What started out as a joke on Facebook before our road trip a few weeks ago (you can read about that adventure here), got me thinking about the people I run with and who honestly, I spend most of my happy time with (besides my own family).
I feel very lucky to have the set of friends that I do. Friends who do crazy things and who enjoy Mother Nature and getting muddy just as much as me.
If you read my posts, you know who these usual suspects are in my life. Pigeon, Stonegate and Burning Girl are the most frequent. Occasionally we are lucky enough to run with Miss P and Pearls.
I also run with a dear friend, TiggerT. She doesn’t run ultras but when we do run, we usually laugh, a lot. She is my California International Marathon buddy and my “road-running” friend.
But more importantly, she and Stonegate, Burning Girl and Pigeon are my friends. My wolf-pack. They are the ones I know will support me in a race and in life.
Truth be told, before I ran trails, I ran alone. A lot. I used to read Kristin Armstrong’s blog Mile Markers on Runner’s World and would be so envious of the stories she’d write about – meeting her friends for a morning workout or a long training run – laughing and sharing their life’s problems with each other. I wanted that.
Well now, I have it but 100 times better.
My wolf-pack doesn’t run together every day or every weekend, but we are connected. The trails may have brought us together but it isn’t what keeps us strong.
My wolf-pack keeps me sane. They keep me on my toes. They are resources for things I know nothing about. They build you up and remind you, that you are worth it and that you deserve the best. They are shoulders to cry on when life gets hard and they remind you when you may be making the same mistake twice.
They give you hugs when you need them and they make you laugh.
I adore my wolf-pack and while it seems stereotypical to “give thanks” this time of year, that is exactly what I want to do.
Thank you ladies for all that you do. Thank you for being a little bit crazy and a lot-a-bit fun. Thank you for being adventure seekers and thank you for supporting my often crazy ideas. Thank you for the hugs, the laughter and the tears. Thank you for listening. Thank you, for being you … my wolf-pack, our wolf-pack.
“They are going to kill me! But this is way too funny not to post!”
(warning – this is a super long post but a fun one)
The Thursday before I left for Oregon, my coworker and I were discussing the fact that I was going on a road-trip with two friends (also moms) and how we were headed to do a trail marathon put on by race director and all around ultra-running legend, Hal Koerner. One thing led to another and within minutes the above photo was created and shared on Facebook.
Hal was tagged and my friends laughed. He seems like he has a good easy going personality, so I hoped he didn’t mind. 🙂
First, let’s step back just a bit shall we? How did this all come about? Well, quite a few months ago I decided that in my final year of being 39, I wanted to do races that I have never done and go places and have fun! So I registered for the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon which takes place in Ashland, Oregon and I booked a hotel.
Vans and I have been to Ashland before and we loved it. He told me that he’d go with the kids but that I should really take my friends. So, I did.
Vans tagged us as “the wolfpack” on Facebook and the name has stuck. My girls and I hit the road ready to explore, live and just laugh our bums off!
The drive up was easy. We stopped along the way for photos and rest-stops but we made really good time and were in Ashland with lots of time to explore.
Then we walked a block or two over to Lithia Park to find the race start and finish area. This park is mind blowing and GORGEOUS!
We wandered the park, taking photos and then came across a little park with THE coolest climbing structure ever.
Stonegate and I couldn’t resist. We had to climb to the top. My kids would love this!
Since we were racing, we made it an early night and grabbed whatever food we all needed and headed back to the hotel to settle in and get ready for the race.
We felt kind of lame going back to our hotel when it was so early but we wanted to be rested for the race.
The race started at 8:00 am which for us, is extremely late. We were sort of thrown by the late start time but realized the next morning that it doesn’t get light out until about 7:45 am. Aaah, now I get it. 🙂
The best part is that we could leave our hotel and walk to the starting area. I love being able to do that.
As usual, we arrived a bit too early and watched as the race directors and volunteers helped put up the starting arch.
