Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Western States 100

To run 100 miles is to push yourself to that place where you waver between delusion and sanity. Stripped down to nothing, bearing your soul. 

Exposed. Raw. Real. 

....And yet the will to continue, to persevere, endures. Quitting is not an option. And at the pinnacle of human suffering, where mind, body, and spirit are broken, you find ease. 

And it's beautiful....

Western States 2015, mile 60
Photo: Sean Dulany
To say my race was ideal is far from the truth, but, it was still everything I had hoped for. To me, running 100 miles is more about the journey. The suffering, perseverance, and feeling of accomplishment as you overcome all adversity to cross the finish line. It was #that exact feeling that I was seeking at Western States.

Devil's Thumb. The body language says it all.
Photo: Gary Wang

And my race this year didn't disappoint.

After a few days to reflect, I am more and more satisfied with my performance this year. In fact, I'm more proud of my finish this year compared to last year. From the outside it must seem like I didn't meet my goals, as many people have consoled my effort, rather than congratulated it. But, I am not disappointed, or discouraged. If anything I am more in awe than ever before.

Photo: Matt Trappe
My race wasn't all dark and dismal. Early on I was able to fully enjoy the beauty of the course. I started right where I wanted to be, taking it easy up to the Escarpment. I had some great girl talk with Kaci and Aliza, and was really looking forward to the view from the top.

Taking in the sunrise over the Escarpment
Photo: Kelly Cronin
At the summit I took a moment to wait for Kaci and Aliza so we could all take in the sunrise together. It was amazing.
Sharing this moment
For the first 30 miles I rolled through the high country with a smile on my face. I felt wonderful and the wildflowers were stunning.
Photo: Myke Hermsmeyer
Photo: Stephen Ingalls
Somewhere around 12 or 13 miles I caught up to Magda and we shared some miles together. We didn't talk much, but it was so comforting to just be running, knowing we were out there together.

Photo: Gary Wang
Coming into Robinson Flat, I was still right on track. I felt good and was moving along at a similar pace as the previous year. I saw my crew, refilled with supplies, and took off down the trail.

Robinson Flat
It was hot. And somewhere over the next 10 miles the wheels started coming off. Looking back, some of it was nutrition related. But my body also was just not cooperating. I rolled down into Deadwood canyon, but was feeling the effects of my effort.

Slowly, I walked up Devil's Thumb. By this point I was feeling nauseous and low energy. Not a good omen at 40-something miles in. At Eldorado creek I hit my low point. I was still nauseous, but now was also low energy and dizzy. I was not in a good place. But, I could still take one more step. So I did.

I came into Michigan Bluff in the lead, but my I was already a bit defeated. My crew could tell, too. And here I made yet another mistake. Hindsight, I was behind on calories and should have take the time to really replenish and catch up. Instead, I grabbed a small flask filled with sprite and headed on my way.
Photo: Matt Trappe
The stretch between Michigan Bluff and Foresthill was probably the slowest section I covered all day. I could hardly run. I was beyond exhausted. Yet I was still determined not to give up. Even as Magda passed me walking up Bath Road, I didn't let it discourage me. The thought of running another 40 miles was overwhelming, but I knew it was going to happen.

Photo: Matt Trappe
From Foresthill on it was about survival. Zach joined me for the remainder of the race and really pulled me through. Without his constant affirmations and positive attitude, I don't know if I would have made it. Despite my emotional state and defeated spirit, Zach continued to believe in me. That is a true partner. And that was what carried me on.

Photo: Stephen Ingalls
Photo: Matt Trappe

Photo: Matt Trappe
The rest of the night was somewhat of a blur. I shuffled along as best as possible and tried to stay positive. We didn't move very fast, but we kept moving forward. When we got to Highway 49, I was still holding on to third place. From there we made it a goal for me to finish in that position. It helped, having something to work towards.

Since the gap behind me wasn't huge, Zach really pushed me on. When we got to the open meadow before No Hands Bridge, he turned to me and said "Ok, now you have to run. And when you get to the downhill you have to run like you stole something."

