Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Progress

It's been hard to tell if I've been making any progress in my mountain running pursuits lately. A full week of runs out here usually leaves me feeling like a slug with shoes. Fortunately, I took it pretty "easy" last week. Easy on the running anyway. Not easy on the dessert eating. It takes a good amount of over eating to feel uncomfortable even in pants with an elastic waste band (running tights). I pulled it off yesterday though.

It had been 5 and a half hours since I ate lunch in Ft. Collins, but I still felt bloated, heart burny and not at all graceful plodding up Green Mountain. We were a few minutes late, so Nick and I missed the first hill repeat with the gang (Becca, Leila, Ryan K, and Donnie). It was just as well. I don't know if I could have done a 5th repeat. Anyway, the point is, despite feeling gross and not energetic, I still felt way better than I did the last time I ran Green Mountain. For one thing, I didn't have any fits of wheezing. Also, my walk breaks were shorter.

So the main trail up Green Mountain, where we do repeats, is 1.25 miles long with 730ft of elevation gain. No, we don't do repeats up and down that entire length. If I could do that, I'd be like…Anton. The repeats start 0.3 miles from the top, next to some trees. Or maybe they're large bushes. Anyway, it's the largest vegetation out there. Over the 0.3-mile climb, there is 260ft of elevation gain. In comparison, the super hard hill repeat I used to do in Kansas, Ogg Rd, was 0.5 miles long with 190ft of elevation gain. I never thought I could consider Ogg Rd to be easy, but I just might some day.

Well, I know I said it was a pretty easy week in terms of exercise, but Sunday was actually a pretty hard day, and I learned a lot too! I was really excited to go on my first hut trip. A hut trip consists of traveling several miles to a hut in the mountains. The hut is pretty much a cabin, without running water, which you share with up to 15 other people. I was a little anxious about the lack of running water part. Nick managed to trick me into thinking I would have to go to the bathroom in a snow cave. LOL. But it turned out they actually do have outhouses, like you would see at a park. And there were even cool posters of animals to look at while you were taking care of business. Bonnie (Nick's stepmom) wasn't fond of the one containing the snake poster.

When we first started talking about hut tripping with Nick's dad and stepmom, I was all gung ho about doing LOTS of snowshoeing. The farther the trek the better, I thought! I was a little bummed to find out we were headed to the Sangree M. Froelicher hut, which was only 3.5 miles from the trailhead. Only 3.5 miles?! How boring! I soon discovered that 3.5 miles was a LONG way. Here is a scale of difficulty for your reference. I was at level 6.

  1. Walking without snow.
  2. Running without snow.
  3. Snowshoeing (in snow, of course).
  4. Snowshoeing uphill.
  5. Snowshoeing uphill, carrying 20lbs.
  6. Snowshoeing uphill carrying 20lbs after eating a sausage breakfast sandwich and drinking coffee when you're a person who doesn't drink much coffee because it makes her stomach upset. Also, you don't eat meat very often. Ok ok, make your meat eating jokes. Haha, very funny.
So, I pretty much felt like barfing most of the way. And my back and shoulders hurt a lot. I think the trekking poles helped in the snow, but sometimes they made things worse. Like when the snow is 3ft deep on the sides of the trail, the poles get stuck and you exert just as much strength pulling them out as you would gain from their support. 

Well we ended up being all by ourselves in the hut, which was cool with me. I'm not much of a socializer anyway. And I'd rather not sleep next to a stranger if I can avoid it. It turned out to be a really good workout and a good learning experience. I'll definitely have to think hard about whether or not I want to try the 11-mi trek out to the Skinner Hut this winter. It would be good training for all the ultras I have planned for this spring though!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Scary Exhausted

I asked Nick if he wanted to go for a short run or hike on Saturday and he suggested Meyer's Ranch. Meyer's Ranch is a beastly trail that climbs 850ft in 2 miles then goes right back down. In terms of difficult climbs in our area, it's one of the easiest though. I've succeeded in running all the way up a whole TWO times. Walk breaks are not unusual here. But when he said Meyer's Ranch, I was totally thinking he said Flying J Ranch. Flying J is pretty much the easiest trail out here, though I would say it's harder than most in Kansas. So I'm thinking of Flying J until Nick realized that I was and corrects me. 

