Thursday, September 29, 2011

Golden Leaf Half Marathon

On Saturday, I ran the Golden Leaf Half Marathon in Aspen with Ben. This was my first ever trail half-marathon. I know, weird, huh? Considering my first true trail race was the Leadville Marathon, which was followed by the Trans Rockies. Talk about big races and high expectations to compete with!!

I had never been to Aspen before this weekend and only really knew of it from pictures and of course, Dumb and Dumber. It is kind of an odd place to be quite honest. It is a mix between mountain and arid. At this time of year, it is beautiful! The colors are amazing to say the least.
Anyways, the Golden Leaf begins in Snowmass and ends in Aspen, after 981 feet of gain and 1712 feet of descent (so their website says). Packet pick up occurred at a hotel on the day of the race, with no option to pick up the night before. Thankfully, the start was just outside the door. The race was divided into waves that began five minutes apart in order to prevent too much clogging on the single track trails. Once we started, we were welcomed by a nice, long ascent in which you cover what feels like most of the 981 feet of elevation you will gain. For some reason, my lungs were screaming at me during most of the climb (turns out I may have been coming down with something).

At the top of the climb (roughly 1.5 miles), we were met with some amazing views! After the initial climb, the trail is mostly single track with several technical sections due to rocks or roots and climbs and descends throughout. There are also several stream crossings. The first one is at about 2.5 miles. The stream is not very deep or wide but the rocks are exceptionally slippery. For some reason (even in my smart wool socks), I thought I would try to tip toe over the rocks to cross. Needless to say, this was an awful idea and my knee ended up in a pretty big fight with a rock. (Based on the discoloration of my leg, I would like to think there is a big dent in the rock). After one more near miss crossing a stream in this stupid tip-toe manner, I realized I am better than that and decided to just go right through any remaining crossings.

At about five miles, the trail took another steep climb just prior to the six mile aid station. From here, the trail wound its way up and down through single track trails surrounded by changing aspens. At times, the trail became very technical with rocks and easy to miss roots. At times, it was easy to get caught in a long line of about 20-30 people going down a steep hill with no way to pass. Killer on the quads!! The last two miles of the race gave weary runners some rolling hills and lots of sun exposure, but being able to hear the cheering at the finish line made it all worth it. The finish line was positioned on a path that ran alongside a park in Aspen where supporters and runners greeted the finishers.

Personally, I had a very difficult race. My lungs were not happy with me from the get go (allergies, gunk, you know, the usual). Ben and I have our best ‘discussion’ while trail running and this race was not immune to that. We ended up separating for a period of time, which we try really hard not to do while running. It was a really good reminder that trail running is so much more fun when you are able to share the experience! Ben did wait for me after only a couple of miles, and we were able to cross the line together.

The race bag was small, but the race shirts fit well and are short sleeve technical tees (granted, this is my second purplish shirt of the year and purple is not really my thing). Overall, the course was more difficult than expected but with the single track trails, views, and aspens in the middle of changing colors it was an amazing course. In fact, the views made almost made it tough to pay attention to the course itself. In addition to the course, the aid stations were well stocked and volunteers were helpful. The trail was well marked and easy to follow. At the finish, the medical support was also fantastic and provided me with a clean wound and a nice big bag of ice. The post-race meal was different than most other races I have done, but still very good with pasta salad, sandwiches, brownies, and lemonade. The biggest disappointment was that there was no beer at the finish line!

The raffle at the finish line was worth staying for. All runners were entered automatically into the raffle. Prizes that were given away were incredible and ranged from Camelback lumbar packs, Arc’teryx jackets, technical shirts, Suunto heart rate monitors, and a three night stay at a nice hotel and more. Ok, so we did not actually win anything, but it was still a relaxing afternoon.
Some logistics...

We did not realize how far away Aspen is from us, so we scrambled the week of the race to find lodging. The night before the race, we stayed at the Snowmass Mountain Chalet, which was pretty close to the start line. We got a great rate, so it was no surprise that the bed was not exactly comfortable. The staff was exceptional and even offered to let us use their showers after checking out the next day and eat breakfast prior to finishing set up. On the way home, we stopped in Glenwood Springs and had lunch at Uncle Pizza. It was an unusual experience as the guy working went on several rants but the food was amazing!!

So now, it is back to road racing for a while and hoping my knee heals quickly!

Would I do this race again? Of course
Would I recommend it to a friend? Absolutely
Would I change anything? Of course… banging up the knee, crossing the stream like a pansy, and getting stuck behind a long line of people while running down hill.
Is it worth the value? The views, shirt, crew, and post-race party (yes, even without beer) made it worth the value
Overall race experience: Fantastic!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dirty Girl

It is not what you think…

I am like the princess and the pea when it comes to things in my shoes. My sock seams need to be just right and even the slightest bit of dirt in my shoe will drive me crazy. As we prepared for the Gore Tex Trans Rockies, Ben and I decided to research different gaiters. A lot of the brands have a strap that goes under the shoe, which I thought would be an invitation to break easily. One brand that kept coming up with very positive
reviews were Dirty Girl.

