Imogene Pass Run Race Recap

Once upon a time…like…more than two months ago, I ran a race.  That race has long since been forgotten by all, so I am here with my tres tardy race recap to bring it back into the forefront.

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Even before I ran my first marathon, I was intrigued by the Imogene Pass Run.  Aaron ran this race back in 2005 ( BA…before Amy), so maybe it came from him describing the amazing course, or maybe I liked the fact that snacks were provided at aid stations. I am pro snacks.

If you don’t know, Imogene is a 17.1 mile race with an elevation gain of more than 5,000 feet, peaking at an over 13,000 foot summit called Imogene Pass.  The race starts in Ouray, CO, climbs up for 10 miles, and then steeply descents into Telluride, CO for the remaining 7.

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Like many races these days, registering for this small (1500 participant) event now requires insider knowledge and advance planning.  We did not have insider knowledge or advance planning for several years.  But this year we added Imogene to our list, and we were ready when the time came.   Registration opened up at 6:00 am on Saturday, June 1st, and closed two hours later with our names on the roster!

Training leading up to the race was…interesting.  I transformed from a terrible, inexperienced trail runner in July to a slightly less terrible trail runner by early September. I didn’t necessarily feel confident in my abilities to complete this race without falling on my face, but I set out with just two goals 1) Not to finish dead last (or just dead in general) and 2) to not be completely miserable for 17.1 miles.  Secretly, I wanted to finish under 4 hour without any notion what my mountain trail pace might be.

Ouray is a short 5.5 hour drive from Albuquerque, so we headed up that way on Friday morning, but not before running into a little frienemy hanging out in a “scenic overlook” rest area.  I have never seen rattlesnakes in the wild before, and within two weeks I saw two. This is some sort of omen I am sure.

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Once we got into Ouray (a very small resort town), we did our 2 mile shake out run (something I ALWAYS do the day before a race, especially if we’ve been traveling), showered up, and headed to packet pick-up. Imogene has a pretty runner friendly packet pick-up system.  They have one on Friday morning in Telluride, they have one on Friday afternoon in Ouray, or you can pick up your packet on race morning.

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Packet pick-up was very basic and well organized without the frills of an expo.  The first thing that jumped out was the number of really fit looking people.  Even the Boston expo had nothing on the athleticism that I saw in that room.  And the calves. I have never seen so many perfectly sculpted calves in my life.

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Next door the local EMT’s hosted a spaghetti dinner, but it wasn’t gluten-free friendly, so we found a pizza parlor that served gluten-free crust, and feasted.  And then we headed to Ouray Brewing Company for our tradition night-before-race beer.

When we got back to the hotel, I was looking at the news, and on the MSN homepage, I found a video showcasing a determined baby mountain goat who had to get across the river to his family.  This entire training cycle, I’ve been using “be the goat” as my mantra.  Unfortunately, I forgot about my usual 2 week pre-race mental workout until Thursday, so I was trying to cram a bunch of positive, strong, mountain goat thoughts into a couple of days.  Finding the goat video felt like a good sign.

RACE DAY! 

The alarm went off at about 5:00 am the next morning.  Imogene does not have frequent aid stations (which I believe is typical of remote races), so we both brought belts/hydration packs with us.  I ate my usual pre-race breakfast of a honey pretzel Luna bar and a glass of Nuun. My Garmin, which had been “charging” all night, was actually faking it, so it was closer to dead than not. I hoped that the spirits of the Mountain Goat would keep it alive.

Parking in town was easy to find.  It is my unconfirmed belief that most people stay in Telluride and take the race bus to the start line, so there are less cars taking up parking spaces.  They had plenty of porta potties at the start, and the community center was open for restroom needs (however that line was longer).

And the goat thing.  IT WAS A SIGN!

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At about 7:20 they called everyone to line up (no corrals).  The race director started listing off cities where most participants were from.  Surprisingly, there weren’t very many people cheering from Albuquerque… we were kind of the only people that cheered when he called it out.  Only slightly awkward.

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Quite literal...the start line was right there.

Quite literal…the start line was right there.

At 7:30 sharp, the pistol went off, and we started the race! I felt really good for the first 2/10 of a mile!

And then we turned off Main Street and into the mountains.

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I knew this race would be hard.  But I took my first walk break a whopping 3/4 of a mile in, and I wasn’t the only one.  It never crossed my mind that I would be walking during the first mile, but here I was, already needing some recovery.  My little mountain goat spirit was crushed, but at the same time, everyone else was doing it, so I had a weird inner conflict going on. Was I defeated or cool?

And here’s another thing about this race.  On about 3 different occasions, there was a fork in the road and no indication of which choice was the right one.  As a result, half the runners went one way, and half went the other.  The first time it happened, I actually stopped and stood there, strategically contemplating the pros and cons of each.  Ultimately, I followed the crowd that looked older and wiser, hoping they’d run the race before and knew the secrets.  After about a 10th of a mile, the  trails met up again, and as far as I could tell, neither provided any advantage over the other, but it was a bit stressful to deal with, especially multiple times.