At this point I was thinking, "Ughhhhhh." I had been doing tough runs all week and wanted to run 20 on Sunday. This 4.4 mile run was not going to help. Before we got dressed, Nick asked me if I thought the trail would be icy. I didn't know. I hadn't been out there in a 3 or 4 weeks. I should have guessed though. The trail is on a north facing slope and the other trail in town (Flying J) was moderately icy. So of course we went out wearing our most minimal shoes, with puny tread. We were also dressed for 45 degree weather. 45 degree weather on a trail with sun. Not 45 degree weather on a north slope with wind. 

It wasn't too bad to start out, there's a steep ascent but it's fairly exposed so the ice wasn't bad, then it flattens out for a bit. About half way up, you reach a long steep hill. Of course it was incredibly icy the rest of the way. I was getting totally worn out going up hill, trying to keep traction and finding the best route through the ice and snow all at the same time. I took several walk breaks. And as we got closer to the top I started thinking about how much it was going to suck to come back down. I mentioned this to Nick and he just said, "I'll think about it when we get there!" Easy for him to say, I thought. He's not the one who falls on his ass every other day on much gentler slopes.

Fortunately, we were at the top before I knew it and I got a few minutes of flattish trail to relax on. The rest of the way the trail was a moderate downhill though and very icy. It was really slow going. We were taking baby steps and running on the side of the trail a lot, to gain traction on the unpacked snow. I ended up falling twice, both times on my butt, hands and elbows. The feel of the snow and ice on my ungloved hands was the worst. They were burning, and I later found out I had a bunch of tiny splinters in one hand. THOSE were fun to remove. No bad injuries though. Good thing there were no rocks under my tailbone!

Today, we went out to Golden, where I was theoretically going to run 20 miles with my friend Courtney. Courtney's fiancĂ©, Luke, told us that there was a pretty serious climb over the first few miles. I was a little worried after doing Meyer's Ranch yesterday, but I figured I would take some walk breaks going up and be alright once I got up the climbs. 

Apparently we took a wrong turn early in the run and we ended up having to ascend a short portion of trail that was EXTREMELY steep. Like, you had to use your hands steep. The biggest problem with it was that this short section of trail consisted solely of loose dirt. No rocks or roots to hold on to. So I found myself half way up the trail, frozen with fear. I was close to tears. In front of me and behind me was loose dirt. Off to my left was…air or a steeper fall off. I don't know. I just knew I thought I was going to die. So, as I clutched the trail, terrified, I removed one of my gloves to make it easier to grip…the loose dirt. And as I started moving again, I saw that Nick had come back to help me up. Thank goodness! I don't think I've ever been so scared on a run.

Once I got up I was so relieved but immediately started panicking when I thought I'd have to go DOWN that thing. I was reassured though, that we had simply made a wrong turn and that we wouldn't have to go back that way. Once everyone was up, David (Manthey) joked that he hoped there wouldn't be ice on the concrete. I laughed internally. Surely there's no concrete. We're on a trail 100ft above Golden! I was WRONG. It was no joke. All of a sudden the foot traffic slowed and I found myself on 1ft-wide concrete wall. On my left side, was nothing, until you hit the ground 100ft below. On my right side was a 3 ft drop to a grassy section. After a bit of walking on the wall, I decided, this is DUMB! I'm going to pee my pants or die. One of those things is definitely going to happen. So I was the first to hop off the wall to walk on the grassy section below.

To sum up the rest of the run, my legs were totally tired. I did ok for the first mile or so but ran out of juice. On top of that, I kept having fits of not-being-able-to-breathe. I don't know what the deal is. Maybe once I start feeling a LITTLE short of breath I have panic attacks or something, due to being frustrated about being short of breath, which just makes it worse. Stupid mountain asthma. That's what I've started calling my old lady wheezing problems. Anyway, once I finished most of the climb, walking most of the rest of the way, I decided to turn back with Nick. Leaving me with a whopping 6.16 mile run. That number is significantly different than 20. But I will get there. You just wait and see!

So there you have it. You have learned that I am afraid of falling on my butt on the ice, partly due to the fact that I broke my tailbone in FEBRUARY and it still bothers me. You may never again see me "plop" down on a couch. But that Saturday run definitely made me want to try the Kahtoola Microspikes. They're a little pricey and I used to just screw my shoes, but some of my shoes are a little too minimal to be screwed. So I will let them keep their maidenhood.

