Thursday, October 4, 2018

Grand Canyon R2R2R 2018

Joe and I just got back from a wonderful trip to the Grand Canyon with the Rockhoppers.  A bunch of us did the rim-to-rim-to-rim journey.  It was my second r2r2r, and Joe's first -- in fact, his first trip to the Grand Canyon, period.  I love the desert scenery of the canyon, and it was fun being on those trails again, and especially fun to get to share the adventure with Joe this time around.

Going into this run, I was only about 75-80% sure I'd be able to finish it -- it's a real challenge, and I haven't been feeling very fit lately.  Since my expectations about my ability level were pretty low going into it, I'm even more stoked about whole thing.

You can read Joe's report for more relevant (and probably more accurate) information. My report will mostly focus on the things I personally found entertaining.

Inauspicious Start: South Kaibab
The day got off to a rough start when our drivers pulled into the South Kaibab parking lot -- led by Rich, right past the "Do not enter" signs -- and we all got yelled at by the park ranger.  He commanded us to all get back in our cars and drive back to the road.

Here's a typical portrait of the differences between me and Joe:
My reaction: I got back in the car.
Joe's reaction: "Get your stuff, dude.  Get out of the car!"

Everyone scattered into the bushes, and we started down the trail.  It seemed like there were two or three other large groups starting at the same time as us.  It was crazy crowded for a couple miles, which was annoying.  It was very different from the last time we did r2r2r, in 2014, when we were the only crazies out there at 4am.

The number of people all around us made it hard to relieve ourselves, which was an urgent need.  This resulted in us having a version of Paul McCartney's song in our heads for most of the day: "Pee on the Run."

Possible verse:
"When you have to go, so you go in your clothes,
in front of everyone . . .
And you pee on the run"
(doo-doo-do-do-doo-do-do)

*Note: This verse is not representative of what actually happened.

Adventure-filled Middle: South Kaibab to North Kaibab
I accidentally left my poles by the water spigot at Phantom Ranch when we filled up there.  I didn't realize it until we'd left the area, and I didn't feel like backtracking.  I wrestled for a moment with the worry that they'd be in people's way, versus the relief at not having to carry them through the relatively flat stretch of the box canyon.  In the end, it worked out perfectly: I didn't have to carry them through the box canyon, and they were still there, exactly where I'd left them, when we returned to Phantom Ranch on the way back.  I had them just when I needed them, for the hike back up to the South Rim.

Random thoughts from this stretch:

Best comment from passerby:
"You could beat us going down.  But I could beat you in an arm wrestle."
-Mustachioed, cowboy-hat-wearing mule train driver to Joe

Most memorable conversation related to a tunnel:
"There's some shade!  We can rest!"
"That's Supai Tunnel."
"I'm gonna Supai the shit out of that tunnel."

Most-used phrase by Joe: Bony old Behind!



On our way up to the North Rim, we ran into MJ, who entertained us with her story about picking up hitchhikers on her drive to the rim.  She, along with Jeanie and numerous others, were Good Samaritans who helped a lot of people over the course of the trip.  It was nice getting to catch up with her, as she used to live in our neighborhood but has recently relocated to Colorado.

Joe and I topped out at the North Rim around 12:30pm.  I ate a good meal of a sandwich ball (in ball form because of its position at the bottom of Joe's bag), chips, and a big cookie.  We had fun catching up with the Rockhoppers who were already resting at the rim, and cheering for each new Rockhopper who arrived while we were there.

Friend-filled Finish: North Kaibab to Bright Angel
On our way down from the North Rim, at Coconino Overlook, a ranger named Beth asked me how far we were going.  When I responded that we were going back to the South Rim, she looked really sad for me and told me, "You don't have to do that."  Despite her concern, we forged ahead.

Somewhere around Supai Tunnel, Stefan and Edward decided to slow up and run with me and Joe.  Together, we waited out the three mule trains coming back up to the rim, dodged the enormous pools of mule piss, and trotted back down to Manzanita Springs.

Coming into the springs area, the wind picked up.  It was blowing my floppy hat right off my head, blowing my hair all crazy, and blowing dust into our mouths and noses.  But it was so fun.  The whole experience -- to be running with friends, out in this beautiful landscape, and sharing it all with my husband.

By the time we got to the springs, we were quite warm, so we took a dip in the springs as Joe helped filter and refill water bottles for some hikers that had only brought 16.9-ounce plastic water bottles into the canyon for some reason.

