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.
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.
It has been a few weeks since my last post. Sorry about that. I took a quick (5 day) trip back east just days after the race and then returned home feeling quite drained and a bit behind in work/life.
I ran the first weekend home and it was a bit of a struggle. I blame a lot of it on lack of sleep and allergies. The minute I landed in California, I’ve been attacked severely by seasonal allergies like you wouldn’t believe. I know I am not alone. Geez. I know rain is what we need but lordy has it caused a slew of allergic reactions in our house.
So when Pigeon and Stonegate said they were ready to hit the trails for a nice long run this past weekend, I was super excited and hopeful that my allergies would give me a break for the day.
Wanting to get in some decent mileage we decided to do our usual loops adding and changing what we wanted to make the miles work.
Adding to the fun, my roommate from college mailed my girls her son’s Flat Stanley. I decided to include Flat Stanley on our run. 🙂
Our first loop was about 7 miles plus and did not disappoint. We were able to see some amazing waterfalls.
Then we refueled and dropped some gear off at the car. It was getting warm and the rain was holding off for us.
We started our second loop up Stagecoach hill. Stonegate was waiting for a friend to come join us on the second set of loops but he had not arrived just yet. So the three of us took off hiking up Stagecoach with the plan that Stonegate would turn around when she received notice that he had arrived and would head back down.
Well, we all reached the top of Stagecoach and it was then that Stonegate got the text that Paul had arrived. So she headed all the way back down as he was working his way up.
Pigeon and I decided instead to work on our power hiking skills. We’d run about half way down and then turn and power hike our way back up. We did that three times before we caught up to Stonegate and Paul who were climbing back up.
Through Auburn we ran to the Overlook and then back down towards No Hands. I had to stop by No Hands to remove a rock from my shoe … once again, we decided to have some fun jumping around off the rocks (really we were making fun of this trail running video that made the Facebook circuit earlier in the week).
We all refueled at No Hands and then started making our way up K2. K2 was actually quite busy! I ended up passing two men who were out there hiking. I am still working on my hiking skills to get ready for 13,000 ft of climbing come May.
Once we regrouped at the top it was time to fly down roller coaster back to No Hands. I thought that I would zoom like I have been lately but about half way down, my body just said, “Nope, not today!” The trails were super thick and sticky and every so often, we’d run into the trail maintenance crews out there so I took it a little more conservatively. My legs were happier with that.
When we all met at the bottom, we decided not to do another loop and to call it a day. I think we were all a bit tired. This was the longest toughest run I have done since FOURmidable three weeks prior.
We ended up finishing up at the perfect time as the winds started to pick up and the temps started to drop. We had perfect weather for our run but Mother Nature had decided enough was enough.
POST RUN FUEL
After I got home and showered, I warmed up some Split Pea soup that I had made earlier in the week along with a gluten free roll. It was exactly what I needed to warm up and refuel.
Overall it was a great day. I am happy with how my body responded during the run. I almost thought too much time off would hurt me but it was probably just what the trail doctor ordered.
I especially enjoyed all the laughs we had out there. Running with friends really can make all the difference in how you feel sometimes.
This photo makes me laugh so much so I had to include it. Before we climbed Stagecoach, I used the restroom and had left Flat Stanley outside (some things Flat Stanley doesn’t need to see).
Pigeon and Stonegate were trying to play a prank on me but I foiled it. My face cracks me up. 🙂
You win some you lose some. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It is always darkest before the dawn.
There are so many ways to look at situations where you do not feel your best and that is exactly the most clear way to describe this past weekend’s run.
Stonegate and I ran together on Saturday. I had heard in advance that there was a race in Auburn so we decided to stay clear of that area and run some miles on the Salmon Falls 50k course as both Stonegate and Burning Girl are running that race in three weeks.
The weather was supposed to be warm but it was pretty chilly to start (as usual – I feel like I write that sentence every blog post haha).
We took off up the Red Dragon from Skunk Hallow and just continued to hike one foot in front of the other. The first few miles of this run is up hill. My legs felt heavy from the start but I was hoping it was due to the fact that they had not quite woken up yet to be climbing this soon.
However, as the day wore on, it was clear that my legs did not feel attached to my body and my brain was constantly being pulled in a different direction.
Don’t get me wrong, I love running with Stonegate (we always have some fun) but I just didn’t feel within my own body. My legs were tired and heavy. My heart, for the first time in a while, just wasn’t excited to be out there much longer. Perhaps the last two weeks of 20 something mile runs had filled my cup so much that it was full at the moment. Perhaps, this is the perfect time for a taper.
I have a race in two weeks and should (in theory) be enjoying a taper period. In my head I was planning to just continue building miles and treat my upcoming race as just a regular training run but of course, the “trail me” wants to do well – which is probably why my body was rejecting the notion of pushing too much on my run this weekend.
Luckily I am not overly stubborn when it comes to my body and doubly lucky (although I want her to feel good), Stonegate was feeling whatever it was, too. We both were just “meh” on this run. That is the simplest way to put it.
No matter, we made the best out of how we felt and did not take for granted our time on the trails and appreciating what Mother Nature had to offer. It was a glorious day.
When I got home, I will be honest, my fridge was empty. The week had been so nutty grocery shopping was not a high priority. Still, I managed to get something nutritious and filling.
In the above photo: Leftover mashed no oil no dairy potatoes mixed with kale and copious amounts of a pureed mushroom gravy (I am NOT a fan of mushrooms but I don’t mind the pureed homemade gravy that I make). It hit the spot and was quite filling.
It was nice to have gotten that struggle of a run behind me on Saturday so that I could try and regroup on Sunday. I much prefer running my long runs on Saturdays because then that leaves Sunday for some R&R vs waking up and heading right into the work week where I absolutely get no time to rest.
And unless you live under a rock somewhere, Sunday was Super Bowl but we had no plans and decided to have a nice family adventure.
Vans and I drove the girls out to Auburn and I was able to show them a good section of trail that I run often . We parked by No Hands Bridge and hiked in towards the Overlook.
My girls got to see and hear the river actually looking quite full and strong. Vans got to walk across No Hands Bridge and see where I spend a lot of time with my trail crew. It was a lovely afternoon.
We hiked all the way to the waterfall bridge. I wanted to have a “goal” in mind for them so that it wasn’t just a simple out and back.
The trails were pretty crowded with lots of other hikers. My girls were super excited to reach the waterfall. We took a few photos. 🙂
We stopped here for a quick snack for the girls. I was impressed they hiked a full mile in and then had to hike a full mile out. For a 7 year old and 4 year old, that’s pretty huge.
Overall it was one of the best Super Bowl Sundays that I can remember having as a family in a long time. We later went home and watched the game via DVR while I made pizza and dinner. Perfection.
So what started out as a challenging weekend turned into one of my favorites. I am not worried by how I felt on my run. We all have a down cycle. My sleep has been out of whack. My hydration was definitely off course on Friday and Saturday. Yet my focus is still strong and my drive is still there.
How can it not be when I have the best support crew in town?
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. 🙂