Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Run like a Dog (TNF Costa Rica Race Report)

Part 1:  A Pre-Race Lesson

For almost a year now, I’ve been changing my thinking.  I’ve poured over books learning about happiness from people I’ve never heard of before to books written by some of the best leaders of our time, such as the Dali Lama. Though said in many different ways, every single author believed that though life is meant for learning (and with that comes some growing pains), it’s meant to be happy. Furthermore, good things are meant to happen to us if we are open enough to let them come. This can seem like a crazy notion, but these writers and world leaders are leading happy lives and making a difference. It’s a thought I wanted to at least try believing in.

Of course this meant the Universe was going to give me an opportunity to learn this in the most beautiful of ways!

A few months ago Sage and I got an email from one of our awesome athletes saying he talked to the race directors of TNF Endurance Challenge Costa Rica and they wanted us to come to the race. Immediately my heart said yes and I was filled with excitement, but Sage had to make sure he could fit it in his busy schedule. Luckily he could fit in the 50k, and I excitedly but nervously signed up for the 80k. I knew my iron was super low when I signed up, and even though I decided to see a doctor who specialized in sports anemia, I knew it was unlikely I’d be feeling much better by the race. I couldn’t pass up a great adventure though!!!

Shortly after signing up for the race my ego got a hold of me and was clearly screaming “You don’t deserve to race in Costa Rica!!!”.  I guess my ego figured it got that initial message across and then proceeded to give me all the reasons on why I didn’t deserve to go.  With each reason (and there were plenty) I pretty much felt myself sink deeper into a pool of mud. Damn….My ego made some great points. I totally didn’t deserve to go!

Luckily, a few months earlier when I was having much higher thoughts, I wrote down an amazing quote by Marriane Williamson and hung it up in my room. It was a true life saver when I finally looked at it! Here it is:  

(Totally feel free to replace God with whatever word works with your beliefs!)

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 


“Well screw you ego! My happiness is meant to serve the world! “  With those thoughts, I felt a little lighter, a sure way to know that I was on my “right” path. Sure I still felt a little undeserving at times, but I could get out of it pretty quickly once I remembered the quote.


Part 2: Run like a Dog!


I’m an animal lover… especially a dog lover.  Every time I see a dog I can’t help but smile and get totally distracted. I also have a special place in my heart for Australian Cattle dogs and there, right in front of me, was an adorable blue healer! “Awwwww, she wants her tummy rubbed!” Around her were various running shoes (humans attached) and she was laying right on the starting line. “Oh yeah! The race is about to start!”  All nerves are gone though, and I keep my eye on the little dog to see if she’ll start the race.

The race starts and I watch the dog happily run with the crowd. She’s excited for the moment, doesn’t think about her pace, the rocks, or the steepness of the hills. She’s just happy to be running outside. “Dog’s know how to really run.” I thought. “Run like a dog” became my motto for the day.

Having no clue how I’d be feeling (knowing my iron levels probably weren’t up yet), my only race plan was to possibly take advantage of the cooler morning air (it was still already quite hot, humid, and sunny at 5:30 am) and stay smart about eating and hydrating.  I stayed behind two other women for the first 5k, letting my body warm up and enjoying the start. Right after 5k there was a slight downhill and I let gravity do the work as I ran past smoke coming from the hot pools of water. I moved into the lead and never knew how far back anyone was after that.

Photo Credit: Federación Costarricense de Deportes de Montaña
From there I began my climb to the highest point of the race. Holy Cow! I did not look at the elevation map or course profile very well!  I thought the whole course was pretty runable and there I was hands on knees hiking up a long, technical, and very steep grade.  It was a beautiful section of trail! “Run like a dog”- well hike like a dog. I went up and up through wet leaves, mossy rocks, and roots having a blast and having fond memories of Grindstone 100 (though I was super happy to be doing this in the light- Grindstone starts at 6pm so lots of night running!)) and rotated between a slow run and  a power hike.  There were also some steep down hills in and the mix and since everything was wet I spent every few steps saving myself from a slip or slight trip my clumsy feet caused me.  It probably didn’t help I was constantly distracted from the loud sound coming from the forest (howler monkeys, perhaps?), but it sure was entertaining!

After having popped out of the lush forest it was time to bring on the sun and heat!  For the next 20 or so miles (I’m really just throwing that number out there since I barely looked at my watch) I’d be in the desert or on dirt roads without any shade. It was fun to experience this side of Costa Rica I didn’t know about. I ran on beautiful white rocky ground and had some great views that allowed me to see for miles. I clicked off some miles at a decent “ultra” pace, and embraced the sun. Mentally, I could handle the high humidity and above 90 degree temps, but my stomach wasn’t a huge fan.  I tried to be really careful with my electrolyte intake, but it didn’t seem to be working. I was hot, my stomach was off, and my pace slowed considerably from miles 20-30. I did a lot of hiking up hills that I should have been running. I was sure I’d be passed at any moment.

