Friday, February 24, 2017

Course Sweeping Moab's Red Hot Race

Three years ago I was blown away by the beauty of Moab when I first did the Moab Red Hot 33K. I was running it as a training run for my first 50K that would also be in Moab later that month. Ever since running this, I've always wanted to go back and do it again, but my racing schedule just hasn't allowed for it (I typically tend to be training for road races in the winter and early spring). So, when I found myself without any upcoming goal road races, and the race announced that they were looking for course "sweepers",  I jumped at the opportunity!

A course sweeper is someone who goes out after everyone else has started the race, and pulls the course markings / flags while making sure to stay behind any runners. It's also important to keep an eye out for any runners who may have fallen behind or gotten off course. Essentially, this was a great way for me to experience this awesome course again, without any added pressure of racing (which I really didn't need, since I know I wasn't in shape to really "race" anyways!), all while giving back to the running community!

When I ran this several years back, the weather was just about perfect. Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans this year, and we ended up with rain in the forecast! Luckily, my friend Randee was also course sweeping a section of the 55K, and had offered me a ride to the aid station I needed to start from (my original plan had been to run an extra 5.5 miles to this aid station - but with the rain, I gladly took her up on this offer. I'm also extremely glad I did, as my starting point wasn't in the spot I thought it was in - so I would've been a little lost out there before even beginning!). To get to this aid station, required going over a fairly rough 4WD road that thankfully, her and her Toyota Sequoia, handled very nicely!

Views from the drive up with Randee!
Once we finally made it up there, she headed off to sweep her loop, while I waited around for about 20 minutes or so until it was time for me to start (I could not start until after 12:00, as that's when the course cutoff for runners to go by this point was). It was still raining out, and while it wasn't too bad, and I knew it would be fine once I got moving, it was COLD while just waiting around. Thankfully the aid station volunteers let me sit in their car for a bit while I waited.

Randee and I prior to starting our sweeping!
At about 12:10, I headed off to start what I thought would end up being about 15-16 miles (it actually ended up at 18.5!). I had never course swept before and while I knew it would be more time consuming than simply running the course, I was in for a surprise at just how incredibly slow going this day would turn out to be! Nevertheless, I set out to start my adventure!

The first mile was a fast downhill, and even with pulling tags, I ended up with my fastest mile of the day at about a 10:30 mile. My job was to pull all of the pink/black tags - which were the "follow me" tags, as well as the green tags - which meant "don't go this way". Often times these green tags were fairly off course, and required some extra distance to go pick those ones up.

After that first mile, things slowed down significantly as the course turned flat, and then eventually up, up, and more up. About 3 or 4 miles in I came across two runners who were quite a bit off course. I slowed as I heard people talking and looked around a bit, just as they called out to me asking where the course was. I told them that I was right by a flag so if they just came back towards me, they would get back on course. After this happened, I decided to slow to a walk for a bit and let those runners get ahead of me quite a ways. My biggest fear was that someone would get off course, but I wouldn't see them, and I'd go on pulling tags, leaving them stranded out there (trust me, it can be difficult to find your way WITH pink flags showing the route - I cannot imagine how it would be without those!).

I spent the next few miles going pretty slow - to allow those runners to get a good head start, but also because the course had turned to uphill slick rock - which is one of the hardest things for me to run. I don't know why - the grade isn't even that bad, but it's a struggle for me. So I just kept at it, nice and slow, as I finally made my way to my first aid station of the day (which is the 2nd aid station for the 33K runners, and the 4th aid station for the 55K runners). The aid station volunteers were pretty happy to see me, as this meant they could pack their aid station up and go home for the day. Meanwhile, I was happy to see them, as I had about a million pink and green flags stuffed into my hydration vest and skirt pocket that I was extremely happy to be able to trash! After emptying my pockets, I grabbed a mini hersheys bar and went on my way.

It was supposedly only 6 1/2 miles to the next aid station, but this next section took FOREVER. I am not kidding - I was probably out there for close to 3 hours between these two aid stations. These 6.5 miles were also entirely on slickrock, which did not help my pace out! However, it had stopped raining about a mile back, so I was able to start taking lots of pictures again, including one stop at an awesome overlook where I probably spent one too many minutes attempting to get a selfie on the edge of a cliff... it never did turn out that great either!

Selfie Fail!

Overlooking the entrance into Arches National Park!

These next few hours were definitely the most lonely. I did come across one other runner, who had also gotten off course. Once he got back on course, he was quickly off and out of my sight, and I was once again alone, zig zagging between the various flags spread all across the course! After what felt like forever, I got to my least favorite section of the race - some very steep slickrock climbs, which were actually somewhat slick today given the rain, and subsequently sand, that had been tracked up onto the rocks because of the rain. Nevertheless I made it over those sections, and FINALLY made it to my second and last aid station of the day!

