For those of you still reading this blog, thank you! And, I do apologize for the lack of consistent posting these days. If you are ever in dire need of knowing “what Alyssa is up to” consider this your reminder that the IronWomen podcast goes out every Thursday and has a healthy dose of my life updates each week 🙂
But, I am doing my best to keep posting updates here. My next race, and last one of 2019, is the Trans-Pecos Ultra. I’m going to be running the 6 day event, where we cover ~164 miles over 5 stages + 1 neutral prologue. Being a self-supported event (water is provided, as are group tents each night), this is totally outside my comfort zone….and I’m excited about that! Part of the fun of this challenge has been figuring out what will go in my pack. Actually, before that, it’s been fun to think about naming my pack. I decided to crowd source it through my instagram followers with voting on my story, and it’s narrowed down to the final two options, with the last vote being today, so go vote! To be honest, I’m expecting quite a few responses as I already have a decent number of followers. But if I wanted more of you to contribute in the voting, then I always have the option of turning to an instagram growth service if I really needed help, because what would be the point of having a vote if I don’t have anyone to take part? But I think it’s fair to say that I’m definitely going to receive an answer once the voting has finished. We still have a while to go yet though. The options are:
Beezus. You may know that my dog is Ramona, named after the character of Ramona Quimby from Beverly Cleary books.
Beatrice Ann “Beezus” Quimby is a character from the Henry Huggins and Ramona series of books by Beverly Cleary. She is the friend of Henry and Mary Jane, and the older sister of Ramona and Roberta. Beezus earned her nickname from Ramona, who had a hard time saying Beatrice as a toddler.
In the “Henry Huggins” series of books, Beezus is depicted as an intelligent neighboring girl and a close friend of Henry’s who is constantly pestered by her infuriating younger sister and best friend Ramona. The first and only book to shift to her viewpoint rather than that of Henry, Beezus and Ramona, chronicles the sibling rivalry between the two girls and the irritating stunts performed by Ramona that agitate her older sister. From then onward, after the series has completely jumped to centering on Ramona’s life, Beezus is depicted as an intelligent, studious girl and a typical elder sibling towards Ramona, taunting her and aggravating her. However, in Ramona and her Father, Beezus adopts a grouchier attåitude because of her father’s unemployment, albeit toward the ending of the book her mood is enlightened a bit as a result of her selection to portray the Blessed Virgin Mary in the upcoming Nativity play. She is usually kind, but teases Ramona nonetheless and agitates her with the sisterly wisdom she has to share, such as Ramona’s being forced to wear Beezus’s hand-me-downs and the fact that they have experienced similar dreams before in the past, leading Ramona to wonder if some dreams are inherited.
The second option is Junko, after Junko Tabei.
Junko Tabei (22 September 1939 – 20 October 2016) was a Japanese mountaineer. She was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, located between Nepal and China, and the first woman to ascend all the Seven Summits by climbing the highest peak on every continent.
I think we can all agree that the length of the intro paragraphs from the wikipedia pages I copy and pasted is not related to the depth of their contribution to society! If you care to vote, head to my instagram.
Back to packing the pack. The picture above is what it looked like today as I did another gear check, and the details are below. If you are reading this in hopes of finding some ultra light-weight tips….you probably won’t find much! I do have some lightweight aspects to what I am trying to do, but I know there is a lot I can improve upon. Hopefully this is just the first of many multi day events to come, and I’ll keep perfecting this as I go. I keep having small panics which include me adding and removing various items into the pack, but I think I’m just about finalized!
The mandatory items are:
In addition to the mandatory items, I’m bringing:
Injinji Compression socks (extra)
Extra pair of running shorts
iPod shuffle (though I do still need to confirm these are allowed!)
A coffee mug – for AM coffee and PM NUUN Rest!
And as the days pass here it’s becoming more obvious to me I’ll be packing tampons as well!
Needless to say I didn’t ultimately keep myself to 3 luxury items that people suggest for these events….
The race also requires you to bring 14,000 calories…..I’m bringing 18,000. Again, this was a complete unknown for me as I have never been in a situation where my food intake for almost a week would be limited!! Even on the Long Trail, my crew was able to provide me any type of food under the sun at any moment (truly an impressive feat in Vermont). I’ve copied below what I will be bringing for food.
It will be interesting to see what the verdict is on all of this at the end!! Either way, I’m excited to head to Texas and see what this is about – my first race in Texas! I hear things are….big?
