My New Coach

Over the past 6 race seasons, I have struggled to put together and follow my own training plan.  Sure, I found marathon, triathlon, and ultramarathon training plans online, but they were always very general, and not tailored to my specific strengths and weaknesses.  I also struggled with a major lack of accountability.  Besides writing training updates on here and recording workouts in my ridiculously long-running excel training log, I had no one to answer to but myself.  And I’m really good at talking myself out of things.  REALLY, really good.

So this year, I decided I was sick of squeaking my way through my races on the bare minimum of training.  It was time to get a coach.

But who?

There is certainly no shortage of coaches out there, so I had a lot of options.  After doing some research, and talking with some local runner friends, I decided to work with Michele Yates, from Rugged Running.  I like Michele’s coaching philosophy of “quality, not quantity,” as I have often struggled to carve out large chunks of time for training – especially now that I’m back in school again.  I also heard great things about her from other local ultrarunners who work with her.  Plus, Michele’s familiarity with the Run Rabbit Run 100 miler (she won it in 2013 – not too shabby) was great, since that’s the one I’m working towards again this year.

I’m super stoked to start working with Michele this week!  I got my training plan from her a couple days ago, and am excited to dive in and see how it goes.  I won’t be posting the nitty gritty details of the plan on here, since that’s Michele’s proprietary information, but I will continue to write weekly training recaps (general things and how stuff felt) and race reports.

Road to 100: Week 2 Recap

Monday:  Rest day!

Tuesday: Boulder got 16″ of snow Monday night, so things were a little tough for running today (it was also pretty icy under there).  So in an effort to not spend the entire day hunkered under a blanket, I put my bike on the trainer and spun out some miles.

Wednesday – Friday: I got ZERO runs in for the rest of the work week.  I spent all my time busting my butt to make some progress on my research and writing a paper draft to submit for publication, and sacrificed my run time instead.  Normally I wouldn’t stress about cramming in the work so much, but I knew I was going to be away for part of the following week (hut trip!), and wanted to make sure I got a decent chunk of work done beforehand so that didn’t cause a problem.  Boo, responsibilities and stuff.

On the plus side, I feel like I actually got some work done, so that was satisfying.

IMG_8243Saturday: At this point, that 16″ of snow we got early in the week had been reasonably packed down on some trails.  I spent a good portion of the morning scanning trail reports on facebook (the Boulder County Trail Conditions page is great for this), and settled on Heil Ranch, since my usual runnable favorites were sounding impassable.  I figured the trees at Heil Ranch would have kept the drifts to a minimum, so it might not be as bad as the others.

Fortunately, I was right!

The trail at Heil Ranch was beautifully packed snow all the way up to the top of the hill, about 2.5 miles from the trailhead.  I enjoyed the absolutely gorgeous day, and ended up stripping off three layers, down to my t-shirt.  The climb to the top of the hill is gradual enough that I can run a decent bit of it, so this was some nice hill training.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get in the 10 miles I had hoped for.  When I got to the top of the hill, the packed trail narrowed and became a choppy, less packed mess, and wasn’t very runnable.  Clearly, fewer people had come up this way than the trails down below.  Instead of running the big loop, I turned back and bombed my way back down the hill to the trailhead, for a 5 mile run.  Better than nothing, but I was a bit disappointed with myself for not pushing through the mess and just sucking it up.  I need to get better about that.

Sunday: I spent the morning working on stuff for school, and then headed over to a superbowl party that evening (go Broncos!).  Overall, it was a fun night, except for later when I got food poisoning from something at the party, and ended up miserable, shaky, weak, and sick, and curled up in bed.  Not a great end to my week.

What worked well this week: Not much, unfortunately.

What didn’t work well this week: Everything?

What I struggled with: As always, balancing work and training.

What I will do to improve next week: Try to get out for some morning runs before going to work, but a good portion of my week will be backcountry skiing instead of running.  This will completely kick my ass though, and is great cross training.

Total weekly mileage: Between the storm and work, a pitiful 5 miles.  I can do so much better than this.

Homemade Dill Pickle Cashews

Many years ago, my best friend got me totally hooked on Target’s/Archer Farms’ dill pickle cashews.  Unfortunately, our love was short lived.  One fateful day, they were discontinued.  To this day, every time I am in Target, I scan the nut section in the hopes that they brought them back – but no luck.  (I just found these online, but have never seen them in the store, and they are a different brand, so I don’t know how good they are.)

Finally one day I decided to take matters into my own hands:

DSC_0138Dill Pickle Cashews

  • 2 cups roasted cashews
  • 1 tbsp dried dill
  • 1/2 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tbsp onion powder
  • 1/2 – 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp pickle juice (I just pour this straight out of a jar of pickles)

Combine all ingredients and shake to coat cashews.  Try not to inhale them all at once.  🙂

Thinking about grad school in the sciences?

I am currently a third year Ph.D. student in geology.  Lately, I’ve found myself talking with a lot of prospective grad students and friends interested in going back to school.  By now, I’ve managed to sort through my thoughts and experiences from the past few years, and have found some things I really wish I had known or thought to do back when I started.  So in an effort to reach as many prospective grads as possible, I thought I would take some time to put together something that I hope people find useful.  Some of these things may be geology-specific, but I’ve tried to keep it applicable to the sciences in general.

So you’re thinking about grad school?

Before applying

If you still have some time before you will finish your undergraduate degree, there are several things you can do to make yourself as competitive as possible when you go to apply to programs:

Take whatever courses you can that apply directly to the field you are interested in.  This will not only help develop your skills and knowledge base, but it will also help you confirm whether or not this is a field you want to pursue.

Learn how to really read a journal article. (See below for some helpful articles and tips.)  Read up on the topic(s) you find interesting and see where your interest takes you.

