Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

March 7, 2018

Spartan Las Vegas, 3-4 Mar 2018

I've gotten the Spartan bug.   My first Spartan race was last August up in Eden, UT.  It was hot, it was really hot, and the route went straight up a ski hill and back down again, and the whole way around I was just dreaming of the finish, where we got to dunk under a wall in a puddle of dirty but refreshing water.   I wasn't sure I liked the race, but when I realized how well I had done overall, I figured this style of obstacle racing suits my strengths and why not try to do well at it?

So in 2018 I've signed up for the Spartan race pass...I can do as many races as I want this year, including multiple race distances in the same weekend!    So sy first race was in Vegas.  Actually, the race venue wasn't in Las Vegas, it was near Mesquite.  It wasn't in Nevada either, it was across the border in Arizona.  So everyone was calling it Vegazona.    https://www.spartan.com/en/race/detail/3129/overview

Beyond the obstacles, nothing about the race was similar to Utah.  It was flat, sandy, low elevation, and cool.   I had signed up to race the Elite class, which meant I had to do all the burpees and not get any help on the obstacles.   It also meant I could start early in the morning, avoiding heat and lines and hordes of people on the course.

My first race on Saturday morning was the Super, 8.6 miles with about 30 obstacles.  With a 7:45 start time, it wasn't hot, not too windy, and the course was dry.   It started with about 4 trips up and down the steepest hills in the area, only about 100 feet high but even some of the elites were crawling up them!   Within the first mile, we had already carried a sandbag, climbed the rope, and were headed to the dunk wall.   Luckily I was warm by then and didn't mind getting soaked.  My shoes weren't too happy though and I had to take a second to tighten up the laces as the water squelched back out.

The Olympus Wall

Then we were off on a long sandy running loop near the Virgin River.   Breaking it up was a particularly memorable barbed wire crawl in a sloppy muddy cow pasture.   It took quite a while and I emerged coated in slimy goo 1/2 inch thick all down my front side.  I was happy I hadn't tried to roll through it and get it all over my back too!   Other people had, and rather than bringing us to the river quickly to clean it back off, we ran another 3 miles first, enough that the mud dried and cracked while still tenaciously clinging to my skin.  Along the route was a Farmer carry, an 8 foot wall, and a few other barriers to our path.   Woe to the people trying to recognize their friends as we came back near the main spectator area, as we were all basically brown and muddy.  In quick succession, I crossed the Olympus wall,  hit the spear throw (YAY!!!!), and made it to the Twister.  My nemesis.  One missed grip and I fell off, to serve my only burpee penalty of the day.

Finally we got to the river, where at least my legs and shoes got washed off and pounds lighter with the mud gone.   I chose to keep my muddy clothes dry, as having wet hands on obstacles can be a detriment.  From there we went straight to a sandy barbed wire crawl, so we got dirty, bruised and scraped all over again.  This time everyone arrived at the final few obstacles covered in red sand and grinning that the finish line was near.  

My final time was 2:01, good enough for 32 out of 50 of the elites, but about top 50 of 1500 women overall.   I concluded quickly after seeing the results, that my best chance of qualifying for the World Championship in Lake Tahoe was to move to the Age Group category in my next race rather than running Elite.  I need to be in the Top 10 to qualify, I think I will easily do that in Age Group but could never get there in Elite.  Watching those speedy women pull away from me at the start was expected but still a little hard on the psyche!

On Sunday morning, I showed up to do it all over again, but this time I had company.  Jim was running his first Spartan race today along with our friend Sylvia!   It was a little chilly this morning, and the water obstacles early in the race looked colder than ever.  Sylvia and I had the Elite start time of 7:45, and it was really hard to shed our clothes even after a little run to warm up.    Sylvia is a world class runner, and took off at the start with the leaders, even slowing down a little because she got in the lead and didn't know how to do all the obstacles!   But Spartan isn't just about speed, and doing a couple of sets of burpees let me almost catch up to Sylvia again at my slow plodding pace.   I was warm when I got to the first water obstacles, but it was a true shock putting my head underwater on the dunk wall!

