July 8, 2015

Sequoia National Park: where trees dwarf humans

The best part of traveling is that in a new place you see everything with fresh eyes. You see the beauty that someone who sees it daily might start to gloss over and take for granted. Just like you runnerds out there take for granted your running health until you get an injury. (raise your hand if you are guilty) And then when you head back to your own place in the world, you see it with those same fresh eyes that you cultivated while you were away.

But then there are places that it seems impossible to ever stop be amazed by. Sequoia National Park is one of those places, where the trees and mountains dwarf you. 

And here are just a few of the reasons you should go to there. 

General Sherman is a must-see, but honestly, when I was in Redwood Canyon (scroll down), I thought that so many of the trees seemed equal to The General but just with no line in front to take your picture in front of it. Yes, there was a significant picture-taking line.

Walking through a tree.

The hugest!

The biggest trees produce the tiniest cones.

They decided to start a cone collection and have a sale. But supply and demand was off.

The panorama view. Because giant sequoias don't fit in a pic any other way.

Fitting our family into a burned-out tree.

Moro Rock was not the overall group favorite. My nine year old was so not into it. The sobbing and clinging to the rock was the first clue.

One of the six year olds was into it.

The other was this.

But he went to the top and acted like he never even cared at all on the way back down, like he was so brave all along.

P.S. I am also really afraid of heights. 

But with practice, you can overcome some fears. Like by sitting slightly close to a ledge.

Or by jumping three inches off the ground in a rock stairwell.

Sometimes a tiny jump is bigger in your heart.

So yes, go to Moro Rock. Be prepared to be scared if that kind of thing scares you, but it is totally doable, even for scaredy-cats like me.

Redwood Canyon was something I almost skipped. We had a full morning of sightseeing with a lot of bathroom and snack breaks along the way, and the idea of a run was slipping further into the background. But Amory really pushed me to do it and agreed to drop me off and pick me up while he took a back-dirt-road adventure of his own (he loves to try and get stuck in awkward places in the car). 

Once I got out there, I'm not sure if I got much running done because I had to keep stopping to stare all around me. 

Between that and my (not so) irrational fear of a bear attack, this was a very distracted run.

If a giant sequoia falls in the woods but nobody is around, guess what. It still makes a noise. And then 100 years later, someone sits on it and takes a selfie.

Even the poops on the trail are huge. Ten points for anyone who can identify this dung. I had convinced myself it was bear poop, but I could be persuaded to believe otherwise.

Just stop, Redwood Canyon. You are magic. That is all.

This is where I waited for my ride home. Part of it was because, hey, let me use this giant tree as a bench. But the other part was because I thought it might give me an advantage on all the approaching bears. I mean, no, I didn't see one, but I knew that at any moment I could. 

Again, the pano says a little more. Blurry but more.

And then back to camp to refuel!

Until the next stop, enjoy where you are right now. Because you might not be there again soon, or because where you are is already pretty darn good.

June 18, 2015

What goes up must come down (Memorial Day 12 Miler)

If this race wasn't titled Memorial Day, you might not know how long I've waited to write about it. But let's just pretend I said Flag Day, and then we're good.

For those new to the Southeastern Trail Series, the Memorial Day Race is the third in the series, and you can pick your poison at 6 or 12 miles. The series is built to prep you for your first 50K, but you can go the short series route and prep for a 25K by series end. 

With my Resolute Runners, we had a fantastic group of folks joining us out on the trails that day. See below to know that they don't play.

Resolute Runners intimidating the competition.

I love every single one of them!

And now for a little more info on the race for those of you considering this for the future. 

Pre-race: All racers have the option of picking up their packet the day before at Mtn High Outfitters, and let me just tell you that it helps the race directors a ton on race morning if you use that option. Shorter lines on race morning are always a good/relaxing thing. Being the third year for the series though, they have a great system going, and things run smoothly pre-race. 

Getting there: The park has upped their entrance fee to $4, so bring cash or clean out the change in your ash tray. What you don't want to do is totally forget and have to use the ATM at the gate. For some reason, that is one of my most hated things in life is getting charged ATM fees, especially when those fees will be more than the amount of cash you need in the first place. 