Easy peasy. Except not at all. But, I gave my best effort and did move along pretty well. After we crossed No Hands Bridge, Zach gave me another goal "We are going to have to push hard up to Robbie Point. It's going to hurt and it's going to suck, but you can do it."

Ugh. That hill is hard enough when you are not tired, let along 97 miles into a race. But, once again I surprised myself as I dug deep and ran most all of the climb up to Robbie Point. Behind us we could see a couple headlamps moving closer. Fearful that it was the next female, we decided to run the last mile as hard as I could.

And we did. Zach didn't let me let up until I reached the track, finally confirming that I was indeed going to cross the finish line, and hold on to third.

Emotions overcame me. The day, my race, and having my husband see me through the darkest parts;  really became real. And once again, I floated around the track to the sound of Tropical John's voice. It was just as spectacular as the last time, and felt even more satisfying.

Photo: Matt Trappe
It's the tough days that really define us. And the last mile, no matter what happened over the previous 99 miles, is magical. It's a feeling that I will forever cherish, no matter if I finish first or last. It's in the suffering that we find greatness, and #that is always worth it.

Photo: Erin Strout

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cauliflower "Pizza"

Ok, let's get one thing straight. This is not pizza. It's delicious and wonderful, but it is not in the same family as pizza.

I love homemade pizza, and the only ingredients I want in the crust are:
-Extra Virgin Olive Oil
-Sea Salt

That's it. No crazy additions or substitutions. Keep it simple.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when a recipe claims to be healthier by labeling itself as "gluten free" or "vegan" or "sugar free". More often than not these recipes are not any healthier and usually include some sort of substitution. Using gluten free flour in place of all purpose flour is really not healthier. Nor is using "flax eggs" in place of real eggs. I think recipes CAN be healthier, but usually that means using high quality ingredients, not putting a label on the recipe. I digress.

When I was browsing recipes recently, I noticed that non-traditional pizza was a common theme. A cauliflower based crust has been somewhat mainstream over the past year or so, but now dozens of recipes exist. I've always thought cauliflower crust sounded interesting, and now with the emergence of the veggie based crust all over the internet, I decided I needed to try it out.

However, after briefly reviewing some of the recipes for a cauliflower crust, I didn't like what I found.   First off, many of the recipes were healthified and labeled as gluten free. Ok, duh...I don't think anyone ever thought a vegetable contained gluten. [SIDE NOTE- seriously people. Can we get over this already? I recently bought a package of berries that were labeled gluten free. You think??] But I noticed that many of the recipes for cauliflower crusts also contained some sort of flour flour, such as rye, buckwheat, or gluten free flour. This seemed paradoxical to me. If I wanted a flour crust I'd make one. The point of the cauliflower crust is to use vegetables...right?

The recipes that didn't use flour seemed really heavy and dense. Many used a lot of mozzarella cheese as a binder. And if they were vegan, they didn't use eggs or cheese, but used "flax eggs" and "soy cheese" or something of the equivalent.

I thought I could do it better.

My version. Purple cauliflower edition.
I sought out to make a crust that was vegetable based, didn't use an alternative grain for filler, and  didn't include any weird substitutions. Just real, simple ingredients that taste good.

I started with a head of cauliflower. I bought mine from the local produce stand that just came fresh from the farm. So fresh!

To make the correct consistency, I added the cauliflower to a food processor and blended until it was a rice-like consistency. I did small batches to ensure equal sized pieces. The resulting product was pretty wet, so I spread the cauliflower out onto a baking sheet and put it in the oven to bake at 200 degrees for about 15-20 min. To create a crust that wasn't soggy or mushy I needed the cauliflower to be dried out.

After about 20 min the moisture content was reduced. I let the cauliflower cool down and went to work on the rest of the crust.