Do a summer REU/internship.  This gives you great experience and connections, and allows you to continue investigating a topic or subfield that you might be thinking about for your grad program.

Do some fieldwork!  If possible, get yourself out in the field.  Take advantage of the experience and learn as much as you can.  Ask lots of questions.  Learn how to take good field notes (hint: write down EVERYTHING, and be SUPER thorough in your descriptions).  This fieldwork could be part of a research project, or a field camp.  Just get out there and get dirty.

Do a senior thesis project.  This shows that you are capable of doing research, and have at least learned some of the basics.  No one will expect you to be an expert, but it’s great experience as an undergrad.

Attend and present your work at a conference.  If you can, give a talk.  Posters are great, but talks are more prestigious, and giving a talk at a conference as an undergrad is extremely impressive.  But if nothing else, do a poster.  They are a great – low stress – chance to talk with people one-on-one and get some excellent feedback on your work.

Publish your thesis work.  Getting your name on a paper as an undergrad is AWESOME.  Especially if your adviser will allow you to be first author (this would mean you do most of the work and writing).  That’s HUGE.

Some things to consider when you are narrowing down your list of schools to apply to:

What are you interested in working on?  You don’t need to have a whole project figured out before applying to a program.  It’s really a matter of narrowing down what field you are interested in.  Start by thinking about courses you took that you really enjoyed, or what types of news/journal articles you find yourself drawn to.  Are you seeing a theme?  Start reading everything you can get your hands on within that subject area.  The more you read, the more you will start to refine your area of interest.  Once you have narrowed in on a particular topic, see what names keep appearing as authors on the papers you are reading.  Those would be good potential advisers.

What is the program’s reputation?  Just because a university is well-respected doesn’t necessarily mean that this particular program/department has an equivalent reputation within that field.  Look at rankings by program (like this one and this one) and see how this particular program stacks up against others.  But even more importantly…

What is your potential adviser’s reputation?  The name of the school might be important, but your potential adviser’s reputation is even more important.  This is the person you are considering to have as your “professional parent.”  They will help you network, and your association with them will either help or hurt you.  Do people know who they are?  Do people know who they are because they do good work, or because people think they are a kook?  (One useful tool for this is Web of Science.  Look up your potential adviser on here and generate a “citation report.”  This site does require university access, so if there’s a school near you, you could potentially log in from the library there.  Or, if you are currently a student somewhere, ask faculty members in similar areas of interest what they know about your potential adviser.)  Age can sometimes be a helpful indicator, but is not the bottom line.  My adviser is rather young (he was in his late 30s when I started working with him), but he is freakishly prolific, so he has established a very strong and positive reputation in a short time.  Also, how many grad students have they had, and what have their former grad students gone on to do?  Someone who hasn’t had many students might not be a bad choice, but it’s a good thing to keep in mind, because they are likely still getting used to advising.  You can still have an excellent time working with someone like this, but you may need to be more aware of what you need from them, and don’t be afraid to ask for it.

What is your motivation for pursuing a graduate degree?  In geology, you are your most marketable with a masters degree.  This allows you to teach, work in industry, and even some research labs.  A Ph.D. is far more specialized, and is generally something you pursue only if you are interested in working purely in research/academia.

You’ve narrowed down your list of schools to apply to.  Great!  In geology programs (and possibly other science programs), it is typical to contact the faculty member you are interested in working with via email before applying to the program.  This email is meant to introduce yourself and start up the conversation about their research and what you are interested in working on.  This is a good time to find out what kind of funding they have available for grad students, and what sort of things they are currently working on.  If you feel that you would be a good fit with this adviser/program, you then submit an application.  Contacting the faculty member first serves two purposes: 1) to find out if you would work well with this person and if they have funding available for new grad students, and 2) to prevent you from being a random name when your application appears on their desk.

Applying

When putting your application together, it’s all about properly presenting yourself and your skills.  No two prospective grads are the same, and everyone has something unique to bring to a research group.  Maybe you did a bunch of research during undergrad.  Maybe you didn’t, but you have other skills or work experience that you’ve gathered along the way.  Yes, today people really seem to like undergrad research experience, but if you have some other relevant work experience or skill set, that’s a great thing to set you apart as well.  If you know people in graduate programs or former grad students in your field, ask them to take a look at your CV and personal statement.  Feedback from others is always extremely useful.

 

Campus visit

Think of your campus visit as a mini job interview. You don’t need to go in a full suit, or be able to give faculty members a critique of their papers, but it’s good to look professional and polished, and be familiar with their work – especially if they have done previous work on the topics you are interested in. You’re both feeling each other out.  It’s not just them checking you out.  It’s like professional dating.  You want to make sure that you feel comfortable with your potential adviser, and the prospect of working with them.

When you sit down to chat with your potential adviser, there are many things that are good to find out:

What is their advising style?  Are they very hands off?  Do they like to micromanage?  Better yet, talk with their grad students about this.  They are the ones who can give you the best sense of what it’s like to work with this person.

What they are most interested in for research right now?  Old publications might not give you a good idea of where their interests have gone in the more recent (yet unpublished) years.

What are their expectations for grad students?  Everyone should have that conversation with their adviser – preferably before they decide to work with them, but if not then, at least in the first month or so.  This may include certain benchmarks (getting things done by a certain deadline, or whether they expect you to be on campus at certain times/days, or publish things by some deadlines, etc.), or other things that may go unsaid if you don’t specifically ask.

At some point, you will likely sit down with some of their current grad students, or go out for a lunch with a group of them.  This is incredibly valuable time!  They will be the ones to give you the honest truth about how it is to work with this faculty member.  Take advantage of this time and ask lots of questions!  Good things to ask current students:

  • What is your potential adviser’s advising style?  (This is where you will get the honest answer.)
  • What are your potential adviser’s expectations for their grad students? (Again, more honesty here)
  • What is it like working with this faculty member?
  • What kind of resources are available for students?
  • What is their funding situation like?
  • What challenges have they faced?
  • What have they learned since starting this program that they wished they knew before?