And once you are to the gates, leave about 10 extra minutes to get to the race start. You can park in a lot just past the start pavilion, but most folks just start parking along the road as they come in. If you park next to a tree, beware of poison ivy. It's everywhere out there right now. Kind of like snakes. But at least the snakes stay hidden for the most part. The poison ivy is like your little brother who is supposed to stay on his side of the imaginary line in the back seat of the station wagon on family vacation, but he never does what he's supposed to. And you just know he/it is creeping over to do something that will potentially ruin your life forever (i.e. be annoying for a little bit). 

Race morning and race course: There are fluids for filling up packs and water bottles. Definitely bring a water bottle to this race! There are no aid stations along the course, and you will be out there for longer than you think. Six miles isn't much when it's flat, but add a little Shackleford in there and forget about it. 

The race start. Photo by Marathon Runs.

Yes, that's about 500 ft of elevation gain on one hill. Sometimes it's so steep that using your hands to grab rocks and pull yourself up is the best option. That or falling backwards off the mountain. The 12 milers get to do that twice, bless them all. 

And the way down will wreck yourself if you don't check yourself. Tip: don't fall.

My race: I started off hoping for a good day knowing that there was a strong field of ladies hitting the course that day. The last time I did the double-loop course, I took the first loop way too easy, and I had to play catch up on the second loop. But not this day -- this day I felt like my effort was pretty even, although I definitely slowed down somewhat on the second loop, running it about a minute slower per mile than the first loop. 

I want to formally apologize to the runner who was near me the whole race who I kept telling that this was the last hill and that we were almost done with the hard part. And then there would be yet another hill. So turns out that the hills keep coming, and you just have to expect them to never stop, the entire race. Because after that monstrosity of a hill burns up your legs, even an ant hill will feel like Mt Everest to your now-totally-busted-up calves and quads.

The luckiest part of my day is that a friend who was only running the 6-mile race, jumped back in to run the second loop with me. Friends and their life stories are the perfect distraction from heat strokes and asthma attacks. The second loop flew by, definitely nowhere close to literally because of the slowness. 

But I finished in fourth place for the ladies, which I was super happy about because all of the front-runner ladies are my idols. Also, I ran it six minutes faster than last year, so I'll take it!

My favorite person: Is this guy. He came to Crusher Ridge in khaki pants and a cotton shirt last year, and it was blazing that day. I find it so amazingly cool that he just does not give a flying flip about any of the running gear that the rest of us are so obsessed with analyzing every little detail of. He just rolls out. And he's a solid runner too. I highly doubt he will ever read this thought-provoking blog post, but if you are, sir, I have mad respect for you. And you are hereby nominated My Favorite Trail Runner of the Week/Month/Ever. 

Photo by Marathon Runs.

Injury of the day: Not a break (phew!), but my coach had a moment with an ankle roll that did not end well. Luckily we had The Farm at the finish line to tape up any of our injuries. Do they tape wounded pride? Because I need that sometimes.

And sometimes you roll your ankle.

Best finish line pic of the day: Clear winner with this one. Her longest run on trails ever, and she finishes with a 10/10 jump. Now that is winning!

Best finish line jump in existence.

Carley and Yo Momma.

Overall: Do this race if you are looking for some hills to eat for breakfast. Or if you like to get eaten by the hills for breakfast. Because the hills never get full, and you runners are pretty nutrient dense. You will most likely have toasty weather, so hydrate the heck out of yourself. And proceed to having a fun day. Also note that this race is not actually on Memorial Day but on the Saturday before Memorial Day, so you will have plenty of time to pay your respects on Memorial Day. 

May 22, 2015

Challenge yourself! (+ a Spartan race giveaway)

Nerd alert: I cannot handle how much I love the show Survivor. Like never-ending, if-I-could-only-watch-one-show-for-eternity love. Obviously, I would want a rotating cast for that eternity of Survivor watching. And BTdubs, I am dying to play that game once in my life. Every time a season ends, I go and read the application requirements again, but I can't convince myself that my family can live without me for 39 days. So I wait.

One of my favorite moments of this season was after the final challenge, the last four players are so exhausted during the challenge that they can barely drag themselves up a set of stairs and are weaving as they walk over to put together the final puzzle. After the challenge is over, one of the contestants who lost sits down exhausted, shaking his head, and says, "Never in the 42 years of me living have I ever been tested like this before. This game has changed me. I want my daughter to know that anything you do in life, if you give it your all, your mama and daddy are gonna be proud of you, whether you fail or not." Followed by, "We did it. We left it all out there."