Follow me on social media where I’ll post info on the live tracking and updates when I know where you can find them! (links in the upper right)
I was reading an athlete profile the other day. It told the story a woman who found her way to trail running and described the experience as “love at first summit.” That made me stop and think about my initial encounters with the sport.
Trail running was never like that for me. Neither was triathlon, actually. In both, my early experiences with them were the kind of fun that is more fun in hindsight. But during, it was a lot questioning life decisions and wondering if I’d make it through the damn thing in one piece. I was enjoying the process, sure, but I wasn’t head over heels enamored.
With cycling, I had to keep going out on the bike with people that would drop me over and over and over. Eventually, I started to keep up and I started to enjoy myself more. I would go out with friends running in the mountains and often pretended I had to stop to tie my shoe when I couldn’t climb as fast (true story), many, many times, before I started to enjoy myself. It’s never been this big fiery passionate relationship. It’s been a slow burn, that, more than anything, has led me to other stuff. The stuff that does fire me up inside. The stuff like getting more people into the outdoors, and feeling safe on a bike, or on the trails. The stuff like making sure women have equal opportunity in sport and, if not, fighting for it. The stuff like helping others realize that their body is an amazing tool, and they should use it to move, to train, and race!
I’m not saying this because one way or the other is right or wrong. There are so many ways to enjoy sport and the last thing I am wanting to do is judge which is right. But this made me pause extra hard because of a conversation I had with a friend last week.
Her and I were talking about life in general, and she was saying how it’s really great that I have been able to follow my passion in life. Her own son had gone to play professional sport for a few years after college, and recently has retired, transitioning back to real life. We chatted about how he’s struggling a little bit with the transition. And she said something along the lines of how it’s great I have been able to find my passion, and hopefully it will also give me purpose along the way, because that seems to be his missing link now that he’s retired.
That concept of purpose struck a chord. “Passion” is such a buzzword these days and it’s easy to see my lifestyle as “living my passion.” But quite honestly that has always felt a bit wrong to me. I hate to say it, but it almost can feel offensive at times! I’d hear someone allude to that and just think to myself: am I really PASSIONATE about…..triathlon?! Or ultrarunning?! Those things are not what I am all about. I do them, yes, but if they were to go away tomorrow, I’m actually 100% sure I’d be okay, and I’d find another way to exercise and be happy.
And so, I’ve always known that the answer to if I’m passionate about these sports is, perhaps surprisingly, not really. I love these sports and I invest a lot in them. And what I have come to realize is that they have lead me to my purpose. And my purpose is my passion —> not the sports themselves.
So why mention this now? Well, I’m racing again this weekend! And yes, for those counting, that is 2 Ironmans and an upcoming three day racing extravaganza in 4 weeks. It’s a lot of racing. It’s hard on my body. It’s hard on my mind too! People ask me all the time how I do it? Why do you do it? Some even suggest that it can’t be healthy (thanks, peanut gallery).
And I think what I’ve come to realize is that I do have this “superpower” because triathlon, to me, is:
a place where I learn more about myself and my strengths
a place where I learn to be a better communicator
a place where I learn confidence
You know what triathlon isn’t? It’s not something that defines the kind of person I am. And that’s all I keep close.
Some may think that this is why I’ll never be the best. But ya know what? I’m literally doing MY best. If that never matches up with THE best? Well, then it doesn’t. And that my friends, is sports. Some people win and some people lose, and in triathlon there’s a lot more losers than winners, that’s for sure. You can’t take that personally or it will simply drive you nuts.
And so that’s what I carry with me when I race a lot. I know that things might go really really poorly with some of the racing timelines. But most of the time time they go really well! And because my happiness, my passion and most importantly – my purpose – lies in other things, in the end, I’m good either way. The pressure that I see so many athletes putting on themselves, is off – I don’t carry that with me.
I love triathlon and ultra running and I love that they have allowed me to develop as a strong leader, communicator and coach. I love that they have lead me to things that light up my ambition, and fire up my motivation to do other really good work.
So, maybe, for some like myself, we shouldn’t look for that love at first summit. We should look for that slow burn. That’s how you know where you’ll stay. Happily.
That is how long it’s been since I’ve raced an iron distance race (Challenge Taiwan 2018!). And let me tell you, for someone who, over the last ten years, has raced 30 Ironmans…..waiting 474 days to do one feels like forever!
