Sun & Smiles

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!

It’s not me, it’s you

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.

The wrap up!

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.

What I’m listening To

Obviously the newest IronWomen Podcast.

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!!

What I’m Watching

Survivor, always, obvi.

But also I was sent this, which I loved: Where the Wild Things Play

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. 

¡Corrí muchos kilómetros en España!

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! 

The Buzz

There was some exciting sponsor news announced this year and I jaust want to take a moment to reiterate that in case you missed it:

There is a new (well, kind of) FEMALE PRO TEAM!

Cue the applause.

Yep, this is pretty unique and a very special reason to celebrate. NUUN Hydration came on board in 2019 to join forces with the existing Smashfest Queen pro team, creating the Smashfest Queen-NUUN Pro Team! You can read the press release here, which also details some of the other amazing women that NUUN will be supporting this year. If nothing else, read this paragraph:

The Smashfest Queen Team, led by former professional elite triathlete Hillary Biscay and avid amateur Michele Landry, exists to create a global community of women supporting each other through triathlon. Their Smashfest Queen Pro Team was created to help make it financially possible for deserving athletes to pursue careers in the sport. Beginning in 2019, the team has been re-named Team Smashfest Queen – Nuun, and is composed of Alyssa Godesky, Haley Chura, Kelly O’Mara, and Nicole Valentine. “We are very thankful for Nuun’s support of our hard-working ladies and our shared goals for gender equality in sport,” said Hillary Biscay. “The elevated commitment to our pro athletes means so much to us and we are delighted to co-brand the team with Nuun.”

I know that people shy away from talking about money, but I personally think that there can be more transparency around it in the industry. A lot of the marketing dollars are not going towards the professional athletes themselves. And it’s not just that they aren’t going to me, as a consistent a top 5 finisher. There are multiple IM and 70.3 Champions who are being dropped by sponsors and unable to find some consistent money coming in. And I can tell you that makes a living as a professional athlete very tricky! I firmly believe that if long course triathlon is to be a sustainable sport, companies need to support the pros. Otherwise (and I’ll take a line from Kelly O’Mara) it’s just a bunch of people exercising around parking lots.

I am able to continue racing at this level because of the continued support of Smashfest Queen and now NUUN Hydration. Both of these companies have made deliberate and purposeful investments in women, and I am very thankful for that!

Haley and I will continue this conversation about marketing and sponsorship on the IronWomen podcast later this month, so stay tuned for that! We will be joined by industry marketing experts to help field our questions and even get some guidance on best practices for both athletes and fans. 

I am also excited for the continued support in 2019 of these other amazing companies: 

ISM Saddles – no brainer for saddle comfort

Adaptive – My website/marketing gurus!! If you need a website, marketing materials, graphic design….anything – these are your people!

Ice Friction TechnologySave watts and go faster with ICED Chains

Cadence Running Company – Dan Beaver is the man to see for shoes and other supplies! It doesn’t even matter if you’re not in Phoenix. He’s got you covered!

DNA MovementIf you are local to Cville, Anne Pike should be your go-to for body work! She’s the best.

In addition to my own personal sponsors, keep an eye out on the February IronWomen episodes as well where new sponsors and a contest to win a Wahoo KICKR!

I’d like to thank the academy

Okay, maybe not the academy, but, I am grateful to the voting panel that recognized my Long Trail FKT effort as the #1 FKT of the year for the women. More on the top 5 FKTs of the Year, along with a list of very strong honorable mentions can be found here. I personally was really impressed by Annie Weiss’ and Nate Bender’s efforts, so definitely check those out.

I also feel like I can never say it enough: this FKT is “mine” but by no means did I accomplish this alone. I would not have achieved this without the help of my friends and family, crewing in person, and supporting from afar, and of course Hillary for dreaming up a training plan that got me fit enough. Thank YOU!

I have been fortunate that this award has brought with it some more opportunities to share my story, hopefully inspiring others out there who might be dreaming of their own FKT. When Kathryn Miles reaches out to you – that’s a no brainer! She wrote a fun piece in Outside Online about the FKT of the Year awards, you can find that here. And of course, the crew at FastestKnownTime.com did a few podcasts as they counted down the awards, you can hear me on that here

And for anyone who might be battling a polar vortex and needing even more material to pass the time indoors – I was on a recent SMOGCAST and a recent episode of Sparta Chicks Radio!