I got to the 30 mile aid station feeling really crummy, yet I maintained my routine of stopping to put ice in my water bottle and my sports bra (I was thankful to be a woman and have a sports bra to put ice in that day!) and carried on. A couple minutes later my stomach hurt too much to run, but thankfully I started puking and after a couple of minutes my stomach was much happier. I could run again!!! Unfortunately I could barely eat and relied on two Hammer espresso gels and some ginger ale to give me the energy to make it the last 20 miles.

I may have puked right after this aid station.  
The main things that I can really remember the last 20 miles was running as much as I could and doing anything to keep myself cool.  I was hurting from the calorie deficit, but I kept on remembering my mantra of “run like a dog” and found as much joy from running as possible at that moment. The last few kilometers were all slightly uphill but I mentally felt good and was ready to run most of it. Less than a mile from the finish I stayed true to my clumsy ways and fell on the smoothest section of trail there was, covering most of my side in dirt and a few scratches. Honestly- I was kind of thankful for the bit of adrenaline that came with it!  So covered in dirt I made my way to the finishing chute and was greeted with the loudest cheer I have ever gotten during an ultra.  It was a blast and nice to come in first at such an awesome event.
Top 4 women. Photo Credit: Federación Costarricense de Deportes de Montaña

Part 3: Pura Vida!

Pura Vida simply translates to “Pure Life” in English, but it obvious through the people we met in Costa Rica that this country’s motto means much, much more. To me, it serves as a reminder to live in the present and make the most out of it. I think the world would be a better place if more cultures adopted this way of life.

I think one thing that made the trip and race so wonderful is that the race itself and the people who were part of it beautifully showed me what Pura Vida really meant.  The joy and enthusiasm for coming together to run on beautiful trails was contagious. 

From the rain forest to the desert to the beach, Costa Rica is a beautiful country and I can’t wait to go back!

Special thanks to the race directors Federico and Ligia. They’re great race directors and even better people. It was truly an honor to take part in their event. I also really appreciate that their business Ecogreen works to help the environment and reduce waste at their events- pretty cool!


Pura Vida!

 Sandi
                                           Thanks Sage for the following photos:
(Sage's beer of course!)

For the entire week I got to have every meal outside!

Zip Lining! (Conveniently done at the race hotel!)


Pool at Hotel Hacienda (race hotel)

Shake out run on the course.

Beach in Tamarindo





What I used for the race:








Sunday, May 11, 2014

Checking Off My #1 - New Zealand

This post is dedicated to those with adventurous hearts and Sage for helping me live this dream.

I’ve been back from New Zealand for quite a while now and have yet to write about most of the trip. Where does one even begin to starting writing about the adventure of their dreams? And honestly, I’m not sure if my words are better than pictures for this.

I first realized I wanted to go to New Zealand sometime in high school. Honestly, I never really thought about New Zealand until someone mentioned it to me.  At that age, exploring nature for hours at a time and travelling across the world to do so was a foreign concept to me. I knew I had an explorer’s heart, but I didn’t know what to do about it. It just wasn’t a common thing where I grew up. So when I first heard someone talk about New Zealand, an interest sparked. I researched more about it, and that was it. New Zealand was number one on my list of places I wanted to travel to. Going to see all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies with my dad and Rachel only increased my longing to go!

After graduating college and having one crazy summer solo adventure, I completed one year of service through AmeriCorps at the Boys & Girls Club of Buena Vista. While living in Salida, I was exposed to many world travelers and they influenced me to get my working visa for New Zealand so I could spend a year living there. I was set on it. I had nothing holding me back… well except for the money to get there. Unfortunately a “year of service” doesn’t help you save a lot of money.

Here’s my lesson from the Universe: If something you want doesn’t work out the way you wanted, it’s only because the Universe has a MUCH better plan for you. However, you have to be open to it. If you’re sulking over things not working out the way you wanted, you’re probably going to miss the much better plan awaiting you… at least that’s the way it’s been constantly working out for me. It’s also been a common theme of other people’s stories that I have been reading recently.

So (as many of you know) I picked up a second job in exchange for a place to live and moved to Buena Vista. I really missed Salida, but thankfully, Buena Vista is on the way to the Grand Canyon from Boulder, and that’s how I met Sage. As he was making the drive to run the R2R2R, he wanted to stop to get a run in and contacted me to show him a good trail. I’m sure you know the story from there, but remember I originally wanted to be in New Zealand at that time, and I certainly would have missed that opportunity to meet Sage if I had gone.

In 2013 I learned more about New Zealand through Sage when he went to race Tarawera 100k and I knew then that I’d be joining him the next year. I had no idea how, but it was going to happen.