But, I am going to be back on the start line for another 140.6 miles of fun come Sunday, in my favorite city in the world to date: Copenhagen. In previous years here I have done a lot of the tourist things – canal tours, meals on the waterfront, E-bike city tours, etc. This year I am just doing my best to hibernate a bit before the race and keep the legs up and sipping on my NUUN Hydration. I am so lucky because my “host mom” who helped me see Copenhagen like both a tourist and local in years past is still willing to cook for me and we had a great dinner last night, catching up on the last few years. I love the special connections I have made through this sport – we can reconnect just every couple of years and it seems like we haven’t missed a beat, only her grandchildren keep getting older!
Hibernation has given me plenty of time to be super diligent with my pre-race routine and really making sure I don’t blow through any details since I’m out of practice. I’ve done a lot of work all around with the swim/bike/and run in the last 474 days, and I don’t want to lose what that could give me in a race because of a silly oversight! It should be rainy-ish and cool — typical Danish conditions — also perfect Ironman conditions in my opinion!
If you happen to be in Copenhagen, please join me tomorrow….Women For Tri is hosting a brunch and I will be on the panel for a Q&A. Though, apparently you had to register for this event I just found out….but I doubt they will actively turn folks away!
And finally, remember when I ran the Long Trail last summer? Well, Aliza Lapierre is out on her attempt to get the women’s supported record, as I type! It’s fun to be on *this* side of things this time around, I have to say. Tracking her definitely leaves me a bit nostalgic and I relive each section as she faces it. I couldn’t help but think the “fun” of the rivers that made up the trail that first climb up Jay Peak, climbing through Devil’s Gulch, and eating my summit poptart on Mansfield. Aliza and I did connect before her attempt, and I wish her all the best on this adventure!! You can track her here.
And if that isn’t enough adventure, in the other random things I’ve been following since I’ve spent more time on the internet with taper: Mike Posner (yeah, the guy who wrote “Cooler than Me” – aka the song that’s been stuck in your head for the last 11 years) is walking across America and writing songs while he does it. Until, he got bit by a rattlesnake and he has had to spend time in the hospital and recuperating, because apparently rattlesnake bites are not good. Anyway, you can follow this on twitter.
Here’s to swim-bike-running for the Danish Kroner on Sunday!!! And always, please consider supporting my amazing sponsors who help keep me dreaming big and racing hard!
If you have been following along with me the last couple months, you might have noticed I have been focusing a bit on my open water swim. Over the years I have successfully progressed in the pool to a point where we want me to be. The transition from that to a successful swim in the open water has happened…..sometimes. The consistency for it definitely isn’t there, and going into two big ironman races for me this year, I want to feel confident going into the open water that my effort will reflect my abilities. And more importantly, that my swim will put me in a good position to capitalize on the rest of the race.
There could be a variety of ways to achieve this. Luckily for me, I knew I already had two of the best possible swim coaches on my side. Hillary, who has already revolutionized my swimming in the years we have been working together, and Coach E, or, Don Easterling. I am *very* fortunate to have stumbled upon his masters group here in town!
So, commence #alltheswimming. I am also swimming often with my good friend and training partner, Shirley. Shirley currently holds 13 long distance swimming records, and has had countless others through the years. Luckily for me, her record times in the 65-69 age group are my perfect training pace and my targets for racing! Because of Shirley, I have now also started doing weekly open water swims. Previously if I was going to swim open water in training, I lost steam pretty quickly. Knowing that I should be able to keep up with Shirley – since we are stroke for stroke in the pool – I am much more motivated for a 5k open water workout. While her and I both know I hate it, even if I don’t say it out loud, I always go back to what she told me one day at masters when I was complaining about swimming more butterfly and she wouldn’t let me put on my fins to take the easy way. I asked her how she can keep swimming fly even when we are so tired from 5k of swimming already. She said: “Well…..you just have to do it.”
It really is that simple. You don’t have to go looking for some “fix” or some hack. You don’t have to find a secret. You don’t need a change in perspective. You can keep hating it. But if you want to be the best, or even just better, you just have to do it.
