Saturday, October 12, 2013

UROC 100k

Picture heavy post, all beautiful.  A little late, probably a little dissorganized and missing details, but should be pretty good.

What a fantastic day!  2 weeks ago I had the pleasure of running the UROC 100k, Ultra Race of Champions, a race deemed an ultra running world championship (although of course not everyone in the world was there, but the elite field was stacked heavier than probably any other event like it).  It was 65 miles weaving in and out from Breckenridge, Colorado to Vail and up over and down 4 big 12,000ft+ mountain passes. 13, 245 ft of elevation gain, 12,379 of elevation loss.  Much of the race over 10,000ft  My husband has been traveling a lot for Altra lately (he is a co-founder and now over marketing for Altra footwear) and I originally had no intention of going with him to UROC, although he suggested it.  I'm not huge on road trips, we had just gotten back recently from a Colorado trip, and and finding babysitters for our 4 kids, 3 of them in school can be tough.  But the stars aligned and I decided (like the week of,
story of my life) to go out with him and race.  We took my great friend and pacer Zac and his super fun wife Caitlyn out with us.  My husband wasn't flying in from his last trip until the afternoon of the expo, so it was good to have Zac there to help me drive and work it.  We arrived to snow dusting on the mountain and rain all day.  I wasn't too worried, as race day forecast looked good but it took a lot to stay warm at the outdoor expo, I think I had 5 layers on at one point and was still chilly.  That definitely influenced me to dress warmer for the start of the race.

I stayed with my typical race nutrition you can see detailed in my Katchina report but basically a gel every 40 min (ViFuel are my favorite, I'd take a caffeinated GU every 2-3 Vi's simply for the extra caffeine), a Metasalt every hour, 2 Sportlegs every even hour, 1 Hammer Tissue Rejuvenator every odd hour.  Didn't eat much solids, a couple potato pieces at a couple aid stations, PB&Nutella half sandwich, quesodilla slice, and coke of course at all aid stations except one that didn't have it.  I would have taken what sounded good, nothing much did and I did fine with gels.
I started wearing my Altra Lone Peak 1.5's, wool socks, Icebreaker undies, tights, short sleeve tech shirt, heavy gloves, beanie, and white pack jacket.  Kept all of that on except the heavy gloves that came off early at mile 6, the beanie I traded for a headband, and the pack jacket which came on and off when needed.  I wore arm warmers and a light vest in the afternoon and evening when done with the pack jacket.  Used my Nathan Vaporshape hydration pack for most of the race and 2-10oz Nathan handhelds instead, for a break in the middle.