Other ways Joe was a super hero:

  • He carried (and ran with) a full-size backpack for 50 miles.  In the backpack, he carried my sandwiches, as well as a full-size bag of chips.  
  • He let me run and hike ahead and set the pace.  He never left me behind, even though he is much faster than I am.
  • He filtered all our water throughout the hike, so I didn't have to bother with bringing my own filter.
Places we soaked in the cool water on our way back to the South Rim:
  • Manzanita Springs
  • Cottonwood
  • Ribbon Falls (I soaked my head only)
  • Phantom Ranch (where I got my trekking poles back -- a r2r2r miracle!)
Each of these water stops was refreshing, as even in the shade of the box canyon, it was quite warm.  The heat seemed trapped in the canyon, with no breeze.  In between, we mostly jogged.  Edward and Stefan would pull away, and then they'd sit and wait for us to catch up.  I was fueled by my SnackzelTM -- a conglomeration of melted chocolate-covered pretzels that had fused together into a log.  Brought to me by the makers of SnacklogTM, which was Edward's invention during Bigfoot 200.

I was eager to get to the Colorado River before dark, and we made it just in time.  I love watching the water roll past under my feet while walking across the silver bridge.  The glow of the setting sun on the mountain was pretty magical, too.

At the Colorado River, Edward and Stefan pulled well away from us.  Joe and I slogged through the sandy trail up and back down, and then up toward Indian Garden as darkness set.  It seemed to take forever before we made it there.  By that time, the stars were out, and they were incredibly brilliant.  We took advantage of some benches, refilled, saw Edward and Stefan take off, and then headed toward the next landmark, the 3-mile hut.

At the 3-mile hut, I wanted to sit and rest a moment, but Joe was raring to go.  "Let's get this shit over with."  So we continued power-walking to the 1.5-mile hut, where we saw Stefan recovering from a bonk.  This time Joe wanted to stay lying down, looking at the stars, but Stefan mentioned that the pizza place at the South Rim was open until 11pm, and it was only about 9:15pm, so I made Joe get up and get going.  Joe, Stefan, and I stayed together until the Bright Angel trailhead, where of course, Jeanie was waiting for us.  It was about 10pm; the hike/run had taken us 17 hours and change.  Jeanie stayed up all night greeting Rockhoppers as they finished, bringing us into her warm room, feeding us, and driving us back to our rooms.

Joe and I went straight to the pizza place.  We enjoyed trying to convince the people at the table next to us that we'd done a double crossing of the canyon.  They'd smile and nod, and then ask us again a couple minutes later, "So you went all the way to the river and back?"  After a bit, Rob and CJ joined us, and Rob took over the task of trying to explain to them the silly thing we'd done.

The real end of the story came the next day, around noon, as Rich, Don, and Janet finished, to the cheers of all the Rockhoppers who were gathered at the Bright Angel trailhead.  It was incredibly inspiring to see this group of 60+ years-young runners who had persevered through the heat of the canyon, the unending climbs to the rims, and a sleepless night to finish this monumental task.  I sincerely hope Joe and I can be as strong and full of life as we continue to age.

At the end of r2r2r, as soon as we finished, we agreed that we'd never do it again.  "Good job!  Now let's never speak of it again."


But never say never, right, Joe?

Monday, September 3, 2018

3rd Annual Whataburger Challenge -- Race Directors’ Recap

3rd Annual Whataburger Challenge
Race Directors’ Recap


The thunder was rumbling in San Antonio this Labor Day morning . . . or was that the sound
of competitors' stomachs anticipating revolt?

Twelve hungry competitors vied for the coveted title of Whataburger Challenge Champion
this year, to the delight of numerous spectators and photographers. Notably missing was
much-touted course-record-holder Brian "Banjo McNaturepants" Ricketts. Ricketts has
turned out to be a one-and-done eat & run challenger. Some critics have been overheard
wondering whether his first win wasn't a fluke, since he refuses to toe the line for a rematch.
He was seen at the final WB location today, driver there perhaps by fear of losing his CR.

Another noted absence was Matt "The Assassin" Smith. Although Smith vehemently
protested recent criticism that he is all talk and no walk, he "pretty much validated
everything you guys said" by failing to show up on race day, according to Chris Russell,
an objective source.

After a quick pre-race briefing by RD Joe Schmo, the gun went off at 8:12 and the gorging
began. The first racer out of his chair was John Denny, heretofore unknown by
Whataburger competitors -- a ringer brought in by The Sheriff to compete in his stead. By
his speed in putting away his #1 combo, though, he was clearly The Sheriff's superior,
thereby earning him the nickname "Chief." The other competitors soon followed down
Dezavala Road, highlighted by Sweet Chris and his usual harem of female supporters.

Eric, feelin' fine at WB1
Leaving the first WB location, Steffan lamented, “I’m already kind of full” -- a sentiment that unfortunately hinted at the poor showing he would have.  Meanwhile, Zmolek noted with confidence that this challenge was far from the most disgusting thing he’d ever done, having once eaten a stick of butter for $5.

