Stars

This last Saturday…well yesterday, I helped Erich during the Leadville 100 by pacing him from mile 50 to 72.5. Some might ask what pacing is? In fact, when I joined Erich at mile 50, this being his first 100 miler, he was like “I’ve never had a pacer, I don’t know what I need”. Hahah! Luckily I have done a 100 miler (4+ years ago…sad) and paced (2 years ago…Emily at Leadville…happy), so you know, I’m an expert (not). According to me, a pacer is just someone who runs with you during the hard parts, keeps you eating, drinking, moving, and mildly entertained. They are just a “more” sane person along for the ride and usually trot along beside or behind you. When I did Moab 100, they were my saviors. Michelle, Tony, and Keith still have a special place in my heart from that one day.

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Running along with Erich, he was doing very well. He is somewhat of a glutton for punishment and I asked him at one point why he was doing this race. He said that he searched out all the hardest endurance races in the world, made a list, and is going about doing them. What a man after my own heart. So he had done the Leadville 100 mountain bike the weekend before, and here he was pumping through the run. To ease your suspense, Erich simply gained steam through the race  (in comparison to others), although his speech did get more and more slurred and quieter, and he busted a major move going 23:23 and earning the coveted sub 25 hour buckle…by a long shot. At one point around mile 60 he asked me if I thought it was possible for him to go under 25, and I was like “Heck yea”. He did more than just that and his performance inspired me.

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So, I got to run 22 miles out in the woods. Okay “ran” is glorifying it a bit because at least half of it was power hiking, but all the same…I moved along the trail for 22 miles with him. It’s really rare these days that I get to do this and the only reason is that Erich is coached by Muddy and the guy needed pacers! Huge thanks to Mikki as well for pacing him for 14 miles after my 22.5 miles were up. Mikki is really one of the most selfless people I know and she’s always happy to run all night in the woods with a complete stranger who’s already run 72+ miles that day.

We ran along rather quiet for some long stretches of time…quiet for me, since I usually won’t shut up, and I got to tune out a lot of the distractions of life. When you are in the woods there is a lot of air. It’s clean air and smells like pine and there are no cars, and not many people, and it’s peaceful, and the colors are easy on your eyes. During trail running you mostly focus on where the heck you are putting your feet and it’s a hard enough task to keep your brain busy, but mindless enough to cut out most all judgement, or nervous thoughts. It’s easy on the brain, meditative, rejuvenating. I needed this. I’ve had a really tough last few weeks and I’ve been searching for that sense of calm and peace and just couldn’t locate it. My compass has been really off.

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Out there in the woods I felt like I got my ducks back in a row and Mikki and I talked the whole ride home about it. Granted it was 2am and we were pretty loopy, but sometimes those are the best conversations.

What is it about some days in our life? This was my ahh-hah. Most the days of our life, they just go. Poof, gone, no memory. We go through the motions just grinding through. Maybe we do it peacefully or calmly, but they still leave almost no mark. Then there are some days in our life, yesterday was one of those for Erich, that you will never ever forget. It’s just one day, just like the rest, 24 hours, just like the rest, but you will tell stories about it, you will savor it, and live it over and over for the rest of your time on the planet.

I think that most people don’t have a lot of these days. They are few, the marriages, the birth of children, some of the devastating days. But those days, when you do get them, they are the first sentences of the chapters of your life. That opening line. When I look back at my life that’s what these days are for me. With them came new awareness, about myself, about my journey, about my purpose. They foreshadow where I was headed. They are hardly EVER destinations, but more new beginnings of a new way of thinking and living.

Recently my chapters have been long. The highlight days have been more few and far between. The chapters are more developed, but they are long, and sometimes not heading the direction I hoped.

Getting out there on the trails yesterday reminded me that these big important days were always why I seek endurance sports. These experiences, however hard and brutal they may be have been the stars in my constellation, the highlights that form the picture. So to get off my lazy butt, I used this website to find hiking boots and went off on an adventure.

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And out there I realized that I want more stars, and I want a more detailed picture. I want to get back to my roots, and I really don’t like how sore I am today from my little jaunt in the woods yesterday. It was like a wake up call out there, a reminder of where my heart lies. Not just in ultra running, but training for and executing some hard gnarly days, record book days, stars in my constellation. And when I think about it that way, it’s easy to see the muck. It’s easy to see the times when I’ve gotten off base, and now I understand why those things have caused me so much angst.

