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    trail running

    The Mountains are Calling and I Must Go

    1024 371 Terri Rylander

    For the past two years, I have gone with my two adventure friends Candy and Gary on an epic journey. First it was running/hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail in eight days in 2012. Then it was a double crossing of the Grand Canyon (R2R R2R) in 2013. So, when Candy asked about climbing Mt. Whitney this summer, it was game on.

    Mt. Whitney is the tallest peak in the lower 49 states, taller than Mt. Rainier but shorter than Alaska’s Denali. There is an 11 mile (22 round trip) trail that takes off from 8000 feet before topping out at 14,496 ft. It wasn’t the easiest trail, being mostly of granite steps, boulders, and 99 switchbacks. The grind only made reaching the summit that much sweeter.

    Mt. Whitney is in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains in southern California. This is where the famous naturalist, author, and early advocate of the preservation of wilderness, John Muir spent so much of his time. His words resonate with me so much that I thought it fitting to use them in this post with pictures from the trip. Be sure to enjoy the video that follows.

    Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.

    Sierra Nevadas

    Sierra Nevadas

    How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!

    Sunrise on the trail

    Sunrise on the trail

    In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.

    In my zone

    In my zone

    Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.

    Junction of the John Muir Trail

    Junction of the John Muir Trail

    Who wouldn’t be a mountaineer! Up here all the world’s prizes seem nothing.

    Summit of Mt. Whitney

    Summit of Mt. Whitney

    It was the afternoon of the day and the afternoon of his life, and his course was now westward down all the mountains into the sunset.

    It took a lot of nerve to sit here

    It took a lot of nerve to sit here

    Keep close to nature’s heart and break clear away once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

    Pristine lake just off the trail

    Pristine lake just off the trail

    Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.

    One of the 99 switchbacks

    One of the 99 switchbacks


    Now that you are inspired, go watch the full (4 minute) video. (For best results, view in 1080HD in full screen)

    Antelope Canyon 50K-Not Always What You Expect

    900 506 Terri Rylander

    Three nights before my second 50K, I sat down with the course map and elevation profile and plotted my estimated time. Funny, my estimate of 7 hours 45 minutes was within just a couple minutes of my first 50K finishing time. But I wanted better. I recomputed what it would take to get a finish under 7 hours. I was ready. Bring it on!


    Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ

    I chose the Antelope Canyon 50K because I wanted something new that was still relatively close to home. The course offered some amazing views which I thought would make it that much sweeter. And, lately the weather had been unseasonably warm. Little did I know, my visions for the day were going to be radically changed.

    It may have started when I got a cold four days out. Or maybe when the weather forecast was changed from 40/70 to 22/45. Or maybe when the race started before my GPS was aligned or when the snow started falling in the first five minutes. Whatever it was, it was a sign that things weren’t quite right.

    My GPS aligned about 3 minutes into the race, then off I went into the darkness. I would have been last except my running partner Gary was still in the porta-potty. I passed a few people quickly and headed down the hill toward the mob of runners–only now, they were coming back up the hill at me! Every single person had missed the turn onto the trail. The extra mile I ran blew the first part of my plan right out of the water. It’s like getting a triple bogey on the first hole. You immediately want a do over.


    Snow fell on the Page rim trail for about 2 hours.

    The trail ran level along a rim around the northwest side of Page (AZ) and along the Colorado River canyon. The sky got brighter but the snow fell harder. It snowed for two hours, but it was amazingly pleasant–the views were great and I wasn’t cold at all. Thankfully, there were volunteers guiding us to the first aid station. Goal time was :58 and I was in at 1:06. Not super bad and maybe I could make that up?


    Really nice couple took my picture…more on that later.

    We finished the rim trail with a super fun, super sandy downhill. At the top of the hill, I met a nice couple taking pics and I asked if they would send me some later since I chose not to carry a camera. They agreed and said, “Smile!” I turned around in time to get my picture taken before bounding down the hill.


    Slogging through miles of sand.

    Well, the sand didn’t stop there. The next several miles across the desert were sandy with places ankle and shin deep. It was not run-able for me at all. So I walked as fast as I could, knowing my goal time was slipping away. I refilled my water bottle and left the next aid station running across a bit of sandstone but that quickly gave way to more sand and more walking.


    Following the fence line to Horseshoe Bend

    I reached the 14 mile aid station at about 16 miles. I grabbed a few items and quickly left, ducking under the barbed wire fence and toward Horseshoe Bend. Runners were starting to thin out at this point but I was able to keep someone in sight for a while.


    Literally running on the edge

    Going along Horseshoe Bend was pretty cool. Slick rock scrambling and hopping right along the edge. The view was spectacular but there was to be little to no running. Too many ups and downs along the slick rock. But, it was fine with me, I love that kind of scrambling. At least, unlike the sand, I had footing on this stuff.


    Eery feeling to be all alone in the desert

    About two miles towards Horseshoe Bend, I now only saw runners in the far distance. I started noticing how hard it was to find the next flag. I’d walk or run to a flag, then stand there scouting the horizon for the next one. At first, I could find another. Then I couldn’t. Pretty soon, I was all alone in the desert. No people, no flags, nothing moving, just a whisper of a wind. I felt like I was in some bad western movie.