Beginnings of the cauliflower crust
I liked the idea of using eggs in the crust because they contain some protein and good vitamins (in the yolk). Eggs also have binding properties when used in baking, which would help hold the crust together. I liked the idea of cheese, but I was planning to have cheese on top of the pizza. I didn't want to add a whole extra cup or two to the crust. Instead, I decided to use cottage cheese. Working also as a binder, cottage cheese contains some fat and protein to make a more well rounded nutritional profile. The cottage cheese also adds flavor, but is not as heavy as mozzarella cheese. My crust recipe contained the following ingredients:
  • cauliflower
  • egg
  • cottage cheese
  • salt
That's it. I'm very happy with that list. All healthy, real food ingredients that are nourishing to the body.

To make the crust, I combined the eggs, cottage cheese, and salt in a small bowl and whisked together until well combined. I then added the cauliflower to the mixture.

To bake, I covered a baking sheet with parchment paper, to ensure that it wouldn't stick to the pan. Since this was a new recipe I wanted to be sure before sacrificing the surface of my new baking sheets.

I spread the mixture out onto the pan and pressed into a thin layer. It felt a little wet to me, so I pre-baked the crust for about 10 min at 300 degrees. After taking it out of the oven it was firm and fragrant. Success!

Now for the pizza itself.

I'm slightly obsessed with pesto, especially on pizza. I didn't use to like it much, until I tried a homemade version at a friends house (that'd be YOU Kelli Lytle). THANKS! It forever changed my outlook on pesto.

My homemade pesto recipe

For the pizza toppings, I wanted to be a little different since this was, after all, a unique recipe. I settled on pesto, sun dried tomatoes, chioggia beets, asparagus, shredded dubliner cheese, and arugula.

The finished product? Amazing!

Bonus version
I made a version of this pizza in a hotel room while on the road. Yes, in a hotel room. It was quite impressive. I did have a toaster oven that I brought along, so it was possible to bake. I also had a travel blender that I used to process the cauliflower. How's that for creativity? Indeed you can eat healthy on the road!

Cauliflower "Pizza"

by Stephanie Howe
Prep Time: 15-20 min
Cook Time: 10-15 min
Keywords: bake entree summer
Ingredients (Serves 2, with leftovers)
    • 1 head cauliflower
    • 1 egg
    • 1/2 c cottage cheese
    • 2-3 c basil loosely packed
    • 1 c toasted pine nuts
    • 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
    • 2-3 cloves garlic
    • 1/2 t sea salt
    • 1/2 thinly sliced beet
    • 5 sun dried tomatoes, sliced in half
    • 4 stalks asparagus, trimmed and cut in thirds
    • 1/2 c grated cheese
    • 1-2 c arugula
    • sea salt
    • extra virgin olive oil
    • 4-5 slices prosciutto (optional)
    To make the crust, start by adding cauliflower to a food processor. Process small amounts at a time until you have a "rice like" consistency. Add cauliflower to a baking sheet and bake at 200 for 10-15 minutes to dry out. Check the cauliflower after about 10 minutes and stir. You may need to bake for longer, depending on the moisture content. The cauliflower is done when it feels dry to the touch. Next, add the egg and cottage cheese to a large bowl. Mix to combine and add cauliflower mixture. Mix thoroughly and spread out onto a non-stick baking sheet. I used parchment paper to prevent sticking. Spread out evenly and thin. You can return the crust to the oven for a few minutes, but it's now ready for toppings.
    To make the pesto, add all ingredients to a food processor. Turn on and combine until a smooth paste. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides a few times. Add more oil if the consistency is too thick.
    To assemble, spread the pesto on the cauliflower crust. Sprinkle with sun dried tomatoes. Top with thinly sliced beets, asparagus, and prosciutto (if using). Sprinkle shredded cheese on top. Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes, or until crust is firm and cheese is bubbling. Remove from oven and add arugula on top. Return to the oven for 2-3 more minutes or until arugula is wilted. Remove from oven and sprinkle with sea salt and olive oil.
    Let cool for a few minutes before slicing. Yum!
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    Homemade Petso

    I am slightly obsessed with Pesto.