Right now I’m training for Hawaii, my 5th in a row, and for 5 years it’s been my North Star, the dominant star in my galaxy, the one that everything else revolves around. But very clearly I knew out there on those trails yesterday that Hawaii will not be my North Star for much longer. Where am I headed exactly? Well, Kona for now. But then, somewhere neat and cool and different and fun. Towards other stars to enhance the constellation of my life.

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2014 USAT Age Group National Championships

I have this little saying.

When things go wrong, blame yourself, when things go right, blame your coach.

I’m not sure exactly what compelled me to sign up for AG Nationals. It’s an olympic distance race, a short distance that I don’t often race. I think I knew we would be working on my run speed and thought this would be a good place to work on that in a race setting. Muddy was all for it. Muddy loves the short stuff, no nutrition risk, just pure all out speed. Go ’til you blow kind of racing.

My opinions are more in the manner of “How do I will myself to go faster than I do in a 70.3?”

The travel to the race was not so good and I blame myself for this, I should have booked an earlier flight with less risk of delay being that I know we get a lot of afternoon thunderstorms this time of year that delay flights out of DIA. An extreme delay leaving Denver got me into Milwaukee at 1:20am and the rental car counter was closed so I had to go to the exit booth. The poor night shift lady there was not equipped to efficiently checkout cars but she tried her best. At 2:25am I was finally in a car and heading out of the airport. At 2:55am I arrived at my hotel. The night shift employee struggled to get me keys because it was so late…errr..early, even though I had called 5 hours ago to let them know what was going on, and they said “Okay, no problem, I’ll make a note”. Finally I just started crying. The tears were rolling and I just started begging him to give me keys. It worked and at 3:20am I collapsed into bed utterly spent.

I slept until 9am and then headed to the expo to swim and bike and run and check in and what not. I ended up riding the trainer at the Quintana Roo tent because I just didn’t have the energy to deal with the roads around the race site. I hung out in the QR tent most the day, with my BFF Sienna, and then headed back to my hotel to try for a good nights sleep. I got a decent 7 hours.

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Race morning I was really excited. HUUB had sent me a new wetsuit because I ripped mine at Boise (doh). I really should have worn it before race day because my first HUUB had taken some time to break in, but this one was BUTTER. I’m calling it my MAGIC SUIT because when I put it on it just fit me PERFECT and felt really good in the shoulders. I warmed up in it and just felt GOOOOOOD. Before I knew it we were treading water, waiting for the horn to sound.

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210 women in my age group at this race. That is LEGIT! I don’t think I’ve ever been in an age group that large. Lots of fast swimmers as well. Now we get to the part where I blame my coach. Muddy has been scheduling lots of swims these last few months. Lots of masters and 2X a week in the long course meters pool, which is painful for me, but oh so good. Then I actually got rest on race week from swimming. That’s something I’ve figured out over the years. I have to swim a lot to make progress, but I have to rest my swimming before race day to see that progress come out on race day.

And it did! I got on feet right away and I was such a bitch. I hit that poor girls feet every flipping stroke and when she made a funny angle I hopped on the feet next to her and I smacked those every stroke. I went from feet to feet and had to defend the feet I had claimed twice from poachers. I was more aggressive than usual and I was in a pretty substantial pack. Along the last 500 we started running into men from the AG ahead. I kept on the feet all the way to the exit ramp. Running to T1 I heard a guy yell to the girl next to me “You’re in 30th” and I thought to myself “Frick, I swam bad, probably a 25 or 26.”

HA! Wrong Sonja….22:42! 27th in my age group, and 149th fastest woman out of all the 1343 age group women. To be in the top 15% of swimmers in a National Championship is by far and away the best I’ve ever swam. So, again, thank you muddy for assigning all that yardage and thank you to the various masters instructors that have kept me working hard over the months.

Also, as a small aside, the first olympic distance race I ever did was Nationals in 2007 and I was 4th to last out of the water in my age group. That year Jenny Garrison won our age group and I was 22:30 behind her. This year Jenny Garrison won our age group again, and I was 4:32 behind her. Looking at the results from ’07 there are all sorts of famous people in it (all of them ahead of me): Bree Wee, Beth Shutt, Kim Schwabenbauer, Ulli Broome, Mary Miller…crazy!!!