We knew this was not a huge race but we also knew that it was filled with mostly Oregon locals. Locals who looked like they could crush this course.
Promptly at 8 am, Hal counted us down and the race started. The first 10 miles are on a partly paved and partly dirt fire road. TEN MILES … UP HILL.
We all started out together and then quickly realized, that NO ONE walks. No one. Everyone was running. Mile 1, mile 2, mile 3 … no one stopped despite the fact that we were climbing some serious hill.
Burning Girl said, “I’ll catch ya later! Good luck!” as she stopped to walk. I must add, that Burning Girl’s farthest run to date had been 12 miles, once. This girl’s life has been hectic to say the least and yet she traveled to Ashland and made a game day decision. She started the race and would see how the day would unfold. Stonegate and I had our fingers crossed for her but to be honest, the odds were against her.
Stonegate and I ran a little further and then she stopped. I kept going but eventually stopped too. Stonegate caught me and we did a run walk combo up that hill. Everyone was looking at us as they ran past but we knew we wanted to be a bit conservative as we still had a lot of climbing to do!
The weather was perfect. All week they had predicted that it would be down pouring rain – first it was for the entire day, then it moved to the second half of the race and then, it wasn’t supposed to rain until late that evening! It was beautiful out. Not too cold. Not too hot.
The fire road was getting a little tedious. It wasn’t ugly but it had this gravel that was just very hard for me to get footing on. I would slide back an inch every so often. The tread on my shoes are also pretty worn so that didn’t help.
Finally we made a sharp right turn onto a single track. I don’t think Stonegate and I could be any happier. The funny thing is, all the people who had ran the fire road, walked the single track. That just made me laugh. I was ready to run at this point!
The trail was well marked and it smelled like pine! It was awesome.
I am not quite sure when it was, I think it was mile 8 or 9, Stonegate told me to go ahead that she needed to walk. So I ran thinking she would catch me eventually. I never saw her again.
I just kept running. I was starting to feel good. My legs were no longer tired from the climb and my lungs felt okay. We had reached the top of the hill and I knew that the rest was just a super flat-ish section until about mile 19 or 20.
There were six aid-stations throughout the course and I just took them one by one. I didn’t really need much as my pack was pretty stocked but the volunteers manning the aid-stations were SUPER nice!
The only downfall with this race is that there is no where, and I mean no where, to pull off to the side of the trail when nature calls. You have a cliff on one side and a wall or mountain of dirt more or less on the other.
This kind of stunk as I had to go twice during the race. Both instances I had to literally climb over a cliff and down an embankment one time and then climb over some downed trees another. That took a lot of time.
Finally I came to the last aid-station at about mile 19.5. I just said hello and was ready to keep running. I almost went the wrong way until they pointed me towards some single track trails. Yes!
It was a short single track that then dumped you onto a short fire road that then led you to Caterpillar Trail. As I understand it from the locals, this trail was newly built and this was the first year the course was running on it.
I hit this trail and it was like a fire had been lit inside me!
I just ran and ran and ran! I felt no pain. I was in heaven. I was smiling ear to ear cheering on runners as I passed them. I think I passed about 10 people on this section of the trail. I had passed about 8 on the fire road the last few miles as well. My energy was strong.
Up, down, up, down the trail was full of little rollers that weaved in and out of trees. There were downward switch backs and tight corners. To your left was a cliff. The trail itself was only a foot or two wide and to your right was a dirt wall. I prayed no mountain bikers were out there (as it turns out, mountain bikers have their own section of caterpillar to ride on that is just for them, how cool!?).
Runners cheered me on as I passed them. Finally at mile 24 I came to this …
I had to laugh and take a photo. Always throwing in stairs for good fun.
Finally the trail dumps you out onto a paved road. After a turn, you realize that you’re on the same road you started the race on and that we only had a mile to go.
I ran hard. I knew the race had a 6 hour cutoff and I had no concept of time. I never once looked at my watch for time. I’d occasionally look at it for mileage when it beeped to see if the mile markers were accurate (they were) but never once did I glance at the time or the pace I was running.
