Race Recap: Savage Gulf Marathon 2017

 

The course will be the same as last year: Beginning and ending at the Stone Door Ranger Station, with 26.2 miles of the most brutal, unforgiving, rocky, steep terrain you could imagine in between.

The Savage Gulf Marathon fit perfectly on my training schedule in preparation for my April 22nd race. The weekend of Savage Gulf (SG), I had 31 miles on my training plan. I knew that SG would be a difficult event. It would feel like a moderate 50K. So rather than run in Percy Warner for 6 hours, SG it was!

A few fun facts from the day:

  • 4-5 slippery, swinging bridges to cross
  • 4-5 water crossings, enough water to get your feet wet
  • 62 degree high for the day
  • ROCKS. ROCKS. ROCKS. ROCKS. ROCKS. R O C K S.
  • 4 aid stations on course. Food/water/soda at the end.
  • wet, muddy course
  • 4330′
  • 29 men
  • 14 women

I’ll break this up by my selection of sections.

Miles 0-2.5 very runnable and non-technical. You had better start out running! I settled into the back of the pack. For this race, especially, I wanted to have the space to s l o w down on the rocks. The rocks were slippery and the trail was muddy and wet, due to rain.

Miles 2.5-5 so, so rocky. You head down the Stone Door, a steep, stone, staircase decent. The rocks were slippery. I was very cautious. I did not want to hurt my ankle. I was pretty discouraged at this point (mile 2.5!) because I had to walk this section. I continued to scale rocks until the first aid station around mile 6.3. My average pace from 0-6.3 was approximately 14.55.

Miles 6.8-11 was a climb up, moderate at times, steep for sections. SURPRISE! More rocks. Boulders. Teeter-Totter rocks. Medium rocks. My average pace for this section was 17:12.

Miles 11-18 for the first time in the race that I was able to run on the smaller rocks for a longer period of time. The last 2 miles down to aid station #3 at mile 18 was all runnable. I finally started to get in a better mental place. My average pace for this section was 15:50.

Miles 18-23.6 great runnable section was now gone, enter MORE rocks!! Oh my goodness. At this point, I was so over the rocks. You guys, the rocks were the trail. Good grief. Then from about mile 22.6 to 23.6 was the last steep climb out of the Savage Gulf. I was actually in good shape to hike this one. My heart was beating fast. It was like my body was generating energy to either breathe or keep my heart beating. I pushed the hike and kept my fingers crossed for the last 3 miles of the race!! My average pace for this section was 19:21.

Miles 23.6-26.2 RUNNABLE! I decided to see what I could do with the last 3 miles. It was great running. For the most part, NO MORE ROCKS. Definitely, not as technical. It was hard, but I pushed the pace. I worked very hard. My average pace for this section was 10:00. I was really stoked for that pace!

My stats: 6:57:33. #6 lady out of 14. #29 out of 43 total. 4,330′. (joyful exhale)

TN12126M-Elevation-SavageGulf

Running fills a need so we make fewer demands on others. Running reveals the roots of negative thinking, so the weeds can be pulled. Running reconnects the soul to the source, inspiring hope and creativity.

-Kristin Armstrong

 

 

 

 

Race Recap: Music City Trail Ultra 12K (guest post)

Trail Race Virgin

My first official trail race . . . 7 to 8 miles (Hardwin Adventures race which apparently makes the race mileage a bit, fluid, shall we say?) didn’t seem like that big of a deal.  I mean, I’d done training runs of that distance in Percy Warner a couple of times and felt fine so I really went into it more excited than nervous.  Honestly, I didn’t really care how long it took me, I was really just looking forward to some uninterrupted time on the trail in the woods.

I showed up a bit early the morning of the race to pick up my number and get my bearings.  I was running this race alone, but ran into some acquaintances at the start which was fun.  As I dug a handful of rusty safety pins out of the zip-loc bag full of pins provided and crumpled up my race number (only newbies leave it clean and pristine, right?), I had flashbacks to road bike racing days and started to feel some of those old pre-race jitters.  I told myself I was just here to “run” and not “race” and I just needed to simply enjoy being in the woods for a few hours without needing to feed or clean anyone else (Mom of 3, 7 and under, #reallife).

The participants lined up at the start and pledged their commitment to giving their all and running with humility and respect for the land and their fellow runner which of course made me choke back a sob because #waterworks ever since birthing aforementioned children.  Then just like that, we were off!  After a brief stint in an open field we started a climb.  Not a bad climb, really, but the crowd made it feel like I was in a ride line at Disney.  Now, if you don’t know me, you must know that I don’t really like to walk or hike when I trail run, I like to run everything – albeit very slowly at times – so this queue was frustrating to me at first.  I felt like I could have run this climb if it hadn’t been so crowded but I just sort of settled in and hiked and coached myself by remembering that this would save me some energy for later.

