Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Origin Story of Ultra Ordinary Running

I really like listening to ultra running podcasts when I run, but more and more I've been feeling like I wish there was one out there that was about people more like me.  Interviews with the elites and news from the top of the field are great, and that's information I want to know, but I also find I have hard time relating to it.  I finish in the middle of the pack.  I don't have an entourage.  I am constantly trying to negotiate my training/racing around Will's and Rob's schedules.  I once got up extra early to put on a crock pot of vegetarian chili for the rest of the family before I left to go run a marathon.  I realize that many elite runners have regular jobs and families too, but the crock pot of chili thing--that's what gets me.  I doubt many high level runners are doing that.

I searched around a little bit to try and find any podcasts about ordinary ultra runners like me, and while I found quite a few good shows that I now listen to, I still was wishing there was something more.

Then one day while I was running in circles, training for Across The Years, I thought... What if I started a podcast.  I am an ordinary ultra runner, I am a person like me.  And then I thought, so are Angela and Christina.  We should do this together.

I came home and messaged Angela and Christina.  What if we started a podcast, I wrote.  And then I deleted the message before I sent it.  They might not want to.  And they almost certainly didn't have the time.

I went about my day and ran again the next morning.  The idea was still there.  We should start a podcast.  Angela and Christina had almost succeeded in reeling me in to train for and run the Javelina 100 next October, and it seemed like it would be kind of a cool thing, if we documented the journey.  They are going to make it there, I know that for sure.  I remain just a little bit on the edge.  I know I can't count my money while I'm still sitting at the table-- I've been dealing with this calf/tibia injury for too long to say that anything is a sure thing.  I'll do my best to get healthy and stay healthy.  I'll arrange my schedule so that its open for that weekend.  I'll try not to go crazy thinking about how far 100 miles really is.

So I sent them the message, and they were in.  Just like that, we started a podcast.

It has been a truly amazing process over the last couple of weeks as we've worked to put this together.  I've learned so much about servers, hosting, websites, Skype, and Twitter.  None of us live in the same place, so we've done this whole thing via text and phone conversations.  I love the way it has come together so organically.  We're all trying to figure this out, and as we come up with something that needs to be done, one of us just does it.  I think it was Angela who first came up with the name.  Ultra ordinary.  That just fits us so well.

We recorded our first episode over the weekend and released it on Monday.  The technical aspect of it was harder than I thought it would be, and Rob had to do most of the work.  He said I will get the hang of it in time.  I hope so.

You can listen to Ultra Ordinary Running on iTunes or streaming from our very own, brand new website!

I've had so much fun doing this with Angela and Christina, and we have a lot of great things planned over the next 10-ish months to JJ100.  And possibly beyond!  I honestly don't know how this will all shake out with me and my chronically-injured tibia and calf, but I figure I will give it my best shot.  And I'm okay with it-- I'm okay with still doing the podcast and cheering on Angela and Christina even if I can't kick this injury and have to pull out or not make it to the finish.  After all, it's about the journey.

Thanks for reading/listening.


And just for fun, this again:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Dear William (76 months)

Dear William,
You may have noticed that a few days ago, you turned 76 months old, and I didn't write you a letter.  I think that's the first time this has happened since I started writing to you when you were just 4 or 5 months old.  Sorry about that.  Things have been a little busy around here.  I'll try to recap as best I can.

We had a lot of adventures this past month, including a Weekend of a Little Bit Wild.  Your dad took you rock climbing at an indoor gym, and then we went to Colorado Springs, where we visited the Manitou Cliff Dwellings and Garden of the Gods. We camped in Pike National Forest that night, where it was 18 degrees and there was snow on the ground. You loved it. We were all very happy.

We also had Thanksgiving. Or as we call it, Vegan Friendsgiving.  Friends from Idaho came to visit.  It was the best time ever.

We took them bouldering.

A light saber battle ensued.