Zmolek, not at all intimidated by all the Rockhoppers
For the third year in a row, Schmo was the first to arrive at WB2; but for the first year ever, he was also the first to finish the #2 combo and leave.  Joe T and first-time WB entrant Edgar Gonzalez arrived at WB2 together a few minutes behind Schmo, and ordered their food as Schmo started eating. It was here that the drama increased -- Charles S. (possibly irked by his 12-1 pre-race odds) was the 4th to order, but when the next tray of food came out, he claimed it ahead of Joe T and Edgar, at which point he hurriedly zipped outside to eat.  In his defense, he gave the WB employee his number as the food came out, but the employee still handed it off; nevertheless the nickname “Hamburglar” was born.

Hamburglar dining al fresco
Zmolek and Steffan both quit before finishing their 2nd meal, while Edgar, Tom, and Larry persevered through their 2nd meal only to DNF by not ordering a #3.  Although an admirable technique, Edgar’s trick of dunking his burger patties, buns, and fries in water, in a dip-dip-chew pattern did not ultimately help his race as he got lost on the way to the third WB.  Even WBC veteran Tom “Wrong Way” Bowling added a bonus mile due to a wrong turn on the way to WB3 (although in light of his longstanding nickname, we suppose that isn’t so surprising).

Chris R trying to pawn off some of his fries to Chris P at WB2
On the run to the 3rd WB location, Joe T was practically flying.  He passed John and Charles, and was gunning for Schmo, fueled entirely by hamburger grease and raw fury over his mistreatment at WB2.  

Schmo, although not moving quite as well as before, arrived several minutes ahead of the
others at the third restaurant and ordered the #3 combo (triple patties) that has plagued him
so severely in years past.

Joe T arrived second.  After ordering, he remained at the counter, hovering there to ensure
that he (and only he) would get his order as soon as possible.  When he finally took his seat,
he carefully chose the exact seat that had been graced by his meat sweats on this day two
years ago.

Joe T ordering at WB3

The meat sweats
Joe T bore down immediately while Schmo hit the wall (as usual) halfway into his burger and slowed significantly.  Demonstrating the same awe-inspiring greatness of Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, and Michael Phelps, Joe “Jose Mañana” Tammaro became the 3rd annual Whataburger Challenge champion with a time of 1:56!  Upon finishing, he immediately power-walked outside to puke (in front of several delighted spectators) and came back refreshed, grinning from ear to ear.

Without pain, there is no joy
Sometime while the two Joes were battling it out, the Chief arrived and started eating his #3.  He was starting to regret how quickly he’d eaten his first two meals, and his underling, the Sheriff, was protesting how many fries the WB employees had heaped on John’s tray -- no doubt thinking they were doing him a favor with their generosity. Although he looked almost as miserable as Schmo early on, even stating “I don’t think I can finish it,” at some point he got a second wind and toughed it out to finish his meal in a time of 2:25.

Chris P encouraging the Chief to press on at WB3

The Chief, taking care of bidness
Meanwhile, Charles visited the restroom for a routine evacuation, only to be overwhelmed by the terrible smell and spontaneously lose all the food he’d so carefully piled into his stomach.  Not wanting to order a penalty Patty Melt, he called it a day.

Don Flynn, listening to Jock Rock vol. 2 for motivation (we presume)
Schmo kept plugging away, determined to slay his past WB3 demons, and finished less than 10 minutes before the 11am cutoff in 2:39 -- the slowest recorded finishing time to date.

Schmo giving a speech and wiping away tears before consuming his last fry
Schmo would be the last finisher, but ageless eater (well ok, he’s age 63) Bleeding Don Flynn again destroyed most of the younger competitors, earning a 4th place finish based on the weight of uneaten contents.

The podium

Applause for the champion

Whataburger love

Results

Place
Runner
Time/Food Remaining
1
Joe “Jose Mañana” Tamarro
1:56
2
John “Chief” Denny
2:25
3
Joe “Schmo” Schmal
2:39
4
“Bleeding” Don Flynn
0.686 lbs remaining of #3
5
Eric “Game Time Decision” Lamkin
0.818 lbs remaining of #3
6
“Sweet” Chris Russell
0.875 lbs remaining of #3
7
Charles “Hamburglar” Steinkuehler
Puked at WB #3
8
Edgar “We Run” Gonzalez
DNF after WB #2
9
Tom “Wrong Way” Bowling
DNF after WB #2
10
Larry “Ocean” Kocian
DNF after WB #2
11
Matt “Put the Wet Stuff on the Red Stuff” Zmolek
0.115 lbs remaining of #2
12
“The” Steffan Andersland
0.675 lbs remaining of #2

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Runniversary


At last weekend's Capt'n Karl's race at Reveille Peak Ranch (RPR), two runners got married on top of the granite dome during the 10k.  Although Joe and I didn't get married at the ranch, it's also a special place for our relationship.  