This is pretty much how I feel every week when I do my open water swim with Shirley. It is the part of my week that I just have to get through, testing all my mental strategies to stay present and engaged. I really enjoy her company and the fact that she puts up with me clearly not too excited to be there is very admirable! It reminds me of some of the workouts I would do with Leslie in past seasons – neither of us loved it. They were the worst. But we just did it. Misery definitely loves company, and when your company is helping you get faster and chase those podiums, I really, really appreciate the company!
So, for now, it might be the worst. But I’ll be there next week!
First: please take a second to go vote for Ramona for the cutest pet contest at my apartment complex. Yes, I have decided to get competitive about this! Please help by LIKING THIS PHOTO!
Now to regularly scheduled programming:
Since getting back from Australia, it’s been a whirlwind! I did end up going to Chattanooga to race, and while it wasn’t ideal to come out of being sick + jet lag to face a race in heat and humidity, it pulled the bandaid off the race season and did get me excited to race some more.
Speaking of heat and humidity…..that situation is REAL right now in the mid Atlantic and southeast! After living in this part of the country for, well, my whole life, I have a strategy for how athletes best survive here: EMBRACE IT!
Seriously! I used to hate running and biking hills. When I was in college and dabbling in triathlon, I’d do anything to avoid the hilly stuff. Until one of my good friends and triathlon superstar, Annie, gave me her secret: she said you just tell yourself you love them. Over and over, and do them as much as you can. Every time you hate it, say *out loud* “I love these hills!” And eventually it’s not that bad.
I’ve chosen to take that same approach with the humid and hot summers that we tend to get here in Virginia. Admittedly, it’s a little easier because I think I’m happiest when I’m tan, in a sports bra and running shorts, and in the heat, rather than bundled up trying to stay warm. But, that doesn’t mean that training has come easy for me in these conditions. When the temperature starts rising and the humidity is off the hook, I fall back on my top 3 to get over the hump of those first few weeks:
-Sunscreen! This is key. Finding a sunscreen that is thin enough you don’t feel like you’re wearing Elmer’s glue, but actually works is key. I suggest Zealios Sun Barrier — with the code “ironwomen” you get 20% off too. Also: don’t forget about your lips! Use chapstick with SPF!
-Electrolytes! If you know me, you know that I rarely drink plain water. I simply don’t like the taste….or lack of a taste. So my NUUN habit is a constant no matter the time of year or training that I’m doing, but it comes in especially handy during these heavy sweating months. The code “ironwomen” will get you 30% off at nuunlife.com. My favorites are the Strawberry Lemonade NUUN Sport, and the Strawberry Lemonade NUUN Endurance (has caffeine!).
-Think outside the box! Sauna training is a great tool, and the science behind it is very promising. But sauna training means you 1. Have to have access to a sauna, and 2. Have the time to devote to ANOTHER workout session. Not ideal for triathletes already stretching themselves thin! By timing some workouts throughout the week in the hotter times of day — and timing others so they are NOT in the hottest times of the day — you can help your body acclimate and make some heat gains. Trail running is also a great thing to mix in when it works because it’s often cooler under the shade of trees in a trail.…not to mention strategically placed swimming holes (unless you’re like me and would never get in one for fear of snakes!) Or maybe you have Skyline Drive or the Blue Ridge Parkway within reach…..it’s generally at least 10 degrees cooler up there, and that’s a great spot for some training.
-Patience! Unfortunately I don’t have a discount code for you for this one. But I can assure you that after spending many summers now in the heat and humidity of the east coast, my tune has changed: I now believe that I can race just as strong the heat as I can in perfect conditions. With a few little tweaks and some planning, it’s doable, but now is the time to make those chances, and perhaps most importantly, mentally embrace the conditions!
As I came out of my Tucson camp haze I was also starting to look at my upcoming race schedule, and one thing stood out in my thoughts: I didn’t want to wait until June to race! While I’m not feeling SUPER fit right now, I’m feeling fit enough – and perhaps more importantly, my mind is in a good place to toe the line. The schedule is a little complicated because I am heading to Noosa next week to crew for my TeamHPB athlete Briana in Ultraman…..but, I’m no stranger to traveling. I’ll pack the NUUNand my sleep mask, make sure some travel arrangements are easy when possible….and hopefully I come out of the zillion hours of travel unscathed 🙂
So, it will be a bit of a game time decision (#perk of being a pro) but as of right now I am planning to race Chattanooga 70.3 in a few weeks! If travel back from OZ ends up being a disaster, then I won’t head down south. But, it’s a good course for me and I know that when the itch to race happens, the best thing to do can be to scratch and see where you’re at.