Then the next day, it snowed.

We still had a feast.  It was a chickpea based celebration.

After our friends went back to Idaho, we got an Xmas tree.

You and daddy decorated the whole thing while I went for a fun-and-safe nighttime 20 mile run.

Speaking of mileage, you put in a few good runs.

And you kept up with your interest in space.

You were thrilled when school was canceled for today because we got 9 inches of snow overnight.  You wanted to watch movies all day, but we managed to go outside and have some fun for a little while.

William, you are my best little buddy.  Stay gold.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

November 2015 Mileage: Is this the High

Sometimes my tibia injury still hurts. Sometimes.  But mostly it is better.  This is a good thing.

You may have heard about how we went to a sale at REI, and I got some used $20 Hoka Stinsons.

I started making some big plans.  Big, big, plans.

Will's vocabulary sheet
We went on a camping trip to Pike National Forest, where I ran in the snow.

I hope to run a race here in the summer, when there will probably be less snow.

Then I ran a 45 mile week. I wasn't even thinking about it.  It just happened. I made a playlist based on the suggestions from Christina's blog and didn't even realize how far I was running.  I should have been keeping my mileage low until I'm sure the injury is gone.  It hurt again after that week, and I briefly thought I'd ruined everything.  But after 3 days of rest, it seemed fine again.

We had friends visit from Idaho for Thanksgiving, and we had tons and tons of snow.  I ran anyway.

The snow isn't helping me with my long term goals for 2016, which may include up to 3 trips to Arizona.

The first of these trips may actually happen at the end of 2015.  And that isn't too far away.  I hadn't thought I'd get in a long run this past weekend, on account of the snow, ice, and generally terrible weather.  But once I started, I felt like I could go forever.  I wished I'd brought some food and more than 20 ounces of water with me.

It occurred to me that this might be my one chance for a long run before the big, big race I still haven't registered for at the end of 2015.  The remaining weekends are full with other plans, and soon enough, it will be time to taper.

I hadn't run more than 13.4 miles at once since Bear Chase, and I decided it was now or never.  Snow or no snow, food or no food, I had to be selfish, I had to do this.  I came home for some Clif bars, Tailwind, and more water, and told Rob and Will I was going out for a few more hours.  I had to get 20 miles in.  Not like that is some kind of magic number, but maybe it would help me cross some kind of mental barrier, just knowing I could do that.  In the snow.

So I did.  It wasn't easy, but it wasn't necessarily hard either.  I just kept listening to the music and putting one foot in front of the other.  Slowly.  And sure enough, I made it 20 miles.

I still don't know if I'm really up to the challenge of those big plans looming on the horizon.  But I do think that if the weeks of injury following Bear Chase were a low, then this is the high.

148.55 miles in November.  Finally, getting somewhere.  My tibia seems to have survived two fairly aggressive back-to-back weeks despite what conventional wisdom would say about injury recovery.  1452.78 miles year to date.  If I only run another 47.22 in December, I'll make it to my arbitrary goal of 1500. That puts me way ahead of the game as compared to last year, when I was still 170 miles behind.  Anything could happen though.  I'm not going to say that my tibia injury is behind me, even though I wish it were.  I just need to listen, learn to be sensible, and keep my eyes on the prize.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Sophomore Year

"Sophomore year is the hardest, Mel," my college roommate said to me near the end of our freshman year.

I stared at her, perplexed. She wasn't the kind of person to ever say a negative word about anything.  A perennial optimist, she'd been a high school cheerleader, a straight-A student, a Sunday-school-goer, and a member of the marching band.  Her favorite thing to say to me, when I had fallen into pieces, was, "And this too shall pass, Mel.  And this too shall pass."

But now she stood before me, assuredly nodding that the worst was yet to come.  This year we'd just been through, with all of its upheavals and fragmentation, was just a prelude to what would be next.

