Friday, December 7, 2012

Stephanie Howe - The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship GORE-TEX 50 Mile Race Report

Stephanie Howe - The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship GORE-TEX 50 Mile Race Report

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The North Face 50 Mile Endurance Challenge

Wow, what a day! I cannot express in words how unbelievably happy I was with my race. To finish the season with such a high despite the set back I had this fall was amazing! I could not have been more excited!
Congratulating Emelie at the finish
Photo Credit: Brett Rivers, San Francisco Running Company

Post-race interview: iRunFar

Race recap on iRunFar: TNF 50 miler iRunFar

The race was epic in so many ways. It was pouring rain, muddy, foggy, and windy the entire race. In a way it took a little edge off racing and more focus on just trying to stay upright in the mud. I actually had a blast racing and found myself smiling during most of the race. I think attitude is really important in a race like this. I would have been really easy to get upset because the conditions were so bad, but it would have negatively affected my race. I tend to do well in races with adverse conditions because I keep a good attitude. I kept thinking to myself while I was racing "how cool is it that I'm outside, running right now?" 

Early Morning
Photo Credit: The North Face
The starting line, as always at a North Face Endurance Challenge, was full of energy and excitement. Despite the conditions, runners were laughing and smiling; excited to take on this challenge.

Start of the 50 miler
Photo credit: The North Face

Early Blur
Photo credit: The North Face
The first few miles were a nice easy warm up. It was really hard to see much with all the rain and fog, so it was easy to start conservatively. I felt really good as I settled in to the first long climb at a steady, rhythmic pace. It was so quiet and zen like and things were going really well. I had a good feeling about my race. 
Running in the elements
Photo Credit: Ken Schuh, Ultra Race Photos
After a few hours the sun came up it started to get light out and I found finally see what was around me. I had no idea what place I was in, and I didn't really care. I was determined to run my own race and have fun while doing it. I just focused on taking care of myself and trying to fuel every 20 minutes or so. In the past I've waited too long to start taking gels and ended up paying for it later. This race I made a point to start early and to keep it up throughout the race. I tried to get at least 2 gels down each hour. 

Lots of Mud
Photo Credit: Ken Schuh, Ultra Race Photos

Start of the second loop
Photo credit: Brett Rivers, San Francisco Running Company
After passing through Muir beach aid station (mile 13 ) I got a split that I was in third place. I knew that I was feeling good, but I had no idea I was doing that well. Although I was excited, I didn't change anything. There was a lot of running left to do, and I didn't want to get overzealous. 

Photo Credit: Brett Rivers, San Francisco Running Company

Near the end of the first lap and I caught and passed Emelie [Forsberg], and moved into 2nd place. As we lapped through, I picked up my pacer and (slowly) started chasing down Maud [Gobert], who was leading. Emelie and I caught Maud at about the same point, and the three of us jockeyed for position over the next couple miles. Near the top of a climb, Emelie took the lead and started to gap the two of us a bit. Still, I kept my steady pace. I was more interested in feeling good toward the end than busting my butt mid-race to maintain contact with Emelie. 

Somehow in the mix of chaos at one of the aid stations I lost my pacer. It was actually a good thing because I was able to pick her up again later in the race. This allowed me to really focus on what I was doing. I tried to make some small talk with Maud and her pacer, but quickly found out they spoke French (I had no idea). 

Nearing the end of the race
Photo Credit: Brett Rivers, San Francisco Running Company
The last 5 miles of the race were tough. I was starting to fatigue and really wanted to finish. I had closed the gap to less than a minute from the lead. As I passed through the aid station before the last 5 miles, I picked up my pacer again. Also, one of my teammates Jordan McDougal, was near me and slowed down to help pull me along. I could see Emelie and her pacer, Anna Frost, on the climb and tried my best to chase them down. 

As we approached the road at the last mile I knew I wasn't going to catch the lead. But I didn't care. I was so STOKED that I was in second. As we neared the finish line I could hear the energy of the crowd gathered despite the rain! It was so cool to see so many people out supporting the race.

Nearing the finish
Photo Credit: The North Face

As I rounded the corner and entered the finish shoot I had a big grin on my face. I was SO happy!!!

So happy!
Photo Credit: Ken Schuh, Ultra Race Photos

Photo Credit: Ken Schuh, Ultra Race Photos
Photo: iRunFar

I crossed the finish line, totally spent and totally happy. The first person to congratulate me was Emelie, and I gave her a big hug. I was so impressed with her strength near the end of the race. She is one tough girl!

