Mary’s Peak 50k – 6/17/17

The 50k distance has become my standard distance, so I was excited to get a free entry to the Mary’s Peak 50k.

It was graduation weekend for many schools in Corvallis, so I didn’t bother trying to find a hotel to stay in the night prior. I just woke up at 4 AM and made the ~2 hour drive from Portland to Blodgett that morning. I arrived around 6:45 AM (the first shuttle bus was leaving at 7:10 and the second/final was scheduled to leave at 7:20). I had plenty of time to pick up my packet, run my swag back to my car (after the volunteers graciously let me exchange my shirt for a more appropriate size), use the porta potty, chat with race director Mike, and relax in general. I took the 2nd shuttle bus, which was running just a few minutes behind schedule.

I chatted with two guys on the bus about the Portland Marathon controversy and how they came upon Mary’s Peak as their first trail event. About 15 minutes into our 20 minute shuttle, we came to a game of chicken with the first bus coming back down the hill. Our driver had to do some anxiety-inducing maneuvering to make it past (meanwhile, the 50M runners were trying to run down the same road and had to navigate around the buses). We all made it in one piece, but we had a bit of an adventure before we even made it to the start line! The poor runners on the first shuttle bus had been waiting in the chilly forest for us for almost 40 minutes at this point.

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Once we all arrived, the RD gave us the course breakdown, provided his personal cell phone number in case anyone needed anything at all, and impressed us with his knowledge of the forest. Soon, we were off! The first section was a lovely downhill on the forestry road we just ran up and it was tempting to sprint, as downhills are my favorite. We made our first turn onto gorgeous singletrack and I could feel the day beginning to warm up already.

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The course was muddy and slick and the singletrack was rolling with a net gain. After a few miles, we popped out onto the forestry road again for our first aid station and had a good 7 miles of uphill ahead of us to the top of Mary’s Peak. It was grueling and after a few minutes of breaking away from the pack, I found myself alone for most of it. No sign of any other runners, no other hikers or bikers, no photographers, no volunteers…just me.

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Eventually we turned onto singletrack again after a forestry road gate and the true hill climbing began. The trail was stunning; the trees and underbrush were thick and lush, the switchbacks relentless. A few of the 50 milers were on their way down and I was greeted with “good job!” and “keep it up”, which always feels nice.

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After many slow uphill miles, we popped out onto a meadow and finally saw some volunteers. A man with a dog told me “Just that way, then you’ll circle back to me in about 6-7 minutes.” “Challenge accepted!” I told him (for the record, it took me exactly 10 minutes to make it back). Mary’s Peak would have given 360 degree views of the coast range and valley, but sadly we were pretty clouded in. There was also a radio tower, loads of wildflowers, and an empty picnic table. I didn’t linger.

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After passing back by the volunteer, it was less than 1/4 mile to the aid station. Here, I grabbed an Oreo, a few chips, and a cup of Coke – standard ultra fare. The 50 milers went south and I headed north into the woods. This section was easily the best part of the race. It was singletrack perfection in the moody forest. The temperature was cooler in the fog and the switchbacks provided a nice mental challenge. I picked up the pace and booked it for miles. Eventually I caught another runner and thought “I’m so glad to see another 50k-er!” She grunted and let me pass, making it obvious she wasn’t up for chatting. Shrug.

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The course popped out at the very first aid station and then backtracked along the first singletrack section we ran up initially. It seemed to be uphill both ways, to me. From here, I ran with 2 other ladies who were up for some company. We hit an intersection of forestry road and another girl joined us. From here, our group was enjoying the solidarity as the course continued it’s rolling nature. Although it was net downhill, any sort of uphill was rough and [for me] unrunnable. I felt like I power-hiked most of the course. We were all vaguely aware of the cutoff time and at our next aid station, we inquired about what time the cutoff was and if we were at the proper aid station for it. No one seemed to have a clue what we were talking about, which was a bit disappointing. We weren’t in jeopardy of missing it, but it seemed reasonable that the volunteers would have this information. I grabbed another Oreo, poured myself another cup of Coke, ate a few more chips (I was wishing for some refreshing orange slices at this point in the day), and we all took off again.

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We came up to a section of the forest that was clear-cut and we found an unmanned water station. The day was starting to really heat up, so we all refilled out bladders and bottles and caught up with a guy who had clearly taken a bit of a fall earlier in the race. And then there were 5.

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Winding through the forest, we took turns who was pacing, who we were chatting with, and who jumped at the snake(s) first! I was grateful for the company. As our various strengths became obvious, members of the pack went on ahead and/or took up the rear. I ended up finishing the last bit of seemingly endless forestry roads of the race with a girl my age from Albany and I enjoyed getting to know her more. We came into the final aid station, joking and cheery! The volunteers told us we had about 4.5 miles to go. I looked at my GPS watch, did some calculating, thanked them all, and we took off. We ran down a pretty gnarly section of forestry road (dried mud ruts) and eventually came to the infamous “gate”. “Good, only about half mile to go!” I said as I photographed the wildflowers. After a few more steps, we came upon a depressing sign telling us there were, in fact, 1.7 miles to go. Disappointed, we discussed whether it was my watch that was horribly inaccurate or if we were given misinformation from the aid station. In any case, we plodded along, laughing at the noisy rooster, cooing at the barking dog, and curiously looking at the strange castle/church/mansion in the middle of the forest.

