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Cordillera Mountain Ultra – next time, train for mountains

September 2005 was my first international race. In Newcastle, Australia I befriended the Philippine Duathlon Team. They were my biggest supporters during the race – cheering louder for me than anyone. We exchanged team gear, contact info, and they invited me to race in the Philippines. 14 years later I finally made the trip (although not for a duathlon obviously) and all I can say is – what took me so long?

2005 Philippine Duathlon Team

My recent trip to the Philippines introduced me to people as warm, welcoming, and downright awesome as the Philippine Duathlon team I met years ago. The land was equally beautiful making for an awesome experience all-around. Let’s get to it!

Much like my trip to India in January, flying halfway around the world was just the beginning of the journey to get to the Cordillera Mountain Ultra. Fresh off a 16 hour flight, I hopped into a cab to the bus station, and then got on a bus for a 6 hour ride to the mountain town of Baguio City. I was really hungry. Ill-prepared for a flight that didn’t have vegan meals for me, luckily my flight attendant was over-compensating by showing up to my seat at random times throughout the flight when she’d find a banana, apple, or package of peanuts 🙂 (they fixed this for me on the return flight). The bus station had zero options for me as well as the 2 stops along the way to Baguio. I really wanted to enjoy the bus ride and take in the scenery but I couldn’t stay awake any longer and passed out on my bag twice before arriving, where I had one last cab for a ½ hour ride to my hotel. Phew!

My Unived family (Monica & Amit) arrived a few hours later and we were all anxious to get a vegan meal! We set off on a 5k walk to what became our desert oasis – the vegan restaurant Ahs-Wes. I lost count of how many meals we ate there throughout our short time in Baguio City, but I can tell you we knew the menu quite well 🙂 We had a full day Thursday to settle in and the race director pointed us towards some nice runnable trails as Camp John Hay. I was happy to get in a shakeout run because man my lungs were burning! Baguio sits at 5,000 feet which really isn’t that high, but when you come from Syracuse, a whopping 380 feet, you can feel it. We also had some time to relax and explore Baguio – what a beautiful town!

running at Camp John Hay

Friday it was time to head to the race site and I was really excited that our transport was a jeepney! It was an hour ride to the barangay of Tinondgan. A typhoon in September of 2018 led to landslides that devastated Itogon – destroying land, homes, and leaving casualties. We were seeing some of this damage along the way. We later learned that the Cordillera Mountains also experienced wildfires in February of 2019, causing even more devastation to this beautiful area. The race course took us along some of the charred land 😦 All of this made us even more grateful to the residents for their willingness to share their land with the runners.

Amit’s ready for the jeepney ride!

Shortly after arriving at race headquarters I laced up for a shakeout run on the course. In just 3k of running I already had a good sense of how challenging yet stunning this race would be. The trails were not very technical but they were dry, and the loose dirt and stone would add challenge to the steep ascents and descents. I made the correct choice in bringing my Altra King MT’s for race day! The short jaunt on the race course was all I needed to get my excitement level revved up and I was wishing the race started tomorrow!

checking out the course

It was a short walk down the village road to our homestay, where I settled into my room and our gracious host made rice and veggies for our dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much rice in the span of a week, but it sure was great!

relaxing at the homestay with Amit, Monica & Arjun

Saturday hosted the Vertical K race, packet pickup and pre-race festivities. We spent a relaxing day at headquarters meeting and talking to other racers representing 30 countries – wow! We also enjoyed a welcome ceremony and Igorot dance performed by the local children which brought smiles to everyone’s faces.

Welcome ceremony. Photo: William Cheang

During the race briefing the elite fields were introduced and that’s when the nerves set in – I was up against some really strong females – exciting!! It was time to head back to the homestay for dinner and race prep – tomorrow was the day!

Q&A with the Asia Trail Master. Photo: William Cheang

Race morning I was up at 2 am and with a 4 am start this wasn’t so bad. Everything was laid out and ready to go – all I had to do was fill my bottles and it was a short walk to the race village to check in. I was feeling pretty calm – for some reason I think starting in the dark helps but I also just felt ready! A couple more photo ops and the countdown began!

Ready to race!

My A goal for this race was 6:30. My B goal was 7:00. C goal was just to get it done. To accomplish this I split this race into 3 sections of focus:

First 15k
Time Goal: 2 hours
Mantra:
calm & focused

Starting a race in the dark is always exciting. It forces me to keep things under control so that I don’t make any dumb moves early on 😉 The suspended bridges were pretty cool when you have the entire starting field running over them at once – almost like trying to run on a moon bounce. A lot of us were laughing along the way. I noticed that Veronika settled in behind me right from the start allowing me to dictate the pace, when we hiked, and when we ran. I could tell she was going to be a strong contender that day. It quickly became just the two of us. At about the 4k mark a short road climb turned into a long, winding descent on the pavement and that’s where Veronika made her move. She went flying down that road and as tempting as it was to chase her I knew that would be a huge mistake on my part that early into the race. It’s always really impressive to watch a strong runner do their thing so gracefully. I was in awe of her prowess on that hill – it’s never a good feeling to see a leader disappear ahead of you but it’s awesome to witness that talent.

Early miles. Photo: GlairoldRecella Photography

I kept my mantra in my head and pressed on at my own pace, enjoying the darkness, the silence, and the undulating trails along dirt and stone singletrack. I was also thrilled with the 4 am start because the sun and heat were going to be a strong presence that day and I wanted to make as much progress as I could towards the first major climb before the sun was directly overhead. I was able to remove my headlamp right before rolling into the 15k aid station to enjoy the beautiful dawn light. I came in at 1:54 – just enough of a cushion showing that I had restraint in the opening 15k. This is where we needed to fill up 1.5 liters of fluid as we weren’t going to see aid until after both West Ugo and Mt Ugo summits, which were 16k away! I was told Veronika was 5 ½ minutes ahead of me. Ouch!

Filling up before the climbs. Photo: Viaje ni Drew

Second 15k
Time Goal: 3 hours
Mantra:
consistent climbing

I was relying solely on run fitness to get me up those mountains as I had not done any climbing since Vagamon Ultrail in January… I quickly learned that running fitness was not enough to power me up those climbs. I had some regret for not bringing my poles but there was no use in dwelling on that – I had to focus on pressing onward and upward. The 7k to the first summit was unrelenting. There was no break in the climbing and man was it steep – sometimes reaching 30+% grade! I felt I was surely widening the gap between myself and Veronika as I struggled to maintain that consistent climbing I was aiming for. Each time I felt I needed a break I reminded myself to just stay strong and make it up that damn mountain! I knew the reward for climbing would come eventually. I caught up to another runner on the first climb and we went back and forth for a while – it was nice to have someone around for the first time since I was passed at the 4k mark. I wish I could describe the views as we summited West Ugo – stunning!!