That right there is exactly why I race. There is a certain fulfillment that you get in racing, knowing that you challenged yourself. You threw yourself against a wall and either broke through or got knocked down. And if you got knocked down, you got up and tried it again. If you fail, if you don't win, who cares? At least you tried hard things. At least you didn't coast through life. At least you tested your limits, and inevitably, you'll find out that you're capable of more than you thought. And the failures teach you how to change and how to grow.

So if you're looking for something new to try, Spartan races have a great deal going right now, 40% off race entries with the code MEMORIAL, expires 5/27.

Spartan is basically the perfect Survivor training. Watch this video to learn more about what you're up against when you sign up for Spartan. My favorite quote from the video: "Life is meant to be lived and experienced. And I'm just getting started."

And the folks at Spartan have been great enough to give me another free race opportunity to pass along to you! It's super easy to enter -- so basically the opposite of the actual race.

Here's how to win.

Spartan is providing the free entry for this giveaway. I am not receiving compensation for this post, and all thoughts and and opinions are my own. 

May 21, 2015

Refresh your running playlist

Heading into your weekend race and need a jam or two to get you through the why-am-i-doing-this-and/or-when-will-this-be-over times? And don't forget the heat and humidity if you live near me. It will be a blasted almost-90-degree day for my Memorial Day trail race. So I will be packing extra fluids for sure. Not that it won't get worse later this summer, but right now my body is still trying to remember what it's like to sweat like a fire hose.

To prep for this race, I've been alternating between skipping weekend long runs to sleep in and hang with my family (this weekend was a total run bust -- but I swear to my coach that I otherwise followed the plan!) and wearing myself completely out with hilly runs in my neighborhood. Now I'm ready to sit back and rest up my legs for race day.

Because this race is basically straight up and straight down a mountain, I'm going to need music to keep me moving up the hills and to make me feel like flying on the way down.

So for my fellow runners seeking musical pain intervention, here are the latest additions to my race playlist.

1. Don't Drop That Thun Thun by Fanatticz. Just like the title suggests, this song doesn't really make any sense, but I heard it in a movie a few weeks ago and could not get it out of my head. The beat is just so dang catchy, and you can basically convince yourself that "thun thun thun" means whatever you want. Like don't drop that trash onto the ground because that's littering especially in the forest, or don't drop that Hammer gel because you need to eat it, or don't drop that hammer (as in fast running) too soon, or don't drop that pace or do because you went out too fast, or don't drop that electrolyte tablet because it's really hot and you already had heat stroke once this century so give it a rest. See what I mean! It means anything and everything just when your weary mind needs it.

2. Cecilia and the Satellite by Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. "If I could fly, then I would know what life looks like from up above and down below." Songs that include nature references just work for me. It's also kind of romantic and stuff, so for you love birds out there, your eyes can gloss over with romantic visions, but not so much that you trip. "For all the things my hands have held, the best by far is you." I mean, get a room.

3. Shake Me Down by Cage the Elephant. When he sings, "I'll keep my eyes fixed on the sun," it's like a rocking motivational banner waving to my weary trail runner soul. And he repeats "not a lot of people left around" about a hundred times. Which could be the anthem for the second loop of every Southeastern Trail Series race. The swinging from calm to angsty energy makes it just like running and worth adding to your list. Also I added their song Cigarette Daydreams to my playlist -- more mellow, but just as lovable.

4. Who Gon Stop Me by Jay Z and Kanye West. If you want a song for soldiering forward when you're in a dark place, this is the one. Like most Kanye songs (or just Kanye in general), there are some controversial lyric choices, but, dang, it helps me march on when I'm feeling low.

5. Get Low by Dillon Francis and DJ Snake. For when you need to get in a rhythm with running. It literally says the same thing over and over and over again. No need to think when this song comes over the headphones. It's freaking addictive and also perfect for impromptu dance parties -- on sidewalks, in parking lots, in your living room, while cooking, all around your room while your husband is trying to go to sleep (that may or may not have just now happened).