This past Christmas, my wish came true due to a very loving man and some other very wonderful people. My gratitude for this still sometimes feels like it may burst from my heart.

This is where my words leave me. I should have inspiration bursting out of my fingertips as I talk about the actual trip, yet all I can feel right now are my emotions from the trip, all words are lost.

Maybe pictures are better here, but I will share this thought. After years of suffering from depression and self-hate, New Zealand and that past few months have taught me that life is meant for us to be happy. Following our happiness is the best way to be of service to the world, despite the people telling us to be “realistic” and our dreams are to remain only dreams. Dreams can come true if you learn to believe that. It’s pretty damn hard to truly believe that, but fully worth the effort.


Hobbiton


Heading towards Roy's Glacier (Thanks Grant Guise for this picture and some of the pics following!)







Queenstown!

The stunning town of Wanaka- loved it here!


Gertrudes Saddle



I was very happy to find fresh veggie/fruit juice all over NZ



Milford Sound



Twin Rocks

Wine tasting in Northburn- I know nothing about wine but had a blast!

Milford Sound


Cathedral Cover- best beach I've been to so far! Awesome hike to get to it and fun things to explore!



Gertrudes Saddle





Rotorua Geyser







"Where you invest your love, you invest your life." -Mumford and Sons

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Tale of Two Races (and one DNS)

(Just going to focus on the races here as writing about the whole NZ trip would make this incredibly long although I will write another post on New Zealand.)

Tarawera:

(Many of you know I got sick before Tarawera and I’m of course going to write about it, but I wanted to note that I see the whole race (and days before) as a great experience and totally positive minus two hours where I was a little upset about it.)

Two days before the Tarawera 100k (got shortened to 70k) I opened my eyes and knew something was off. My head felt heavy and my chest felt weird. I felt fine the day before so I thought that maybe I just accidentally ate something with gluten or got dehydrated. At breakfast I learned the hotel had a juicer I could use. Perfect! A few glasses of green juice was just the thing I needed. While I’m sure the green juice did me some good, whatever I had wasn’t about to just disappear. My head continued to feel heavy and I was developing a weird cough. I’d be fine for long amounts of time and then I’d have a coughing fit that sounded completely horrendous. Literally- I got asked a few times if I was okay.

In realizing I wasn’t going to be healthy before the race I had to make a choice, to run anyway or have a DNS. Honestly, I shouldn’t have started. In fact, had I been in the US and facing this choice, it wouldn’t have even been much of a decision. I was in New Zealand though; the number one place I have wanted to travel to for 10 years. I at least wanted to start. I made a plan to run only 20 miles and early on during the race I knew running only 20 miles was the right decision. Then I got to the 20 mile aid station and ran through a crowd of cheering and motivational people and before I knew it I was running to the next aid station 10 miles away! At 32ish miles in I really wasn’t feeling great and decided I really wanted to be done. In order to finish faster I just decided I should push it and run everything I could. Terrible idea, as my chest started to really bother me but I was still running so I figured I couldn’t be that bad. Thus, I kept going and finished feeling exhausted but happy I got run the trails. (I was also thinking how stupid my brain was for thinking it was okay to do that - yet somewhat impressed it was tough enough to do that).

Not too long after I finished I heard someone saying that he missed the short out and back (maybe 2k or less total?). My ears perked up. I thought there was only the 10 mile out and back. I remembered all the conversation the night before stating the turnaround was at the big aid station I’d be after the 10 miles of no aid station. I had no idea there was a super short one. It was a little annoying to have missed such a short section of the course, but it honestly didn’t bother me as I emailed the RD and told him to disqualify me. I was completely consumed with gratitude for being there.

This is getting longer than planned so I’ll quickly sum up what happened after the race. Sage and I were coming back from eating at the Fat Dog (great restaurant btw) and my chest began to feel tight. It continued to feel worse until we got to the hotel room and the next thing I knew I was on the floor from passing out. Then I woke up on the bed not knowing how I got there. From there I remember taking some medicine and being out of it while every few minutes I got the most painful hacking cough of my life. Thank goodness Sage was there to make sure I was okay! Eventually I feel asleep and amazingly I woke up feeling quite a bit better and manage to go out to dinner with Sage and some other really great people. Unfortunately the hacking cough followed me on and off for over a week.

Ok so I have no pics from the actual race but here are some pics from the pre-race activities: 
Sage and the RD at the welcoming ceremony

At least Rotorua smells a little funky for a cool reason!
Some speedy and wonderful people I got to hang out with!

Northburn 50k:



A few months before Sage and I left for New Zealand, Sage had talked to the Northburn RD and decided to do the 50k “for fun” as well as take part in the panel discussion the Thursday before the race in which all proceeds went to Malcom Law’s High Five-0 Challenge for Mental Health (completely just mentioning this because it’s  an awesome cause that deserves attention). When Sage told me about doing this one week after Tarawera I told him I’d be enjoying a good book as he ran.