    I kept moving, getting more and more frustrated. I probably went for about 30 minutes, climbing every high point I could find. No flags and no runners. I kept moving in the direction I thought was the route when Marie, a 50-miler, caught up to me. She was young and cheerful but had no idea which way to go. Together, we kept going and continued to scout for flags. We saw none.


    Just kept moving forward

    I pointed in the direction of the highway and told Marie that was where I was going to head. My fear about following the canyon too closely was coming to a dead end with either a chasm to cross or wall to scale. So we stayed “inland” and made our way towards the highway. Marie was much younger and faster than me, and she was on a tighter timeline. So, she politely excused herself and headed off.

    I gave up trying to find any more flags and made a beeline for the highway. As I got closer, I could see some cars and what looked like an aid station. I grumbled and huffed as I made my way there. But, to my dismay, it was just a house. Now I was at the highway, behind a barbed wire fence, not knowing if the aid station was to my left or to my right.

    Marie had called her husband to help her find her way. Fortunately, he saw me, stopped, and told me it was two miles to the aid station–just follow the fence to the south and there will be an opening. I got more and more angry about the whole situation. I trained hard for this. I followed a plan consistently. I wanted to run a great 50K and here I was 23 miles in with two more miles to get to the 21 mile aid station. The sand had taken a toll on my lower back and it was all I could do to get myself to that fence opening.

    I couldn’t imagine another 10 miles in deep sand with no course flagging. IF I made it, it would certainly be night by then. I told myself I didn’t care about finishing anymore. I didn’t need a stupid finisher necklace anyway. So, when I popped out under the fence and the aid station volunteer, my friend George, asked what he could get me, I said, “A lift!” I told him that this was ridiculous and I am done. He sat me in a chair and gave me his down jacket and a blanket. I stewed about the incompetence. I felt awful I’d talked my friend Gary into coming. He’ll never listen to my suggestions again. I was mad and sad.


    I would not have finished without Omar and Lynne!

    I always marvel how quickly things can change in these long distance races. You go from happily running along to stomach or body issues that you think will take you down to happily running again. Well, this race was no exception, only it didn’t happen quite like that. After about 15 minutes of sitting and sulking, my photo friends showed up and chided me to join them.

    “Come on! You got this!” he said. “You can finish with us, we’re mostly walking.” she said. After a few more grumbles and groans from me and a few more words of encouragement from them. I put my pack back on and we all headed out.

    Four of us going through Waterhole Slot Canyon

    This next section started off with crawling backwards and downhill under a very large rock that might make some feel claustrophobic. Then a slide and jump down the slick rock into a slot canyon. And, to my surprise, Gary shows up! He came back to find me saying that after climbing the first ladder, he worried I might be alone and not able to manage it solo. He would have been right. There would have been no way I could have maneuvered the ladders alone.

    Antelope Canyon 50 mile, 50k 24

    One of many scary ladders up the canyon

    The four of us, Lynne, Omar, Gary, and I, worked our way up the slot canyon. At times it was so narrow you had to contort your body to fit through. Other times, we climbed ladders not quite long enough to reach the top. Some ladders were precariously placed on piles of rocks. It would have made for an awesome hike, but was harder to appreciate when you were in the middle of a race and hoped to make it back in daylight.


    Omar running in socks

    Once out, the four of us motored down the packed sand road, following the power lines to the next aid station where our drop bags were. Omar had shoe issues and could barely walk. Lynne suggested taking his shoes off, putting his insoles inside his socks and going sock footed. Perfect solution! Note to self.

    We got ourselves in and out of the next aid station with just 5 miles to go–still hoping to finish before nightfall. The course doubled back on itself but I thought I remembered it splitting off at some point. As we approached a major intersection, we saw lots of footprints, in the deep sand again, heading downhill. We double checked the sign but couldn’t tell if we should go that way or not. Lynne and Omar were already at the bottom, so we said screw it, let’s go.

    Handmade finisher necklace

    We knew we had lost the course at that point, but just made our way across the desert, back towards the town of Page. We chatted, laughed, and bitched about the race and other stuff. We also made plans to share dinner together. Finally, after 10 hours and 20 minutes, we hit the finish. Unceremoniously, we walked into the building, told the race director we were here, and he gave us a time. He also gave us our finisher’s necklaces even though were technically past the cutoff time. We ended up doing somewhere around 34-35 miles.

    Afterwards, we ran into our friend Justin who is an awesome runner. He was leading the pack through about mile 20 when he came across the race director still laying flags! The race director said there was no way he could keep up with Justin, gave him a handful of flags, and told him to continue marking as he went. When Justin replied that he didn’t know where to put them, he was told to just follow the canyon. Unfortunately, Justin quickly ran out of flags leaving much of that section unmarked.

    Terri, Gary, Lynne, Omar, Nick

    Though the race didn’t even come close to playing out like I planned, it gave me a chance to meet some really cool people. Lynne and Omar were so much fun. I’m sure we’ll stay in touch. We also invited Nick, a 50-miler who finished at the same time, to join us for dinner. Lynne and Nick are both Aussies and chatted about that. We all had a wonderful evening getting to know each other and talking about what we love doing.