We started dating the night before RPR in 2016.  On Saturday (race day), we carpooled to the race together, ran our races (Joe did the 30k, I did the 60k), drove back to San Antonio together in the early hours of Sunday morning, separated for a few hours so Joe could buy a washer and dryer and I could get one hour of sleep, and then we got back together for Mass at the Cathedral, a walk on the River Walk, dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings, games at Main Event, and finally a Rockhopper picnic.  Whew!  It must have been new love fueling that big weekend.  Nowadays, we don't have nearly that much energy.

Another key remembrance about the RPR 60k in 2016 was that Joe had to wear a t-shirt of my choosing, since I won our bet about the Fossil Valley 9-hour race.  We had Chris Russell help us figure out a handicap for the bet, and we ended up saying Joe would win if he ran two more laps than I did.  It turned out that we ran the same number of laps, so I carefully chose a My Little Pony shirt, which I gave Joe the night before the race, as his punishment.  He dutifully wore it for the entire race, and actually got some nice compliments on it.  I think the fact that he wore it with such confidence is what won people over.
FB reminded me that this was our first photo together!

I made him stand in a boat for some reason.

He's so adorable. 💕
Hopefully in 2019 we can both run the race together again -- and for many more years to come! Love you, Joe!

Reveille Peak Ranch 60k - my 6th year in a row

On Saturday night, I ran the 60k at Reveille Peak Ranch.  I love that race.  However, on Saturday afternoon I was still feeling like I'd rather stay at home with Joe and the girls than leave by myself, drive up to Burnet, and stay up all night running.

In the end, of course, I'm glad I went.  I felt like I was able to push myself to keep running much better than I was able to a few weeks ago at the Colorado Bend 60k.  I know that I still have a ways to go to get back to the ultra-ready type of fitness I've had in the past.  But maybe my plan of "racing my way" back into fitness is showing some results, anyways.  I've also been doing one hill repeat workout a week, which I hope will pay off as well.

According to my GPS, this year's course was 34.5 miles.  (A 60k is the equivalent of 37.2 miles.) The ranch is under construction, and the course had to be re-routed slightly, so I wanted to go back to my old data to see whether it was drastically longer than in previous years. I can't compare it to my GPS data from 2017,  because my watch had died mid-way through that race.  However, in 2016, my data said the course was 35.4 miles, so maybe it's always been a bit short.

If this year's course was shorter than last year's, that's sad for me, because that means I'm not only slower than I was last year, I'm even slower than my times indicate:

2018 - 7:59:23
2017 - 7:30:14
2016 - 7:57:01
2015 - 7:43:20
2014 - 7:39:31
2013 - 8:11:00

Ultimately, the wins for me are that I was able to keep running during the race -- although I definitely slowed down on the final loop -- and that I was able to come into the finish strong.  I'm nervous about this weekend's 50k, because unlike Reveille and Colorado Bend, Alamo City will be in the daytime heat, and it's 5 loops, which will be tough mentally.  At least it's at a beautiful place where I have happy times running with Joe and the Rockhoppers.  And I know where I can get a cold beer after I finish!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Powerlines run and TMI

Today has turned out to be that day each month when the reality of our infertility crashes down on me in full force.  Although the doctors have told us that we have essentially a 0.8% chance of getting pregnant each month (compared to about a 15% chance for typical couples where the woman is my age), I still pray and hope for a miracle.  When it inevitably doesn't happen, I crash hard.

One of the things that really gets to me is, the last two times this has happened, it's been during a run where I had big goals.  Last month, I had set out to do a 50k on Leon Creek.  Today, I was planning to do 18 miles on the Powerlines.  The 50k was doomed because my cramps became so bad, I could barely walk.  Today, I honestly could have kept going past mile 12, despite the cramps, but I was too upset to continue.  When I sat down and cried at mile 11.5, I knew for sure I was calling it a day.  When this happens, I feel like the universe is telling me, "Not only are you a failure at getting pregnant; you're also a failure at running." 

That feeling is a big part of why I've been trying to up my training lately.  Partly, I'm doing it because I want to be prepared for our Grand Canyon run.  But really, I just want to have something that I'm successful at again.  I don't know if that's realistic, to get back to where I was before my burnout last year, but I want to try.

In the midst of our personal challenge, it's easy for me to lose sight of the bigger picture -- that Joe and I have a lot to be thankful for.  I'm so thankful for our marriage, for our family, for our home, for our health.  And if we are able to ever have children, I'm sure all our struggles will make us that much more grateful.  One of the things I do on almost every run is think of 7 things I'm thankful for, and for each one I say a "Glory Be" prayer.  It's never hard to come up with 7 things.  At the same time, I can't deny that there's one thing I want with all my heart and cannot have.  And that's what makes me sit down and cry in the middle of a run.

All I can do is promise myself I'll get back out there tomorrow and finish that Powerlines run, and just keep praying that I'll be better at trusting in God's will for us.  Thanks for any prayers you can send our way!

Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
World without end,
Amen.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

I finished an ultra!