Sunday's race was a Sprint, and only about 4 miles long.  They had cut out the long sandy trails from yesterday's course, including the muddy barbed wire crawl and the 8 foot wall.  YAY!!!!   YAY!!!!    But I missed the spear throw, I hit it square but it didn't stick.  Doh.  Burpees.  5 minutes later I swung my way across the twister, agonizingly slowly, and made it to the very last hold before I fell off.  Doh.  Burpees.   I was trying to run faster because this was a shorter race, but 60 burpees slowed me down a lot.  The upstream plod in the water was tough too... the river was slightly higher this morning due to a shower the night before.

The final rings obstacle was a joy to cross...I felt like a monkey swinging through the trees.  I finished in 1:07, which was slower than I hoped for.   Once I jumped the fire and congratulated Sylvia (who had finished 10 minutes faster), I raced to get my gear and go find Jim on the course.  He had started 45 min after us, and the timing was great for me to meet up with him as he got to the spear throw.   His face showed that he was having a tough race, but he wasn't going to give up either.   The men's obstacles are slightly different from the women's, including heavier sandbags, higher walls, heavier buckets and atlas stones, and a tire flip that is rumored to be 450 pounds.   I'm always glad to go to the lighter options!   I met up with Jim again at the tire flip, which he managed to do with every ounce of effort he had left.  Then he was really happy to get through the ring swing, which we had practiced in the garage over the winter.  

The sign that we might be doing more of these races is that we immediately started talking about how we could train better for some of the obstacles that were surprisingly tough, like the rope climb and the climbing hold traverse on the Olympus wall.   And how to keep the sand and mud out of our shoes!

Here's the Course map for the weekend, 8.6 miles on Saturday, and 4.1 on Sunday:


Super  https://admin.chronotrack.com/event/results/event/event-28743

Sprint https://admin.chronotrack.com/event/results/event/event-28791#

Oh, and the Utah Obstacle Racing team is one of the largest in the country, and together we managed to nap the "Largest Team" Award both days on this Spartan Race....pretty nice, considering the award comes with a tent and tables, free spectator pass, free bag check, and a plaque, among other things.   Check out our team "Warrior State of Mind" on Facebook if you are curious!

The rope climb
Slip wall right after the dunk wall!

Sylvia leading the way in the Sprint up the first hill!
The men's tire flip is a beast!

January 29, 2018

Arches Ultra 50k, 27 Jan 2018

My first race doing the KETO diet was a SUCCESS!  More about that below.

I'm the best blogger ever!  Or at least I am if you don't like too many things spamming your inbox...I haven't posted anything for at least 6 months.    Perhaps not writing for so long will make me funnier.

I've fallen in love with Spartan racing after doing my first one last year.    Rolling in mud, flipping tires, and swinging across monkey bars appeal to me somehow.   That and I seem to have some affinity for the sport, so this year I've signed up for a Spartan Race pass and I'll try to get in as many of them as I can.  Perhaps I'll even qualify for the world championships in Lake Tahoe in September!

In the meantime, my dog watches me doing lots of pull-ups in the garage, and I've built a tall wall in the backyard.  It's been there for a couple of months already and I've managed to make it over exactly....once.   I also glued together a spear and hung a hay bale, and I try to avoid spearing the chickens when I practice throwing it.   The dog was banished immediately, when he thought I was tossing a toy and almost became a lawn-dart on my very first throw.   Sheesh.   Now I manage to hit the hay-bale occasionally, and perhaps will avoid 30 penalty burpees in a race here or there.

Spartan races are coming up soon, but I couldn't resist entering the Arches Ultra.  Held just outside of Arches NP, on single track bike trails near Moab, UT, it's one of my favorite places in the world.   The weather was perfect for winter running.   Low 20s in the morning and 40s by afternoon.   This was the inaugural race for Arches, but Mad Moose events puts on great races every year and this one is a keeper I hope!

I jumped out of the truck at the last minute wearing hat, gloves, fleece, and windbreaker, but my feet still felt like frozen bricks for a few miles.  I've been battling nerve pain in my little toes, but they were really too cold to feel anything for a while.   The 50k was pretty flat, meandering around the Moab Brands and Klonzo trail areas.  We ran over a lot of slick rock, which was difficult footing with lots of bumps.  Getting on nice even sandy jeep trails occasionally felt really nice!

The day warmed up really fast, and I resisted stopping to remove layers but eventually had to strip down.   My pack bulged with extra gear and when I had to get out my water bladder for a refill, I spilled a yard sale worth of clothes on the ground.   By the last couple of hours I was running in just a t-shirt and it felt amazing in the calm sunshine!