    However, I didn't really care for it until a few years ago. I would always choose tomato sauce over pesto on my pizza. That is, until a friend introduced me to the deliciousness of homemade pesto. We were having a pizza party one night and each person was supposed to contribute an ingredient for the pizza. I don't know how this happened since we didn't discuss what we were bringing, but we ended up with: homemade pesto, prosciutto, pear, gouda cheese, and caramelized onions. What were the chances? It was the makings for an epic pizza.

    My good friend, Kelli Lytle, is an amazing cook. I turn to her for much inspiration. She is always creating the most delicious and unique foods to share. I look forward sharing a meal with Kelli. She always makes the best things! Especially dessert!

    Anyway, the homemade pesto that Kelli brought to pizza night blew my mind. It really MADE the pizza. So good. Since then I've made my own versions, varying the ingredients a bit. The base ingredients are the same each time though:

    • basil
    • extra virgin olive oil
    • pine nuts
    • garlic
    • sea salt
    Simple. Classic. Delicious.

    To make the pesto, I first start with raw pinenuts and toast them myself. It's so easy to do and the fragrant smell is amazing. There are two ways to toast pinenuts:

    • In the Oven: Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Add pine nuts to a baking sheet and bake for about 10 min, until fragrant just starting to brown. Stir every 5 minutes to prevent burning.
    • On the Stove: Heat a pan over medium heat. Add the pinenuts and toast for about a minute, then toss. Keep heating and tossing every minute until pinenuts are brown. Remove from heat.
    I prefer to toast them on the stove, but either method works. Once the pinenuts are cooled add then to a food processor along with the basil, olive oil, garlic, and sea salt. Turn on and process until smooth. I usually have to scrape down the sides a few times and add a little more olive oil for a smoother consistency.

    Serve immediately for store in the fridge for up to a week.


    by Stephanie Howe
    Prep Time: 5 min
    Cook Time: 2 min
    Keywords: blender Sauce vegan
    Ingredients (1 c)
    • 1 c pine nuts, toasted
    • 2-3 c basil loosely packed
    • 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
    • 2-3 cloves garlic
    • 1/2 t sea salt
    I often double the ingredients so I have leftovers!
      Toasted Pinenuts
      In the Oven: Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Add pine nuts to a baking sheet and bake for about 10 min, until fragrant just starting to brown. Stir every 5 minutes to prevent burning.
      On the Stove: Heat a pan over medium heat. Add the pinenuts and toast for about a minute, then toss. Keep heating and tossing every minute until pinenuts are brown. Remove from heat.
      Add cooled pinenuts, basil, olive oil, garlic, and salt to a food processor. Turn on and process until smooth. You may need to scrape down the sides a few times and add more olive oil for a smoother consistency.
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      Thursday, May 14, 2015

      Coconut Cardamom Overnight Oats

      Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I love to sit down with a huge mug of coffee and leisurely eat my breakfast while catching up on emails. In my ideal world, breakfast takes anywhere from 1-2 hours. I love preparing a good, healthy, satisfying meal each morning. Some of my favorites include homemade waffles with nut butter, crepes with gruyere cheese and ham, smoothies, homemade macca muffins, poached eggs on homemade bread, etc. Although delicious, NONE of these are quick. On a weekend, no problem, but during the week I don't have time to sit an watch my muffins cook in the oven for 15 minutes. 

      I need something quick most mornings. 

      But, I hate to have a just eat a crappy breakfast because it sets the tone for the day. When my breakfast is rushed or not a healthy, satisfying meal I feel off. 

      Enter the weekday solution: Overnight Oats. 

      These are so simple to prepare the night before and are easy to take with you on a busy morning. Plus, the options are endless! There are so many ways to customize the overnight oats recipe that it's hard to tire of them. 