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Because Mary’s Peak doesn’t mess around, the final stretch was uphill. We “sprint” finished and were treated with finisher pint glasses, watermelon, all-you-can-eat spaghetti, all-you-can-drink soda, massage chairs, and general relaxation at the finish line.

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I hung around for about 45 minutes, laughing with other runners, enjoying the beautiful afternoon, and watching the other racers (in both the 50k and 50m events) come across the finish line.

 

Capitol Peak 50M – 4/29/17

“So don’t you sit upon the shoreline

And say you’re satisfied

Choose to chance the rapids

And dare to dance the tide”

–Garth Brooks, “The River”

Well, I did it. My first 50 mile race. I was never confident that I could run that far – not on the day I picked out which event it would be, not on the day I finally registered for it, and certainly not on race day. And yet, somehow, my legs and my lungs proved my brain wrong. Probably because my heart wanted it bad enough.

As we do, Jesse drove us up on Friday night to Capitol State Forest (near Olympia, WA) and we slept in the car. We arrived late to the camp site and backed in next to the river, trying to be careful not to shine our headlights at the others tents, while simultaneously trying not to run into a tree. We found a flat enough spot and rolled out the sleeping bag. I didn’t sleep a wink. I promise you, it wasn’t nerves. I was calm and legitimately tired, but I couldn’t warm myself up. I listened to the river rush by all night, clawing at Jesse’s warmth, wondering what the next day would bring.

The alarm went off at 5 AM, though I was already awake. It was dark and the car was foggy. I pulled out my baggie of questionable muffins (“these are easy enough to make and bring to the start line!”, I thought, and proceeded to fail miserably at making them). I ate two. Jesse awoke and I awkwardly pulled on my running clothes in the front seat. We drove the .02 miles to the start line and I immediately stood in the porta potty line. I’ve gotten better about that.

I set my drop bag down on the confusing staging area (“Where is aid station 3/5, from the map?” “Um, not sure.” **thinks to self, “Isn’t this your f**king race?**). It was too early for this. I set it down, knowing I wouldn’t need anything from it, as it only had my old trail shoes in case mine got soaked, a roll of Oreos, and an extra jacket because why not? Sigh.

Jesse joined me and we chatted to some other runners while I ate half a bagel. It was cold, but not miserable. The race director started his briefing and of the approximately 50 runners, he asked who the newbies were. Me + 2 others. I felt even more unprepared. I kissed my love for good luck and took off at a snail’s pace down the trail.

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There were some dogs, some old people, some young. The typical gamut. I ran with a young guy, Kyle, for maybe 20 minutes. He was training for the Bigfoot 200. Of course he was. I ran with another girl (Colleen) for a few miles; it was her first 50M as well. She wasn’t super keen to chat with me, but I appreciated running near someone. I stopped for a photo of the sunrise and she continued without me.

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Eventually we started up hill #1 (Capitol Peak) and a man joined me from behind (Glen); he had started late. He gave me some advice (“Jog the flats, even if it’s only 10 yards. In a 5k, it won’t matter, but over this distance, it could save 15 minutes or more! Like this, you should be running!”). I needed to run my own race, so I politely let him pass, but I logged his advice away. Power hiking up the hill, I caught another woman (Kim) and commented that I was jealous that she had sunglasses. We chatted about various summer events – she was training for her umpteenth 100 miler. Of course she was. She ran into her friend, who was in some sort of pain, and she stopped to chat. I carried on up the hill.

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Aid station #1 came quickly at 5.5 miles. I enjoyed a few Oreos, some watermelon, and some Coke. I thanked the volunteers and continued hiking up to the radio towers on hill #2 (Larch Mtn). The view of Rainier against the sunrise was breathtaking. This is why we do it.

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I enjoyed some glorious downhill by myself here, and then traversed on some incredible singletrack before joining a logging road and ascending Larch Mountain.

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Here Kim caught up to me and we power hiked together. At the top of Larch Mtn, we were instructed to take an army man, to prove our ascent. We paused to enjoy the view, then took off running on the way down. We both professed our love of downhill running and picked up the pace.

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Kim & I maintained a decent distance behind another group of women (ultra runner princess Jill, Christy, Colleen, and the girl in pink). We were chatting up and down the logging roads, matching our pace, and enjoying the run. We reached the same aid station again (#2, the half marathon mark), dumped our army men, and took off through the forest, joining the woman’s group. Every now and then we’d hear gun shots from people target shooting. It was a little unnerving and eventually Christy explained that was why the race shirts were fluoro yellow – an inside “joke” about gun safety in the forest. Makes sense!

We all stayed together, for the most part, leapfrogging as we all took our turn off trail for bladder relief, kindly passing as we found our place in the pack on the varying hills or descents, chatting about everything and nothing all at once. The miles flew by. I was so happy.