My only company for the day. Photo: Rox Roldan

With the first summit out of the way the sun was now striking with full force. Only 9k left to the next summit with a gnarly descent to attack first. Coming off the ridge there was no trail – it was a bushwhacking choose-your-own adventure line following the course markers. I was so focused on my footing in the tall grass and loose terrain that I lost site of the markers and began to panic – there was no way I wanted to climb back up that summit to find where I went off course. As I was desperately looking for a marker I had my first solid fall of the day, landing on a large branch adding some nice cuts to my left butt cheek. I was happy to have the branch to catch me from tumbling further down. I took a pause to settle down, focus on the ridge, and find my marker.

The next section was my favorite on the course. Although the sun and heat were starting to peak I was enjoying the flat sections where I could open up my stride. My strength today was on the flats and there weren’t many so I needed to take full advantage. There was an aid station as we were beginning the final summit and I was told that Veronika was 3 minutes ahead. I was in shock that I made up time on her and as I started the steep climb sure enough I saw her far up ahead! I again hit my time goal of 3 hours on this second section, reaching 31k at 4:45. It was all mostly downhill from here. Time to bring it home!

Final 17.5k
Time Goal: 90 mins
Mantra:
BRING IT HOME!

By the time I reached the 2nd summit Veronika – the downhill destroyer – was out of sight again. At the next short but steep climb she reappeared and I was finally coming into striking distance. I tried to quietly make ground on her but before too long she turned around and saw me just as we were reaching the crest of the climb. Then off she went again – man this girl can crush the descents! I realized that she found a second gear this time as there was no sign of her at all. When I reached the next aid station they announced I was the first female. I corrected them, obviously, and they reassured me that no other female had reached the check-in. Uh oh. This means Veronika either went off course or something happened and I didn’t see her off the trail. I didn’t feel good about either scenario but the only thing to do was continue on.

Attempting to fly!

I wasn’t excited about my new-found position in the race – there’s no fun in taking the lead that way. I actually felt really deflated and bummed – also a bit worried about her. Even if it would have sparked a fire in me to crush those final miles my legs were not into it anyway. The downhills hurt in a way I wasn’t expecting them to in this short of a race, and basically my legs were too tired for me to trust them on the steep loose sections. Then I heard someone coming up fast behind me on a downhill and I didn’t even need to turn around to see who it was, but I did anyway to welcome her back 🙂 Veronika told me she was distracted and went off course as she flew by me like I was a spectator. Suddenly I felt better and although I knew I wasn’t going to match the fire I saw in her I was ready to push to that finish.

But not before those legs I didn’t trust decided to throw me into a head first dive one last time. And not before I came across two springs in those final miles that were gushing ice cold water that I couldn’t resist placing my whole body under. It was really hot. The time I was giving up to cool off was well worth it. Reaching the final village felt awesome as everyone was outside and cheering us along. Now we were in full sun exposure for the final 2.5k. Over the 2 suspended bridges I felt even more wobbly in that heat. After crossing the first bridge I felt like I was still on it. After crossing the second bridge it was all uphill to the finish line.

Final climb to the finish.

Although my time goal for the final section was not met I ended up finishing in 6:34, only 4 minutes off my goal, and 3 minutes behind Veronika. Overall I was happy with my race and even happier to be at the finish line celebrating with the other runners I met from all around the world.
It’s very exciting to have my nutrition completely dialed in. I again tested the *soon-to-be-released* new products from Unived. I had one Endurance Gel along with 250 ml of RRUNN During drink mix every hour throughout the race. I didn’t experience any low points and never had any stomach issues even in that heat. I did take one small banana before the final summit and of course filled up with water at every stop! I want to give a major kudos to Cordillera Mountain Ultra for making this race zero waste. There were no throwaway cups at the aid stations – runners were required to bring their own reusable cups and some aid stations had tin cups you could use if needed. Aid station fuel consisted of bananas and rice cakes that were wrapped in banana leaves – no paper or plastic disposable goods to be found! I loved this 🙂

I had an amazing experience racing the Cordillera Mountain Ultra and I hope to someday check out more of the Asia Trail Master series. So much attention and love went into every aspect of this event and you could feel it in every step of the race. JP put his heart into that race and his volunteers were some of the best around! When I was first invited to this race it was an immediate “no”. My overseas trips for the year were already planned and this did not fit into the schedule – certainly not another trip halfway around the world only 2 months after a trip to India. Luckily Amit knew how to play it cool, and a few weeks later slipped in a gentle reminder that the offer still stood. Sometimes my flaw of being a “yes” woman pays off 🙂

Podium: Veronika Vadovicova, me, Sandi Menchi

Finally, congrats to Monica and Amit who celebrated their 5 year court marriage anniversary by running the entire race together 🙂 These two are inspiring!

I Cannot Do Justice to the Vagamon Ultrail Race

It has taken me a while to write this race report because my words cannot fully describe this wonderful experience. What a great start to a New Year! This is going to be a long one… In an attempt to not ramble on too much I will keep this focused on the race weekend. However I cannot fail to address that my trip to India was an awesome experience from beginning to end thanks to Monica & Amit of Unived Sports, and Unived Trail Runners Club athletes Rahul, Ashish, Arjun and Sanjay. I cannot express to you all how much you filled my heart ❤

Getting to the race

Getting to the hills of Vagamon was quite the journey! On Thursday afternoon we took a 2 hour flight from Mumbai to Kochi where we found a hotel for the night. The cab delivered us to the front desk – literally – he drove up the ramp into the lobby and dropped us right at the desk! We dropped off our gear and set out to find dinner in town, walking through the quiet beautiful streets of Kochi. We were on the search for “authentic” South Indian food. That was the theme of the weekend – they wanted me to have authentic experiences, even going as far as getting me to do things by telling me it was authentic 😉 We found an excellent dinner spot where I was able to try all sorts of delicious foods, which was the kickoff to my weekend of eating way more than my body was accustomed to! But how could I turn it down? (I tried sometimes, but wasn’t allowed haha).

The next morning we left for Decathlon where we check in and acquire our bib. This is where we met up with the rest of the UTRC boys and took a short walk to a breakfast spot. I tried more new foods – delicious Appams – served by a man wearing soccer cleats 😉 A sporting goods store is a perfect spot to wait around for bus transport so we hung out at Decathlon for a while and before I knew it they were serving the racers lunch. Not hungry at all, I was informed that I would only have one more chance to eat that day so I better fill up. I rallied and got it done. After lunch we boarded the party bus (yes, it even had a disco ball) and we began our 3 ½ hour drive to Vagamon.

All aboard the party bus to Vagamon!

The last hour + we climbed the narrow, winding roads that showcased the beautiful landscapes we would be running the next day. We made one pit stop on the climb at a vista so we could enjoy the view, and a vegan mango sorbet from the ice cream truck.

Mango pops!