Once again, these people were pretty happy to see me, since they could now head home. I was pretty thankful that they still had a couple cups of Coke out, so I had some of that while emptying the two million flags I had collected during this section (this was seriously the most flags ever...I don't even know how I fit them all!). They let me know that the last runner was only about 5 minutes ahead of me. This was actually a welcome statement, as it meant I couldn't have ran any faster even if I had really tried, since my job was to remain the last person on the course (being alone for the past several hours had left me feeling like I was the slowest person ever, since this was taking me much longer than I had originally anticipated).

Overlooking the "Behind The Rocks" area and the La Sal Mountains!

As I remembered from three years ago, the course is quite a bit easier after this last aid station, since the slickrock section is mostly done. You are also welcomed to the most amazing views of the Behind The Rocks area with the La Sal Mountains appearing behind them (although they were a little cloud covered today - still gorgeous though!). The race course continues on a nice sandy dirt road for about a mile and a half before it turns much more rough for a couple more miles, until you finally get to the overlook that means you're almost there:

Once you hit this overlook, you've got a bunch of downhill switchbacks (which were WAY more rocky this year than the first year I did it), and then you're essentially finished. As I approached the switchbacks I came up on the last place runner - chatted briefly with him, and then let him go ahead again as I made my way down picking up my last few flags before finally finishing in just shy of 6 hours, right as the sun was coming down! There was a little bit of running, a lot of walking, a fair amount of picture taking, and SO. MANY. FLAGS. but it was pretty awesome nonetheless!

All Finished!

Overall, it was a great weekend! After the race, we went to the official race "after-party" where I got to hear legend ultrarunners Ian Torrence and Scott Jurek talk, and then the next day a few of us went for a hike to Morning Glory Arch before heading back home!

Meeting Scott Jurek!

Recovery Hike on Sunday before heading home!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Houston Marathon {Race Recap}

Where to even begin in regards to recapping this crazy, awesome, ridiculous weekend, with a terrible, not-so-good, very bad race thrown in?

I suppose a good place to start with be with a little background regarding this group of internet strangers I actually spent the weekend with (yes, you heard that right... I flew half way across the country to stay with people I met on the internet!). A few years ago it would've seemed crazy. Now, not so much. You see, it all started on a little website you may have heard of: MyFitnessPal. Back when I first started getting into running, I didn't know anyone else who ran... so I turned to a running forum on MyFitnessPal for general running advice. Fast forward a year or so later and I had gotten acquainted with quite a few of the regulars in the group. Fast forward another year and we had formed a Facebook group to more easily connect, and thus pretty much knew everyone's complete life stories! So, needless to say, by this point in time, 3+ years later, it didn't sound so weird. I also took solace in the fact that I had met 5 of the group members at various races, who had also met others in the group at races, so I had a pretty good feeling there weren't any axe murderers residing among our little community!

Since a few of them live in the Houston area, in 2016, they had the first official Houston Marathon meetup. I wasn't able to attend, and immediately after seeing all of the posts about it, had serious FOMO.... so I knew I had to make it in 2017! Therefore, when registration opened in May, I signed up for the Marathon and the rest was history!

Now, onto race weekend (and then, eventually, I MIGHT get to recapping the actual race? maybe...).

On Friday I headed out and made my way to Texas, going straight from the airport to one of the group members houses for the first night of shenanigans. As one of the last people to arrive, walking into the festivities was one of the craziest, most surreal moments - here were ALL these people I've known online for years, in real life. It was like I knew them all, but didn't. It was weird, but awesome! Everyone was just as I had imagined from the internet! As overwhelming, and sometimes frustrating, our world of technology can feel, it is also a seriously awesome way to communicate and meet people! Here I was walking into a room with 30 "friends" who I was just meeting in person for the first time!

Friday night was spent meeting everyone and catching up. The next morning, we all met up again for the annual Brolympus 5K Marathon. I honestly don't even know how to describe this awesome event, other than to just say you need to check out Brolympus for yourself! We ran the 5K Marathon (which also happened to be more of a shake-out run for most of us prior to the next days races - but don't tell that to Brolympus though, he wouldn't support not running this at Face Pace!), and then had a seriously awesome brunch, complete with tons of carb loading!

Everyone's a winner at the Brolympus 5K Marathon!

Fun after the 5K!

