from our Oakland office, take a break from the northeastern spring ski season. My preparation for anything orienteering-related has been somewhere between minimal and non-existent. That's the whole point of being retired. However, I'm way too competitive with myself to be satisfied with anything other than winning the race, so my plan was to stay super focused on the process of finding the points, and hope that my running training will suffice to get me around the course in a speedy manner.

The first day was an "extended" middle distance event, around 6.5km straight-line, at Pt. Pinoles park in the east bay. I'd been in town for 24 hours already, working out of my company's Oakland office and staying with a friend in San Francisco, and it had been impossible not to go for exploratory runs any chance I got. Nice to run somewhere that isn't locked into winter, and when you've got jet lag on your side, mornings start nice and early. So I wasn't totally rested, but the course promised to be relatively flat. It had been raining a lot, which meant that all the grasslands at Pt. Pinoles were totally saturated, feeling very much like the Swedish Squish (tm) that I hated so much last year at WOC. As an early starter, none of the grasses had been knocked down yet, and I felt like I was some sort of jungle explorer, pushing my way through these deep wet bogs all alone.

The navigation was relatively trivial, and I made it through without any mistakes of note. This was surprising, as I'd expected to feel a lot rustier in my technique, but I guess when you can see so far, with such a nice network of (totally waterlogged) trails, there isn't much room to get lost. I made one route choice error near the end, which lost me 36 seconds, but overall I was pleased enough with the race, especially given my lack of top-end training lately. I ended up 2nd, 45 seconds behind my old teammate Hannah, who is also semi-retired, so it was kind of nice to see that we are still as close as we ever were when we were both serious.

Day two was the actual Ultralong championships. With a name like "ultra," you expect something long, but in reality the straight-line distance was only 12km, so it's kind of a misnomer. But the event was in Briones Regional Park, which had plenty of hills (and cows!), so distance takes on a new meaning there. All the route choices in a place like that are about how to minimize climbing, and, in my case with my bad ankle, how to minimize the amount of time spent running through cow pastures. Cows leave big holes in the grass, and my ankle stabilizer muscles were not ready to deal with these holes, leading to a pretty slow pace across any sort of field, which is frustrating, because of course in those fields I could see exactly where I wanted to go; I just couldn't get there fast enough. Of course, when you're not in a field, you're going through the forest, which is filled with poison oak. And poison oak is orders of magnitude worse than poison ivy. People tell horror stories about poison oak.

The Ultralong was a mass start, and my goal was to beat Hannah. That was pretty much the only goal. I didn't know where we'd stack up in terms of fitness, but I could feel my ankle stabilizers tweaking out with every step after Saturday's run, having not been used all winter, so this could get interesting.

Hannah and I were together for most of the race. I was a little ahead for the first five controls in the forest, and then we hit the first butterfly in the fields, and I dribbled away about a minute to Hannah, incapable of running with any degree of speed through the lumpy fields. My ankle hurt a lot by the end of this butterfly, which helped with my decision to stay entirely on trails for the long leg to 14. I had been behind another woman after the first butterfly, but I ran hard on the trails, and got ahead by a bit, thinking I was still chasing Hannah. She took a straight route, though, and dropped 3min to me because of all the climbing. I was clearly running faster on anything trail or forest, but she was crushing me in the fields.

I executed the next long leg to 16 pretty well, but those were kind of stupid controls - dropped us down a dangerously steep reentrant just to essentially come back up. I did not enjoy the 7min of climbing hand over hand through poison oak at face level with every step sliding back a foot or more. That was stupid.

The second butterfly was also in cow fields, and I dribbled away another 40" to Hannah on this. I had a gel, and the caffeine boost helped my (poor) decision to take a slightly straighter route on the next long leg, thinking it was too far out of the way to backtrack to the trail. This was a 1.5min mistake, and gave me another hands-in-the-dirt climb through poison oak. I was telling myself to just trust myself, I did fine, and then I saw Hannah running along on the around-trail well above me already. Argh!

I ran hard to close the gap, and got it by sledding down a steep grassy hill on my ass. That was the most fun part of the course. I basically was the bowling ball and Hannah was the pin, I may have slammed right into the back of her giggling the whole time. But there was only one sledding track, and trying to run down a hill that steep was just ludicrous.

Then we were mostly together the final controls. I took a different/worse route to 26, closed the gap again to 27, and decided on the way to 28 that this was my last chance to play the one card I had left - had to get enough in front that she couldn't run past me in the final cow fields, because it was predetermined that I would suck there. I felt like I still had plenty of fitness to burn, but I was incapable of moving fast across cow fields, so it had to happen on the trails or in the woods. I gained about 20 seconds on 28, and another 25 seconds on 29, and was feeling like maybe I had this in the bag. Then somehow I ended up in some nasty dark green thick vegetation on the way to 30. Hands and knees, sometimes elbows and knees, through poison oak and other scratchy vegetation. I was pretty pissed when I finally emerged. Hannah got stuck too, but she got less stuck than me, and punched first by maybe 5s. After 2 hours, and plenty of different routes, we're still together. That's actually kind of awesome.

