Saturday, December 6, 2014

How About Iceland for an Ultra Marathon?

Laugavegur Ultra Marathon is a 55 km mountain race that in one word is epic! So, seeing that we were going to Iceland to hangout with Eliot's college buddy Compton and scamper around the country for 10 days, I did some Googling to find out what the wee island of Iceland had in the way of running races. I sent Eliot the race link one day at work, and he emailed me back with "great find, I've signed the two of us up!"

I learned 2 things right at that moment. 1. Iceland is not a wee island and 2. Give Eliot an idea and you've more or less committed to that idea. His services are free, so just hit him up with any ideas and provide your credit card.

Iceland has been on my 'I would like to go there' list since I lived in Ireland. I could never get anyone to come with me as it was not a sun holiday destination. Sun holidays are overrated: too much sun gives you wrinkles and Irish skin is not designed for vast amounts of sun in one sitting.

My race research is not as in depth as Eliot's, I never want to scare myself too much, as then I over think the whole event. I took a look at a few of the website's photos, elevation map and route map and it all looked warm and fuzzy to me!

My kinda zig zag up and down!
How awful could it's Iceland!
The Laugavegur (say that fast, 3 times) marathon is an extremely well organized race. The website has a bountiful amount of information to set your mind at ease. There is a fair bit of logistics getting to the race start and getting home after. The route is a popular point to point hiking trail, normally done in 4 days. For 18 years the race has taken place for people who are not shy of the elements. Iceland in the summer months can be like a rodeo rider...tough! One has to be prepared for anything, wind, rain, hail, snow and or sunshine. The race organizers were super informative in the weeks and days leading up to the race day, July 12th.  The weather report for race day per the website : "Fresh winds from east and later northeast and relatively humid air. Wind speed as large as 10-13 m/s at Hraftinnusker. Some rain and even fog at higher bases. Becoming gradually lighter and more headwind at lower altitudes. Also fewer rain showers there, and likely totally dry in the end near Þórsmörk". So, temps ranging from 6-8°C/ 45-47°F...perfect for me and not a sweltering Reno desert heat of 'hotballz'.

Eliot and I arrived in Iceland on a Thursday morning, rallied to stay away awake for all of Thursday, hug out with Joe (Compton) and got a general feel for Iceland or at least Reykjavik. Joe kindly gave us a place to crash at his awesome pad right on the main street in the capital city of Reykjavik. The city and surrounding region has about 200,000 inhabits of the country's total count of 325,671. It's a total trip. It's such a treat to come to a country and a city that has a stress free feel and not the inundated vibe of many cities in the U.S.  

With a whopping 12hrs of sleep that night (it was day light throughout, remember it's summer in the northern hemisphere), we were ready to rally on Friday and get our bits and bobs sorted for the race on Saturday. We got up at 3am on Saturday morning, this was easier than usual as it was dusky out and then we made our way to the local sports center. Here we shuffled onto buses along with other runners and embarked on a 3hr ride to the race start...yes, 3hrs! We had a 30 min stop along the way, here we chowed some breakfast and chatted to some of the other runners. We ended up sitting at the same table as two other Irish guys who were doing the race for the first time too. Being Irish, you are guaranteed to bump into other Irish folk no matter where you go in the world, then the chat flows! By now I was getting excited, no going back at this stage. I also brought a gopro to document the whole event!

Is this gopro thingy on? 
The off road bus trip to the race start. 4x4 is the only way to get there.
By the time we got to the race start, the wind and rain were coming down hard. People waited in line to sign in, while trying to stay warm at the same time. 

It's a tad bit chilly.

Look at that erect flag!

   They're off! Fast group leaves first at 9am. I leave at 9:05.
Up and up for the next 12ish km. Yes, that is geothermal energy behind me.
They did mention that it would be snowy and foggy up top!
As far as I know, I'm going in the right direction. 

By 16km the course starts to descend rapidly, I gained some time and my legs felt good. I snacked as much as I could/remember. I really wanted to stop and take in the views, but then again I knew I wanted to get to the finish within a respectable time. I figured 7hrs was a realistic goal time and luckily I did not have to worry about losing daylight. The landscape is a total trip, not a tree in sight throughout most of Iceland. This is due to deforestation back in settlement days. There is a joke in Iceland that "if you are lost, just stand up." The only way to find shelter would be to hunker down behind a large rock or be on the windless side of a bluff. The landscape is a desert of old lava rock with a splattering of plant life that has adapted to the harshness of the climate. Pure and unfiltered are two words that come to mind when I now think of Iceland. 

Just a stream crossing. The first of many.

About half way through the race, a German gal named Ute and I became fast friends. We pretty much had the same pace and we always seemed to be a few feet apart, so therefore it was inevitable that we'd be besties by the end of the race! Ute had a little more English than I German, but with a few words that she taught me for the remainder of the race, we managed to have a blast and keep each other going! She, like Eliot and me, just saw the race posted online and decided it was sure to be an adventure. 

My new friend Ute
Holding onto river rope is optional. 

Ultra running is awesome! No really it is. Thanks Reno Running Company, for my fab pink tee.