Malcom Law's book!

Of course this didn’t happen. I still didn’t feel completely healthy but then I started hearing how awesome the course was with lots of climbing and miles of uneven terrain off trail. I even enjoyed hearing about some Spanish plant that should be avoided. I was hooked and excited. I would run this and my one and only goal was to have fun (I wasn’t mentally or physically ready to even think about pushing it after the previous weekend’s events). Unfortunately Sage and I were missing tons of the required gear, couldn’t run without it, and couldn’t spend the money to get all the gear.Grant Guise from Backcountry Runner to the rescue! He not only showed Sage and I some awesome trails and welcomed us into his lovely home, but completely hooked us up with all the gear we needed for the race.  Definitely a race saver!
Thanks Backcountry Runner (for your help and the sweet hat)!!!

I should also mention this race is quite “old school” (which I love) in that the aid stations serve only water, meaning you had to carry all your own food. I’ve never experienced this before but quickly came up with a plan. I mixed Hammer Sustained Energy in with my water so I could get in calories while not taking up any extra space in my pack and then just took enough gels to get me through the rest of the miles. It was also a hot day and I conveniently filled up the water bottles in the front of my Ultra Vesta with Hammer Fizz. It was probably one of my best nutrition plans I’ve had. The Hammer Sustained Energy was great for the long uphill in which I didn’t have to think about getting a gel out and trying to eat and breathe at the same time.

True to usual form, on race morning I barely made it to the start line on time since I waited to use the bathroom until the last minute. The race began, Sage and another guy immediately shot off, and I became increasingly confused as to why I ran the first 8k with the lead pack of guys. Then I realized they were probably all running the 100k or a 100 mile race and life made sense again. In the first half of the race there is a long 10 mile climb. I enjoyed the climb in the beauty of the rising sun, a truly enchanting time of day. I also thoroughly enjoyed that I was starting the climb from a low elevation as it felt much easier than it would have in Colorado. Eventually I got to the miles that were off trail and I suddenly understood why people said it wasn’t very runnable. I had seen pictures of this section and ignorantly thought it didn’t look too bad. It was during this time of the race I decided that those Spanish bayonets looked a bit hungry and that I should donate some blood to them so they could stay strong and sharp! At this point of the race I also realized that while I’m a strong power hiker at the end of a hundred mile race, I’m a completely inefficient power hiker in the middle of a hard 50k and watched a couple guys power hike pass me. Oh well, more time to enjoy the scenery!.
After donating some more blood to the Spanish bayonets and stopping to take in the view a few times I finally reached the hard and rocky downhill. It was great to reach but I was also wishing the other pair of trail shoes I brought with me to New Zealand wouldn’t have torn and fell apart. I was running in a super minimalist pair of shoes that I loved, but just weren’t meant for this race. I was running for fun though! Instead of forcing myself to give my quads a thorough beating I happily cruised down and took it in the beauty of the day. After the bottom of the long downhill I had about 6 miles to go to the finish and a few more hills to tackle. I nearly ran out of water but with 3 miles to go two wonderful women with the most delicious grapes I have ever tasted filled me up and got me going again, though I really tried to stay and talk to them longer (you can see this in the video). Three miles later I finished all smiles, tired but thankful I had accomplished my goal of having fun. Getting first in the 50k with a CR was a nice added bonus.

What will be the Lake Sonoma DNS…


I’ve wanted to run Lake Sonoma for two years. I love courses with a lot of runnable climbs and beautiful trails and Lake Sonoma just seemed like a great course for me. Unfortunately, I had been denying to myself for months that my iron levels weren’t getting better and pushed through many miles and hard runs anyway. Somewhere in those months I realized that when I should have been making huge progress I was actually running slower. Still, I ignored it.  While running Tarawera I knew I was running slower than usual because I was so sick, but in the back of my head wondered how much faster I’d be running without being sick. During Northburn I had a blast, but I still knew I once used to feel stronger. I got back to Boulder and as I ran the trails that altitude hit me like a brick and I’m still having a hard time adjusting back. I knew my iron was low but got a blood test anyway to make sure it wasn’t in my head. I got the results of the blood test and found out my iron is at an all-time low. To give you an idea of how it affects performance, I’d be running pretty well if my ferritin number was 60 higher than mine, or to be really ideal for an athlete, the number would be 90 more. It’s disappointing- I’ve tried everything I could think of and have done tons of research for two years now with no improvement. While I have to admit to myself that since I try to be so healthy otherwise I still feel decent and can run decently well, it’s no longer fun for me to do such competitive races while I’m not at my best. Thus, I made the decision to not run Lake Sonoma. All hope is not lost though. While I feel like I’ve tried everything I know I haven’t. Something will work and one day I’ll see some speed and mountain strength come back and I’ll y appreciate ever moment of it.