6. Fire It Up by Modest Mouse. Besides the fact that they sing "fire it up" again and again, which is my favorite, it also includes the made-up word etceteraenough. I support made-up words when they are sandwiched between sweet guitar riffs. But mostly it's just a chill song that makes running through the trees feel magical.

7. GDFR by Flo Rida. Pretty much the opposite of the chillness of Fire It Up, but perfect for when you want to buckle down and get your serious race mojo on. I'm sure they don't mean running when they say "it's goin' down for real," ahem. But I made it that in my mind. "I know what you came here to do [run, right?]. Now bust it open let me see you get loose [as in loose because otherwise you will hurt yourself running so fast down a hill]." See, pretty much all about running.

8. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Part 1 by The Flaming Lips. Back to chillness. See how that works with alternating hype and chill songs for race day balance. This song just makes me laugh because it's all about a girl who fights evil robots. So +1 for girl power and +1 for robot battles. "She's gotta be strong to fight them, so she's taking lots of vitamins. Cause she knows that it'd be tragic if those evil robots win. I know she can beat them." All with perfect space-agey electronic beats. 

9. Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars. This song always makes me smile because of the memory of a bunch of kids at my gym who flash mobbed to it. Right in the middle of the night-rush-packed weight room. Is it super cheesy? Of course! But it is totally addictive with an awesome beat. If you hear this song and don't dance spontaneously, you might as well go home, wrap yourself up in your Snuggy, tune in to a Netflix marathon of Melrose Place, and fart yourself to sleep. Wait, that actually sounds like something I might do after the race on Saturday. Everyone on the internet, look away -- nothing to see here. 

10. I Bet My Life by Imagine Dragons. I am in love with songs that alternate between slow and easy and rock-splosion. If you've heard this song you know what I mean. If not, listen now. 

11. Come Get It Bae by Pharrell Williams. Nothing in this song can even pretend to relate to running or enduring pain, unless you count standing around acting seductive as an endurance sport. It probably is hard. That's what she said. Oh, and the song has a great tempo. Or something like that. 

12. I Lived by OneRepublic. Ok, back to a song that may actually have lyrical ties to running and the pursuit of happiness (instead of just pursuit of Pharrell -- not that that's bad, if you're into it). And, yes, the song. These are the lyrics that speak to me. "I owned every second that this world could give. I saw so many places, the things that I did. With every broken bone, I swear I lived." Ahhh, it just screams, go out to the woods and run until you can't stand up anymore! But dang, it kind of bothers me that they don't separate One from Republic with a space in their band name. Can we just agree that those two words would be better off separated? Like Al and Tipper. 

13. Riptide by Vance Joy. Another fun, happy, loving-life song. Nothing deep or mysterious here. Moving right along. 

14. Needing/Getting by OK Go. Just this song. I love it so much and listen to it about 100 times a day, so it just makes sense that it would be on my running playlist. "Needing is one thing, and getting, getting's another." 

15. Rolling by Soul Coughing. I had to reach way back into the vault for this one. This song is older than all of my children. Possibly all of them added together. But it is also the perfect hill descent song. Perfect as in a couple of steps below Jesus. There is no way to slow-boat it down a hill with Mike Doughty's "i'm rollin', i'm rollin', i'm rollin', i'm rollin' now" in your eardrum. "I've gotta slip it up until the rush gets gone. I've gotta feel it with the hot mind on now." I can't promise much on this blog, like entertainment value or factual information. But I promise that this song will turn you into Kilian Jornet on the your next descent. 


So do you prefer slow chill beats or dance-y funk beats for your running jams? Gotta go with a mix on that one. To match the highs and lows of racing.  

What percentage of songs on your current running playlist are from the 90s? I'm going with 15% because of the Beastie Boys. 

And just a public service announcement that everyone should watch What We Do in the Shadows.

May 7, 2015

Run for Kids (and Nepal) 50K: How I Overcame PTRD

Even though I made up PTRD (post-traumatic race disorder -- aka peeturd), I swear it's real. Maybe you've had it? It's that thing that happens when you almost die at the same race the previous year. So when you sign up for the same race the next year, you've got that sketch feeling that you can't shake. Go here for my own near-death experience, which I downplayed for the blog. Mainly because I wasn't really ready to admit to myself how touch and go that was. Not fun times. Probably should have gone to the hospital but didn't.

