Run Rabbit Run 100

I had the opportunity to complete the infamous Run Rabbit Run 100 mile race this weekend. The course was both brutal and beautiful. The volunteers were absolutely fantastic. I was challenged, uplifted and beaten down at various points over the course of the race. There were many high and low points over the 31 hours and 19 minutes it took me to finish the race. Ultimately, what I remember most is the purity of the connection to the people on the course. When you are tired and cold and nauseated, you cannot hide who you are. You must be open and be both strong and vulnerable. You must rely on the kindness of friends and strangers to help keep you moving forward. In a world where we can be guarded and jaded, the experience of allowing all of the barriers to slip away and be really present in the moment and open to those around you is unique. When it all comes together, it is refreshing and life-affirming.

I signed up for Run Rabbit Run 100 way back in January, 2016. At the time, I was not really sure why I signed up, but as winter turned into spring, I found myself sinking into a depression. As the weeks and months of training marched on, I realized that spending time running in the mountains was what I needed to save myself. (You can read more about that here: https://mypancreasranaway.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/the-panther-or-the-rabbit/ )

In the past couple of weeks as I stared down a daunting 100-mile mountain race, I felt a familiar mixture of excitement and foreboding. Every time I mentioned what race I was running, people would respond, “Wow, that’s a hard course!” or some version of that sentiment. Looking at the course profile, it isn’t hard to see why Run Rabbit Run has a reputation for difficulty.

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In addition to the long, steep climbs and the significant elevation change, runners face extremely cold temperatures at night time. I had been warned that many people DNF due to hypothermia. I packed so much cold weather gear that my husband asked me if I thought that I was running in Antarctica. I know that anything can happen over the course of a 100 mile race, but I would not drop out due to not packing the right gear.

The race, which has a 36-hour cut-off, started on September 16, 2016. I had assembled a team of three adults and one teenager. My husband, Stephen, would serve as crew chief and would pace me for approximately thirty miles. Laura, who I had been Facebook friends with for years but had never met in person, surprised me by buying a plane ticket so she could come pace/crew me. She has ultra experience, but lives at sea level, so I was not sure how she she would feel with the altitude and elevation gain. She would run either 10 or 14 miles, depending upon how she felt. My friend Larry, who is a very experienced endurance athlete, would therefore do either 20 or 25. Peyton would be on hand to help crew and keep my spirits lifted.

I chose Run Rabbit Run 100 in part due to the race’s proximity to Colorado Springs. I knew we could drive up in a few hours and I figured it would be relatively easy to get people to come help crew and pace. In fact, there was a large contingent of runners from the Springs area, which made for a warm and welcoming environment.

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With Jenny and Denise.

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Tonia, Peyton & Stephen

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At the race start (Photo courtesy of Ann Labosky)

We started up the ski hill promptly at 8 am. The course sends runners straight up Mount Werner, gaining approximately 3,500 feet of elevation in the first 4.4 miles. Even though I did a lot of steep training runs, I had a moment of wondering what in the hell I had signed up for. By the time we reached the top of the hill, I had sweat dripping off of my face. Nevertheless, I knew that we would essentially be headed out on a net downhill for the next several miles. I chose to try not to think too much about what was to come later in the race, instead just opting to enjoy the scenery. I spent some time shaking out the nerves and chatting with people, knowing that it was very early and I had to keep the pace conservative to save energy for the big climbs that would come later in the race.

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Long Lake

The Long Lake aid station is at mile 10.8. I was still feeling good and the trails, which had been crowded up to this point, began to open up. We headed to Fish Creek Falls, a section which starts off with fabulous single track that becomes quite rocky and technical. I was running alone at this point, listening to music and enjoying the scenery.

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My sunglasses were bugging me a bit so I took them off. While I was messing with them, I tripped and fell, hitting both knees on rocks. I had only gone about 12 miles into the race. The hard hit stunned me and I had blood streaming down both legs. I walked for a minute, assessing the damage. Nothing appeared to be broken, so I shuffled back into a run, hoping for the best. From Fish Creek Falls, we ran along a four-mile section of trail back into Steamboat Springs.

Olympian Hall

I came down into the Olympian Hall aid station with a considerable amount of blood and dirt on my legs, but was thrilled to see Steve, Peyton and Laura. After stopping briefly to restock my gels, I moved on and headed up the next section of trail.

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(photos courtesy of Laura Falsone)

Cow Creek

As we moved on towards Cow Creek, the general consensus was, “Wow, this hill didn’t look this big on the course profile!” I spent several miles with a guy who shared some interesting stories from his years of dirt-bagging. Eventually, we parted ways and I ran into two runners I had been talking with earlier. Neither were feeling well at this point. One was injured and the other was sick to her stomach. I tried to give them both a pep talk, reminding them that they would likely feel good, then bad, then good, then bad, for the rest of the race. I think I was also trying to remind myself of that fact, because at this point my left knee, which had taken the brunt of the earlier impact, began to stiffen up. Every step hurt as I made my way down into the Cow Creek aid station. In addition, I had switched water reservoirs in my hydration pack and something had been digging into my back for the entirety of the section. I kept running with one hand between my pack and my back to eliminate any more damage.

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Arriving in Cow Creek with Peyton and Steve (photo courtesy of Laura Falsone)

Larry had made it into Steamboat, and several other local friends were at the aid station waiting for their runners, so Cow Creek felt warm and inviting. Even though I was in a lot of pain and wondering what the future would hold, everyone assured me that I looked strong and was running between a 27 and 28 hour pace. This was ahead of what I thought I could do, so that lifted my spirits. Aside from my knee and back, I felt OK, so I headed back of the aid station feeling hopeful for the rest of the race.