A tiny downhill into aid station #3 (mile 17-ish) was a nice intro to the hill to come. I had a few chips, an orange slice, and an Oreo for the road. I refilled my front pocket bottle with Coke and we were off again through the forest. I was just behind Christy and saw the photographer on the side of the trail, clicking away. With no one behind me, I asked if he was ready and gave him my best jump! Classic race shot, both mouth and hand filled with Oreo, and we thanked each other. I’ll cherish that photo and that memory. See it here.

I ended up power hiking with Christy and Jill, talking running, up and up the hill, while the water ran down. Jill stopped for a break and eventually it flattened out enough to pick up the pace. I was out in front, on flowy singletrack with lush, vibrant ferns all around. Pretty soon Colleen and Kim are behind as well. Jill eventually caught up and asked to pass (“I want to be going faster”) and I pulled to the side. No one else joined her, so I took the lead again. This would be my position for the rest of the run (and I heeded Glen’s advice about running the flats. Maybe it helped).

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This section was 13 miles out to the far aid station and back again (making a full marathon). It featured views, dense forest, logging roads, clear cut, and, finally, the lead runner. Obviously hours ahead of us, we were impressed. But he didn’t look to be in good shape. He was in the lead by a good margin, but did not appear to be having a very good run. We came upon the “unmanned water station”, and we kept on keepin’ on. I would stop to take photos, and my pack stopped behind me. I offered to give up the pacing position and was assured I was doing a fine job. Christy, Colleen, Kim, & I were in it together at this point.

We started passing groups of runners on their way back and finally one girl said “It’s almost 1:30, you better hurry!”. Oblivious to what she meant, we confusingly chatted about the vague notion of a cutoff. We reached aid station #4 (mile 30) at 1:32 PM. The volunteer said the cut off was 1:30. Whoops! He looked us all intently in the face and asked how we felt. I shrugged and replied “Good…hungry”. I ate 1/4 of a PB&J, an orange slice, a few chips, and, you guessed it, a few Oreos (Colleen took off with half a picnic in her arms). He let us go, but only if we “hustled back”. No problem.

We ran for maybe 15 minutes and saw pink shirt girl sprinting down the hill in front of us and then she was gone. “Didn’t we pass her ages ago going the other way?” We all agreed she was either horribly lost or out of her mind. We never caught her.

We came across a woman who was clearly in the event, walking (with poles) and we stopped to consult with her. We told her the last aid station was still a few miles away and that the cutoff had come and gone. About 15 minutes later, we ran into a volunteer, asking about her. “She went thataway!!” I all but said. I felt bad for her (and him).

Here was where Kim & I parted ways with Christy and Colleen. It was unspoken, we just suddenly realized that they were no longer with us. We didn’t want to linger and decided to continue on, but I felt conflicted about leaving them behind. I reminded myself to run my own race.

The rain started and I got cold. I put on my headband and we re-entered the forest. We came upon a young couple who we saw just before the last aid station and they were asking about the distance left. We urged them not to drop out, but it seemed inevitable. We carried on.

We reached aid station #5 (mile 43) and huddled under the tent. I pulled out my ultralight jacket to help preserve the heat, as well as my gloves. They were out of Coke, so I took a swig of Mountain Dew, something I’d never tried before during a run. Screw it. They also had tiny pulled pork sandwiches and since it actually sounded appealing, I had a few bites. It was going to take too long to eat, so I tossed the rest, grabbed a few chips, and we took off again.

Reckless Kelly’s “Eight More Miles” was playing in my head (“I can’t decide, if 8 more miles, is the top of the world, or the end of line…”). Kim & I talked about anything and everything. It was mostly downhill and we ran it in. I started to hallucinate a little through this section (“Is that a man with a cowboy hat on?”) and had to really focus. “Ready for lap #2?” she asked, insinuating it was a 100 miler. “There’s no way! I could not…” I replied. “That’s because you know it’s only 50,” she said. I know she’s right. Eventually your body will do what you ask it to. It’s just up to you to mentally make it.

At mile 45 my GPS watch beeped – low battery. Shrug. We passed over beautiful bridges, ran next to raging mini waterfalls, sloshed through the mud, and at one point, it looked identical to my beloved Forest Park. I was amazed.

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At mile 49, my GPS watch beeped again – ‘saving activity’. It died. I laughed. The cutoff for the entire event was 13 hours and we were toeing that line, but my watch just couldn’t hold on. Nearing the end, I said “Kim, did you see the beautiful mugs for the category winners? Maybe they’ll have an extra one I can have for being in last place”. She humored me and replied “Maybe!”

“Kim, I see the finish line! OMG!” We sprinted. Kind of. Jesse was waiting sweetly with a chair as I doubled over, elated, out of breath, and exhausted. I hugged Kim and we laughed at the ridiculousness of having just run 50 miles for fun. The race director said “We have a mug for you!” and I was thrilled. I didn’t earn it for last place, though, apparently, I won my age category! “The other person dropped, didn’t they?” I asked. “Hey. A win’s a win” she told me. I’ll take it. Funny, because I’m the most proud of that mug. I wanted it so badly.

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I ripped off my pack and sat down. A volunteer handed me a package of Oreos and a cup of soup. And a La Croix (I took it, but where’s the freaking Coke!?). After about 15 minutes, Christy came sprinting in. Colleen had to DNF, but Christy booked it to the finish line. I was so happy for her!