Congratulations!  You’re a grad student!  Now what?

You’ve been accepted into a program and have finally arrived on campus!  Where to begin?

Get to know the other grad students.  You and the other students in your cohort will likely be at similar stages during the upcoming years, so it’s nice to have some people you can turn to for feedback, or to simply lend an ear when you need to vent.  Those in more advanced stages of their degree will be extremely useful when it comes to the ins and outs of the program, feedback on proposals, or suggestions of things to try that worked well for them in the past.

Get to know the faculty.  Though you may feel like the faculty members are way out of your league, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  One very helpful thing to remember when interacting with faculty members (or anyone, really) is to not act like a student.  The point of this degree is to prepare yourself to enter the academic/professional world.  So begin to act like the academic/professional you want to be in the future.  This doesn’t mean be a snobby egomaniac who thinks they know everything.  It’s good to ask questions and admit when you don’t know or understand something.  But presenting yourself with an air of professionalism will go a long way.

Get to know the office administrative staff.  Administrators are the key to everything in the professional world!  Treat them kindly and get to know them!  They are a fantastic resource when you have questions about something in the department, and can be incredibly helpful.

If you haven’t already, have a talk with your adviser regarding their expectations for you.  Will they only be happy if you are on campus certain hours or days of the week?  Do they have specific deadlines they expect you to meet?  Are there specific classes they want you to take?  These things can easily go unsaid if you don’t have this talk, and can lead to frustration for both of you down the road.  This is also the time to create a “road map” of sorts – what should you do during your first year, second year, etc?  What do you need to do/create/submit/present to pass your comprehensive exam?  What do you need to do/create/submit/publish/present to eventually pass your dissertation defense?  Knowing these things from the start will help you plan out your time, and give you solid benchmarks towards which you can work.

Set up a regular meeting time with your adviser.  This could be weekly, monthly – whatever works well for both of you.  This is a time to sit down and talk about your research, questions you may have, and things you are struggling with.  Establishing this routine from the very beginning will help you out in the long run.

Don’t be afraid to tell your adviser what you need from them.  This doesn’t mean “I need pizza, beer, and a million dollars.”  Rather, if you need them to check in with you, if you need feedback on something, if you have questions for them – make sure they know!  Advisers aren’t mind readers.  And neither are you.

Start using a reference manager program.  Do this from the very beginning and save yourself a LOT of time and heartache!  I am completely in love with the Mendeley reference manager.  These programs allow you to search all the papers you have collected (and will likely be scattered across multiple folders on your computer), write notes on them, search those notes, find the folder that actually contains the pdf you’re looking for, and creates and manages your bibliography when you are writing papers.  It’s a miracle worker.  Just use it.  Seriously.  I can’t stress this enough.  I spent the first year and a half of my program without this thing, and I can’t believe I did that. (For the record, I have no affiliation with Mendeley.  I just love it and tell everyone about it because it’s awesome and I wish I had known about that from the start.)

While we’re on the topic of journal articles…

Read – a lot.  Then read more.  One of the things that kept me from pursuing a Ph.D. sooner was the worry that I wouldn’t be able to come up with an original research project idea.  I knew the general area I was interested in, but beyond that I couldn’t think of anything that hadn’t been done or needed to be expanded on.  I feared that I would never be able to come up with a project idea.  You don’t need to have a developed project when you start a graduate program – you just need to know what area you are interested in.  Reading everything you can get your hands on in that particular field will help you begin to see the holes, and come up with questions that have yet to be answered.  The more you read, the more you will see these things.  And those questions will lead you to read other papers, which will help you develop your idea further.  Once you have your project idea, keep reading!  There are always new papers coming out that you should be familiar with, and you will keep stumbling across old relevant papers you didn’t find earlier.  However much you think you should be reading, it should really be about three times as much.  You can never read enough.  If you aren’t already adept at reading scientific journal articles, learn how!  It’s not like reading a regular book or news article.  Check out these resources:

Don’t be afraid to reach out to collaborators.  Science isn’t done in a vacuum.  You will often need to turn to other people besides just your adviser.  Start building these relationships from the very beginning (your adviser may or may not help you with this – don’t sit around and wait on them) and save yourself a lot of time later.  These people may help you learn how to analyze samples or data, or teach you some new technique.  They are a wonderful resource, and are generally happy to help you.  It’s easy to get caught up in feeling like you are supposed to do everything all by yourself, but that’s not actually the case.  Use the resources around you!

Start using some kind of system to organize your weekly/daily goals, and keep yourself productive.  I love this productivity planner I found on Kickstarter a while back.  (I am also not affiliated with this.  I just like it and have found it to be helpful.)  Breaking your day into smaller segments is also a really helpful technique to try (check out the links for more details and the science behind the Pomodoro Technique).  It’s really easy to get distracted in a grad program, and all of a sudden it’s three weeks later and you have nothing to show for your time.  Breaking your tasks up and laying everything out in whatever format works best for you can help you maximize your time and not fall way behind.

Speaking of falling way behind…

Remember that you are not alone.  Grad school – and Ph.D. programs in particular – are rife with depression, anxiety, guilt, and impostor syndrome.  You will likely feel all these things at some point.  These feelings can be extremely isolating.  It seems like everyone around you is so smart, is getting so much done, is working so much harder than you, is further along, and actually understands what they’re working on.

Truth is, they are feeling exactly the same way you are.

