american birkebeiner, 2015.

whoa guys…where has February gone?! i mean, for months and months, especially since the start of winter AND even more so, since the start of this year, the primary athletic event at the forefront of my mind has been the Birkie (the American Birkebeiner). i signed up for this event once, a few year ago because some friends were doing it and i thought it might be fun. needless to say, i never actually went and did the race. so, it’s been on my mind and on my (yet to be seen) bucket list ever since. the year i signed up before now i wasn’t committed to training. i think i skied a whopping 2 times that season. and i decided it was best to sit it out.

but this year…this year was different.

maybe a year ago from now, i began making some changes in my life. let’s say – in my personal life. i realized some things i was doing that were opposite of setting myself up for success. some call it self-sabotage. (i usually look at things through rose-colored lenses, though). anyway, i knew, above all else, it was time for a change.

and so much has changed. adios not so great relationships. hello new job that was a bit of a leap. welcome back, training like an actual athlete. oh, and that dust that sat atop the generally fun-loving, quirky, busy, introverted weirdo i am…it’s been dusted off.

i decided to make a change and then things just started becoming more clear and more obvious. and when a few random friends mentioned they were doing the Birkie this year, i though, “well, why the heck not?!”

a funny thing about this race is that it pretty much fills up before Thanksgiving every year and then you wait to see if there will be snow and how darn cold it will be and all of that jazz. this year, there was not a lot of snow, and not too much cold. i’m not going to say that’s a combo i don’t enjoy – except when i’ve signed up for this big race. oh  well! there’s training to be done.

i’ve said it before and i’ll say it again: thank goodness for my friend and ski buddy Cindi who adventured with me (well, she got me to adventure with her) to some ski wonderlands…or i would have had a bit more trouble with this event. not only did she get me out there – she gave me a few excellent tips…and i swear i walked away from Saturday really pleased with my first Birkie result because of them. i heard, “keep your arms closer to your body” about a hundred times. i repeated it to myself about a hundred thousand times on race day. she gave me tips about climbing hills. and BOYYYYY were there hills! and lastly, the night before the race, i got a text that said, ” have fun and don’t crash! ;)”

YOU GOT IT!

i went into the race with a baby goal in my mind – to finish close to 5 hours. i’ve said to a few people close to me that i could have probably achieved that if: 1. i hadn’t started in wave 9 and 2. if i had more ski experience. you see, starting in wave 9 meant lots of slow uphills, especially at the start and some backed up downhills throughout the race. also, the conditions were pretty close to “fair” by the time i skied the course. again, oh well! ski on. as for #2, you can really only get better at skiing by skiing more. period.

Birkie, you’d be safe to guess you’ll be seeing me again!

rw quoteone of the things i was really, really looking forward to though in the Birkie though is that i’ve realized over the past 5 or so years…i’m truly an endurance lover. so, as the race goes on, i usually just keep on, too. just coming through the halfway point of the Birkie, i was feeling really good and with just 20k to go, i thought to myself, “this is just like the Lake Monona route and i can almost run that in my sleep.”

not only is the quote above indicative of the feelings i have about distance events, but its also especially fun to think about in terms of cross country skiing.

one of the best things i’ve discovered in training for this event is that, well, for one, i suck at directions. i mean, i’d probably not venture into the woods in the snow on my own. but in xc skiing, you really have no other choice. training for the Birkie and xc skiing is like one of those choose your own adventure books. you can go this way or that and eventually you’ll get where you need to go – but the path is different. it’s no different than any of life except that you actively get to decide over and over again over the course of your ski-venture.

on Birkie day, i took none of that for-granted. and it was amazing. yes, the first 10k or so were brutal on what they call “the powerline.” it’s a constant up and down and up and down and up and down again. at first i thought, “WHAT DID I SIGN UP FOR?!” as my heart was maxing out at 175 beats per minute. but soon after, we headed into the woods and i was like “WHOA, THIS IS GORGEOUS!”

i must have been smiling at the first and second and every aid station. but even in the very beginning, even some of the volunteers noticed. (the volunteers, by the way, fantastic!)

and so it went, i skied and i enjoyed my time out in the woods. i took it all in. there were flurries flying by as i made my way south from Cable to Hayward through one of Wisconsin’s most treasured areas of the Northwoods. somewhere near 20k down, i skied up to my pal Mike who was also out there doing this race for the first time. it was awesome to see him and we ended up skiing together – or nearby one another for i swear close to 10k. and just after we separated, i ran into my friend Kristi who, by this time, is a seasoned Birkie competitor. she joked earlier in the week that she hoped to see me over the weekend, just not on the course, and then, of course, my goal was to chase her down by the end of the 51km. we skied together for a minute and laughed about our encounter and caught up more after we finished.

i wish i had been able to capture, in pictures, the beauty and fun that i had on that Saturday, a few days ago, in the Northwoods in February, but you’ll have to take my word for it…and maybe do the race yourself one day.

instead of going on and on though, i came up with a list of sorts to help explain my experience to all of you. i hope this gives you a simple picture, and some laughs about the experience….

so, without further ado:

SHAY’S BIRKIE 2015, BY THE NUMBERS!