In all honesty, it was the best I ever felt during a run. I was never sad or on the verge of tears. I never once thought I wasn’t going to make it. My legs were fatigued, no doubt, but my heart was happy. I enjoyed every.single.second. That is no lie. Because let’s be honest. The race is a culmination of my entire running career – it just happened to be the last 50 miles of hundreds of hours on the trails. Countless training days. Endless podcasts and music streams. Good days and bad. A DNF was never an option: I didn’t come this far to only come this far.

There. The gritty details of my 50 miler. Almost 6 weeks have passed and I have more on my docket, but that event is so, so special to me.

My incredibly large blister has healed:

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My little toe turned black (not just the nail, the entire toe) and is now back to normal, though the nail did come off.

I’m back to running, climbing, hiking, and all my normal activities. I was in an incredible amount of pain the following day and spent the day napping and watching videos of the late Ueli Steck.

In the 12 hours and 45 minutes that I was running, my incredibly supportive husband ate breakfast, took a nap, ran the 25k and rocked it, ate lunch, and volunteered at the finish line until I was back. I adore him.

“That’s amazing!” is the standard response to my 50 mile achievement, followed by “What’s next?”. Stay tuned!

Spring Training

A story in pictures. Spring in the PNW is incredibly refreshing.

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Wildwood

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Finally, I can run in a t-shirt!

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Some aftermath of a wind storm in Forest Park

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Beautiful singletrack  – Wildwood

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An early trillium in Forest Park

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Marquam Trail = hill training

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Banks-Vernonia Trail

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An old trestle bridge

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Banks-Vernonia Trail

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The view from below


Hawthorne and Hood

Green Monster Duathlon – 3/4/17

Inaugural years for events can be hit or miss. As race directors work out the kinks in logistics, they can be the awesome event we’ve all been waiting for or it can fall flat and a few years have to go by before anyone is brave enough to return.

The Green Monster Duathlon was close to the former for it’s inaugural year in 2017. I happened upon this random event on Ultra Signup and immediately recruited Jesse and our good friend to join me. Jesse was keen to do the middle section, the mountain bike, and our friend took the final running leg, leaving me to start us off.

None of us had ever been to Green Mountain before – it’s west of Seattle, across the bay, just outside Bremerton, WA. We drove up the night before and stayed at a hotel, waking at 4:30 AM to make the rest of the drive to arrive by the suggested 6 AM time to ensure parking. We had the option to camp, but given that there was frost on the ground, I was incredibly grateful for the warm bed at the Hampton Inn (and the wi-fi, as we had a hilarious time sorting out the recommended mapping app).

When we arrived at Horse Camp, we were greeted by the race director and were told we could park just up the road from the starting area. This was ideal, as we could then hang out in the warm car until the sun came up. We had 2 hours to kill until the start time, so we meandered to the camp fire, socialized with the volunteers, and just generally relaxed, digesting our hurried and desperate McDonald’s breakfast.

At long last, the leg 1 runners were off. I was battling a horrible, awful cold and was running with what felt like only 25% of my lung capacity, coughing all the way. My leg was called “The Miserable Loop” – about 7.5 miles with 1,350 ft of climbing. I settled into the run, walking the hills when I couldn’t breathe, and making friends left and right.

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Everyone there, I gathered, were locals and most seemed to know the race director so it was interesting to hear about the history of the town and the trails (being some of the only out-of-towners, we were in somewhat of celebrity status up there). One girl I was running with was celebrating her 30th birthday that day and she was in the best of spirits. I enjoyed running with her all morning.

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At the aid station, we were told to continue up to the vista (might as well, we’d come this far, right?) and then rip a page from a book corresponding with our bib number, then head back to the starting line. The view was beautiful and I had a strange experience with a guy wanting to video my running shoes. I sure hoped he was part of the event!

My running buddy and I enjoyed the lovely downhill back to the starting line / transition point where Jesse was waiting on his bike to begin leg 2: “The Slaughterhouse Onslaught”. A quick kiss and he was off.

I was soaking wet and starting to shiver so I headed to the car to change my clothes. Afterward, I enjoyed fistfuls of Swedish Fish, oranges, and pretzels, washing it all down with my favorite trail running beverage: Coca Cola. Our friend and I sat by the camp fire…it was incredibly chilly on Green Mountain!

Eventually, Jesse came rolling in and our friend took off for leg 3: “The Fire Swamp”. Within minutes he was back, looking a little lost. This seemed common among the leg 3 runners; the course was marked in pink and orange ribbon…but so were the logging roads on the mountain! Not ideal.

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While our friend was out running, Jesse & I took in the spectacular burgers from the Grub Hut food cart that had rolled in. We, per usual, bogarted seats by the fire, devouring our well-earned lunch.

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After a little while, we headed down to the finish line to wait for our friend. It was raining and we stood under the tents, watching other team members finish and celebrate. Some badass athletes did the entire event solo and they were quite inspirational as well. One particular team, a couple also from Portland, got engaged right at the finish line! As he finished the last run, he knelt in the mud and proposed. Teary-eyed, she said yes! Unfortunately, I am in the background of nearly every photo of the moment (as seen on Facebook). Sorry, friends!