The next segment back to Olympian Hall was a rolling 12-mile section. My knee loosened up and I was able to run quite a bit. The sun was shining and the scenery along the single track was lovely. I was enjoying this section tremendously until my right hip flexor started to tighten up. I tried to adjust and loosen it up, hoping the pain would fade. We ran down the long steep downhill section back into Olympian Hall. Here the plan was to pick Laura up for the four mile uphill road section to the Fish Creek Falls trail head, where I would meet Larry for the night. However, shuttle issues forced a change in plans. Now Larry, who had been mountain biking but not running all summer, would be forced to cover nearly 25 miles with me.

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With Larry, headed off into the night.

I had been warned by many runners to grab warm clothing at Olympian, because as soon as the sun goes down, the mountains get extremely cold. Last year, the temperature on the course had dropped down to 8 degrees. I had been running in shorts and a tank top for hours, but threw on a long-sleeve shirt and grabbed another warm shirt, gloves and tights to put on as it got colder. We ran through town, and within a few minutes, I was hot. I stopped and took off my shirt in what would become the first in a night of many wardrobe changes. We ended up hiking much of the uphill back to the Fish Creek Falls trail head. From there, we headed on another six-mile climb back up to Long Lake.

Friendship and Inspiration

One of the things I love most about running ultras is having the opportunity to talk with people and hear their stories. People open up in a way they might not ever under other circumstances. While the scenery of a race makes the time alone special, the discussions are a big part of what makes the night memorable.

I first met Larry a few years ago when I happened to see him running close to where I live. He had on a Team Crud (Coloradans Running Ultra Distances) shirt, and I was just starting to get into ultras. I stopped him and asked some questions about races and CRUD. He humored me, answering a few of my questions. He probably thought I was a crazy lady, but that’s OK because I am forever thankful for that chance encounter.

I ran a few ultras after that meeting and then was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As I struggled to come back to my previous form following surgery and chemo, I stumbled across Larry’s blog. I read a post where he talked about some of his own medical issues. Feeling very much alone at the time, I wrote to him. I did not know if he would remember me, but he wrote back and gave me a pep talk. Even though our issues were different, I finally felt like someone might just understand what I was going through. He encouraged me to be patient and gave me hope that things might be different but they would get better.

During the last couple of years, Larry has been an tremendous source of inspiration to me. He is an incredible athlete who has completed the Leadman series several times, but, more importantly, he is an amazing human being who gives so much to others. Larry coaches a local high school mountain bike team, spends his free time volunteering to maintain local trails and still finds time to crew/pace friends at races throughout Colorado. I followed him as he ran Burning River 100 mile race as a fundraiser for the Akron Children’s Hospital (coverage of this story can be found here:  https://www.akronchildrens.org/cms/sharing_blog/deac461c4d31a0e9/)  Knowing how much slower I am than Larry is, I was extremely humbled and grateful when he said he would pace me at Run Rabbit Run.

Running Through the Night

Larry spent most of the night sharing stories with me. I was so wrapped up in his tales that I temporarily forgot to eat. This led to a blood sugar issue as we headed uphill on the Fish Creek Trail. As we picked our way over rocks and up the climb, Larry watched me stagger and stumble like I was drunk. Because he coaches a type 1 diabetic, he knew exactly how to remedy things. He made me eat a gel every 15 minutes until I started to feel coherent again. This is why I have a pacer. I knew I was in good hands and I am grateful he was there with me.

It was at this point that the temperature seemed to plummet. I was shaking, my toes went numb and I knew I needed to get changed immediately. I plopped down on the side of a swampy section of single track and pulled off my shorts. Larry, ever the gentleman, looked the other way as he dug through his pack for a jacket. Several runners came through as I was changing and asked if we were OK. This was a reasonable question, as we had recently seen several runners throwing up along the side of the trail. I just laughed and said, “Yes, I am just getting naked…You’re welcome.”

We headed up a long uphill section that took us back to Long Lake and then to the high point on the course at Summit Lake.I was once again freezing. I grabbed warmer tights, stepped about a foot away from a crowd at the aid and changed again. I just did not have the energy to be modest at this point. I started joking that it was goal to flash every runner on the course. We headed down a 2100 foot drop into the Dry Lake Aid Station, where I would be picking up Laura for a ten-mile section. Once again, my knee started to stiffen up. I was running when I could and hiking when I had to. It was frustrating, but I maintained my sense of humor about it. As it turned out, Larry didn’t have to worry about not having run much over the summer. I told him I wouldn’t break any speed records and I as right.

We got into Dry Lake, where we met Steve and Laura. I gave Larry a big hug and told him to get some sleep. Laura and I headed off onto a section that featured several bridges and most likely would have been beautiful during the daytime hours. Fortunately for us, there was a bright spectacular full moon and very few clouds in the sky. It was a beautiful crisp night and we chatted, alternating walking and running through this out-and-back section that was fairly crowded. We got to the Spring Creek aid station, got a bite to eat and then headed back to Dry Lake.

Heading to the Finish

When we arrived back in Dry Lake, Stephen was ready to get me to the finish line. We had roughly 30 miles to go at this point. I had just gone uphill for 4.5 miles and we were facing another 8 mile climb back to Summit Lake. I knew we would be hiking most of this and was fine with that. I was tired but my spirits were still high. We laughed and joked as we made our way up the jeep road. The moon went down and the sky began to lighten. I knew 27 and 28 hour finish times were long gone. I also knew that a sub-30 was pretty much out of the question. Normally, I would be upset to slow down as much as I did, but I honestly did not care one bit. My knee and groin had been hurting and my back hurt where my pack had rubbed it raw. I knew, however, that i had more than enough time to walk it in to the finish line if I had to.