Tomorrow I’m off to run the Uwharrie Mountain Run (40 miles). I *love* this event and I’m excited to see what my legs can do as I’m in the build for the Basque Ultra Trail Bilbao-Gasteiz and the Marin Ultra Challenge later this month and in March. 

Kicking off 2019

Hello from Tucson!!!

I can’t believe I’m writing that actually and that it is CAMP time already! Last year was year 1 of cycling base miles January-camp and we all loved it so much we knew it was a keeper. So, here we are. Countdown is on until we begin today!

I’ve also been working on the usual year-end, new-year things, which means one of my favorites: race planning is in full swing! I had to really think about what was getting me excited to race this year. And maybe it’s that I love being on the trails in the winter and didn’t want to give up my hikes just yet, but I knew that some trail-time would really excited me. So, I started to look back at the ‘ole bucket list. Racing UTMB and seeing how well I can do there caught my eye. UTMB is the type of course where good technical runners with a lot of strength to withhold the climbing/descending and the elements can prevail. That’s me! Or so, I’ve always thought. Maybe it’s time to find out?

So, I started looking into the UTMB qualifying process. Well THAT was another rude awakening about how much things have changed in the last few years! Since I still want to race 140.6 during the bulk of the North American triathlon season, my windows for qualifying races would be pretty small…..that means that this could end up being a 2 year process, for a *hopeful* entry in 2021. Whoa. Better start now, for sure.

This meant I was going to have to run in Spain next month <insert emoji that displays my sarcasm here>. I simply love going to race in Europe and this excuse to head over there before IM Copenhagen in August is so welcome! There is a 100km (ok, 110km) race in Spain that starts in Bilbao, and you run to Gasteiz. And Bilbao was voted the 2018 European city of the year? Consider this done! 

Shortly after, in March, I’ll head to California for a 50 miler out there. Then I’ll be switching gears back to triathlon – just in time for April camp to help me get the bike legs firing again hopefully after all the ultras! I’ll still have to gather some more UTMB points next winter, but I’ll have to figure out exactly where later…first things first. Can’t wait for the next few months ahead!!

About last week…

So, last week was fun. It seemingly all started when Jenny McCoy published her interview with me about the Long Trail on Runner’s World.

A lot of people read Runner’s World apparently because before I was even really awake I was getting messages about it! And then Fox News caught wind of it. And then the NY Post. And some others. And Radio.com and MSN. And before I knew it, I was getting a small sense of what it is like to go “viral.”

My conclusion? It’s fun in it’s own way, but it is a bit weird. It requires a hook or clickbait of some sort, and mine was because I ate Taco Bell in the midst of a really really long run. This lead to *a lot* of poop jokes in the comments sections. I have to say, I actually think they were pretty funny. And aside from the jokes about propelling myself to the record by gas, or no one else going after the record because of the smell I left behind, the other comments were genuinely very nice, which is pretty rare to see these days. And that made me happy because I felt like many people were able to see beyond the clickbait and read the story that was there. The story about working really hard to accomplish a goal as a team. If enduring some jokes about “The Log Trail” gets another few people inspired to run or hike the Long Trail? Or to find their own FKT, whatever that may be? Then it’s totally worth it.

Aside from that, it was also really weird to see how the news works. Other than Jenny, I did receive some requests for pictures from the other news outlets, but no one asked for any other information. They simply took Jenny’s interview, and changed a few words. Kind of like a really big game of telephone. When we are talking about hiking and Taco Bell, I’m fine with it. But I can see how this gets out of hand when we are working with politics or current events.

It’s also worth a major mention that really, this didn’t begin with Jenny. It began with my good friend Kelly O’Mara going out on a limb for me and pitching my story for ESPN. That was the story that Jenny’s editor read, which got the ball rolling for Runner’s World. Women supporting women, and getting our stories told. That’s what I love more than……cookies and ice cream. And I really like cookies and ice cream!

For those who are wondering, I did in fact reach out to Taco Bell to suggest a chat about sponsorship but unfortunately “they aren’t sponsoring athletes at the moment” (That’s the answer Red Bull hilariously gave me as well for people interested in the lovely world of athlete sponsorship), so that was a long shot but still a bummer! They did however send me a lovely box of swag (who doesn’t like Taco socks?) with a gift card I’ll probably save until Kona next year. Because, fun fact, the Taco Bell is one of the only things open that isn’t mobbed with people during the Kona spectathlon, and it’s a longstanding tradition to #ringthebell after watching our athletes on the Queen K.