I passed about 4 more runners on this road (they looked like they were hurting). Locals were sitting on their curbs cheering us on! It was so cute.
Then I see the finish arch ahead. I was so happy but then something to my left caught my eye. There was a HUGE buck just standing at the curb, not five feet from me. Four feet from it, was a woman just sitting and cheering.
I looked from the buck to the woman and from the woman to the buck thinking, “Does she not SEE that? Am I imagining this? He is RIGHT there!” I wanted to stop and pull out my camera but I was literally just 30 yards from the finish.
As it turns out, when I did finish, there had been a family of deer to my right as well! Crazy!
I finished in 5 hours even. I apparently snuck past everyone as they had to chase me down to give me my medal and race swag.
I then waited for Stonegate and Burning Girl to finish. I hadn’t heard from either of them throughout the race. The cell coverage was spotty most of the day so that was understandable.
Stonegate finished and was smiling ear to ear. Her time was about 5 hours and 30 minutes and she was feeling good.
We quickly walked down the street to Pioneer Hall where the post-race food was located. Here they gave us growlers!
My very own growler! I was so excited. Stonegate grabbed a burrito. I took a photo of all the local beer being served to send to Vans back home.
Then we went back to the finish area to wait for Burning Girl. Neither one of us had heard from her. I talked to the guy manning the finish area and he said no one had dropped at any of the aid-stations that he was aware of.
Then, we saw Hal, the race director. I wanted a photo so I grabbed Stonegate and we wandered over. We asked if we could have a photo with him.
At first he laughed, then said, “Yea, I think I saw a photo or something Facebook already … that took a lot of work.” 🙂
I assured him that it really didn’t take much! hahaha It was so funny. He truly was a super nice guy and a good sport about it. He shared with us some places where we could go and hang out tonight post race.
All of a sudden, Stonegate gets a text from Burning Girl that she had HIT THE PAVEMENT! She was on her way into the finish! There were 5 runners out there and she was one of them.
Down the hill she came! She looked amazing! She did it! She freaking ran that hard-a$$ marathon with little to no training. Mind over matter she did it! I am so damn proud of that woman. She is one helluva strong runner! Sadly, we did NOT get a post race photo of all of us! Grrr!
But we did stop on our walk back to the hotel at Standing Stone Brewing Company again to fill up our new growlers!
Then it was back to the hotel for a mini celebration and showers. Despite being a little sore and tired, we were anxious to get out and really experience downtown Ashland.
We had drinks, followed by a nice dinner in a great place with locals cheering on the Oregon football team. We told stories of what we all experienced during the run and how we felt at certain points. It was pure bliss.
Alas, we are moms and we were tired so we called it quits pretty early and headed back to the hotel (in the pouring rain). We had our growlers and were eager to get foam rolling! haha
The next morning was day light savings. The time change didn’t really help us, our internal mom clocks had us up the normal time. We grabbed coffee and breakfast from the hotel and went back to pack up and hit the road.
The drive back was good. Again we made it a point to stop at scenic over looks for photos.
We stopped in Redding to visit Burning Girl’s mother-inlaw. She is the sweetest woman. We also stopped in Weed, California to have a little fun – gotta have fun in Weed!
All in all, it was one of the best weekends that I have had in a really long time. I feel truly blessed to have a supportive spouse who encouraged me to go have a weekend with friends and I feel truly lucky to know these two ladies who love to travel, love to run and love to adventure just as much as I do! So thank you Vans and thank you Stonegate and Burning Girl for being the two best adventure pals ever. I love that you are always willing to go on my crazy adventures and destination races.
So the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon was my last trail race in my current age bracket. I have one more race of the season left in December and then I cross the proverbial line into a new age bracket, a new era. So far I have to say that I am not afraid. I am not sad about it. My thirties have been fabulous. I have been so very blessed and so very lucky thus far to have the family, friends and adventures that I have had. This year in particular has been one helluva year for me running wise.