      The recipe below for Coconut Cardamom Overnight Oats is one that I have been enjoying lately. Part of why I like this recipe is because of it's nutritional benefits:
      • Coconut milk. Coconut milk is a creamy, delicious alternative to dairy or nut milks. It tastes wonderful and is full of good, healthy fats (medium chain fatty acids) that provide energy and are processed different that other saturated fats. 
      • Chia Seeds. Chia seeds are packed with protein and rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.
      • Organic Oats. A great source of carbohydrate, which is the most important fuel for endurance activities.
      • Greek yogurt. A good source of protein and calcium, which helps support bone health.
      • JEM Raw Organic Nut Butter. Full of good nutrients, including healthy fats and protein. Nut butter is not only delicious, but also helps keep you full for longer.
      • Hemp Hearts. These add a little texture and are also a good source of plant based protein and omega-3 fats. 

      Coconut Cardamom Overnight Oats

      by Stephanie Howe
      Prep Time: 2-3 minutes
      Keywords: raw breakfast vegan Pre-workout 
      Ingredients (1 serving)
      • 1- 1 1/2 c. coconut milk ( I use regular, not unsweetened for a creamier taste)
      • 2-3 T chia seeds
      • 1/2 c rolled oats
      • 1 banana, cut into slices
      • 1/3- 1/2 c greek yogurt
      • 1/2 t ground cardamom
      • 1/4 t ground cinnamon
      • 1 T hemp hearts
      • 1 T pepitas
      • 1 T Jem cashew cardamum nut butter , drizzled on top
      In a small bowl combine coconut milk, chia seeds, oats, banana, cardamom, and cinnamon. Stir together until well combined.
      Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator overnight.
      In the morning, mix in yogurt, and hemp hearts. Top with pepitas and drizzle with JEM cashew cardamum nut butter . Sprinkle with a dash of cinnamon if desired.
      Powered by Recipage

      Mix together the night before

      The next morning, add the rest of the ingredients, stir, and top with pepitas, nut butter, and cinnamon. So easy!

      And delicious!

      Tuesday, May 12, 2015

      3 2 1 Lake Sonoma!

      Photo: Billy Yang
      Lake Sonoma was my first 50 mile race ever. In 2012, I was a newbie runner, with three 50k races under my belt. I was [timidly] ready to make the jump to the 50 mile distance. I did my best to prepare, including some great tutelage from my good friend Meghan Arbogast. I was as ready as I'd ever be...except I got the stomach flu a few days beforehand. Not the best feeling going into your longest race ever. Anyway, I still raced and finished third. Far from an ideal race, but I was just happy to cross the finish line in one piece! Back then, only the top 2 places earned Western States spots, which I was a little bummed about. BUT, honestly that was the best thing that could have happened to me. After one 50 mile, I was no where near ready for 100 miles.

      Photo: iRunFar
      2012 Lake Sonoma Podium. Joelle, Tyler, and I.
      Anyway. Back to Lake Sonoma.

      So the first year I raced I finished third. In 2013, I was planning to race, but was forced to sit it out due to injury. 2013 was a big year for learning. I was injured almost more than I was running. I learned the hard way not to do too much too soon. Looking back now, I'm like what were you thinking?!

      In 2014 I returned to Lake Sonoma, healthy and ready to run. It was a cool day and I felt much better than my previous attempt. Emily Harrison took the win and course record that year in 7:26. I finished a several minutes back, in 7:33 for second place. I cut off nearly 45 minutes from my previous time, which I felt good about. Plus, Emily is a runner I really look up to and was psyched to not get totally annihilated :)
      Emily and I, Lake Sonoma 2014
      I decided to run Lake Sonoma again this year because I hadn't felt that I nailed the race yet. Sure in 2014 I ran well, but the last 11 miles ate me alive! There was still a lot of room for improvement. Maybe not so much in my time or finish, but in the way I ran the race. I wanted to still be pushing at the end, not merely trying to survive the last couple hours.

      If you would have asked me my goals going into LS this year, I would have said that it was a bonus race for me. I wasn't targeting it nor did I feel that I had really nailed my training leading up to the race. I simply wanted to get another race start under my belt for the spring and to run the last 1/3 of the race better. My goal that I didn't really tell anyone was to run around 7:30. I thought that was attainable if I had a great day. I thought 7:33 that I ran the previous year was pretty darn fast under ideal conditions. I also wanted to finish on the podium. I knew there were quite a few women capable of that feat, and I wanted to be among them. irunfar Pre-Race wine tasting Interview

      Photo: iRunFar
      Turns out someone lit a fire under my ass.

