Sunday, September 24, 2017

UA Mountain Series: Copper Mountain 50K

Disclaimer: I received entry to UA Mountain Running Series--Copper Mountain as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out to review find and write race reviews!

We all know that moving to Colorado, I would be super eager to do a race here.  So when Bibrave was offering entry to the UA Mountain Series and one of the location was Copper Mountain, without thinking I registered for the 50K.  Well I did google Copper Mountain to make sure it was reasonable driving distance from Boulder but otherwise not a thought went into registering.
As it grew closer to race day, I figured I should look at the details.  It was only then that I realized how difficult this race was going to be for me.  The stats went something like this: 7500 feet of gain, average elevation of 10000 feet, reaching 12,000 feet twice and time limit of 8 hours.  Woah.  I mean I'm sure 8 hours is generous for a lot of people but given this would be my first race at this kind of altitude I was pretty worried I would not make 8 hours.  I had two long runs here in Boulder leading up to the race.  Neither one went particularly well, but they were my longest runs at Boulder Altitude and I had only been here a couple weeks or so.  The first one I had tummy issues which could have been one of several issues I had going on that day.  The second one, I felt reasonably well but my speed just wasn't good.  I think over 20 miles I had maybe 2500 feet of gain but it took me 5 hours and that was doing the last 4 or so miles on road so I could make it to pick up the kids on time.  It didn't really give me good confidence that I could make the 31 miles with all that climbing at that altitude in the 8 hours.
In any case, I was still really looking forward to the race.  It was my first Colorado race and it was an awesome mountain race, pretty exciting.  We also had made plans as a family to go together, they would support me and enjoy all the fun activities at the mountain.  Emir had also registered for the vertical race which didn't start until after mine.  I was really looking forward to our first Colorado road trip as a family.

Unfortunately, life happens and sometimes really really sucks.  One week before the race we got some pretty awful news.  Emir's aunt had passed away, pretty unexpectedly.  Literally, 2-3 hours later we received a call saying that Emir's mom was not going to survive her illness that she was going through.  It was all so much at once and we were faced with making a very difficult decision within the hour and that was whether Emir should fly to Bosnia.  Obviously, if there were no other factors, he would have just left that second but last minute airfare from Denver to Bosnia is not reasonable by any means.  But in the end, we knew he had to go or he would never forgive himself.  So there we were speeding to the airport so he could make a 4pm flight that afternoon.  It was pretty awful.  I was an absolute mess.  It was hard enough to have no forewarning that we wouldn't have my husband and their father for two weeks but I just wished I could go to be with our family so bad.  Emir's family has been part of my life since I was 18, they are my family.  It broke my heart so bad to be potentially losing two of our closest members and also not to be able to be there with Emir to support him through one of the most difficult times.   I'll fast forward through the Loooooong two weeks that he was gone to say that his mom somehow has recovered, what an amazingly strong woman.  She's still in the hospital but she's off the ventilator, awake, stable and doing well now :-)
Luckily for me, my mom knew exactly how hard this was for me and the kids.  They were all out of sorts.  They are old enough now, so we had to explain why daddy was suddenly going to Bosnia and it majorly affected them.  My mom came out that Monday and stayed until Sunday.  And even though my neighbors are amazing and I actually could have gotten by without her being here, I just needed her presence and so did the kids.  So for that we are so grateful.  And her being here, meant that I could still do my race which was super important to Emir.  He still wanted me to do it, he knew how worried and upset I was over everything and that skipping it would just be another reminder of what was going on.  He was right.  After finishing the race, the immense struggle that it was, I felt better.  It was some much needed, mountain, ultra, running therapy.
Now, finally, we can talk about the actual race.  The 50K started at 8 so it was easy for me to leave around 5:30 and make it to Copper Mountain around 7.  It was a beautiful drive through and around so many mountains.  I could tell once I got there it was not going to be a big race but that didn't matter to me.  They had signs everywhere so it was super easy to get my bib and UA half zip.  That area was also where bag check was so I knew exactly where to go when I was ready to drop that off.  Copper Mountain has a super cute village including a Starbucks so I totally hit that up while getting ready for the race.  I'm sure a lot of the ski mountains out here have cute little villages and stuff but it's just so different than anything I've seen so to me, it was really awesome.  I also saw how many fun activities there were that the kids would have enjoyed but no time to dwell on that, just focus on what I needed to do.
Standing in the village at the base of the mountain was very intimidating.  I don't think I've ever really stood at the bottom of a 12,000 foot mountain before.  I knew it was going to be so challenging for me but I was just going to give it my best shot.  Before I knew it, we were taking off, basically straight up the mountain.