I knew that running the Colorado Bend 60k would be a good litmus test of my fitness and my preparedness to run Rim to Rim to Rim at the Grand Canyon at the end of September.  I honestly wasn't sure I'd be able to finish the race, as I haven't done that distance (or anywhere remotely close to that distance) since February. 

The good news is, I finished!  I feel happy to have the reassurance that I can still cover an ultra distance.  I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to keep running for so long into the race, as I've really struggled with much shorter runs of late. 

It felt great to be running a race again, to be out on the trails under the bright stars all by myself for the first loop, and then to be running with Joe on the second loop.  I have so many great memories of Joe pacing me at races.  I couldn't even say how many times he's done that service for me, it's been so many.  It's so fun to chat and laugh about silly things together during races. 

Despite these happy feelings, I also felt and still feel disappointment over my race performance.  I've run that particular 60k enough times that I have some data to compare my times to.  Here are my five finishing times from Colorado Bend:

2013 8:03:24
2014 8:33:09
2015 8:02:11
2016 7:28:29
2018 9:06:43

Clearly, I'm not in the ultra fitness I once was.  I sure felt that during the race, too.  While I was still making a running motion on the second half of the final loop, it was much closer to Billy Crystal's power walking in When Harry Met Sally than to actual running.

I hope this is a good starting point, and that I will be able to race myself back into ultra fitness.  I'm registered for two more ultras in the next month, so time will tell . . .

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Dead legs and HICT

My legs have felt dead all week, which I'm blaming on last weekend's 5k.  I haven't made myself run that fast in a long, long time, and I think my legs were angry with me.  I've struggled -- I mean, really struggled, in my runs this week.  I did a 10-miler on Monday, which involved about 6 miles of straight-up walking, because my legs just didn't want to work.

Needless to say, I was hesitant to go into the gym this week.  I didn't want to trash my legs even further in advance of my 60k this weekend.  But I haven't been to the gym since mid-June, thanks to our travels, a busier work schedule, and my desire to spend my free evenings with family.  And my gym time is important to me -- it makes me feel strong, and I enjoy the social aspect of chatting and laughing with the folks there.  So I texted Phil, the gym owner, and made plans to come in on Thursday.

When I got to the gym and explained my "dead legs" problem to Phil, he recommended that I do the light program he had laid out for me, and then cap it off with HICT (high-intensity circuit training).  For that, he had me do two rounds of 6-8 minutes of biking -- with the bike's resistance set to 24, and one pedal push every 1-2 seconds (with 5 minutes' rest in between sets).  

The gym time was super fun -- especially because my friends Travis and Martha happened to come in at the same time, and we got to chat and catch up.  And my run the next morning, though admittedly only 3 miles, actually felt really good.  The one downside is that the backs of my legs -- hamstrings and calves -- are a little sore from the workout.  But I really believe the HICT took away that feeling of my legs being filled with lead.  Hopefully they'll feel quasi-okay for the 60k . . . but who am I kidding?  That race is going to be a sufferfest of epic proportions.  Stay tuned for the race report . . . and wish me luck!

Monday, July 30, 2018

Uninspired running, uninspiring blogging

Last week I did not feel inspired to write a blog post, despite just having made a commitment to blog at least once a week.  To make up for that, I'll write two blog posts this week.

On the Saturday before last, I went out for a long run, intending to do 30 miles on Leon Creek.  I ended up cutting it waaaay short, around 12 miles,  because I had such bad cramps.  I'm glad I ran what I did that day, though, because I really needed that mental and emotional processing time that running alone, without headphones, can provide.  The next day I got out there and finished up, doing 18 miles, so at least I felt like I got a good back-to-back, even though I didn't have the long-long run I had wanted.

I guess my running lately has been a tale of good thing/bad thing.  I've had some good consistency, but a lot of just plain crummy-feeling runs.  I don't know how much of it is lost mojo, dating back to overdoing it last fall, and how much of it is the summer heat's fault.  Probably a mix of both.

This morning I did 10 miles.  Joe and I ran our first mile together, as we like to do, and then after we separated my run proceeded to turn into a run/walk, followed shortly by a walk/walk.  With 6 miles to go, I decided that I cared more about getting as much exercise outside as I could than about my pride, and the 15-16 minute power walk pace started in.  I tried to envision Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally.


As of this moment, I'm planning to do a 60k race this weekend.  That's a really scary thought, coming from someone who struggled to put together 10 miles this morning.  But we have the rim-to-rim-to-rim trip to the Grand Canyon coming up, so I figure I need a kick in the pants in my training.  The kind of kick in the pants a 37-mile night run in the woods in 90-degree humid temperatures can give someone who hasn't run an ultra since February.  I honestly do not know whether I can finish the race.  But I'm darn sick of DNF-ing, so here's my vow: If I do start the race on Saturday, I will finish it, even if it's Billy-Crystal-style. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Regular blogging -- I can do this!

