Sunday, June 21, 2015

Garden of the Gods: Crash and Burn

This past Sunday was the first race of the Triple Crown, the series I signed up for (perhaps a bit naively) this spring when I decided I needed a new challenege.

Coming into the Garden of the Gods Ten Miler I had begun to deveop shin splints and had lost a lot of the confidence I had gained from Colfax. On top of it my mind was anywhere but the race at the start, more focused on goodbyes, airports and a lack of sleep that entie week before the race. This was clear as I left my water bottle in the car, forgot to coordinate with friends who were also running (didn't remember until I no longer had a phone with me) and was just generally scattered with no plan for the race. The no plan realization set in as I joined the crush of people at the start and I had a sinking feeling that I was already doomed.

As the start gun went off I trailed behind a new friend Jocelyn for the first mile or so, weaving through the crowds. As we started the first hill up to balanced rock I glimpsed Riannon ahead in the crowd and pushed through to catch her by the top. Those first two miles were realistically the only good numbers at the end of the day.

Yep. Bad Numbers.
Riannon and I started downhill and I began to feel the creeping pain in my left calf. With eight miles to go, I knew it was too early. As my the pain started to magnify I unconciously began to compensate for it, a huge mistake that would cost me later. As we hit the bottom of the next climb and mile three I flew backwards from Riannon. I don't think I passed a single person for the next six miles. 

I hit mile five and Jocelyn caught and passed me as well as a new friend Chris, who I had run with earlier in the week. By this point my back and shoulders had clenched (lesson: never compensate for pain by losing form) and everything was hurting. I would walk at least part of the next five hills from mile five to the finish.

By now I had fallen into no man's land. There weren't a lot of people around and I kept looking back for the end motorcycle, I thought I was that far back. My mind had checked out and that was that.

The only bright spot left  in the race came at mile nine. As I crested the hill at balanced rock I found a little energy and picked up the pace for the last mile descent, passing most everyone in sight. The faster pace took a toll though and as I rounded the final bend I was fighting back tears and the urge to walk. I can say with absolute confidence that the only thing that got me across the finish line was Jill, Gloria and Riannon cheering and running with me, and Gloria catching me in a big hug at the end!

I have a hard time remembering a more physically and mentally painful race, even from my history in cycling and even counting the crashes I experienced in cycling. Both outside factors and the race itself led to not a great day, but that being said I can't remember being more proud of a finish either.

Having the ladies from CRC there at the end made all the difference. It wasn't long before I was sitting in the grass with a smile on my face, too happy to think about the pain in my legs as I listened to everyone else's race stories. I have some recovering to do, but I am looking forward to regrouping and getting back to training. 

The Triple Crown of Running: That Stupid Hard Series I Signed Up For

Earlier this spring I was looking for a challenge and a few local races to use as tune ups for the American Discovery Trail marathon in September. Last year I did the half marathon and with Colfax getting switched to a half, ADT seemed like the perfect opportunity to do a full before my 25th birthday. The more I looked at local races, the more that the three legs of the Triple Crown of Running here in Colorado Springs seemed like the perfect fit. I had watched all three legs last year and I knew they would be a challenge, but would also give me something to work towards.

All three races in the Triple Crown are run in Colorado Springs, limiting travel expenses and the stress of extra planning. In addition there is once race each month of the summer leading into the ADT in September, perfect to help keep me on track. However, the Triple Crown also features a very challenging slate of races. The first is the Garden of the Gods Ten Miler with over six distinct climbs. The second is the Summer Roundup 12k, a trail run through Bear Creek Park. The final leg is The Ascent, a half marathon up Pikes Peak using Barr Trail. This is already a notoriously challenging hike with an elevation gain of 7,815 feet, let alone trying to actually run it. Brutal.

The more I think about it the more I wonder 'what in the world did I get myself into?!?' however, I think I needed a new challenge in my life and these three races represent a great one. I view the entire series as tough, but doable, or at least I did until this past Sunday.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Colfax Half Marathon

A year ago I had planned for Colfax to be my first full marathon, but health problems over the winter made training next to impossible. I pulled back to the half marathon and was glad I did as I was able to train to the point of being confident going into the race rather than just trying to survive it. With Colfax being the same weekend as my birthday I wanted the race to be fun, not a death march.

Riannon, Jocelyn and I before the start,
Going into the weekend my goal was to run under 2:00 and I planned on using one of the race provided pace groups to accomplish that. I was feeling great and after a few months of running with the CRC ladies I was confident that sub 2:00 was feasible. To make matters even better I would be on the start line with my friend Riannon, a huge confidence boost for my first big race.

However, when we got to the start corrals Sunday I realized there was a flaw in my plan. There would be no pace group in the wave I was supposed to start with, I would be on my own for pacing myself as I knew Riannon would likely run faster than me. There wasn't anything to be done about this so as the gun went off we headed out with out wave for the loop through the park. Colfax is unique in that the first three miles run through Denver’s City Park and the Denver Zoo. The joke had been that the mile through the zoo would take me an hour.