Oh my bike mount….oh dear. I got my shoe caught up, I couldn’t get in it. It was a mess and took me so long I actually had time to think “Please nobody be filming this because I’m going to end up on a blooper reel.” That mount in and of itself should have prevented me from a  podium finish, it was atrocious and I need to work on those stat.

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Onto the bike, my first time racing on my new PR6 I might add, and Kristi yelled that I was in 17th? or 18th? or 16th? Something like that. By 7 miles in I had cracked the top 10. I passed a few more ladies and then it was just a lot of men from the AG ahead. My legs did not feel good and I think it was just because I was trying to ride so hard. I haven’t put in much hard riding recently so I know they were like “what the heck.” I felt a little like a baby giraffe at that speed. I feel very comfortable in the 22-23mph region, especially on my new bike, but get into the 25-26mph zone and I’m not as solid, a bit more herky-jerky. It’s a muscle thing, high watt, high heart rate thing. I tried my hardest and despite thinking that I could ride in the 1:01-1:02 range I came in at 1:03:27 which means I lost time to the leaders in a leg of the race that I was hoping to gain time. Why I thought I could ride 1:01-:02 I have no idea…delusional I think. It’s not like I had any data to back that claim. Note to my athletes – SEE, even I still struggle with outcome oriented thoughts at times. In retrospect I would say that 1:03 on that day was an all out effort for me and indicative of where I am at fitness wise at this distance, you never know until you race!

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T2 was smooth, thank goodness and I got out and running strong. No hat, no glasses…forgot both at home…along with clean underwear and more than 1 shirt…last minute packing! Kristi told me I was 7th in my age group and that 6th was 30 seconds up. I worked on settling in and getting uncomfortable. I felt heavy and was wishing I felt just close to how I feel when I’m running my track workouts, but instead I felt brickish. Luckily I have run several tempo runs these past weeks feeling brickish so I knew 6:40-6:45 pace could still be done. I was really hoping I could move into the 6:20ish range but it just was not coming despite me trying. At mile 2 I moved into 6th place and was looking for 5th. At the 4 mile turn around I took a split and she had 40 seconds on me. Oh dear, that’s a lot, but I went for it. At about mile 4.5 I started to feel some pep in my step, like “hey, I’m feeling warmed up now.” That was about the same time that I guy in front of me decided I was not allowed to pass him. I went right, he blocked me, went left, he blocked me. We bumped elbows, he yelled at me. I grumbled back, and he sped up. Oy, I really don’t mean to crush your ego bud, just trying to get the best out of myself.

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I pushed as hard as I could that last mile and a half and I could see her getting closer, but nope, she crossed 11 seconds ahead of me. 6th it was, in a new PR of 2:11:09. Andrea was pretty close behind me so we hung out for awhile after the race. She qualified for Worlds in Chicago too! I’m so happy for her!

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Well humm. There it is. Fast, short, and really questing for just one more gear. All in all, it felt great to step out of my comfort zone, to reveal some weaknesses that I can work on, and to get a small victory in my swimming. I feel like it’s been forever since I had one of those.

The race was run so well, after the race they had a super sprint and the highlight of the day was watching Jake race in that at 15 years old. His spot on the starting pontoon was next to Starky. What an experience for him. I also loved the time I got to spend with Sienna, she’s my favorite 7 year old and we had a blast at the Childrens museum after I finished my race. Poor thing was so patient all weekend even though she had been promised multiple times to be taken to the museum by her bro. Auntie Sonja is always good for fun stuff like that 🙂

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That evening Kristi and Sienna were so so sweet to sit through the 2+ hours of awards just to take my photo on the podium for all of 8 seconds. We finished the night off with burgers and I was treated to 3 hours and 45 minutes of blissful sleep before catching a 6am flight back to Denver. What a whirlwind!

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Huge thanks to Quintana Roo, who really has just become an extension of my family at this point. Hanging in the booth all Friday it was amazing to see just how much they bend over backwards for anyone who rides a QR and needs help. The service they provide to their athletes at the races they attend is akin to Kona treatment…but at every race. Such a perk!

Thank you Tribella Multisport, Osmo, Huub and PunkRockRacing for your continued support this year as well. And a huge thanks to Coach Muddy who really helped me thought the last few weeks.