The initial climb led us up to a brief ridgeline where the crowd thinned out.  Before long we came to our first significant challenge . . . a descent and subsequent ascent that required sideways footing and the occasional bracing of self with a hand on the hillside.  This part was crazy steep!  If I’d tried to run down (which I didn’t see anyone do), I feel certain I’d have tumbled head-over-heels cartoon style to the bottom.  The ascent on the flip side was nearly as daunting.  It was not runnable for me (Boo.  See previous note, regarding me not liking to walk/hike) but I went into the race knowing that, so I was truly okay with hiking and had fun passing a few people who had to stop to catch their breath.  All this ascending and descending was further complicated by thick mud resulting from rain overnight that was covered by a heavy layer of fallen leaves.  These things worked together to make it less of a trail race and more of an adventure race for me.

After the steep ascent and descent the rest of the course fell into a regular rhythm of jeep roads punctuated here and there by climbs and descents of varying degrees of difficulty.  My least favorite section was another steep descent down a trail-less hillside coated in thick mud covered with inches of dead leaves to a creek at the bottom followed by a climb with roughly the same conditions just on the other side.  Really, nearly the entire course was like this which made it not my favorite, to be honest.  Once I came to the first aid station across the creek I knew I had only about 3 miles left and I felt sort of home-free because the race manual had described this section of the 12K to be where you could really start to pick up some speed to the finish.  Maybe I read that wrong, but I did not find that to be true.  There was still much climbing to be done and I feel like when I wasn’t on a gravel jeep road, I was on one of the plentiful trail-less sections of the course guided by little multi-colored flags sunk in the thick mud and leaf icing on the cake that was the Music City Trail Ultra.

It’s kind of funny . . . another thing about me is my covert competitiveness.  I like to think I’m “only competing against myself” and just “trying to do my best” and while that’s true . . . . towards the end, I came across an acquaintance I’d chatted with at the beginning.  Given her experience and my lack thereof, I didn’t figure I’d see her at all after the start but here she was.  All of a sudden it turned into a race for me.  I tried to block out thoughts of “I must pass her, she cannot beat me” and tell myself I didn’t care who crossed the line first but she was so close.  I noticed she walked the hills so I became determined to jog them if at all possible.  At some point, I came up on her and she seemed surprised to see me.  Then I passed her and didn’t see her again until sever minutes after I’d crossed the line.  So, maybe I am a bit competitive.  Could be genetic.

Takeaways from my first race . . .

  1. This race was tough but my training had me really well prepared for the challenge of it.  Thanks Coach McClain.
  2. This race was not my favorite, but it was accurately described by the organizer and I feel like he did a fantastic job with the event. The course was really well marked, swag was fun and the atmosphere was chock-full of comradery.  Bonus points that it was really close to home!
  3. I literally crossed the line looking forward to my next race, whatever that will be. I’d really like one that has you on actual trails, though, not trail-less flag marked hillside.  I will say – this is not the fault of the organizer and I don’t feel like the event was mis-represented in any way, shape or form.  I just really enjoy gliding up and down packed trails.  I’m cool with obstacles but this course was just too fraught with less than ideal topography and conditions for me to call it a favorite.
  4. This is one time I can say without hesitation that I gave everything I had. Oftentimes out of fear of failure I find myself sub-consciously holding back a bit.  Not here, folks.  When I crossed that line I did it with my last ounces of energy.  That, my friends, is a pretty cool feeling.

 

Racing My Demons

Some battle their demons everyday. Some battle them once in a while.

On the days that you are being lied to by your demons and pushed around. . . Push back. Be brave. Take up the fight. You are worth it.

What is holding you back?

I woke up this morning, per usual. I’m first up. I wake the girls up and make sure they get downstairs. I prepare breakfast for them. We pray. They eat and get dressed. Jack wakes up on his own. He gets his breakfast and sits with me, while I eat mine. The girls and I leave for school by 6:50a. Jack and I walk to the bus stop, when I get back from dropping off the girls. This is everyday, rain or shine, light or dark. I do not have to think about it and I never do.

I’ve been keeping myself pretty busy lately and I think it is on purpose. Not a day goes by when someone does not ask me, “how are you?” My answer is almost always, “fine, great, or good”. It’s an automatic response, like one of those “out of office replies”.

Do you go through periods of time where you don’t know how you are or what you feel? Maybe, because you’re pushing it away with tasks, busy-ness, fear?