Talk with your grad student friends about your mental state.  Everyone has gone, or is going through the same thing.  You are not alone.  It’s really unfortunate that this is normal for grad programs, but the fact of the matter is we all deal with these feelings of inadequacy at some point.  Sometimes, simply talking with your fellow grad students and hearing that they have felt/are feeling the same way can alleviate some of your worries.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you are struggling with any of these feelings.  There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.  Everyone is faking it until they make it.

More on impostor syndrome:

In an effort to make your life not 100% about grad school, make a few friends that have nothing to do with schoolMeetup (or other similar sites) is great for this.  These people can be wonderful when it comes to taking a mental break, or providing some perspective when you’re up to your eyeballs in research and are stressed to the max.

When preparing for your comprehensive exams, talk with current and former grad students who had the same adviser or committee members as you.  These people will be exceedingly helpful when it comes to knowing what to expect.  They may even be happy to send you copies of their research proposals, comps talks, follow up talks, etc.  These people are an incredibly valuable resource!  Use them!  They know what you are going through – they were there not that long ago.

Attend conferences/workshops and network as much as possible.  Your reputation is your professional currency.  The more you can build your network now, the better it will be later when you’re looking for collaborators, postdoc positions, or a job.

Once you’ve published something (a conference abstract, journal article, etc.), make yourself a ResearchGate and Google Scholar account.  These are an excellent way to virtually network with people both within and outside your field.  ResearchGate also encourages you to post full-text versions of your work, so it’s a great way to have all your publications accessible and in one place (great for getting yourself some visibility within your field!).  You can also post PDFs of conference posters and talks, which is really useful for people wanting to see more than just your abstract. (Again, I have no affiliation with these.  They’re just handy.)

Overall, grad school can be a really great experience, and you will grow and learn more than you ever thought was possible over the course of a few years.  There will be ups and downs, and I hope you find some of these things helpful in the process.  If you think of any others, please add them in the comment section below!

Some other useful sites:

This post was originally published on my racing and training blog: veggie-runner-girl.com

Road to 100: Week 1 Recap

This week was my first week back on an official training plan for 2016!

Monday: Spent the day working from home (one of the perks of being a grad student), and took my dogs out for a nice sunny afternoon 3 miler around our neighborhood.  While I had a nice time running with my pups (Jade actually held on for almost two miles this time!), this just reinforced how bored I get on roads now.  I used to LOVE running on roads.  But now that I’ve gotten used to trails, I really have no desire for pavement.  Crazy how quickly things change.  I know I’ll need to suck it up and deal with roads at times – particularly during the week – so oh well.

Tuesday: I started out with good intentions and brought my running stuff to work.  The plan was to head out for an afternoon work break, and knock out a solid 6 miles around town.  Instead, I got absorbed into a grant application that took way longer than I anticipated, and before I knew it, it was getting dark out and time to go home and have dinner at my friend’s house.  Better luck next time?

Wednesday:  A beautiful day in Colorado!  I brought my running stuff to work and managed to squeak in a solid 4 miles on one of the bike paths – with a negative split – before it got dark.  I didn’t feel great for the first two miles, but the back half wasn’t too bad!  It was so great to be out running in shorts and a t-shirt in January.  Colorado is the best.

Thursday: Another fabulously beautiful day in Colorado – even better than the last.  I couldn’t stand being inside at work all day, so I went home early and got the dogs out for a solid 3 miles around the neighborhood – mostly roads, but with a bit of gravel trail.  I got delightfully muddy and was thrilled to be in a tank top and shorts.  Hooray, Colorado winter!  Even Jade was loving the day.  She ran a full three miles!  Way to go Jade!  I wanted to get 6 in today, but Jade was pooped out at three, and we were still a half mile from home, and it was getting dark.  So that was the end of the run for us.  It was a good day though.  No complaints here.

Friday: I had originally planned to get my longest run of the week done today because it was supposed to be absolutely gorgeous out and I was going to be skiing on Saturday and it was going to get cold and snowy on Sunday.  Unfortunately, my adviser had other plans.  I awoke to an email reply to something I sent him Thursday saying “Cool.  Let’s meet and talk about this today.”  But no actual time specified.  So instead of getting my 10 miler in today, I went in to work in the morning, and proceeded to work at my desk, staring hopefully out the window, until he showed up in the afternoon.  So, unfortunately, I didn’t get a run in today.

Saturday: Saturday dawned bright and early for a beautiful, warm, and occasionally snowy ski day at Winter Park.  My boyfriend and I (and another friend of his) spent the day enjoying the Mary Jane side of the mountain and getting my mogul skills back.  It wasn’t a run, but still a good workout!  My legs were burning on more than one occasion.  He was a great teacher, and I definitely saw improvement throughout the day, so that was exciting.

Sunday: Around lunch, I headed out on the Mesa trail here in Boulder and knocked out a slow but steady 7 miles.  I had hoped to do 10, but my planned route was a bit shorter than I thought, and by the time I hit 7 miles, the temperature was rapidly dropping and I was getting chilled.  I decided 7 was better than nothing, and it was time to head home and get warm again.  It was an okay run – I clearly have a lot of work to do still.  I’ve never been a great climber, and that’s going to be a big focus for my training this season.  My lack of climbing ability was very clear today.  Mesa trail isn’t really steep, but there are plenty of long, gradual hills, and even those shallower ones kicked my butt.  But I WILL get better!

IMG_8209

What worked well this week: Making myself get out whenever I could – even if it was just for a few miles – really helped keep my momentum going this week.  That’s something I always struggle with.

What didn’t work well this week: Many days I intended to get up early and run in the morning before going to work.  That never happened.  I would love to run in the mornings because it makes my whole day more productive.  I’ll keep trying at that one.