    *With special thanks to Omar, Lynne, and Cory Reese for the photos.

    To see all of the photos, see the

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    2013 TransRockies Run: An Epic Adventure

    1024 565 Terri Rylander

    All I could think about was 11 miles over 11K feet and how, in previous years, people experienced altitude issues like headaches and nausea. Being somewhat sensitive, especially to stomach issues, it definitely tempered my excitement about doing the 2013 TransRockies Run–a 6 day, 120 mile, 20K feet stage race in Colorado.

    IMG_3915I signed up just about a year ago with my running partner and good friend, Gary. We entered the 80+ Mixed category along with 35 other running pairs. The race starts in Buena Vista and ends in Beaver Creek, though it’s not completely continuous. You are shuttled to and from race start and finishes. When you’re not running, you’re camping with 350 of your new best friends.

    IMG_0013We took two days to drive to Buena Vista. Along the way, we stopped at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. What a beautiful canyon-so steep, deep, and dark. Pictures don’t do it justice. If you’re ever in the area, be sure to see it. It’s not too far off the road.

    IMG_3710Next, we stopped at Monarch Pass, which is on the continental divide and sits at 11,312ft. We took the tram up to see the view and also see how we handled the even higher altitude of over 12K ft. The view was stunning–a 360 degree look at the Rockies and the altitude was not an issue (though we were only there a short while).

    IMG_0049Day 0 – Buena Vista. We checked in and picked up our race bags and goodies. The bag they give you is pretty big, but it must hold your sleeping bag, pad, pillow, race snacks, clothes for running and for lounging (both warm and cool clothes), race gear, and anything else you bring. Because I have smaller sleeping gear for backpacking, I had a slight bit of room left over, but not much.

    IMG_3814We contacted our soon to be new friend Monica. She had to go solo this week after her partner had to drop out. We connected with Monica ahead of time to work out a way to bring our cars forward along the race. We ended up playing leapfrog with the cars which worked, but cut into rest/social time. It was a fortunate friendship though. Monica is a totally fun girl who is sharp-witted and smart. We had a great time while transporting cars and at dinner, though we never saw her during the races since she’s a speedy one!

    IMG_3729Day 1 – Buena Vista to Railroad Bridge: 20.9 miles/2550ft  elev. gain. It was a cool morning, as every morning would be. We started at the back of the pack and stayed there most of the day. You get lots of time to chat as you huff and puff your way uphill. I met Deana, a water researcher from the midwest and Christina, a woman doing the 3-day solo from Seattle.

    IMG_3746It was also on this first day I met Phil and Barbara from Brooklyn. They started each day with us and were great fun to be around. We had told them about our nicknames of “Dirt” and “Skirt” and they greeted us each day this way. It felt good knowing there were other racers who knew you were out there and cared about how you did.

    IMG_3744Seeing friendly faces was such a welcome sight. My friend Sherry that I met at Desert RATS in June was working the aid stations by day and doing massages at night. Her smile is infectious and warm. You can’t help but feel good when you are around her. She took good care of me and all the other racers during the week. She and the other aid station volunteers were always cheery and helpful. They were a welcome sight indeed.

    IMG_3761This first day seemed to go on and on but did end with a nice foot soak in the river afterwards. Because I had some leg pain that started before we arrived, I decided to get a leg massage. It felt so good I vowed to do it every day afterwards. Unfortunately, I never found the time again.

    IMG_3778Day 2 – Vicksburg to Twin Lakes (via Hope Pass): 13.3 miles/3250ft elev. gain. The bus ride to the start took about 30 minutes–enough time to build up nerves of anticipation. I was going to crest the famous Hope Pass. It sits at 12,600ft and is challenged twice in the Leadville 100 race. Thankfully, we only had to go over it once. It was a crazy grind to the top, following along in a conga line on a narrow, steep single track. At one point, someone yelled out to whoever was leading the line at the time to “pull over if you can’t keep up!” I desperately did not want to be that person, so I pushed hard to keep up with the stream of racers. Climbing over 3000 feet in about 3 miles may not sound like much, but when that goes from over 9K to over 12k feet, your lungs are begging for mercy.

    IMG_3786At the top, Gary (still in race mode) told me to go! There was to be no lingering or savoring the view. It was time to pass those who did. So I never even got to turn around and see what I’d just climbed. This is where I really found my strength. I flew, almost wrecklessly, down the hill. I was passing people left and right. I probably passed two dozen people. The best part, probably for the whole week, was being called an “ass-kicker” as I passed a group of racers. You never know that what you might say to someone can really make their day, or even their week! I’ll never forget that moment.

    IMG_3819Day 3 – Leadville to Camp Hale: 24.2 miles/2800ft elev. gain. Leadville is a cute old mining town–almost. It has potential but it hasn’t been realized. Stage 3 began in Leadville and ran through the town and down the highway before turning up a dirt road. The dirt road immediately began to crank up. It seemed like every time you might reach the top, there was another hill to climb. The uphills are not my strength and took so much of my energy. Plus, my legs were sore to the touch from the previous two days!