When I asked her why I should expect sophomore year to be so hard, she said that one of her sorority sisters explained it as such: When you're a freshman, nobody expects you to know what you're doing.  You're supposed to be a basket case, white-knuckling it through the unknown and making a mess of things.  But what's more than that, everything you experience is new.  Living in a new place, among new people, doing completely different things.  In a way, it's like magic.  It's exciting.  And all of that goes a long way in outweighing anything that might be a challenge.

But sophomore year is different.  Nothing is new anymore.  You're experiencing everything for a second time.  Now, if you mess up, nobody is going to chalk it up to your newb-ishness, your inexperience.  You are supposed to know what you are doing, but the thing is: you still don't.  And all those things that were exciting the first time you encountered them suddenly become utterly mundane.  Life gets hard.

I've thought of this a lot as I enter my sophomore year here in Colorado.  The first time around, everything really did seem like magic. It has been a slow and awkward and sometimes painful transition, trying to move from the outside in.  We've never lived in a place where we intend to stay.  It is sometimes a strange mix of comfort and dread to look around and realize that these are the same buildings, the same people, the same dusty foothills that we will be looking at every day for the rest of our lives.

Winter has been the thing that has caused me the most concern.  I made it through winter last year, kind of laughing at this strange powdery snow we get here, and even thinking, well this wasn't so bad.  But that was when it was new and I was white knuckling it. Would sophomore winter destroy me?

Our first snow held off until a little bit later this year, and for the first couple weeks of November, we enjoyed quite nice weather.  I wore shorts while running.

But the Christmas cactus knew.

And viene la nieve.

Powder. This is the coat I bought in 2013 at REI in St. Louis, and when I walked into work that first morning wearing it, Melanie knew that meant we were moving.
Afterwards got a few days of sunshine and respite, but trouble was still brewing.  The snow began to fall again on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and it snowed for days and days and days.  And days.

This is not the fun kind of snow. This is the it-takes-half-an-hour-to-scrape-your-car kind of snow.

This was my trail when I got out to run on Black Friday.  Make that White Friday.

I wondered: if the weather had been like this when we visited Fort Collins over Thanksgiving in 2013, would I still have made the decision to quit my job and move here?

Same trail. Different years.

I'm never going to be one of those infuriating people with a "Pray for Snow" bumper sticker on the back of their car, but I have tried to keep going, and at times, I can almost see how people might think this is kind of beautiful.

And in truth, I remembered how I really do love running on the trails in the snow.  You just dress warmly, and it's fine.  Rob thinks I'm a little crazy for saying this, but I do think that some of the trails are actually easier in the snow.  Snow buries the rocks and roots that otherwise jut out from the ground to trip you and knock out your teeth or make you break your hip.  Snow makes everything smooth and buttery soft.  Snow is alright.

 Ice, however, is a different story.  The two miles of intermittent neighborhood ice that stand between me and the solitude of the snowy trails almost crushed my spirit last week.  I had really expected more in the way of plowing and salting from a place that gets on average 60 inches of snow per year.  To its credit, the city does a great job with the main roads.  But the side streets are completely ignored, and I don't quite understand how I am supposed to get from my house to an actual road.

The sun came out today, and even though the temperatures remained below freezing, much of the snow and ice started to melt.  I saw this and heard the dripping as I sat inside working on my computer.  But by the time I went to the bus stop to pick up Will after school, everything had begun to re-freeze again.  I wore my super-warm REI winter coat, plus mittens and a hat, and winced against the biting cold as I stepped outside.

Three times, I slipped on indistinct black ice as I walked up to the corner to wait for Will.  It didn't seem that windy, and yet, there was no respite from the wind.

Mercifully, the bus chugged up the street and the children got off. Will waited for the bus driver's signal, then took off running across the street towards me.  I saw him approaching what looked like a once-melted, now refrozen slick of ice, and before my lips could form the words warning him to stop, his feet skidded out from underneath him, and he landed hard, with all of his weight on his tiny little wrist.

