After wasting a whole bunch of money on fees for races I couldn’t run in 2021, I decided it was wise to dial it back this year. But I did well on the week of running in Patagonia, and I didn’t want to not run any races in 2022. Plus, I have no motivation to run on my own; I need that cheap souvenir medal and the t-shirt to make it worthwhile! And of course, my Colorado runner girls and I couldn’t let a year go by without a vacation race. So a few races started to creep up onto my schedule.
Date: July 16
Garmin Recorded Length: 13.11 miles
Garmin Recorded Elevation Gain: 784 feet
Starting Elevation: 1,562 ft
Chip Time: 2:01:56
Performance: 201 out of 1320 overall; 71 out of 871 women; 6 out of 117 women 40-44
Report: For this year’s vacation race, the decision was between Rainier and Everglades, and some of my Colorado runner girls were too worried about the heat in the Everglades, so Rainier won out. It worked out well with my summer road trip plans, plus we got to meet up with two of the women from Patagonia Vacation Races Global Adventure, which was cool!
After taking a six week hiatus from running in Panama, I made a seven-week training plan that started May 28…and I completely flopped out on my plan. I didn’t run at all the week of June 19 because I was too busy in Vegas with work and I didn’t run at all the week of July 3 while I was in Banff, though I did a ton of hiking, which helps to some degree. Beyond that, I did a number of 3-5 miles runs, but the longest run I did was 7 miles, and I wasn’t hitting the gym at all for strength training either. So, I was wildly untrained. Oh, and I had an infection in my left big toe from popping a blister with a dirty needle.
But after all that, I’m decently pleased with my performance. Actually, I can’t believe I did as well as I did (and didn’t destroy my knee) with so little preparation. My finishing time was a far cry from my best half marathon time of 1 hour 44 minutes, but I impressed myself with how ready for running my body is still. I expected to be much, much slower. I didn’t walk even once. Had I known I could still do this well for 13 miles, I would have pushed myself to finish in under two hours. I should have pushed myself because while I was tired the rest of the day from getting up early, I wasn’t sore that day or the next at all.
As for the actual course, as far as Vacation Races go, this was the easiest course I’ve done so far. Not the fastest, like Yosemite, but the best for beginners. It was mostly road and dirt road, with just the tiniest segment of actual trail. The weather was in the 50s and cloudy, so while we didn’t get Rainier views on the course (we got great views in the park the day before), it was perfect running weather.
Date: August 14
Garmin Recorded Length: 6.14 miles
Garmin Recorded Elevation Gain: 431 feet
Starting Elevation: 10,136 feet
Chip Time: 58 min 51 sec
Performance: 172 out of 472 overall; 52 out of 221 women; 15 out of 59 women 40-49
Report: The race was a simple out-and-back, but just based on the elevation, this was a tough little 10k. Running over 10,000 feet is no joke. I arrived in Salida (elevation 7,083) two weeks before and did a few runs at 9,000 feet. Even so, I didn’t expect to break an hour, so I’m thrilled that I did. I also just loved being part of the Leadville series. It’s legendary.
The following weekend, I volunteered at the Leadville 100. I wanted to be part of the energy, and I wanted to know what the athletes looked like at the end. I was a course marshal at mile 99, where the runners were coming off a dirt road into town to the finish line. A few things I noticed:
- There were a lot of older people, way more than I expected. People older than me for sure. I love this!
- I was surprised how many people didn’t have any pacers. I thought everyone would but almost half the people were coming in solo.
- By contrast, other people seemed to have whole families with them.
- Most people seemed pretty okay, not nearly as beat down as I thought they might look. There was only one runner who was completely breaking down – tears streaming down her cheeks – but she was still doing it and she was finishing with an hour to spare.
One poor guy came in 10 minutes after the final cutoff. Absolutely heartbreaking to not get the belt buckle after all that work, but fucking good on him for finishing anyway.
After my shift was over, I went out to Turquoise Lake and did a run around part of the race course. The pink flags were still up and I obviously had to fantasize a bit about what it would be like to be one of those incredible athletes. It’s still not out of the question for me…
But far and away, the most amazing part of the day was I got to meet Courtney Dauwalter, my ultrarunning hero. She was crewing for someone so I couldn’t exactly ask her to stop and take a photo with me, but just seeing her run by and getting to say hi was awesome.
Date: November 6
Garmin Recorded Length: 18.93 miles
Garmin Recorded Elevation Gain: 1,769 feet
Starting Elevation: 905 feet
My Finishing Time: 4 hours and 50 minutes (not counting my 7 minute break at the halfway point aid station)
Performance: 3rd out of 17 total (aged 28-59); 1st out of 7 women (aged 29 to 46)
Report: I randomly signed up for this two weeks before race day. I had just finished all my big hikes in Bolivia and had an overwhelming feeling of emptiness and sadness. All that preparation and planning and anticipation, and just like that, Bolivian mountains were over. I needed a goal.