Dirty Girl gaiters come in a variety of color and design options. They are designed to Velcro to the back of your shoe (yes, they do come with extra Velcro) and hook to your shoe laces without a strap to go underneath. They are also reasonably priced ($20) and the maker offers a satisfaction guarantee. I decided they were well worth a try.

I have worn them for every trail run since purchase and am considering adding them to my road running attire. Not only do they add a bit of flair to already awkward looking outfits, they do an excellent job keeping unwanted debris out of my shoes. Even though they are not made out of tech material, they dry extremely quickly. Needless to say, I have been so happy with my Dirty Girls and have been scoping out other designs for when I am ready to add a second pair to my collection.

You will get weird looks. You may even get compliments on “your socks.” Regardless, don’t be ashamed to wear them with pride!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The other side

On Monday, I volunteered to help out with the Boulder Marathon (which; obviously took place in Boulder, CO). I have wanted to volunteer for a race but have either had schedule conflicts or have actually been running it. I was really impressed with the aid on and off the course last year when we ran it, so I was really excited when I saw the race was on Labor Day. Let me start out by saying that they really do take care of their volunteers and take even better care of their race marshals. For helping, we got the tech long sleeve t-shirt, the race glass, and a North Face jacket embroidered with the Boulder Marathon logo on it (super snazzy!). They also provide you with food and you get to partake in the post-race beer. Awesome!

On top of all of the cool swag, it was awesome to be on the other side of the fence during a race. It is so easy to get caught up in yourself when you are running and you forget that their might actually be people behind that floating cup as you run through an aid station. As a volunteer, I got to see firsthand that just as in racing; things do not always go as planned. Being a volunteer gave also me an opportunity to see how different people handle the challenges and joy of racing 26.2 miles. Throughout the race, I felt like I could relate with every runner at any given point on a run. Some look like they are running with ease, some are in agony, some are out having a lot of fun, others are focused, and still others are fighting so hard to resist the urge to throw in the towel.

Anyways, being able to watch as the elites come through and look effortless is almost mind blowing. It was also awesome got to hear stories from the runners, of past experiences and present endeavors (for example, one lady is trying to run a marathon in all 50 states four times). We got to see a new friend from the Trans Rockies run race in the marathon (and have a beer afterwards with him). The coolest part of the whole day was getting being at the finish line when the last runner came through, knowing that even had had just accomplished a huge feat.

Whether or not you are into running, I would highly recommend two things: 1. Run a marathon (or a race of any distance). It is such a cool feeling to cross that finish line. Oh, if you do decide to do this, give the volunteers some slack. Often, the unpredictable happens for them just as it will happen to you. 2. Support a marathon (or another such race) by volunteering or even cheering. Runners love it and cannot race without that support.

One last thing- the Boulder Marathon is a race I would recommend!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hills... and my first review

I used to be afraid of going downhill. Not just afraid… I hated it. I have been known to crab walk down steep sections of trail while hiking (hiking is even slower than running). I was becoming more accustomed to it and even beginning to kind of become comfortable with it when recently; Ben suggested I lead the pace on the downhill. Something happened on that run and I felt the need to just take off down the hill. Based on the way I now run down hills, one would never suspect (I hope) that I used to dread those bad boys.

I realized today that I am afraid of long uphills. Don’t get me wrong, I used to love doing hill repeats when I was in high school and am able to power through long uphills on the street. There is something different about running uphill on a trail (apart from being at a higher altitude). You never really know when it is going to end, you have to watch your footing, your legs start to scream louder and your lungs begin to burn more.

It was not until today that I realized I have this fear. We decided to do a short trail run today as part of our “recovery week” (yes, I use this term very lightly). The way out was almost completely uphill, which forced me to a point just short of a meltdown. Since running the Gore-Tex Transrockies Race, I have made a goal for myself that I want to be a much stronger runner on the hills. Well, today I fell very very short of my expectations. We were not even a mile in to the run when I realized that I was tired, my legs were tight, my foot was not happy, and I had a long uphill climb in front of me.

Ben kept reminding me that all runners have hard days. I have not had a crappy run in a long time and today’s run takes the prize for crappy. It was a good reminder to me that it is ok to have to come face to face with your strengths as well as with your weaknesses. I want to hold onto today’s run as an example of why I need to run more. Instead, I have decided to imprint today into my mind as a reminder that it is ok to have a difficult day every once in a while and that one tough day does not define me as a runner or as a person.

Running really is a metaphor for life. Ben tried something knew today and gave me little nudges as we ran uphill. He also was very supportive. As we ran down the hill together, I was reminded that there will be days when I have to rely on others for help or support and that there is nothing wrong with this. I cannot do it all on my own (Phil 4:13).