Those climbs behind me, looked super intimidating

I took my time, hiking mostly, mixing in some jogging when it would flatten out a bit or even a slight decline.  I was towards the back of the 35-40 people.  I chatted with a few people that were towards the back with me.  It seemed like most people had some experience training and racing at these altitudes and they were pretty surprised I had JUST moved here and was doing this race.  The race was two 15.5 mile loops (closer to 16 miles) so the first loop I was super happy with how I did.

It was 7.5 miles up to the top and I was just about 17min/mile pace overall.  I was able to make up a decent amount of time on the back half and came in just under 4 hours.  I was pleased with my time but knew that it was unlikely that I could make the second lap in 4 hours.

There was a group of us that all came in similar time to the halfway point.  The race people told us to hit up the aid station and get moving back up the mountain.  That was one fear off my list that they wouldn't let me go on for the second lap.  I'm guessing there was enough of us and we all were moving so they figured they would let us go.

About 10-15 minutes into the second lap, I heard thunder.  I started to feel something hitting me.  It wasn't rain, what was it??  Then it started pouring hail pellets.  Yup nice sharp little daggers pounding us from the sky.  It also started to get way colder since the sun went away.  I had to dig my long sleeve back out of my pack.  I was freezing and my hands were so swollen I thought they would burst.  I thought for sure at the next aid station they would stop us due to the storm.  Nope.  "everyone ok? keep going!"  That was pretty much how the whole second lap went for me.  

Everytime I came to an aid station, I thought for sure they would stop me because I was definitely not making 8 hours.  But no one said a single thing about time, just asked if I was ok, what I needed and sent me on my way.  I did ask at one aid station about 2 miles from the top, about my swelling.  I've swelled a million times before during ultras but this was WAY worse.  It wasn't just my fingers, it was my whole arms and probably other parts that I wasn't focused on.  I don't think my fingers have ever swelled that big other than my first pregnancy when I had preclampsia so I just wanted to make sure that it was safe to continue like that.  There were medics at every aid station so I went over to them.  They informed me that indeed I had the medical condition "sausage fingers" but that it was fine, drink as much as I could during the rest of the race and take off my Qalo ring.  I really didn't think it could be ok to be that swollen but as I started descending down a bit later, it did start to improve.  My other ailments that were significantly affecting my second loop were headache and nausea.  I knew it was all due to the altitude.  I even felt pretty lightheaded after a significant climb around 28-29 miles.  I had to stop at the aid station a few minutes and they gave me some electrolyte stuff and informed me how altitude takes it out of you much faster and more fuel and fluid is needed at higher altitudes and then said "go finish!"  At the time I felt a bit shocked how there seemed to be no concern for my condition however looking back, obviously they know the red flags to look for and I didn't have any of those.  I was just suffering and pitying myself but if they babied me and I dropped, I probably would have been mad at them, so yes they did the right things.

So I crawled my way to the finish.  I finished in 9 hours and 2 minutes.   If I had to, I probably could have finished a bit faster but with about 4-5 miles left, knowing I was not making 8 hours and also realizing that they were just going to let us finish, I did a lot more walking.   I was feeling pretty bad and didn't see the point in punishing myself more for no reason.  After I finished I really felt like I had done way more than a 50K.  It was hard to eat much that night and I didn't sleep particularly well.  Both of these usually are a result of 100K - 100 mile distance not 50K but this was like no 50K I've ever done.

Even though the second half of this race was a true sufferfest for me, I'm so glad I did it.  All too often I've stuck to things in my comfort zone.  This was definitely WAY out of that zone.  I've often thought that I'm not capable of mountain races and that's back east with much lower altitude.  I know what it feels like now and I know it will get better with more training out here.  I also think it really jolted my body into adjusting more to the Boulder altitude which is a lot lower than Copper Mountain but still way more than anything I'm used to.  All my runs felt pretty hard here but since doing Copper Mountain things have felt better, I've even been hitting some paces that are reminiscent of runs at sea level.

