I left off in March, when I was injured and had no business running the Monument Valley Half but did it anyway. Much like I've experienced before, the instant I took off from the start line, the pain magically disappeared. Suck it, medical science. I have no idea why.
The latter half of March was much better than the first half, given that my injury suddenly disappeared after having done the race. I hit the training again super hard, managing to power through a foot of school-canceling snow and also, food poisoning.
|It had been 70 degrees the day before|
|The snow started melting pretty quickly, but it left the trails so muddy that park service closed them to the public. I made do with the dam hills on Centennial Drive.|
|Blue pre-dawn run in town. So tired of the cold and snow. But the full moon was pretty.|
|Feeling better, trails still closed, running the dam hills on Centennial.|
With the North Fork 50 approaching in early June, I needed to start getting very serious about vertical. And trails. North Fork has 7,500 feet of elevation gain, which is about twice the profile of any other 50 mile race I've done. As soon as the trails opened up again, I started doing things like running Towers twice.
|It had been a long time since I'd done Towers (1,700 feet of gain per ascent), but it was still beautiful.|
|At first there was still snow.|
|A week or two later, the conditions were much more like spring than winter.|
|Towers ascent 1 (smiling). Towers ascent 2 (not exactly smiling anymore).|
In addition to vertical, I also wanted to prioritize getting more comfortable with rugged trails for this race. This prompted a shoe crisis. I'd been wearing the Salomon Sense Pro's, which are part of their "city to trail" line, and generally perfect for people like me, who on any given day, run a couple of miles on the road just to get to a light-duty trail. But for this, I wanted a very good trail shoe, super lugged up for much more technical terrain.
I tried the Salomon Wing Pro's, which at a 10mm drop, felt weird to me, and I did not love them out of the box. So I went ahead and bought a pair of Hoka Stinsons, to replace the worn down ones I already had and liked pretty well. But the new Stinsons were the most terrible shoes I've ever put on my feet. I don't know if Hoka did something to change this version (I had the 1.0...these are no longer available and I bought the 3.0) or if they just needed many miles on them before they felt, you know, wearable.
I decided to run in both of these shoes, to see if I could get used to them, and to see how they felt on rocky trails. The Salomons grew on me, but the Hokas did not.
|Monday morning on the "A" trail|
|At the top of the A (on a different day, when the sun was shining!)|
|Sunrise deer on the "A"|
On the weekends, I started running the Black Squirrel course, which was every bit as beautiful as it was tough. And for me, terrifyingly technical.
|13 switchbacks up, on Howards. 13 switchbacks down, on Timber. Or maybe it was 17. Either way, brutal.|
|The view along Westridge Trail is especially worth it after climbing up Howard.|
|I can't even begin to tell you how terrified I was to do this run. But I did it. And then over the next few weeks, I went back and did it again and again.|
I got it in my head that for my peak training week before North Fork, I would run the Black Squirrel course plus Towers, which I estimated would be about 22 miles and at least 4,000 (but possibly as much as 5,000) feet of elevation gain. I tried to get this out of my head because it seemed like that would kill me.
My plan had been to alternate weeks of high mileage with weeks of higher vertical, but found that it was actually pretty difficult to run lots of climbs without also increasing my mileage. So for the most part, it was all intense, all the time.
|The day after I ran Black Squirrel, Rob convinced me to do the ~9 mile "beach run" with him on Foothills Trail. Parts of it were very rocky.|
I had a ton of work during this time as well, and all of it became very overwhelming. I had insomnia but was exhausted. My legs were restless at night. Whenever I did manage to fall asleep, I would end up jolting awake and moving my legs as though to stop myself from falling off the side of a trail. Every minute of the day and night I was desperate for food, but nothing ever tasted good and I was constantly on the verge of throwing up. Pretty much par for the course for me during intense periods of ultra training.
And then, my sciatic nerve went. At first I thought it was just a tired hamstring from a rough day on the Black Squirrel course, but after a little bit of rest, it was obvious that the pain was burning and zinging for the length of my sciatic nerve.
I had this once before, when I was training for my first marathon in 2003-ish. I ran through it and wrecked my hip flexor, IT band, and ended up having to take 12 weeks off and missing the marathon. I did not want that to happen this time.
I went to Rocky Mountain Rossiter and had several very intense sessions over the next couple of weeks. I don't think I've never been so close to passing out without actually passing out, but I wanted to make sure they really got in there and fixed the problem. And they did. It was like a miracle. I never really took much time off of running (I still managed 3 weeks in a row of close to 50 miles during this period), but I drastically dropped my vertical. Climbing really aggravated my sciatic nerve pain, so I just couldn't do it while I was healing. I hoped that still maintaining relatively decent mileage during these weeks would be good for something, at least.
|We ran laps around the field while Will had soccer practice.|
|Celebrated my healing sciatic nerve injury and registration for Javelina Jundred by running a May the 4th 4K with Rob and Will, trying out a Rey costume.|
And as long as I followed up the rossiter treatment with walks in the neighborhood.