Once we arrived at our cottages and checked in I had to quickly prepare my drop bag as we were soon leaving for the race briefing and pre-race dinner. The cottages sat high up on the hills and were quite cozy. Each cottage had 2 rooms and I was supposed to share my room with another 90k racer but she did not show so I had the room to myself. I shared the cottage with Anand, the race director for Malnad Ultra, and another gentleman. We decided to walk down the hill to the race briefing and it was nice to stretch out the legs and soak in the views of the beautiful tea estates. The race briefing was perfectly succinct. Then I loaded up (once again) on rice and dal before we walked back up the hill to turn in for the night. I organized and laid out my race day gear before getting about 4 interrupted hours of anxiety-laden sleep. I was worried about the heat – that was all.

Views on the walk to the race briefing

Race day!

The 3 a.m. alarm went off and I started my race morning prep. I had a cup of dry oatmeal with a splash of room temperature bottled water (you gotta do what you gotta do) and a packet of almond butter. The bus was ready to leave promptly at 4 a.m. as we descended into the valley snatching up other racers along the way. A gentleman sat next to me and as we introduced ourselves he said “oh, you’re THE Laura. You’re supposed to win today!” No pressure. We arrived at the race start and it was dark and cold. I was definitely happy about the cold start! I checked my bag, snapped some selfies with Rahul, then calmly made my way to the start line. Most ultras I race have that quiet, nervous tension at the start line. This one did not! So much energy and excitement – I couldn’t help but smile.

They sent us off into the darkness and the leaders took off at a good clip. Not knowing any of these runners I did not know what to expect and how the race would play out. I wanted to stay close to the leaders to get a feel for what would unfold so I tucked into 4th position. The trail wasn’t too tricky but there were plenty of rocks and ruts to throw you off with only the light from your headlamp. Within the first mile one of the guys in front of me took a serious ankle turn which caused him to stop and walk. Yikes! Within the second mile the next guy did the same. Okay, let’s focus and not do that. I was dancing the line of wanting to push these early miles to cover as much ground as I could before the heat set in and being conservative over trails in the dark. I now chose to lean towards conservative. I was sitting in 2nd and the leader was running strong pretty far ahead. As we were climbing I saw a turn off onto a trail that he had missed. I stopped and called out to him. When he turned around I pointed to the trail but he turned back around and continued. I was now in the lead and will admit I wasn’t very confident running out front in the dark. However as I climbed into a clearing I was overwhelmed by the quiet, calm beauty of running under the stars and moon with just my beam of light – I felt so much appreciation in that moment.

I didn’t hold the lead for too long before a few runners passed – one of which was the leader who I was happy to see found his way. He thanked me for warning him. Still trying to run conservatively on the trail sections I soon lost contact with them and twice went off course. However that wasn’t due to improper marking – I simply didn’t pay attention. And because the course was so well-marked I was able to quickly realize and correct my error.

I will admit that the competitor in me was a little bummed to fall off the leaders that early in the race, so it was time to adjust my mindset.

  • Do not focus on placement.
  • Do not focus on time.
  • Run your own race.
  • Respect your current fitness level.
  • Respect your recovery.
  • Respect the HEAT.
  • Soak up everything this experience has to offer.

As the sun began to rise the horizon was blanketed in beautiful pink and purple hues – simply stunning! I was excited to finally start seeing the landscape. Villagers were starting their day and some were out sharing the trails. It was nice to start seeing people and my smiles and greetings were happily returned.

At the 30k mark we had access to our drop bags where I was swapping out fresh bottles of RRUNN During Hydration Mix and RRUNN Endurance Gels. There were plenty of volunteers ready to cater to your every need and they were very insistent that I stop for a hot breakfast. I politely declined each time and was quickly back out onto the trails. Soon after that the two leaders came into sight – they were running together. I would be lying if I told you the competitive runner in me didn’t come back. I caught up to them around mile 21 and we all ran together for a bit and chatted. One of them kept calling me Super Lady 🙂 They were running strong and I was surprised to have caught up with them at this stage in the race.

Throughout the race there were many cows on the course. I obviously had a conversation with each one of them. We reached a spot of high cow traffic and just as I was scoping out how to maneuver around them I took my only spill of the day – I tripped on a rock and went down hard – startling the cows as they quickly moooo-ved out of my way (sorry I couldn’t resist). Santhosh and Sunil kindly stopped to make sure I was okay and then we carried on. It was great running with them and part of me wanted to stay and enjoy their company but I also really wanted to run my own race so soon after I was out in the lead on my own.

The next major chunk of this race is mostly a blur to me. We spent a lot of time in the heat of the day directly exposed to the sun and I was quickly melting. I do still remember all of the scenery, which is where I fail to properly describe the beauty of this course. I also remember suddenly emerging on the ridge at the highest point of the race and yelling out an expletive. It was so cool! Running along the ridge was also a welcome break as the winds were high. I kept spreading my arms like wings – letting the breeze hit my arm coolers for some relief.

Running along the ridge. Photo: Vibin Balakrishnan

At each aid station I would douse myself with water to cool off. I cannot tell you how many times throughout the day I went through my mental safety check – reciting my name, address and phone number. I did this so many times I was afraid I was reciting it out of habit, so I switched to my family members’ full names and birthdays. I even threw in some work passwords to really challenge the brain 😉 As a heat stroke survivor I have learned that if my mind gets fuzzy I’m in trouble. So even if I was a little too obsessive with checking in on my brain it gave me the reassurance that I was doing okay.

Trying to cool off. Photo: Satya Sravan

Somewhere after the 50k mark Santhosh and Sunil caught up to me when I was at a low point. I didn’t even hear them coming. They asked if I was okay and I assured them I was just slowing down. I kept them in sight for a little longer but soon they were gone and I was sure I would not see them again. Pine Forest was a favorite for many of the runners but not as much for me as it was the one section that reminded me of running in the states. However I was happy to have some relief from the sun. On our return trip this area was now bustling with activity. As I ran through the small, crowded market two nuns stopped me and one asked “where are you FROM??” with such curiosity. As I hit the forest trail it started a stream of cheers. Each person was yelling something down the line and putting their hand out for a high five – from children to older women. It was fun and their energy fueled me. In the excitement I nearly blew by the turn but luckily a runner coming the other way yelled out to correct me.

Beautiful Pine Forest. Photo: Vibin Balakrishnan

I arrived at my drop bag for the final time and began mixing my last bottles of RRUNN During and re-stocking my gels. I was again being told that I needed to sit down and enjoy a hot meal which was the last thing I wanted. After politely declining, and being told again I should eat something hot, I was offered curry rice and I agreed to a small portion. A few seconds later I realized he said “curd” rice so I quickly ran over to tell him I was vegan and could not have curd rice (and let me tell you that small portion I agreed to was already a heaping mound and growing). Another volunteer told me I could eat the idli so I took one to be courteous. After taking a bite I said to myself “there is no way I’m keeping this down.” But to avoid being wasteful and rude I quickly shoved the idli down and grabbed the Thums Up (aka rocket fuel) I stashed in my drop bag and was on my way up the next climb. (*To be clear, the idli was good and I appreciated their kindness of fueling me, I just don’t typically eat any hot and/or substantial foods during a race.)