The race itself was well organized and had so many distance options so if you just wanted a little taste of the mountain you could do that as well.  It was definitely a beautiful race.  I wanted to just take pictures of everything.  I also was impressed with how many aid stations there were, all well stocked and plenty of volunteers and safety people.  High altitude is no joke and it was good to see they realize that as well.  I also want to thank the race officials for letting all of us go that finished after 8 hours.  It was a super hard course even at 8-9 hours and we all appreciated being allowed to get our finish.  We were all announced coming in and given our medals and an official finish time.  I would have understood if we were given DNFs but since this was the first year for the race, I appreciate them giving leeway after seeing a chunk of the racers needing a bit more time.  A sign of a good race and good RD is one that makes reasonable adjustments.  This is a race I would definitely do again.

Now, next up for me, complete opposite end of the spectrum is the Chicago marathon in a couple weeks.  Completely flat road race.  It's been a long time since I raced a marathon and I don't feel that I particularly trained for a fast marathon but I have been doing lots of tough training at altitude and people claim that makes a huge difference.  When you are running every day at 5000-6000 feet, it's hard to imagine yourself feeling so much different at sea level especially when you have never had that experience yet.  I can only imagine myself feeling like I feel right now when I run.  But I am looking forward to getting out there and giving it my best shot.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Colorado Life

Monday afternoon marked two full weeks since we arrived here in Boulder.  I've posted a few pics here and there on social media despite wanting to post 1000 and decided to use my blog for something other than running for a change, well let's be honest it will include some running too but anyway I decided to share our first couple weeks experiences and photos here for anyone interested.
Got to spend a little time in Iowa with my BRF!

LOTS of time in the car
Two Mondays, we pulled up to our house here in Boulder, exhausted and gross.  We had packed my forester to the gils as we totally underestimated how much stuff we still had left to bring.  Anyway we all carried a few things in and as soon as we walked in, immediately I knew we were home.  Emir had decorated the whole house with our pictures, knick knacks and arranged everything in all the rooms.  It looked great and the kids were so excited to walk into their home rather than a weird house full of boxes.
Welcome home!!!
 Emir went back outside to get a few things and came in calling for Niko and Una saying he had something for them, it was a 7 year old boy from across our circle that we now live on.  Turns out he also has an 8 year old brother and 2 year old sister.  The kids have quickly become inseparable riding bikes, going to the park, back and forth between our houses, making trades.  It's amazing how quickly kids bond and to have a kid come running in our house within 5 minutes of arriving was just the sign I needed to know "this is all going to be ok and work out."

I spent the better part of the first week at Target and doing things around the house.  One of the things I LOVE about it here is how much more freedom kids can have.  We live on a circle now which is connected to a couple other circles with no outlets so there is very little traffic plus there's sidewalks EVERYWHERE here.  There are also paths (biking, running, walking) EVERYWHERE so the kids can go many places without ever having to encounter a road.  Therefore,  the kids were riding and running around with their new friends all week which allowed me to get some things done, obviously still not as much as if they were at school but enough. 
path at the park

LOVE the views at the park

Aside from visiting Target, we have been enjoying the LARGE park that is less than a mile away.  It's beautiful there, gorgeous views, a lake and obviously awesome playground stuff for the kids.  A side note, currently there are goats at the park which at first we didn't understand why however we have since learned these are actually goats that are rescued from all over the country and employed by the city of Boulder.  They are called Mutton Mowers.  They also have a couple llamas that hang out with the goats to protect them from the riffraff.   I think it's so great but so funny.  The goats are basically hired as lawnmowers for the city.  I'm a little obsessed with them and may offer to go to the park more often because of them ;-)  hahahaha


Bubbles!! I wish she could live at our house

The city of Boulder has an incredible recreational program.  There's so many programs and also awesome facilities.  Last weekend we visited the East Boulder Community Center.  They have the usual workout equipment but also a rock climbing wall and a kick ass pool.  They have an 8 lane lap pool as well as a fun pool with a gigantic slide, lazy river and basketball net.  Niko has decided to take an intro to rock climbing class there to learn the basics and see if it's something he wants to get into as they have some amazing programs here for that. 


running with the cows

On Saturday we went to the Liquid Mechanics 3rd anniversary party.  It's in one of the other towns nearby, Lafayette.  We had a great time as there was tons of kids and live music, oh and the beer was pretty darn good too. 