In my work as an educator, I see how people process their thinking in different ways.  For some, it's through quiet reflection, for others, it's through conversation, for some, sketching, and so forth.  I think for me, writing is how I best process my thinking.  That's why I started this blog a few years ago.

For a long while, I was using my blog mostly to process my thoughts about races.  For maybe five years, I was running about one ultra a month, so my blog posts were pretty frequent.  Now, however, since I haven't been racing, I haven't been blogging.  While I keep a daily journal, most of these entries are bullet points, and it's just not the same as typing out my thoughts in a slightly more formal way, with the possibility of a real-world audience.  (Even if it's just my mom, who I know subscribes to my blog posts.  Thanks, Mom!)

So I'll start with an update.  Over the past 7 weeks, I've averaged 52 miles a week.  The longest run was 26.9 miles.  I feel like I'm getting back the consistency that's key to ultrarunning.  However, I still am not at all confident that I could finish an ultra at this point.  When I do a 10-mile run, I slog and plod, wondering in disbelief how I was ever able to do 50- and 100-mile races.  Running is hard!  I can barely accomplish double digits right now.

I had seriously considered doing Muleshoe Bend 60k last weekend, just to gut it out and see if I could finish.  (That would have been my longest run since February.) . But Joe and I looked at our calendars last week and realized that that was the only weekend this whole summer where we could take the kids up to Houston to see their grandparents, so we did that instead.  I'm still hoping to do Colorado Bend and Reveille Peak Ranch 60ks and be abundantly humbled, but also get good training in for our Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim adventure at the end of September.

Joe (who has also been taking a break from serious training and racing) recently commented that he feels like he has good balance in his life now.  I think I feel that way, too.  In the past, running played such a huge role in my life -- in terms of time, energy, money, and also as the generator of and connection to many friendships.  Ultra running became a huge part of my identity, and played a big role in my self-worth, as well as helping me find a niche in my new community after moving to Texas.  Running definitely played too big a role in my life for me to say that my life was "balanced" -- and yet, I was pretty happy with that lack of balance.

Now, my identity has shifted so greatly.  Since December, I have taken on new roles as a wife and a stepmom to two girls.  Running has taken a backseat to family commitments.  And I gratefully accepted this shift, as I was really burned out, mentally and physically, after last year's ultras.  I think my recent uptick in mileage has been good for actually bringing running back into my life.  Not as the forefront, anymore, but as a complement to (and therapy for) the newer parts of my identity.

I do hope that I can have success in ultras again, but I can't say when that will realistically happen.  Probably not this year.  But I think keeping consistency in my running mileage will be key to coming back to ultrarunning at some point in my future.  (It could happen, right?!)

So here's to more frequent blogs, as Joe and I both try to become runners again.  Thanks for reading, Mom!  :)

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Mt Sneffles for Dummies

"Are you okay, Jules?"

"Um . . . yeah. [Long pause.]  I don't know what you mean by 'okay.'  If you mean, 'Am I certain I'm not going to die," then no.  If you're asking if I can keep going, then yes."

This exchange happened somewhere on the way up Mt. Sneffles last week.  I don't know what prompted Joe to ask me if I was okay -- whether it was just the incredibly slow speed with which I was crawling up the boulders, or whether my anxiety was showing that clearly in my face.  But he had asked me a few times before I finally tried to clarify what exactly he meant by the question.

You can't see the anxiety on my face, but it is there.

---The Prelude---

When we had decided that we were going to do the Blue Lakes trail to Mt. Sneffles the night before, I was only a tiny bit nervous.  We read in the guidebook at our Airbnb that there was one tricky part that was "pretty exposed," where you had to climb up a "chimney" of rock about 150 feet below the summit.  The guidebook author went to the trouble of even suggesting the placement of your feet at this part, to step with your left foot first, and then shimmy around to the right, et cetera.  He wrote that you may feel inclined to turn around at this point, before reaching the summit, but that if you just make it past this tricky obstacle, the rest of the climb wouldn't involve any technical climbing.  After reading that, I was a little nervous about that chimney, but other than that, I just imagined a steep hike up a mountain, not really a big deal.  I had no idea what the reality would be like.

---The Hike to the Base---

When we started our hike at 9,000+ ft elevation that morning, we had a glimpse of the mountain towering in the distance.  Joe tried to point it out to me, but I refused to look.  I have an anti-telling-me-how-far-we-have-left-in-our-hikes policy, and this seemed like borderline violation of the policy.  I did not want to contemplate getting up to that peak; it seemed impossible.  And I told Joe as much.

Joe took a picture of Mt. Sneffles from the start of our hike.  I preferred to ignore the mountain in the distance, as it is clearly impossible to get to.