Late race struggle

I saw Santhosh and Sunil up ahead on the climb but even as I was guzzling my Thums Up I did not see myself reeling them back in. Once I hit the 60k mark my legs were in full-on protest. I also don’t remember exactly when my watch battery gave up on me, but that added to my feelings of despair. By this point I knew I was not getting anywhere near my goal of sub-10 hours so it wasn’t the worst thing in the world to not be reminded of the time. And with the ample aid stations which always provided mileage updates it was easy to know where I was on the course. I was living aid station to aid station – looking forward to dousing myself with water, drinking some cold RRUNN Watermelon, and treating myself to orange slices. I came upon an aid station where I was greeted with “sit down and we’ll make you an omelette!” I informed them I was vegan so no omelette for me, and also that I wasn’t allowed to sit 😉 They told me I at least had to have “special drink”. I did not know what this was but figured why not, and took a shot from a glass. A volunteer offered to pour water on me and I wasn’t turning that down. He poured a huge bottle over my head and I left that aid station with renewed energy from the special drink and the cold shower.

Running back through the villages I was a popular attraction. The women would stare intently into my eyes as I passed. I ran by a group of about 10 women sitting along a wall – conversation stopped and all heads turned to me as I passed. I then heard laughter and as I turned around one of them was taking a picture of me. Children were out playing and were very enthusiastic. They would see me and run into their houses to alert others to come outside. Lots of cheers, smiling faces, and high fives. I was very excited to see the final aid station which meant 5k left to run. When I arrived one volunteer told me it had been so long since they last saw me. In my tired daze I thought he was referring to how painfully slow I was now moving. He reminded me that they last saw me at 5:30 in the morning. Oh yeah, they were my first aid station of the day as well as my last. After what felt like the longest 5k ever, the finish line came into sight and I was ecstatic to complete my race as I broke the tape among a crew of happy volunteers.
11:43:29

Finished!

I quickly found Santhosh and Sunil and we all congratulated each other on strong performances (they finished together for 1st place). Monica was there to welcome me and I also found Amit who finished 7th (!) in the 60k, along with Arjun. Ashish finished soon after me and before too long Sanjay finished his race. I saw the physio for a wonderful post-race massage and we all sat around enjoying post-race food and recounting our days on the trails while waiting for our team photographer/videographer Rahul, who was also running the 90k.

Post-race with Ashish, Amit and Arjun

We received a unique clay finisher medal and for my overall awards I received a handmade coconut leaf hat and a beautiful painting from one of the volunteer’s 14-year-old daughter. What beautiful gifts to cap off a beautiful race experience 🙂

1st Overall in 60k & 90k

Nutrition

I was very excited to test a new line of Unived RRUNN Elite products on race day. I won’t give away too much yet…you will definitely hear more from me once the products are launched. It’s great to have the trust in a company to try new products for the first time on race day and have them exceed your expectations! Unived continues to create top nutritional products and I’ll be very excited to share them all with you. The flavors…okay that’s enough teasing for now. Throughout the race I drank 6 bottles of RRUNN Elite Electrolyte Mix and consumed 1 RRUNN Elite Gel per hour. I did not experience any stomach issues and felt properly fueled throughout the day. I supplemented this with some orange slices and water at aid stations and also popped a few RRUNN Caffeinated Salt Caps to help me battle the heat. I also enjoyed a few cups of the RRUNN Watermelon During Mix that was being served at aid stations because who doesn’t want a refreshing watermelon drink during a hot race? And let’s not forget the Thums Up!

aka Rocket Fuel

If you’re interested in trying any Unived nutrition products or performance gear you can use my code LAURA15 to receive 15% off at checkout!

Gear

Leading up to the race I went back and forth between my 2 favorites – Altra King MT’s and the Altra Superior’s. I chose the light and fast Superior as there weren’t too many technical or rocky sections. I also got to debut the Unived Race & Recovery socks which will definitely be my new go-to sock! The material was very soft and comfortable and I’m a big fan of the arch compression. They feature 3D dots along the sole of the sock as well as the achilles and this technology really added comfort while preventing fatigue in the feet. The socks got wet, went through mud, and endured the heat, yet I had zero blisters or hot spots. You’ll see pictures of me post-race still wearing the socks because even after almost 12 hours on the trails they felt good! Under my Unived Performance Air 1.0 Singlet (definitely feels like air!) I wore some DeSoto Cool Wings to add protection from the sun and heat. I went with my trusty Ultimate Direction Race Vest – lightweight as there’s not much to it with ample pockets for 1 liter of fluid and a stash of gels. I was also excited to sport the new Unived visor – I’m just not a trucker hat fan – visors for life!

Props

Overall my comeback race was a success. 2018 was a tough year and it was hard to safely build the mileage I needed to compete at 90k in the short amount of time I had available. Although this lack of volume was the main contributor to not meeting my goals on race day, I was still able to run, race, and thoroughly enjoy an amazing day on the trails! With the time that has passed since the race I recovered quickly and by respecting my current fitness level I am no worse for the wear! This has deepened the hunger in me for a strong 2019.

Thank you to the Soles of Cochin who organized this race. The Vagamon Ultrail was a first-class race experience. It was very well-organized, the course was well-marked, and provided plenty of well-stocked aid stations. Not only well-stocked with food and drink but also with enthusiastic and friendly volunteers who went above and beyond to provide a great experience for the runners – such a welcoming group of committed volunteers. To answer the volunteer who ran with me a short time during the race – YES! I am coming back to race in 2020 🙂

A thank you is not enough to express my gratitude to my Unived family. They made this race possible for me. They helped me through this injury – not only nutritionally but through their emotional support and commitment. They were also the most gracious hosts from the time I landed in India until I had to say some hard goodbyes (more like see you soon!) Also for making sure I had everything I needed on race day from nutrition to gear. I am beyond grateful to continue our partnership in 2019.

Rahul, Arjun, Sanjay, me, Ashish, Monica, Amit

Unived Trail Runners Club – you guys rock! Your warm welcome immediately made me feel like part of the crew. You all put the C in UTRC 🙂

Thank you to Altra for believing in me after a season of injury. I am humbled to be a part of the Altra Red Team again in 2019.

Finally, thank you to all of you who stood by me last year. It wasn’t an easy one, but when you have a strong support system of family and friends who make you laugh when you’re feeling down or give you tough love when you need it – that makes all the difference.

Looking ahead it’s now time to start focusing on my next big race of the year – Comrades! There will likely be a race or two in the lineup before then, and potentially another exciting trip (more coming soon).

Congrats to all of the runners who tackled Vagamon Ultrail. It was a pleasure meeting many of you and I hope to run with you all again next year 🙂

Happy & Healthy training to you all!

Let’s Talk Recovery

As I’m patiently making way through this injury recovery what helps me is to approach it as I would a training block for a goal race. A healed bone and returning to running will be my “finish line”. I have to lay out my plan week by week. I need to listen to my body and make adjustments to the plan on the fly as needed. Most importantly, I need to prioritize rest, recovery and nutrition.