Ok, so Jim and I started the KETO diet about 6 months ago.    Keto, Atkins, Low Carb, Paleo, Plant Paradox diets...they are all similar although they argue about the details.   From the multitude of books I've now read about all of these (I like to be educated about my choices) they are all much more healthy choices than the old low fat, high carb crap that the government has been peddling to us for 50 years.   Go ahead, eat some bacon already.

What do we eat?   Lots of good fats, lots of veggies, moderate meats, no wheat or sugar or vegetable oils.   The amazing thing?  I no longer crave sugary things like twizzlers.   Knock me over with a leaf I still can't believe the cravings are gone.   I sleep better, I feel better, I don't get hangry, and my weight stays right where I want it.

The theory is that when you don't eat carbs, your brain switches over to burning Ketones instead of glucose.  This can be made directly from your fat cells, giving you an almost unlimited amount of energy during exercise.  The hard part is that this takes some time to happen.  A few days to switch over (you might feel like crap), and then 6 weeks to a year for the body to fully adapt.   Eventually physical abilities should be the same or maybe better than on glucose but it is a process.  We've done it long enough now that we can eat a few carbs and still stay in that fat burning mode.  We check through a cheap hack from Amazon...this cheap breathalyzer measures breath ketones too.  Just don't drink and keto together they both register!

The unknown of this diet?  And the reason why I signed up for a long race.   What to eat while racing?    I had a half marathon in August where I got it wrong.  13 miles of abdominal cramps while pinching my side and trying to run was, um....yuk.

This time I did my research and discovered VESPA.  It's some strange rocket science bee pollen that enhances fat burning even if you aren't trying to do Keto.   So theoretically you can drink this before/during a race, then eat less and burn more fat.

I've also been using Generation UCAN products.   Originally developed for kids with hypoglycemia who couldn't sleep all night without needing to wake up to eat, UCAN starch is called a super starch. It's an incredibly long-chain starch, and has no effect on insulin, unlike normal sugars and starches.

The best advice on eating for an ultra marathon is on the Vespa website.   It's specific and comprehensive.  http://www.vespapower.com/ofm/what-is-ofm/

I decided to follow their advice, and deviated from my low carb diet the night before the race.  Along with a steak and side salad, I had a few bites of baked potato smothered in butter and a dinner roll, also smothered in butter.  Then I crossed my fingers I wouldn't get sick from the sudden change, and went to bed.   Vespa calls this a "carb sneak" to add to my glucose stores for energy during the race.

So before the race for breakfast, I had a packet of Vespa, some butter in my hot cocoa powder, and a UCAN bar.   Chocolate I think, although they all taste a little chalky and I don't eat them for the taste.

During the race, I drank another packet of Vespa every 2 hours, and took a bite of UCAN bar every hour or so.   I also had a bit of potato at an aid station, and a couple potato chips.   They were really salty and didn't make me want to eat any more.  In my water bladder was a HEKA caffeine packet with some electrolytes, and later a Skratch electrolyte packet.    I even ate a tiny snickers bar, but passed up my normal fare of gummy bears and junk food.

Thats it.     300-400 calories for breakfast.     About 600-700 calories during the race, with 2 1/2 liters of water.   I didn't feel hungry, I didn't bonk, my stomach felt great and I ran the whole thing.   I ran as fast or faster than usual on very little training (13 miles was the furthest I had run, and that was back in August six months ago!).  Lately I've been doing more short running intervals and very little total mileage while emphasizing recovery.   I guess it worked!    In short, I was VERY happy with my Keto fat-burning food choices.

Back to the race, the scenery was amazing, with views of Arches NP and the La Sal mountain range.  There were small patches of snow/ice on the ground on north facing slopes, but otherwise the trails were clear and dry and amazing.   I power hiked with my trekking poles up a couple of decent hills, but otherwise focused very carefully on my footing on the uneven slick rock.

By the last few miles I had exceeded my training, and my running speed and efficiency was compromised.   Jim saw me just as I could see the finish line across the road, but....he  grabbed my pack as I had to hobble a very long mile under the underpass on the bike trail rather than dash across the highway like a crippled rabbit.   With the elasticity gone in my legs, it's probably better that the race forced us on the underpass as I would probably have become road kill.