On another note, today we ran at Hall Ranch just outside of Lyons, CO. The trail is fairly well-maintained, singe track in some places and double track in others. It is very exposed and arid but offers beautiful views of the valley.

By the way, I am not sure that my toe nails will ever look the same if I keep this whole trail running thing up.

Georgetown to Idaho Springs
So, I will get to my review of Gore-Tex Transrockies Run, but I wanted to start with Georgetown to Idaho Springs. Ben and I first did this race two years ago. It was our second half marathon together. He ended up with a stomach bug the night before the race and probably should not have run, so the first time was pretty much a miserable race.

This year we decided to run as part of our taper. I am really glad we did! The race begins in Georgetown, CO and descends about 1,000 feet to Idaho Springs, CO. Within the first mile of the race, there is one short yet unexpected steep descent. Throughout the course, the majority of the race in on pavement; however, two short segments are on dirt. Just prior to the final descent to the finish line, there is a short climb into the neighborhood of Idaho Springs, which can take tired and unsuspecting legs by surprise.

Overall, the course itself is beautiful as it offers varying views of mountains and rivers. The support on the course is also very good (and offered by the local high school teams). The after party has a number of sponsors giving away freebies or offering raffle opportunities. The food is basic after race food (bananas, granola, bagel). The t-shirt is still a cotton t-shirt, however, the design is always unique. The one disappointment of the after party are the beverages. The only beer they offer is non-alcoholic. Really?! Why drink the calories in a non-alcoholic beer after running 13.1 miles?! If you are looking for beer in Idaho Springs, I would recommend hitting up
Tommy Knockers Brewery just down the street from the finish.

Would I do this race again? Yes
Would I recommend it to a friend? Yes (we had one join us for this race)
Is it worth the value? Despite the lack of alcoholic beer, the support and the course make it well worth it
Worth traveling for? If you want some altitude training and an opportunity to meet locals and view some awesome scenery
Overall experience: Great

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How it started

I had too many thoughts to wait until later to post...

I was never a runner until high school. My older sister did cross-country and track (and was quite good at it), so naturally, I needed to as well. I will never forget my first day of practice for cross-country. It was a few days before the school year began, so we met in the relative cool of the morning at our course, O’Melvaney Park. The course began with an easy, rolling, well shaded loop around a large grassy area. After the first loop, I was winded but still holding on. Then, I was introduced to The Hill. The Hill was steep enough that if you did not run up it just right, you would end up slipping backwards and could very well have to use your hands to get to the top (yes, I did eventually get to witness others doing this) and once at the top, you just had to let it all loose to make it safely to the bottom.

At the end of practice, I thought I was going to die. Obviously, I did not and I am pretty sure the running bug bit me… hard. I continued to run through high school and The Hill even got easier! When I got to college, I met the track coach but knew immediately I was not going to be fast enough to try out for the team without embarrassment. So, like all other reject athletes trying to make it in college, I decided to try rowing. There is nothing quite like the feel of being out early in the morning when all is quiet, the water is smooth, and the sound of oar blades cutting the water is all you hear. Although I loved rowing, it never did replace my love for running and my alternative work outs for training or extra work outs for stress were always running.

After college came a wedding, a move, and graduate school. This was a big undertaking in and of itself! I ran primarily as an outlet and to maintain fitness. Ben (my husband) would run occasionally just so we could spend some time together amid our busy schedules. He never did love running and was pretty overweight. Before I graduated from school, I told him my goal was to run a marathon within a year of graduating. I invited him to either come watch or join me. I graduated in May of 2009. Since then, we have raced in one 5k, two 10k’s, eight half marathons, five full marathons, and one 120 mile six-day staged race (and Ben has lost over 70 pounds).

Running is a big part of our life and Ben and I continue to train together (along with Brewer, our weimaraner). Running is an area where I find peace and often feel most connected to my Creator. It is a stress reliever and a challenge. Running brings me joy.

The beginning...

I have been thinking a lot lately about how to share my experiences of life, running and balance with others. Previously, I had been pretty anti-blogging because who really wants to read about my life? I realized, however, that I have been reading blogs a lot more lately for recipe ideas, work out ideas, reviews of races and so much more. After running the Gore-Tex Transrockies Race last week (more on this later) and wanting a way to summarize and share it, I have decided to start a blog. Often, running blogs and reviews come from runners who are "good" athletes. Well, I am not going to lie. I really do wish I could be "good" runner who has a sponsorship and could go really really fast (and look good while doing it). I have had to come to grips with the fact that this is not and never will be a reality, however, I do love running and will continue to do it as long as I am able.

My goal with this blog is to not only review races but to write about the experience of being an average person who runs for lots of different reasons but is, and realistically will continue to be, a mid-packer.