So, about this week? Well, it’s race week! For a triathlon! It’s been awhile since I’ve said that, especially about a 70.3, especially one with a road run! In 2017 I raced Raleigh 70.3 and after a sub-par day decided that was why I had been avoiding them since 2014, where I believe my current PR is from Eagleman.

Eagleman 2014, I haven’t aged a day!

I’m pretty sure that I swam and rode the entire course the day before, and rode 110 miles the day before that, so I’m hoping for some good conditions to better that this weekend. And after training on the East Coast, I don’t even remember what being warm on a bike is like, so I’m pretty well suited to take on the cold lake temps and the 45 degree air I hope!

Other things to help you pass time on this Friday: IRONWOMEN! (duh). This week Haley gives me all the dets about the The Outspoken Women in Triathlon Summit. Listen!!

Other good summit reads: Taryn’s blog, and of course Sara’s takeaways.

 

The Stockville

*You can check out the amazing pics from the weekend on Facebook here. Thanks to Rootstock for taking these!

After the Long Trail, my racing plans for the near future were up in the air. I didn’t know if, or when, I would be ready to race again – physically or mentally! My body started to come around, but the major hold up in recovery ended up being my sleep: I couldn’t get back to a normal pattern! It was like permanent jetlag. I actually ended up doing several weeks of frequent accupuncture which restored my chi 🙂 Seriously though – it did. Accupuncture is the real deal if you have never tried it!

Since my triathlon race season wasn’t top priority this year, I wanted to investigate some other race options in the “fun” category. After the Long Trail I now have a long list of things added to my bucket list, and to accomplish some of these I need some #skillz. Namely, skills for the wilderness. Orienteering became a fun sport for me this Fall. It was made even better because I could share the experience with Leslie. As beginners, our speed was last priority so it didn’t matter that she was growing a child.

All of this orienteering practice though WAS for a purpose: I was going to race The Stockville! I’m still not sure exactly how I stumbled upon this gem, but I knew instantly that this was what I was looking for. Since solo’s were not being allowed this year (too remote!) I had to find a partner in crime. One of my athlete superstars, Cortney, who is a fellow ironman-ultrarunner ringer, came to the rescue! With only a few weeks notice, Cortney and I put together all our required gear and then coordinated last minute logistics.

I picked Cortney up from BWI on Thursday evening, and we stayed at Casa de Godesky outside of Annapolis, driving up to Williamsport, PA on Friday. A pretty uneventful drive, and with the Fall foliage in full swing it was really pretty too. Our hotel was right next door to Wegmans, so we had an easy dinner spot. After dinner, we packed up our packs with all the gear, laughing a little bit at how big they were, but refusing to give up the last of our “maybe these aren’t quite necessary” items: toothbrushes (note – we never used them), baby wipes (also not used), change of clothes (didn’t end up using), etc. Honestly though, I think we did a really good job not over-packing, considering we had no clue what we were really in for!

What else was in my pack? (we also had any other gear listed by the race as mandatory – like med kit, etc)

I used the Ultimate Direction Fastpack 35 and I LOVED it. Super comfy and plenty of room. I actually had a bunch of room for more stuff, so it will be great for future hiking/camping adventures too.

I used a 2L UD bladder, plus 2 soft flasks. I probably could have downsized to one flask of red bull, and then folded that away for day 2 and just had the bladder.

My bladder was filled with F2C Nutrition’s Endurance 5:1 (I carried another baggie of it for day 2). I also had an assortment of other food – mostly candy bars.

A 3L filter bag

SPOT tracker

Headlamp/Waistlamp + extra batteries

Sleeping mat & Sleeping bag

Extra clothing: tights, baselayer, gloves, socks (note: not helpful to pack 2 right socks when you wear Injinji toe socks)

Orange buff (for potential warmth and, hunting season!)

Hand warmers

The race begins at 8am, but at 7am you can go and pick up your maps for day 1. Luckily I had reached out to the great folks of Rootstock Racing (thanks Abby!) in the weeks before with some map questions abut what to expect. So I was not totally shellshocked to find that they were pretty different than the orienteering maps I had been using in my practice meets. Orienteering maps seem to have more detail – things like rock gardens or even benches would be marked on them. This is not the case with the Forest Service maps that we had for the Stockville! This was going to mean that things like the map scale would be more important than ever (well, hindsight on that lesson is 20-20!).