      I don't know what got into me. Somewhere around 5-6 miles into the race I decided it was my day. It was my f$%^& day to run this race. I wanted to lead wire to wire and if I couldn't, well at least I'd put up a good fight. That doesn't mean that I went balls out from the gun. I still paced myself early on and had some good chit chat with Cassie Scallon early on. Once we crossed the river, around 11 miles in, YiOu Wang, Topher Gaylord, and I grouped up and ran for the next 10 miles or so. It was pretty comfortable and I was enjoying their company.

      I look cold. Gary should have shared his blanket!
      There are basically three big climbs on the LS course, and they all occur around the halfway point. I look forward to those long hills because I can finally get into a groove. All those quick spicy hills don't suit me very well. It was on the first of the three long uphills that I kind of went for it. Again, nothing crazy, but I just got into a groove and let my legs do their thing. On the downhill side, instead of holding back, I pushed the pace. Why not give it a try?

      Early on
      Photo: Chris Jones
      I was definitely having fun, pushing the pace on the uphills and letting my legs roll on the downs. After a brief moment of panic at the halfway point: someone stole Brian Tinder's weed!! JK- that is a joke....he made a funny at the aid station, I was excited to start the trek back to the finish. I really was looking forward to the turnaround for two reasons:

      1. I'm halfway (duh!)


      2. To see and cheer for other runners passing by running outbound. It boosts my mood to see other racers, especially some of my good friends!

      Somewhere around 30 miles in, I sort of paid the price for all the "fun" pushing the downhills. My quads were trashed. Oh well. I knew I could run 20 miles on trashed quads, it was just a matter of keeping my energy levels up. I continued to fuel well (3 Clif shot gels per hour) and tried to run as smooth as possible.

      Photo: iRunFar
      I can't say that I really enjoyed the last 11 miles, but I was able to keep pushing forward. My legs hurt pretty bad, but I kept a good attitude and tried my best to not let the wheels come off.

      When I race I normally don't look at my watch at all. I like to just go off feel. I do keep tabs on the miles though, and when my watch buzzed at mile 44 I looked down at the time. "Holy crap- if I can just average 10 min miles for the last 6 miles I'll have a course record!" That was actually the first time that thought crossed my mind. And as I neared the finish, the course record became a more tangible prospect.

      The last mile of LS is killer. If anyone tells you different, they are lying. It's mostly uphill and there are some rocky sections. It's seems to take an exponentially long time. In the past years I've fallen in the last mile because I just couldn't pick up my feet enough. No falls this time, but plenty of fatigue.

      Photo: Chris Jones
      I made it to the finish line in 7:08!! Which surprised the crap out of me! I didn't think I could run that fast, especially on a course like Lake Sonoma. No one was more surprised than me. In a good way :) I did put myself under pretty good, but it was worth it because I really wanted that double magnum of wine that had eluded me the past few years!

      irunfar Post-Race Wine Tasting Interview

      Ultra Sports Live Interview

      Thanks Wilson Wine!
      Photo: Billy Yang
      I've had lots of time to process my race at Lake Sonoma, and I'm still not entirely sure how I pulled it off. Comparing my race from 2014 to 2015 (I'm not a data geek, but this is interesting), I thought I'd see similar splits for the first 30-40 miles, then a much better pace for the last 10 miles. Not exactly. I actually just ran about 30 seconds per mile faster for the entire race. Interesting....does that mean there is still room for improvement over the last 10 miles? Haha. I don't know, but I'm pretty content with my race. In fact, it may have been one of my best races ever......

      (2014 Lake Sonoma Strava)

      Of course, I couldn't have raced so well without some great support. I am the luckiest girl alive to have THE BEST crew on the planet! Thanks Elisa Cheng and Brian Carroll for being awesome. And a special thanks to Zach, who not only crewed for me, but also put up with my pre-race shenanigans and drove me to the start at 5:30am.