Our friend came in, looking strong. We returned to the firepit, food in hand, and hung out for the raffle. Many of the competitors left right after finishing, so the group had dwindled and our chances of winning were looking quite good!

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The raffle ended up being the best part of the race. It was laced with hilarious commentary and embarrassed multi-winners. Our friend won a massive jug of electrolyte powder (“add some water so it forms a paste and layer it on!”). The event had some inspiration from the Barkley Marathon, hence the books / tearing of the pages, and aptly named leg titles: “Misery” by Stephen King, “Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut, and “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman. I, ever so fittingly, won a book signed by the race director and volunteers. I was thrilled!

My winning ticket was the last to be drawn so with book in hand, we piled in the car and headed for home.

December 2016

December was filled with all wonderful things. Jesse made friends with urban farm animals, I did some volunteer leaf raking on our favorite trail, and we got some skiing in.


Portland had some strange weather – wind storms, ice storms, and snowy days. I ran 30 miles one Sunday and caught the aftermath.

16 miles of downed trees makes the miles seem long

Riley dog, enjoying the icy trail in Forest Park

For Christmas, we packed up for several days and journeyed down to Sunriver, OR. We rented a house with my parents, my sister & brother-in-law, and my two nieces (and a few dogs, too) for even more fun in the snow.

Kylee at the top of the lift!

Ms. Sheridan’s first time on skis

Snowshoe adventure on Lava Butte

Sleigh ride in Sunriver, OR

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Ice skating in Sunriver

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Walkin’ in a winter wonderland

Oh, and just to be thorough in this catch-up post, here’s a photo of our Thanksgiving dinner. My favorite item: stuffing.

New England – Oct 2016

During one of our “research American real estate” sessions Jesse & I discovered Vermont as being a beautiful and reasonably priced area of the country that we wanted to explore. Neither of us had spent any significant time on the East Coast (he had a work trip and I’ve been to NYC) and so we found an excuse to go check it out: The CircumBurke Marathon.

One Wednesday evening, after we watched the 3rd Presidential Debate, we took the redeye to Boston. We picked up our tiny Ford Fiesta rental car and started driving north. Neither of us could get over how small the East Coast felt. We flew to Massachusetts, had lunch in New Hampshire, spent the night in Maine, and were in Vermont for dinner the next day. It had me nostalgic for Europe and reflecting on how big the states in the West really are.

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Sunrise over NY (from Newark Airport)

A few things to note about the East Coast: 1) Toll Roads; 2) Parking meters that only accept change; and 3) The No-Small-Talk, No-Nonsense attitudes. All three were hard to get used to and that I definitely take for granted in our corner of the world.

We spent our first night in Portland, ME. Cheesy, but it had to be done. The town is definitely a coastal city and we enjoyed the next day exploring the Portland Head Light, America’s 2nd oldest lighthouse.

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We took off from there to our AirBnB in Vermont. We drove in the torrential rain through the White Mountain National Forest and eventually realized we had to run a marathon in the morning and needed to find some food. We knew our room had a full kitchen so we begrudgingly stopped at a Walmart and grabbed some pasta, eggs, and granola bars. Good enough.

We were greeted in Vermont by our hosts and they were impressed that we were running the event (it’s mainly a mountain biking event to which they recently added the running component). Their son was biking it as well and they told us it was a pretty tough course. “No worries,” I thought. “Portland is always muddy and 3,000 ft over a marathon isn’t too much climbing”. We went to bed, crawling into the softest flannel sheets in existence.

Morning came and we calmly got ready. The starting line was a mere 6 minutes from our door, so we were a bit spoiled for race day. It was cold and we both struggled with dressing ourselves properly. We ended up in merinos with ultralight jackets, gloves, and hats.

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The course was a loop over and around the ski hill. We started at 8 AM along with a few hardcore mountain bikers who would do the loop twice. The cyclists doing the loop only once would start at 10 AM. We were off…and Jesse lost me right away. About a mile in I was ripping my jacket off, along with my gloves and headband. I was running without the bladder in my pack and just a flask in the front pocket and was thankful I for the weight to be off my back for a long run.

The course was beautiful. The fall colors definitely did not disappoint. The forest floor was covered in brilliant oranges, reds, and yellows, often blindingly so. It was muddy and perfect. Around mile 2.5 I started chatting with a girl who thought I lost a hat. I told her the story of the man behind me who threw it aside after he couldn’t find its owner either and we decided to run together for a while. “A while” turned into the rest of the run and I enjoyed her company immensely for the next 6+ hours.

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The first “aid station” was a cooler with a water jug and a pump. This was confusing and I rejected the measly offering. A few miles later was the second aid station with an actual tent, table, person, and race fare. We leap-frogged with a few women for a while up and down the hills and just enjoyed the beauty of the run, talking about all the things in the world.

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Aid station #3 featured chips, cookies, and ramen. I gave the ramen a try and was disappointed to find it was flavor-less and had gone cold. Not ideal. We were off again, on cross country ski tracks now, and the first of the mountain bikers caught us here.