His shrieks must have been heard for at least 3 miles away.  I glided over the ice slick to pick him up and get him out of the street.  The bus driver called out the window to ask if he was okay.  I didn't know.  I'd seen him land.  I was afraid his wrist might be broken.

He begged me to carry him, but at the same time, worried through his sobs that I wasn't strong enough to carry both him and his bag.  We had to get out of the cold. With slow and careful walking, we made it home.  He gradually stopped crying and was able to rotate his wrist, so I could see that it wasn't broken.  In a few minutes, he had forgotten the pain and was happily playing Legos.

I'd been planning on going for a run in the evening, but the treacherous walk up to the bus stop made me decide to cancel that.  I need to get some night miles in for an ultra I might or might not do at the end of the year, but tonight wasn't the night for that.  The race is in Phoenix.  I need practice in the darkness-- I don't need snow and ice and possibly breaking my neck and ruining my slim chances of making it there in the first place.

Sophomore year.  This isn't so fun anymore.  I'll never like snow and ice.  It's going to be a long winter.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Long Run

A couple weeks ago, we were headed to the members-only REI garage sale and talking about what we were going to do for Christmas, when Rob said something like, "Do you want to go run Across the Years?"

"What's that?" I said.  "The thing in Arizona that Pam Smith and one of the fast Zachs won--where you run around a track for 24 hours?"

"No," Rob replied. "You're thinking of Desert Solstice.  Across the Years is the other one in Arizona.  The 6-day, 72 hour, 48-hour, or 24-hour race. It's in a park, I think.  On a one-mile loop, or something close to that." Then he listed the names of people we knew from Second Wind Running Club who had done it.

"Hm," I mused.  "Concrete?"

"Maybe some," he said. "But most of it's dirt or gravel."

I had only run 40 miles the entire month of October because my calf injury had been bothering me ever since Bear Chase.  In fact, my calf still hurt at that moment. Clearly, Rob was not serious about this suggestion.

We arrived at the REI garage sale, and at first I felt like it was kind of a bust.  Everything was broken, damaged, or missing pieces, and still way too expensive given those conditions. I wasn't really looking for anything in particular, but still, it would have been nice to stumble upon some gem, some diamond in the rough.

And then, there they were.  An almost pristine pair of Hoka Stinsons in my size.  The only thing that was wrong with them was a small rip on the tongue (the reason they'd been returned).  These were $160 shoes on sale for $20.

I slipped them onto my feet like Cinderella.  For years, I'd been categorically opposed to Hokas-- too busy staring down the brilliant dream of barefoot running.  The same dream that had all but fractured my tibia and ruined my calves.  These, these magical $20 Hokas--these would be the thing that saved me.

I bought the shoes, came home, and googled Across the Years.  December 28th to January 3rd.  Registration, it appeared, was still open for all of the different race categories.

"Were you serious about this, Rob?" I asked


"Across the Years."

He shrugged.

"Which one of us did you think would do it?"

He shrugged again.  "We could both do it.  You can start the 24-hour race on any of the 6 days."

"Are you suggesting we each run a 24 hour race within a 6-day period, and trade off child care?"

"Maybe."  That seemed to be his favorite word.

I looked at the website again.  You could see who was signed up for the race.  The most popular day to do the 24 hours was December 31-January 1.  You know, across the years.

It took all the willpower in the world for me to wait until the next day to put on my $20 Hokas and run.  When I did, my leg felt fine.

I would say that I didn't think any more about Across the Years, but that would be a lie.

The calf injury was one thing, but beyond that, I'd felt like I needed a rest from ultrarunning after Bear Chase.  That feeling was gone now.  I was ready to run, and semester break would be the perfect time for an ultra.  Arizona would be the perfect place.

The thing is, Across the Years kind of fits into the long run, super secret goal I've had for a while: the Javelina 100.