I knew I would take on Run for Kids Challenge because it's part of the series, but I decided to cut it back a notch from the 12-hour to the 50K, which I felt was survivable. After last year's race, "survivable" is now one of the determining factors of whether or not I would run something. That makes racing sound so fun. Like, is this better or worse than stabbing dull daggers into my eyes? 

But look at these fun people (down there ). They seriously force me to keep running with their awesomeness. And also that I love running helps. 

Photo by Marathon Runs.

But dying I don't prefer for myself at this time. In my favor (you know, of not dying) during this race: that I had already run a 50K in November (post PTRD event) on a more difficult course and survived. Not in my favor: temps in the 70s. Can we just go back to 2013 when we had cold rain at this race? Cold rain while miserable at the start of a race actually makes me not want to die. Except when I get in the shower afterwards and realize all the nether regions that chafed. 

A lot of folks who signed up for the 12-hour race were being completely awesome and getting people to donate money per mile they ran for Camp SAM (race proceeds go to this camp for kids with cancer -- plus a portion to Nepal this year). Why would you not run this race?! And this year, the race directors, David and Marye Jo, set up a contest for the person who raised the most money. I just love my runner people so much for using their talents for good in the world. Cause the world sucks sometimes. But these people are like the raddest ninjas fighting for good. But instead of clothes that make them blend in with walls, they wear neon colors for visibility. So that they can live to do more good works. 

Me, Tanya, Sally = pigtail brigade. 

Hairstyle choice for the day: because you all totally were wondering about that. High double buns so that I could fit my visor under them. Also, I decided that I'm going visor instead of hat this summer. I was wearing a hat all last summer for the anti-tick factor, but to heck with the ticks, I just can't with the extra heat a hat creates.

Going in for the pre-race Tailwind fill-up.

Salomon pack update: the raddest pack on the planet. I cannot say enough good things about it. Not one single chafe from the 50K. Not one!! Not one ever in wearing it. I only used the bladder this time around (no front bottles), and I liked it because I could put a ton in and not fill up for several laps. I did have an issue with it flipping upside down once so that I had to reach back and apply pressure to the bladder every time I wanted a drink. Pretty sure that is user error. That is my one complaint, that I wish it had a user manual with it so that I knew what they had in mind when creating all the hooks and pockets and strings and business. But bonus-ville, I was able to shorten the pack by pulling a set of straps at the top and tying them off. Not sure if they were created for that, but I was able to use them for that. So the pack is not too long for my shortness and really does fit perfectly. Like February on this year's calendar. 

So satisfyingly fits.

My shoe choice: new pair of Altra Olympus. Because I love how wide the toe box is. No lost toenails for me. Although I did go get a pedicure for some healing-ness after this race, and the lady worked my big toes over and dug out some ingrown toenails that I did not even know existed. A. How long have those been there? And B. Seriously, I almost vomited watching the extraction, which was about 20 minutes long. So of course I wanted to share with y'all. Because that's what friends do. Meaning friends tell each other their grossest bodily stories so that the other friends feel better about their own gross bodily mishaps. Let's get real, if you're reading this far into this post, there is about an 89% chance you have peed your pants within the last year. Running related or otherwise. I can't make other guesses because that's your business and your story to share to make your own friends feel better about themselves. 

Wait, did this section start about shoes? Oh yeah, the Altras are awesome. No achilles complaints, but I did have some general foot soreness. But hey, that's what not following the whole training plan and still jumping into the 50K will get you. 

Training: could have gone so much better. My best training for this race was back during spring break (think March) when I ran a long run and then turned around the next day and ran a negative-split half marathon. I knew going into it that this one would be like waiting until the last night to cram for the final. Just because my miles had been so down in general. But then even as my mileage went up on my schedule, things kept getting in the way. Awesome things, but still things. Like the women's trail running retreat, which I haven't written about yet but was the equivalent of summer camp for adult girls. But the rad summer camp where you leave with 30 new friends, not just the summer camp where you came home with scars from scratching mosquito bites and a complex from that one girl who told you your faced looked weird. 