After that ordeal, I had a sudden and intense bout of nausea starting at mile 2.  I really pride myself on just getting through it no matter what types of weirdness I face during races, but this is the first time that I really thought I was going to have to drop out. Without any porta potty options or aid stations nearby, I was pretty much forced to just kept running despite the discomfort.  It felt like a desperate situation at the time, but looking back, I’m glad I didn’t really have the option to stop, because I may have actually quit.

At mile 3, I finally started feeling better, and my legs finally felt like they were warming up.  And about this time, the trail transformed from pleasant to awesomely amazing. I never run with a camera or a phone, but I really wish I had taken some sort of picture taking device on this course because I can’t even describe what it’s like to run on the edge of a cliff looking down to a waterfall and a lush forest valley, so I guess this means you’ll actually have to run the race to experience it.

Between miles 3-7 there was a lot of walking, a lot of climbing, a bit of running. Throughout the course, we did encounter splashy mud, mid-trail streams (some with thin wooden planks to help you get across), a few breathtaking waterfalls, and a lot of rockiness. I’m really glad that I did get experience on very technical trails, because thanks to all the rain this part of the country has seen this year, the trails were more torn up than usual.

One of my favorite moments of the race came at “Lower Bird Camp.”  Each of the aid stations seemed to be competing with each other, so they were all pretty outrageous. Runners were welcomed to Lower Camp Bird by a man wearing a bird hat actually squawking like a bird.  I think I owe that nice squawking man quite a bit of thanks for lifting my spirits.

Because I was doing so much walking (which I hadn’t been training for) my muscles were really fatigued. With several more miles to go, I wasn’t sure how much longer I would be able to hold up before bonking.  So, I did what felt natural…I ran.  I was able to run for about 20 seconds at a time before tiring myself out, but it gave my legs a little bit of variety which helped.  I did however get a lot of dirty looks from people who were convinced I was doing it to make up time.  Nope, mountain running snobby people, I was just trying to do what it took to keep me going!

At mile 7, we hit Upper Bird Camp (luau themed), and the trail took a turn.  My gorgeous mountain views slowly disappeared behind me and were replaced with an environment too high in elevation to sustain life, which I feel was a metaphor for my overall state of being.  Even though I was taking in a bunch of “real” food at the aid stations including peanut M & M’s and bananas, I took my Mocha ClifShot when I noticed the elevation changing.  The mocha flavor has caffeine, and apparently caffeine can help thwart the effects of altitude sickness (including headaches and nausea). I can’t positively say if it worked or not, but I didn’t experience any altitude sickness symptoms.

These last three miles up really showcased my weaknesses in training for this race.  For the most part, I’d been staying with the same people on the ascent.  But those people left me in their dust as they continued to climb.  No amount of determination or intense “BE THE F!@#$%^ GOAT” chanting (I think in my head, but maybe not…) could make up for the fact that my legs did not have the strength or training to keep up the pace.  Because the grade was too steep to mix things up by running, I was attempting to push the effort for 20 seconds and lay off for about 2 minutes.

I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t discouraged.  At some point, pretty early on, the summit came into plain view, and the joyous sounds of cowbells ringing at the top could be heard among the groans and grunts of the climbers.  Someone turned to me and asked if I that was the top. Since I obviously had no idea, I said YES with authority.  Others were focused on IGNORING the distant oasis because it really was a good 2-3 miles away which is a cruel amount of uphill time to think that you’re “almost” there.

With my Garmin reading about 9.5 miles, I knew that I was relatively close to the top.  I had about 10 minutes to go before hitting the 3 hour mark, so I dug deep and pushed myself to get to the top before 3 hours.  Toward the top, the trail narrows, and we filtered into a single-file line.  Spectators were lined up to give runners high-fives, which was really helpful.  One lady was yelling out ranks to the women (I was woman #220).  Random, but strangely motivating (I counted backwards every time I passed a female for the rest of the race).

In what felt like a giant sigh of relief, I took the step that took my journey from uphill battle to It’s All Downhill From Here. The summit was a huge party.  Cheers loud enough to hear from three miles down the mountain, people taking joyous pictures with the summit sign (another moment when I wished I had my camera), and people gobbling up as many snacks as they could.  I could smell the famed chicken broth, but I literally couldn’t find it among the candy and cookies which should tell you something about my mental state (Aaron said he got some, but it was too hot, so he wasn’t able to eat it).

I wasn’t sure how much time to spend at the summit. I didn’t have a camera to capture the usual photo ops.  I wasn’t hungry enough for lots of snacking, and I knew Aaron was already well down the mountain, so I didn’t have anyone to hang out with. So, I took a few handfuls of M&M’s, took a moment of forced reflection to enjoy the view from the top/savor the accomplishment/look down upon the the mountain that I had just dominated, and then went on my merry way.