    IMG_3832I managed hydration and nutrition fairly well, but the continual climb eventually got to my psyche. So much that when it finally flattened out, I could hardly run. It was the only time I tripped and nearly fell, which made me even more angry. Reaching the aid station at about mile 14, you leave most of the climbing behind and begin a steady descent. It’s over 11k feet there and you cross the continental divide. It was a great, run-able portion of the trail, but my legs (and lungs) would not cooperate. I ran some and walked some, but it was more walking. I was frustrated with myself. After crossing the highway, with about 6 miles left, we entered a nice forest trail.

    IMG_3837For whatever reason, I got a second wind. Again, I flew down the hill for the next 3 miles to the next aid station. I passed numerous racers and felt fantastic. The final 3 mile stretch is a flat dirt road. Gary pushed me to my capacity there, but no one passed us on this section and we finished pretty strong.

    IMG_3849Day 4 – Camp Hale to Red Cliff: 14.1 miles/2900ft elev. gain. The morning began with diarrhea. Perhaps nerves? Then I found out I wasn’t alone. The “camp crud” had made its appearance and about 25% of the racers had it, including Gary and I. After a second time in the bathroom in short order, the medical team gave us Imodium. Fortunately, though it continued after the race, I never had any episodes during the race and it really didn’t impact my energy.

    IMG_3854Although this was a shorter stage, I knew it was also a steep one, climbing quickly with crazy grades of 29%. About two miles out of Camp Hale, the road turned up the hill and the climb began. It was innocuous at first, but turned ugly and angry. We were climbing rutted roads that even a jeep wouldn’t want to take. People were using their toes to dig in and make the climb, some slipping and almost losing their balance. “This is nuts!” I kept thinking. But, for the pain, you are rewarded. These were the views you saw in the brochure–the ones you paid the big bucks for. And, you deserved the great views after sacrificing all your energy to get there.

    IMG_3859As you crest, you traverse a bowl and then a ridge for a few miles, continually taking in the amazing views. I met Silas, another racer’s partner who had never done more than a half marathon before. As I flew down the hill with him and his partner, he said, “You are amazing!” His partner said, “Who? Me?” And Silas told him, “No! Her!!”  Made me smile as I bounded down the hill. Reaching the creek crossing, I waited only briefly for Gary and we trudged through the water. The trail goes about 1/4 mile directly through the creek which felt good at first, until my feet started going numb. Again, Gary pushed me to the finish. I was finally figuring out his M.O. Push me hard to finish, then apologize later for doing so.

    IMG_3894Day 5 – Red Cliff to Vail: 23.6 miles/4200ft elev. gain. Each night after you finish and limp around camp, you don’t think you can take another step. You start questioning how on earth you will wake up and do it again! Somehow, morning comes and you get caught up in the moment. Today, I was fearing the extremely long, extremely high-altitude day. I knew there were probably 11 miles over 11k feet and I’d heard of so many people having altitude sickness on this day. Although I brought a drug called Diamox with me, I decided not to take it since it can also cause dehydration. I’m not the best hydrator to begin with, so I took my chances going without. One thing I did do was take Gingko Biloba for the week. I’d read that it was supposed to help. Maybe it did since I never suffered any altitude issues.

    IMG_3897Red Cliff is a darling town out in the middle of nowhere. We were bused in and the local sports bar and grill served up coffee and hot chocolate. They even had a fire going outside. It was a beautiful day but I was still nervous. The music they’d played at the start every day, Highway to Hell, started playing and we were off. I was immediately surprised I wasn’t tired at all. I began walking faster and faster, even running some. Having started off nearly dead last, I passed many racers in those first 6 miles. Even Gary wasn’t keeping up and that was a first! I actually had to wait for him at the first aid station and he actually had to hustle in! There’s a rule in this race that you must be within 2 minutes of your partner at each aid station and at the finish. Although you’d assume you’d always be together as partners, you’re not. So, sometimes it can be a challenge.

    IMG_3904The road turned to single track and climbed even steeper. I motored right on up and we finally reached an opening with a wonderful view. The trail went up and down for a bit before we reached the back of the Vail ski area and climbed the switchbacks of one of its bowls. Although tiring, it was the most beautiful section of the whole week. The trail wound through wildflowers of all colors while Rockies stood watching in the distance. You could see the train of racers marching up the switchback trail.

    IMG_3915We stopped to take a few pictures, including this one on the rock. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the legs or mental focus to do anything other than stand there and smile. Usually I try to do some kind of crazy pose, but not today.

    IMG_3928The trail continued along the top of the ski ridge, passing by a couple chair lifts and finally finding the singletrack descent through the forest. By now you’re getting a sense that I LOVE running downhill, especially a soft, carpeted forest trail. I hammered down catching up to our friends Rachel and Helen from the UK. They always finished ahead of us but not today! What a sweet couple of “proper” British girls….so I thought. Turns out Rachel flashed her boobies for the photographer. Some people will do anything to get their photo on the nightly slideshow! She’s a fun gal.

    IMG_3933Having lost Gary again, I waited briefly and together, we flew the rest of the way down, running some pretty fast miles. I nearly petered out at the finish but he pulled me through. Working that hard for so many miles with such focus at the end took its toll. For no reason at all, I broke down and cried, The tears just fell and I couldn’t stop them. I suppose it’s a form of stress release–not sure. But I got myself together and felt proud of how we did on the hardest day, so late in the week.