Congratulating Emelie at the finish
Photo Credit: Brett Rivers, San Francisco Running Company

I really have to thank my pacer for helping me endure the last few miles and remind Jordan that although I really appreciated his help, next race he had better not run with me :) I also really have to thank The North Face crew, they worked so hard to pull this race off. Lots of hard work and long hours went into making this event happen. I was so impressed with how they handled the situation when the weather threatened to cancel the race. It takes quite a team effort to pull off such a great event. THANK YOU!

Photo Credit: Brett Rivers, San Francisco Running Company 

 Wow. I'm still blown away by my race. It was such a great day! I look forward to more races in the future…….AFTER a much needed break to ski, relax, and drink some hot cocoa.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

USATF Marathon Trail National Championships

Double O Arch
I traveled to Moab, Utah for the USATF Trail National Championships. I was enticed by this race because I had never been to Moab before and I'd always enjoyed the USATF Championship races. Good courses, good competition, and cool places. This year, the location was no exception! I arrived a couple days early and was able to check out Arches National Park. It was beautiful, and so different from anywhere else I've been. Arches was spectacular! I'm glad I had the opportunity to visit.

Arches National Park
 The itself race was interesting. The website had shown some rocky terrain and a section of trail where a rope was needed to safely cross. It honestly looked like a lot of fun. I love races that have some tough terrain to break up the monotony. I tend to do well on those courses because I'm able to have fun with it.

The day before the race I checked out the course with Ryan and Natalie Bak, who also came down from Bend to race. Upon inspection we realized that the race was going to have a few more 'fun obstacles' than we expected.
Ryan checking out the trail
The morning of the race was clear and sunny, perfect temperature for running. I slowly made my way up near the front of the starting line, not really sure I belonged there with so many elite women racing! Everyone was super friendly though and before I knew it, we were off, barreling down the narrow, rocky trail.
View of the cliff we ran up. Picture doesn't do it justice.
  The race was hard. I wish I could say I enjoyed it, but I suffered. I'm not even really sure why it was so difficult. It seemed like I could never get into a rhythm- I was either climbing up over boulders, running through sand, or using my hands and legs to crawl down over rock ledges. The trail was not crazy technical, but there was never a point where it let up. It was exhausting because I had to constantly think about exactly where I was going to put my next footstep. It was also hard to follow the trail at times, because there was often not a designated trail, only flagging. Since I was spending so much time looking at my feet it was easy to miss some of the flagging. I ended up going off trail a few times, which was no one's fault but my own, but still annoying.

The course consisted a a big 21 mile loop followed by a smaller 5 mile loop that contained all the 'obstacles'. There were also two out and back checkpoints where we had to run to the checkpoint, designated by an orange kite, punch our bibs with a special hole punch, and turnaround to head back to the course. Adventure race, anyone?


I think I settled into 5th place around mile 5 or 6 and stayed there until the finish. Due to the nature of the course, everyone was really spread out. There was a good 10 mile stretch where I could see no one ahead of me or behind me. No man's land. Not a good place to be when you are suffering. The last 5 miles were particularly challenging for me because I was tired, dehydrated, and not thinking very positively. I wasn't in the mood the climb up the side of boulders or use ropes to propel me down a rock slope. I think I would have loved the ropes and ladders more if the race in general had a better mix of crazy challenging sections interspersed with more runable sections. I almost ended up catching the 4th place woman, but in the end I didn't have the mental capacity to push myself into the next gear. I was just done. I crossed the finish line in 5th, thankful to have just finished! I took a couple steps past the finish line, realized how bad I felt, and immediately walked myself to the medical tent. I had stopped fueling and drinking during the last 5 miles and was paying for it. Not smart. I was ok after a bit of shade, fluids, and salt though.


Although the race course was not what I was expecting, I think it was good for building mental toughness and making me stronger. I think every runner I talked to had a similar experience and wasn't feeling so great after finishing. I thought about dropping out more than a few times, but am glad I didn't. Now as I look back, the lessons I learned were different from many races, but still just as important.

1. Just keep running. Yes, things get hard and races don't go how you plan but you have to just keep going. 

2. Be flexible. In this race I was constantly having to change gears: jump up over something, turn sideways to fit through a narrow rock ledge, use my hands to climb down a huge rock drop off, run under something, etc. I challenged myself to be adaptable and accept everything that I encountered. 