What I struggled with: My biggest struggle this week was figuring out how to fit my short weekday runs in with work.  I’m sure this is going to be an ongoing struggle

What I will do to improve next week: I think the best thing for me to focus on right now is consistency, so I will continue to focus my efforts on getting out for my short weekday runs – whenever I can fit them in.  The best thing I can do right now is continue to develop that habit.

Total weekly mileage: 17 miles – not what I hoped, but better than nothing.

The Road to 100 Begins Again

You may have noticed there was never a Run Rabbit Run 100 mile race report last September.

The week before the race, I went for a “confidence boosting” midnight run with my main pacer.  3/4 of a mile down the trail, we saw some really creepy eyes, which we later figured out to be a mountain lion, watching us from about 30 feet away.  We decided to slowly back our way back to the car and run on the roads instead.  Unfortunately, as we were returning to the car, I rolled and sprained my ankle.

I went back and forth on this the whole week.  But when it really came down to it, I couldn’t run 100 miles on it that following weekend.  I had to make the call two days before the race, and I was completely shattered.  It was such a hard call to make – especially since I was capable of running, just not 100 miles.  I couldn’t justify the lodging expense, plus the time commitment from my crew, when I knew that the odds of me actually getting past 10-20 miles were practically zero.

So 2016 it is.  The other day, I registered for the Run Rabbit Run 100 yet again.

I’ve been mostly out of commission for the past few months – busy with school and traveling for the holidays.  But now things are getting back into a more normal routine, and I’m working on getting back to my better running habits of days past.  For now, my focus is to get those habits back and build a solid base.  Then I’ll be adding in speed and hill work as we get into the spring.

Over the last few years, I’ve found that I stick to my training much better when I write regularly.  Writing helps me reflect on what I’ve done, what I need to do, what’s working, and what isn’t.  Plus, it also helps keep me accountable.  With that in mind, I will be writing a weekly training recap as I get myself ready for the 2016 Run Rabbit 100.

So here we go!

Return to normal

The last several months have been an incredibly stressful time, but I’m happy to say that this Friday, I passed my comprehensive exam and advanced to Ph.D. candidacy!  I was incredibly nervous about this hurdle, since I changed my research focus to something that was completely new and unfamiliar to me a little over a year ago.  Because of this, I have been frantically playing catch-up since then.  But I succeeded!  And now that hurdle is behind me.  Hooray!

I’m really looking forward to getting back into my normal routine and enjoying things again.  I’ve been itching to get out on trails for the last several weeks, and have been longingly looking out the window at the mountains while my nose was buried in papers at my desk.

I have many big plans for this winter and spring.  I hope to at least accomplish some of them.  I feel like I do this every year, and never make any of them happen, so we’ll see how it goes.  The good thing is that now I have a great group of runner girlfriends who I can turn to for support and encouragement.  I love those girls.

For now, I am enjoying my first post-comps weekend by de-stressing and doing absolutely nothing.  It’s wonderful.  Beginning tomorrow (Monday), I will be back in full on hardcore training and healthy eating mode.  Hours and hours of sitting at my desk combined with stress hormones have come together to make me feel really uncomfortable, and I need to get back to my normal.  I still look perfectly fine on the surface, but I don’t feel it right now.  I can’t wait to feel like myself again.

Race Report: Quad Rock 50 Miler (6/14/15)

Spoiler alert:  I should actually name this post “Race Report: Quad Rock 25 Miler.”

Although the day didn’t go as planned, I had a blast at this race.  It was challenging, and stupidly hot (hence the 25 instead of 50), but the course was beautiful, and it was well-organized, well-supported, and well-marked.  No complaints here.  Well, actually just one, but we’ll get to that later – nothing horrible.

Molly and I arrived at Lory State Park very, very early on race day.  We stayed at a friend’s house in Fort Collins the night before to make the morning trek to the race less unpleasant, and we completely overestimated how long it would take to get to the start from there.  Whoops.

We sat in the dark at the ranger station for a few minutes, waiting for it to open so we could get a parking permit, when someone from the car behind us said they thought we could get them at check in, so we decided to drive into the park to the start and find out.  We figured we could always walk back and get a permit if we needed to.  Turned out we were fine.

Since we were so stupidly early, things weren’t quite set up yet, so we didn’t really know where to park or what to do.  But that got sorted out within a few minutes.  We hung out with a couple other runners in the dark, hovering around the check in table while the RD and volunteers set up.  Check in was quick – race packet, bib, safety pins, race shirt, and… toothbrushes and toothpaste?  That was random.  After check in, it was back to the car to nap for a bit before heading to the start.

IMG_3399At dawn, we headed down the dirt road to the start area, where people were milling around, chatting, lubing up, drinking coffee, and playing the game I like to call “ride the port-a-potty line.”  We wandered our way to the back of the crowd to find a spot for the start.  Promptly at 6:30am, the RD got on the microphone and said a few words, and then we were off.

We headed down the main park road for two miles, until we got to the first trailhead.  I was stressing about the cutoffs (my one complaint about this race – the cutoffs are very, very fast).  I had made my peace with the fact that I likely wouldn’t make them and would have to stop early at some point, but I was still trying hard to bust ass and see how long I could hold on.

At this point in the day, I was actually feeling really good.  I passed a ton of people on the first bit of trail, and settled into a nice rhythm.  I even had a sub-10 mile!  On a trail!  For now, Molly was behind me by about 1/4 mile, but I knew she would catch me early on the first big climb, so I wasn’t worried.  I also knew that all these people I was passing… yeah, I would be seeing them again soon too.  As of now, I am NOT a good climber.  I have a lot of work to do in that area.

Quad-Rock-50-Profile_revAfter about a mile on the trail, we started the first big climb of the day.  There are three big climbs in one 25 mile loop, and for the 50 miler, we would do the loop twice – once in each direction.  So there would be six big climbs today.  For now, I was trying to haul ass.  I knew that would change quickly, so I was trying to bank some time for later.