I have met and talked with some outstanding runners and athletes this year and it is all because I love to explore. If my mom’s death taught me one thing (it actually taught me a lot) but most importantly I have learned to live life! There is no telling what tomorrow may bring. So grab life by the horns, and cherish it. Then, let it go and find the next big thing. Make memories (heck make waves if you can). Just do it. And don’t forget to smile.
This past weekend I did NOT run the American River 50 mile race although deep down, I truly missed being out there for the full race like I have in years past. However, I was honored and lucky enough to be able to pace my friend Stonegate during her first American River 50 mile race. Pacing someone truly gives you a whole different perspective.
The day started when I woke up at 4 am and threw on sweats and hopped in the car to pick up Stonegate and Burning Girl. I was excited. I had energy and I couldn’t hold it in. I love this race and I especially love being able to support friends who are doing such amazing feats like running 50 miles for the very first time.
Burning Girl and I didn’t have to do much to calm Stonegate down. She seemed at ease although I got the sense as go-time neared that she was starting to feel the excitement with perhaps a side of nerves. We gave her hugs as we walked her to the starting line.
We wished her well and told her we’d see her at mile 25 ready to crew!
They counted down and off they went. I actually got a little choked up at the start because it is just so exciting and the energy at these things is palpable.
Then, Burning Girl and I went home and I went back to bed! 🙂 I didn’t sleep long. My mind was going a mile a minute thinking about all that I had to gather together. Burning Girl was going to pick me up and we were going to head to Beal’s Point, the half way mark of the race where I was going to join Stonegate as her pacer and run with her the last 25 miles or so. To be honest, I have never started running so late in the day and on such a HOT day at that! It was definitely interesting to say the least trying to figure out what to eat and how to get ready to start running at 11:00 am vs 6:00 am when we normally go for our long runs.
Stonegate texted me her location and I knew she was right on pace. I texted Burning Girl that I was antsy and wanted to head to Beal’s Point. She picked me up and drove over and set up camp. Stonegate texted at various points continuing to stay on pace.
She came into Beal’s and was immediately welcomed by the group that she coaches. That got me a little choked up (again). How sweet! I knew it helped boost Stonegate’s mood too.
She came in and we got her squared away. The temperature was really starting to rise at this point. I tried cooling her down by putting ice in her bandana and ending up slightly choking her! 🙂 Hey, that’s what pacers do right? Haha
Then we took off ready for the best part of the race, the trails! While we ran out of Beal’s I checked in with her. What has she been eating, drinking? Is she going to the bathroom? Has she started taking salt tabs? I know I was peppering her with a lot of questions but sometimes you have to ask a runner as they don’t always volunteer information. 🙂
To start, I ran alongside of her. When we hit the single track sections, I ran behind her. You can see a lot when you pace a runner and start running behind them. I could see her highs and her lows at times. At one point, I could she her running off kilter just a bit and she was quiet (she normally is not a quiet person). I saw a sandwich sticking out of her pack from behind and I suggested that perhaps she have some of that as well as a salt-tab. Then I marked the time mentally as to when she took that salt so I could keep track. Once she ate that piece of sandwich her form returned as did her energy. She was still quieter than she normally is but hey, this girl just ran 35 miles, farther than she ever has before.
She did fantastic. I noticed that she started tripping more often over the rocks and branches that were on the trail. She’s tired (obviously) so I offered to run in front of her where I started pointing out every rock, branch or step down. I wanted her to not have to think too much and just react. That really seemed to work well. She’d listen to my cues and moved accordingly. I also like to think that I was “pulling” her just a bit by picking up the pace ever so slightly.
Occasionally I would encourage her to run this downhill or that downhill and we’d hike the ups when she asked. I wasn’t a slave driver but I was noticing she was losing the pace that she had worked so hard for earlier in the race but to be fair, she was also battling a pain in her foot too so I was trying to be cautious of that as well.