After the kids left, I headed upstairs to get dressed to run. I went through three running outfits. (This is not like me.) Because I was feeling fat, ‘I had nothing to wear’. Finally, I decided fat or not, outfit number three was it. I kissed Byron goodbye.  Got in the car. I quickly reminded myself again that fat is not a feeling. Then, I listen to these lyrics.

This is the unmaking
The beauty in the breaking
Had to lose myself
To find out who You are
Before each beginning
There must be an ending
Sitting in the rubble
I can see the stars
This is the unmaking
This is the unmaking

I’ll gather the same stones where                                                   
Everything came crashing down
I’ll build You an altar there
On the same ground

‘Cause what stood before
Was never Yours (Nichole Nordeman, “The Unmaking”)

Lord. . . help me to find beauty in the breaking.

Help me to find the one who calls me beloved in my broken place. . . . In Jesus’ name.

My demons? Today?

“You are not enough”

“You cannot feel loved”

“You are fat”

Demons are excellent shape shifters and can morph from one torturous form to another in the blink of an eye. . . You courageously soldiered on. It was not easy or fun, but you persevered, even when you thought the pain would never stop. Slowly but surely, it abated. At first, you may not have even noticed the subtle lessening of your anger, anxiety, or grief, but as the weeks and months wore on you started to feel more alive and open. That resiliency supports you through every challenge, allowing you to stretch beyond what you thought your limits were, and finding more capacity to bear what you thought was unbearable.

-Nicole S. Urdang, MS, NCC, HSM, “How to Face Your Demons

  I decided to race them. To run hard. To be out of breath. To run steep. To see if I could hang on for the win. 10 miles.

Oh. They were fast and relentless. If I slowed down or walked for a second, I would hear them taunt me.  I ran longer. I pushed harder.  I climbed steeper.  They fell further back. Their lies became muffled. I dropped them, and they never caught me. I won the workout. I beat the doubt. I beat the lies. I beat the fear. I beat the demons.

I started to imagine what my demons looked like. I imagined them running after me. How tall? What shape? Their faces? I KNOW my readers can all relate to THIS. . . they were Me: taunting, lying, chasing. . . ME. . . I am my harshest critic. I am my meanest demon. Today. . . I won. I received this song from a friend. I love it.

When it feels like surgery
And it burns like third degree
And you wonder what is it worth?
When your insides breaking in
And you feel that ache again
And you wonder
What’s giving birth?

If you could let the pain of the past go
Of your soul
None of this is in your control

If you could only let your guard down
You could learn to trust me somehow
I swear, that I won’t let you go

lyrics by Switchfoot, “I Won’t Let You Go”

There is hope on our journey, friends. There are people and places that soothe, heal, calm, and hold us. I have a life full of people and places that I go to when these struggles  rear their ugly, lying heads. And, NO DOUBT, I have a Savior in Heaven who says to me, “I swear, that I won’t let you go.”

 

 

 

 

Footfalls

The challenge of Wednesday’s run was each footfall. My path was steep, muddy, and dirty. Each footfall was different. Each footfall was a challenge. I had to change my running mechanics, if I wanted to remain upright. I had to slow down in places to pull my foot out of the mud. I had to hop in places from rock to rock. I had to walk in places so that I would not slip.

Isn’t this like life?. . . our paths can be steep, muddy, dirty. . .  We chose marriage, but we don’t chose cancer. We choose to have children, but we would never chose to bury them. We chose to love our family, but we do not chose to watch one of the members die. We choose the heights of love, but do not wish to navigate the heartache that comes with loving a person.. . . we have to slowdown, change, hop, walk,  when we’d rather run. . .

Most often in training (running), I choose the steep places, the dirty places, the out of breath places because they tend to be quiet places, listening places. . . hard. . . places. I always finish. I may be extra dirty. I may be extra tired. I finish carrying mud or scars. The dirt, mud, exhaustion and scars will go away. Scars, more slowly than the other three. Sometimes the scars remain indefinitely. 

The steep places do not get easier. I get more adapted. They do not become less dirty. I bring something to wipe away the dirt. The mud depends on the day. The scars?  I still get cut and bruised. I become better at taking care of my wounds.

My scars remind me that I did indeed survive my deepest wounds. That in itself is an accomplishment. And they bring to mind something else, too. They remind me that the damage life has inflicted on me has, in many places, left me stronger and more resilient. What hurt me in the past has actually made me better equipped to face the present.

-Steve Goodier

Back at 2016/Forward to 2017

January was a tough month for me. I ran. I ran long. I ran hills. I ran high mileage weeks,  but it was more struggle than success. I think part of my lack of motivation and my lukewarm attitude was NOT looking back and NOT having a named goal to look forward to.