    IMG_3941Day 6 – Vail to Beaver Creek: 20.9 miles/4900ft elev. gain. The night before, I sneezed more times than I have in a long time. Was it allergies of some kind? My head and chest felt heavy, though my legs still felt pretty good. By morning, I realized I had a full-blown head cold. Really? A head cold now? I hadn’t had a cold in several years. But I guess that’s what you get when you’re sharing things at camp. It sure doesn’t help when you need every ounce of energy and every breath you can take to run at altitude.

    IMG_3946This stage was my least favorite for a number of reasons. It wasn’t fun racing while being sick. Any other day and I would have been in bed! As the trail got steeper and my breath got shorter, I got frustrated and sad. I had to keep stopping and let other racers go by. I knew we were losing ground but there was no way I could keep up. It was a slow march up the hill and the only thing I could think about was not quitting. I’d come this far and had done so well. I also owed it to Gary who was the best race partner I could ever ask for. He often towed me up the hills, dragging me by the hand. Though I knew there were times he could have gone much faster, he was always patient with me.

    IMG_3952The ascent went on for about 11 miles and I felt awful the whole way. At that second aid station, the trail turns and goes down a very gnarly singletrack. You could hardly even call it that since it was narrow and cut like a V. It was more like a narrow dry water trough. It took a few hundred yards to get my legs again, but then I was in my zone. I let gravity and momentum pull me down the hill. I passed over a dozen people as I danced and hopped my way down the rocky terrain. Four miles later and I was back in town.

    IMG_3957The route winds through the town of Avon in a sneaky and cruel way. Because you’re back in civilization, you feel like you’re almost done. But really, you have 5 more miles and about 1300 more feet to climb. Leaving the last aid station, you climb once again. Up, up, and more up. Every time you think you see the racers in front of you top out, there’s another hill. I had slowed considerably and now my stomach wasn’t feeling so hot. I forced myself to drink but didn’t want to. Gary was patient, sometimes pulling me and sometimes letting me catch my breath. I just had no energy left.

    IMG_3960After nearly 4 excruciating miles of climbing, the route finally turned downhill. I tried to run and just shuffled, even though I could hear the finish. Even crossing the final bridge with the finish only a hundred yards away, I was walking.  Gary grabbed my hand and pulled me through the line where I just broke down. I cried about how lousy I felt. I cried about the hard work I’d put in all week. I cried that this adventure was over. I cried that I had accomplished something so difficult yet so wonderful. Our racing friends Phil and Barbara were there and gave us big hugs. Our other racing friends Rachel and Helen also gave us hugs. We all hugged celebrating everything we had gone through, everything we had done that week. How can you ever top an epic adventure like that?

    trrun_06_t_0835-zf-10334-79479-1-001-004We finished 22nd out of 36 in our category. The 120 miles and over 20K feet gain took 33 hours to complete. Lessons learned:  1. If there are aid stations, use them and don’t carry a pack full of stuff. 2. Identify your strengths and weaknesses ahead of time and work on the weaknesses (like uphills). 3. Turn around and look at the view once in a while. Who knows if you’ll ever be back!

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    You can view all of the photos here.

    And Now for Something Completely Different

    960 406 Terri Rylander

    My adventure friends from my Grand Canyon and Tahoe adventures have been trying to get me to join them in their adventure in the desert heat in June–Desert RATS. RATS is a six-day stage race that follows the Kokopelli trail from Loma, CO to Moab, UT over 148 miles.

    I’ve heard everything from “it’s the most beautiful trail” to “it’s a slow death march across a scorched desert” and “it’s a long sufferfest with little redeeming value.”  Tent camping with remote (or sometimes no) outhouses and no showers for a week. Plus, the cost of RATS is $1600 for early sign up too, not to mention the cost of getting there and hotels rooms on each side of the adventure. By far, the negative seemed to outweigh the positive. So much so, that I replied that the only part they mentioned that sounded interesting was making new running friends and sitting around afterwards sharing stories.

    So, the suggestion was made to come along anyway as part of the crew. Skip the death march and sufferfest and just enjoy the rest of the experience. It’s no charge for the crew as long as they work and help as needed.  That, and a chance to be with fellow runners was enough to sell me, so I signed up.

    943540_10151699442151131_2035394037_nAt the pre-race meeting at the Gonzo Inn in Moab, I scanned the room to try and learn more about the people I’d spend the next week with. The crowd was a mix of both men and women, aged from late 20’s to late 60’s. There were skinny people and not-so skinny people. But, I’ve learned not to judge capabilities by body type. You’d be surprised.

    2013DesertRATS_tentMonday, we took off for Loma. I rode in the car pulling the trailer of equipment. Two miles out from Loma, we ran out of gas. So, we flagged Sherry down (she’s the staff masseuse). One of the guys rode in the empty seat next to her, while I laid across Sherry’s load in the back, nearly pressed against the ceiling of her truck. The other guy rode inside the trailer we swapped onto her truck! After that sorted out, we went to the trailhead where we met the runners and sent them off before heading to the finish and setting up camp. Twice we lost the big tent as the wind picked it up and rolled it across the desert like it was a tumbleweed!