The first day was to have 6 mandatory checkpoints, and 31 bonus checkpoints. This is one of the best parts of the sport: you can make your own adventure, literally. Cortney and I were going to try to gather as many points as we could to be competitive, but you can definitely begin (and perhaps it’s smarter?) To try your first race with only the mandatory checkpoints in mind. While we ended up making our day pretty challenging for ourselves, it didn’t have to be that way, and we definitely could have been a bit safer/less adventurous in our attempt. So please, don’t let my story deter you from trying if you want to do a Rogaine….you can scale it in a variety of ways for difficulty!

The first half of the day went really well….perhaps because the checkpoints were mostly linear, requiring fitness and trail skill over navigation skill to get to them! It was enough to boost our confidence though, and we began to think we were doing pretty well. Despite it being cold (and wet from the water crossings) we were having a great time and we began to get more adventurous in our checkpoint attempts.

When we realized we had about 90 minutes until sunset, we went for one last bonus checkpoint. Unfortunately, when we couldn’t find it, we also couldn’t find the trail we went into the woods on when we turned around!! This meant 90 minutes-2 hours of a boondoggle, until eventually we ended up going down a ridge and miraculously ended up back at a checkpoint we had been at earlier in the day. We couldn’t even get mad about that – we were just so happy to not be lost!

After that, we were a little skittish about our nav skills, and with the sun going down quickly we opted to play it safe for the remainder of the night, taking roads to checkpoint 4, and then, despite our best efforts to find #5, we ultimately called it a night without finding it in the interest of not spending the night in the cold woods, lost. (Note: during the day, #6 became optional as the organizers were able to gauge the progress of the racers)

While this sounds pretty casual, it’s worth pointing out how in this sport, you can be *convinced* you are in the right spot. You can have just said “this trail is here way too early” when you come upon it, and yet you still take it, because you justify a few other map landmarks to matching up. This experience has helped me take a step back and think about the times I am willing to throw out the objective look at the situation, because I want to see what I want to see. I’ll literally say “we should go back to this point which we are certain of, and take a bearing from there”…and then as we backtrack I’ll see something that looks like it could be right, and we go off on that trail, once again just following a whim. Time is lost and we often found ourselves more lost when we didn’t just take it slow and methodically, removing what we “hoped” it was from the equation. Probably a life lesson buried in all of those thoughts as well.

We jogged down to the midpoint village – The Stockville. Few sights were as great to see as the lights twinkling at the camp as we came down the road.

Since we arrived at mid-camp just around the cut-off time, sleep was on our minds and we tried to get our tent and sleeping area set up, and cook dinner, as quick as we could. That said, since we aren’t experts at this yet I think we were still quite a sight to watch attempt these things. Everyone was so nice though and helpful as much as they could be!!!

I haven’t mentioned much how cold it was because, quite honestly, we knew it would be cold: it was November in Pennsylvania after all. But, night time was definitely a little harder. We had the right gear, but I think just being cold and then not really warming up (we definitely should have taken the time to change into our other clothes I think, but we couldn’t fathom getting naked to get changed in the cold!!) Made our night a little colder than it needed to be. Oh, and Cortney’s sleeping mat was deflating on her, so she was basically sleeping on the cold ground. Due to that, and the fact that I was having stress dreams that the campfire had spread into a wildfire and was about to engulf the camp, we didn’t get much sleep, ha!!! And so when the morning came, it really took a bit more than I thought it would to motivate us to get up and get moving.

This was probably for the best though – during our procrastination, we started to chat with another team, and after some discussion about the fact we both were going to start with the same navigation plan, they invited us to start with them. WOOHOO! This was my prayers answered, as starting in the dark was one of my biggest worries for the event!

And thus began our day of fun, day 2 of the Stockville. We had teamed up with Brian, Diana and Jim, who are all veteran adventure racers. Before we left the parking lot, we also ran into the other women’s team – Mary and Shari. They joined in with us, and off we went.

Over the next 9 hours I learned more about adventure racing than I bargained for, learning far more than I feel like I deserved for the minimal skills I was able to offer the team! But these guys were amazing (also: major badasses! It was so cool to hear about the races they had done) and we had a great time together. Of course, the day was still full of trying to beat cut-off times, a few wrong turns and having to scale steep ridges as a result….but we would have been way worse off just the two of us!

In the end, they called it a draw between us and the other women’s team since we both had a debacle of our own in some way during the weekend, but that was the furthest thing from my mind in the end. It turns out, Rogaining, while it needs a better name, is the ultimate form of adventure in the woods. And I am looking forward to plenty more adventures in the woods in the future!!