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When we finally got to the Summit aid station at mile 81.5, I was looking forward to jogging downhill for a bit. As I started to run, however, my right ankle hurt so badly that I immediately had to stop.I tried to jog again and just couldn’t do it. I felt the ankle and determined that it was probably just an angry tendon, so I resigned myself to walking. We walked back to the Long Lake aid station for the third time. I changed my clothes once again, putting on shorts in preparation for warmer temperatures.

The rolling but mostly uphill section to Mount Werner seemed infinitely longer than it actually was. I was getting passed by plenty of people but I did not give a second thought to attempting to chase anyone down. All I wanted to do was finish. I did not want to injure myself but I knew if I kept walking I would cross the finish line with minimal damage to my body. We rolled quickly through the aid station and then hit the 6.4 mile road that would take us to the finish line.

My husband is an amazing man who not only supports me in theory as I tackle these adventures, he is always there with me as I take those final steps to the finish line. Throughout the last miles of the race, I asked him to talk to me, but I could only give one word answers. This was the first time in my life that I ever got sleepy during a race. I became frustrated when I found out that he had told me I had 12 miles to go, but it was really 12.8 miles (Hey, it MATTERS!) Despite the fact that I was exhausted, I would never take my exhaustion out on my husband. He is the man who stands metaphorically and physically with me as I struggle through the most difficult times in my life.He is my rock and my hero and I come away from these races feeling more in love and connected to him than ever.

Dropping back down 3500 feet over the stretch felt painful and cruel. Many people remarked that they were unable to run at this point, and I was definitely in this camp. It was hot and I was hurting. Even Stephen was hurting at this point and wondering where the finish line was. Finally, we saw it.

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Peyton ran out to meet us and I gave Larry a hug as we made it down the road. I was completely spent physically but emotionally ecstatic. We got to the grassy section before the finish line and pathetically jogged over it.

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I got my 100 miler buckle and a beer mug for my efforts, finishing in 31:19. This was my slowest 100 mile finish by nearly five hours, yet I was not remotely disappointed with my finish time or placement. I was simply ecstatic that I finished the race and, despite some aches and pains, had a truly spectacular time.

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It was so wonderful to be greeted at the finish line by two of my favorite female runners, Tracey & Meghan.

After the race, we went back to the condo we had rented. I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open. I was also too sore to sleep, so that made for an interesting night. When I awoke at 3 am the next morning, I was in a state of deep emotional happiness and gratitude. Yes, I was proud of my finish, but more importantly, I was filled with intense appreciation for all of the people who had supported me along the way. There is something so uniquely special about running through the night with people. I find that people become the essence of who they truly are over those long nighttime miles. We talk about things that we might never discuss under different circumstances. The stories, the images, and the memories will stick with me forever.

I spent the summer training for this race, often alone in the mountains for hours, trying to work my way through my own issues. Over those 31 hours and 19 minutes, I was grateful to be there in the midst of the outstanding scenery and to feel fully alive. I am thankful for the opportunity to dig deep, to work through the problems and to connect with other human beings. When people have asked me why I do ultras, I have often said it is because I enjoy the challenge. While this is completely true, more than anything, I embrace the chance to learn about not only myself but those who are around me. I am forever grateful for the selflessness of others, for friendship, for the shared stories, for love and for the opportunity to fully be my perfectly flawed self. After struggling for months with my own inner demons, a 103+ mile trek through the mountains of Colorado finally brought me the sense of connection to others I desperately needed

Finally, I had the opportunity to work with Paul Nelson and his amazing crew, John Uibel, Marina Polonsky and Shawn Brown, at Run Rabbit Run.

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They are putting together a documentary about the race and they chose to feature me as a ‘human interest’ story. They followed several elite runners as well as a few of us regular folks. I am honored to be a part of this project and am pleased that they chose to feature a variety of runners. Look for this to be coming out by the end of 2016!

https://www.facebook.com/paulmichaelnelsonphoto/?fref=ts

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Two Year Cancerversary

November 18, 2013. That was the day I had surgery for pancreatic cancer. I was one of the lucky ones. I could have surgery. Most people with my diagnosis cannot. Half of my pancreas and my whole spleen were removed and then shortly thereafter I went through 18 rounds of chemo. It was a long road that I have previously chronicled here, but I made it through. Most pancreatic cancer patients do not survive the first year. In fact, 80% do not make it to the one year mark.

When I planned my surgery, I did it strategically. In our house, November is a busy month. Our oldest daughter, my husband and my father all have November birthdays. I remember scheduling my surgery between my daughter’s 16th birthday and my husband and dad’s birthdays. I knew my illness cast a dark cloud over all of our celebrations that year, but I wanted to try to give enough time so that we could celebrate everyone else’s special day.

Last year, as the birthdays and my cancerversary approached, I admit that I thought a lot about my own anniversary. I was excited for the birthdays and so grateful that I got to be there for them, but I thought a great deal about my own anniversary and what it meant to me. I thought about everything that it signified and all of the stuff that we had experienced over that past year.

This year, as my cancerversary has approached, I have been aware of it, but in a significant mental and emotional shift, it has become less important to me. I have been more focused on other stuff in my life: Riley’s 18th birthday, my husband’s 50th birthday, my daddy’s birthday, my work and the race series that I am currently wrapped up in co-directing.