For months leading up to this race, I had been looking forward to the downhill.  I am a strong downhill runner, and I was anticipating fun times barreling down a mountain for 7 miles despite warnings that the first 2 miles coming down were rather terrifying.

Race photo from Elevation Imaging

Race photo from Elevation Imaging…DO YOU SEE THE HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT???

But holy steepness.  Within a mile my quads felt significantly thrashed and it was taking intense concentration not to fall flat on my face. The trails were well washed out, leaving almost no place to run.  People were trying really hard to not run into each other, but it was chaotic times.

At the top, I started running in front of two female runners.  From what I gather, they had planned to run together, but one of them just kind of abandoned the other one at some point because she just wanted to be done with the uphill (it doesn’t sound like she bothered to tell her friend), but waited for her at the summit and this was the first time that they were talking since the great abandonment. Talk about passive aggressive fake friendliness going on. I dealt with the back and forth for about a mile, and I knew that if I wanted to not punch these people, that I needed to get away from them.

Luckily, I got away thanks to running faster than advisable, I didn’t fall down, and I never had to hear their dumb conversation again.

With about five miles to go, the crowd started thinning out.  I was only passed by one group of three women on the way down, but passed several people.  As a somewhat trained endurance runner, I felt I had an advantage at this point in the race, because even though this course was hard, my body is used to the long mileage.  So while I was able to keep going, I could pinpoint the runners without that endurance training because they appeared to have just been run over by a bus.

I continued on my pace, still hoping to come in under 4 hours.  I did come across a trombone player walking down which was unexpected and awesome (how did he get up there with a trombone???).  And because the crowd had thinned out so much, I hit a couple of aid stations completely by myself.  I didn’t necessarily need to stop, but I felt weird running through when they all sprung into action. I high-fived some kids, took some snacks, and gratefully accepted some cold water poured down my back (considering this was a mountain race, the temperatures were perfectly warm).

With three miles to go, my Garmin finally made good on its promise and died.  This is the first time my Garmin has died on me mid-race, and strangely, instead of derailing my mental state (which, let’s be honest, was derailed somewhere between 12,000 and 13,000 feet), I think it made me run faster because of the pace uncertainty.

Spectators started to pop up sporadically along the course, which was reassuring…surely spectators wouldn’t be hiking further than 2 miles to cheer!

At one point, I turned at a switchback, and a green valley with little buildings came into view.  I was hopeful that I was descending upon Telluride.  I hadn’t studied the course enough to know how far the finish line was from the first spotting of Telluride, so I wasn’t sure if I should be excited that I was almost done, or scared that I was going to have to see this town for a few miles while wishing for the end. But it was a happy sighting nonetheless.

Taken post race from the gondola, but what it looked like during the race

Taken post race from the gondola, but what it looked like during the race

As the course became lined with spectators, I picked up the pace.  The trail finally started to improve as I came into Telluride.  I spotted Aaron, so I knew the finish line must be coming up soon.  He yelled, with camera phone in hand, that the finish line was right around the corner.

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As I turned the corner, the trail turned into asphalt and I spotted the finish line maybe a tenth of a mile away.  I felt like I was flying as I sprinted across the fabulously steep downhill slant and past the cheering spectators as I crossed the finish line in 4:08:10, 32 in my age group, and 203/579 females.  About 8 minutes slower than my goal, but I was truthfully happy that I made it and stayed in one piece, and got to finish strong considering how crappy I’d felt for most of the race.

Yay! Done!

Yay! Done!

After the race I was handed my finisher’s pin (while I’m not medal motivated, I was a bit disappointed that my grande mountain adventure didn’t warrant something slightly more significant).  They had the usual water/Gatorade/snacks available, but no finisher’s photos.

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After the race, we refueled at Smuggler’s Brewpub which was fantastic except for the bathrooms which were located down a full flight of stairs…painful both ways.  We opted to take the later bus back to Ouray, so we explored  the area a bit and took the gondola to Mountain City (famous people have houses there!).

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Smuggler’s Brewpub

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Mountain City, CO

When we got back to Telluride, we hopped on the bus.  A nice volunteer brought oranges and cookies (leftover since the race had finished and they were cleaning up).  The ride took about an hour, and it was raining the whole time, so I’m glad the weather held up during the race.

Bus snacks

Bus snacks

We were both exhausted and sore.  I would say that my fatigue level was greater than it has been post-marathon. We both decided to forgo celebrating out in Ouray, so Aaron stopped by the grocery store, picked up a six pack of Telluride Brewery beer, and we ate leftover pizza and fell asleep watching TV.