I just wrote that sentence 3 times, and deleted it 3 times, and then wrote it again, but was too afraid to look at it.

Twitter friends Christina and Angela first brought up the idea of JJ100 a few months ago, but I thought it was one of those things we just talked about without really intending to do.  Wrong. They're serious.  About going to Fountain Hills, Arizona in October 2016.  And running 100 miles.  I can't quite fathom that for myself, considering what happens to my body after running just 50.  But I've kind of been going along with it like yeah, sure, my calf is a wreck, we'll see.

If JJ100 is really going to happen, I need to find out if I can go farther than 50.  The more I keep thinking about this, Across the Years might be my best bet to try.  My other options include, what... signing up for the Never Summer 100K?  I don't think so.  I don't run technical terrain.  And even so, waiting till next July to attempt this might be too late.  Javelina just got put on the Ultra Trail World Tour, or something like that.  It might fill up if I wait that long to register.

It's time to consider the long run...what do I really want out of 2016?  My thoughts are all over the place, and I really need to get it sorted out.  Maybe it's time to make up dream list of what I'd like to do in 2016, and then figure out what is actually feasible, considering, you know, work, life, family, and the very real possibility of injury.  Here goes.

1. Across the Years: December 31, 2015- January 1, 2016.
I don't know how serious Rob was when he threw out that comment in the car, or if he is really interested in doing it himself.  But we were considering not going back to Illinois for Christmas anyway this year, since we saw both of our families in August and October, and doing something on our own instead.  We'd talked about going skiing, but we've discovered that would be cost prohibitive.  A road trip through the southwest might be just the thing.  We could take some time, camp on the way there, see some sights that would be fun for Will.  And the race itself is pretty family friendly.  Rob and Will could camp at the start/finish line and go to sleep while I run at night.  I wouldn't really need "crew," since I'd have access to my own stuff, plus a fantastic aid station, every mile.  It would take away the logistical challenge (well, aside from the big drive to Arizona) that accompanies most ultras for us. Plus, it's organized by the same people who put on Javelina 100.  I'd get a feel for what their races are like as I try to figure out if this distance is possible.

2. Monument Valley: March 19, 2016
This was the one.  A few months ago, I read a book (Rock with Wings) that took place in Monument Valley.  I've been obsessed with this place ever since and have been scheming for a chance to go there.  When I found the Monument Valley Ultras, which happen to be during Will's and my spring break, it seemed like the perfect excuse.  Plus, it fits in with my theme of ultras in the southwest and would be good sand-running training for JJ100.  Seriously, this race looks amazing.  But there are 2 (ok maybe 3) fairly big obstacles.
  1. I am teaching 4 classes next semester. This is huge.  I taught 1 class last spring, and it almost killed me.  I didn't have time for anything, much less train for a 50-miler.  An ultra might be biting off way more than I can chew.  
  2. I don't know what the terrain is like on this course, but it sounds more technical than what I am capable of.  For instance, it contains a mile-long 28% grade "hill" that you traverse in both directions (up and down). And it's rocky.  This could be a deal breaker.  
    • A possible work around of this situation is to run the half marathon they offer instead of the ultra. The half doesn't involve the 28% grade, but it would still give us an excuse to take a spring break trip to Monument Valley, and I could check out the rest of the course for future reference.
  3. While the race does occur during spring break, it falls on the last weekend of spring break, and Will and I might have to miss class on Monday.  Although... I feel like if I called Will's school and signed him out because we were attending a Navajo prayer ceremony (yes, this happens on the Sunday after the race), they couldn't argue with me.  And I know from working with college students, they are totally supportive if you want to cancel class (especially on the days surrounding spring break).  But still, it isn't ideal.    