Still, it is an important anniversary and one that bears marking, because so much in our worlds changed two years ago. At this point in time in 2013, our worlds were rocked by my diagnosis. We did not know how much time I would have with my family. I think about the things that I have gotten to take part in over the last two years that I might not have had I not been so fortunate throughout my diagnosis and treatment. There have been birthdays. The girls were 10 and 16 when I was diagnosed. Now they are 12 and 18. Riley is legally an adult. Riley got her driver’s license. The college decision has been made (Go CSU Rams!) There have been homecomings and a prom. For Peyton, there have been karate belts earned, selection for a club volleyball team and a number of other successes in athletic and academic areas. She moved from elementary to middle school as I finished chemotherapy.

With Riley & Peyton on Riley's 18th birthday

With Riley & Peyton on Riley’s 18th birthday

Steve and I celebrated another year of wedded bliss. My family and I took an amazing vacation together, where I also happened to run a 100 mile race.

The family crossing the finish line with me!

The family crossing the finish line with me at the Bryce 100

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

Goofing around in Bryce Canyon after the race

I ran a full marathon and a half-marathon with Project Purple charity teams.

With Elli & Dino

With Elli & Dino in Lincoln, NE

With Jenny

With Jenny in her home state of NE

Several of the Project Purple Denver team members at the event.

Several of the Project Purple Denver team members at the event.

I ran a 50 mile race this fall at the Bear Chase Trail Race.

Lucky girl getting a hug from both RDs, Ben Reeves (l) and David Manthey (R). Notice the missing glass lens.

Lucky girl getting a hug from both RDs, Ben Reeves (l) and David Manthey (R). Notice the missing glass lens.

I ran a mountain race with my husband and friends.

Breck Crest with my honey

Breck Crest with my honey

With Debby, my friend since I moved to CO in 1999!

With Debby, my friend since I moved to CO in 1999!

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I race directed a charity 5k for Project Purple and continued working with our local club, the Pikes Peak Road Runners.

Having fun after the race!

Having fun after the Project Purple 5k!

With my PPRR Fall Series crew

With my PPRR Fall Series crew

We gained a new family member when we adopted Willy in January.

Our newest family member, Willy

Our newest family member, Willy

And last week, we said good-bye to the Grand Dame, Greta, who passed away..

She was a natural beauty

Greta, the Bullmastiff

I got to spend time with our wonderful extended family back east over the summer, which is something I never, ever take for granted.

Through all of this, I have met so many amazing and wonderful people that I simply cannot name them all. I do hope they all know the positive impact they have had on my life.

I often think in long-term thoughts now, which is something I did not always feel that I could or should do. I wonder what college will be like for Riley and what high school will be like for Peyton. I wonder what new adventures are on the horizon for Steve and me as our kids grow and prepare to move on to live their own lives independent of us..

Not everything is easy or joyous, of course. You never get through cancer without any long-term repercussions. I saw an endocrinologist recently and  we agreed that it was time to try a medication to help stabilize my blood sugar levels, which have been all over the place. I have not felt like my normally energetic self for a while now and I am hoping that this will help return me to where I used to be. I am still trying to make peace with this recent turn of events. I would never have been in this position if I had not had half of my pancreas taken out. While I know that I am so very lucky to be here, I am also frustrated by how I have been feeling. If pancreatic cancer had not chosen me, I would not be facing the health issues that I am facing now.

All of the above being said, I know that pancreatic cancer gave me many gifts, too. One of those gifts is the gift of friendship from so many people I would not have otherwise met. I will relay one story now because it demonstrates to me the serendipity of life. In September, I was running the Bear Chase 50 mile race. I was wearing my Project Purple shirt which says “Survivor/Running with half a pancreas” on the back. I passed a woman who was running the 50k (different courses that converge over time) and she asked me, “Why are you running with half a pancreas?” I told her my story and she told me that she was a type 1 diabetic. We chatted a bit, but eventually parted ways. I had hoped that I would see her again after the race was over, but I did not.

Three weeks later, I was working the Project Purple booth at the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon expo. Guess who stopped by?

With my new friend, Jen.

With my new friend, Jen.

Jen and I were meant to meet. I believe that fully in my heart. As it turns out, she had a friend who was battling pancreatic cancer. Sadly, her friend passed away shortly after we met in Denver; another tragic loss to this dreadful disease.

When I met with the endocrinologist a couple of weeks later, he told me to make friends with Type 1 diabetic athletes. I believe we met because we both needed each other at this point in our lives. She needed to see someone living beyond PC and I needed to meet someone who could show me that distance running and diabetes can co-exist. It all seems overwhelming right now but I know that I will figure it all out in time.

So much has happened in the past two years. I am so grateful that I am still here. I have been given the gift of more time with my family, and I have been given the gift of new and meaningful friendships. This year I look forward to seeing my eldest graduate from high school and go off to college, and to seeing my youngest enter her teenage years. Even though it has not always been easy, I am excited to see what year three brings!

You can read last year’s cancerversary remembrance here:

https://mypancreasranaway.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/remembering-on-my-cancerversary/

Breck Crest Mountain Marathon Race Report

This past Saturday, Steve and I ran the Breck Crest Mountain Marathon (http://www.mavsports.com/events/?event-categories=breck-crest-2015 ), a challenging high altitude mountain trail race. We last ran the Breck Crest Mountain Marathon in 2007. At that time, I had just run Pikes Peak Marathon two weeks prior and had a bit of a groin injury. Somewhere around mile 15 or 16, Steve severely sprained his ankle. We finished the race, but basically limped in to the finish. In fact, we were so late to the finish that year, that our family had given up on us and gone back to the condo we had rented. Nevertheless, the beauty of the course had left quite an impression on Steve and me and we had always wanted to go back and run it again.