      And another big thanks to my sponsors: The North Face, Clif Bar, Flora, Nathan, and Julbo. Their support and products make it possible for me to race!

      And finally, (is this the academy awards?!) thanks to my coach Ian Torrence for preparing me to kick ass and to Burke Selbst at Focus Physical Therapy for keeping me healthy.

      It takes a village.

      Post-race wine tasting with the Cheng's

      Saturday, April 4, 2015

      Something Different: The Grand Traverse

      One of my goals for 2015 was to get out of my comfort zone. I can definitely say I've accomplished this goal last weekend at the Grand Traverse. There were so many moments of what did I get myself into? followed by moments of satisfaction as I approached my limits..... and then pushed past them!

      One thing that I really thrive on is setting out to do something I'm intimidated by. I mean, I guess deep down I know I can complete the task, but the thought of how is quite overwhelming. This isn't a new feeling for me, but I have to continue to seek new experiences to still get those same feelings.

      So that's how the Grand Traverse came about. It's a 40 mile backcountry ski race, from Crested Butte to Aspen. Additional challenges include a start time at midnight, elevation up to 12,500 ft (with most of the race above 11,00ft), and it's a partner race.

      The partner part was easy :) Zach had raced the Grand Traverse a few years ago and wanted to go back with better preparation and gear. So we decided to team up this year, which made me a little nervous. We have tested ourselves quite a few times racing as a pair: Transrockies twice, local adventure races, pacing each other during 100-milers; and we tend to work well together. However, I was worried about the ability difference between the two of us. Zach is a pretty darn good skier! And me, well, we'll just say I got out on my backcountry skis about 5 or 6 times this year.

      Enroute. Sporting #Free Range!

      So it was a perfect recipe for fulling the new experience goal. Or something like that :)

      We arrived in Crested Butte a few days early to acclimate. Ha. Really it was just an excuse to spend a couple days in a beautiful place together. I had planned to get in a few runs, but I forgot about the fact that CB itself is at 9,000ft. And everything is up from there. It was amazingly hard for me to do even easy runs. And I feel like I adapt to attitude well. Nonetheless, we had some fun visiting our favorite places, which include First Ascent coffee roasters, Secret Stash, and Dogwood Cocktail cabin.

      Dogwood. In case you are wondering it's exactly the same in CB and Bend.

      Plus, we also had a few good friends that we racing too. So it really was like a vacation....just with a really hard race in the middle.

      Checking out the snow the day before
      Race day was tough for me. A midnight start is probably the worst possible time for me to start a race. I'm not a stay up late person, and I'm not a good napper either. So I basically just twiddled my thumbs until 10:30pm or so and then was ready to go to sleep. Consequently that was also the time we decided to take the shuttle of to the start. This was going to be a long night for me.....

      The buzz at the start was pretty cool. There were so many friends and fellow runners: Rob Krar, Jason Schlarb, Tina Lewis, Steve Kremer, Matt Hart, Jenn Shelton. It was nice to see familiar faces! There was also a pretty rad party underway at the start. I'll admit I was a bit envious of those not in spandex who could soon go to bed....

      Start of the race
      Photo credit: Elk Mountain Grand Traverse
      The beginning of the race was kind. It was a gentle climb up Mt. Crested Butte and served as a good warm up. I was SO happy that the weather was warm this year. I've heard horror stories about sub-0 temps and frostbite. I tend to get cold really easy, so it was a relief to have temps in the upper 20's at the start. And in rare form, I would even admit I was a bit warm as as we made our way uphill. That never happens. I guess I did have on mittens and hand warmers though :)

      The first few hours were a mix of downhills, skins on, and running. As we were told in the pre-race briefing there were lots of spicy sections. What does that even mean? Well, we sure found out! We'd be skiing along and suddenly come to a rocky downhill that required some creativity to maneuver through. There were many times I apologized to my skis for what I skiing over :/ Eeek!