After that, it’s back to the regularly scheduled programming that I had been planning: Eagleman 70.3, IM Copenhagen, IM Wisconsin, and the Big Savage Challenge at Savageman. I am also contemplating a trip to the southern hemisphere in July for Ecuador 70.3 – more as a bucket list race than anything else – but I might make that call after Chattanooga. We’ll see.
But yes – the stars have most definitely aligned and I will be racing my TWO FAVORITE IRONMAN COURSES in the same season!! Knowing I’ll be heading back to Copenhagen and Madison has me super pumped and ready to take on the long summer days in the humidity to get myself ready.
I also have already committed to my late season race for the season: I’ll be racing a 6-day stage race in November, the Trans-Pecos Ultra in Texas. This race looks like a once in a lifetime opportunity for sure, and with the ability to earn my last 6 UTMB points for the lottery*, I didn’t want to pass this up. This also conveniently frees my end of September through October for some trail adventures 🙂
For now it’s keeping the blinders on and letting the process work itself out as I continue to find fitness!
* – UTMB changed their lottery policy and turns out I only need 10 points now instead of 15!! After racing the 110km in Spain and the Marin 50 miler, I will have 9…..ah! So, basically I could have skipped the entire thing racing Marin 2 weeks after Spain…sigh. But then I wouldn’t have had a great weekend with friends, running trails in a beautiful place, so, not really a loss at all.
I think I always return from camp in Tucson a little more tan and a little more fit. But I also return a little more inspired and this week has been no different! I am loving this video of the days made by Taryn……It’s always fun to see things through another lens.
Despite having gone to Tucson now ~3 times a year for the past 5ish years, I can happily report that I had a first this year! I’ve seen some people execute some epic training days on Mt. Lemmon, and while often during camp I gain a handful of bonus miles going back and forth between groups, it has never been too significant to note…..until this week. My athlete Briana was at camp this week as part of her last big training block push to Ultraman Australia. Typically there is a camp day where you ride up Mt. Lemmon to the cookie cabin (mile 25), and then back down, to be followed with a run off the bike. In the past some of our TeamHPB Ultraman athletes have taken this day to the next level, and so I wanted to find a way to make this happen for Bri too. And since I don’t like to give out training sessions that I haven’t (or wouldn’t!) do myself, this seemed like a prime opportunity to seize the day for a Lemmon adventure for myself too. Given that I am on the hunt for bike fitness right now, a few extra bike miles could only be a good thing. And as Coach Emily said…Lemmon is there, you may as well ride it! (or something like that)
So Bri and I set off just after sunrise with our goal of getting to Windy Point (mile 15), and back down in time to join the others who would be setting off after 8am. I am happy to report that we successfully completed the mission and Bri did it with a smile (mostly!) on her face, She just has one last push at home and then we head to Australia!
My other favorite “adventure” from camp is the track session from the last day. We are always making sure that the camp experience is fresh for those who return time after time, and this was no different! With a bit of a nod to “The Michigan” workout, we had a couple hours of fun on the track with distances from 1.5 miles to an 800, with some hills thrown in to keep it spicy. The campers LOVED it I promise 🙂
I always say how lucky we get with the weather in Tucson….but maybe now after this trip I’m finally accepting that Tucson is simply a great place to train because the weather is generally just like that: predictable and consistent! It takes so much of the guesswork out of the days. And the easy access to great Mexican food takes the guesswork out of the refueling process too. What more can you want?
Already looking forward to the next camp in the Dirty T!
About 3 weeks ago, that was the conversation I was having with my bike. I was pretty much despising just about every ride. It never felt comfortable, it never felt right. Get in my aero bars? Yeah right!
At one point I think I told Hillary I would rather run 100 miles than ride for 3 hours. Dramatic much?! Ha! But I was serious!!
The truth of the matter though is that it’s not the bike….its me. I knew that doing #alltherunning this winter was going to make cycling a challenge. Not that I wasn’t riding at all through the winter, I just wasn’t riding very much, and it was more about maintenance or recovery spins. But cycling is definitely something where time in the saddle matters. And, it’s somply time to start banking that again.