This year, our friends Debby and John had invited us to join them on race weekend. Debby was going to run the half-marathon and John the full. We thought it would be a great way to get away for a couple of days, run a race and enjoy some time with our family and friends. Since Steve had been training on Pikes Peak most of the summer, I knew he would do fine at altitude. I, on the other hand, had not had time to get up very high in the mountains. I knew I would suffer pretty much right from the start of the race. I just hoped that Steve would be tired still from his Pikes Peak Double so that we could comfortably run together.

The Breck Crest starts at 9500 feet elevation in downtown Breckenridge. Pretty much immediately, the runners head up into the ski hills and surrounding trails. Runners climb about 3000 feet over the first several miles, topping out at 12,500 feet of elevation. The half-marathoners drop back down into town at this point, while the marathoners drop down to around 11,000 feet before heading back up to 12,500. From there, the course follows the “crest” over the ski hills of Breck. Runners stay up at 12,000 feet or above until mile 12 when the course drops back down, rolling between 10,000 and 10,500 for several miles. The final mile brings runners back to downtown Breckenridge. The trail is often rocky, covered in roots and quite technical. It is also spectacularly beautiful.The race course is actually short of a full marathon. My garmin read 24 miles, Steve’s read 23.5 and John’s read 23.7. The first time I signed up for this race, I was bothered by the fact that it was not a “true” marathon. After having run this race twice now, the hills and the high altitude provide enough of a challenge that I never feel like I got cheated out of miles.

Our family loaded up the car and drove up to Breckenridge Friday evening. We stopped by race headquarters at the Vertical Runner store in Breckenridge. This is a lovely running store, and any runner visiting the area should check it out. We chatted with RD Jeff Westcott and picked up our numbers. Vertical Runner was providing free pasta for racers and their family. This gave the race an extra nice and homey feel. It was great way to start the weekend.

The next morning, Peyton snapped a quick picture of us before we headed out on our adventure.

Steve, me, Debby & John

Steve, me, Debby & John

We headed down and lined up at the race start in downtown Breckenridge. We saw Steve’s co-worker Chris, who had driven up that morning for his first attempt at a mountain trail race. We also were pleasantly surprised to see Steve’s childhood friend, Dave, who lives in Silverthorne. Dave had ridden his bike over to see us off at the race start. We chatted for a few moments and then were on our way.

My goals for this race were to 1) spend time with Steve, 2) enjoy the views and 3) get in a good training run for races coming up later in the season. I knew I was not trained for the altitude, so I figured that for the first time in my life, I would take pictures on the course and just generally have a good time.

The race course gains about 3000 feet over the first six miles. It is a very runnable course in the early miles. My main goal in those early miles was to keep my heart rate and breathing under control. This was not too much of an issue. If I felt the hills and altitude getting to me, I just back off the pace and hiked until I felt recovered.

Early uphill in the Breck Crest

Early uphill in the Breck Crest

Steve and I ran together, chatting throughout the early miles. As we reached an elevation of around 11,000 feet, we had to switch over to power hiking. The trail grows very steep in this area, as you head up to tree line. Despite our slower pace, we managed to pass a few runners during this section.

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More hiking as we near a snow field and the top of the first big climb.

More hiking as we near a snow field and the top of the first big climb.

By around mile 6, we reached 12,500 feet of elevation. We chatted off and on with Josh and John, runners we had just met out on the course. The course rolls for a bit and then eventually turns into a quad-busting steep downhill. We ran back down to about 11,000 feet between miles 9 and 10. Then, we power-hiked back up to an elevation of 12,500+ feet, peaking at mile 12.

Running at 12,500 feet

Running at 12,500 feet

At this point, we ran up above treeline for a ways. The views from the crest are spectacular.

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As we headed back down below treeline, we hit more screaming downhills. I knew we still had a long way to go and tried not to burn myself out. The trail is extremely rocky and root-filled through this downhill, so Steve and I were both concentrating on making it down without getting hurt. Finally, around mile 16 we made it back down below 11,000 feet. At mile 17, I said to Steve, “I think it is time to start racing now!” Steve replied with an incredulous, “What?!” There were not too many other marathoners, as most people seem to choose to run the half, but I set about trying to pick off as many runners as I could from mile 17 to the finish.

I was really enjoying myself at this point until we had a couple of unfortunate incidents with mountain bikers. The vast majority of mountain bikers were so polite and accommodating of those of us who were running. However, we had a couple who literally ran me off the trail. I will spare most of the details, but because mountain bikers were on our tails riding their brakes, I was very distracted. I had already twisted my ankle getting out of own cyclist’s way and now as I listened to continuous squealing brakes, I feared this person was going to run me over. I tried to move out of his way and I ended up hitting a rock and flying off the side of the trail. I would have rolled down a large embankment had I not fallen directly into a tree. I am a little banged and bruised from hitting the tree so hard, but the tree saved me from far worse injuries. Once I found my sunglasses, I dusted myself off and Steve and I continued on our way.

In an instant, I went from having a great time to wishing I had not started the race. I had to mentally talk myself through this rough patch. I could not allow some inconsiderate people to take away from the fun that I was experiencing. I had to pull myself out of the bad space I was going into mentally. I had come out to have fun with my husband, and I could not let anyone take that away from me.

We ran along as the course rolled between 10,000 and 10,500 feet for several miles. Finally, we descended back into town. We wound our way through the streets of Breckenridge, not exactly knowing how the race would finish up. We became extremely excited when we eventually saw our daughters waiting for us. We knew we must be right around the corner from the finish line. We crossed the finish in 5 hours and 55 minutes. We did not break any speed records, but we improved upon our 2007 time by an hour and neither of us was seriously injured. Steve and I started together and finished together. We had fun. We got in some beautiful miles. We achieved everything we had set out to do.

Our family at the finish line. The girls got to see us finish!

Our family at the finish line. The girls got to see us finish!