I hauled my way up the Towers climb as quickly as I could.  Molly caught me early and informed me that she had tripped and wiped out in the very beginning – which became important later in the day.  We ran together until the little downhill in the middle of the climb , when I pulled ahead (downhill is my jam).  As we neared the end of the climb, she caught me again, and I told her to go on ahead.  It was stressing me out and making me frustrated that I was killing myself to keep up with her longer legs.  I just wanted to be in my own head for now.  So Molly wandered ahead and I continued to plod along, hoping the Towers aid station wasn’t far.

I arrived at Towers in time for the fantastic volunteers to fill my water, and catch Molly and her new friend, Tony, for the descent to the Horsetooth aid station.  This was a nice little trail down the valley, with some rolling hills along the way.  I was able to keep up the whole way to Horsetooth, which was nice.  It would have been wonderful to stop and enjoy the views – it was a beautiful trail – but there was no time to linger.  As Tony kept telling us all day… “no lingering!”  I loved that guy and hated him at the same time.

We cruised into Horsetooth and I dumped my long sleeve in my drop bag.  Then it was time to scope out the amazing food spread they had laid out.  I was super excited to see that they had peanut butter and nutella, so I grabbed a couple cookies and one of those, and headed back out for climb #2 – back up to Towers.

Molly, Tony, and I stuck together for about half of this climb.  Somewhere in the middle, we spread out a bit, with Molly in front, and Tony and I leapfrogging back and forth.  By now, it was getting really hot, my right arch was constantly aching, and my left hip flexor was very angry with me.  I wasn’t a pretty sight.

By the time I reached the top of the second climb, and the Towers aid station, my race math was solid – there was no way I was making cutoffs today.  I had to maintain a 16:21/mile for the first 25 miles, and by the second time through Towers (about 15 miles), I was averaging around 16:45/mi, and certainly not getting any faster.  All I wanted to do at Towers was sit down and call it a day.  It was blazingly hot – the air temperature was mid-80s, but here in Colorado, it always feels 10-15 degrees warmer in the sun – and there was very little shade on this course.

I forced myself through Towers and didn’t give myself any time to even think about stopping to sit down.  A volunteer refilled my water as I came in, I grabbed a couple pretzels, and I was on my way.  No time to think.

The downhill out of Towers was more rolling than I expected, so I couldn’t go as fast as I had been hoping.  Tony and I continued to leapfrog, and I did the same with another girl – Kim.  Kim and I started chatting as we ran along, and it turned out we live quite literally across the street from each other.  Small world!  We made mental notes to get each other’s contact info after the race so we could run together sometime.

Eventually, the trail opened up into the valley, and we could see the Arthur’s aid station ahead.  Kim and I arrived at the aid station to Molly looking very unhappy.  Turns out that trip and fall she had taken first thing in the morning had tweaked her back, which was now a complete mess.  She couldn’t run anymore, and was just going to walk it in to the 25 mile finish.  I knew there was no way I was making cutoffs, so this was perfectly fine with me.

As we were leaving the aid station for our third, and now final climb of the day, the 50 mile leader came through going the other way.  Absolutely unbelievable – he had done 33 miles in the time it took us to do 17.  Granted, we’re slow, but we were in awe.  That guy was flying.

Molly and I slowly made our way up the third climb.  At this point, we were a strange mixture of grumpy, exhausted, overheated, sore, relieved and at peace with the fact that we were done at 25 miles, and partially run drunk.  We cheered on those who were running the 50 and coming back the other way on lap #2, and chatted with a few girls we kept leapfrogging with along the way.

Somewhere around the top of the climb, Molly was really fighting the pain.  That girl is the toughest person I know (and now she’s finally writing about her story!), so to say that she was digging deep is really saying something.  I decided it would be a good time for some entertaining/inspiring theme music, so I turned on my little speaker, and put on “Always look on the bright side of life” (from Spamalot) as we slowly trotted our way down off the final summit.  Everyone we passed got a good laugh out of that one.  It seemed appropriate given the day we were having.

As we continued down the final descent, a few more 50 milers came back the other way, but there weren’t too many of them.  And a lot of them looked pretty rough.  Even the leaders.  Weirdly enough, that made us feel a bit better about getting our asses handed to us by this course.

IMG_3401Finally, the trail opened up and we could see the plains, valley, and finish line in the distance.  We knew we didn’t have far to go, and the trail was runnable, so we did our best for a final push to the end.

As we were running along, all of a sudden I heard Molly trip behind me, and the sound of her flying off the trail into the scrub.  I hadn’t seen any of this, and my first thought before turning around was “oh shit.  I hope she didn’t land on a cactus!”  Fortunately, when I turned around, I saw Molly laying in the scrub on the side of the trail, NOT on a cactus.  She didn’t look happy though.  Her back was in a lot of pain, and her back and leg muscles were just done for the day.  She had nothing left for stability.

After picking herself up, and a quick blood check, we were on our way again.

We wound our way down off the hillside, and could see the road and the finish growing closer and closer.  100 yards from the end of the trail, from behind me I heard Molly bite it again, and I turned to find her laying on the side of the trail, blood streaming from her knee, and looking VERY pissed off.  After making sure she wasn’t broken, I forced her to stand up, and laugh it off.  I knew if I let her sit there and stew about it, she was just going to get mad.  I believe her exact words when she fell were “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST!”  She was SO over this day.

With some run drunk giggles, we ran out onto the road, and into the finish area.  In our happiness to be done, and not doing another 25 miles, we both sprinted for the finish line, trying to beat each other – because we’re morons like that.

We crossed the finish line (you have you actually run through it if you are doing the 50), and immediately turned to the volunteers and told them we were done.  They grabbed the tags from our bibs, and gave us our 25 mile finisher pint glasses, and pointed us in the direction of the food.