“Use Pain as Your Guide”
I despise this guideline. Pain is a 4 letter word. Using pain as a gauge is not very helpful and basically places me in a state of constant anxiety. Am I feeling pain or just discomfort? Is this feeling due to de-conditioning and then trying to use my right leg again? Is it just pulling and soreness from the muscles that had shut down and are now coming back to life? I don’t have a great track record when it comes to respecting pain. It’s very difficult to trust myself but I am trying…

I had a meltdown recently – the evening I first rode my bike outside. It felt great – no pain, not really any discomfort that I could tell. It left me feeling optimistic well beyond what I was expecting. Later that night as I got up to go to bed it hit me hard. I stood up and couldn’t walk properly – there was a lot of pain – it took me right back to where I was in May. I was lying in bed feeling stabbing pain and crying – not from the pain – from the feeling that I just fucked things up and would need to start all over. No. Freaking. Way. I told myself that in the morning I would get back on the crutches full time and figure out what to do next. Luckily when I awoke the next morning the pain was gone. I cautiously stepped out of bed and things felt back to “normal.” Phew. I really wanted to ride my bike again that day – the previous evening was the best I’ve felt mentally in 2 months. Instead I honored my recovery and erred on the side of yet another rest day. It shouldn’t be this hard, I know. I wish it were easier.

Progression
√ 90% crutches – non-weight bearing
√ crutch & touch – to slowly introduce minimal impact
√ upper body strength work while seated/core work
√ crutches outside of the house only
√ riding (w/o “pain”)
√ yoga without balance poses (w/o “pain”)
_ walking without crutches!!!
_ RUNNING!!!!!  🙂

I’m getting so close!!! My next MRI has been scheduled on August 14th and will be reviewed that day. Wish me luck…

Results
I had the following tested:
· CBC w/ auto differential
· Ferritin
· Comprehensive metabolic panel
· Magnesium
· Parathyroid hormone, intact with calcium
· TSH
· Alkaline phosphatase, bone specific
· Inorganic phosphorus
· Vitamin D – 25 hydroxy

The only level I was concerned about was Vitamin D as it was on the low side the last time I had fractures. Although there is always room for improvement (you will see how I’m achieving that below) it was at a safe level. I felt confident that everything else would be great but it’s always good to take a look. As expected, all of my levels were where they needed to be! (I’m not going to post everything but if anyone wants to see any of my results please let me know)

Next up was the bone density test. Although my T-Score puts me in the lower end of the normal range, I am still within that range and the Dr. is not concerned. The more important score is the Z-Score which compares my results to a person of the same gender and age as myself, and she was happy with this score.

With the results of these tests my physician confirmed that my fracture is most likely due to a combination of the following:
1) biomechanical issues (*I am fully to blame for slacking off in this area.)
2) long term damage from prolonged use of Depo Provera (*I have been off this, and all birth control for almost 9 years. Please DO NOT EVER use Depo.)
3) exercise/nutrition imbalance (*this is a big one that deserves way more attention but I will touch on it briefly.)

Nutrition
The first order of business was to add some weight. This is standard protocol when you have a stress fracture as your body needs to heal, and the best way to facilitate that is by providing it with abundance. Any hint of deprivation is stealing resources that your body can use to mend itself. I learned the importance of this after my last set of fractures 9 years ago and now anytime I am taking a break (or off-season) I make sure to put on a few pounds. It’s a healthy practice that everyone should incorporate.

Time for honesty – it’s not easy. I don’t feel comfortable putting on weight so while I am always willing to do so for my health I’m also anxious to take it back off (safely). When my physician said we couldn’t rule out “female athlete triad” my initial reaction was to defend myself and dismiss it because she doesn’t really know me. However I am seeing her for this exact reason – real talk and an understanding of female athletes. So I am not taking it lightly. My plan was to initially put on some weight while I heal, then slowly start to take it back off so that when I’m cleared to run again I will be back to my “comfortable” weight. My physician informed me this week that I need to continue focusing on weight. So I will.

I am achieving this by following the same nutrition guidelines I follow during training, just with slightly smaller portions. Since 2009 I have been following a “5 servings of healthy fat per day” rule and I continue to do that even though I am not training. Healthy fats are always my number 1 focus – avocado, nut butter, hemp hearts, seeds, nuts, coconut oil – are among my daily servings. Equally important for recovery is protein, as protein is called upon to rebuild bone. Again I’m eating the same things I would eat if I were training – tempeh, beans, lentils, pea protein powder – I am not cutting out any protein during my time off from training. The biggest change has come in allowing treats, because who doesn’t need some vegan ice cream when you’re feeling down? 🙂

Supplements
I am in great hands when it comes to receiving direction on what supplements I should take to ensure proper healing and am extremely grateful that Unived provides a lot of what I need to stay on top of my recovery. A company dedicated to athletes, run by athletes who devote so much time to researching and obtaining the highest quality ingredients. I consider myself very lucky to be a part of their family.

Morning
Blood Builder – I’ve been taking MegaFood’s Blood Builder since 2010. It’s my source of B12 while also providing a hefty dose of iron and folate.

Mid-Morning

Unived D-veg – each serving has 2500 I.U. of pure vitamin D3 derived from Lichen. D3 is a fat soluble vitamin, so it is mixed with coconut oil which aids in fast transport to the bloodstream and maximum absorption.

Afternoon
Unived Colox
Colox offers natural relief from joint pain and inflammation which is superior to and safer than OTC NSAIDs. It contains Boswellia serrata, Ashwagandha, and Curcuma longa extracts.
Curcumin – in addition to the Colox I am taking 500 mg of Curcumin C3 complex. Again this is a great anti-inflammatory which also helps increase the antioxidant capacity of the body and can even improve your mood! **Unived will be releasing its own highly bio-available Curcumin soon!
Cissus Quadrangularis –
clinically proven to accelerate fracture healing and reduce the recovery time.

Evening
Unived CalDVegI’ve been taking this daily prior to the stress fracture but a supplement for enhancing bone health is definitely a priority. CalDVeg is sourced from algae and also contains Vitamin D3, Vitamin K2, and magnesium which will enhance calcium absorption and utilization.
Unived Colox – dose 2 for the day
Magnesium –
I use a powdered magnesium fizz blend to assist with enhancing bone density through assimilating calcium absorption and activating Vitamin D. It’s also great for relieving anxiety and providing calm, which is why I like to drink it before bed.
Zinc –
zinc supplementation aids in callus formation, enhances bone protein production, and thus stimulates fracture healing.
Curcumin –
dose 2 for the day
Cissus –
dose 2 for the day Overall I’m feeling very optimistic about my results and progress, so now it’s just a matter of giving my bones optimal time to fully heal so I can come back even stronger!

Beyond this my focus is on relaxing – the biggest challenge of all – but it’s a good opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends, reflect on the mentality that broke me, set positive future goals, and most importantly be thankful for everything I have.