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With Debby, who had finished the half hours previously. She was showered & fresh as a daisy when we saw her at the finish.

With Debby, who had finished the half-marathon hours earlier.

John had finished about 15-16 minutes before us. Steve’s co-worker had finished in 4:46, a time that I cannot even fathom on that course. Colorado Springs elite runner Joseph Gray finished in 3 hours and 5 minutes. He is a super nice and humble guy who is a complete freak of nature. Can’t wait to see what he does next! The race finish line had an amazing spread of food from local vendors, which was a very nice treat after a long and difficult run.

I love this race. It is everything a Colorado mountain race should be. It has that nice small, low-key feel. The course is beautiful, breath-taking and challenging. Despite the high-altitude profile, much of the course is runnable, which I love. The post-race festivities are fun and the food is great. I really like this event and am sure we will be back.

After the race, Debby, John, Dave and our family went out for a bite to eat. We enjoyed spending the evening chatting with our friends away from the distractions of our normal lives.

Enjoying a post-race meal with my beautiful daughters

Enjoying a post-race meal with my beautiful daughters

Hanging out in front of the blue trees in downtown Breckenridge

Hanging out in front of the blue trees in downtown Breckenridge

Since the purpose of this weekend was to spend a little time bonding amid the chaos of the school year, our family opted to go for a hike on Sunday. We hiked up to Mohawk Lakes. We had done this hike last year in July, just about a month after I had finished chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer. It is amazing how much easier it was to hike this now that the chemo is fully out of my system! We really enjoyed the beauty of the hike. It was the perfect way to finish off the weekend.

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As busy as we are and as tired as I get from spending a weekend out-of-town, it was much-needed time to reconnect with my kids and my husband. It felt great to get away from the distractions of every day life, if even only for 48 hours. All in all, this was a wonderful weekend. Mountain therapy is something I think we all needed.

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Finally, please check out the September issue of Ultrarunning Magazine. John Medinger wrote a lovely article about my pancreatic cancer experience and my Bryce 100 journey. I am greatly indebted to John and Ultrarunning Magazine for sharing my story.

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http://www.ultrarunning.com/

The Love Affair

Our family spent the last two weeks in upstate NY visiting our relatives. Last year, I felt almost desperate to get there shortly after completing chemotherapy. At that point in time, I still was not feeling completely confident about my future and I had a strong need to see and touch my family. This year, still feeling strong and healthy following my recent 100 mile race, I looked forward to seeing my family not out of desperation, but out of the simple desire to see the people I love. We had a wonderful time relaxing, getting away from the stresses of our daily lives, and reconnecting with our families and friends.

Hair blowing wildly in the wind on the Lake Champlain Ferry

Hair blowing wildly in the wind on the Lake Champlain Ferry

Today is my two month anniversary from having completed the Bryce 100. Since the race, I have had plenty of people tell me that I no longer have to do ultras anymore. However, a funny thing has happened since Bryce. I seemed to have remembered how much I love running and racing. In the lead up to Bryce, I kept telling everyone I knew that I would never run another 100. I meant it with complete sincerity. I was tired and worried. I was afraid that some nagging pains I was experiencing would become serious injuries. I thought that maybe I had not put in enough miles in training. I was concerned that perhaps my heart was not completely into finishing 100 miles.

All of those worries ended up being completely unfounded. Instead, while I was out on the course, I remembered how much I just love to compete. I love to run, but I had forgotten how much I love the thrill of hunting down other runners, and of pushing myself to see what I am actually capable of accomplishing. I have never been an elite runner. I have no idea what that experience is like. But as a slightly better than average runner, I still get incredibly fired up over testing my limits. I love pushing myself as hard as I can to see how my body and mind will respond. It makes me feel completely alive.

I have run many races since I started running in 1998. I remember the thrill of crossing the finish line at my first marathon. I could not wait to do it all over again, and so I ran my second marathon just seven weeks later. I remember the first time I ran a 5k and a 10k at an all out effort. I was not sure if I could sustain the pace without passing out or throwing up, but I did and I was so proud of myself for giving everything I had. I remember the excitement of running the Boston Marathon, which to this day is the only big city marathon I have ever competed in.

Boston Marathon 2000

Boston Marathon 2000

I remember the joy of finishing my first ultra, a 50k. I remember the apprehension leading up to my first 50 mile race, and then the elation as I crossed the finish line. I remember the incredible pride I felt after finishing my first 100 mile race, as I experienced the payoff of months and months of hard work and dedication. This year, I returned to road marathons in Lincoln, Nebraska. I had not run a road marathon since 2007, and as I ran through crowds of people, I remembered exactly why I fell in love with marathons so many years ago. I returned to 100s this year, in Bryce, and my love affair with trails and ultras was reignited.

But racing is never easy. On numerous occasions, I have engaged in an internal battle with myself. There have been several races where I have wondered if I would be able to finish what I had started. During one trail race that had gone poorly almost from the start, I sat in a mud bank and debated about whether I could go on. I decided that I could. Nothing was broken, and I was not in physical danger. I was just having a bad day. I am tremendously proud of those race finishes that I really had to fight for.

Every distance I have chosen to run over the course of my lifetime has proven to be a challenge in a very different way. Every race has been hard and painful and wonderful and beautiful all at the same time. I have never regretted having shown up to run a race. Each experience has been unique and has taught me something new about myself. That is the beauty in running. Every outing provides a new challenge. Each distance is hard in its own way. No two racing experiences are alike. Just thinking about facing those difficulties gives me a jolt of mental excitement. I love it all: the competition, the challenge, chasing down other runners, and trying to fight off those who are attempting to beat me. Perhaps most of all, I love battling against my own demons.

