Race Report: McDowell Mountain Frenzy-5th 50K & a PR!

….and My Story Runs On….

I still can’t believe this was my 5th 50K!  Last year this was my 2nd one and I blogged about that one too.

This was a training run for my first 100K.  My training plan called for 20 miles on Saturday and 10 on Sunday so I combined them in one day (although these were “Aravaipa” miles so it was actually 32.2 on my TomTom).

Since I had some trouble with this one last year (you can’t really try to PR (personal record) different trail races due to the variety in the terrain) and I was redoing the same one, I decided I really wanted to do better than last year. As I set this goal in my head, I was also detached from it.  If I did PR, great but if I didn’t, I knew there would be lessons to learn (always!) so that took some of the pressure off.

One of the hardest things for me to do is run my own race. I tell people to do this all the time but as a coach and someone who knows a lot of runners, it’s hard not to get caught up in hanging with friends and helping them out.  So I had to make a decision that this was going to be MY RACE.

This is what I have on the back of my The Running University shirts ;)

This is what I have on the back of my The Running University shirts 😉

Leading up to the race, I did a lot of mental preparation.  Since I knew the course, I reviewed it again, reread my blog from last year and started making a strategy. Thankfully I didn’t have the “girlie” issues from last year so that would shave some time off for sure.  I also looked at the aid station locations and I remember running out of water on the toughest part of the course. I decided I wasn’t going to stop at the first aid station and I would run as much as possible on the easier part of the course so I could hike the big hill. I took the day off before the race and relaxed and got mentally psyched up (McDowell Mountains are one of my favorite places to trail run).

I started the race with my friends Katie and Mitzi (it was their first 50K!) and Will. We had nice pace going and it was fun to start out relaxed with friends!  I told them that I had a plan though and that I wouldn’t be stopping at the first aid station. We split off at mile 7.

They finished their first 50K! They are now ultra runners!

They finished their first 50K! They are now ultra runners!

I remember staying very focused on my ChiRunning form a lot (as always!) so I could be as efficient as possible. I made sure to refill  my water so I wouldn’t make the same mistake as last year since there was an 11 mile gap between aid stations and it was the hardest part of the course.

The one thing I don’t like about trying to PR, is that I tend to be much more tied to my watch.  I’ve had some of my best runs when I’m not paying attention to it as it can be mental stress added on that keeps you from relaxing. Knowing this, I tried not to be too focused on it but I had an average mile that I wanted to keep to reach my goal so I was more engaged with it than usual.  I knew I had to stay ahead of the game because the hill was coming. The trail started getting rockier and I remember this from last year. Not my favorite terrain to be running on as it’s harder but I know I need to keep practicing this for my 100K race.  I ChiWalked the entire hill with a few spurts of running when there was a little flat area or a little downhill.  I used my arms so much to help me up the hill that my biceps were sore the next day! I’ve never had this from a race before but this is part of the ChiRunning strategy. Use the arms more and legs less. The downhill was rocky so I wasn’t able to go as fast as I normally like to.

Hills...

Hills…

More hills...

More hills…

I got to the aid station at mile 24 where I got so see my friends. I love our local running community and there are always so many familiar faces either running or volunteering! I was still pacing to PR but I was definitely getting tired at this point.  More rocky uphill and then some good downhill that was rocky on and off. My pace was slowing down between the rocks and being tired.   I always go back to my ChiRunning form as soon as I start feeling tired. Outside of always checking in on my postural alignment (first thing to go when you are doing long distance running is your posture), my cadence is what really helped me out.  Every time I felt my legs get heavy, I would increase my cadence (strides per minute or foot turnover) and I immediately felt a relief.  There is a magic number of 170-180 (not unique to ChiRunning but recommended by just about every running form) and harder to maintain on trail. Most people run at lower cadence and this wastes a lot of energy because you are holding your body weight on each leg for longer periods of time which is inefficient.

I finally texted my friends that were at the finish line and told them I had 3 miles to go and someone please make sure I had a beer at the finish line 😉  I get to the last aid station and the guy said I had 3.2 more to go! What?! That was one more mile than a 50K.  I forgot to put this in my blog last year so I forgot about this…I was a bit irritated and it made that last few miles harder mentally.  I don’t normally listen to music but I put my playlist on my phone on speaker so I would be a bit distracted.  At about mile 30 you can hear the finish line and it’s a mind f%$k because you just want to be done at this point.  This part of the trail was up and down and it finished with a nasty steep hill.  My friend Bill was at the top yelling “hammer it” which really helped me push through it!