I finished the 31 miles in 6 hours 13 min, which was 15th out of 72 women.      Definitely I'll think of doing this race again next year as long as there isn't too much snow and ice on the ground!

August 6, 2017

Spartan Super Race, Eden Utah, 5 Aug 2017

My first obstacle race.   I've done just about everything else, but this new obstacle craze has eluded me and I had to see what all the fuss was about.  Plus, since getting Mono in March, I have been doing a lot more strength training instead of cardio, so I felt ready for a challenge.  I am also happy to report that I finally am back to 100% after 5 months of taking it easy.  Darn Mono.

The Spartan race was in northern Utah just a couple of hours from home.  We combined it with a dog agility show in the same area that weekend, and Spot and I both got a good workout :)    

There are three distances of Spartan, the Sprint (3-5 miles), Super (8-10 miles) and Beast (12-14 miles).   I chose the middle distance because that was the distance offered at the race in Utah.   Perhaps someday I'll try the other ones.  

So...no experience in these races, but I knew from watching the race on TV that gloves and calf sleeves might be handy.   Plus I had been working on pull-ups a lot.   It was hot on race day, in the 90's even though the race was held at the Nordic Valley ski resort.   

If you need help on an obstacle, get a friend to push on your derriere!
The Spartan race series attracts a HUGE amount of people.   We parked at least 1/2 mile from the bus shuttles in a big field, stood in line to get on the bus, and joined throngs of people heading for the start.  My start was at 11:45 am, but waves of up to 250 people had been starting every 15 minutes since 7:30 and would continue all afternoon!  4000 races would eventually finish the event.  That's big.  

So a midday start, it was really hot, and I was hoping some of those famed water obstacles would be first.  Unfortunately, I stayed dry for quite a few miles of the race as we went up to the top of the ski lifts and back down.  Obstacles were interspersed along our climb up the ski hill, and it was STEEP.  We went over, under, and through walls and haystacks, carried buckets of rocks and sandbags, traversed across walls, and crawled under barbed wire.  Uphill under barbed wire.  Like hundreds of feet of it.  My least favorite part of the race was the barbed wire.   It lasted forever.  And got me dirty, which I had not been until then.  

Mostly we were hiking up steep dusty hills along the ski runs.  I was amazed at how many people I was passing, and even more fell behind as ran back downhill.  With hundreds of people starting every 15 minutes there were racers all around me.  

Then we climbed up, over, under and through various types of walls.  We carried heavy Atlas stones, flipped a tired, climbed a rope, hoisted a sandbag in the air, and well, you get the idea.   Each event is different and the obstacles are never the same either. Check more out here: https://www.spartan.com/en/race/obstacles/obstacle-details

I managed to avoid doing any Burpees (a pushup then a jump in the air, 30 times in a row) as punishment for not finishing an obstacle.  At least until the last mile, when I was unable to get across a twisting monkey bar.  I'll have to train harder for that one next time.  I also proved unable to throw a spear into a hay bale.   If you find me looking to buy hay in the future, I'm probably using it for spear practice rather than needing bedding for the chickens!

The final obstacles took us through a pond, and across muddy ditches.  FINALLY, I got wet. The water felt amazing!   Too bad it was so near the end, even drinking a cup of water at 6 aid stations I kept getting hot, dusty and thirsty.  

At the finish, we ran and jumped over fire.  Cheesy?   Actually, for most American this type of race provides a challenge and an adventure that maybe is hard to get any other way.   It was fun.  

My results are atypical, if I do say so.   I finished 36th woman out of 1280, and 236 overall out of 4000 racers!    I'm still not sure if I like this type of racing, but it seems to suit my strengths...perhaps I will try the Competitive category next time.    Even Jim liked the look of the race and said he will join me, too! 

Lots of burpees....

My wave starts with hundreds of people

The kids had their own race with mini obstacles!

July 5, 2017

High Creek Canyon Backpacking

Welcome back (to me).

Mononucleosis.   Yuk.  You're supposed to get that in college, not at the age of 30 something.   Hah.   Much complaining later, I knuckled down to really try to NOT DO ANYTHING physically demanding for as long as it took to get better.   I skipped a half marathon, a 50 mile run, and my favorite adventure race of the year, and didn't run a step for 2 months.   That's probably the longest I haven't run in 20 years.