I also can’t say enough good things about the folks at Rootstock Racing. I think Cortney and I were probably their biggest liability as newbies attempting to do the full course. They kept an eye on us, allowing us to have our fun but also being really helpful when we needed it. Abby always was checking in: “Are you still having fun?” And I’m pretty sure if we weren’t at any time, she would have found a way to get us back safe and warm. Luckily for us all, freezing in the woods for a weekend was actually our idea of the greatest fun 🙂

Reflections on Kona

This was my 6th year heading to Kona for the World Championships. Sixth!! I have raced there twice (as an amateur), and, the last 3 years have gone as part of the Smashfest Queen expo-and-race-day-cheer-squad, and to coach my athletes who have qualified. I have raced in hard conditions, I have raced in “easy” conditions (2013 was pretty fast!). I have spectated on really hot, windy days. And I have now spectated in probably the most favorable conditions of the recent past.

I have seen a lot go down over the last few years. And, over the years, I have changed. My goals have changed. As I evolved from amateur to professional, I found my voice in the #50WomenToKona movement. I am the first to tell you that has made me see Ironman in a different light. I have also spent a significant amount of time in the woods in the last couple years. Running the Vermont Long Trail – accomplishing something in which there was no finisher medal, no spectators other than those I invited to help me, and no entry fee has also shaped my vision of accomplishment in endurance sports.

I was asked by a good friend this last week what I felt when I was there this week. This was while I watched people take selfies in front of the big wall of names across from our booth. While I watched countless people do their casual morning run in their one piece tri kit. And I saw all the nakedness of the undie run, and all the compression of the antsy athletes. My reaction? I still think a lot of what triathletes tend to do is silly. But I do love that silliness. And I respect those people for owning it and being a part of the sport I love. It’s silly, but it’s fun, and there’s a lot of times when I need that fun in the sport and so I thank them for that.

And then, race day came.

I’m not sure how to really describe what I seemed to see out there, but I will say: the pro race is, still, a race. Yes there are a few packs and drafting and some of that nonsense needs to be addressed (i.e. I firmly believe the time gap between male/female pros should be large enough a female can’t swim/bike up into the men’s race). But for the most part, the professionals are racing at a caliber and in conditions that are suited to see who is the fastest swim/bike/runner of the day.

The Age Group race? The pointy end of this is still quite race-like and impressive. And the back end, those brave souls who are clamoring to be at the finish line in 17 hours? Yep, they are sure as hell working hard. But I have to say it: I was really, really disappointed with my overall impression of the age group race this year. It was as if all these folks hopped onto a moving walkway, and then did a running motion (or biking motion) until the walkway brought them back down to Ali’i Drive.

I’ve actually always been fundamentally against moving walkways. And escalators, if we are keeping track. I’m definitely “that person” who hoofs up the stairs next to the escalator, or tests her race-walking skills on the standard floor next to the moving-walkway to prove I can get there just as fast. And no, it’s not because I think I’m better than the moving walkway, or those who use it. But it’s because not taking it has, I believe, made me a stronger person. Working hard is something I seek to do, at a fundamental level, everyday. It’s a skill. It’s a habit. Of course I still make mistakes and am not perfect – and often these are the result of not having the foresight ahead of time to see that I was trying to cut a corner, or take a moving sidewalk, instead of doing the work.

The middle of the age group race for the most part left me wildly uninspired*. It was as if so many people got to Kona and said “Whew!”, and set off on a 140.6 mile victory lap. And I realize that in many ways, that is exactly what it is for people. But that doesn’t mean you can’t race, in my opinion. It doesn’t mean you can’t dig deep. You can still leave it all out on the Queen K. So many people are content with how they got there, that they forget that it might be just as valuable to lay it on the line one more time. Whether that ends in an epic blowup, or an unwarranted breakthrough. And for the folks at the pointy end: take a risk. Go pro. You’ve paid your respects to Kona, and yes, you might not race there again for awhile if you do it. But I promise you, the reward of knowing that you have tested your limits by racing those who are truly the top of the sport, is the best. That will encourage the others to step up and fill your shoes. And so on.

I love sport and I love competing and I really want to go to Kona — whether I’m racing or spectating — and see that grit and determination. For the most part, I didn’t find it this year. Let’s get off the moving walkway, and change that.

*This is a generalization. There was absolutely some greatness here that I am not highlighting so that I can make my point.