Ute tearing it up on the downhill.
I stopped wearing a watch a few years ago just to see how it felt to run without the constant worry if I was going to make my goal, keep on top of my pace and in general, stress about something really not worth stressing about. Sure, personal goals are great but if you are not preparing for the olympics, then forget the watch. What did we do before running watches and beepy things?..oh yes...we put our runners on and simply ran. I learned to actually enjoy running and found that I ran harder, unknowingly really without a time piece. The same goes for running with headphones, listen to your surroundings and feel the beat of your heart as it pumps blood and oxygen around your body. Stop, look and listen once in awhile, you'll discover a whole new running self. So as far as time goes for this race, time meant nothing. I knew all I had to do was to keep going, fuel my body and enjoy every moment.

 Looks like another planet!

With laughs a plenty, Ute and I came across the final aid station we started to get giddy knowning that we had only about 6 miles to go. I grabbed a handful of chocolate to get me through the last few miles. Thank goodness for chocolate and its purveyors. The folks at the aid stations were so friendly and encouraging for the gloomy day that it was.  With the last river crossing complete, we had just under 3 miles to the finish line. My feet were wet since the start but they felt intact, meaning I didn't think I had any blisters or toes nails about to come off! I definitely felt tired both mentally and physically but I've had longer days than this in the outdoors. As we rounded the corner with about 300 yrds to go, we came upon an Icelandic gentleman and before we realized what had happened, we all made a dash for the finish line. It was more fun than anything, everyone cheered and we all crossed the line together. We had a threesome hug and laughed pretty hard. With medals given, it was time to find somewhere to sit, get a shower and have a hot meal, all in no particular order. Eliot was sure to be about and probably 3 beers in. Compton and Svein had come to the finish to support and give us piggy back rides if our legs gave out! Thanks guys. I think it took me 4 days to walk up and down stairs with no issues!

Giddy up, onward to the finish line! Wobbly legs for sure at this point.

Will sleep anywhere at this point.

Sure enough curiosity set in and I wondered what my actual time was. I surprised myself with a 6hr 27 finish and managed to made it into the top 10 for individual females. Not bad for my first ultra distance! Eliot was 3rd and stoked with his result, but that's just another day in the office for that guy. IRE-USA represent.

Would I do it again...heck yes. I would put a little more effort in on training days though :-P

So I get to beat Eliot to press on this report, I actually beat him at something...that's a first! If you want to see fancier photos, you'll have to wait until he posts his Iceland report. Click on Eliot's blog to see and read.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sore, Tired and Hungry

Sore, tired and hungry; this was my status from the beginning of 2012 and most of my summer. No, I am not getting tortured and luckily I have not hit hard times here in the U.S, and I can still feed myself! This is a long overdue post, so bear with me.

My "blissful" status was mostly due to exercise and working towards one of my bucket list challenges. I took it upon myself to sign up for an full distance triathlon in January with my friend Andy Smith. I thought hard about this challenge during one summer stint in '09 as a wild-land fire fighter. I figured if I could hike steep hills with a 50lb pack in extremely hot weather, I could do a lot of other tough shenanigans! This race is called Vineman. It's not your typical "Ironman" brand that most people associate a triathlon with but it's the exact same distance and suffering. Following in the footsteps of my wonderful ex-boyfriend Eliot, I arranged to subject myself to a swim, followed by a spin on the bike, and finish it off with a run. The thing is, it was going to be a long day. Start with a 2.4 mile swim, then a 112 mile bike, and top it all off with a 26.2 mile run. All for what you ask? Oh, just because I can and what the heck, it's only one hard day of exercise!

I won't bore reading time with stats of my time spent on the bike, in the pool, and running the hills. I probably should have done more, but alas this time around life can only allow so much when you have a full-time job and when you want to do other outdoor adventures. Training does take over your life and I think it's pretty important to incorporate fun with friends too. I am sure being a full-time triathlete as a full time job would put me in the "ripped" department and I take my hat off to their dedication. Spending more time working on the 3 events has made me more confident as an athlete, and it feels good building strength. I have gained a greater appreciation of the folk who succeed in their choice of sport, hard work gets you places and as long as you do it with integrity then life is good.

For the 2 weeks leading up to race day, I had developed more soreness in my legs and this was happening with less workout time. I was not sure if my body or mind was playing tricks on me, maybe they were in cahoots on it! I guess with pre-race anticipation anything is possible. I had tried to remain calm and positive that I would get through it and in all honesty, it's probably not the worst thing that I was about to put myself through and it won't be the last. When is comes to "exercise" the majority of the human race are a bunch of whiners. Many of us like to use the "oh I could never do that" line. In-fact, most of us are capable of doing anything, the choice being whether we want to push ourselves or not. We should not live by the "if only" or "I should have" line, life really is too darn short.

Nevada represent! 
Negotiating with my lazy agent. I want a basket of kittens as my prize, but I may have to settle for wine.