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We were on the backside of the ski hill and fighting the mud and cyclists. It took up a lot of time to move off the narrow track to let them pass, but I had no time goals in mind. Everyone was quite supportive and it was easy to feel like a badass when the hardcore bikers were so complimentary. Then there was the funny story about the ibuprofen and salt tablets..!

Eventually my legs began to tire. The hills were hiked more frequently and the energy was slipping. Aid station #4 was at the bottom of a hill and was crowded with cyclists. We grabbed some chips and kept on. We joined another woman for the final miles and her good-nature and interesting life stories helped the miles tick by. Her watch read over 27 miles, mine was reading 23 miles, and the volunteer told us we had 4 to go. It was a confusing time for us all.

Eventually we emerged from the trees and raced down the hill, past the chair lift, under the inflatable finish line, the clock was finally stopped: 6:49:43. I could sit down. I could chat with Jesse. I could drink something warm. I could check another marathon off my list.

We had some pumpkin soup, listened to the band, lost at the raffle, and when I began shivering all over, we left. We drove the 5 minutes “home”, showered, crawled into the soft bedding and slept. It was a fantastic day. We later realized the course had a bit over 4,100 feet of elevation and concluded it was indeed a tough run.

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The next morning we awoke to the most beautiful winter wonderland. The same view from our window was now bright and clean with about 3-4″ of snow. The orange and yellow in the distance gave the landscape an inspired pop of color. The resident chickens scurried in front of the window, Jesse began playing Christmas tunes, and I was happy.

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Our opinion of New England is now slightly biased, as we went during the second half of October…but it was gorgeous. We drove north to Newport and had brunch, then drove south to Burlington and wandered around Lake Champlain, stopping for maple syrup and souvenirs along the way. It was windy and cold, but driving through rural Vermont was incredibly scenic. After a few hours in Burlington we drove to the capitol city of Montpelier for dinner (although it was secretly in search of Bernie Sanders). We ate a lovely Italian dinner and then headed home.

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The next day we slowly packed up and drove back to Boston. We spent a very small amount of time at Boston Common Park and then headed to the airport. After a series of unfortunate events, we ended up being stuck at the airport for a while, waiting for skies to clear up in San Francisco for us to head home. Several hours later, we were boarded and headed back West.

Volcanic 50 – 9/3/16

“As a runner, you have to face the truth about yourself on a regular basis, and it makes you more honest. You can’t pretend to be faster than you are. You can’t pretend that you are better prepared than you are. You cannot pretend to be a runner, you actually have to run.” -John Bingham

In all honesty, I wasn’t properly prepared for this run. I had a crazy intense July and I slacked off in August. September 3rd was Volcanic 50 and I knew it would be a slow day. I’d power through and keep an eye on the cutoffs, but it was going to be hard.  With over 32 miles, around 7,500 ft of elevation gain, and almost a completely exposed course around Mt. St. Helens it was going to be the toughest run on my books.

My running buddy (I place the blame for my entry on her) wasn’t going to be able to run it this year after all and I’d accepted the added challenge of running this event alone. The run was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend and I looked forward to the extra two days of rest before heading back to work.

The weekend before the race I began to prep. I was asking Jesse for advice about maps and gear and was constantly checking the weather. Prior race reports ran the gamut for weather: 90 degrees and sunshine to 60 degrees and fog. I was fervently wishing for the latter.

I argued with myself over running with poles or without. How much water would I need, really? Did I need a proper GPS device or would an app on my phone be okay? Through these internal debates, Jesse’s advice turned into his own planning. I don’t know if it was jealously or the thought of missing an epic run, but with 3 days to spare, he signed up as well. While I try to think of myself as a badass adventurer, I was relieved that he was going to be there, too.

Friday night came and we decided the start line wasn’t actually too far from Portland and we would just drive up in the morning. Another friend of ours from Cascade Lakes would be there as well and we looked forward to catching up with him.

After our mandatory gear check, another quick stop at the port-a-potty, we shivered at the start line before taking off. It was a gloriously misty day; the fog and dampness of the air made for an ideal running day. I was incredibly grateful for this.

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Jesse & I had no expectations of each other. We agreed to run the entire race together and I was glad the pressure of pushing it to keep up was off. The first few miles were a steady incline and we took off at a brisk hike. No need to over-exert. I wore my heart rate monitor, more for curiosity’s sake than a guide. My average bpm was 162 and I peaked at 189. Not bad!

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We were on beautiful single track which eventually was a nice, runnable, rolling terrain. We were park of a pack at this point and around mile 4 we heard screams. Bees.

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I knew they were coming. The race reports talked about them and I was hoping to avoid them with the cooler weather, but no such luck. The girl out in front was stung 4 times, the guy behind her 4 times, and me twice. One crawled under my GPS watch and stung. Another got me in the glute through my pants. I tore off my watch and pulled out the stinger from my wrist. The other one would have to stay until later. Luckily Jesse wasn’t stung, as he has a stronger reaction than I do, but it was still an annoyance for the rest of the run. Swelling and an eventual itch on both stings reminded me just how far we had to go.

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Aid station 1 (of 4) came around mile 6 and I loaded my front flask with Coke. I grabbed a few Oreos and we took off, feeling like a million bucks. Boulder fields and river crossings await!