When I finished Vermont, I thought I had officially closed the book on running 100s. Then I got cancer. It became an important part of my psychological recovery to push those boundaries again.I am still so happy about my experience at the Bryce 100. Part of me wondered if my experience at Vermont was a fluke. My second 100 mile finish made it all feel more legitimate in some way. More importantly, my time at Bryce reminded me how much I enjoy the whole race experience. In the lead up to Bryce, I often felt tired and I had some nagging aches and pains. I think I was not yet 100% following my battle with pancreatic cancer. I hope I have finally officially turned the corner on the road to a full comeback. More often than not these days, I am excited to go out and run. That feeling was often lacking a few months ago.

Vermont 100 finish, 2013

Vermont 100 finish, 2013

Like all long-term love affairs, feelings will wax and wane over the years. The secret is to learn to be patient and weather the difficult times. I am thankful that I have never given up over the times that running was less fun. These days, whether I am running up in the mountains or am pushing for a long flat steady-state run, I have rediscovered the fun and joy. I have three completely different races coming up in the next three months and I am very excited for each of them. Beyond that, I am really looking forward to finding out what new adventure the 100 mile lottery gods have in store for me in 2016. 

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I just finished a 100 mile race. What’s next?

I had a CT scan on Monday, June 15. I picked up a copy of the report and the big news is that it says “no masses”. This is awesome! I have now made it 19 months past my surgery and diagnosis without a recurrence of pancreatic cancer. June 16 also marked one year since I finished chemotherapy. I cannot believe all of the good things that have happened in this past year. It has gone by so quickly and has been simply amazing. My family and I are understandably feeling quite ecstatically happy about my good health. I don’t necessarily feel like I am beating the odds, though I suppose I am. Rather, it feels like this is how things are “supposed” to be for me and for us. I was not supposed to have cancer in the first place. I am supposed to be here, happy and healthy.While the future was once in doubt, now I make plans without really giving it too much thought.

It has been 2 weeks since I finished the Bryce Canyon 100 in Utah. Immediately following the race, our family spent several days touring some of the National Parks in Utah. This was the first vacation we have taken in a very long time and it felt like a fitting end to the ordeal of the last 19 months.

I was pleased to find that I was feeling well enough to do a series of small hikes in the national parks.Tour guide Peyton informed us that Bryce is actually not a canyon. It is a series of rock amphitheaters. We loved the hoodoo rock formations of Bryce Canyon. There are completely unique from anything we have seen anywhere else.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Steve & I next to enormous rocks in Bryce Canyon

Steve & I next to enormous rocks in Bryce Canyon

We moved onto Zion National Park following our time in Bryce.

Zion is completely different. It is a canyon and gets very hot. It is beautiful in a completely different way from Bryce.

The girls under the weeping rock, looking out towards the canyon.

The girls under the weeping rock, looking out towards the canyon.

Hiking the Watchmen Trail

Hiking the Watchmen Trail

We hiked up some of the Narrows “trail”, which actually just goes up the Virgin River through the canyon.

Hiking the Narrows

Hiking the Narrows

Under a small waterfall

Under a small waterfall

steve, peyton & riley in the narrows

Finally, we moved on to Moab and visited Arches National Park.

Obligatory family photo in front of Delicate Arch

Obligatory family photo in front of Delicate Arch

Peyton underneath Delicate Arch

Peyton underneath Delicate Arch

We came home tired and happy. It was so nice to get away together. We even survived five days in one small hotel room without killing each other.

When we got home, it was time to hit the ground running with real life. Steve signed up to run the Pikes Peak double this year. He will run the Pikes Peak Ascent on Saturday of race weekend and then run the full marathon on Sunday. For those who are unfamiliar with the race, it goes up Barr Trail to the top of Pikes Peak, a 14,115 foot mountain just outside of Colorado Springs. You can read more about the race at the website below.

http://www.pikespeakmarathon.org/

Steve has been training with me for the Bryce 100 for months now. I always feel so lucky that my husband and I can spend time running together. While it could be difficult when the kids were little because we both wanted to run, it has always been something that we have shared and bonded over.

I never wanted the kind of relationship where one of our passions or athletic pursuits trumped the other person’s. I see couples where one person runs and races all of the time and the spouse simply follows along and takes care of the kids. I know for some couples, this arrangement works well for them. But I love the fact that Steve and I spend time training together and that we take turns supporting one another’s athletic endeavors. We share our passion and truly encourage one another in pursuing the events and distances we truly love. He supported my Bryce venture 100%. Now I get to support his Pikes Peak double 100% and I am grateful to be able to do so.

Steve leaving me in the dust on his first real training run for the Pikes Peak Double.

Steve leaving me in the dust on his first real training run for the Pikes Peak Double.

A lot of times after completing a big goal race, I experience a bit of an emotional let down. After months and months of preparation, followed by completion of the event, I often find myself thinking, “Now what?” So far, I haven’t really had that post-race funk sink in. I am not sure why. I know immediately after finishing Bryce, I started thinking, “What race can I run next?” There really is such a emotional, psychological and physical high that comes from a successful race. It is easy to fall into the trap of chasing that feeling. If I had my way three days after the 100, I probably would have signed myself up for five more races. Instead, I decided to slow down and rein myself in a bit.

I know there are people who race constantly all year long. If they have jobs and families and can still make it work with their sanity and relationships intact, then I am in awe. I try to target a couple of big races per year and find that is really all I logistically do and still work and be a good wife and parent. Maybe that takes my badass credibility down a couple of notches, but that is OK with me. I don’t need to be a badass. I only need to be honest with myself about what I can successfully manage in my life. I am most proud when I feel like I am doing a good job balancing all of the roles I play.