I hope everyone is having a great season of training and racing – run some stunning trail miles for me! 🙂

Strike 2

Eight years ago I ran and ran and ran through pain. I ran until I could barely run. And then I ran some more. Until I could barely walk. After the long, grueling recovery from my fractures in 2010 I vowed I would never do this again. Those fractures wrecked me – not so much physically as mentally. And after taking 17 months off to fully heal I promised myself “never again.” Oops.

Towards the end of a disappointing 2017 season I ran through pain. I ran more than I should have but then I did the responsible thing – I stopped, saw the doc, took time off. I was so proud of myself – flaunting my responsible decision. Look at me – I’m a changed woman!

I started this year running with some pain (but seriously, have I ever run without pain since 2009? No.) I had it under control, so I thought. Typical me – I always have everything under control, even when I don’t. And so I kept running until suddenly the pain was drastically worse. I forced runs even though each step was painful. I could still “jog” and I was only walking with a slight limp. As long as I can mask the appearance of pain it doesn’t matter what’s going on under the surface. No one can see that I’m struggling. I had to run.

It got to the point where I had to physically lift my right leg with my hands from a seated position. Major red flag for me. So I spent more time at the gym instead of running to get those muscles firing again. It worked, so I was fine. Every day I made sure I could hold my weight on one leg, then I would do the hop test. I was passing  able to get a little clearance off the ground with some focus and effort, so I was fine. I’ve learned to look for red flags but then I find ways to take them down. Great.

Next up was my spring training trip – the trip I dream about each year until it’s over, and then I start dreaming about it again. I took 4 days off from running leading up to the trip thinking that would do the trick. Then I ran 11 painful and awkward miles in the mountains. The whole time trying to not focus on what my body was struggling to tell me – simply enjoying the opportunity to be out on those trails doing what fulfills me. Later that day the pain was really settling in. Luckily I had spent the past week preparing myself mentally for this outcome. After consulting with a trusted friend and coach I pulled the plug on my running. The next day I made some calls.

Diagnosis

I have a stress fracture in my femoral neck. I’ve now had the 2 worst fractures for runners. If I fuck this up I could break my hip. Needless to say I am going to put all of my effort into not fucking this up. So if you see me doing something I shouldn’t – call me on it. Please. After 12 weeks of no running I will have imaging done again because the doc wants to make damn sure that there are zero signs of this fracture before I’m released to start running again. I will be able to start progressing with other activities over this time but for the next few weeks I have to shut it down entirely. Time to heal.

I’m clearing my race calendar and am hoping once I can slowly start to build again I can aim for some shorter late season racing. But I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself and focus on what I need to do right now. This will not be a 17 month affair like it was in 2010…

Since I’ve been down this road before I have set some goals for myself. Here are the main ones:

  1. Do not allow your injury to rob your sense of identity. This will be the toughest to tackle.
  2. Acknowledge and respond to pain. Don’t ignore it. This isn’t a race.
  3. Use the damn crutches. No matter how embarrassing or emotionally uncomfortable they make you feel .
  4. If there’s ever any doubt that something you want to do may be stupid, ask someone you trust. Then actually listen to them.

During my previous injury I had to do a lot of hard work on myself. One of many helping me through it was able to break down just enough of my wall to sneak in something that has stuck with me. He told me that I am grasping my running too tightly. He used the visual of holding a small pebble in the palm of my hand and I was clenching my fist around it so hard so I wouldn’t lose it. I had to hold the pebble in an outstretched hand. If I kept such a tight hold my running would ruin me. It’s time to revisit this concept.

There are many things I say in hopes of convincing myself they are true. This rarely works. There is currently one thing I’m telling myself which I know to be true – I will come back stronger.

Thank you to Dr. Parker for always looking out for me and understanding me.
Thank you to Dr. Goolsby for providing me with a recovery plan with which I can get behind.
Thank you to Elizabeth Azze for helping me pull the plug before things got incredibly worse, and for being that trusted friend I need.
Thank you to Unived for supplying me with the supplements that will be an integral part of the healing process.
THANK YOU to all of my friends who are showing me love and keeping me busy. It’s going to be a bumpy road for sure. I’m going to try my best to keep it together.

See you on the trails soon I hope!

#FridayFuel – Ultra Bites

This recipe features Unived Ultra Butter which has become a staple for me before races and big training days. Ultra Butter contains peanuts, cashews, virgin coconut oil, dried coconut, pea protein, dates, himalayan pink salt, cocoa powder, and vanilla flavor. It tastes great on its own and comes in handy packaging so that you can eat it on the run. I’ve also been enjoying it in my oatmeal, as a waffle topping, and with my apples 🙂

Ultra Bites

  • Servings: ~15 balls
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


Ingredients

  • 1 cup pitted dates, soaked for 10 minutes & drained
  • 1 packet of Unived Ultra Butter
  • ¼ cup vegan chocolate chips (or sub any add-ins like dried fruit)
  • 1 Tbsp chia seeds (or sub flax or hemp seeds)
  • 2/3 cup gluten free rolled oats

Directions

  1. After dates have been soaked and drained, pulse in a food processor until combined in a dough-like consistency.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients & pulse until combined. You want them to be chunky, so don’t overprocess.
  3. Scoop mix and roll into balls of desired size. Should yield ~ 15.
  4. Allow to chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. Store them there as well.

10 Loops around Caumsett Park

I stepped out of my car at Caumsett Park in Lloyd Harbor, Long Island. It was windier and colder than I was anticipating. No sign of the sun. 3 older GLIRC men were walking behind me towards the bathrooms. In a NY accent one of them said “a friend told me this course was flat, there would be no wind, and there would be cheerleaders on the course.” We all had a good laugh.

I felt pretty calm and relaxed at the start line. I didn’t know what to expect from myself today. It’s always hard for me to gauge at this time of the year. Winter has been rough, volume has been low, speed work even less existent. But overall I felt pretty good and was looking forward to testing my fitness. I had a fairly loose goal but basically just wanted to run strong and smart.

The first 3 of the 10 5k loops clicked off quickly and I felt amazing. I was running smooth and relaxed – it felt effortless. I felt in control. All 3 were sub-21 minute 5k’s – right where I wanted to be. The next 4 also felt good. They were all sub-22. I said to myself “I feel like I could run this pace all day!” That was a good feeling to have. At the end of loop 3 the winds intensified making certain sections of each loop challenging. Those winds were there to stay.