Looking back, 2016 was one of my most exciting running years to date. Here are the highlights.

  1. Running alongside one of my closest friends,  as she crossed the finish of her first (and not last) 50 miler in Tillamook, OR.
  2. Running my first and NO WAY near last 100 miler (surrounded by not one but four of my closest friends). Proud to be one of the 82 finishers. Proud to be one of 22 female finishers!
  3. Running Lookout 50 on my 45th birthday. This year it was a crazy weather day: rain, fog, and drizzle. I placed first in my age group. Happy Birthday to me. 🙂

The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order the continuous thread of revelation.

-Eudora Welty

Looking ahead to 2017

  1. (April) Leona Divide 50 in Green Valley, CA. The race start is 1 1/2 hours from LA, 30 minutes from Palmdale (where I was born). 46 MILES on the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT). Should be SWEET.
  2. (September) Mogollon Monster 100 in Pine, AZ. As of February 2017, only 5 women are signed up. Should be an adventure. Cannot wait.
  3. (December) Lookout 50? or Stillhouse 100K?
  4. (TBD) My coaching website!! This is a lot of work. I am excited.

It is important to look back.

Look back because you aren’t the same person you were one or three or five years ago and that alone is worth realizing. Look back because there might have been feelings that you once overlooked that now make perfect sense. Look back because maybe, just maybe, there is something worth revisiting. And look back because you deserve to be incredibly proud of how far you’ve come.

-Morgan Scoyne “How Looking Back Will Help You To Move Forward”

I’m ready to look forward.

My goals for 2017 are  part destiny, part legacy, and part discovery. 

Wilderness Living

Wilderness Living

Life is full of beauty and interruptions,
spontaneous and planned,
heart break and hiccups,
highs and lows,
quietness and noise,
exhaustion and vitality,
darkness and light,
struggle and surrender,

. . . few chose it.
The ones who do are wild and free.

-Liz McClain

What I have learned in the Wilderness (W) this year:

simplifies my extraordinarily sophisticated life.

Companionship along the way is a pleasant distraction and necessity.

It doesn’t have to be easy to be thoroughly satisfying.

W makes the rest of life seem dull at times.

The taste of the W continues to tug me back.

You’ll get dirty.

It’ll get dark, real dark.

The sun will rise.

The stars will shine.

There is a Creator of all things.

I was made for W Living.

I am a woman of emotion. I will cry as automatically as I breathe in the W.

The outcome is always more than familiar.

I am a finisher.

Broken

I brought a gift to a friend of mine. It was a small, turquoise, ceramic ring dish. It was charming. I would sit it in the most beautiful way next to my sink to hold my precious things. I was going to drop it in her mailbox, but she was outside, holding her little girl.

I was having a bad morning with my teenage daughter. I was mad. I was sad. I was frustrated. I had been crying.

My friend opened the box and thanked me for this little treasure. Then, in a moment, before she was able to use it for its purpose. . . i t  s l i p p e d. . . i t  f e l l . . . i t   s h a t t e r e d. She apologized. She felt bad.  I picked up the pieces. I wanted to keep them. It was worth something, to me, broken. The sound of it smashing onto the sidewalk, fractured my thoughts. It changed the course of my day. I still have the pieces.

At first, I thought that I was going to take the pieces and use them to imagine a mosaic. Imagine this small dish as part of something new, different. An entirely altered purpose. I placed them on top of my dryer. I looked at them each time I walked out the door, for a week. I would be the one to fashion them in a new form. I would create.

But then. . . I learned about Kintsugi

Kintsugi (“golden joinery”) or kintsukuroi (“golden repair”) is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Beautiful seams of gold glint in the cracks of ceramic ware, giving a unique appearance to the piece. This repair method celebrates the artifact’s unique history by emphasizing the fractures and breaks instead of hiding or disguising them. Kintsugi often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, revitalizing the artifact with new life.

It is related to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which calls for finding beauty in the flawed or imperfect. Making it a part of the object’s history.

The beauty and importance of the one looking at the dish, not the dish itself. Handing the (pieces of the) dish to the craftsman means that you are going to give the dish a total new life. . . a beautiful art piece.

Muneaki Shimode, Kintsugi craftsman

We humans break easily. We don’t hurt the same way. We don’t break the same way.

Dear Lord, 

Bestow on the broken. . . beauty instead of ashes,

Use gold to adhere the pieces left after the shattering, 

We desire to hand you the broken pieces,

Fashion them into new life, on display for your splendor.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.