I know I will eventually have to have another epic race on the horizon. Right now I just want to have some fun with my running and enjoy some mental and physical recovery and rejuvenation. I plan to run the Denver Rock n Roll Marathon with Project Purple in October and I am looking forward to sharing training runs with my teammates. I have a couple of other trail/ultra races I am eyeing, but I really want to support my husband in his upcoming races and I do not want to miss out on Riley’s senior year of high school. We have started the summer college tour and interview process and I know that in the blink of an eye my baby will no longer be living with me.

For now, I continue to reflect back on the Bryce experience and think about how truly incredible it was for me. Instead of being consumed by what I feel I need to do next, I am trying to simply enjoy all of the wonderful experiences of the last couple of weeks. For endurance athletes, there seems to be this insistence that we always have to constantly outdo what we have already done. I think that in many cases, it boils down to the need to chase that high. Right now, I am resisting that urge to compulsively chase the high of big ultra endurance events. I am really focusing on taking some time to breathe and celebrate my life and my accomplishments.   I will, of course, pursue other races down the line, but for a little while, my goal is to support my family as they work towards fulfilling some of their own dreams. I will cheer on my husband at Pikes Peak. I will soak in all of those memorable “last times” with my high school senior. I will focus on making some good memories with friends and family over the summer. I will run simply for the joy that running brings me.

Finally, I wanted to say a special “Thank You!” to Arianne Brown for the nice article on KSL.com about my Bryce adventure.

http://www.ksl.com/?nid=1010&sid=35027516

Why We Go Home

Our trip to visit family in upstate NY and VT continued this week. We typically venture east to see family once per year. While I was going through chemotherapy, it became critically important to me to make the trip this year. I wanted to see my family and to physically be able to hug and touch the people I love. I wanted to get away from all of the distractions of our day to day lives so we could just focus on one another. I needed to take care of my soul.

We spent time at the beach on Lake Champlain.

We enjoyed spending time with Stephen’s family in Clifton Park. We saw his mom, most of his six siblings and their families. There is a special kind of party-like atmosphere when a large family gets together. I always love seeing the cousins on the Smith side running around together, even when they have not seen one another for a year or more.

This is Stephen and his mom, my Mother-in-law. She is really a great lady and I am fortunate to be a part of their family.

We ran along the Erie Canal. The east coast trails are so different from western trails, but they are beautiful in their own unique way.

We ran around some of the historic sights of Plattsburgh, NY. We ran through the now closed Plattsburgh Air Force base.

We ran by monuments and historic buildings that I had seen a million times growing up. For some reason, on this trip they seemed both fascinating and beautiful in a whole new way.

We gathered four generations of women from my family together.

We spent time with friends. We saw Bridget and Curtiss. Curtiss is a chef who became passionate about creating healthy and therapeutic recipes for his wife during her cancer treatments. He contacted me during my chemotherapy and shared his experiences and his knowledge with me because he truly cares about other people. I was so happy to be able to see him and Bridget so I could thank him in person. Most of our evening conversation had nothing to do with cancer. However, when we eventually got around to discussing that topic, it was such a comfort to talk with another couple who understands what Stephen and I have been through together this year. As we shared our experiences, it felt reaffirming to be able to say repeatedly, “Yes! I have thought those same exact things!”

Curtiss’s website is below. He has a cookbook and recipes available online. It is definitely worth checking out if you or someone you care about has cancer, or if you just love good food.

http://www.pinkribboncooking.com

We had drinks with Karin and Tim. Karin is a lady I have known since sixth grade. She is a fitness instructor who teaches classes at a gym where I once taught a million years ago. Karin inspires so many people to become better, healthier versions of themselves. Her love for teaching fitness is obvious and her desire to bring new classes to her pupils is admirable. We talked about all of the good things in our lives, but it was the conversation about our vulnerabilities that has stayed with me. Thank you, Karin, for sharing both your joys and your concerns with me, and for letting me share mine with you.

There is one last thing I want to address about reunions. When I see someone I have not seen in a long time, I guarantee that I am not thinking about whether that person has gained or lost weight, or whether he or she has aged well, or about any of the other things people tend to worry about. If I want to see someone, it is because I just want to be with that person. Spend time with people who care about you without worrying about superficial stuff that just does not matter. The day may come when there is suddenly no more time, and you will wish you had not been so concerned with things that no one else notices.

When we first arrived in NY, I felt somewhat overwhelmed. I tried hard to put into words what the experience was, but it was difficult. I had wanted for months to go home to my family, and then suddenly when I was there, I felt odd, different, and somehow like I was living in some strange parallel universe. My life over the last ten months has been so completely different than what it had ever been before. My little nuclear family has been consumed with cancer, chemotherapy, illness and cure. Yet coming home has made me realize that everyone else’s lives have gone on pretty much as they always have. We are separated by so much distance that there is no way anyone who lives across the country can truly understand our day to day experience. The only thing I could liken it to is when a soldier comes home from a long deployment. I imagine the soldier builds up the reunion in his mind, as does his family. He comes home and tries to communicate some of his experience to the people he loves. People can intellectually understand some of it, but on an emotional level, they just have no comprehension of what the soldier has experienced. There is a disconnect, and both parties know it.

It took me most of the trip to sort these feelings out. I had a conversation on the beach with my sister who told me how relieved she was that I was still me. I had not changed. I was still the same person. On some level, I do feel different. I feel like some things within me have changed. But by the end of my trip, I too realized that I was the same person I had been a year ago. I am still me. While my experiences have changed me in certain ways, I am still essentially the same human being. I needed to see to see myself through the eyes of people who know me well.

This is why we go home, after all. To rediscover who we are.