Obviously I didn't go the whole first week without running, duh.  And I probably don't need to say it, but running here is AHHHHMAZING.  I mean yes there's been a couple times I just wanted to quit after a mile or two which I'm sure is related to adjusting to the altitude and the fact that we have been traveling for like a month straight but no matter how shitty the run, it's still a million times better than any other run I've had.  The scenery, the trails, it's just all so awesome.  And I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the community.  There's just running groups and group runs galore. Plus everyone here runs even if it's just a little bit each week.  I've already been asked by a couple neighbors to go on some short early morning and evening runs.  I also joined the Boulder MRTT (moms run this town) before we actually moved here to start making a few connections.  I even ran with my now friend Aubrey a couple times this spring.  Last week they posted a 15 mile run for sunday morning and I had 18 so I figured it was a perfect chance to meet more ladies from the group.  Everyone was so welcoming and I had the best time.  Back in PA, it was just so hard to fit in group runs or runs with a friend because they just didn't work with our schedule and usually I have to drive somewhere to get to one.  BMRTT is so perfect since everyone is a mom and has a million things so even tho it sucks, we all met at 5:30 so we could get our long run in and still be there for all the kid activities of the day.  Everyone is pretty much in the same boat so they all help each other out to make sure the runs get done.  And icing on the cake, I've made like 10 new running friends in about 2-3 hours of running together. 

MRTT running friends

Of course now there is a whole new world of trail racing available to me, all within such reasonable driving distances.  I have actually already signed up for my first Colorado race.  It is one the new UA Mountain running races.  I'll be running the 50K at Copper Mountain on September 9th.  It's only 1.5 hours away from Boulder and the race starts late enough in the morning that it's an easy drive race morning.  Since Copper mountain is a huge resort mountain, there are tons of activities year round so the family has decided to join me in on the fun.  I know it's going to be super tough since I haven't been training at altitude long but I'm still excited to take part in my first Colorado Mountain race. 

passed by Copper Mountain on the way to Leadville

While we are on the topic of trail racing, the infamous Leadville 100 took place this past weekend.  We made a day trip out there since it's only 2 hours from Boulder.  The town itself is so cute!  We spent the morning exploring town, the National Mining Musuem and of course The World's Highest Craft Brewery ;-)   The afternoon and evening we spent at Twin Lakes which is where the aid station for miles 39 & 60 is.  The scenery there is beautiful and the aid station is situated right around a few little stores so it was very convenient for those of us spectating.  I was impressed by the sheer number of people there watching and cheering.  It was a very fun atmosphere and we got to hang out with some friends as well.  I know it will be a giant undertaking if I get in but being at the race definitely made me decide to enter the Leadville lottery for 2018.  I can't live so close to one of the best 100 milers and not do it!  Plus we actually have way more crew and pacers at our disposal here in Colorado than we did in PA.  I know I would have TONS of support if I get in.  fingers crossed!!

spent some time with Jess while she crewed Tim

And since it took me so long to get back to writing this, the kids have started school.  Last Monday we went for an hour to meet the teachers.  We ended up meeting a bunch of other kids and their parents, some actually live right here in our little neighborhood, hence how I ended up with 7 kids in my house monday after the visit to school.  Every year Niko is always so nervous to start school even though he was in a small school with all the same kids the last 3 years.  This year was so different.  He was so excited.  He said he loved that so many of the kids in his class live so close and he can walk to their houses.  He also was super pumped that he was going to ride his bike to school. 

school time!

The lifestyle is just so much different here.  So relaxed, so outdoors, so active and everyone is incredibly friendly and happy.  I knew it was a perfect fit for Emir and I but it's become very clear very fast that it's a great fit for Niko as well.  Not to say that it isn't for Una but she is still so young that it can be difficult to get as good of a gage on her.  That said she seems to be enjoying herself and she's ridden her little minnie mouse training wheel bike more in two weeks of being here than the entire time she's owned that bike.  And this past weekend, Emir attached her little bike chariot to mine so now I can ride her to school too.  She LOVES it, giggling and all kinds of princess stuff in there with her.  And it's a great workout for me!

All in all, even though it hasn't been long, I think it's pretty safe to say, this was the right decision.  We didn't make the choice to move lightly.  It was a better career opportunity for Emir but it wasn't something we absolutely HAD to do.  If it was only he and I, we would have made the decision to move in two seconds as hello obviously we are mountain loving, trail loving crazy ultra runner people but we had a lot of other things to consider.  It's not going to be easy to be away from all our family and friends but now being here for this short time, I know that this was where we were meant to be.   We were trying to live a Colorado lifestyle without the Colorado but we were given an amazing opportunity to actually live that Colorado life here and I'm so glad we took it. 

family hike right outside our door

Pearl Street


family hike at Chautauqua

fun on pearl street

view from our deck

PS If anyone wants to join me at Copper Mountain, use the code BIBRAVE40 to save 40%