The good news is that after a few tweaks (thanks to Jim at ERO) I’m feeling better in the saddle. Great? Not yet, but there are glimmers of hope now. The popsicles and sunshine on last week’s ride helped a lot too. The picture above is from last year’s Tucson Camp — the always epic 140 mile Arivaca ride….so I’m hoping that the legs feel good for that day which is now just about a couple weeks away!
You know what else makes me excited to ride bikes? NEW KITS! And you know that Smashfest Queen always has that side of things taken care of….plenty of motivation there. And just yesterday my latest obsession has been revealed for pre-order – the NUUN HYDRATION Collection.
Take a minute to watch the video which tells more about the partnership between NUUN and Smashfest Queen! Pre-orders are due by April 5th.
It has been a crazy few weeks! More specifically, in 5 weeks I raced a 40 miler, 110km, and a 50 miler…..in two different countries, and three different time zones! My quest for UTMB points, part 1, is wrapping up after racing the Marin Ultra Challenge last weekend. I hadn’t raced trails in California since Western States in 2009! Admittedly I don’t think of them as being my strength — more runnable and less technical. But I felt ready to toe the line and see what progress I have made in the last 10 years for that sort of terrain. And, good news: I held my own, coming in 4th in the women’s field and 21st overall!! I have to give a huge shoutout to my amazing friends who came out to crew, pace and support me: Michele, Melanie, Emily and Kelly. You ladies were awesome! Despite it being ~20 miles shorter than the race in Spain 2 weeks ago, there are always ups and downs in ultrarunning and it was so so nice to go through the day with support out there.
Coming off of the race, I think that for now I have gotten the running out of my system….and I’m ready to get back onto my bike more. Maybe the fact that spring is finally here is helping too, hard to say. Here’s a wrap-up on what I have going on now that all the running is done though:
What I’m Doing
Resting! Sleeping! Eating! Drinking! Also though, next week I should probably start swimming a bit more as I may have signed up for a swim meet in the coming weeks….
What I’m Reading
I’ve picked up ROAR by Stacy Sims and am giving this a re-read! I think that when I go through periods of high mileage and ultrarunning, my hormones get all sorts of wacky. Listening to my body, sleeping, and executing some simple dietary changes based on her research is the key to getting myself to feeling “normal” again, so I’m just taking some time to refresh myself on her tips and tricks.
But also – Mumford and Sons! I tend to squeeze in time with family and friends into the weeks after a big block since I have much more downtime to be with them. We will be going to Mumford this weekend!
Where I’m Going
Nowhere! I have 3 weeks at home before some travel in April so I am soaking that in!!
It isn’t beyond me though, that this is a prime case where everyone in the movie looks…..like me. I hope that there are videos out there to inspire people who don’t look like me too, but I’m not naive enough to believe that there are many. There are some great initiatives in the outdoor space to increase diversity, but that is definitely something I want to take a harder look at this year to see what impact I could have personally on this.
That’s about all the Spanish you get, because that’s pretty much the extent I used in Spain. JUST KIDDING! I used a lot more than that, but it wasn’t super easy because it turns out, in the Basque region they have their own dialect of Spanish. So oftentimes, just using English + charades was more useful.
Anyway, I did a call for questions on my insta story the other day asking for questions about the race, and a big THANK YOU to everyone who responded! I will get to all of these as I give you the rundown on my Spanish adventure.
Some of the basics first: The race is called the Basque Ultra Trail Series (BUTS) Bilbao-Gasteiz. This race has been on the radar only since mid-January or so. After the Long Trail project, I have really felt like the there is some unfinished business of mine on the trails, and some of that I don’t want to wait too long to begin to tackle. The biggest item on that list? UTMB, or the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc. This race is step 1 in gathering the points to be able to enter that lottery, and I found it via the UTMB search engine which helps you filter by months you want to target, point values, etc. I didn’t research things too much beyond that other than taking in the basics of the elevation gain (a lot!) And the profile – straight up and straight down!
.This race has been on the radar only since mid-January or so. After the Long Trail project, I have really felt like the there is some unfinished business of mine on the trails, and some of that I don’t want to wait too long to begin to tackle. The biggest item on that list? UTMB, or the Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc. This race is step 1 in gathering the points to be able to enter that lottery, and I found it via the UTMB search engine which helps you filter by months you want to target, point values, etc. I didn’t research things too much beyond that other than taking in the basics of the elevation gain (a lot!) And the profile – straight up and straight down!