We hung around at the finish area for a bit – eating, and getting massages (the woman who worked on both of us was WONDERFUL), and watching the last 25 mile finishers come in.  Not too long after we finished, the leader of the 50 also finished.  He must have had a pretty amazing day out there.  I can not imagine running that course so quickly.  That was impressive.  Before leaving, we asked the finish line volunteers how many 50 milers had dropped to the 25 – turned out over half the field had dropped, which made us feel MUCH better about our decision!

After food and drink, we slowly hobbled our way back to the car, and made our way home.  It was a long and challenging day, but overall, a great race.  I’m not thrilled with my performance, but I really liked the event, and would love to do it again next year.  Redemption race, 2016?

Final time: 7:43:22

Read the official Gnar Runners race recap here.

Race Report: Dirty 30 50k (5/30/15)

This past Saturday was the Dirty 30 50k in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.  It was my first time running this race, and I absolutely loved it.  It was completely brutal, but overall, a wonderful race, and I can’t wait to do it again next year.

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Totally justified carb loading… right?

Friday evening, I packed up all my gear, dropped the dogs off for the night, and headed down to Molly’s house since it’s way closer to Golden than I am.  We spent the evening “carb loading” (total excuse to eat pizza and candy), coloring, and playing with an adorable boxer puppy.

It was off to bed early, and 3:30am arrived before I knew it.  We ate our quick breakfasts, got dressed and bodyglided, and met Molly’s super sweet friend Lynn for the drive to the start.  (Also, I never mentioned it before, but check out how amazingly badass and inspirational Molly is here, and page 32-34 hereUsername: usatriathlon  Password: usatmag)

It was still cold and dark when we pulled into the Red Barn parking lot at 4:45 am, so we hung out in the car for a little while until it was time to head to the start line for the 6:00 am early start.  (The regular start time is 7:00 am, but this year they implemented an early wave for us slower runners so that we could actually enjoy the finish line, which I loved.)

Left - Me, Molly, and Lynn before the start Right - Pre-race pep talk with the awesome RD

Left – Me, Molly, and Lynn before the start
Right – Pre-race pep talk with the awesome RD

There were perhaps two or three dozen of us starting with the early wave, and after the race director went through the obligatory sponsors list and a few race rules/tips, we were off!

IMG_2852It was a chilly morning, but we knew we were in for a beautiful, sunny, and warm day – thank goodness.  Most of us started with a few extra layers on, but they were quickly stripped off as we made our way up the first few miles of trail.  The sun was beaming, and the views were spectacular.  Only a mile or so in, and I was already loving this course.

River crossing - meBeing the slow trail runners that we are, many people were taking off into the distance at this point, but we are always conservative in the beginning, so we don’t crash and burn later.  Instead of stressing about not going fast enough, Molly and I were chatting away, peeling off layers, taking pictures, and enjoying the gorgeous morning.  It was also at this point that we struck up a conversation with the girl running along with us – Laura.  Turns out, Laura has the same outlook on her running, and she fell perfectly into our group for the rest of the day.

The first several miles were fairly uneventful.  We wound our way up a creek bed and onto a hillside – all the while chatting and getting to know one another.  There was no shortage of mud, and with a shin-deep river crossing, no chance of keeping our feet dry.  They don’t call it the Dirty 30 for nothing!

5 mi aid - all three of us 2IMG_2861Eventually, after 4 miles of climbing, I cruised down the 1 mile long downhill into the first aid station.  Our mini-goal had been to make it to this aid station before the fast 7am start people passed us – we were successful.  I pulled into the aid station and was greeted by several guys in hula skirts, and my friend Terry, who was volunteering.  We stocked up on food and drink, and were on our way.

Heading out of the aid station, it was time to start the never-ending onslaught of climbing.  This was to be the rest of our day.  Fortunately, things started out fairly simple and runnable, but the majority of the course was highly technical and challenging.  They had some great signs though!

Sometime around 7:45 am, the fast pack caught up with us.  As we slowly made our way up yet another uphill, we enjoyed watching them blow past us.  We were impressed with how friendly these incredible front of the pack athletes were, as they were constantly telling us “great job!” as they flew by.  We kept asking them to save us finish line beer.  Most of them laughed and said they couldn’t make any promises.  So our consolation was checking out their amazing legs as they ran past. (Spoiler:  They saved us beer. ❤ )

IMG_2866Most of our morning consisted of power hiking up the uphills, slowly running the flats, and bombing down the downhills.  We had yet to reach the really technical part of the course, which starts just after the second aid station at mile 12.something.  Somewhere around mile 10, we were bombing down a nice long downhill, when Molly took a spectacular fall and tore up her leg and hip.  Laura and I didn’t actually witness the wipeout, but we were there for the aftermath.  It was ugly.  We figured she was a lock for the $100 “bloodiest runner” competition (yes, this is a real thing they have at this race).

Like the trooper that she is, Molly wiped herself up with a baby wipe, and we continued on our way.  The course got technical just after the mile 12.something aid station, and we began the climb up to mile 14.  This climb included some scrambling, and lots of swearing.  NOW we were getting into the interesting stuff!

IMG_2874Most of the rest of the midday consisted of technical, neverending climbs – the worst being from mile 17 to 20 – and then technical, often unrunnable descents.  Needless to say, it was slow going.  But despite all the swearing and grunting, we were still having fun.  Just after the awesome pool party course marshal at mile 19, on a long three mile slog of an uphill, me, Molly, and Laura got split up.  Laura was in a dark place, and slowed down (but she powered through and still finished like a champ), and Molly’s super long legs and zen-like second wind carried her away ahead of me.  So from 19 to 25, I was on my own.  Initially, I had thought I would just catch Molly on the downhill once I reached the summit at mile 20, but when that didn’t happen, I started to get worried that she had taken a wrong turn and gotten lost.  So I began pushing just a bit harder than I should have to hopefully catch her and stop worrying.  I asked everyone I saw if they had seen her ahead of me, and no one had, so with every passing mile, my worry grew.