I'm going to type in between all these photos to help jog my memory, hope it's not too cluttered to read.  We drove into Breckenridge early that morning and the race started without too much fanfare at 7:00am.  The first 4 miles were all uphill, most of it very steep going up a ski slope.  Ouch.  Not my favorite way to warm up.  No I definitely wasn't running, but even just hiking up it hurt.  The next few miles were flat and downhill, but they were icy.  My goals going in were to get sub 15 hours and to try for top 15, they earn Skyrunning points, an ultra that goes up and down mountains can be referred to as a Sky race, there were 11 elite women listed, so I figured why not shoot for a spot after them and get points for fun.  Friends Mark and Zac as well as my husband Jer talked me into going out harder the first 10 miles and seeing if I could stay around 10th place.  If it felt too fast I'd back off, if not I'd keep it up.  6 miles into the race I had no idea where the leaders were but I didn't feel good so was sure they were gone.  Didn't expect to see my crew (my husband Jeremy, Zac, and Caitlyn) for another couple hours, but there they were!  A nice surprise, and even nicer to hear I was in 9th!  I really needed that, to know I was where I wanted to be.  Now if I would just remember that every single race I take at least 6 miles to warm up.  Things would get better, and they did.
While we were in snow for the first 6 miles, crossed many beautiful wood bridges like the one above, we soon ran into less snowy trails with beautiful yellow leaves.  I didn't do the best job capturing it below, but it was nice.  You could finally feel some sun (it was close to freezing when we started), and this little stream ran along side us for a few miles.  The guy in the picture below, Dave I think his name was, stopped on the trail in front of me.  I asked if he was ok and if there was anything I could do.  He asked if I could unbuckle his pack because he couldn't use his hands. I of course obliged, and insisted on helping him more but he said he was ok.  A few minutes later he came up behind me with socks on his hands over his gloves, still unable to feel anything below his elbow.  I remembered I had a hot hands warmer and we stopped and I opened it and stuffed it into the palm of one hand under his layers.  We ran along side each other for quite a while and it was nice to chat.  He went on ahead of me eventually when I stopped to tie a shoe I think, but I passed him again a few hours later.
The girl in the above picture passed me about a mile after the crew told me I was in 9th, booting me to 10th.  Was a little bummed, but it was still a long day.  The section to the mile 13 aid station in Frisco was kind of a long one, didn't see many people.  Had a good downhill section then some paved trail (boo) then finally into the town.  Was good to see the crew and they were great and right ready for me, although the only thing I did was hand them my neck gaiter after realizing that aid station - in a city mind you - didn't have Coke.  Arg!  I meant to go to the bathroom there, but rushed out too quickly, I need to remember to slow down sometimes and get done what I recall in my head before getting there.  It was a goal of mine to move faster through all these aid stations than Katchina.  I wanted to race this, not just run it.
Left Frisco and got back on trail and started heading up, up, up.  From Frisco to the big pass (climb 2) was a little more than 5 miles which doesn't sound like a lot, but it was all up.  Some up worse than other.  A very wooded section before the below picture was especially challenging, just so steep.  I hiked/ran behind the guys in the picture below for several miles, and they were slowing down, and I was getting itchy to go ahead and use my powerhiking and not let any more ladies get close.  Right after I took this I passed about 4 of them.  In the photo below do you see the pass/dip to the left?  That's where we were headed.  It doesn't look that bad in the photo, but I remember looking at it and being in awe, it looked big.  Here we got into a lot deeper snow too, 6-18 inches.
The photo below shows the top of that pass.  Boy was it windy up there, I couldn't believe a couple was up there holding a cowbell.  I think they said they were headed down.  It would be very cold up there just hanging around not moving much.  The lake in back is the big lake in Breckenridge.  Now we would go around the Breckenridge side of the mountain we started on, but much higher.
Below is the lake farther away (and farther below) as I'm heading toward the big pass of the day.  It was windy and snow blown in places and not super runnable.