Details:

Finish time: 4:08:10 (14:30 average pace)

Splits, minus the last 3 miles of Garmin deadery

Splits, minus the last 3 miles of Garmin deadery

Fuel: Luna Bar pre-race, ClifShot (with caffeine) at miles 7, cookies, peanut M&M’s, oranges, banana and peach slices along the course (provided at aid stations)

Hydration: One glass of Nuun pre-race, hydration belt with two little bottles filled with water, Sports Drink at aid stations

Gear: Brooks Cascadia trail shoes, ProCompression socks, Lululemon Fast Cat skirt (no pockets which was a big bummer), Lululemon CRB, Nathan’s Hydration belt (I packed gloves just in case, but didn’t need them).

Favorite Moment: The summit: the figurative and literal peak to conquering challenges.

Least Favorite Moment: The last few uphill miles.  I felt very weak and discouraged.

Advice: Incorporate power hiking into your training, and train on technical trails.  From what I hear, the downhill portion is usually very smooth, but because of recent rains, it was pretty torn up.  Invest in trail shoes, bring your own water, and a camera.

RACE LOGISTICS:

Packet Pick-Up: Offered in both Telluride and Ouray. No frills, but well organized (the t-shirt was the least flattering race shirt I’ve ever received though).

Transportation/Parking: Bus rides from Telluride in the morning, and back to Ouary post-race (there was plenty of room, and they leave at a couple of different times, and are announced), we had NO problem getting a parking space near the start line in Ouray.

Hotels: We stayed in Ouray at the Hot Springs Inn which I would recommend.  Hotels were pretty reasonably priced considering the amount of tourists.

Aid Stations: the best I’ve ever seen.  Lots of good food.  BUT there weren’t very many of them (6 total).

Bathroom situation: I saw one on the course at the summit (I believe there were more)  I suggest bringing toilet paper.  You are in the woods after all.

Even thought this race was HARD, I would like to do it again now that I know how to train better for it, and I really want to hit sub-4 hours.  It’s close, it’s cheap, and it really presented a challenge that was humbling and exciting.   This race also has a great “local” feel…everyone knows each other! My only issue is that there was definitely a feeling of mountain runner snobbery among a small minority of the people, but overall, it was a great race!

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What Goes Up Must Come Down…Hopefully on Two Feet

Every time I write a post about trail running, I focus on all of the stuff we’re doing to get up the mountain, but not really even mentioning the whole “getting back down” part, even though multiple people have said that for Imogene, the downhill portion is more physically taxing than the uphill portions. I tend to think I am a strong downhill runner which almost seems like a silly and maybe even embarrassing thing to admit. It’s like saying I’m really good at the one thing in running that requires no skill aside from just being a body of mass subject to the laws of gravity. BUT at least I have that!

Not only does my pace slow down considerably while running uphill, I also feel completely miserable/tired/frustrated any time I’m faced with an incline.   I can handle flatness and seem to do ok with it as evidenced by the Chicago Marathon, even though I prefer to add little elevation changes so my muscles don’t get tired.

But when I’m running downhill everything works in conjunction to make me feel like I am the most fast, amazing runner on the planet. Stand in the way, and I will knock you down with my downhill runner awesomenss.

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So, basically I spend a lot less time worrying about downhill training because overall I LOVE it.

BUT. But.

I have noticed that this whole thing gets a little more complicated when it comes to trail running.  Suddenly being a body of mass subject to the laws of gravity seems like less of an advantage when I can’t control myself going down, and as a result my quads get a beating because they are trying to stop me from missing a switchback and ending up going a bit too far over the side of the mountain.

Also, rattlesnakes. Not having control of your body might make you run into a rattlesnake like the run we saw during our 18.5er on Saturday. This alone is reason enough to consider going about downhill running in a strategic way. photo (5) Even though downhill trail running is different than running down a street I think the general tips and tricks and principles still apply: allow gravity to do its thing while attempting to reduce the amount of “braking” action you’re doing. But on some of these trails (and apparently at the top of Imogene Pass when you first start the descent), this requires considerable bravery and skill…things I don’t necessarily have as a strict “body of mass” downhill runner.

So, we have been practicing descending upon steep downhills (mostly because once you reach the top, you generally have to get back down). For me, my most obvious weakness has been  my core.  While a strong core will do wonders for just about anything in life, a weak core will make steep downhill running without falling down pretty impossible. At least for me.

But after all the talk about downhill training, I decided to do a little bit of research in hopes that I could improve my abilities and maybe be more prepared for this race.

After reading a bunch of lists on how to improve downhill running (actually, there are like 3 lists out there about downhill running), it looks like these other things are also important:

1) Hot Potato Steps:

Remember when you played hot potato as a kid (or yesterday…) and you tried to get whatever object (usually not actually a hot potato) out of your hands as fast as possible because presumably, it was “hot.” Kinda the same thing, except your feet are your hands and the trail is the hot potato. Think of times when you’ve missed a stair and ended up going farther down than you anticipated.  It usually results in a hard landing.  This is the same type of thing. Your foot is going farther than it thinks it is going, so it lands harder.

Apparently the more you replace “pounding the pavement” (dirt?), with being light and springy, the less pressure you are putting on your legs.