Just as I was coming up on the mile 25 aid station, I saw Molly’s orange tank top flitting along the trail in front of me, and I was so relieved.  Now that I knew she wasn’t lost or dead, the realization of how much energy I had burned trying to catch up to/find her set in.  I slowly wandered into the aid station at mile 25, and told her I had burned every match I had trying to catch her and was now completely out of gas.  The last few miles were going to be ugly.

IMG_2875We stocked up on food and drink at the aid station, and made our way down the trail to begin the long and arduous climb up to the summit of Windy Peak.  This was, without a doubt, the worst part of the whole day.

The climb up Windy Peak is long (mile 26 to 28), steep, and technical.  At this point (and all day really), everyone’s watches were saying completely different mileage, and none of them matched with the course markings, so we never had any idea how close, or far, we were from the summit.  For the last 0.7 miles of the climb, people were coming back down ahead of us, and we kept asking them if we were getting close – that was a huge mistake.  Every response was totally different, and ultimately, totally wrong.  We (namely me) took several sit breaks in the dirt on the side of the trail, and much swearing was happening as a pain release along the way.

Finally – FINALLY – the people coming in the opposite direction told us what we were hoping to hear:  “It’s right there!  Just around that curve!”  Originally, Molly and I had planned to take a picture at the summit, but once we reached the bib markers, all we wanted to do was continue on back down and get the last couple miles over with.

Heading back down Windy Peak was slow – partially because the trail was so technical, partially because our feet were so tender, and partially because we were so tired.  We walked a lot of the way to the mile 29 aid station, where we promptly sat in the grass and drank some coke, while talking to the super nice volunteer about Molly’s injury.  He also agreed that she had the $100 sealed up.

Once we left that aid station we knew we only had one more small(ish) climb, and then it was downhill to the finish.  Thinking ahead to the climb was making me so angry that poor Molly kept trying to talk to me and all she could get out of me in response was several short “yup”s and “uh huh”s.  I tried to warn her it was just the climb, and that I would be better once it was over.

Fortunately, this one wasn’t nearly as bad as all the others, but what a mindfuck!  When we finally reached the top, I gave all the course marshal guys hugs, and we hung a left and headed into the home stretch.

IMG_2877After running along the top of a slightly rolling ridge for about a half mile, we had nothing but one mile of downhill to get us to the finish.  My feet were tender, and I was exhausted, but now I was smiling.  Molly and I cruised down that last mile with big smiles on our faces.  For most of the last mile, we could hear the finish line taunting us in the distance.  As we got closer, the horns got louder, and our legs got faster.  We made a steep descent down the side of the ridge and popped out onto the dirt road with the finish line just 100 yards ahead of us.  Finally!

Finish

We cruised into the finish with smiles on our faces, and covered in dirt and sweat.  It was a great day.

Total time:  So long I don’t think I should write it down… 10:27:59.  Yikes.

My thoughts on the race:  I LOVED this race!  The course is brutal, but it’s also gorgeous, and super well marked.  The RD is wonderfully organized and that is reflected in the race.  It’s a quality event, with great support, and wonderful volunteers.  As a slower runner, I also very much appreciated the early start wave (new this year), and really hope they keep that in the future.  My only (only!) complaint was that by the time we finished, they had already done the bloodiest runner award (we missed it by about five minutes), so Molly didn’t get her $100 that she totally would have had locked up.  Slow runners fall too!

Overall, it’s an excellent race, and I can’t wait to do it again next year.

Maybe a little faster next time…?

I survived another school year!

Hooray!  The semester is finally over and summer “break” is here.  I use the term “break” loosely because that just means now I have uninterrupted time to sit and work and make progress on my research, which I haven’t had much of a chance to do since the winter.  It’ll be great.  And I’ve decided that from here on out, it’s just research for me until I finish this program – no more classes, and no more teaching.  So that will make things much better in terms of productivity.  Thank goodness!

The other thing I get to do more of now is training.  Summer has arrived in Boulder (not without over a week of nearly continuous rain, topped off with a little bit of snow at the very end), and I’m out for long trail runs every weekend, and trying to get in as many shorter weekday runs around town as well.  It’s amazing how stinking difficult running on pavement feels after you’ve been on trails for a while.  I feel absolutely horrible every time I try to stick to roads and bike paths.  My ultras are on trails, so I’ll do my long runs that way, but I still need to get in some pavement miles since I have Ironman Boulder in August, and that run is on the concrete bike path here in town.

Over the last couple weeks, my race calendar has really started to fill up!  Race season is getting into full swing, and things keep popping up.  First, due to all the rain, the Quad Rock 50 was postponed until June 14th.  I also got a free entry into the Bolder Boulder 10k since I was injured last year and never made it more than 100 feet from my front door.  (I never run shorter races, but I figure I’m a runner and I live in Boulder – it would be weird to never do the Bolder Boulder.)  I also bit the bullet and signed up for the Dirty 30 50k at the end of May.  Annnnnnnd, I had a stroke of luck and got a free team entry for the Trail Ragnar Relay in Snowmass, CO in early June.  Suddenly, the next several weeks are looking very busy!

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Avoiding thunderstorms at Marshall Mesa with one of my favorite people – Molly!

One of my favorite things about all this running is the friends I’ve made over the last year or so.  Now, I have this fabulous group of girls who I run with on the weekends, and it makes everything so much more enjoyable.  We might not be fast, but we have a great time out there.