We were literally just traversing the side of this steep sloped mountain.  Did feel kind of cool, being way higher than the tree line.  I passed a couple more people while on this section, including a woman I hadn't seen before but who looked good, and my female friend from before!  Was very excited to see her, get closer, and then pass.  I always make it a point to say hi and good job and ask how they're doing when I pass.  I'm grateful for my well working body, not that they may be going slower.  I appreciate the friendliness of ultra running.  I thought triathlon had it, but not nearly as much as trail/ultrarunning.
 Breckenridge is below me in the picture above.  The photo below is the last mile of climb.  It may not look that far, but it switchbacks a few times.  The guy right in front of me was from Mexico, a native Tarahumara runner.  The poor guy had to sit down at the top of the pass, I suspect from altitude issues.  We were at 12,341 ft.
 I could not believe the view at the top (photo below)!!  It was so amazing and started the super high excited feeling I would carry for the next couple hours.  It was just so epic and unreal and cool.  A true tundra.  Very very windy, I was thankful to have my friend Mark's pack jacket with it's tight hood.  I wasn't cold at all, just sheltering from the wind.  In the photo below you see the trail heading off toward the black spot.  The next series of 4 pictures shows me following that trail starting to descend.  I thought it was pretty neat to see us go from the rocky tundra, to a few more plants, to the seeing the tree line, and then finally getting back into the trees. You can see the road heading down the middle of the picture in the photos too, that is the freeway heading toward Vail.
They probably don't, but I hope these pics show how big I was smiling.  I was having THE BEST TIME going down that mountain!  Highlight section of my day was from the top down through this section.  I would have loved to stay on it, but adored what I was seeing, how I was feeling, how I was running.  I ran so well.  I've been working on my downhill, really needing to improve it, and improved it for sure on this 5 miles down into the Copper Mountain aid station.  I could go on and on about what a fantastic high that was.  I was running well, happy, fed, warm, and in 8th place!
 Minus a few (20 minutes) of being a little frustrated feeling like the aid station should have been there a while ago (I was behind my time goals at this point, maybe they didn't take into account all the snow up top) and being out of water, I was so stinking excited running into that Copper Mountain aid station.  Zac and I are below.  I hadn't seen an aid station in several hours, and hadn't seen my crew in even longer.  I was running well, was excited about my position, and happy to see people.  I was so giddy, and while I don't relish in people having a bad day at all, when Zac told me 7th place was puking at the aid station, I got a little excited :)  That sounds bad I know, but I was excited I could move into 7th, not that she was sick.  I moved very quickly in and out of there taking the chance to move up another place, and I was off dragging Jer and Zac with my a minute up the next ski slope hollering out instructions for when I'd see them next.
From this aid station it was time to run 12 miles on a paved bike path.  12 paved miles.  Pavement is not normal for most ultras and frankly it's not normal for me much anymore.  The first half was fine, but it was getting windy and a little cold rolling into the next aid station where I'd pick up Zac as a pacer.  Top 5 women earned prize money but they cannot have a pacer and it was crazy to be having to consider if I'd put myself in danger of being ineligible of 5th place or DQ'd because I was planning on getting a pacer.  I had been running pretty hard and wanted Zac with me, and was fine not getting money, so we as a crew agreed the worst they would do is just not give me the money.  Deal, fine.
So I picked up Zac, traded my hydration pack for 2 small handhelds just for a change, lost the music I had been enjoying the last 5 hours in trade for great Zac stories, and off we went.  Decided not to change out of my tights like I thought I would.  We had some warm sections, but it cooled off nicely quickly.  Leaving that Vail Pass aid station at mile 33, Zac made me eat.  I did what I could but then tossed the rest.  This 5-6 mile section of the pavement was along the freeway, downhill, and my feet were getting tired.  Not painful like at Katchina, but tired.  I was ready to get off the pavement.  We came to an intersection where we were unsure of which way to go, luckily a cyclist pointed us the right way and not too long after, earlier than I was expecting actually, we got back onto trail!  Two Elks Trail.  A lady at that aid station took my picture, told me I looked great and asked my name and it's spelling so she could put it on iRunFar, a big ultrarunning website!  That was pretty cool! 