2) Bend slightly forward: 

This helps you use gravity while giving you more control.  Leaning back is part of the “braking” action that increases impact on your legs.  If you’ve ever been skiing, this makes a lot of sense.

3) Trail Shoes: I went against my own advice and purchased new/unfamiliar shoes last week.  I went with the Brooks Cascadia because most of the people in the facebook group said having traction on the bottom of your shoe will help prevent sliding during the initial steep descent from the summit. Trail shoes are made for this very purpose, so it makes sense to use what tools are available.

 So, I decided to put these two secrets to downhill success to the test during our last 18 mile run on Saturday.  We ran up the La Luz trail to the Sandia Peak summit, and then back down.  This course actually has a larger elevation gain than Imogene, so it was a good training run and in the very least assured me that I wouldn’t come in dead last at the race provided I stay in one piece.
We started down where those houses were: 9 miles up, 9 miles down

We started down where those houses were: 9 miles up, 9 miles down…check out those new shoes!

So, did incorporating these super secrets for downhill running success work?

Well, attempting to focus on not tripping while simultaneously playing hot potato with my feet and remembering to bend forward was…a good way to slow down.  It was just too much for me to concentrate on at once.

Bending forward: I feel like I worked hard to improve my running posture and keep my shoulders up, so bending forward felt a bit counter intuitive…but it worked.  I felt so much more in control of my body than the flailing around that I usually do.

Hot Potato Feet: Just didn’t work out. I tend to really lengthen my stride which makes each foot push off feel heavier and harder, but when I tried to shake things up,  I felt like I lost control of my steps. In general I think it is too late in training to try and change my form that much, and I’d rather not attempt something this new this close to a race for fear of making things worse.

Trail Shoes: Worked well, and I think helped my feet take less of a beating on the rocks.

In conclusion….I’m hoping that by incorporating the “bend forward” technique, I’ll at least add some control to my downhill running and reduce a bit of the impact that my legs will feel.  We’ll see how it turns out during race day!

What are your downhill tips and tricks? HELP ME PLEASE! 

What is you elevation “strength?” 

I hope everyone has the most amazing Labor Day Weekend!

Training for Imogene

So, Imogene.

(I’ve watched this video a few times to give me inspiration and to experience some of the course).

In less than 3 weeks, I will be standing at the base of a mountain before running 10 miles up and 7 miles down.

As I do with all longer races, I’ve been studying the course and memorizing tips from seasoned participants.  Instead of a regular “fan” facebook page, the run has a private “group” which acts as more of a forum with pretty specialized advice and lots of pep talking.  Ed, a seasoned Colorado trail runner, is a frequent participant!

But even with all of the studying and analyzing, I am (like usual) more than a little apprehensive about how this will turn out. I am still a pretty new runner overall (just a little more than 2 years in), so I haven’t figured out my groove, nor do I have the experience to know with certainty that I won’t die during any given race. Add a 5,000 foot elevation gain into the mix, and you get a little Amy who has spent the last month really frustrated with the process because I am uncertain and afraid of spending 17 miles completely miserable. Or dying. It happens to people occasionally.  Even with all of the reassurances, I know my fears won’t be eased until I cross that finish line for myself.

Hill sprints up this trail hill have really brought my abilities into question

Hill sprints up this trail hill have really brought my abilities into question

Initially, before actually starting to train, I set out with a goal of placing third in my age group. The last time I did an untraditionally distanced small trail race at the Bataan Memorial Death March Half, I ended up 3rd female overall, so I figured this could be manageable, even though I really didn’t know how the pace per mile differentiates between regular running and Imogene running   Based on last year’s times, to place 3rd in my age group, I’d have to run a 3:03, which didn’t seem too far fetched for a 17 mile distance.  But then someone said that your Imogene time is actually pretty close to your marathon time.

Well, there goes that dream.

So, after that bubble burst and once I actually starting to run on trails and feel the affects of limited oxygen, my goals have really switched to:

1) Don’t be dead last

2) Don’t be too miserable

I also figured that while my body can train hard and race hard, it doesn’t recover very well at all, so putting myself through a grueling training schedule in an attempt to be an age group competitor when it doesn’t appear to be realistic seems like a way to spend another post-race month trying to get my legs to function correctly without actually getting a “PR” time or even a gauge of my fitness and speed levels. No thank you?

So, with the anticipation that I will sign up again for Rock n Roll Arizona in January with every intention of a sub 1:40 time, I’ve decided to use this race (for the first time ever) as a race where I “stop and smell the roses” (or in this case, “stop and check out the view from the summit while enjoying a bowl of chicken broth). But I do also value my life and I don’t want it to end somewhere beyond the tree line with all of the mountain people mumbling about “being prepared” and “cocky road runners who think they can run Imogene.”