The end of July came around pretty fast, I guess time flies when you are having fun. So with an early exit from work, Eliot and I pushed out of Reno to make our way to Guerneville, CA. Once you drive over Donner Pass, you leave the calmness of the mountains and throw yourself into the commuting rat race of Sacramento and San Francisco. We pushed onward through Sonoma wine country. With a quick stop at Windsor to sign a waiver and get my race number, it was time to keep calm and carry on. The easy part was done, it was time to continue to my uncle Ger's property in the hills above Guerneville for an early dinner and to get as much shut eye before my 3am wake up call.
Well before I knew it, 3am was upon me and it was time to chow down some serious carbs in order to digest before the swim start at 6:45am. A bagel with almond butter and jam washed down with a cup of Irish tea was to be my last solid meal for 24 hours. 2.5hrs of watching the Olympics on the TV gave me an extra boost of encouragement. I felt really relaxed and this was unusual for me, I get quite anxious and the ol' pre-race jitters kick in. Not this time though, there was nothing more to be done apart from doing my best.

One by one my support crew of Eliot, his dad Daryl, Heather, and James all rubbed the sleep from their eyes, bundled up and drove to the race start. My uncle Ger even got up and came down to the race start to see what all the fuss was about!

I've been up since 3am!
It's time to get that wetsuit on!
There was a long line down to the race start, by the time I found a place to park my bike and set out  my bike gear, boogie time to the swim start was upon me. Surprisingly the water was warm, it was  foggy and with not much view, quite mystical. This was to be a 2 lap swim in order to complete 2.4 miles. Countdown began and off we went, wave after wave as to spread out the competitors.

So 1hr 17mins of swimming through murky water, avoiding feet and elbows, I emerged from the Russian River and onto the bike. I will admit that I was disoriented and forgot where I had racked my bike but as soon as I got the water drained from my ears, I was good to go. The first few miles on the bike were chilly on my skin, this enticed me to ride a little harder to get the blood flowing. Within the hour the sun had burned away the valley fog and I began my task of passing riders one by one and setting into a comfortable pace. I felt really comfortable throughout the bike course and managed to ride under my goal time. My supporting crew of Eliot, D^2, Heather, and James were shocked too and I ruined all their photo points by showing up too early. It was hot about 85 degrees and my butt started to hurt, I just wanted off the bike!

I don't look very "race"-like, but I'm happy.
With a happy bike pace and chatting to fellow competitors along the way, before I knew it, I was rolling into T2. I was about to get my legs into running mode.

Down hills hurt...
...and so do the up hills!
I think I may have lost a toe nail by this time.
Wow, what a shock to my legs. Spending 6 hrs on the bike and then getting them into run mode took a few miles for them to finally give in to the change. My lungs and heart felt strong and my mind clear, now all I had to do was get my legs to take me 26.2 miles to the finish line. I kept a positive attitude throughout and as the run was an three out and backs on the same route, I could keep picking off my markers. I had my sun hat and some wet sponges shoved down my top to keep me cool. Having a sports gel every 30 minutes kept my energy levels up. My support crew set up their cheering station half way along the course. Lauren D, Lisa, Jesse, baby Em, and Lisa's mom showed up as a surprise which was such a treat. I would get to see them 6 times and their awesome energy gave me that extra boost. On the final lap, my feet felt sore, I knew I probably had one or two toe nails damaged from the swollen feet but I knew I could prevail. I forced some salty chips down along with some Gatorade at each aid station to keep my muscles from cramping. It's the cramping along with the heat that forces many to quit. My hat and sponges were the envy of many, I may have looked slightly silly but with constant soaking of my attire at each aid station, my core was kept somewhat happy. I even got to see my friend Andy on my last lap, he was having a tough time with cramping and getting food down, he kept smiling and said he was not going to quit. It was a long day for him and like everyone else, he survived.

Roll on the finish line. The last half mile, I picked up the pace. "Always finish stronger than when you started", my Aussie friend Jase wired that into my training brain. Thanks Jase!
That finish line was my pot of gold at the end of a very long rainbow. So, one of my bucket list goals completed, I made it back before sunset and more importantly I did not get hauled off in an ambulance. That was a success in my mind. The biggest surprise was I had finished in under 12hrs! With a trip to the food tent, I managed to chow down a few bites of a burger and some fruit, all of it came right back up within 30 mins and I proceeded to projectile vomit for a few hours after! I guess my body was not ready for solid food. We stayed with Eliot's aunt Linda and uncle Casey who live in St. Helena. I had just showered and rolled into bed when Eliot informed me that I had placed 3rd in my age group! I had made it into the prize giving ceremony awards the next day. No rest for the wicked, we had to return the following morning and I got to hobble onto the stage to collect my bottle of wine and a pack of granola bars, what a great feeling. 13th female and 134th overall, ha!

Hooray, a lei!
Wine it is!
The next few days were hard on the movement front but it's important to do some gentle stretching. Active recovery is the key. Putting your body and mind through a long distance triathlon is not for everyone but it is a very doable thing. You just have to want it and know that with a little determination you are sure to develop a drive to self discovery and quite likely get addicted and want to push the limit. The thing is, who knows what the limit is, it's pretty much endless. I am pretty sure that I will attempt to do another long distance triathlon. I now have a base time to beat and so much more personal discovery to attain.

Thanks for the photos Eliot!