We passed by the Lower and Upper Blue Lakes, which were very pretty, and then headed up the switchbacks to Blue Lakes Pass, elevation ~12,900 ft.  The trail up to the pass scared me, because the singletrack was alongside a mountain, and very eroded, so with every step on the loose scree and dust, I worried that I would slip and tumble all the way down to the lake.  I asked for Joe's reassurance that I wouldn't die if I slipped here.  Poor Joe granted me reassurance for what would be the first of about 1,000 times that day.  Little did we know.

Pretty blue lakes!  I was already getting nervous at the top of the pass.

---The Ascent---

Once we got over the pass, we could see Mt. Sneffles in all its 14,150ft glory.  I still refused to look too hard at it; I figured if I just focused on one step at a time, I would get there, without freaking out too much about the danger.

Joe's trail map/GPS app told him that from the base of the mountain, there is only 0.6 miles to get to the summit.  Now, having summited, Joe and I both agreed that this is bull***t.  It's not just the fact that we had a 1:08:29 mile and a 2:31:01 mile (as in two hours and thirty-one minutes) while ascending and descending that make me say this; it also looked and felt like way more than 0.6 miles each way.

On the way up, we encountered many people on their way down.  They were spread out all over the side of the mountain facing us.  There is no trail; people were just choosing their line of boulders and scree.  Some parts of the mountainside were strewn with larger boulders, some with smaller scree, and some parts were just loose dust, due to weathering and erosion.  I don't know how many of these people made it all the way to the summit; perhaps many only made it to the ridgeline and then headed back down.  We passed a father with a child wearing a helmet pretty close to the base of the mountain; she already looked scared and probably didn't make it too much past that point.

After Joe and I had picked our way a little up the scree field, a lady gave us the advice to cross over to the left, because the line we had chosen would get worse and worse the higher we ascended.  To cross to the left meant leaving the larger rocks and scrambling over a loose, dusty section.  That was pretty scary for me, even wearing trail shoes -- I slipped a bit, and by this point, the side of the mountain was very steep.  Poor Joe was worse off, footwear wise -- his trail shoes had lost all their tread by this point in our vacation, to the point where he commented to another hiker, "I might as well be wearing loafers!"

Once we painstakingly made it to the ridgeline, Joe said that we had to turn left.  For the first time in the hike, I tilted my head up and to the left, in the direction of the summit.  And, holy sh*t, there was another ascent just as long and difficult-looking as the one we had just accomplished.  Once we proceeded up it, I realized it was actually more difficult, because it involved rock climbing.  We ran into some more folks on their way down.  One of the men we passed told us he planned to buttslide the entire way down.  "I don't even care," he added.  This comment alerted me to the very scary fact that I had to not only get to the top of this mountain, but that I would also have to GET BACK DOWN!  As soon as that terrifying thought crept into my head, I pushed it back out again, vowing not to think about that until the time came.  I kept my head down, looking only at the rocks directly in front of me, not down the mountain or up to the summit, and answered Joe's questions about whether I was okay as best as I could.

The view after we turned left.  Still not at the top!

Finally, after gingerly climbing up the rock face for what seemed like forever, we reached what seemed like the top.  We had a great view in front of us -- if you cared to look over the edge -- and steep rock face to the left and right of us.  Joe was wondering how to get up that rock face, and starting to climb up it, when a lady climbed up to where we were and commented that where Joe was heading didn't look do-able.  She had summited once before, years ago, and she didn't remember exactly where you were supposed to go up, but she was pretty sure it wasn't where Joe was.

After a minute of searching, she called out that she thought she had found the place.  It also looked impossible, but at least there was evidence that it had been trafficked by others.  We followed her to the place she pointed out, and Joe took the lead, followed by me, and eventually this lady and her two friends.  This was that "chimney" obstacle mentioned in the guidebook.  It did, indeed, appear impossible.  But impossible doesn't mean anything to Joe, so he shimmied right on up and then called to me to follow.  I asked, "Are you sure??" but followed, and it was, in fact, do-able.  From there to the top of the peak, though, felt very exposed, and I suddenly was very, persistently, aware that we were on top of a 14,000+ ft mountain, that we would die if we fell off, and that we would have to get back down somehow, which would be even scarier than the way up -- and that the entire way back down would carry the fear of falling off the mountain to a gruesome death.

---The Summit---

Once at the summit, I took off my pack and sat tight near the metal box that held the summit logs.  I pretty much didn't move from that spot the entire time we were at the summit.  In the meantime, Joe walked all around, appreciating the view of the blue lakes in the distance, taking photos and video.  The only time I moved around was when the ladies offered to take our picture.  I tried to make my least-frightened face for the camera so we could get the traditional "Hold the cardboard sign" photo.  Joe gently admonished me for not looking at the view, so I gingerly crept toward the edge and gave it a quick glance.  I figured I'd wait to appreciate the view until we were safely back on the ground and I could appreciate it by looking at Joe's photos.  Joe ate lunch on the summit, but I was too scared to linger over my sandwich, so I gobbled down a banana and waited eagerly to leave.  The sooner off the summit, the sooner back on solid ground, I felt.