      Once we were a few hours in we started the long climb up to Star Pass. I enjoyed this part, at first, because we were finally able to get in a rhythm. Partway up the climb I started to feel kinda bad. I'm not really sure why, but probably a combo of the time of day, almost 4:00am, and the elevation, around 12,000ft. My stomach was just not happy.

      Zach wins the award for the best partner ever. In an attempt to keep my hands from freezing, we decided that I shouldn't even think about taking off my big boxing mitts. So Zach essentially had to feed me because I couldn't open anything. He would put a Clif blok or two in his hand and I would literally eat it out of his hand. It was probably quite comical to watch!

      Star pass is about the halfway point of the race time-wise. It's also the biggest downhill and sort of sketchy because it's dark and so high. I'm actually glad I couldn't see because we basically dropped in off of a cornice into a steep, icy descent. I didn't have the most fun going down because I was trying to just stay on my feet and not die. This was one of those places where I went way out of my comfort zone!
      Star Pass in the daylight.
      Photo: Cecily Runge's dad :)
      After Star Pass, we side hilled for the next 5 hours. Well, it wasn't actually that long, but it felt like it! Side hilling, I decided is my LEAST favorite way to ski ever. It just doesn't feel good. My feet were hurting from my new boots that I decided to wear and I was just tired. But, there wasn't anything we could do besides just keep shuffling forward.

      Sometime around sunrise we hit Taylor Pass, which was both the most beautiful section and also my lowest point of the race. Since my stomach felt so bad I wasn't fueling that well and was starting to bonk. I was really struggling to move forward. The alpenglow on the Marroon Bells did help to lift my spirits and it was one of the most beautiful sunrises I've seen!

      This fire saved me
      Photo credit: 2015 Race Photos
      I was really looking forward to Bernard hut, which was a mandatory 10-min rest with soup! I think that soup saved me. Upon departing, I felt like a new person!

      .....Which lasted approximately 15 minutes until we hit death road. This is what I'm calling it. I'm sure it has its own name, but to me it's death road. This was an 8 mile is section of rolling snowmobile track. It was lumpy and narrow and icy and slushy. And it was SO slow. We tried skating at first, but it was just taking way too much energy. So, we took off our skis and walked. It was truly a slog. Walk uphill, put skis on, ski sketchy downhill (for those in Bend- it was similar to coming down from Todd lake on nordie skis on the snowmobile track). And repeat. I could not imagine anyway moving slower, but then we started catching people. So I guess everyone was just moving that slow. Death road.

      It probably wasn't that bad, but it was 7 or 8 hours into the race and we were both tired. Again, Zach was the best partner ever and carried my skis when we had to walk. It was kind of an equalizer, but I know it was hard for him near the end. Thanks babe!

      When we caught site of the top of Aspen mountain I could not have been move excited. I was really not enjoying the last several miles. Knowing that we just had to ski down to Aspen was such a great relief. The run down was one of the longest I've been on in awhile. It just kept going. We were both so ready to be done! After 3,000ft of descent we finally could see the finish line. I don't think I've ever been happier to be done with a race! We crossed together in just over 9 hours.

      The euphoric post-race feeling lasted about 5 minutes and then we crashed. After going a whole night without sleep we were both feeling pretty messed up. I had booked a hotel, but unfortunately we weren't supposed to check in until 4:00pm, and it was 9:00am. Arg! So we milled around like zombies until we were able to get into our room.

      The rest of the day was a blur, but there were some fun post-race events. The weather was beautiful for March and it did actually feel like spring break! We ended up third co-ed team and were both very satisfied with that. We had a couple mechanical issues (I wore new boots for the first time :/) and I slowed us down on some of the descents. Now that I know what to expect I think we can probably go quite a bit faster. But for now I am totally happy to finish on the podium :)

      Coming back home it was a tough transition back to work and back to running. I'm trying to get my butt in shape for Lake Sonoma next weekend! We'll see how that goes.....

      I'm really glad that I tried something new. It gave me a boost of confidence and it was really fun to suffer with Zach for 9 hours! Best partner ever!