I could hear my friends cheering me on and I crossed the finish line (Chris, thanks for the Koffee Kolsch!) with a huge smile on my face. I didn’t have the official results but I knew I had PR’d. It was about a 34 minute PR which translates to a minute a mile for 32 miles of improvement!  Pretty proud of that! I will say that I was hoping to do better but I will take it!

One of the coolest things is that my friend Jenni even made me a medal!  She was making one for Katie and Mitzi. Some people run for bling and I normally don’t but I knew she was making a few for them and I wanted in on it too.  At Aravaipa races you get a pint glass when you finish (I have a bunch of them) but getting a homemade medal from Jenni was the icing on the cake! (and she isn’t crafty either!)

Love my medal! The only one I've received for a 50K ;)

Love my medal! The only one I’ve received for a 50K 😉

Running never ceases to amaze me! So much to keep learning about myself and the sport.  Having a plan doesn’t always pay off but I feel the mental preparation ahead of time was crucial to my success. As always, ChiRunning and the advice my nutritionist gave me for my 50 miler were two key components to my success.

What is your strategy when you want to try and PR a race?

These are the results from my TomTom.

3rd aid station with more friends!

3rd aid station with more friends!

Terry and Raul at the 2nd aid station!

Terry and Raul at the 2nd aid station!

Ila!  She is 70 years old and I've blogged about her before.  After this 50K she was driving to Santa Monica to do a half marathon the next day!

Ila! She is 70 years old and I’ve blogged about her before. After this 50K she was driving to Santa Monica to do a half marathon the next day!

From My Running Story to Yours….
(if you feel inspired to share your comments, do so below…I want to hear your story too!)

Race Report: Capitol Reef 50K with Ultra Adventures

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….and My Story Runs On….

On Saturday, I completed my hardest race to date…The choice words for the day were FUCKING BRUTAL (there are a few more swear words in this blog)…..it was also the most humbling race experience I had and one of the most gorgeous courses I’ve been on.  It was Ultra Adventures’ Capitol Reef 50K. Now I get why they are called “Adventures”. You may remember that I did my first 50 miler with them at Antelope Canyon. This was the highest elevation I’ve ever ran in with the steepest uphills and downhills I’ve ever done in my life.  Based on my standards, mostly an unrunnable course as you’ll read and see my pics below.  Before I break this down, I found this photo online yesterday as I was googling “mental toughness” and dang it, it pretty much summarizes my event!

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I was invited by a friend to do this race awhile back and I read some blogs and some info about it so I knew it was not going to be an easy one. Click here to see the map and elevation profile. Looked like a great opportunity to visit a new place I’ve never been to (one of the main reasons I love ultra/trail running is that it brings me to places I would not visit otherwise).  I was ready for the day to finally be here as you may remember my last blog post on Burning Out.

Our road trip up to Capitol Reef included a quick stop at Monument Valley which I had never seen before.  It was absolutely stunning and I am sure I’ll be doing that race at some point as well.

We went and grabbed our packets on Friday and had the honor of meeting Arnulfo Quimare, the famous Tarahumara Indian from the Born To Run book. I already had Caballo Blanco’s autograph in my book so I added his as well.

On race day, we arrived at the finish line where we would be bused up to the start line for this point to point race.  This is the 2nd time that my friend/trail wife, Elaine and I ended up wearing the same shirt…which fit well with this race #RunSteepGetHigh.  Matt Gunn, the race director, gave a briefing at the beginning and I tried not to worry about some of the words he was using like “bushwacking” and “boulder mountain”.

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Run Steep Get High 😉

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Obligatory selfie with Elaine and Lori (this was her idea in the first place)

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Matt Gunn, race director giving the briefing.

The three of us agreed ahead of time that it was each woman for herself and if we ended up together that would be fine but we were “running” our own race.  My goal was to finish and not got lost (this is their 2nd annual and blog reports from last year mentioned people getting lost.  Matt does a great job in taking feedback from his post race surveys as the course was marked very well in my opinion.  Actually looking for those pink flags helped keep me focus and made it “funner” by seeming like a bit of a scavenger hunt.)  The 50K course had an 11 hour cutoff (my average has been a little over 8 hours) and Ultrasignup forecasted that I would end at 11:45 (not sure what their algorithms are based on) and I was determined to prove them wrong.

I knew the first 8 miles were going to be an uphill climb so my plan was to hike this entire part to save energy so I could “run” later. These pictures don’t do it justice. I will say that I could feel the elevation change but it didn’t effect as much as I thought (giving some credit to some exercises I’ve been working on from The Oxygen Advantage book).