My view.  In the distance, Joe enjoying the actual view.
I joked with one of the ladies that I'd be happy to spring for a helicopter to take us back down.  She agreed, and Joe commented that if we split the cost a few ways, it would be relatively affordable.  I took comfort in the fact that this lady seemed as scared as I was.  It was with bitter reflection about 30 minutes later that I realized she must have been nowhere near as scared as I was, because she moved down the mountain much faster than I did, and seemed to have no trouble.  I, on the other hand . . . well, as I've stated earlier, we had a 2:31:01 mile on our way back down.

Requisite summit picture.  Joe looks so relaxed!
One more of Joe taking in the view.  "I can see our car from here!"
Joe takes the best panos.  See, I'm admiring the view now!

---The Descent---

The lady who had summited this peak before seemed like she knew what she was doing, so we were hoping to follow her back down.  However, as she and her friends started down -- a different way than we had come up -- a man asked Joe to "spot him" as he traversed down the chimney.  Except he kept calling Joe "Tom."  Joe got a weird vibe from him, and didn't want to get caught behind him, so Joe watched him start going down the chimney route, and then we set off to try to follow the girls.  I was creeping so slowly over the rocks, though, that we soon lost them, and Joe was having to do the route-finding himself.  The climbing got steeper and steeper, and I was already freaking out and feeling unsafe, when Joe told me to stay put and climbed up a rock to peer over the edge and find the route.  What he saw, I don't even want to picture, but basically he realized that there was no way down from the rock ledge we had gotten ourselves onto.  He says that at this point was when his stomach clenched and he got a little nervous.  He turned back to me and told me we had to retrace our steps and climb back up.  

Joe says I didn't really have a "panic attack" at this juncture, but it may be the closest I've come.  He climbed back up until he was above me, and when I tried to move to follow him, I found that I was frozen with fear.  I just kept repeating the same things over and over again: "I don't think I can do it, Joe.  I don't know where to put my foot.  I'm sorry, Joe, I shouldn't have come.  I can't do it."  Just those 3-4 sentences on repeat.  Joe reminded me later that I even apologized to God at this point, which I do remember doing -- it was a slip of the tongue, as I was saying "Oh, God" and apologizing to Joe at the same time.  When he saw that I really could not climb the steep rock face on my own, he held out his hand to pull me up.  I don't know how I can stress this enough, but we were on a sheer cliff with a few thousand feet of fresh air between us and the ground, and all I could think was that if Joe took my hand, we would both fall to our deaths.  But I couldn't pull myself up, so I had no option but to trust that Joe could lift me up safely.  I grabbed his hand, and he hoisted me up to his level.  He had to repeat this once more before we were able to cross over to the couloir that the other ladies had gone down.  

Once in the couloir, my terror did not really subside much.  We had to cross from one side of the gully to the other, over boulders which had about a 50% chance of moving and rolling downhill when you put your weight on them.  Whereas on our way up, we saw plenty of people, on our way down, there was no one else on the mountain, so we had no reference as to which lines were best to follow.  To say that I took it slowly would be the understatement of the year.  I practiced my forwards-crab-crawl the entire way back down to the ridge where we had to turn right . . . and then the entire way back down the mountainside.  Meanwhile, Joe was standing upright, choosing the best route for me to follow, and periodically reassuring me that we wouldn't die.  I remember one exchange:

"Joe, do you think we'll get down alive?"
"I think our chances are 100% at this point.  They might have slipped down to 99.5% at one point, when we were on the ledge. . ."

About mid-way down the mountain face, I asked Joe to give me a hug once we were back down.  When we reached the boulder field at the bottom, he turned to give me that hug, but I just looked at him, shook my head, and said that it didn't feel safe yet.  A little further down, I apologized for rejecting his hug, and claimed one from him.  But I didn't really feel safe until we were back at the juncture where the "0.6 miles" to the top had begun.  (Bulllllllsh******t!)

Once we'd hiked away from the base of the mountain, we looked up at it, and Joe asked me if I could see the path we'd taken.  I said, "We didn't go up that way, did we?  That's impossible!"  

We're alive!  Praise God!  Now let's never do that again.

---The Hike Back---

We had a long denoument -- it was almost 7 miles back to the Blue Lakes trailhead where we left our car.  Due to my SKT (slowest known time) down Mt. Sneffles, it was already dinnertime as we shuffled back over the pass, down past the blue lakes, and back through the treeline.  We were too exhausted to go out to eat, so we went to the grocery store instead and got a couple steaks -- which Joe grilled to perfection -- and some ice cream.  It was a perfect end to the day, just what my frazzled nerves needed.  And I vowed to never do something that adventurous again.  

---The End---