I was able to keep up with Riannon for the first two miles but as we reached the Zoo I knew I needed to fall back just slightly. As much as I wanted to run the entire race with her, I knew that I needed to be a bit more conservative. The zoo provided a chance to settle my mind and also focus on something other than running. How many other races do you get to see cheetahs, monkeys and mountain goats?

After we left the zoo we hit the straight portion of the race, basically three miles out, turn around and four miles back. I had begun to look for Norman as he had planned on seeing me along that section for the out and back. I also tried to find people running roughly the same pace as me to try and make my own de facto pace group. No one really stuck and I quickly realized I would be on my own for the entire 13.1 miles. Seeing Norman at around mile five though was a huge energy boost, and I would see him again at about mile ten.

Riannon and I after the race, medals and all!
Those miles kind of dragged by. There wasn’t a lot to see and it was pretty much an endless run down a straight street. Although there were a fair number of spectators, the run along Colfax had no shade and no aide stations, nothing really to break up the monotony. When we finally returned to neighborhood streets and got closer to City Park it was a relief. Turning into City Park was a huge tease, because there was almost another mile left before we would see the finish line.

As I did finally turn towards the finish line I had a burst of energy. Except it wasn’t the finish line. Rather than finishing where we started Colfax has everyone run another 1/10 of a mile to the finish truss. Deceptive little jerks. That was a bit torturous but I still crossed the line with a time of 1:58, well within my goal time and without a pace group to boot.

In the grand scheme of things it was a relatively uneventful race, and if anything that was what made it so memorable. I wasn’t in pain, I knew what I was a capable of and I stuck to my plan. After having run ADT I had more confidence going into the race, and having friends there made a huge difference. It was great to have someone at the start line and even better to see everyone at the finish. I have been lucky to find a community of active women in Colorado. Colfax made for the perfect end to a wonderful birthday weekend and next year the race is on my actual birthday so, assuming Collegiate Road Nationals isn’t the same weekend, I would love to race it again!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Don't Call Me a Cyclist

I can't tell you how many comments I've read over the years regarding pedestrian accidents when a car has hit a person running or cycling. On some occasions these comments are downright infuriating, saying "the cyclist probably deserved it" "they never obey traffic laws" or "the runner was in the road, what did they expect."


This is someone's life we are talking about, worth significantly more then the $250 fine the driver recieves.

A while back I read an insightful article on the language surrounding pedestrians and how to make it more humanizing. The theory is that by altering the language we use we can change the tone of the conversation. Don't say 'cyclists', say 'people on bikes'. This way we can focus on the need for safety for people, rather than cyclists' right of way.

The more I think about it, the more I can appreciate this sort of language change. The mountain biker you hit this last week? Just so happens she is an amazing artist, mother and friend to the entire community, including me. The runner you almost plowed into a few weeks back? He is a soldier and much-loved boyfriend who was training for Boston. We may all be runners, cyclists and pedestrians but we are also someone's friend, daughter or father. We are people first and people on bikes or people running second.

So please, don't call me a cyclist. Instead call me a friend on a bike, and I'll call you a safe driver.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Runners and Cyclists: Why Can't We Be Friends?

Note: I am about to paint in very broad brushstrokes. I realize there are nice cyclists just as there are mean runners.

January of 2014, in an effort to shake a slump I made a bucket list. On that list were the goals to run both a half and a full marathon. As a cyclist my opinion on running had always been "only when chased" and I could not understand why anyone would put themselves through the torture, so these goals were in part a lark.

Fast forward to March of 2015 and I have a half marathin under my belt and am more likely to head out for a run these days than a ride. Often times I run with a group of women out of a local running store and this is particularly true on Thursdays when they host a women only social run. We're a pretty chatty group and on a nice day can number close to twenty. There is something about running or riding with someone that forges a stronger bond then almost anything else.

Running on the Santa Fe during a good weather day.

On a recent good weather day we were strung out along the local pedestrian path in groups, chattering as women will when a cyclist came along wanting to pass. The back of the group was able to hear his "on the left" and moved out of the way as he continued to shout about "share the trail". The tone of the shouting was a bit rude but it was what happened next that really shocked me.

Although the back of the group heard him, the middle part did not and he did not continue to announce his presence until he was right on top of them. At this point he angrily yelled "on your left" again. It took a minute for the women to process that there was someone behind them, but the did and moved out of the way. It is worth noting that this group included a sixth grader running with us while on spring break. She was the one in the way, and obviously a kid.

As he got through the group (perhaps thirty seconds later, there really was no significant delay), the man turned around, looked her dead in the eye and snarls "what the hell".