3. Keep a positive attitude. It's hard to stay positive, especially when things don't go as planned. This is probably the issue I struggled with most during the Moab marathon. There were times when I did a good job staying positive and there were also times when I just gave up. I realized I need to work on my attitude when things start to come undone. I think recognizing where both of my strengths and weaknesses occur is the best way to learn and become stronger in the future. So here's to the future…. 

Enjoying Moab the next day!

Making my way down the 'trail'

So much sunshine!

Ryan on the race course

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why I'm not running

What I've been up to…..

Life has been a bit interesting the past couple months. I've had to put all my race plans on hold and restructure my daily activities to accommodate a fractured hip. On August 24th (2 days after my birthday!) I had an encounter with a car while riding my bike. Needless to say, the the car won and I ended up in urgent care. After various x-rays, MRI's, and evaluations I was diagnosed with an avulsion fracture in my left lesser trochanter (bone that connects the femur and hip). It was extremely painful to do anything beside lay on my right side. I spent the next week totally sedentary, catching up on all my movie watching and book reading. Thankfully my friend Taryn came up from Corvallis to keep me company during the first few days!

Everyone gets injured at some point and it sucks, but this injury was especially frustrating because it was out of my control. My emotions varied from sad to depressed to angry. It's one thing to take a few days easy, but it's another to be forced to bedrest. And I am NOT good at resting all day! After a few days of feeling sorry for myself I tried to focus on the positive and look forward to the future. The accident could have been a lot worse. I walked (well, not quite walked) away with only an avulsion fracture and a lot of soft tissue damage. Plus, I suddenly had more free time to do other things like:

  • Visit my Family

I flew back to Minnesota to visit my family and attend a friends wedding in Wisconsin. My dad had hurt his back, so the two of us were quite the pair. My mom and I stayed in a little hotel in Bayfield, WI for a wedding. The weather was absolutely beautiful and we had a great time exploring (slowly). It was nice to get back to my roots!

Sara & Ben's Wedding
My mom and I
Lake Superior

Bayfield Marina

  • Study 

All PhD students must pass comprehensive exams after completing coursework before starting the dissertation. The comprehensive exams consist of written (2 hours/ committee member) and oral (2 hours). Since I had 4 committee members, I had 8 hours of written + 2 hours of oral. Anything in the field of study is fair game for comps. Meaning, I had to study everything I knew to prepare. This took quite a bit of time! Thankfully, I am done! I passed both written and oral exams and am a doctoral candidate. Sure feels good!

I finally started coaching! It took me some time to figure out how I wanted to format the training plans and begin. Now I have a couple clients and am off and running!

This past month I've been able to start running again! I'm still not 100% healed, but I've still been able to do some cool things:

  • Watch the Flagline 50k: It was hard not to race this year, but Riley and I had a good time cheering on friends.

  • Set a new course record at the Pilot Butte Challenge (8:32). I've never done the race before, so it was fun to try and get my name on the board. 

  • Hike South Sister with Ian Sharman (TNF teammate) and Taryn

Taryn and I hiking up 
Morraine Lake
Taryn and I at the top
Middle & North Sister 

  • Circumnavigate Mt Hood with an AWESOME group of people. It was SO beautiful! All the fall colors were out and we had a long time (43 miles in 10 hours) to enjoy them. 

Mt. Hood

Beautiful fall colors along the trail

Ramona Falls
Mike, me, Zach, Max, Ellie, & Amy

So much fun!

Taking a break for some lunch

Amy and I running above tree line

  • And Finally, I had my debut back to racing! I ran Super Dave's Down & Dirty Half last Sunday. I finished second to Natalie Bak, who is a good friend and super fast runner! It wasn't my best race, but it was good to be back in the loop. I'm looking forward to the next few months!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Transrockies: The North Face Bendites

Once again, Zach and I decided to team up and take on the 6-day, 120 mile GORE-TEX transrockies race across the Colorado rockies. Last year we tackled the race as an unprepared, undertrained duo not really sure what we were getting ourselves into. We ended up finishing third, but almost killed ourselves in the process. This year we were much more prepared and ready to get revenge. Turns out training and working together pays off! 

Celebrating the win!
We started the trip by flying into Denver and spending a few days with two of my best friends from high school. It was so nice to relax and have some fun before heading out to race. On Sunday afternoon we took the bus up to Buena Vista for the start of the race. Again, we had a couple days to relax and get used to the altitude since most of Transrockies is at or above 10,000ft! It was so much fun to see the town transform and become alive with energy as the runners started to arrive. Hundreds of runners filled the streets, shops, and restaurants in anticipation of the start of the race. 