Looks friendly…. via USDA

So, we’ve definitely been putting at least a little effort into training for this bad boy. I won’t even pretend that we’ve been consistent or super die-hard about this training cycle.  We started training later than I wanted to, and we’ve really been skipping a lot of workouts. But luckily, I’m at least finally starting to feel faster than I had been (still about a minute per mile slower than I was last summer which is kind of YIKES), and I’m starting to gain my confidence on the trails, so overall, considering my goals, I think I will be ok.

What Imogene Training Has Looked Like: 

1) Long runs: this is still a 17 mile race, which isn’t necessarily short.  Next week we will max out at 18 miles.  Usually, for road races, I don’t do long runs farther than the race distance, but since Imogene will be harder in elevation gain than any of our training runs, I wanted to build up a strong endurance base.  Like regular races, these long runs are also key in perfecting a fuel and hydration schedule.  We’ve been incorporating some solid foods in with our ClifShots, and I’ve been working at stopping for a good drink of water every mile beep.

2) Runs at elevation: At about 6,000 feet, Albuquerque doesn’t have a wimpy elevation, but we’ve had to go out of town and do a couple of runs a bit higher.  The 15 miler was at about 7,200 and the 12 miler peaked at about 11,600.  Next weekend, we’ll probably peak at about 10,000.  While none of these are preparing me for what 13,000 feet might feel like, running with less oxygen will hopefully be helpful.

15 Miler Elevation Profile

12 Miler Elevation Profile

15 Miler Elevation Profile...looks like an angry face!

15 Miler Elevation Profile…looks like an angry face!

3) Runs on trails: Almost all of our runs are now on trails. Unlike normal running, there is a constant change in direction, and you have to get used to rocks and tree roots and navigating around people since trails aren’t very wide.  It is also a bit different running on dirt than relying on the constant pushback from asphalt.  Your body is used differently for trail running than road running, so for me, getting accustomed to the changes has been a good (and I hope useful) method.  I went from a sad contender a few weeks ago to running an 8:30 trail mile (albeit, only 1) on Saturday.

Typical short trail run elevation profile

Typical short trail run elevation profile

4) Stepmill: This is that machine at the gym that looks like a staircase.  Usually, the people on it are all the way hunched over and walking very slow up them stairs.  Thanks to the steep uphill portions of mountain running, many trail steps really do feel like “stair” steps.  They really engage the quads, and I am having to do a huge push with one leg to launch the other forward. The stepmill helps stimulate that motion.  As an added bonus, (assuming you are hitting around 90 steps per minute and actually standing up like a normal person), stepmill is hard! I am completely dying and dripping in sweat after 30 minutes.

Machine o’ torture

5) Occasional speed work: We’ve done 2 track sessions and 2 hill sprint sessions.  For our hill sprints, we’ve been doing half mile repeats which are really long and torturous.  If I had to guess, I’d say that hill sprints are more valuable than track sessions for this race, but I wouldn’t say that we’re putting very much effort into increasing speed (which is really apparent with my paces).

Hill Repeats Elevation Profile

Hill Repeats Elevation Profile

The bottom of the hill, looking up

The bottom of the hill, looking up

6) The easy runs.  The relief.  The ones where you finish and you are like, I wish I could run 3 easy miles everyday and still BQ during marathons. (But not really because I know myself and I know you and we are all crazy). We had a couple of days of yoga written into our plan and we haven’t been doing a great job actually doing it.  Because trail running uses up so many different muscles instead of the same ones over and over, I really haven’t felt all that sore. I know that’s not a good excuse, but when I’m feeling good, and it is Friday night, I just don’t want to.

So, this is what a typical week of Imogene training is looking like:

Monday: Stepmill

Tuesday: 4-5 trail miles

Wednesday: 3 easy miles (sometimes on a trail)

Thursday: hill sprints followed by 1-2 trail miles

Friday: Yoga (or happy hour)

Saturday: Long Run (sometimes on a trail)

Sunday: “Long Recovery Run” 6-10 miles on the trail

Will this training plan get me to Mountain People glory? Probably not.  But I am hoping that I’m at least establishing a strong base and that come race day I won’t regret not doing more. In the very least, I have improved leaps and bounds with my trail running, I have shipped my comfort zone far far away, and I’m allowing myself to relearn everything I know about running and my personal limits. And I think for me, this time around, that is enough.

Ooo! Shiny!

Ooo! Shiny!

A Tale of Two Trail Runs

Happy Hump Day!

I’m still working on the Imogene Training Recap (detailing my thoughts of training for this 17.1 race over a 13,000+ foot mountain), but mostly working to tone it down so it doesn’t scream, “I HATE THIS RACE” quite as loudly because the world does not need my negative shenanigans.  I’m ALMOST there.

In the meantime…it was the best of times, it was the worst of times (figured with a title like that, I had to throw in a Dickens quote).