2 bus rides – one to the start line and one back to the car at the end of the day

1 trip to the port-a-potties before the race

1/2 banana on my way to the start line. i decided NOT to eat the other half off the ground after 10,000+ people had already walked over that snow

7 restless hours of sleep the night before

1 trip to the UP – to ABR ski area for the inaugural ski of this season

30 (or more) laps at Lapham Peak ski area on their man-made loop of snow

1 day of skiing at Iola Winter Sports Park

1 long day of skiing at 9-mile in Wausau

6 coats of wax – an estimate because i actually don’t know how to wax my own skis

25 – dollars spent on hand and toe warmers this winter

2 warm (thanks to hand warmers in my vest pockets on race day) vanilla power gels

1 disgustingly cold vanilla bean GU (seriously, the hand warmer idea was GOLDEN. have you ever had cold GU? take my word and don’t try it)

10-ish cups of lukewarm water at aid stations

12-ish cups of warm ENERGY. which volunteers shouted to indicate they had either Nuun Hydration or GU Energy drink for us. ENERGYENERGYENERGY!

3-4 ‘nilla wafer cookies

1 oreo-like cookie

1/4 chocolate chip cookie. i could have eaten the entire cookie at the top of this hill

1 bitch hill. no, really, that’s what the locals call it. also, where i had the heavenly chocolate chip cookie piece.

2 (or 3) snowmobile gangs. these guys were hilarious and made me laugh. they’d heckle you and tell you to slow down around sharper turns…but cheer if you made it through unscathed.

1 easy fall trying to step around someone who had fallen right in front of me early in the race.

0 crashes!

1 shot from the shot ski or an apple pie-like beverage. also: a proud member of the 39k club!

51 kilometers through the Northwoods of Wisconsin from Cable to Hayward, WI

2 big cups of chicken noodle soup afterwards

1 bitch hill belgian ale at the angry minnow brewpub with dinner

countless smiles and high fives and congrats.

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ok, there you have it! this was one of the best things i’ve ever done. going back to the quote, and to a year ago, i had no idea what the past 12 months would hold, but by actively choosing my own adventure in life, by choosing another path, i got to show up last weekend ready to tackle just about anything. i got to tackle the amazing American Birkiebeiner!

AND, i realize that i get to do that, to choose my own adventure every single day.

 

 

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the marquette trail 50. a race recap.

the to-do list in my mind is growing to epic proportions. it seems like it is a mile long and that mile is one can’t run – instead, i need to be deliberate and go with care until the light at the end of the tunnel appears.it is kind of like distance running. my life right now is certainly like an ultramarathon. and i love that. running the marquette trail 50k reminded me to love it. that was two weekends ago and i’m still busy but loving every second. so, onto the race!so, two fridays ago my friend Angie picked me up at about 9am and we headed north. to the U.P. for those of you not in the midwest, i’m referring to the “Upper Peninsula” (the northern part of the state of michigan). after discussing how we had been confused about the time change that would occur once we left our home state, we had a pleasant drive up with lots of chatting and catching up the way you only do when you actually get a bunch of hours in the car with a friend and nothing but the open road ahead of you.

besides regular conversation, we talked a lot about what we thought the next day’s race might hold. would we be attacked by a cougar? how hard would the course actually be? how long do you think it will take you? what’s your goal? after this race, what’s the plan until the big show?

we talked and talked and laughed and we discussed stopping to buy knives to carry on the run in case of the aforementioned cougar attack and before we knew it we saw the hills or marquette, michigan ahead and lake superior as far as our eyes could see. we had arrived.

we went to packet pickup and got our numbers, then to dinner and before we knew it we were beginning to hunker down to attempt to get some pre-race zzz’s.

the 5am alarm clock came quickly, but i was awake and ready to go before i knew it. the awesome thing about small races is that we drove over and arrived about 20 minutes before the start. the race director did a roll-call and suddenly it was 6:30am and we were off!

once again, i didn’t get to really tell Ang good luck and we got spread out pretty quickly. there was only one place where i might have crossed paths with my friend on the course, but i hoped she knew that i was sending good juju her way all day.