After the Brolympus 5K Marathon, a few of us went and hit the expo, where I got to meet Meb - one of my running role models - a 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist and winner of the 2009 NYC Marathon and 2014 Boston Marathon, and outspoken Christian! It was awesome, and he signed his book that I brought with me:

A few of us stayed downtown the night before the race and all had dinner before heading to bed before the big race! We were up the next morning just before 5:00am, so we could meet up with the whole crew at 6:00am for a group picture.

The whole group - it's pretty impressive how many of us there were!

Those of us who stayed downtown the night before the race!
Getting ready to start the race!

There was a group of about 6 of us who had decided to try for a 3:45 (my original goal had been to try for a PR - around 3:40 (8:23 pace), but the weather was HOT - 70's with over 95% humidity! So we were "adjusting" our pace, per race recommendations...little did I know that I should've adjusted my pace WAY more than that with this type of weather!), so we all walked over to the corrals together to get ready for the start. The original plan was to start off running around 8:45 miles and then pick up the pace later into the 8:30's. Sounded doable (at the time). The first 3-4 miles went fine (8:42, 8:47, 8:26, 8:46), other than the fact that I was drenched in sweat from the get-go. Around Mile 4, I could tell that they had already picked the pace up into the 8:30's. At an aid station I slipped back a little, but still kept them in my sights for the next several miles (8:33, 8:33, 8:27, 8:34). Around Mile 8-9 though I realized I was putting WAY too much energy into the race for this early on. After finishing Mile 9 in 8:25, I decided that I had better pull my pace back to try and salvage the race.

Miles 10 & 11 were 8:55, 8:58. During these two miles, I realized not only was a 3:45 out of the question, but I was beginning to worry that even a sub-4:00 was out of the question. Those 8:50 miles felt just as hard as the faster miles I had done earlier. Uh Oh... This was not going to be good. I felt way too exhausted and I wasn't even to the half-way point yet! Not good AT ALL.

So I continued to slow it down even more, running 12 and 13 in 9:15 and 9:25, finishing the first half in 1:55:50. Then...I kind of had a post-half-way-done let down for Miles 13-16. I just felt completely and utterly exhausted and was ONLY half-way done. These few miles were spent in a bit of a state of depression. I ran 9:24, 9:34, 10:16. I was just generally bummed that I had put a lot of work into training for this and here I was miserable with 13 more miles to go.

But, then just before 16, I had an epiphany. Well not really an epiphany, more of a "suck-it-up-buttercup" moment. I realized, there was absolutely NO POINT in being upset with myself. Yes, I was disappointed not to have a fast time (especially since I had actually trained with speedwork this time around!), but really what good would come from being upset about it? No one was going to care and it was just going to ruin my day. I came out here to have a good time and meet friends, so why not just just try to enjoy what was left of the race? So...that's exactly what I did!

I ended up getting on "facebook live" for part of the race, taking a few pictures (not as many as I would've liked - I missed some of the prettier sections earlier in the course), and stopping for some of the fun "un-official" aid stations along the course - for fruit, donuts, and beer. Miles 17-20 were slow ones, but fun ones, running 10:19, 10:02, 10:55, 11:39.

Around Mile 21 it started pouring down rain for a few minutes, so I stopped to put my phone in a plastic bag for a bit, and then continued on, doing my best to hi-five kids along the course and just keep at it, enjoying what I could. The next few miles continued to be slow at 11:18, 12:11, 10:06, 11:12, 10:15. Finally for the last mile and a half I tried to really pick things up - running 26 in 9:38 (yes, that was "really picking it up" for me at this point in the race!), and the last 1/2 mile (my garmin ran long) was at a 7:56 pace as I really tried to sprint in to the finish as soon as we got back into the downtown area!

Race: Chevron Houston Marathon
Location: Houston, Texas (Racing State #8 for me)
Distance: Marathon (26.2 Miles - my garmin clocked it at 26.5, but most everyone else was pretty accurate)
Date: 01/15/2017
Elevation: 149' Gain
Bib Number: A2909
Weather: Horrible - 70's and 95% Humidity
Gun Time: 4:19:20
Chip Time: 4:14:39
Average Pace: 9:43 per mile
Overall Rank: 2327 of 7134
Gender Rank: 688 of 2817
Division Rank (F25-29): 120 of 379

It was definitely an interesting race, to say the least... I have NEVER ran in humidity like that, especially for this length. It was weird because it didn't feel "that" hot, and yet, it did. It was also strange how I felt like I went from feeling pretty good, to just kind of dead rather quickly around that Mile 9 mark. Nevertheless, I still got it done and finished with the exact same medal that I would've gotten had I finished faster...As disappointing as missing a goal time can sometimes feel, I am truly just thankful that I can be out running, and that I am physically fit enough to do stuff like this!