Buena Vista, CO

This year there was a big crew from Bend, including Zach and I, Jeff and Katie Caba, Jeff Browning, Rod Bien, Max King, Mario Mendoza, and honorable mentions to Sean Meissner (past resident) and Jorge Maravilla (future resident :) It was so much fun to have such a great group of talented individuals and really puts Bend on the map as a mecca for runners!

Bend runners at the front 
Photo: Jonathan McLeod
One of my favorite things about Transrockies is the people. There are so many great people both racing and working at the event! I'm so sad to leave all my runner friends after a week of bonding! It's amazing how running instantly draws us to one another. After a week of running, laughing, and suffering together it's amazing how close everyone becomes. It's truly a special week and the last day is so bittersweet! 

Open Mixed Podium
Photo: Jonathan McLeod
Zach and I had a spectacular week! Each day we got a little bit stronger and increased our lead by a little more. Thanks to our patience (ok, Zach's patience not mine :) and some great competition we were able to push ourselves and throw down some fast times. Some really impressive performances by Dave James & Amy Lane (2nd place) and Geoff Reid & Amy Schneeberg (3rd) really made us work to earn the win. I was so impressed by both teams, both on and off the race course. Truly some great people!

Photo: Chris Hunter

 It was really cool to finish first this year, but the thing I will remember most from the week is all the fun I had. Each day the race course took us across some beautiful scenery up and down mountains with breathtaking views. At the end of the day it really didn't matter if you were first or last, just that you were out there taking it all in. I kept thinking to myself "how cool is it that you are running across the top of a mountain right now?" I would recommend transrockies to any runner looking for a fun adventure in the mountains or an opportunity to attend running camp for adults. I know I'll definitely be back :)
Photo: Chris Hunter
Finishing a great week of running!
Photo: Chris Hunter

Friday, August 10, 2012

Mt. Ashland Hill Climb

Climbing to the finish line
Ah, the Mt. Ashland Hill Climb. The race has kind of become a ritual for me each August. For the past 4 years I have traveled down with other nordic skiers to participate in the half marathon hill climb. The race itself is painful, and never gets any easier, but the experience is always great! We try to make a weekend out of it and do something fun on the Sunday after the race.

Each year I've run I've gotten a bit faster and come across the finish line first. This year I still finished first but was about a minute slower. Oh well, it was pretty hot out! Most people's times were quite a bit slower. I've been just shy of the record and thought maybe this was year I could crack Evelyn Dong's (a fellow XC Oregon nordic skier) time. No such luck. I was actually about a minute slower than last year. I blame the heat. Most runners were actually a bit slower this year too. Full results & story: Ashland Mail Tribune
Hal Koerner finishing

Runners making their way to the finish
So, those of you who know Zach know he is infamous for his 'adventures'. I can't count the number of times we've gone to do something and it's turn into some sort of epic sufferfest. Deep down I kind of like it though :) The day after the Ashland Hill Climb has always been some sort of 'adventure'. One year, we went on a bike ride to 'spin our legs out'. I guess I missed the memo that it was a 60 mile ride with a 15 mile hill climb in the middle and a sprint finish. I bonked. The next year we biked around Crater Lake, which if you've been there you know you are either biking 3 mph or 30 mph. There is no flat. I think we biked about 70 miles. This year may have topped all other adventures. We decided that it would be a good idea to run down after the race. Since we have TransRockies coming up soon Zach thought it would be a good idea to run the 13.3 miles back down to get used to running downhill. Somehow I thought it sounded like a good idea too. After running hard for 2 hours up to the top of Mt. Ashland, we turned around and started running back down. The beginning wasn't too bad since there was still aid stations set up near the top. After we got to mile 10, as in 10 miles to run back into town, the aid stations were closed. It was around that time that it started to get hot. I mean really hot. It was like we got hit by a wall of 100 degree heat as we descended into the valley. I ran out of water about halfway down. Somehow we made it back to the house AND in time to watch the men's olympic 10k on NBC. Success! If that wasn't enough craziness, the next morning we drove over to Oakridge to join some friends running the second half (30 miles) of the Where's Waldo 100k. It was an awesome run! There was a small group of us, including Meghan Arbogast and Kami Semick, who are two a my good friends. It took us a little under 6 hours to run and we finished right before a thunderstorm rolled in. Double success!

Top of Maiden Peak with Kami, Meghan, and Zach

I had to take a few days laying on the couch watching olympics to recover. Such a great race weekend, and just enough time to get recovered before TransRockies…stay tuned……