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The scenery was breathtaking and such a different experience from running in the desert which is my usual trail running play ground. The first half of the course was a combination of beautiful meadows (mainly single track but fairly runnable although you couldn’t see the terrain under the grass sometimes so you had to be careful for rocks); rocky trails; and boulders:  IMG_9149

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Cow bones?? Dead trail runners??

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more nonrunnable terrain…for me anyways!

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Caught Arnulfo with some amazing running form in his sandals!

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Seriously??

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Channeling my Spiderman skills again..

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Boulder Mountain…this seemed like at least a mile of this type of terrain.

Lori and I “ran” together up to about Mile 14.  We were bumming a bit as we had done some good training and really just wanted to run.  We would find a good runnable trail but then 50 feet later it became unrunnable again (although clearly runnable for the many other experienced runners that are used to this type of terrain). She got ahead of me and at this point I was comfortable being alone as I knew the course was marked well and I was not worried about getting lost.

More beautiful water scenery on this course with lakes and creeks…I used to be “afraid” of crossing creeks and we had several of those. When it worked out, I would use rocks or logs to cross but I got over that fear after some of our Black Canyon trail runs so when it didn’t work out, I would just walk right through them. The cold water felt good on my feet and I knew I wouldn’t get blisters as I’ve done this several times in my shoes before.

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I finally got to the Donkey Reservoir Mile 19 Aid Station.  A lady said that my friend Lori was about 2 minutes ahead of me but I was ready to take a little break here.  There was a 4pm time cutoff at this aid station and I got there around 2:30pm so all was good at this point. I had been following my nutrition plan and was feeling great (outside of being bummed that I wasn’t running as much as I wanted to).  The volunteers were great. I ate some quesadillas and had a little Coke (I only drink Coke on trail aid stations and it always hits the spot!). Got my water pack filled up and off I went. The next aid station was going to be 10 miles away so I was prepared for that…or so I thought…
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I noticed the battery in my Tom Tom was close to dying. I wasn’t too worried about it at this point as I was comfortable finding the course markers.  It died at about mile 21 and I was fine for a bit. This is when my mind started playing tricks on me. It was really hard to gauge how long it would take me to get to the next aid station. I wasn’t doing my normal pace for sure and it’s so hard to do math at this point on the trail.  I started doing one of my favorite ChiRunning meditations on the 5 senses to keep me present and distracted. I focused on all my senses:
Eyes: I had to keep my eyes on the trail a lot since it was pretty technical but I loved to see the pretty flowers, the views, the pink markers that were guiding my way…
Ears: I could hear the birds chirping, the wind in the trees, the water flowing through creeks..my heart rate going up on the uphills (at points it sounded like it would jump out of my chest!)..at one point I played music on my Iphone via the speaker so I could still be part of nature..I kept it low but needed some more distraction to get through it…I could hear footsteps behind me once in awhile as runners were passing me (this messed with my head a bit too as 50 mile people who started an hour before me and had completed more mileage were actually running this course…I knew they had more experience running in this terrain but still!!…)…I could hear my breath as I was focusing on my cadence and breathing together..
Smell: I could smell cow patties but never saw any cows which was weird (I heard some too) and my favorite was going through a few patches of pink flowers (which could be easily mistaken as the pink course markers) and the smell of them was overwhelming yet soothing.
Touch:  sometimes the wind would pick up and I could feel it on my skin…the sun on my skin…being brushed by the bushes on the side (wait for the bushwhacking part in a few)
Not much to do with Taste outside of the ginger candy I picked up at the last aid station.
Even though this worked for periods of time, the non runnable parts seemed to never end…and the steep uphills and downhills continued…THEN we got into the bushwhacking part Matt had mentioned in the briefing…

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Can you see the pink marker in the top left hand side of the photo? You can barely see the trail but we were literally going through shrubs..so hard to see the ground and run this part too..

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Do you see the pink marker in the top left hand side of the photo again? Yes, I crawled over logs and this was not the only place..