I also got several questions about the field at this race: all the stats on age, gender, etc. Unfortunately, I don’t have many answers on this for you because the results – here – can’t be easily filtered by gender, age, etc. This is a bummer – and a stark contrast from the ease of the tracking in general…..I actually think Ironman needs to hire these guys because their tracking worked so well the whole time. But they could use a little help with the organizing of the results! So, from my observation: not a lot of women. At all. I’d say I saw less than 10% women in the race of 205 people, and that’s probably being a little generous. There was though a large age range, again, from my observation….but, I’m not sure how many of them were finishers. Despite that, they were offering equal prize money across genders for both the race and the series. This is huge! They were also super excited that I was coming to race and went above and beyond in all things to help make sure I was sorted. I was given splits throughout the race and was interviewed at the finish line as I would guess the men were. They are doing many of the right things to bring women to the event, and I hope are having more discussions about how to continue to attract more women!
The race itself is 110km, with 5,500 meters of climbing advertised (I had a few bonus kilometers from my own fault, and I did end up with over 19,200 feet of climbing). And no, I don’t think they know that all the Americans find it hilarious that the acronym is BUTS 🙂
Someone asked about how my Long Trail fitness prepped me for this – mentally and physically. I think the Long Trail totally raised the bar for me in terms of how hard “hard” can actually be. And how hard things can be and I can still get through them — this was definitely beneficial here. I am not sure how much of the actual strength/fitness from the Long Trail still has an effect though. However, I do just think that since my brain has now seen the Long Trail and known that I got through that, it now allows me to raise the bar on myself physically. And so while the actual fitness might not still be there, my brain is much more confident about what I am facing head-on. So that is no doubt an advantage. My training for this had some similar elements to Long Trail training but it was also very different! Training for an event that will be less than a day is much different than one that will be 5 days…..But the basics were the same: I’d need trail skills, and I’d need strength! We definitely keep the biking and swimming in the training plan too. I still went to masters 3x a week and got 12-15k of swimming a week.
Some of the challenges of the race would be that it was: 1. In Spain, 6 hours ahead of my standard time zone and 2. Starting at midnight. I chose to take a red-eye fight on Wednesday, getting into Bilbao on Thursday, late morning. Then I got to bed early Thursday (7-8pm) and woke up early Friday (5am) so that I could take a bit of a sleep/nap (5-9:30) Friday night. Then, I just woke up and pretended it was race morning! So I had “breakfast” of 2 Bobo’s poptarts, coffee, some nut butter and some ciif shots. My only other midnight start experience was the Hellgate 100k, which I didn’t nap before and I ate Wendy’s as my pre-race dinner. So, I think this was better. It definitely felt weird, but it was pretty good I think.
I did one last check of my gear – which was pretty extensive. This race was “semi-self-sufficient” so I was carrying a good bit more gear than I normally would, especially since Matt was there to help crew for me! I had to have 2 lights for the front, both with spare batteries, a red blinky light for the back, a bandage, emergency blanket, waterproof jacket, gloves and a bandana/hat — and then I also carried enough calories and hydration to get me between aid stations, which were 10-15km apart on average. I packed all of this into the Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta (which I find comfortable and really have liked!), but I do think that for these races with so much mandatory gear, it might be a good idea to have another one with a few more pockets so I can keep that mandatory gear more “out of sight” from the stuff I was using a lot: my hydration and calories.
A couple other gear notes: I used Injinji socks as they have been tried and true for me on the Long Trail and just continue to keep me feet in great condition. I started the race in the Altra Timp 1.5s, but did end up switching to some New Balance Gobi 2’s when I got to my drop bag at 65km. When I ran Uwharrie I had the Altra Timp’s and they basically blew apart on me…so I was really happy that they replaced them quickly with the 1.5’s based on their warranty policy. However, I could feel the same thing happening during the race! I did love the Altra’s I wore on the Long Trail, but I think my trust with them is an all time low so I will probably not use them again.
And then, it was time to go! I’m not sure if the midnight start was for safety reasons, or logistical reasons since we were starting in a city, but overall, I think it was pretty neat. The sun doesn’t come up until 8am there, so it was over half the race in the dark for me!! But honestly I kind of like the darkness hiding the trail ahead: especially in this case when the trail ahead was often super steep and a long climb!