Since we are doing a mountainous trail race, we have started doing our long runs on trails, and we now have 2 under our belt: the 15 miler that resulted in the camping trip last weekend, and the 12 miler that we did on Saturday. One sucked beyond my wildest imagination (that’s way overdramatic. It obviously could have been worse, but at the time I wanted to punch trail running in the face).  The other one sucked considerably less to the point that I would say it was almost enjoyable.

Unfortunately, I took the “breath away” part a little too seriously

The 15 Miles From H-E-Double Hockey Sticks

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Last weekend, we did a 15 mile trail run near Lake Heron in the north central part of the state during the camping trip mentioned last week. At one point around mile 13, I almost started crying because I was so frustrated with the run. At mile 14, both of us did far more walking than running because we hit the wall and kept ramming ourselves back into it for more torture.

We didn’t fuel properly for the amount of time that we were out (mostly because we didn’t think it would take 4 hours and 20 minutes to run 15 miles), a torrential downpour the night before (that we experienced from inside a tent) turned the trail into a mud run obstacle course, and sometimes the trail was more of a river.  Also, aside from a 3 miler, this was the longest I’ve ever tried to run on a trail, and road running really doesn’t translate very clearly to trail running.

Among the sites, a swingy bridge and a staircase up the hill (going down was fun, but going back up at mile 12 killed my spirit). We also found a fresh track that I’m convinced was either a bob cat or mountain lion.  Because what better way to end a bad run than with a mauling?

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Climbing back up these stairs was the worst.

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Not the most awesome thing I’ve run on

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Hmm…that looks like a long way down…

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I really have not loved training for this race, but this run made me seriously regret signing up for Imogene. I’ve never considered quitting, but I did feel overwhelmed and unprepared to jump into something so different.  It’s not like ambulances are readily available at the top of mountains.

This run was also what convinced Aaron that I needed to forgo most other speed workouts and easy runs and focus on getting my body accustomed to trail running.  I don’t have the stabilizer muscles developed to glide effortlessly through frequent obstacles and changes in direction.  I don’t have the confidence in my step to not tip toe around every rock and tree root  And I don’t have faith in myself to get up the damn mountain without an emotional breakdown.

All of that needs to be fixed in the next 4 weeks.

ONTO THE GOOD!

The 12 Not As Terrible Miles

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This past Saturday, we had 12 miles on the schedule, so we headed up to Santa Fe to run a trail that ends up at the Santa Fe Baldy Peak (second highest point in the state).  Our run started at 10,000 feet and worked its way up to 11,600 (you could go even higher but we didn’t).  This trail was gorgeous from beginning to end with majestic pine trees and whimsical mushrooms (perfect for gnome houses) and babbling streams! And it wasn’t muddy which made things much easier.

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Aaron also let me in on a secret training method that really helped my approach: WALK.

So simple, yet so scary.  I have never walked during a race.  (I did stop to use the bathroom during Chicago, but I figure that’s kind of different).  In my mind, walking equates giving up, so I don’t do it (I know that is a big fat lie).

Half the time, when attempting to run up a steep hill while navigating trail obstacles, I am going about as fast as I would if I were walking, but using more energy (running is a really inefficient way of getting around).  So why would I waste more energy going just as fast (or slower)?  IT MAKES NO SENSE.

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So, with that in mind, anytime I noticed my pace dropping on the uphill, I walked until I could feel my legs relax, and then I’d run again. A lot of times this meant running for about 30 seconds and walking for about 30 seconds. I don’t think I actually ran a full mile in the 12 that we did, but I felt great, and even the high elevation really didn’t kill me in ways that I thought it would.  We did bring more fuel (this is important), and the trail was in better condition, but overall I felt so much better on this run than I did on the 15 miler.

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Weee! Downhill is fun.

I’m still not completely confident about my race performance though.  We have 2 long runs left before we taper down, and I’m hoping that both of those will help my body get even stronger.

But, aside from the misery and the extreme slowness, how beautiful is trail running?  A good portion of our 12 miler time was spent standing at the tree line, swooning over the amazing world around us.  I’ve had some amazing runs this year with some incredible scenery, but nothing quite matches the feeling of standing so high above the world and knowing your little tired (and thoroughly harassed) legs have actually carried you up there.

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At the tree line!

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And having every hiker (who were all amazingly friendly) stop to comment about how badass you are for running this trail is pretty dang cool.

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Overall take-aways for long trail runs:

1. Even though I can sustain myself on 1 ClifShot during a regular 15 mile run, trail running takes a lot longer and requires different fueling needs.  Having a sufficient fuel stash ready will help make those last few miles much less terrible.  Also, low glycogen levels actually spin your emotions out of control, so not fueling properly might actually make you cry.

2. Walking is cool, especially if you are going the same speed that you would be while running.  And walking uses less energy while allowing for a bit of recovery.

3. These training runs at elevation are important! I am so glad that I didn’t go into this race without practice because I don’t know if I would have been physically ok to do it. I still don’t, actually…

4. Mantras are just as helpfult, but for me, they need to be a bit different.  “BE THE GOAT” is what seems to be working to get me up the hills, but it wouldn’t make any sense sprinting down a city street.