    Tuesday, I was able to get a run in. I ran back up the trail towards the runners, who by that point were nearly delirious. Since I was going the opposite direction, many asked if I was ok or lost. I didn’t want them spending any extra energy worrying about me, so I’d tell them as they were approaching that I was just there checking on them. I was able to get 15 miles in and it felt great.

    988527_10201455695735220_1452304248_nWednesday was the short run day so I worked the finish line as the bell ringer. Not an overly difficult task, but very rewarding. It was fun cheering the runners in but I could have done without the bugs there.

    1010013_582723975081565_223654793_nThursday was the long day. It’s a 52-mile stage. I really wanted to get a run in but wasn’t sure how. As I was standing at the start line with the group, it occurred to me that I could run the first 9 miles and end up at the first aid station I would have been waiting at anyway. Not prepared, but really wanting to run, I asked and was granted permission. With one bottle in hand, I stood with the group. Had to laugh when a woman freaked out that I couldn’t possibly run with only one bottle! I told her it was ok, I live in the desert and was used to it. I kept up with the leading ladies and had a great run. Nice confidence booster. I then spent the rest of the day working the second aid station.

    944451_10201455784537440_897107305_nFriday was a day off and we all just chilled out, not doing much. Saturday was the last day. After packing and loading the truck and trailer, I got a lift to the first aid station so I could run the rest of the 20 miles with the racers. It was a great run and I had a blast. Toward the end it was pretty warm, but I was cheered to the finish even though I was “just” a volunteer. I did a mock limbo under the finish tape for fun.

    The trip was great and I met a lot of wonderful people who I hope to see again. I was able to get 45 miles of trail running in. It was nice to be on the other side, crewing and supporting, and learning how other distance runners strategize their races.

    Fade to Black

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    “Can I pick up your foot?”  “What?” “Can I pick up your foot?”  “Why do you want to pick up my foot?” This was the confusing conversation we had as I was waking up after passing out for the first time ever.

    My training plan called for a 10 mile run today. And, as usual, I’d much prefer dirt and trails to hard, hot pavement. I also knew it might be a few degrees cooler getting up near the hills rather than to run in town. See, it’s an unusually hot week this week and the daily highs are expected to be near or more than 110 degrees.

    I made a plan to run my cross bajada 11 mile route at 6am. There’s over 1000 feet of climbing in the first 5 or so miles, so it’s a steady grind on the way up. Then the trail gets rocky and technical as it rolls across the bajada and turns back to a smooth, wide dirt road all the way back down.  Though I had planned to go solo, as I’d done a number times before, my running buddy Gary decided he’d join me.

    We met at 5:45am and drove out to the start of the route. “What’s your PR for this route?” he asked. “2:14,” I said.  “Are you going to beat that today?” he replied.  I told him maybe, not wanting to  sound anything more or less than open-minded.  You never know which runner you will show up as on any given day. Sometimes you feel unmotivated to run but end up running your best and other times you are psyched and get out there only to find your legs under full protest.

    We set out just after 6am running at a pretty good pace. The interspersed walk breaks were short, and about 4-5 minutes apart. For some reason, it always takes me about 2-3 miles to get fully warmed up and able to hold a steady run. This route’s climb and Gary’s pace made that even longer. He quickly pulled away. I briefly caught him just before mile 4 but he pulled away again.

    I was working hard and my stomach was not. Hard to say if it was the belly full of oatmeal or the full water bottle I downed before the start, but my stomach was not very happy. I kept sipping my water hoping that would help, but it didn’t.

    I always love the technical part of the trail but this time it was difficult. I was breathing hard and my gut was wrenched, like someone punched me. I took way more walk breaks than I would have liked to but kept it up. The smooth downhill was a welcome but brief relief and with about a mile to go, Gary, who had turned up a side road for extra miles, passed me and yelled, “PR baby!” I knew I was making good time and it would be close but I was really beginning to struggle. I just focused on making nearby milestones and soon the car was in sight.

    I finished in 2:18. Not a PR but a good time, nonetheless. You’d think that your body would breathe a sigh of relief not to be running anymore, only I now was having a hard time catching my breath. I walked around for about 3-4 minutes and started feeling even worse. I took a sip of my protein drink (always bring those for after long runs) and it didn’t sit well. Then my head started really spinning and I felt nauseous.  “I REALLY don’t feel well,” I told Gary. So, I sat down on the ledge of the back seat of the car. My head started tingling. I almost told him I feel like I’m gonna pass out. But, I didn’t want to sound melodramatic and really didn’t believe it would happen.

    Next thing I knew, he was asking me if he should pick up my feet. I couldn’t understand why he would ask that since I was sitting in the car. I opened my eyes and found myself sitting on the dirt!  “How did I get here?” I asked, confused. “You just slumped down and slid out of the car. Did you hear me ask if you were still with me?” Gary asked. “Um…no?” I replied. I guess he asked me a couple times. It really was a strange feeling–just like I went to sleep for a few minutes and woke up.

    I laid down in the backseat and put my feet up on the headrest. Immediately, I felt so much better.

    So, was it because I:

    • ran too hard?
    • ran too fast?
    • ran on a full belly?
    • ran when it was too hot?
    • got dehydrated?