It was super cool though to be climbing up above the cities and seeing the lights down below us. I’m also super lucky that my timing to the top of the highest mountain on the course coincided with sunrise — the most beautiful one I have ever seen, hands down. It was Ah-May-Zing! And that was while I was climbing up the side of a huge steep mountain, so, it must have been pretty rad.
For the race itself, I knew I couldn’t pay too much attention to my watch. Times on the climbs are so hard to really judge, and on the downhill as well when it’s so steep – which it was! My goal was just to move strong on the climbing and to run anything that was even slightly runnable. As long as I stuck to that I wasn’t concerned about the pace itself. Climbing here was definitely aided by my Black Diamond Z poles — these are the same ones from the Long Trail and I do love them! I just find with the steep climbs it is nice to take some of the weight off my legs. That said, the woman who won did not use them! So it’s totally something that is a personal preference. After the first 3k, I had them out the entire race, though I was just holding them for much of the descending and running through the towns (hence why I like the ultralight version – you barely even notice them!). I don’t think I would do without any of the gear I did end up with, though, we were super lucky with the warm weather! I think gear would have been a much more important discussion with “standard” winter temperatures they have there.
There was another woman, Silvia Trigueros, who was quite a strong runner. Despite my best attempts to break away, she reeled me back in by 20k, and I was never able to close that gap again. Being able to look back on the tracking data has been super useful – I pretty much lost all time after that on the descending. Truthfully, that wasn’t a skill I had really honed in on before that race, or, well, ever. I have always just relied on how that skill improves with trail running as I train. It was clear here though, that if I want to compete against the best on technical trails, I will have to find another game plan for that in the future! Game on!
One of the other funny differences I really picked up on was the aid station food. In North America I feel like the standards are: chips, pretzels, candy, etc. In Spain? Bolongna sandwiches! Tomatoes! Other random cold cuts! Needless to say, that isn’t my normal race nutrition, so I stuck with my NUUN Hydration and Maurten to get me through 🙂
Eventually the end was in sight, after “just one more climb” than I always thought it would be. The finish line was a great atmosphere and again, the race goes above and beyond to make the runner comfortable – good food, massage, showers and drop bags all there and ready to be picked up makes the post-race experience so nice.
One question that came in is my favorite and least favorite part of racing in Europe. I think my favorite is just being able to soak in a different culture. As an east coaster, Europe really isn’t much further away than a trip to California — but the ability to really experience some different things, see totally different terrain, and just get out of my comfort zone is much higher than a trip to California! I love that about Europe. My least favorite part is that I don’t speak any other language! I am embarrassed for myself and the image I project since my Spanish is so limited, and that is the only other language I know. So many Europeans know 2-3 or more languages, it always does make me feel a little silly that I wasn’t brought up that way (most of us aren’t here!), and I hate that. Because the language barriers, I couldn’t talk to anyone else really during the race either, so once again I was very happy Matt was successfully navigating the Spanish roads to see me and allow me some talking breaks!
It had been awhile since I have run that long (even on the Long Trail my longest day was 55 miles), so this was really fun to push beyond that and see how it would go. I always find that ultras are the deepest digging you can do physically and mentally because there are always so many times when you just don’t want to take another step…..but you have to. Yes, this happens in Ironman too, but something about ultrarunning is always different for me. Figuring out how to get that step done, and the next one – is always fulfilling in the end. But it definitely does hurt in the moment and I haven’t experience that sort of “my legs won’t work on ups, downs, or flats!” for quite some time.
Aside from being able to stop running, I was super excited for the finish because this meant that it was time to kick back and enjoy Spain for a day and a half! Not being much of a museum person, I was pleasantly surprised that I really enjoyed the afternoon at the Guggenheim. It probably didn’t hurt to have split a bottle of Rose over lunch beforehand! 😉 #Whateverittakes, right? But seriously – how many times do you get to see Picasso and Monet’s in person? That’s something you can’t pass up. And you can’t pass up seeing a giant puppy made of flowers! I also really enjoyed the Italian food (Yes- Italian food in Spain, sue me!) At Coppola’s. Not many things were open late on Sunday and this local gem was awesome.
The BUTS Series continues in 2020 with another race as they continue to link the 4 capitals of the Basque region of Spain. Will I be back? Hard to say for sure, but it will definitely be tempting! Before that, I’ll be focusing on next up: Marin Ultra Challenge — next weekend! The body is starting to feel okay so I think the mind is ready to start wrapping itself around that one 🙂 More updates after that!