5. CORE STRENGTH and strong quads:  These are always a big deal for runners, but when you are going down a steep downhill stretch, gravity will throw you off the mountain if you don’t have a fine tuned brake system. I’ve had more scares than I care to admit.

Trail Running: Love it or hate it? 

Favorite trail running shoes?  I’m likely going to go with the Brooks Cascadia, but I could use suggestions for a more supported trail shoe.

At Least the Lake Was Pretty

I don’t like camping.

It’s not so much the eating hot dogs in the wilderness or the smell of campfire, or even the prospect of getting swept up in a giant rain storm while sleeping in a tent.  I can handle all that, and mostly even enjoy it. But I truly detest not having an actual toilet for longer than a race morning (and a sink to wash my hands), and sleeping in a little cramped space on mere mat padding for an entire weekend.

Call me high maintenance if you will (mostly every one does), but I want a bathroom and bed. If camping included those things and combined the greatness of the outdoors with human comforts, I’d be willing to go every summer weekend.

I want to camp HERE!

I really try to be a good sport about it though. It may not be the way I want to spend my time, but I try not complain…at least while we’re there. Just, you know, on the blog after the fact.

Aaron on the other hand, is a mountain man.  He even considers “car camping” to be a lesser form of the activity.  He’d rather back-pack into somewhere and live off of the land with whatever supplies he can fit into his sack.

Look at all that camp gear!

During our first few months of dating 5 years ago, I consented to go camping (gotta impress), but other than that, I’ve kind of managed to avoid this whole hobby of his.  But that means that he hasn’t gone either. And while I may hate camping, I also don’t want to deprive poor Aaron of something he truly loves (but kind of, because BATHROOMS).

Long story short: we went camping last weekend. We’re getting to the peak (hehe) of our Imogene training, and we’ve been trying to get some higher elevation mountainous trail runs in, and all of those trails are closer to camp grounds than actual cities, so there you have it.  Leave it to running to break my non-camping streak. Our trail run was 15 miles, and afterwards I wanted nothing more than to prop my feet up, and sleep in a very comfortable bed. But, it is what it is.

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That car (which isn’t ours) shows how close our neighbors were

We went up to the North Central part of the state to a place called Lake Heron which is almost more of more of a resort campground where you have people on either side of you, lots of happy Forest Ranger friends, a latrine style toilet (which was ok on Saturday morning but downright disgusting by Sunday morning with all of the use and ten million flies swarming).  The next cluster of sites next to ours even had a camp host and showers (which were actually pretty decent). IMG_7335 - Copy They even had daily activities like ukulele lessons and snake education.  Aside from the fact that we could hear everything our camp neighbors were saying (and every scream of the sick toddler they brought with them), having a shower, and something resembling a toilet was nice. But I was mostly obsessed with the lakefront property. I spent the weekend taking pictures of our amazing view.  And enjoying the water since it is mostly non-existent in Albuquerque.  IMG_7321 - Copy IMG_7301 - Copy

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View of the lake from inside the tent

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The water levels statewide are ridiculously low right now, so the lakes (I think all of them here are man made) are having to let out a bit to provide water for the rivers.  It looks like they just did a major water lowering a couple of weeks ago, so the shore right by the lake was not only very muddy in a “hasn’t been dry in decades” type of way, but also filled with treasures.  And by treasures I mean really old beer and soda cans.

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I was also amazed at how many fossils I found right next to our campsite.  Nothing too amazing like dinosaur skeletons or fish bones, but plenty of sea shells!  Considering the number of people who hang out there, it looks like I’m the only person who has ever rock hunted.

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Aside from our 15 mile trail run (more about that on Monday), other activities included drinking wine, playing with the camera, bike riding, kayaking (oops…forgot to take pictures), middle of the lake picnicking, and exploring. We even saw a herd of deer! (hopefully they were not caught by the gang of howling coyotes that woke us up later that night…).

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If you look closely, you can see the train of ants

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The drive to and from Lake Heron was also quite beautiful.  We were surrounded by dramatic cliffs and Northern New Mexico landscape.  We also stopped by a small town called Abiquiu to take a picture of this neat mission church built in 1920.  IMG_7377 - Copy IMG_7232 - Copy

Overall, if this is something I can get away with doing once every five years (heck, I’ll even make it four!), than I think I will survive. As always, it was nice to get out of town and do a long run on a new (yet ridiculous) trail.  The weather here is already starting to cool down (sadness), and our warm summer weekends are numbered, so just getting to spend time outside might have even been worth some of the yucky parts of bonding with nature. Maybe.

Love camping or want to join me in the whimsical canvas tent and king bed resort place?

Favorite camp food? 

HAVE A WONDERFUL WEEKEND!  It’s turned into an unofficial holiday around these parts because of the Breaking Bad premier on Sunday.