Her darkest hour was the time between Granite Bay and Horseshoe Bar aid stations. That stretch is brutal and almost 9 miles long. Truly the hardest stretch in the race and she did fabulous. After that, she was a good girl taking her salt and eating when she should. Her energy picked up when she found out that her family would be a Rattlesnake aid-station. So that was my drive for her to get there, “Just keep pushing girl! Your family is waiting!” And she did.
The last 10 miles of the race is an awesome section with rollers and some amazing views. I know she loves this section and I tried to capitalize on that by pointing out the views here and there. When we finally dumped out onto the gravel at the bottom of Damn Hill I knew I had my work cut out for me. She looked so sad and I hated to tell her that she had 3 more miles to go and that it was entirely uphill.
She turned to me and said, “Girl, I can’t run.” And I replied, “That’s fine. I wasn’t going to have you run this gravely section anyway but we will run when we get to the pavement.” And she just shot me a side glance like, “Are you kidding me?” haha!
Sure enough we got to the pavement section and I said, “Okay, do you think you can run to that pole up ahead? We can stop there and assess.” She kind of groaned and looked at me and said, “It hurts to run!” to which I replied, “Of course it hurts. It’s going to hurt you just ran 40 something miles!” haha So, she ran. I pointed out that once you actually get moving and get past that “oh my gosh this hurts” feeling, it actually feels even BETTER to run than walk. So from that point on, it was “to that sign” or “to that rock” and we’d run and walk. Pigeon came down the hill and met us and helped motivate Stonegate up the hill too.
I told her that they play a super cruel joke by putting this really steep little hill at the very tippy top. I advised her to drop her pack and just go and I reminded her that her daughter and son were waiting just on the other side to bring her into the finish.
She listened. She dropped her pack and pushed. Hard. Pigeon grabbed the pack while I ran into the parking lot screaming my bloody head off as she ran the perimeter of the parking lot to the finish line with her kids alongside of her. I was so dang proud.
My friend worked her butt off for this race and it paid off. I couldn’t be more excited and happy for her. I remember exactly how I felt after finishing my first American River 50 mile race. Heck, I remember how I felt after my other two finishes. The excitement, the energy, the pride you have knowing you ran farther than most people drive?! It just never gets old.
Congrats Stonegate! You did great girl! Thank you for allowing me to join you on that journey.
After my pacing duties were over, I took advantage of the icy canal, the massage tent and then inhaled a huge salad from Whole Foods.
Some final thoughts: Pacing really takes the attention away from you and puts it on someone else (duh! that’s really the definition of pacing). I drank and hydrated well. I kept up on my salt intake too. I ate but I ate differently throughout. I ate the same amount of food and the same food, just in different orders which was a bit weird to me. I wanted to eat the easier faster foods first so that I could focus more on her. It all worked out in the end, I had enough energy and felt completely fine after the race. This was good practice to throw me out of my usual routine and see how balancing and readjusting works when and if I should ever need to during a race. Overall, it was an amazing day.
Even though I have run 20 miles numerous times, there is something to be said about running your first 20 of the season. It means training has truly begun and it is time to start seeing what works and what doesn’t. Weed out the bad stuff and push your limits.
This past Sunday, I had one of the best runs yet and what made this run so great, was that I had ALL my running pals together at one time. Our schedules finally collided and Pigeon, Stonegate and Burning Girl and I were all ready to hit the trails at once.
Pigeon was happy to show Stonegate and Burning Girl some new trails. Trails that I have run a few times but didn’t have the confidence to do on my own just yet. Stonegate was super excited to see some new views and I don’t think this run disappointed her.
We carpooled in two cars and parked near the confluence. We started running and then BAM within 3 minutes I had rolled my left ankle and heard a distinct “POP!” I was too busy looking at the beauty around me to notice whatever the heck it was I had stepped on.
I didn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop. I pushed the pain radiating up my leg aside and just kept going. The day was just beginning and I was too excited. Plus, I knew it was not that serious, just a minor set back.