the trails were flat out beautiful! there were times when i thought i was in Narnia or that i was Katniss (from the Hunger Games) just out there in my element. especially through the first 10 miles, i ran with a number of people. there was a group of us that stuck relatively close together, but as i dawdled at the second aid station, the group spread out. i didn’t mind though because i was toying with the idea of making a pit stop to relieve myself and also because when you’re out there in the woods like that there’s a whole lot of wonderful to be taken in when the trails are covered with pine needles just enough that you can barely hear your own feet meeting the ground.

did i mention before how beautiful it all was?

after the second aid station we had a long stretch to go until the next stop and there was a solid segment of trails which were very run-able (i’ll get to the hiking part in a minute). so, i continued to move forward, enjoying the scenery and reminding myself that once i made it to the 3rd aid station i would be just over halfway done.there was a moment in there – maybe a few moments when i reminded myself to take it all in.
that leg was about 7 miles long and included our first major climb. earlier in the race we had a bunch of rocky and rooty terrain to get across so there was some hiking and careful stepping but the next part was where we made our way up Sugarloaf Mountain. it’s a midwestern mountain, no doubt, but we don’t have much elevation like that in Wisconsin, so it was a special treat. actually, the treat was that instead of making our way up the “mountain” through the dirt, we marched up a total of 252 stairs.really, it was a treat and the cherry on top was the view!

first i snapped this.

i snapped a few pictures and then began my trek down, this time back on trails.
the trails led us along Lake Superior with some loose bluffs and a beach below where we were running. there was just one time when i saw a man strolling on the beach with his coffee and three dogs when i thought – i might rather be doing that right now, but i forged ahead.looking down to the lake from up where we were was amazing. lake superior is clear and chilly and much of the bottom is covered with stones. i’m sure there is some geological explanation for this, but i’m no scientist, so i can’t elaborate a lot. when i looked down i could see the beauty of that great lake, even though i was only getting a snapshot of its expanse.soon i caught up with a few others. one, whom we later deemed, “chicago,” because he kept going off course and we needed to get his attention and the other a woman from the madison area. we directed “chicago” back on course once and then he took off. a little later, a man who showed up at the start line in a kilt caught us and before i knew it he was ahead of us too and not long after that my running buddy from madison and i said goodbye, as well.

i’ll say one thing: for being a race of less than 100 people, total (for the 5mi and 50k combined), there was rarely a time when i felt really, really alone out on the trails. i hold those time in complete solitude in very high regard because there’s a sense of connection and respect that comes with being out there doing your thing.

and my mind rarely wandered from the task at hand and even just half a race completed, i felt a rush of peace come over me.

there were a few times when my mind did wander though. i mean, climbing Hogback Mountain, which sometimes required two hands had me occasionally thinking, “what am i doing?” and “how did i get myself into this” and more than once, “i could die up here.” i reminded myself not to look down as i climbed and climbed and there was only one time, when i was near the top of that summit when i thought, “thank god i haven’t seen the movie 127 hours yet!” because all i could think about was if my clumsy feet missed a step i might end up wedged precariously between two rocks. but i also reminded myself of my history of knocking my noggin hard and that a goal of mine for the race was, “NO concussions,” so along i went. up and up and up!!

obligatory self-shot…before Hogsback (i think)

i paused for a few minutes at the top. i paused to catch my breath. i paused to turn around and take some quick pictures with my phone and realized even then that my photos wouldn’t do justice to what i’d just done. i paused to take it all in.

the view, atop Hogsback.

and then i paused because i looked down and realized that i was about to head back down the other side of that little mountain just as i had come up. making my way over exposed bedrock instead of trails. taking my time to get my footing and calculate my next move. and a few times, scooting down on my butt.

there was no other way and just after i began my descent, another madisonian who had been a little ways behind me showed up above and said, “hey, how’d you get down there?” and i responded, “well first i pooped my pants a little and then i slid down.” i was joking about the pooping, and we both had a laugh and then we continued on – downwards!

but once i descended it was kind of like the homestretch. all i remember is down and down and down. it was still hard – at least mentally. ok, physically, too. my quads and IT bands were sore from the downhills, actually, but i knew what i had to do. get to the  next aid station.
between the descent from the top of hogsback to the end, i remember a few things. i remember those chocolate pretzel cookies at one of the aid stations. i stuffed one of those in my face. i stopped off in some tall grass in a corner to relieve myself…again. of of my running buddies had caught up with me again and shouted, “whatcha doing over there?” and then, “that’s a good spot.” i agreed, as i was also hoping i wasn’t squatting in poison ivy. and then i continued on once again.