I was thankful for Zac's conversation about everything to keep me motivated through the road and now back on the trail.  We passed a pretty waterfall and started powerhiking again in thick woods.  I was thankful for the powerhiking break, easier on the feet and legs, and I love it.  The 3rd big climb of 4 wasn't bad, we handled it well.  We pushed well and I was pleased how fast I was moving and we passed a bunch of people.  Took a while to get to the next aid station and Zac unfortunately sipped off a rock there and tweaked his knee.  I tried to go to the bathroom at that aid station but with no success.  From here my low started. 
I was getting grumpy and unmotivated.  I didn't have the pep in my step anymore.  I wasn't at all considering DNFing or anything, I just felt like it was taking forever to make any progress.  I also stopped to squat every 10 minutes or so.  SO annoying to stop and even more annoying to not have any result.  TMI I know, but it is not comfortable jostling and running while feeling like the poop is right there.  Hate that feeling.  Hate not being able to get it out so I can get on with my race too.  It's not an anxiety thing, I can squat anywhere ;) I don't know what the deal was.  On about the 5th stop I finally had success (aren't you grateful for these details?) and hollered it up to Zac....and the next girl behind me.  Darn!  And not because it was embarrassing, but because someone passed me.  7th felt great, I wasn't thrilled with 8th.  I know that's only one place back, but I had run in 7th for so long.  Zac tried his hardest to keep me happy and moving on, which wasn't an easy task. I was a grump.  It was starting to get dark and I wanted to get to the darn Minturn aid station.  From there it would be 10 miles to go, I would see Jer, it was the last big milestone.  I really wanted to get there.  When we finally got off the trail and had 1 mile on the road to the aid station I started moving.
We moved so fast in and out of Minturn and I was smiling, so happy to be on the last 10 miles (above).  Realized that 7th place was only a few minutes up, and that 5th and 6th place were a lot farther ahead, enough not to worry about.  That was good actually.  But I did want to try for 7th.  We are good powerhikers and that is what we had coming with this last 4th climb, so I gave Jer a kiss and ordered Zac out of the aid station.  It was funny as we were on the road we ran past a guy who overheard us talking about pills, and whether I wanted to feel sustained or pumped up (caffeine pill), he said he wanted one too :)
So off we went up the hill at a good trudge for a couple miles.  Then I started getting tired.  I wanted to be able to see and know where we were headed, which is hard in the dark.  I got a little choked up at one point which is bad news for my breathing.  Was a scary minute or two trying to get calmed down so I could breath.  Zac motivated me to keep going and promised if I finished top 10 I'd get a big ol Zac hug (and they are great!), reason enough to keep moving.  We finally got to the last aid station to find out 7th was more than 16 minutes up, she had made a lot of ground so I wasn't going to worry about her anymore.  That again was good, we just needed to focus on running strong to finish. 
It was cold but not too cold.  At the prerace meeting they pointed out that the finish was below a switchbacky road.  I saw the road then, figured we'd see and hear the finish line for a while and know it was close.  I wish that were the case.  I was very impatient and what we thought would only be 20 more minutes, turned into more than 40, it just kept going!  So many switchbacks, didn't seem like we were getting any lower, even though we were.  I know I was bugging Zac complaining so much, I was just anxious to be done.  I was happy to have my top 15, heck, top 10 finish, but I was also focusing on my time goal of under 15 hours.  Because the course turned out long, 65 miles instead of 62, which I didn't know at the time, I was cutting it close.  It was 14:50 and I still couldn't hear or see the finish.  Finally, not more than 2 minutes before the finish we saw it (coudn't hear it because no music or announcing....).  I got a little lost finding the actual finish chute (not the best last 10 miles of glow marking) but got through it - just under my goal!!  14:57! 
 And after I finished in the time I wanted I could get super excited about my finish place - 8th woman in a starting field of 11 national and world elite runners!!  Holy cow!!  I never really saw that coming, top 15 really was my goal, to get top 10 was just a dream.  I had an overall fantastic day!  It opened my eyes to maybe what I could do someday.  I had my couple somewhat brief low points, and thankfully I had Zac to help me get through it, but it's also good too, because some of it I can change in the future and improve a future race.  I was so happy to have Jer crew me, it was great to see him and have him take such good care of me.  He never complained during the race which was so great as it's not the easiest thing to just hang around all day waiting to see your runner for a minute or two.  Caitlyn was a great help too while not feeling well herself.  It does take a village and I've got a great one :)
After the race the cold set in and so did the backlash or working so hard all day.  I felt absolutely yucky at the condo.  Just wanted to curl up in bed but everything was uncomfortable.  Found myself in the bathroom both sitting on the toilet and holding a bucket, never did need the bucket though.  That isn't all that much fun, I was up till 2am when I decided to take a warm bath that may have helped me get a few hours of sleep later.  The next morning though I felt ok, just stiff, and my recovery was great.  I was sore for a few days, but didn't feel any long term fatigue and didn't get injured.  Easier recovery than Katchina.  Pleased about that.  Probably my last long race for the year, and so happy with it.

In my most mature voice - what a challenging but freaking fantastic and epic day!!!