We ran Clementine in single file. Such a gorgeous trail. It was muddy and slippery in sections which made it even more fun. The only sketchy part was running into a couple that had two dogs. After my dog experience last year (read about that here), I am forever hesitant on the trail and will never trust a dog or its owner again.
This couple pulled their pups way off the trail. They had one tiny dog (held by the woman) and one large dog (held by the man). When Stonegate ran by that big dog was growling and lunging towards her. Luckily the man had a good hold but I can’t say the rest of us were eager to run by next.
With that behind us though we just continued on. Stonegate and Burning Girl would run up ahead, I’d take up the middle and Pigeon was the caboose with her steady pace. We’d stop and regroup at all turns and intersections.
With that downhill section my tummy started doing some flip-flops which is why I slowly positioned myself to mid-pack. I wasn’t sure if the porta-potty that I remembered was still where it used to be. Lucky for me, it was!
In true goofball form, the girls decided to play a little prank on me ….
They thought they were hilarious trying to get my reaction when I stepped out. It was pretty funny but I felt tons better! Moving on!
Back towards our car we ran. The first loop was done.
Next it was time to introduce the girls to ….
We all started the initial hike up Stagecoach together hiking and running when we could.
As we were hiking I saw this huge stick … moving … wait that wasn’t a stick it was a Banana Slug! 🙂
Soon however, I started to feel the pull. There have been a few times when Pigeon and I have gone up this hill and I’ve said, “See ya at the top!” Climbing is one of my favorite things to do so off I went, powering my way up.
There was a guy in front of me that I was determined to catch. I caught him and then passed him. I finally made it to the top feeling strong.
When the rest of the crew made it to the top, we ran through Auburn to the Overlook and then back down the trail towards No Hands Bridge. The sun was up and the day was just getting better and better.
Burning Girl however has been dealing with some hip pain and decided (wisely) not to push her limits and headed back to the car. This is where running loops is SO smart. Pigeon, Stonegate and I continued on towards K2 to do our last four miles with a good mile of climbing to start.
Burning Girl and I pushed our way up K2. Some doofus on his way down thought he was being cool and said to us, “Just so you know, you’re not even half way there.” No duh kid, thanks. 🙂
When we were all together we headed off towards the trail that leads back down. For years I used to hate this trail. Before I had my ankle surgery, this trail used to be nothing short of excruciating for me. Now that I have solid ankle strength, I love to just FLY down this section.
Stonegate and I just took off. Eventually I even lost sight of Stonegate behind me. I was just smiling ear to ear dancing around and through all the mud puddles. I was like a pig in a mud bath or baby in a toy store … it was the perfect way to end this 20 mile run.
When we made it back to No Hands we were stretching and goofing around waiting for Pigeon. Stonegate decided to climb up into this cave.
20 miles and almost 5,000 ft of climbing in one day with three of my favorite running partners. My heart was full. My body felt amazing. My fueling was good and my legs felt strong. I was a happy girl.
If you follow me on Instagram, then you saw that I posted this after our run on Sunday. I am a strong believer that what you eat after a hard workout sets the tone for your recovery.
In the photo above, I had a gluten free teff flour tortilla topped with homemade no-oil hummus, raw spinach, shredded carrots, steamed kale mixed with hot sauce, cooked beets and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast. So good. If I remember, I will continue to post the meals that I recover with because I know people are curious and it is often a question I am asked a lot.
So there you have it, our 20 miler was fantastic! I am looking forward to another weekend on the trails however mother nature it looks like she might grace us with a nice big shower for our entire run. Bring it! 🙂
PS: Ankle Update – Tonight I saw my miracle worker at Elite Spinal and Sports and he said that I thoroughly jacked up the tendon between my tibia and fibula. He was pretty amazed at how messed up it was AND that I was able to continue on with the run. It feels great now, a little tender but at least I have feeling back in my toes. 🙂