    I’ll probably never know, but chalk that one up to yet another new experience.

    PS. This might explain it. Also read that your blood pressure can drop after intense exercise. The two might be related.

    When people are involved in high intensity exercise over at least several minutes, they require a LOT of blood flow to the working muscles. So the blood vessels in our muscles, especially the legs, dilate to accommodate all this increased blood. Now, our body depends on contraction of our leg muscles to push blood from the legs back up to the heart. During intense exercise our ability to maintain adequate blood pressure depends on this pumping of blood back to our heart by our legs. If you suddenly stop running, the blood return from your legs to your heart suddenly drops and so you don’t have enough blood to pump to your brain–plop, down you go.


    When R2R2R is your B Race

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    I know this whole running and racing thing is new, but I just don’t get how people can stick to a training plan and still do other activities, i.e., live life.  One suggestion I have heard is to categorize your races (or events) into A and B groups. Your A race is your top priority and your B race you do for training and/or fun and it counts toward training for your A race.

    Well, I noodled with this one for a while with the Grand Canyon crossing coming up.  I finally decided it was my B race and the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run is my A race. I guess that made me feel ok about it being part of my overall training plan. My schedule (which I’ve hardly followed at all yet for this A race) calls for longer miles with back to back runs on the weekend, so hey….that works.

    2013MayGC_1On May 16, three of us set off for the North Rim. Gary and I picked Candy up at the Las Vegas airport and took a side trip through Zion on the way. We arrived at the North Rim about sunset, took some requisite tourist snapshots and had dinner inside the lodge. It wasn’t bad and was somewhat reasonably priced. The North Rim park had just opened the day before and the workers at the lodge were still working out some early-season kinks. Back at our cabin, we packed our packs and went to bed in anticipation of an early morning rise and drive to the North Kaibab trailhead.

    2013MayGC_2At about 6:30am, we headed down into the big ditch. I told myself I wasn’t going to run as fast and as hard as the first time, the time I shredded my calves and could hardly walk for a week, including fearing the return trip. Movement down the canyon is pretty easy and almost begs to be ran, so I did. The trail has many steps made of either logs or stones sticking up, most of which you need to jump over. But, I felt pretty good and we did stop for several photos since it was Candy’s first time. I mean, you really do need to take in the scenery!

    2013MayGC_3We cruised along down the North Kaibab trail, following Bright Angel creek. We took Candy on a 1+ mile side trip to Ribbon Falls, which is this really cool water fall that tumbles down a cone-shaped rock that has been overgrown with moss.  There were lots of people there playing in the water and generally having a good time. We hung out for a while, took lots of pictures, and headed back out to the trail, precariously crossing Bright Angel creek over stones instead of backtracking to the bridge.

    2013MayGC_4After heading down the canyon further, through what I call the desert section which is very exposed, we dropped into the box where the canyon narrows. You can mark your progress by crossing the 4 bridges along the way to Phantom Ranch. The day started out warmer than last time by about 10 degrees and we started about an hour later. This concerned me since we were now set to attack the climb out in the afternoon. I was pretty hot already and sweating pretty hard. You can see in the photo how sweaty and red-faced I was. This will turn out not to be a good thing.

    2013MayGC_5I told Candy I was concerned I didn’t have a lot of energy, figuring it was more about the motivation to climb 5000ft in the direct sun. She empathized and we carried on anyway. Gary and Candy were ahead of me for most of the first several miles, but I’m used to that. At some point, Candy kept going and Gary slowed to stay with me. A couple times, we crossed a stream and I got in at every chance!  It was cold, wet, and wonderful.  It cooled my core temperature, but didn’t do much for my stomach that seemed to be getting worse. By Indian Gardens, I was feeling pretty bad. Gary was kind enough to carry my pack for me. How did I get so lucky to find such a great running partner?

    2013MayGC_6By the three mile house, he made me sit and cool down. I was so afraid I was going to throw up. I sat there and tried to breathe steadily and take sips of water. It was an odd thing that immediately after swallowing each sip, my mouth was still as dry as cotton. He also asked me to take an S-cap. I reluctantly said ok and while trying to swallow it, almost lost everything in my stomach.  It took about 10 minutes to settle down before I could get up and sort of feel human again. I’m pretty sure it was a combo of heat exhaustion and dehydration. I stood in the water faucet trying to get cool and wet again, but it wasn’t easy given it’s configuration. We set out again. Even though we knew there was only 3 miles left–3 miles!–I knew it would still probably take 2 hours!

    2013MayGC_7As I knew would happen eventually, we made it out, cleaned up, and went to dinner. Saturday was for sightseeing. Although I did that just 6 months ago, this was more for Candy since she hadn’t been there. Gary has been several times.  Still, it was fun and the three of us laughed and did silly things along the way. We put a do-rag on Gary’s head, we mimicked the signs we found, pretended we were jumping or falling off the cliff, and a number of fun things. You can see the evidence in my photo album.  That night we went back for sunset but, unfortunately, it was somewhat obscured by clouds and wasn’t that great.