3. Horsetooth Half: April 17, 2016
I mean, it's kind of my thing.  I love road half marathons.  I love, love, LOVE this course. Okay, granted, I do think that running this last year was what caused me to have an injury for the entire month of May. But Gnar Runners is going to be directing it in 2016, and it is going to be great.  Rob might want to run it too, though, and we can't both do it (re: childcare).  If I'm taking up all these other races (see above and below), I might have to give him this one.

4. North Fork 50: June 4, 2016
This is the thing that doesn't make any sense.  It is a mountain 50-miler that is totally out of my league and certainly doesn't fit into this long term goal of Javelina 100.  But what it's got going for it is than it falls at a time of year (just after classes end) when I think it would be good to run an ultra, and it is close to home.  And when we visited the area last weekend, I fell in love with the course, and even beyond that, with the idea that I might actually be tough enough to run this.

5. Howl at the Moon: August 13, 2016
We could make up for not visiting our families over Christmas with an annual pilgrimage "home" for Howl.  Provided that we could actually get in the race.  It seems like it will be pretty tough to secure a spot this here.  But if I do... it would be great heat training for Javelina.  And 14 laps, you're mine.

6. Tommyknockers 105K? Or Bear Chase again? Sometime in September
Tommyknockers intrigues me (it's in the same area as North Fork), although I'm not 100% sure that it's happening again in 2016.  It's hilly, and double track. DOUBLE TRACK. Why aren't more trail races double track? I love double track.  It would come at a good time for a long training run before Javelina.  But so would Bear Chase, which is a race I know very well by now.  The concern I have with Bear Chase, though, is that because I know it so well, I would go and try to run it "fast," and get injured.

7. Javelina 100: October 29th-30th, 2016
Arizona desert. Cacti. Crazy people with tattoos. Costumes. Rattlesnakes and tarantulas. Second sunrise. Jamil Coury's hair.

There's nothing about this race that I don't love. But I would have to have Rob and Will come with me, because I'm not driving myself to Phoenix, running 100 miles, vomiting for several hours (or days), and then driving myself back home.  This would involve pulling Will out of school for probably 3 days.  But we all know how I feel about the education system and how valuable the teach-to-the-test and common core curriculum is.  Screw it. Angela said it would be okay pull him out. He'd learn a lot more watching his mother run a hundred miles in the desert than he would sitting in a desk being told what to think.

Let's do this.

Javelina Jundred from Project Talaria on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Weekend of a Little Bit Wild

The calendar that parents were given at the beginning of the school year sure didn't say anything about Friday, November 13th being a day off of school, but a week ahead of time, there was a "reminder" in the newsletter (I love it when the school gives us a "reminder" for something that is clearly the first time they've told us). (Actually, I don't).

I thought it would be a good idea to really get out there and do something on our long weekend.  It is rare that we have a weekend with no plans and nothing going on, but we had one recently, and it ended up agonizingly boring.

Rob told me if I wanted to do something, to plan it myself.  I was apprehensive. Usually when we go on a trip, I may be the one who has the idea of where to go, but not what to do once we get there.  I'll spend forever researching, reading, mapping, and get overwhelmed by the options.  And then Rob's just like: "Okay, we'll do this, this, and this," and it turns out fine.

The idea of the place I wanted to go was Colorado Springs.  The reason why I wanted to go was because I knew of an ultra somewhere nearby (in Pike National Forest) that I might want to run next spring. Because I'm terrible on trails, I need to see the terrain before I register. And with winter approaching, the time to check out the trail is now.  It seemed selfish, though, to make the whole family go on a trip just to help me find and navigate this course.  If we were going to do this, I needed to figure out a way to make it fun for everybody.

On Thursday night, we still didn't have a plan, but I did make a practice Thanksgiving dinner from Isa Chandra's website:

Post Punk Kitchen's Thanksgiving in an Hour. It took an hour and a half, and I didn't even make all the things. The thing in front is a vital wheat gluten and chickpea cutlet. It was weird. The mashed potatoes were also kind of weird. But the roasted broccoli and gravy were good.  Anyway, I don't think this is what we are going to have for Thanksgiving.