Also during this time, Will decided that he wants to run The Barkley someday, and he asked me to train with him at Red Fox Meadows. He may have taken over my Jenny Jurek vest.
|I'm not sure he has a good idea of what he's getting himself into.|
The other main thing I needed to resolve before North Fork 50 was the shoe issue. The Salomon Wing Pro's were okay, but I didn't love them. The very expensive Hoka Stinson version 3's I had bought were seriously stressing me out. I hated them. But I'd worn them 30 miles through mud, trying to break them in. During the bit of down time I had between the last day of classes and when my students' final paper was due, I went back to REI with the shoes and explained my situation.
The cashier was completely unfazed. "Of course you can return them. We're REI!"
I was elated. But still somewhat shoe-less. Everyone I know raves about how the Altra Lone Peak 2.5 is the best shoe ever manufactured. I haven't been so sure about that. I left Altra a few stress fractures ago because I was afraid that they had been a contributing factor. But I was intrigued by the improved lugs and cushioned feel of these 2.5's (Rob has several pair). I resurrected my ancient, worn-down Altra Lone Peak 1.5's and wore them for a few test runs. They seemed fine. Zero drop didn't bother me. Once I switched to forefoot striking several years ago, I forefoot strike even in 10mm drop.
So I did what could have been the most supremely stupid thing I've ever done in my life, and bought a pair of Lone Peak 2.5's that I found on sale.
I loved them straight out of the box. The things everybody says about them-- it's all true. All of it. They really are the best shoe ever created. I would marry them if I wasn't already married to Rob.
Everything had fallen into place. I had shoes. I was able to run hills again.
I celebrated my 2-year anniversary of becoming a Coloradan.
There was more rain, and mud, and trail closures, but I still found some blue skies on the Centennial hills.
I spent a massive week grading my students' massive research papers. I turned in their final grades and then went to go do my last big run. Black Squirrel, plus Towers, in my brand new Lone Peak 2.5's.
|You can't see them so well in this photo, but there were tons of tiny yellow, white, orange, and purple wildflowers all along Howard Trail.|
|Made it up to Westridge!|
|There it is, the view that makes it worth running this trail.|
The run went ridiculously, surprisingly well. Especially considering that I was wearing Altras almost straight out of the box. You're supposed to take 6 weeks to transition to zero drop. Not go out for what ended up being a 23.5 mile run on day one. Don't try this at home.
Despite all the climbing and technical trails, the only time I ran into trouble was about 2 miles from the end. I'd had plenty of water and food, but I hadn't taken in any electrolyte drink since about mile 14. And the day was hot. This was something I could have avoided--by running an extra 1.5 miles to go refill my bottles at the Soderberg Trailhead and then dropping Nuun tablets in them. Or I could have filled the bottles by squeezing water into them from my water reservoir. But I'd already run a few bonus miles earlier in the day (for some reason I just completely buzzed by the turn off onto Westridge Trail from Howards), and I'd had so many stops as it was. I didn't want to waste any more time out there while I was not running. It was getting close to 6 hours, and I was getting freaked out that this run had taken me so long. I'd have to more than double this distance at North Fork. What if I couldn't do that within the cut offs on race day?
My legs were almost completely fine, but my mind snapped quickly and suddenly near the end. I just wanted to be done. I needed to be done. My stomach rejected everything, even water. It was agonizingly clear that I would be throwing up soon.
And yet, I didn't. I made it back to the car. I didn't drink any more electrolyte, but I had some reasonably cold water and forced down part of a (I kid you not) pizza margherita Clif shot. It tasted terrible, but it was salty, and there was no way anything else sweet was going down this hatch.
I had done it. Black Squirrel plus Towers. 5 hours 36 minutes of run time, 23.5 miles, 4,911 feet of elevation gain.
|Did it. There is no way I am not going to throw up during North Fork 50. This absolutely terrifies me. Also: you can just barely see my lovely new Lone Peak 2.5's in this picture.|
My totals for the week exceeded my expectations. Technically speaking, I had over 70 miles, because it was a Friday, and I'd done my previous long run on a Sunday. If you counted it this way, I also had over 9,000 feet of elevation gain during the past 6 days. Even if you counted it the more reasonable way (starting over on Monday), I still had 53.3 miles and 7,136 vert. Whatever. I was done training. It was time to taper, and it was all good.
The most amazing this was: my calves didn't hurt at all from taking my new Lone Peaks out of the box and running for almost 6 hours in them.
I took Saturday off and then on Sunday, Will wanted to climb Horsetooth Rock. I was so, so proud of him. It is not a super difficult hike, but it is pretty scary if you have vertigo and fear of heights (like me). I don't think that many 6 year olds make it to the top. But he did it.
Now to look back through my totals.
I ended up with 99 miles for March, 177 miles for April, and 210 in May. May is my second highest mileage month (after December 2015, when I ran 100 miles in one day at Across the Years). This gives me 718.2 so far for the year. I can't figure out how to make Strava (which I still hate) tell me how much elevation gain I do per month (only per week). Whatever. I am not as well trained as I would like for North Fork, but in all honesty, it is far better than it could be. And the very best thing of all: I am not injured leading up to this ultra. I haven't been able to say that for a long time.
Thanks for reading.