Shocked would be putting it mildly.

As a group we had done our best to move as soon as we heard him and although we weren't as fast as he wanted, there was no excuse for the language he used. I realize he is likely grumpy to begin with but I think it also stems from the conflict I have often witness between recreational cyclists and runners. In open space meetings mountain bikers and trail runners are routinely commenting on the other's behavior, on paved trails like the Santa Fe everyone seems to think they own the trail and the number of disparaging comments I have heard from both sides about the other over the years is discouraging.

A not so good weather day, but everyone is still happy!

Even more so because of how much we have in commen. As endurance athletes we understand the long hours of sufferng and dedication it takes to do well. As pedestrians we understand the dangers of reckless cars, unleashed dogs and dreaded piotholes. And finally, as open-space users we have a deep appreciation for local parks and the outdooes. We have so much in common and yet cyclists continue to look down on runners and runners continue to view cyclists as, well, entitled pricks.

When it comes down to it, we're all just trying to enjoy the outdoors, be healthy and get our training in. Yes, let's continue to "share the trail" but let's do so in a supportive and uplifting mannner. If we can't do that, then why should we expect any other user groups to do so?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

One Year in Colorado

I have always enjoyed holidays. Anniversaries. Birthdays. There are so many reasons for this but at the core is the fact that these days stand out. They provide marks in the book of time that we can hold up and look back to. We can see where we are, and where we have come from.

I moved to Colorado a year ago today. At times it seems like yesterday, but often it seems like significantly longer. A year is a long time. Long enough to build fitness and lose it all over again. Long enough for a relationship to fall apart and slowly begin to repair. For a job to be amazing, boring and return to amazing once more.  Long enough for new passions to be kindled and old hobbies to be laid to rest. For distance to seem smaller and for the world to seem not so scary a place. It is long enough for the doors to open and for you to realize that you are not as young as you once felt. It is long enough for health to fail and old wounds to heal. Long enough for a strange new place to become home and a new group of people to become family.

Looking back at the year, there is so much that stands out. Much of it I have written about here, or posted about on twitter and facebook, but much of it has been little moments. Things like recieving an email saying thank you or a phone call from an old mentor now asking your opinion on something. Finding yourself standing on top of a mountain looking out at a world that once seemed to be an immeasurable place. Watching an old dog become young at the sight of snow, or drinking hot chocolate on a winter's day. Walking on a sidewalk and watching someone come towards you in the snow, just knowing that something great was about to happen. These little moments that take your breath away and that seem to happen so much more in Colorado.

I can not wait to see what another year brings.

Standing on top of mountains.

The little moments. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Last Post on RCD

I have sat down to write this post many times over the last couple weeks. Scribbles to sentences to pages but inevitably they have all ended up in my (now overflowing) trashcan. Considering that there is no recycling in our complex, you can see why this bothers me.

Since August I have been dealing with the ramifications and complications stemming from what is known as refractory (unresponsive) celiac disease, or RCD. Odd blood work numbers in May led to the diagnosis, which led to the discovery of abnormal tissue growth in the lining of my digestive system. I went on a slew of medications this past fall to try and bring down the inflammation in the tissue and to limit any further abnormal tissue growth. For a while it seemed to be working, then it wasn't, then it was again. The unknown seesaw known as the human body. 

Early last week I took my last round of immunosuppressants and steroids – designed to do everything mentioned earlier and push the RCD into a dormant state by essentially resetting my immune system. However, during the appointments that followed a new mass was discovered during a series of routine scans. I went in for an endoscopic mucosal resection on Friday and on Monday I sat down with the doctors to go over what was found and what my options would be moving forward.

They had not been able to remove all of the abnormal tissue growth and although they wanted to try another round of medications, or another surgery I chose to take a step back and see what happens. RCD can go into dormancy just as quickly as it flares up and my hope is that it has been beaten into submission for the time being. I will be undergoing periodic tests to ensure it has truly been mitigated but for now I am done tearing my body apart – physically and chemically.

This is not without some concern, but I have my reasons. Ever since we began decreasing the doses of medications I have been feeling better. Running, cycling, pilates, the list of things that I can enjoy once more goes on. My mood is better; I’m happier and significantly less depressed. Right now, being able to enjoy getting up every morning is amazing. I have a new found appreciation for sleeping through the night. 

I struggled with this post for the longest time because I did not want to sugar coat it, but neither did I want to paint an unrealistically dark picture. In the end this is something I will always have to be mindful of with my health, but it does not and will not affect my every day life. Long term it just means adjusting to a new normal.

Thanks to everyone for your kinds words, prayers, thoughts, lucky pigs and support. Being so far away from home made for more time alone in a hospital than I could ever keep track of but I hope you know that you all made a world of difference. I hope you never find yourself needing that same support, but if you do know that I will be there.

Here is to never speaking of RCD on this blog again.