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There were a few fun sections where we needed to climb down valleys with ropes and up the other side. We had to scramble over lava rocks and jump over streams and rivers. After 6 more miles, we reached aid station 2. This was a bit of a longer stop, as we studied the next course section ahead. We entered more forest, ran through pumice fields, and traversed steep sandy sections.

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After 8 miles of pretty lonely running, we came to aid station 3, which was a great relief. There was music, food, and a tiny waterfall. The volunteers at this aid station were so full of energy (and some were even dressed at astronauts…because why not?) and we took their compliments and well wishes to heart.

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Four more miles of pumice fields, a huge hill climb and an equally long, rocky descent brought us to aid station 4. The last one. We had made the cutoff by about 45 minutes. It was raining at this point and there was a guy in red shorts we had to catch. We didn’t linger very long. It was almost over. My legs (and my back) were ready to sit down. Just 8 more miles.

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These last miles were brutal. On the mind and on the body, it was a never ending cycle of descending the valley, climbing out the other side. Descending, climbing out. Repeatedly. For ages. Followed by boulder fields. And then there was a break of glorious single track and I prepared myself for the descent to the finish line. After just a few minutes of actual running, another boulder field presented itself. I groaned and power hiked up and over. Jesse was out ahead, stopped at a corner and he looked back at me. “How much more of this?” I pleaded. He flashed me his most evil smile and disappeared around the corner. That wasn’t a good sign.

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We passed the guy in red shorts and didn’t see another person until the finish. We reached the proper trail and jogged through the trees, enjoying the final minutes on soft forest footing. We saw a trail marker telling us we were 1/2 mile away. We were quiet. And then…cowbells. Cheering. The photographer and the finish line. Jesse and I crossed it together and we were both smiling like fools.

The race director came to congratulate us, handed us our swag, and pointed us to the food. I asked her where the chairs were. Our friend came to greet us (he left us on a big hike and finished well before us…I was proud of him!) and the race director brought a chair to me. I collapsed in it and began to shiver as the 3 of us rehashed the race, ate a little, and basked in the glory of the day.

After emptying my hydration pack back at home, I calculated my intake. A Clif Shot Blok (just one package), about 6 Oreos, 1/4 of a PB&J, a handful of MnMs, about 16 oz of Coke, and 3/4 L of water. In other words: not much for over 11 hours of activity. I always swear I’ll be better at that. I never am.

Here are the links to Paul Nelson’s beautiful professional photos:

In the weeks following, I’ve been asked so many questions about it, but the one I never have a good answer to is:

“Did you feel trained?”

Yes and no. I finished and now have 3 points toward the UTMB. But I wish I had been faster. I wish I could have run more of it. I wish I hadn’t been sore for 5 days after it. Coulda woulda shoulda. But I’m damn proud of it.

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Mt. Rainier – 8/7/16

You remember my 50k buddy Sybil, right? We finally got around to running together again and planned out a weekend on Mt. Rainier. Well, it was less of a weekend and more of a Sunday-Monday adventure. But then I started a new job on August 1st and it turned into just a day trip. But still – it was a fantastic day!

I woke up insanely early, as running tends to require, and drove 3 hours to the mountain to meet up with Sybil & Belia for a day of exploring the Wonderland Trail.

I was in awe of Rainier the entire time. Mt. Hood is a great mountain right in our backyard but Rainier is Hood’s bigger sister and I fell in love instantly. Driving into the park had a very grand feel to it; the top of the mountain barely visible, expansive forests and valleys, and other daunting peaks cropping up along the way. I guess that’s why it’s a National Park!

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Our route took us from Fryingpan Creek up to the Panhandle Gap and as you can see, it was not a beautiful sunny day! Our views were limited but the trail (and the company) were spectacular!

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It was a decent hike up to Panhandle Gap; around 3,000 ft of climbing in 5.5 miles. We traversed some sketchy snow patches, fun bridges and water crossings, and enjoyed the marmots scurrying about. Although we were climbing, it cooled off quite quickly and hats, gloves, and jackets came out. It didn’t stop of from playing in the glacial pool, though!

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I could have watched the marmots play all day!

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“If that lady can hike this with a baby on her back…!”

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Sybil was certain this hole would be the death of us

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Photo courtesy of guy in Saucony’s and school backpack

We ran most of the 5.5 mile descent and it felt great to get in some mountain running with my badass lady friends.

Jack & Jill’s Downhill Marathon – 7/31/16 

Another weekend, another event. This time though, I had a fabulous running partner who came all the way from California to run with me! And, this event was even her idea!

This marathon is exactly what the name suggests: downhill. It makes for a speedy run, but as any runner knows, eventually trashes your quads and the fun is over. But this particular race was special because the first 3 miles were through an abandoned tunnel in northern Washington. The entire course was on an old rail line so it wasn’t quite trail, but it wasn’t road either. And the views were spectacular. But first things first.