I kept wandering when the heck I would get to the aid station at Mile 29. There were several times that I could feel a lump in my throat and I just wanted to cry.  Mentally I can usually get through races by working on the meditation above or just enjoying nature and knowing that I am doing what I love to do most: run around in nature….but by this point, I was so freaking ready for it to be over…a few times I just wanted to sit down and have a helicopter come and get me..I’m not a religious person but I prayed to God, Jesus, and Mother Mary several times..and then there was Rikki (bottom line, my friend Lori M bought these for our adventure..there is more to that story but I’ll save that for another blog post)
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A few times (and yes, I realized I was talking out loud) I said “I just want my Mommy”..or I would think about my boyfriend and how bad I just wanted to be in his arms…I’ve never felt like I wanted something to be over so bad before…Every time I turned a corner, I kept hoping for that dang aid station…I had to be close….
Finally I reached it….it was 6pm and I had been on my feet for 10 hours.  The volunteer said that there was only 3.8 more miles to go…yeah! but were they runnable miles?  He said yes but again, I couldn’t rely on his idea of runnable as clearly my definition is a bit different.  I had Coke and M+Ms and took off.  If it were truly runnable, no matter how tired I was, I could do this!  I know I can run 4 miles in an hour! And thankfully it was mostly runnable!  Heck, all of the sudden there was sand and I was so happy to run in it!
These were some of the views from the last part of the race:

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Since my Tom Tom died, I was using my phone for time…I kept pulling it out to check and see how I was doing..I am sure if I had the info, my last 4 miles were the fastest in this race…I still had to walk a few times and at this point, my goal was to finish within the 11 hour cutoff…that’s all I kept thinking about…I finally saw the road that we would be crossing before the finish line..my phone time was 7pm so I’m thinking it’s too late…I wasn’t going to have the same epic finish as my 50 miler…but I kept running as fast as my legs could take me as I was SOOOOOO ready for this to be done! I couldn’t wait to see my friends at the end…I finally see the finish line and the clock…the clock is at 10:59:55 and I’m running as fast as I could…the seconds were counting down…I crossed the finish line at 11:00:01 (unofficial time)…and then there I was standing there, finally done with this darn race and no one was there to greet me! Where the heck were my friends?  Lori M came up right after and was so bummed she missed my finish..apparently Lori C had told them I was about an hour behind her so they figured they had time (it was a long day for all of us so I think we were all confused by this point!)…..it didn’t matter…I WAS FINALLY DONE WITH IT!

I realize this is a long blog post but here are my Thorns, Roses and Learning Lessons (in addition to what was already mentioned)
Thorns:

  • I would train more on technical trails (not that I plan on doing this one over again), read more blog posts about the race and be better prepared in general
  • I didn’t get much sleep before the race..I had a total of 14 hours the 3 nights before the race and I know that effected me.

Roses:

  • ChiRunning:  I worked on my form as much as I could and I know that helped me mentally and physically! Used lots of the hill technique, arm swing and lots of work with my breathing/cadence especially when I could get into a running groove.  Lots of form work with my walking as well.
  • Nutrition: I followed the same plan I did for my 50 miler and never bonked. Felt good all the way!
  • Scenery: even though it was tough terrain, it was amazing scenery!

Learning lessons:

  • Running is always a metaphor for life. I learned that when I put my mind to something, no matter how hard I can do it. This race.pushed my mental limits like no other race has before.  This will certainly prepare me for any hard life experiences!
  • Being alone was hard but knowing what to do helped me. Make sure you have a plan on what to do if you get close to a break down. I’d love to hear what other ultra runners (or anyone doing long events) does when they know they are so close to that point.
  • I overcame a lot of fears and mental breakdowns…during this race I became my own inspiration! I don’t mean to brag but every time I made it through another mental mind fuck, I was cheering myself on. When it’s just you out there, you need to dig deep (like the photo above) so you can call yourself a bad ass!  I am so proud of myself for getting through that….even though my official time was an 11:03:03 and I was 2nd to last..I FUCKING FINISHED!!

Would I ever do this one again?  HELL NO! As a matter of fact, if someone told me I had to redo the Antelope Canyon 50 miler in sand or Capitol Reef 50K, hands down I would be doing Antelope!  But this race had a huge impact on my character..sounds cheesy but I’ve been feeling like my soul was shaken up a bit …I know that during those 11 hours, my mind/body/spirit grew a little bit more…isn’t that why we do these things? To reach out of our comfort zone and stretch ourselves?  To see how far we can push our body, mind and spirit and conquer things we never thought possible?

I absolutely love the Grand Circle Trail series. Matt and his crew do an amazing job. My goal is to do all of them at some point since they are all strategically placed in amazing locations…who knows which one will be next?

I tweaked this quote: “A mind, body and spirit that are stretched by new experiences, can never go back to their old dimensions.”

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Finishers! 3 of us did the 50K and the other 2 did the half marathon (which was brutal too!)

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seriously gorgeous views!

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Yes! Not only did I inspire myself but love to hear that I can inspire other people to do epic shit too!

 

From My Running Story to Yours….
(if you feel inspired to share your comments, do so below…I want to hear your story too!)