Then my ankle pretty much gave out on the way to 31. Too many holes from the damn cows. I basically walked/limped it in down the hill to the finish, in a pretty big grump. Mostly because of the green, because that was where I lost the race, but more because I just wanted to be able to run without my ankle hurting. This was supposed to be fun, but reality didn't quite stack up.

From a distance, it all looks so lush and beautiful.

Morning. Also beautiful.

I found some green space to explore before hopping onto a red-eye to get home. Very nice to run among the trees before spending hours in traffic and airports and buildings. 

I spent the next week dealing with the worst poison oak reaction. I thought I'd quarantined clothing well, but evidently not well enough, and getting all those cuts on my arms from crawling through the poison oak at the end of the course was the nail in the coffin. By the time the rash was covering about 20% of me, I went to the doctor, but it was pretty unpleasant.

Back east, we got an April Fool's snowstorm, so before I knew it, I was playing in the snow again. No poison oak there!  

Back to what I know - Olaf the snowman tights earning turns on a sunny spring day.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

March coaching

March has all the fun marathons, but it also has all the big championship events for the juniors, and this year I put the coaching first. I coached at Junior Nationals for team New England, and then turned around and led the Massachusetts team at Eastern High School Championships. 

Junior Nationals
JNs this year was in Lake Placid, the site of my last JNs when I was a kid. Unfortunately due to low snow they had to move the venue from Van Hoevenburg to the Olympic Jump Complex, which meant the courses got a lot less interesting to ski, with a lot more hill. It was about 60m from the bottom to the top, with very little recovery along the way. The NE team showed their fitness, and left nothing to chance, dominating the entire week. I was in charge of the U20 women's team, and they were a great group. Positive, supportive, and super speedy, headed by Julia Kern, who came through the CSU program. Now she's off racing World Cups, and she showed that she was at a totally different level during the week of junior competitions. Case in point: winning the sprint qualifier by 24 seconds.

JKern and Mackenzie on the podium after the 5k skate

They called themselves the lady bosses. Pretty accurate.

I was super impressed with the quality of this event - the organizers did a fabulous job, with a "chillax" zone for the athletes, an ice cream social and ice skating during mid-week awards, and excellent facilities during the races. Team NE got to stay at the Olympic Training Center, which is always a cool experience for these kids. And with Superior Timing in charge, the racing side of things went off without a hitch. 
I may have escaped one afternoon and trotted up Cascade. love those high peaks. Thank you Inov-8 for my metal-studded Arctic Talons, or that would have been a sketchy run in places.

The jumps made an impressive backdrop to our racing. We had a wide variety of weather, from sunny and 40+ degrees to snow squalls to -8F for the relay morning. Here, a storm rolls in during the sprint heats.

CSU had sent 7 current athletes to JNs; we came away with three all-Americans (top 10 in their age class) and everybody having at least one top-thirty result. Rob and I were there for coaches, but what's great about JNs is that the team is well-integrated, with all the kids hanging out together rather than club-by-club.

Eastern High School Championships
This year, Easterns was up at Mountaintop Inn and Resort, in central VT. We'd just gotten a big nor'easter dump, which allowed the event to use all the trails rather than their 2km manmade loop. That was almost too close for comfort, but the venue and event staff did a fabulous job getting everything packed and ready for the 200-odd skiers and their four races. I had a great coaching staff working for me, which meant that I mostly got to ski around and watch the races. (ok, I may have done a little more work than that given how tired I was on Monday, but largely, I just enjoyed skiing in beautiful conditions). 

CSU qualified every skier who was of age (although two girls ended up not going, one because of illness and one injured), and most of them skied really well. We made up a large part of the team, with the Greylock ski team making up most of the rest of the spots, with occasional other kids. I was psyched to see them all getting along well; sometimes you have problems bringing a lot of ski teams together but most of these guys know each other pretty well. 

Maddy and I got out during the boys' classic race


Team Massachusetts!

After the first three races (5k skate, 7.5k classic, and 1.2k skate), we were in third place, about 600 points behind NH, but only 130 points ahead of ME. VT was way out front with like a 2000 point lead. The relay teams are mixed gender, mixed technique, and our goal was to try and close that gap to NH. Our girls had been holding even, but the boys had been losing ground steadily every day, so this was going to be difficult. Luckily, the boys really upped their game, and we ended up winning the relay, and only a 30-point deficit to NH on the day! After first place our depth dropped quickly, but I was still really proud of the kids for all skiing well above their abilities.

Frank and I out during the sprint race

Pretty idyllic setting

Jeff, Maddy, and I discussing who knows what. Probably waiting for doughnuts.

With that, the ski season is over. We still have some snow, so may eke out a couple more Tuesday night races, and I may have spent an hour practicing my jump skills at Weston yesterday, but I'm looking forward to the "off" season. If only for the relief from driving to practice!