It was a very lonely race. From the start I never had anyone to run with. On a looped course with 2 races taking place there wasn’t a shortage of runners, but it was always a very brief exchange of pleasantries before I was back to my own thoughts. I had a lead cyclist the entire race but there was never any conversation between us. He kept a good distance. I admired his Cervelo P3 from afar. The constant sound of his Zipp freewheel and carbon brakes were soothing to a lover of bikes. That’s what I remember most – hearing that all day long. There were times I wanted to apologize to him for going so slow. There were times I wanted to tell him he didn’t have to ride the out-and-back section with me which was always quite congested. At one point early on I was going to ask if he wanted to play some music for us to enjoy. I was focused on how boring this must be for him. We traveled those 10 loops in silence. Once he said “you’re doing great” after he caught up to me following a quick break. Another time he slowed to talk to a runner he knew and as I was passing them both he told his friend “you’re being lapped by the lead female.” At the start of loop 9 he turned around to ask which loop we were on. That was the extent of our interactions. Thank you Mr. Lead Cyclist for being my quiet companion throughout the race 🙂

Loop 8 is where I started working harder. I still had a glimmer of hope that I could hold my pace but I knew it was going to get tough. The wheels were starting to come off. My legs were suddenly getting very tight. I was amazed at how they could go from feeling good to rotten so quickly. At the out-and-back section of each loop I would see the 2nd place female Gabrielle Russo. While my gap was ever-so-slightly building throughout the race, it was now starting to shrink. Heading out onto loop 9 I convinced myself to make it to that marathon mat, and then I only had a loop and a half to go. Two years ago I wanted to hit the mat for a sub-3 marathon. It didn’t happen. This time I wasn’t concerned about my marathon time – I just wanted to hold my pace and my position. But I thought that hitting that marathon mark would give me that “home stretch” feeling and maybe my legs would come around. That didn’t happen. My mental game was no match for my failing legs. I felt like either of my hamstrings would snap at any time. Finishing the 9th loop Gabby had really made up some ground on me. This was the moment when I knew I was going to be passed. I know it’s a terrible thing to allow defeat into your mind, but I was being a realist. Unless she suddenly blew up, which she showed zero signs of, my day was numbered. My legs were done racing.

I completed that 9th loop and the race organizers who had been so energetic and positive calling out my loop each time through were now even more excited as they yelled out “last loop – you got this!” But I knew I didn’t and it was eating me up inside. I responded “she’s right there – she’s going to catch me!” What’s worse than admitting defeat to yourself? Admitting it out loud. They responded with “well then make her work for it. Make it exciting!” They were right. I owed it to them, and to myself, to push until the very end. It’s not like I wasn’t going to anyway, but hearing that was what I needed. I hit mile 1 of the loop, no Gabby. Mile 2, still no Gabby. Where was she? My legs felt like they had knives in them and I just wanted to ease up, but I wasn’t going to stop pushing until she caught me. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to look back. Finally I heard her coming up behind me and I gave her major props as she flew by me like I was standing still with 1 mile to go. That last mile was the longest of the race – not just because it was my slowest 😉 Even when it means getting passed I always admire witnessing a strong finishing kick like Gabby’s – kudos to her!

I finished with a slight PR over my time on this course 2 years ago. Overall I was happy with my effort – just disappointed that my legs didn’t have the miles to deliver. Some of the highlights of the race: fellow Syracuse runner Chris Raulli also ran a strong race and earned 2nd Overall Male. Friends Stephen and Tiffany England raced the 25k and each won their race! It was great to see them out on the course.

This was my first time racing using Unived’s RRUNN line of sports products and they were great! Pre-race I used the Watermelon Energy Mix which offers a blend of high-glycemic & low-glycemic carbohydrates for instant and sustained energy. Post-race I used my favorite Coco Vanilla Recovery Mix. All kinds of good stuff in here for recovery – check it out. And that flavor… 🙂

During the race I fueled with RRUNN Salted Caramel and Mandarin Orange Endurance Gels. I’m loving them! These super-thin gels are so easy to get down, I really enjoy the subtle flavors, and they provide just the kick I need when I need it. I’m excited to add them to my race fueling plan this year.

I was pumped that the new Altra Solstice arrived just a few days before the race. I had one 3.5 mile run in them and immediately knew they were the shoe for this race. I was right! (also worth noting that Tiffany England won the 25k in the Solstice)

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Next up…trail time! I’m hoping this new snowfall doesn’t plan to stick around too long because I’ve been itching to spend less time on the roads and more time pounding dirt and rocks!

Finishing Time – 3:37:35
2nd Overall Female
1st Overall Female Master

Courmayeur–Champex-Lac–Chamonix


It’s been difficult to decide how to write a race report for CCC. On one hand the event is so amazing I don’t know how I could even do it justice through words. On the other, what came out of me on that day brought so much disappointment that it’s still hard to wrap my head around it. I don’t want to dwell on the bad and I hate excuses but I also feel that my memories of the good are clouded by the tug-of-war going on between my head and my heart for many of those hours. I could say something expected like “the tough days are when you learn the most about yourself” but that’s not the case. This wasn’t a test of my character or anything deep like that – it was simply an instance where shit goes wrong and you suck it up and deal with it through the end.

The only surprise of the day was that I couldn’t physically get what I expected out of myself. I shouldn’t be shocked based on how my body was feeling in the month leading up to the race. I managed to convince myself that by running less than half of my planned miles I would go into this race rested. That by avoiding hills my legs would be fresh for the mountains. And that by avoiding speedwork, well heck, I would just be fine. Stop stressing over the training and trust your body and your heart. Even after the race I believe all of that to be true. I needed my hip and pelvis to be “good enough” to race 101k and in my mind I was there. I knew that after the race I would pay dearly but honestly thought that I could race a solid effort and ignore the pain which is one of my strengths (or is that really a weakness?) to produce a performance I was proud of. So when my body responded the way it did I felt betrayed.

But that’s already too much whining. We all know what it feels like to be let down. Even if everything would’ve felt perfect on race day I still think I would’ve been humbled by those mountains. So let’s get out of my head and move on to the wonderful event that is Ultra Trail Mont-Blanc and all of its grand races. Many people have questions about this race so I will try to make this an informative race report.

Mandatory Gear

One thing that stands apart with the UTMB races is the extensive list of required gear. Luckily I was able to bounce my questions off race veteran Zach to see just how strict they are with the specifics of the gear. Turns out the answer is “very”. For example I had to buy 2 new torches (I now own FIVE) because the three I had are rechargeable. The requirement is for 2 torches with replacement batteries. I’m glad Zach gave me the heads up on that one because Amanda was turned away at gear check for that very reason (she was then also turned away because her emergency blanket was 1 inch short. 1 inch. Have you see the size of this girl? Way smaller than the average racer. So yes, they’re that strict). Another Zach tip – for waterproof gloves use medical gloves. The vinyl gloves were way lighter and took up much less space!

Once I had the required gear sorted it fit easily and comfortably into my new Ultimate Direction Hardrocker vest.You arrive at packet pickup with your full pack and at the first station they check your passport and print out the list of required gear with a random selection of 4 items that you need to show. From there, airport security style, you grab a bin to remove your 4 selected items for the next checkpoint. Mine were waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, long tights, and cell phone. Once you clear that checkpoint you retrieve your bib along with a 2nd chip. At the following station a volunteer attaches that 2nd chip to your pack. There is no switching packs during the race. Thanks to the excellent organization of this race I breezed right on through the registration process. However that was not the final stage of my gear check which I will get to in the next section.