I found out I could do strength workouts (slowly), and I took the dog for lots of walks.  I tried to keep training dog agility with Spot, but I would end a 30 second run wheezing and trying to catch my breath.  Wait...I always do that.  

Many times I thought I was better, and then I would try a 1 mile run, and then need to sleep for hours the next day, my energy was gone.  It's been 3 months now, and I think I'm finally getting back to normal.  Yay!

So we canceled all big summer plans which included lots of biking and hiking, and we are enjoying being in Utah for a hot summer.   Which includes exploring Utah now that I am feeling better.   I had been getting the itch to go backpacking, and we thought taking the dog with us would be fun.  

The Wasatch mountains are beautiful, but they tend to be steep and dry and not have many good places to camp.   I wouldn't say they are flatter in northern Utah, but we found a hike next to a stream, which would be good for Spot.  

High Creek Canyon lived up to its name as we drove up a narrow rutted gravel road to the trailhead.  The creek was in spring flood stage, and I hope I remembered correctly that all the creek crossings on the trail had bridges!   The snow this year had been almost 200% of normal so now that it was all melting, the streams were high everywhere.

We had the trail mostly to ourselves with only a couple of cars in the lot.    I kept Spot on the leash as we started up the trail, partly because of the fresh cow poop everywhere and partly because I was being overly caucious about his safety.  The first two crossings of the creek were on nice new bridges, but the third one was a rickety old thing that we had to cross on hands and knees ourselves.   The water was over Spots back and moving very fast.  I thought to carry him across the stream, and walked across myself to see how it felt.  Barely keeping my balance with my walking poles, I figured a wiggly 50 pound dog was a recipe for disaster.  The bridge it was.  Spot was cajoled to sit on my lap, and then I inched my way across.

We really hoped there were no more sketchy crossings.  Of course, there were, but the water was lessening as we walked up the canyon, and the logs were just big enough Spot could get himself across with a firm hand on his collar.  

The trail was a little sketchy too.  This early in the season, no one had done any trail maintenance except the cows, and there were large deadfalls to walk around.  It was a very Wasatch-y hike.  Dense forest, steep trail, thick underground, and no flat spots anywhere.   Certainly the opposite of walking through the Redwoods or across an alpine meadow.   

Somehow a horse had gone up and around all the deadfalls, and we heard about it later meeting a runner with his two dogs coming down the trail.  He had been up to our destination for the night and back again, saying that the lake was still mostly frozen.  A couple with two horses had tried to make it up there on a snowfield, and the horse had fallen and cut itself up.  They were slowly limping back down the trail. 

We met them a mile or so later, and could see that it would be a long slow descent for them.  It was already 6 at night so hopefully they would be able to make it down before dark.  We were hoping to find a campsite before dark, and had seen only 1 place in 5 miles that was flat and clear enough to pitch a tent.  When in doubt, go higher, and the trail complied.  It was steep, but the views opened up of the valley and several waterfalls.  There was evidence of some really major avalanches over the winter, with tress across the valley bent at 90 degrees or snapped off.  

Just below the lake we reach snow crossings and decided that we really didn't feel the need to camp by the frozen lake.  We found a decent flat spot across what was now a really tame High Creek and Spot watched us set up camp.  He wasn't too excited about his rehydrated dinner, but did enjoy digging in the dirt.  Right before crawling into the tent for the night.   Luckily he's a self-cleaning dog.

Our tent is small even for two people much less a dog, and our gear is lightweight and fragile.  We tried to cover the bottom of our sleeping mats with a foam pad to give him a place to sleep.   Spot had other ideas.  Given the opportunity to be close to us, he decided to lean against Jim's feet all night and lay his head on the very delicate mat Jim was sleeping on.  Somehow the sharp teeth and nails didn't pop anything all night, but no one except Spot got a good nights sleep!

We woke up to him snuggled between our bags.  
It was fairly chilly out but this is a dog who lays in snowbanks for fun.

A nice swim in Bear Lake on the way home to really tire the dog out.  
He didn't move much for 2 days.

This isn't Bear Lake, but it wants to be.  Actually, it's Silver Lake, closer to home.  It's pretty too.

And then....bacon covered Aspargus.  Because I can.