another view from Hogsback. Lake Superior in the far background. exposed bedrock to be climbed down in the foreground.

next, my primary thought and goal was to make it, as quickly as possible, to the next aid station. to the last aid station before the end.
this was also the spot where 50 milers had to turn around to go back up Sugarloaf and Hogsback…AGAIN!
the aid station was also staffed by the cross country team from Northern Michigan University and i thought it was really cute. these young girls kept telling all of us how awesome they thought we were while their coach kept telling them to actually help the runners coming into the stop. i thanked them and said “good luck” to my 50 mile friends and headed toward the finish.
the last 5ish miles weren’t too rough. actually, the course was relatively easy compared to the last 20-some miles. i told myself to think about picking up my feet, to keep moving with purpose and to think about finishing strong. with a few miles to go – probably 2 or so, it began to rain. i was glad i was nearly finished. i was glad for the break in the early afternoon weather. the rain felt nice.
i ran on and on and made it my goal to make sure i finished under 8 hours. mostly because i figured it wouldn’t take me longer than that to begin with.
soon i began to recognize sights from the earliest part of the day. i hurdled (hopped over) some downed trees.
i crossed the railroad tracks.
and i came upon the bridge and the dam that i had seen when we first left the start line.
almost home. almost done. i could hear the finish line. i could almost see it. i ran my heart out and before i knew it, i had arrived.
my first 50k! two adorable and enthusiastic little girls handed me a can koozie and a towel. i promptly sat down, but before i did, i grabbed some peanut butter newman o’s (my favorite packaged cookie – for sure) and a cup of chocolate milk and THAT was my first real post-race food.
and i’ll tell you…winning combination!
i sat through a beer, estimating where and when my friend was and when she might be done. i was also sitting with chicago’s friend and a woman, Carol, whom i had run with early on and we chatted and cheered on finishers. not too long after, I saw Angie’s yellow shirt and purple-ish had come around the corner near the bridge!!!

finishing!!!

we were so excited because i had been talking about my friend. i was so glad to see her rounding that bend. we cheered and i snapped a picture of her and the buddy she had gained out there. it was great so see her come in, too, with a smile on her face. and also, just minutes before it began to really pour. the rain opened up a few minutes after Angie finished.
we sat around for a bit and then it really started to downpour so we quickly headed out. we finished our evening with hot showers, burgers, a few beers at Ore Dock Brewery (a brewery started by some friends of mine) and then bed!
it was an awesome weekend. from the company to the running to the scenery to the post-race festivities. it was all awesome.
what i wanted to say about this race – about the race – is that they have an awesomely gutsy race director who planned a really tough course. and he warned us. and he was also unapologetic about the toughness, too. the volunteers at packet pickup and especially at the aid stations and the finish line were GREAT. i mean, they were top-notch!!!
and the other thing i wanted to mention was a giant THANK YOU to my friend Angie for finding this race and for convincing me to do it with her. i would have never signed up for this on my own and i am indescribably grateful to have a friend who somehow gets me to push my comfort zone without me really feeling pushed. i honestly wound never, ever have signed up for this race on my own but i’m glad, i am proud, i am so happy that i did it.
when it all comes down to it – i like to race for the experience. it doesn’t matter so much if i am fast or slow or have a hard or easy day, but i love to be challenged and i love to do things i wouldn’t have done on my own. i’m so lucky. and i’m incredibly grateful, too!

july: a recap.

did i say a month ago that one of my goals was to run everyday? 

i can’t remember.

i ran 20 of 31 days. not too shabby. but i can do better!

another thing i know is that i set out to run at least 100 miles and i did it. 125 miles in july. finally – back on track!

i’m a little behind where i was a year ago – in terms of monthly mileage, but i’m also a way different athlete, so that doesn’t make me too anxious.

i guess it is time to set some goals for august, huh?

how about this:

run 25 of 31 days

go to yoga at least 5 times

do 10′ of core work 15 times this month

i’d be lying to you if i didn’t mention that i’ve been pretty inspired by the olympics. as i watched my friend Kristin row in her repechage a few days ago, after waking myself up at 3:15 and then 4:15 am to see her live, i got teary-eyed. i’m feel pretty lucky to know someone as awesome as Kristin and i’m also inspired to keep charging forward as best i can toward my own goals.

some days i wonder if i should or could start rowing again?

that might just be the olympic-high talking though.

but all that said, i’m fired up.

from my own focus on running to frisbee to committing to getting up to cheer on my friend from afar – hoping she can feel the Wisco love from across the big pond…i’m so ready to go.

let’s do this.