I also found out that I am WAY more afraid of heights than falling on my butt. I've improved a little bit though. I used to be terrified of ascending Hope Pass. But that's child's play compared to my experience today. I was pretty scared for parts of the Jemez Mountain 50k, but not paralyzed by fear like I was today. I don't have any plans to improve my fearlessness like I want to increase my mileage though. The next time I visit a new trail, I will be sure to ask if a) I will have to use my hands or b) I will be forced to walk on any trail narrower than 2ft across with a vertical drop on one side.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I think I can, I think I can

I'm really trying to get in gear for my racing season. So far, my next race is the Sourdough Snowshoe race (30k) in January. Aaaaand since I haven't even RUN 18 miles since Leadville, I have a lot of getting in gear to do before I can snowshoe that far. Oh wait, I did do a flat 22 miles a few weeks ago. In Kansas.

Lately, I've been trying to increase my mileage and work on hills. I've started doing hill repeats once a week with running buddies Leila and Becca. They're both much faster than me and much better at hills, but in the end it'll only make me a better runner.

My biggest challenge lately has been the hills. It's not just the tired legs either. I've been having a really tough time breathing. I guess it's a combination of the cold air, the elevation and the climbing. Every few minutes I have to stop and spit all over the place so I can keep breathing. And as far as I can tell, I'm not sick. Maybe I have mountain asthma. I'm totally making that up. But even just hanging out at home, I get out of breath drinking water. Bah. Maybe I just need a few MORE months of acclimating. Anyway, I also plan to spend more time at the gym (I've been slacking), doing leg strengthening exercises to help with the hills too.

So hills are my biggest challenge, but my big goal is to just keep trying and not get bummed out just because I don't feel like I'm improving exponentially. I'll get to where I want to be a little at a time.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

One of These Days...

…I will be happy I moved to Colorado. I haven't been blogging as much lately, because, well I tend not to blog much when I'm in a major slump. And that's what I've been in ever since Leadville. But in the last week or so, I've tried to concentrate on being positive and patient, instead of obsessing over things that suck right now.

My recent visit to Kansas was equal parts happy (to see familiar faces and places) and depressing. With every familiar face I saw, came the questions. How are things? How's the job search? And every time I answered them, I realized more and more, how I'm not where I thought I'd be with my life right now. I thought by now I'd be running more than 10-20 miles per week. I thought by now I'd be better at running hills (mountains). I thought by now I'd have a job. It pretty much boils down to feeling useless in every aspect of life. I'm not bringing any money into the household and I have lots of extra time on my hands. But even with the extra time my running doesn't seem to improve.

Maybe the running boils down to a lack of companionship, i.e. running partners. There are people I run with sometimes, but they're much faster than I am, so I'm not really running WITH them so much as chasing after them as best I can. In Kansas, I had lots of people to run with. Especially my BUBF (best ultra buddy forever), Sarah. And even if I did run alone, I never felt like I would fall over and die on any of my runs. It's tough to encourage yourSELF to run all the way up a 1500ft ascent when it's just you and the trail. So I guess my adventures in running improvement are equal parts physical and mental.

Perhaps it's a good thing. Maybe a little mental fortitude and independence is what I need. But I sure did like having girlfriends like Sarah, Coleen and Debbie by my side to reassure me and tell me everything would work out. In Kansas, you give me 3 weeks and I could go from being an injured mess to being competitive in a 50k. In Colorado, give me 3 weeks and who knows what'll happen. I might have 1 good week of training and 2 pathetic ones.

As for the job situation. I think it boils down to me being irresponsible and totally ignorant of the job market. When I graduated from college, the job market was not great but I still found a good job. And I stayed at that job for six years. I didn't work at securing a job before I left Kansas. I figured I'd find one a few weeks after I moved. WRONG. I just had this mentality of having a comfortable job for six years, where I was never too worried about being laid off, that finding a job would be no big deal. Now I'm realizing the engineering job market in Denver is not so great. I've gotten to the point that I'm just looking for A job. But getting just any job when you have a bachelors and masters degree in mechanical engineering is also not easy. Being overqualified doesn't help you either.

Sooo there it is. Life is tough, but I know that little by little things will improve. And maybe a year from now, this will all be a distant memory. Anyway, there are people who have it a lot rougher than me. My boyfriend is supporting both of us and still has enough money to replace the Kindle I broke with a Kindle Fire (I did not ask for a replacement). So maybe that thought will also shut up my whiny brain.