    2013MayGC_8Suddenly it was Sunday and time to head back. I was pleased that my calves were not shredded like last time, so I’d be able to run. That’s not to say they didn’t hurt!  But, this is my MOST favorite part of the trip–South Kaibab at sunrise. Although we hit the trail at 5:30am, it was still a little on the late side for sunrise, but the colors were still fabulous! Every single section of this trail is stunning. You float right down with vistas that go for miles. And, with it being only 7 miles long, you’re to the bottom in no time. I really felt great and made sure I drank a LOT.

    2013MayGC_9Once again, I found it odd that the trip back up to the North Rim seemed easier than the trip up the South Rim. Partly I think it’s because you get down to the bottom so quickly from the south and aren’t as tired. Plus, because you get there quicker, it’s earlier in the day and still cooler. Lastly, once you turn the corner away from Bright Angel creek and really start to climb, you’re mostly in the shadows on the narrowing canyon. Still, it’s not easy and I was getting pretty tired. Fortunately, I still felt ok this time. After having to wait for THREE mule trains in a row to pass, I made it out in 7:45. Gary tells me that’s pretty good. 🙂

    2013MayGC_10So, now I’m curious about how long the crossing *could* take if we didn’t stop for pictures and focused on just getting there. I’m guessing I could get somewhere around 7 hours from south to north but not sure about north to south. It would be great if we had support and didn’t have to carry our supplies (food/clothes/sundries) across each way. I would also be sure to be fully rested before each crossing. Lastly, I would start each crossing before sunrise to take advantage of as much coolness as possible. One day I’ll give it a try. But for now, I accomplished my B race. 46 miles and 11K elevation gain. I think that’s pretty good, don’t you?

    The Road from Here to There is Not Always a Straight Line

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    So, I already broke my own commitment of going to the track every Wednesday morning. It started two weeks ago when I ran our club’s Tuesday night Pizza Hut run. It was a beautiful night and I was ready for a challenge and pushed hard for 4 miles. I came in at just over a 10 min/mile pace, which is awesome since the first 2 miles are very much uphill. Come Wednesday morning, I was too tired to consider going to the track and also figured that the fast run the night before counted towards speedwork.

    IMG_1194The rest of that week was spent getting ready to help host the Mesquite Senior Games Track & Field and our club’s Spring 5K. Though we did do a (relatively) short trail run on Thursday, that was it for the week.

    This is my second year participating and helping with Track & Field. The event was pushed out two weeks to help ensure better weather, and we had it. It was a beautiful day and the event went off perfectly. After having arrived at 6am to help set up, I participated in the discus, javelin, and softball throw. I learned how to do these just ahead of the event last year and practiced twice ahead of this year’s event. Even still, I had a great time and bettered my record in 2/3 of the events.

    100_5190That night, we put on the Mesquite Spring 5K. I think the 90-degree weather scared most people away. But the evening was beautiful with the sun having gone down behind the mesa and a gentle breeze blowing. The 19 runners took off and I biked out the photograph them.

    IMG_1241Enter the following week…After months of preparing for big events like these, it can be a bit of a let down. You realize all the things you put off in order to make them happen. In particular was my running schedule. I feel like I hardly ran at all in April. So, Monday afternoon, on the way home from Costco, I stopped for a 6 mile trail run on a trail(dirt road) I’d always wondered about. All alone, I ran/hiked up the trail nearly 1100 feet in just under 3 miles. Beautiful vistas at the top!  So inspired that I ran ALL the way down, 3 miles at a 9:40 pace!

    Tuesday morning I got up and was determined to log some more miles. It was going to be hot, so I set out early – on the road at 7am. The first few miles went fine. It’s a gradual uphill on the way to the dump, which is a 10 mile out and back.  There was no breeze that morning, so when the sun came up, it really started cooking. But, I kept swigging from my bottle and finally made it to the dump–the 5 mile point. Feeling tired but I knew it would be mostly downhill at that point, so turned around and headed back.

    Immediately, I didn’t feel good. I drank more water and kept going. Although net/net it’s downhill, there are a couple uphills. I ended up walking those. Then, as I got to about mile 8, I started feeling really bad. It was hot. I was hot and dizzy, almost delirious.  Began walking 100% and getting concerned I wouldn’t even make it back. I did but paid the price. I was nauseated all day long. After weighing myself, I’d lost over 5lbs in one morning. That’s 4% of my body weight. This is AFTER I drank 20 oz before the run and another 20 oz during the run! That unfortunate experience ruined any chance of this past Wednesday’s track workout.

    We did do a great LONG/HARD trail run on “Dirty Thursday” though. We’d heard about it last January. It’s the Beaver Dam TV Tower trail. 6.5 miles and 3000 feet up to the top of a mountain that houses dishes and towers.  Here’s the video:

    Sadly, we did not get much more running in last weekend. The trail run left my legs shredded!  We did go watch a friend do the St. George Half Ironman and that was cool and inspiring! HOWEVER, I did go to the track on Sunday morning. Did 4×400’s at 2 min or less each with a 200 in between. Best/fastest ever. Oh yeah…then biked for 35 miles. 😉

    So…back to planning….Still trying to figure out how to plan for the long Tahoe race, either 50K or 50M, around everything else I’m doing (Grand Canyon in 2 weeks, etc.) and still work on speed. I need to “straighten the line.” It’s a work in progress!