Race: Despite the less-than-ideal prep (but isn't that always the case), I felt decent on race day. I knew the temps weren't ideal for my best time on that course, but from the beginning, I just went by feel. No watch at all. Just counting laps (this course is a 3.3 mile loop with some extra at the beginning), which is surprisingly time consuming for a number that only goes up to 9. So nine loops for the 50Kers (12-hour racers fit in as many as they can in, obvi, 12 hours), and I must have spent 80% of each loop talking about the loop number, discussing the remaining loops, deciding that loops aren't bad, immediately after that hating the loops, back to not being bad once I was halfway through the loops, and then some more counting the loops. 

My friend did it right/write by counting on her arm with a sharpie. And she ran 47 miles that day, you know, no big deal. 

By the end of the race, you have a hefty set of mental markers for yourself. Like the rocky hill, the one downhill that I fell on last year, the pee tree, the metal art tree, the tree you jump over, the switchback where you can see other runners, the spot where I got hit by my brother's snot rocket. And they all put you one step closer to the end of the loop. 

After my third loop, some friends (including my coach!) jumped in and joined me, and holy hello, thank you for that. There is nothing that can cheer a runner up like a few friends along for the journey. Not that I was sad, but I was just happier with friends. 

When my friends split off to go pick up their awards (they had already dominated the 10K before coming back and running with me), I looked up and thought I was hallucinating. It seemed too soon, but hey, you never know. Really the undrugged hallucination potential is kind of why I love this sport. But right there ready to run was my brother all dressed up in his sportiest bike riding gear. I literally yelled for joy, I was so happy to see him. Like not a short polite yell, like a long obnoxious yell that made everyone consider that I might be hurt, or maybe won the lottery, or maybe just found out that Beyonce and Jay Z are having another baby. Something really important like that. Nope, I just really like running with my brother, ok. Enough to yell about it. 

Turns out that even though he didn't respond to my "hey, you should come run some loops with me tomorrow" text, when he got to Oak Mtn to bike that morning, he realized that the race that I was talking about was there. So he biked over to hit a loop with me but soon realized that he forgot his running shoes. No shoes, no problem. Just like they saved the day for me once when I forgot my shoes for a race (really, who does that? oh right, me), the Salomon shoe rep was there reppin'. Dang, I love them for saving me for the second time. First with footwear for me, and second with footwear for my bro so that he could run with me. 

After that, the loops just kept ticking off. My legs felt average and were able to move, so that was a solid check in the plus column. 

For nutrition, I stuck with Tailwind (the new trail series nutrition sponsor) the whole entire race. Nothing else at all. I wasn't hungry. The one time I drank one of my magic yerba mate drinks, I had some stomach rumbling. And the Tailwind got sloshy in my gut at times, but otherwise, solid. No bonks, and I didn't throw up. Both good things to avoid. And both things that I tend to do when I go the distance. 

My finish time: 5:30:37. About 9 minutes slower than my 2013 time, but I'll take it. First place for the ladies and second place overall. First place overall finished an hour and a half before me. So there's that. 

Me and race director David Tosch. Super cool metal awards this year.

Friend reports: Basically, this was the race of firsts for a ton of people. More than I remembered to take pics of for sure. But I was so happy for all of the first-time 50Kers out there. 

This girl (below) was one of them, and her daughter ran the last lap with her. You may remember this mom from the I-don't-train-for-marathons-but-I-run-them post. She's back at it again with a 4-mile training run (yes, just the one) to prep for the 50K. I love her guts.

Melissa after running 50K with pretty much zero training.

Samm (below) ran her first marathon, then proceeded to run 13 more miles. 

Samm at the marathon mark. About to go out for more.

And Bob here, who is my neighbor and friend, ran his first 50K. Last year at this time he was in cancer treatment/recovery, so I'd say he nailed that recovery. 

Bob getting his relax on after his first 50K.

When you sit around after a race long enough, you get to see all the amazing moments. I stayed until an hour before the gig was up and wish I could have stayed until the end. 

Why is it not boring to watch people run in circles?

Because Doodle's brings you free, amazingly delicious sorbet.

And these people. Did I already say 100 times that I love my runner people? Well, here's 101. I love them.

So here's to not even coming close to dying at Run for Kids. I'll see you next year, loops. 

Overview: this is the perfect race for a first-time 50Ker. You have 12 hours to complete it, so you don't have to get nervous about cut-offs. And your entry fee goes to help kids with cancer attend an amazing camp. And if you do a shorter race, you get hours to cheer on the other runners. If you don't do this race, I feel sorry for you.