The run was on Sunday so we headed to Seattle on Saturday morning and caught the Chihuly Glass Museum before picking up Erin. I had viewed some of his work on a trip to Las Vegas and his art is incredibly creative, so I was excited to share that with Jesse. The museum is at the base of the Space Needle and there was a festival happening in downtown Seattle so we crawled through the city and miraculously found a parking spot right out front. We wandered around the exhibits and then had lunch in the courtyard. It was a relaxing way to start the weekend, albeit very tourist-y!

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We met up with Erin and headed to North Bend to pick up our packets and kill some time. We got in some hilarious outlet shopping (see matching pants below!) and then found some pizza to carbo load.

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The hotel left much to be desired and we all slept horribly. Five AM came quickly and we groggily packed up and drove to the finish line to catch our shuttle bus to the start.

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It was like we were in high school again – do we pick a spot near the back of the bus like the cool kids? Pick near the front so we can be the first ones off? We settled on the middle, dug out some bagels and cream cheese, and enjoyed the ride.

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Our bus driver got us lost only once, and then we arrived at the start line. We had an hour and a half to kill before the race began and it was chill-ay (see: pants!)! We sat on the pavement, ate some more breakfast, took some photos, arranged our drop bags, and restlessly tried to keep warm.

There was some confusion about where the drop bags were to be left, if there was any water for us, and then a national anthem [send comments about national anthem controversies to igetallmyhatemail@gmail.com].

With headlights intact, we were finally off! I was excited to spend the next 4-5 hours catching up with Erin (luckily not actually catching up since we decided to stick together, despite her being the superior athlete). We enjoyed the tunnel, cold as it was, and emerged on the other end undressing and unloading. We took pit stops to pee and stretch, to take photos, and chatted the entire way. This run is a Boston Marathon qualifying run and I have no doubt Erin can and will qualify someday. I reminded her that she could leave me behind and could run it for time, but she insisted we were in it together. This became very important later in the day!

The half marathon mark came and went in what seemed like no time at all. I looked at my watch: a half marathon PR in the bag!

We were feeling strong, passing some people, getting passed by other people, laughing with other runners, and enjoying the event. The views of Snoqualmie Pass were incredible the entire way. We were in and out of the forest, crossing bridges, and making our way down the hill.

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But then: mile 18. And 19. And every mile got harder, my legs gaining weight with every step. Erin’s company was much more than two girlfriends catching up at this point: she was my life support. The sun was heating up the day and I was over it, fatigued setting into my physical self more than I could bear. The aid stations had only water and Gatorade (I’m clearly spoiled from the ultra aid stations and expect a smorgasbord) and I couldn’t get enough to drink. That’s what I get for not running with my hydration pack! Jesse claimed he hit the “bonk” in a similar spot.

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We passed a woman in dire need of an ambulance (she confessed she was having surgery the next day! #notworthit). We passed some people who gave up and were walking. And we passed each mile marker…slowly but surely.

At long last, the finish line was in sight. We “sprinted” to the end and I headed straight to the ground. My legs had died miles ago and all I wanted was a shower and to lie down. Jesse was feeling pretty spent as well (Erin, she had a few more miles in her, I’m sure!) and we were eager to get out of the sun and away from the crowds. We grabbed some water, our medals, and slowly walked up the hill to the car.

To wrap up the weekend, we were locked out of our hotel room, despite repeatedly asking for a late checkout. If I could be bothered, I’d leave them a terrible review! We eventually regained access to our stuff, packed up quickly, and went to Safeway for some chocolate milk and snacks for the road.

Erin’s friend picked her up, we said our good-byes, and sadly parted ways. Let me tell you; a joint marathon effort is an excellent adventure with a friend!

Psst! You can see our race photos here!

SOB 15km – 7/23/16

Three out of the last 4 years, Jesse and I have made our way to southern Oregon for the Siskiyou Out Back trail run. It’s one of Jesse’s favorite events and this was my first year actually running it. However, with July already full up with events, we both had to opt for the shorter distance this time.

Per usual, we arrived at the mountain in the middle of the night (*ahem* 1 AM) and slept in the car. We “stayed” in our usual spot, woke up and had some oatmeal, and drove up to the start line. The morning was beautiful and Mt. Shasta could be seen in the distance. That mountain is absolutely stunning.

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Photo courtesy of SOB Flickr

The course is along the Pacific Crest Trail and the southern Oregon section is much different than up here. It’s more dirt, less pine needles. It’s slightly rockier and the trees aren’t as dense. It’s every bit as beautiful – just in a different way. I haven’t met a section of the PCT I didn’t like, though.

Jesse started off at a pretty good clip and I didn’t see him again until the finish line, despite there being a decent stretch where the course loops back around on itself.

I was feeling awfully tired and was just taking it easy. No PRs for me that day, but I was happy just enjoying the view!

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Photo courtesy of SOB Flickr

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There was a long downhill section where I was able to make up some time and eventually I found myself running with a local guy and we chatted away the last few miles. I forget his name and how long he’s lived there and how many times he’s done the race – but I’m always grateful for the social aspect of events. Trail runners are inspirational, interesting, and have the amazing capability of making the miles seem shorter.

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I finished a few minutes above my goal time, but who’s counting!?

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We didn’t stick around for much of the after party; we were both pretty keen to get home. It was a short-lived weekend, but I love making the trip every year.