Rob said he would take the day off on Friday, and we would take Will to a rock climbing gym in town.  We could go somewhere on Saturday and Sunday, if I planned it.

I couldn't sleep on Thursday night and was still trying to figure this out.  So I Googled "Things to do in Colorado Springs," and *bam.*  Manitou Cliff Dwellings.  Garden of the Gods.  Perfect.  We could get up and go on Saturday morning and do both of these things.  Then we could camp overnight and I could run on Sunday morning.  Win-win.

I Googled "Campgrounds near Colorado Springs," and *bam.*  A bunch of places came up, but most were closed for the winter.  There seemed to be a few options in Pike National Forest, although after a more careful look at the map, I realized this whole trip was not at all close to the trails I wanted to investigate. The North Fork 50 was actually a lot closer to Denver than Colorado Springs.  Was it worth it, trying to do all of this in one trip?

I printed out the course map and turn-by-turn instructions (the race website is super well organized) and thought, maybe it will happen, maybe it won't.  We'll see.

On Friday morning, I outlined the proposed trip to Rob, and he said sounds good.  We took Will rock climbing as planned, had lunch at Tasty Harmony (FoCo's one vegan-ish restaurant) and spent the afternoon running errands/getting ready for the trip.
Will said it was "a little bit fun." I think he likes bouldering better.

Saturday morning, we loaded up and hit the road.  On our way to the Manitou Cliff Dwellings, we stopped in the town of Manitou Springs (which is adorable) for an early lunch at Adam's Mountain Café, which the internet had listed it as "vegan friendly." (It was).

Thai Noodle Bowl. This was quite possibly the best thing I have ever eaten in my life, ever.

Then onto the Manitou Cliff Dwellings.

These were amazing.

...And wait for it... one of Rob's photos, which are always better than mine:

In addition to being able to actually walk around in these ~1,000 year old dwellings (including getting to see a kiva and sipapu--a highlight of the day for me), there was also a museum where we learned about the Anasazi, and a gift shop where I could have wandered around for hours.

When we were done at the cliff dwellings, we headed to Garden of the Gods, which was less than 15 minutes away.  I had been there once before, in 2001 when I went to visit my sister in Colorado Springs (she lived there at the time), but mostly what I remembered about it was that it was crowded, and I was tired, hungry, and carsick. 

This time, it was still crowded, but it was a lot different.  Maybe it was because we've been to Utah, and I've discovered how beautiful red rocks can be.  Maybe my anti-nausea wristbands did the trick and I just wasn't carsick this time.  It was bring-tears-to-your-eyes-amazing.  My pictures don't do it justice.  You'll have to check Rob's Flickr account when he gets his posted someday.

Garden of the Gods also had one of the best visitor centers I've ever seen.  Will spent like a half an hour looking at a giant topo map and pressing buttons to make the different rocks light up and read their names.  We also looked at beautiful wall paintings and read descriptions of Colorado geography over the past several billion years.  We could have spent an entire day just at Garden of the Gods, and we will definitely be going back.

So far, my trip planning had gone very well.  It was nearing dinnertime, and the time where we would have to decide if we were going go home or camping.  We headed into Pike National Forest, drove for a while, and finally stopped at the campground I had found online.  It was super sketch. The RV sites were all full, and there didn't appear to be any bathrooms.  This was where my trip planning appeared to break down.  I said if I was going to camp someplace without a bathroom, I would much rather be in the wilderness than a commercial campground full of RVs.

So we left and drove some more.  We finally got to Lone Rock Campground, which was beautiful and wild and much closer to where I wanted to run in the morning.  There were a few other people there,  but we got a beautiful site right along the South Platte River.  It was perfect.  

It was getting dark, and very cold, so we quickly put on all our warm clothes and got the water boiling for pasta. We ate by headlamp, got ready for bed, and then climbed up into the tent.  It was only 7pm, but the temperature was already below freezing, and there wasn't much left to do besides hunker down for the night.