After I got done, I headed into the convention center to try and find people from our group who were still around (most of the Half-Marathoners had finished hours earlier and had left already). There were quite a few enjoying the post-race breakfast (they have a complete breakfast post-race!), so I went and joined everyone, expecting to hear stories about everyone's amazing race times... but much to my surprise, a good chunk of everyone also really struggled with the heat - so at least I wasn't the only one!

Later after the race, we spent one last evening celebrating before we all left the next day!

Sunday night festivities!
As for race specifics, here's a little recap on things I liked and didn't like on this one:

  • Very well organized race considering they have about 30,000 people (much more in the Half Marathon, than full - but both races start together).
  • SWAG - you get a cotton participant shirt and a tech finishers shirt, along with nice medal, and the Marathoners get a Beer Glass as well!
  • Full Breakfast post-race. I didn't stick around long enough to get hungry enough to eat a ton, but it's always nice when big races actually have a decent amount of food!
  • Flat and Fast Course - I wasn't really able to take advantage of this after I bonked at Mile 9, but it did seem like a very flat course - there was only one hill I remember and it was short and steep, around Mile 10 or so.
  • Course Support / Crowds - there were TONS of fans along the race route to keep things interesting which was a lot of fun. A lot of those people also brought out various snacks and drinks too, which was awesome!
  • Lots of fun meeting up with friends! (This doesn't have anything to do with the race specifically, but it was a lot of fun! I enjoyed the weekend!).
  • SO. MUCH. CONCRETE. It seemed like a lot of the roads here were concrete, as opposed to asphalt, which always feels like it beats me up more. It was really bugging one of my knees by the end, and is still having some pain now, two weeks later :( 
  • For a marathon this big, their logo is just ugly. I know that doesn't concern most people, but I'm weird about these things - their shoe logo just looks dated and ugly, in my opinion.
  • The Weather - this is unpredictable, of course though - it is typically cooler than this year.
  • Course Scenery, or lack thereof. Granted, most road marathons that go through cities aren't that exciting, but it was a little bit of a boring course...but the "flat and fast" thing makes up for this - had I been going for time the entire race, I probably wouldn't have noticed! Also, the large crowds help make up for this as well!

So overall... this was an AWESOME weekend. No, my race performance was not one I'm super happy with, but that was not really the point in me coming to this race anyways, so I'm okay with it! I had a blast meeting so many of my "online running friends" and hope to see more of everyone in the future!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Alaskan Adventure 2016

I'm only 3 1/2 months late on getting this post up... Our trip to Alaska from last September!

I could come up with a million excuses as to why I haven't finished this until now, but the truth is, I just hadn't gotten around to going through and editing the million photos I took until now! Nevertheless, I still wanted to make sure to post about this trip, because I love being able to quickly look back on my pictures and remember what we did!

We headed up to the 49th state right after our trip to South Dakota (where I got my big 100 DNF at Lean Horse), during the first week of September.

After spending our first day up there catching up on sleep and visiting family, Scott and I headed out on Wednesday and took a train ride on the Alaska Railroad to the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop. We then got to Kayak across a lake to Spencer Glacier, where we did some introductory ice climbing on the glacier. I was glad I had done some very minor rappelling last year because it was a little scary! But also pretty epic.

After the day of ice climbing, we took the train back to Girdwood, where we stayed a night at the Alyeska resort (and I got to see the Northern Lights for the first time)! The next morning we had breakfast at Alyeska and explored a little, including taking the aerial tram up to the top of the resort. Later that day, we headed down to Seward for the next few days.

A stop along the way to Seward!

In Seward we took a cruise over to an island where we then got to Sea Kayak for several hours. We saw quite a bit of wildlife while kayaking, including a very friendly Sea Lion, several Eagles, and some otters.

Hubs and I sea kayaking!

The next day, before heading back, we hiked to the top of Mt. Marathon. Mount Marathon is located 1 1/2 miles from the town of Seward - they hold a pretty famous race going up this mountain every July 4th (world's toughest 5K!), and so I've always wanted to check it out. There's a few different routes you can take to the top including the race course as well as a longer, but more gradual, hiking trail. I had originally wanted to take the race course...until I saw it. It was STRAIGHT UP the mountain. So we ended up taking the hiking trail instead - which was still PLENTY steep! And just as beautiful (if not more so, as you get to hike through the beautiful Mt. Marathon Bowl.

The Mt. Marathon Bowl

The hike actually ends at a false summit of Mt. Marathon - the actual top of the peak is the largest peak in this photo.

It was once again another great trip to Alaska this year! For some of my previous years visits, see here: