Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mission Accomplished: 50k pictures

I am officially an ultramarathoner (period). Owning that phrase still sends shivers down my spine. I was so overcome with emotion thinking about this phrase in the last 1/2 mile of my race that I started to cry. My throat started choking up, my shoulders tensed trying to hold back the tears, and all I could think was, "pull it together Katie they're going to take your picture at the finish line!" They say a picture is worth a thousand words... which is why I need many just begin to describe my experience running The Bear Chase 50k.

The morning started early with the setting of the moon...
and a beautiful sunrise over Bear Creek Lake
 (I ran up the hill on the right 2x during the race)
  The casual start line

Renzo had to wait an hour for me to finish the first loop. These are the friends he made at the start line :)
Eek! Seeing Renzo for the first time (mile 6)
Loving the trails and running through the creek

NOT loving the trails on the hot backstretch x2 (miles 14-18 and miles 27-31)

 The beautiful scenery of SW Denver

It was H-O-T, time for more sunscreen (mile 27)
Still having a great time (mile 27)

The aid stations ROCKED with runner volunteers.
How many  runners does it take to put a water pouch back in a backpack? (mile 27)

The aid stations also had awesome food - chips, cookies, skittles, mini sandwiches, fruit , pretzels -
and I really wanted a pickle, but had to know... sweet or dill? Thank goodness for dill pickles! (mile 29)

Pancakes after running 5 hours and 38 minutes!
The day after the 50k... still basking in the ultra glow while celebrating my 31st birthday.

And so the big question is... 8 months of training later with 2 barefoot marathons (one official, one as a training run) and a barefoot ultra under my belt for 2012, what now? I have already sworn to no marathons in 2013 as training ate into all of our hiking time this summer - but I truly found a passion for trail running during the 50k race. I came away uninjured, less sore than after a marathon, and time flies so much faster on the trails. As I wait for my running motivation to return, I have started doing more yoga, zumba and walking. No promises yet, but likely you'll find me back out on the trails in the spring training for yet another adventure. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

50k Training Weeks 7-12: What do you do when you fall flat on your face?

I want you to think back over the past couple of years, or even as far back as elementary school. When was the last time you fell flat on your face? Maybe playing soccer in high school; maybe mountain biking on a challenging trail; or maybe learning to ride a bike? Well, I have the privilege of saying that I have successfully fallen flat on my face twice in the past 5 weeks. Now that takes talent.

Fall #1: After my encounter with an ultra superstar I was super motivated to get in some trail work. I decided on Deer Creek Canyon southwest of Denver, which ended up being a extra challenging climb (over 1,000ft) with rewarding views. I made it all the way to the top of the canyon, but then let my brain relax... so I didn't see the tree root that propelled me in slow motion through the air and onto the dusty trail. Falling 10 seconds earlier would have meant falling on rocks and guaranteed a sprained ankle or wrist. Falling 10 seconds later and the trail would have been so narrow that I may have tumbled a few feet down a hill. The good: Dirt is "soft" so I just bruised my right arm, scraped my knees, and covered myself in dust. The bad: I was the furthest point (7 miles) from my car and had to force myself to keep going.

Fall #2: Last week at work was long and tiring as I was in charge or putting on a 3 day conference here in Denver. Exhausted, despite 10 hours of sleep, I decided to go on a short, easy run yesterday afternoon in my neighborhood. One block into the run I noticed bushes coming up that blocked my running path on the sidewalk so I hopped down into the street. I was feeling good, relaxed, and BAM I was on the ground. I had tripped over some black top that stuck out over the concrete. The good: I was only 1 block from home. I also may have found a new talent in how to properly fall as I came away with minimal scratches and bruises on my right knee, scratches on my right hand and some road rash on my right shoulder, but no broken bones, fractures, sprains or head bumps. The bad: I have some pretty bad whiplash and hyper-extended my right pinky finger.

So, what do you do when you fall down? I guess the best I've found is to 1.) get back up, 2.) take care of yourself, and 3.) set things free. To be honest, training for an ultra while balancing a full-time job, family time, and volunteering is tough. I'm tired and I haven't been running as much as the schedule says I should. I've been trying to find time for myself and focusing on getting some rest. These past 6 weeks I have been running an average of 2-4 times per week. While it's less than planned, I am proud to say I ran 26.5 miles two weeks ago and didn't feel really sore afterwards. In fact it was awesome!

When I expressed concern to my husband tonight that I only have 2 weeks before the race and that I'm nervous since I haven't run any of my long runs the past 2 weeks except my 26 miler he said "And what happens if you don't finish? It's not the end of the world. But you've run 26. You can do 31. Even if you have to walk some parts, you know you have it within you to finish." How true. There really is nothing I can do in the next 13 days that will physically alter my race (except falling again and spraining an ankle), now it's a mental game that I'm playing. I've put in almost 8 months of training to get to this point. Now it's time to set my worries free and enjoy the final days or preparation. September 30th here I come!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The ART of running... with a SUPERSTAR

The ART of running…
I am happy to report that after 3 ART (active release technique) treatments at the chiropractor’s office I am recovering from my sore hip, which was caused by tight low back and hamstring muscles that made me run funky. ART has been my running lifesaver over the years from sore calves and tight achilles to feet/hips that hurt so bad I can barely walk. My hip pain started 2 weeks ago after an 18 mile run. After 2 treatments I was able to run 20 miles last weekend. And after my third and final treatment last week, I could run up the stairs again and felt almost no pain on Friday. So I decided to go for the gusto. I ran 24 miles yesterday and 10 miles today. Seriously? Yes! Never in my life did I imagine that this was possible and yet as I was in my last couple miles today I was high on life. Let’s not forget all those moments during the 24 mile run when I envied people running without waterbottles (signaling that their distance didn’t require over 2 liters of fluids like my run). But seriously, today I broke through to the other side – I officially felt like an ultra-runner and knew that I had entered new territory. I give much of the credit for this new development to my time running…

Yesterday at mile 20 I was tired and dreading the final 4 miles. My watch said I had already been out on the trail for over 3 hours. I had been alternating running 15 minutes with walking 1-2 minutes just to make sure I didn’t further injure my hip. A woman approached me and asked how far she was from the recreation center where we both had parked. When I told her about 4 miles she said, “well, I’ve run thousands so that’s good for today” and then turned around and asked to join me on my final miles. The comment caught me off guard – thousands of miles? – and I had an eerie suspicion that I recognized her. We started talking about what I was training for and she said that she literally ran 1,000 miles in May/June… across the entire state of North Carolina. For proof, here’s The North Face blog and here’s the story in the Denver Post. I had stumbled upon a legend… the professional ultra-marathoner, Diane Van Deren!

Diane was gracious in offering tips on nutrition and how to train for ultras. She not only asked me what I was struggling with in my training but also what I did for a living and where I grew up. I was touched by her genuineness and in awe of her accomplishments. We talked about what draws us to run long distances and in the process I found the mojo to continue my training. I could go on and on about all that Diane has accomplished and overcome, but one comment in particular stands out: “love what you do.” Whether you are paid as a professional athlete to workout 6 hours a day, or teach elementary school, or work at a computer all day – love what you do. There’s no way you can run a 50k or a 100 miler if you don’t love to run. Yes, not every day or run will be amazingly awesome, but love the journey. Thank you Diane!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

50k Training Weeks 1-4: What do you do with your time?

I run to try to make sense of the world. Most of the time I'm unsuccessful at finding the answer to the "why" questions, however, I usually come away with some reason for joy. During my long 3-hour run yesterday I tried to make sense of numerous things because as the phrase goes, when it rains it pours, and I certainly had plenty of time to think.

To begin with, have you ever taken the Strength Finder 2.0 assessment? I took it in May and learned that one of my top strengths is connectedness. Now, not all connectors express their connectedness in the same way. My expression of connectedness is that the faces I see on TV and the places I travel to do not feel foreign to me - it feels as if I have met people before or been there already. I have a deep sense of connectedness with those I have known a minute to a lifetime. It's this deep sense of connectedness that I thought about on my run yesterday. I thought about how I teared up at seeing the horrific images and stories about the theater shooting in Aurora. I thought about the ferry tragedy off the coast of Zanzibar - a route that I have traveled myself. I thought about a couple friends who are going through some health concerns. The hurt, pain, anxiety... there were so many reasons to run.

While I have always been proud to say that I have never had a bad run, yesterday was HARD. It was hot, humid, with no wind, not a cloud in the sky, and I came away with a sore hip/hamstring. At mile 9, I felt like I was at mile 18. I did finish all 18 miles, with a few choice words along the way, but I did it. I came away with the affirmation that life is precious and that if I am not enjoying what I choose to do with my time then I have the power to change it. Granted, I can't (or won't) always quit when a run is challenging, but all of this past week's events remind me that our minutes and hours are a gift to be cherished. And so, with a tender hip/hamstring, I chose to skip my run this morning and enjoy the morning from my bed. My hip thanked me. My sleep deprived body thanked me. And I was thankful for choosing to spend the morning sipping coffee in pajamas and making breakfast with Renzo.

In case you're curious about my 50k training schedule, here's what I have been up to so far...

Week 1: 4 miles/day (Tues-Thurs), 12 miles (Sat), 10 miles (Sun)
Week 2: 4 miles/day (Tues-Thurs), 15 miles (Sat), 10 miles (Sun)
Week 3: 4 miles/day (Tues-Thurs), 10 miles (Sat), 10 miles (Sun)
Week 4: 4 miles/day (Tues-Thurs), 18 miles (Sat), 10 miles (Sun)

Disclaimer: I have missed 3 of my 4 Sunday runs due to moving to our new house, traveling to Chicago, and a sore hip. I hope to pick them back up now, as long as my hip lets me!

10 weeks to go!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Great Mystery

Just a speck on top of Window Rock in Window Rock, AZ

My work has taken me to Texas, Utah, and New Mexico this spring and just last week I had the opportunity to visit the Navajo Nation in Window Rock, AZ. I used to think Denver was a dry climate - and it is compared to Minnesota - but NW New Mexico and NE Arizona are truly wind swept deserts. Having worked with tribes in Arizona and Wisconsin in the past, I was excited to be back among a slow-paced culture, rich in artwork and spiritual beliefs.

My work (training clinicians in STD/HIV prevention) is taboo in many places, but especially in places like the Navajo Nation where there isn't even a word in Navajo for STD. We had a blessing by a local leader before our training and he asked that the Great Mystery be with us and help us fight that which is harmful. The Great Mystery is the Navajo peoples' way of describing God and the creative spirit within each of us. I really like the title "great mystery" because it implies that there is something more powerful than ourselves, it gives us permission to not know everything, and it means that there is a journey. 

Renzo and I have been reflecting back on the journey of the past 3 years that we have been married (as of tomorrow) and especially on the past year of transition. One of the lessons we've learned is that we cannot predict the future - and neither would we want to because the Great Mystery's plans for us have been so much better than we could have planned for. Who would have known a year ago that I would be full-time barefoot runner? Who would have known that I'd have the opportunity to travel all over Texas and the southwest for work? And who would have known that after living in 5 places in 3 years (and thinking that we would not own our own place until we were at least 40) that we would be homeowners? Yes, that's right - if you can believe it, the Amayas now have a permanent residence! Of course we went about the whole process "Amaya style"... decided to think about buying a house and then put an offer on a place within 10 days. We have owned the place for a week now and move in this Sunday! Pictures will be coming soon.

Another thing I could not have predicted is that this summer would be so darn hot, setting a record of 5 days in a row of over 100 degree temperatures. A perfect time to start training for a 50k, obviously. My 13 weeks of 50k training started this morning at 5:30am (ugh) with a 4 mile run. I am pretty well recovered from my marathon (3 weeks ago), but have to admit that I am nursing a mildly sore right IT band. I'm hoping it's just sore from a decrease in exercise these past few weeks and walking in flip flops. Keep your fingers crossed!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Barefoot Marathon Finisher!

Barefoot Marathon Finisher!

Over 1 year in the making and I am so proud to say that I officially finished a marathon in my minimalist/barefoot shoes!

My dad always taught me to make multiple goals - because even if you don't achieve your number one goal, you can still be successful with plan B and you should be proud of your accomplishments. Goal #1: Break 4 hours (so close - I finished in 4:07). Goal #2: Finish in my barefoot shoes (check). Goal #3: Don't get injured (check). Goal #4: Enjoy the beauty of the course (check, although I may have zoned out for miles 20-23).

The experience can be summed up in 3 words... hot, hilly, and hobbling.

When I ran the Steamboat Springs marathon back in 2005 it was so cold that it snowed the day before and we wore long sleeves the entire race. Seven years later and this past Sunday I was in a tank top praying for shade or clouds to offer a break from the blazing sun and 80 degree temperatures we experienced the second half of the race. I got sweet tank top and sock tan lines out of the deal, plus a little dehydration. Even though I stopped at every water station for 3 glasses of fluids, I still needed 4-5 bottles of water afterwards in order to catch up.

The hot, hot road into Steamboat Springs (mile 22)
The first half of the course is all downhill. You start at over 8,000 feet and make your way down at least 1,200 feet by the time you reach mile 7. We saw horses stampeding through the valley, quaint cabins isolated on a hill, cows grazing in the fields, and snow on top of the nearby 10,000 foot peaks. It seriously is breathtaking - and it's just you and the road taking it all in.

The hills seriously start up around mile 14 and continue to roll until mile 23. Why did I decide to run this race again? Do runners have short term memory? We must - otherwise, why would we put ourselves through the pain again? I kept repeating "hills do not exist" to the rhythm of my stride and tried to forget they were there. My wonderful husband and brother-in-law joined me on their bikes for the last 10 miles, which was such a welcome sight as the pain, soreness, and tiredness started to kick in.

Still moving forward at mile 25! Si se puede!
And now, the hobbling. My calves are so unbelievably tight and sore that when people see me walk they ask if I am okay, if I need help, or if I need crutches. This evening I walked up and downstairs "normally" for the first time in over 2 days - my legs just can't support or move properly after the hills and distance! I have only had issues with stairs after the Steamboat Springs Marathons and not the other flat-lander marathons so it must be the hills.

And despite it all, I have to admit that I actually find it gratifying to be sore for a few days because it reminds me that I worked hard. I am already moving much more easily tonight - probably due to the multiple walks I have been going on each day to loosen up the muscles - and I hope to be back running low miles this weekend.
Celebrating in the shade!

Thank goodness for short-term memory. I remember thinking at mile 20, "how am I supposed to run a 50k (31miles) in September when this is sooooo hard?" And now only 2 days after the marathon the heat and hills seem like a thing of the past and I am excited for the challenge of training again. Don't get me wrong - I am going to relish in the next 3 weeks of laid back casual runs and walks before I launch into the next training schedule, but I get such an adrenaline rush from long distance running!

And the million dollar question... now that I've achieved this goal, will I return to my orthotics and former Saucony motion controlled shoes? No way! I hope to be a barefoot runner for a long time to come :)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Marathon Training Weeks 10-17: T-Minus 6 days!

I can't believe it, but I only have 2 runs remaining before the marathon on Sunday. Ahhh! I have finally been tapering in the past week, which is a welcome relief after running a couple 5-8 mile runs during the week and a 12-20 mile run on the weekend. As my runs have decreased in length, it has been harder and harder to find the motivation to run. But I think that's somewhat normal as it has taken so much focus to do the hard part of the training and now I'm starting to relax. As I reflect back on the last 8 weeks of training I remember...

Believe me, my shoes are really barefoot shoes. I was out running on the trails during my first 20 mile run and saw another runner running in the Vibram Five Fingers. I was so excited I exclaimed "Hey! I'm a barefoot runner too!"After giving me (and my barefoot shoes) a glance over he said "Oh, you must have left your barefoot shoes at home."I was slightly devastated by his one-sided barefoot shoe view and quickly came to my barefoot shoe brand's defense. My "shoes" have zero drop just like Vibrams and are only slightly thicker in the sole (2mm) and slightly heavier (1oz per shoe). In addition, my Vivo Barefoot Neos have absolutely no arch support, whereas some Vibrams have some arch support built in. I am really proud of how far I've come - from motion control running shoes and orthotics to shoes that are more like slippers without any support. This marathon will count as a barefoot marathon!

Solving the nutrition puzzle. In past marathons I have used GU gels, sports beans, and Cliff shot blocks as calorie boosters during the race - usually starting at mile 5 and spaced every 4 miles after that. Unfortunately, my body has NOT liked these options this time around. I think they might be too sugary and I'm not processing them as well. I have also been puzzled about what to eat before the race, as my body has not like the typical toast, fruit, water, and coffee. What should I do? I have found some less sugary options (honey stinger waffles) and may try the suggestion of baked potato sprinkled with some salt or some nuts (almonds). I may just end up winging it and put a variety of options in Renzo's backpack so that I can listen to what my body needs/wants, but if you have suggestions I would love to hear them!

I am ready. I am ready? This always happens. You start training for a race and it seems so far away. You are so focused on putting in the miles and just making it through each day's run that the race day sneaks up on you. Your body is so tired from all the training that you wonder if you've tapered enough and at the right time. As my brother said this past weekend "You've run two 20-mile runs. You can definitely finish a marathon!" And he's right. I've done this 3 times before and I know I can do it again. My goal, as always, is to enjoy the day and have fun. It's not worth it to me to spend 4 months training and then hate the experience - although I know the hill at mile 20-21 will not be fun.

Next time you hear from me I hope to have a marathon finisher's medal around my neck!