Our sleeping bags kept us warm, but I think we were parked on an incline, or I didn't have the right pillows with me, or something, and my back started to hurt really bad in the night.  This happens sometimes even at home, and the only thing I can do to feel better is get up and walk around. Knowing how cold it was outside, I tried to wait it out, but when I realized it was only 1:00am (and there was a lot of night ahead of me), I decided I had to get up.  I bundled up some more and tried (unsuccessfully) not to wake up Rob and Will as I descended the ladder.

It was freezing, but I had on so many layers that I felt okay.  The billions of stars in the sky were absolutely breathtaking.  The tiny crescent moon was already below the horizon, but the stars were so bright I barely even needed a headlamp as I made my way to the outhouse.  I stayed outside for a while, walking around until my back felt better, and then I climbed back up into the tent and was able to fall asleep.

We all woke up around 7:00am, and the cold that had felt crisp and refreshing under the starlight the night before now felt miserable.  I had a pounding headache and didn't think I was going to be able to run--even if I tried it, what on earth would Rob and Will do while I was gone?  It was 18 degrees.  The condensation on the inside of our tent had frozen.  The bristles of my toothbrush were frozen.  Our water and Clif bars had frozen.  When I opened my contact case, my contacts were submerged beneath a frozen layer of solution.  This did not look good.

We started the car and turned up the heat to get warm and started driving to the trail head where I had planned on running.  I drank some caffeinated Nuun and took an ibuprofin for my headache.  The roads were covered in snow and ice, and I was worried we'd get stuck, but we made it.  By then the sun was out, and it was up to at least 30 degrees.  That felt a lot better than 18.  Rob assured me that he and Will would be fine while I ran, and that I should go ahead and do it.

I was really worried about getting lost.  The directions I had were good, but I know from having done this kind of thing before, depending on how well the trails are marked, it can be very hard to follow them.  I didn't know what this was going to be like, and I had a bad feeling about it.

Rob gave me his Spot Tracker, and I had his Garmin-- both of which should have helped me navigate (or at least call for help), if I actually knew how to use them.  I put 50 ounces of water, 2 Clif bars, my trail maps, and an extra jacket into my Jenny vest and headed out into the wilderness.

The trail was covered in snow.

I realized that, perhaps, running it like this was not accomplishing my goal of trying to figure out what the North Fork 50 terrain was like, and if it was the kind of trail I could run 50 miles on.  I reasoned that, no matter how many rocks and roots lie buried beneath the snow, it was probably harder to run it this way.  It was slippery and rutted out from mountain bike tracks.  Every step was an ankle twisting affair.  There were two streams to jump across.  The descent was switch-backy and along a ridgeline at times.  But I was doing it, and I felt fine.  My bad leg didn't even hurt.  Every step I took gave me more confidence-- something I have been sorely lacking ever since I fell and thought I broke my hip on the Quad Rock course back in August, and something I've never particularly had a lot of on trails.  My pace was slow, but I liked the course, and I decided that if it works out, I do want to do this ultra next spring.

There were trail markers, and I didn't get lost.
It was much warmer by the time I'd finished the 6 mile loop, and Will and Rob were playing by the trailhead when I returned.  They'd had a great time, and I was back faster than I thought I might be.

We finished out our weekend adventure by driving home through Boulder and of course stopping at Native Foods Café for a late lunch.  

This trip was exactly what we all needed, or at least, exactly what I needed.  Anymore, I get bored with being too comfortable and need to feel a little bit wild just to feel like myself.  I'm glad we got the chance to see the cliff dwellings and Garden of the Gods, and I'm super glad I got to run on the North Fork 50 course before it got too socked in with snow.  Even camping out at 18 degrees wasn't bad.  I hope we get to take more trips like this in the not so distant future.

Thanks for reading.