Start Line

The start line is as epic as the videos portray. There is so much energy and excitement it’s tough to stay calm! For the CCC we are bussed to our start line in Courmayeur, Italy – another beautiful town! We were greeted with sunshine and mild temps – a welcome change to what was predicted for that morning. With over 2100 starters in this race they send you off in waves. I’ve heard stories about people getting into their corral over an hour before the start because of the crowding. Even in the elite corral it was difficult to get a good spot so it does pay to get into your corral early. While waiting in the corral 3 officials came to me for another gear check – this time I had to remove my pack and pull out all of my gear on the list to show them before they placed a sticker on my bib confirming my check. This was a random selection check and I of course had no issues with it, but I must admit that having to re-pack everything at the start line ratcheted up my anxiety a bit.

With fellow Syracuse runner Scott English in Courmayeur

Once we’re set free it’s an exciting run through the town before hitting the trails for our first climb of the day. The town is a steady stream of cheers and cowbells, and once we moved past the crowds I noticed…silence. Well – heavy breathing – but everyone was quietly focused on the task at hand as we were already climbing and would be without a break for the first 6 miles. There is no thinning out during the first climb to Tete de la Tronche. Once you hit the single track you climb at the pace that is set by those ahead of and behind you.

Those views though…

Before I summit the first climb, let me tell you about how amazing the scenery is. It’s a lot to handle really – you’re focused on your footing, what’s going on in front of you, yet you can’t help but look around to soak in some of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen. Am I really here? We then had some descending to conquer before a nice long stretch along the ridgeline which offered more breathtaking views as the helicopter was buzzing low to capture footage of the runners along this exposed stretch. We made our way down to the Arnouvaz aid station before heading out onto our second climb into Switzerland to the summit of Grand Col Ferret. The amazing views continued along this relentless climb. Partway up the climb a French runner had stepped off the trail and was visibly crying. I stopped to see if she needed anything (newsflash: by this time I already knew my day wasn’t going to shake out). I really just wanted to give her a hug – I was feeling her pain for sure.


Let’s not forget the weather.

About ¾ of the way up the climb those stunning views abruptly ended when we were suddenly socked in by a heavy fog. The temperatures plummeted and I went from hot to frozen in an instant. I remembered the warnings about putting on your gear as soon as this happened but I knew I had to be close to the summit. Upon arrival it was so incredibly windy and you could only see feet in front of you. There were medical stations at the top of each climb and this one offered a volunteer who was holding our gear as we struggled to put on jackets in those whipping winds. After what felt like minutes wrestling my jacket into submission I then fumbled to put gloves on my already frozen fingers before starting the descent. It would take a few miles before I got feeling back into my fingers. That was my first taste in how rapidly the weather would change throughout that course.


Compared to the UTMB runners I’d say we had it super-easy. But I can’t even count the number of times my arm warmers went up and down, and my jacket came off then back on. Into the later, pouring rain hours I would plan exactly what wardrobe changes I would make coming into the next aid station only to show up feeling indifferent, shrugging my shoulders, and pushing on wearing the exact same thing.

An hour before our start a text was sent letting us know that there would be a weather-related course change. For our final climb we would not be going all the way to the peak in Chamonix. I’m not ashamed to admit that with the day I was having I was not at all disappointed with the altered course.

Crew

There is plenty of aid stations and they’re very well stocked. Yes it’s true – there is an abundance of cheese and sausage at the aid stations. I guess people eat it?!?! I was happy to see bananas and watermelon to supplement my stash of food. I heard not-so-great things about the shuttles that transport your crew to the 3 stops where they are allowed to assist you so I was neither shocked nor upset when I arrived at Champex-Lac and couldn’t find Jeremy or Lauren. I looked around for a bit (it was a very busy station), casually filled my bottles, and then realized it was time to move on. It was 17k up and over the next climb where I would hopefully see Jeremy to replenish my Skratch drinks and nutrition needs.

Sure enough they were ready for me at the next stop as a crew member is allowed into the tent 10 minutes prior to your runner’s arrival. Jeremy rocked it – all of my gear was at the ready and he was full of positivity. It was a really lonely day out there so it was great to just see and talk to someone I knew! Even though the next stop was only 11k further (but up and over another climb) they planned to be there for me just in case. It was a complete downpour and only one person was allowed in the tent which meant Lauren had to wait outside. I definitely had some moments of guilt for what they were enduring for me. It is way easier to run in bad weather than it is to crew. I think I even told him they didn’t need to go to the finish line for me which he of course brushed off as nonsense. It’s not an easy race to crew when you have to navigate long bus rides. I’m pretty damn lucky to have had them there!

Ode to the Poles

I was never keen on the idea of using poles in a “running” race. Even after I broke down and bought them it was still struggle to train with them. I ended up relying on them way more than I ever could’ve imagined. They served me more as crutches – especially on those downhills. I’m not sure if I would’ve finished without them. If I had it would’ve tacked on a few more hours. I never want to use them again. At least I hope I never have to rely on them in that way again. But now I do see and respect their purpose. Especially at a race like CCC. Thank you Black Diamond Carbon Z Poles for carrying my unstable a$$ all around those mountains, and for taking a beating when I was really angry about my dependency upon you. After all that you only left 2 small bruises on my hands 😁

Always Have a Plan B

As I slogged my way up that first mountain my hope was already tumbling backwards behind me. Coming to terms with my Plan B was the best decision I could make – enjoy the experience and finish the race. Once you let go of your expectations (which was by far my toughest obstacle of the day) it frees your mind to focus and fully commit to your backup plan. Well look at that, maybe I did learn something from this race after all!

Merci Beaucoup!

My deepest gratitude goes to Jeremy and Lauren. Not only did they face some last-minute obstacles just to make it to France, but it’s a huge trip and time commitment for little ol’ me. I am humbled to have friends that are willing to give themselves so selflessly to my endeavors. I had door-to-door service before and after the race because of them. They walked 4 miles from Chamonix to my hotel in the middle of the night to retrieve the car and have it waiting for me at the finish line. Seeing them along the course gave me the push I needed. I will always be grateful that they were there for me in such a big way.

Another huge thank you goes to Altra. Everyone on that team is always looking out for me to make sure I have everything I need. My brand-spanking-new pretty blue King MT’s were sadly caked in mud (and manure?) by the end of the race but who cares what your shoes look like when they perform like champs! And thank you to the Altra France contingent for their hospitality.
Thank you Muir Energy for keeping me stocked in the cleanest and tastiest fuel for tackling mountains. I have 4 words: Passon Fruit. Pineapple. Banana. Seriously. There are many delicious flavors and I enjoy them all but I can’t get enough of that tropical cocktail.

Thank you Skratch Labs for keeping my electrolytes in check with flavors I crave all day long.

And many many thanks to each and every one of you who reached out to me in multiple ways throughout this trip. I was feeling the love for sure!

Now it’s time for a little break time off while I work out some issues. Only time will tell what’s next on my schedule but I can guarantee that I am hungry to get back out there and run the world!