But I was still in La Paz and running at that altitude was not possible, not that there is anywhere to run in that city anyway. So I was going into this race not having run since Sept 28. Yes, I had a baseline fitness level from all the mountains I’d been summiting, but plodding up a glacier wearing bulky equipment and carrying a heavy pack so it takes 2.5 hours to go a single mile is not at all the same as training for a run. When I got to Denver, I made a super quick training plan. Here’s what I did:
- Friday 10/28 – 5 miles on dirt road in Denver, Colorado
- Saturday 10/29 – 4.46 miles on pavement in Hays, Kansas
- Monday 10/31 – 7.25 miles on pavement in Rogers, Arkansas
- Wednesday 11/2 – 10.02 miles on trail in Hobbs State Park, Arkansas
- Friday 11/4 – 14.32 miles on trail in Hobbs State Park, Arkansas
So yeah, stupidly fast ramp up time and the first two runs kinda sucked, but Arkansas is some kind of magic place for me. I felt amazing running as soon as I got there. True, I wasn’t pushing myself to go fast, but I felt great running there. The trails in Hobbs were a bit dangerous, though, because they were so covered over with leaves that it was impossible to see the rocks and roots. I was worried about twisting an ankle badly and had a lot of near-misses. The length of that last trail run was also quite accidental. I had planned on 11 or 12 miles but got a bit lost. Knowing I could run that much, though, and still feel fine was a real boost for my self confidence.
The race started the morning of turning the clocks back, but it was still dark at the 6am whistle and we were in the forest. So we needed headlamps for about the first half hour. I knew I wouldn’t be fast, so I started near the back of the group, out of the way of the 50-mile and 55-kilometer runners, but that was a mistake. We got off-trail really early on and had to turn around, which left me behind a bunch of really slow people who clearly weren’t used to running in the dark and on a rocky trail. They were basically walking and it was impossible to get around them. This was super annoying, but if I’m being totally honest, it probably only hurt my time by four or five minutes.
I did eventually get around them and break free, so I was able to move faster, but not a ton faster. The trail was covered with leaves that were all wet from the rain. The trail also had so many rocks we had to climb over or step on, and all those were slick too. So it was fairly treacherous, even worse than my two training runs had been.
At 3.3 miles in, we had our one big water water crossing. On Friday, before the storm, the crossing had been dry. On race day, the water was almost up to my knees. In fact, there had been so much rain and wind Friday night that the race director had to divert the 50-mile course because the original course wasn’t passable. There were too many washed out areas and downed trees. The trail that I ran had one downed tree and a lot of debris on the trail from the wind, which sometimes obscured the trail. The first time I got off track with the big crowd wouldn’t be the only time. I had to pause at least eight times and really scour the forest for the white blazes on trees or pink race flags to figure out where to go.
But overall, the course was really beautiful. I felt great when I got to the aid station/turn around point at 9.46 miles. I had a banana and some pretzels and chatted with the race director for a bit, and then headed back. At that point, I was in third place for the 18 mile distance. The winner had passed me on his way back at 7.31 miles, so he was a solid four miles ahead of me. Ridiculously fast. The second person passed me at 8.96 miles. More realistic, but I still had no chance of catching him. Besides those two people, I had no way of knowing who of all the people behind me was running the 18 miles distance. So I didn’t want to linger too long and lose my lead.
The first few miles down were fine but around mile 13, I started to get pretty tired. By mile 15, I wasn’t so happy any more. I started to get really frustrated every time I lost the trail or twisted my foot on a rock I couldn’t see beneath all the leaves. My mile times got longer and longer. I just wanted to finish, but the last two miles were a slow, brutal mixture of walking and jogging.
I know I was wildly undertrained, so I shouldn’t be annoyed with myself, but still. With only a few miles to go, I was sure someone would pass me and then I’d be really annoyed. When I reached the pavement for the last .4 miles coming into the finish line, I flew. No one did pass me. I hung out with the race director’s wife and some of the 10 mile finishers for a bit while I had some snacks, and the next 18-mile runner came in 22 minutes after me. So clearly I wasn’t the only one who struggled on this course. There were also three people who didn’t finish.
So, yeah – absolutely terrible finishing time – my fastest mile (mile 3) on this race was a 13:42 and my slowest (mile 18) was a painful 17:33. But in reality, not bad for the course conditions and for someone who only trained for a week. Plus, my left knee felt fine, my lungs and heart felt great not running at stupid Colorado altitudes, and uh…I may be doing a 22 mile this Sunday as I train for something even bigger in a few weeks!
The Race I Didn’t Do
I almost did the Flaming Foliage 165 mile relay this year on September 9 and 10. I’ve wanted to do an epic Colorado relay for some time, so I posted on their team matching forum but only had ultra teams reach out to me, which is 5 runners instead of 10. That seemed like too much for me to handle, but I ended up chatting with one guy who was organizing a team and I decided to go for it.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to pull together a team with enough people with a fast enough pace to complete the race. The cutoff time is really competitive – you have to be able to do 10.5 minute miles as a team. That’s pretty damn fast for high altitude running through the Rockies, even if a lot of the race is on road. But a significant portion is on trail too, which is always slower. I understand that if they even extended it to 12 minute miles, that would extend the whole race by over four more hours, but if they got more teams interested that way, wouldn’t it be worthwhile?
So the team didn’t materialize. The morning of the race, I was driving out to Grizzly and Garfield, and I saw the teams coming in for the final home stretch to Buena Vista. A small bit of me was jealous – I love the energy of a race like that. But also, I didn’t realize how much of this relay would be on roads, and honestly, it seemed pretty miserable to be running along that 60 mile per hour road to BV for 30 miles. I was glad I wasn’t doing that. So I won’t be trying to join a team next year. Besides, this relay is on the same weekend as the Imogene Pass race…which I’ve wanted to do for years!