Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Franconia Ridge Traverse - Franconia Notch, White Mountains, New Hampshire

I've been meaning to get this post up for a while, but things have been crazy. This past week passed by in a blur of stress and anxiety as I gave notice at work and made a plan for transitioning out of my role, packed up all of my stuff and moved it out of my apartment with my parents' help (they are storing it for me until it's time to ship to California), and planned the road trip that will get me from Boston to California next month. It has also been extremely hot and humid in Boston for the past few days which has been awful - it's too hot to even really walk my dogs. I went over a week without any running and this morning I finally managed 4 easy miles even though it was almost 75 degrees already at 6:30 am. I feel like a different person post-run. I needed it. Last week probably would have been a lot easier if I had gotten some running in.

Anyway, the point of this post is basically a photo dump - I went to a beautiful place and did a fun thing and I want to share it with you. Skibo, Jill, and I went back up to Jill's lake house in New Hampshire for an adventure in the White Mountains and it was incredible. We did the Franconia Ridge Traverse in Franconia Notch - about 9.5 miles total going up the Falling Waters trail from the Lafayette Trail Head, across the ridge on the Franconia Ridge Trail (so cool to run part of the AT shortly after Scott Jurek came through there on his record-breaking run!), then down on the Green Leaf trail to the Old Bridle Path trail back to the start.

To be honest, the loop was harder than I was expecting! I had delusions that this summer I would do the full Presidential Traverse (30 miles) but this loop summiting Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Lincoln was tough for me, there's no way I could have done the whole thing this year. The trails were lush green and full of streams and waterfalls until it suddenly ascended very steeply and climbed up above the treeline.

The views were amazing as we approached the first summit and the turn onto the ridge. Once we reached the ridge, the weather changed drastically - it was cold and windy, with clouds blocking the sun. If I go up again, I'll remember sleeves. 

We made our traverse from Mt. Lafayette over a couple of false peaks then ascended to the summit of Mt. Lincoln. The views from there are some of the most spectacular I have ever seen in my life - the White Mountains are breathtaking and this was unbelievable.

I'm lucky that I'll be hitting a lot of the United States' national parks this summer. I have an Acadia trip coming up, and then on the trip out to California we are going to Arches, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Yosemite. Not many people get to experience so much of the grandeur of our country in a lifetime, let alone one summer. I am so  grateful for these opportunities.

The descent from the highest summit was gnarly. It was sooo rocky and sooo windy. Probably my least favorite part of the whole experience, but worth it for the good training on climbing down rocky terrain. I was very happy when we hit the little hut that had fresh water and snacks before heading down the last part of the trail. Honestly, while just as beautiful and with just as stunning views as the ascent. the descent was also just as difficult. We were tired, and instead of scrambling/bouldering our way up, we were trying to make our way down equally slick rock faces without slipping or falling. It was relentless. When we would stop, my legs would shake. But we did it! And man did it feel good to get back to the car and eat the jalapeno chips I had stashed for us there.

When we got back, we jumped in the lake (which caused absolute dog pandemonium) and relaxed on the dock for a while before making dinner.

The sun set on a perfect summer day, in one of my favorite places, with my favorite people.

The next day we were all sore, so instead of kayaking we rode the motorboat around the lake a bit and just lazed in the sunshine. The last time we went up in the beginning of June it was windy and chilly, so it was nice to experience a hot, sunny day by the lake before heading back to Boston. I tried to take a family photo with my dudes, but it didn't go so well. There were many outtakes and we never got the shot. This was literally the best we managed:

When we headed up for this weekend, I had some idea that I would be moving back to California, but no idea that it would be happening so soon. Once I came back, plans fell into motion really quickly, and suddenly a potential move in October or November was a definite move in August. I'm so thankful I got to have this experience before taking off again for the west coast, and that I got to spend the time with my best friends. 


Have you been on any epic adventures lately?

What's your favorite national park?

Any road trip tips for me? I know some of you are seasoned pros!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Exciting news!

2015 goal 50 miler, option 3: TNF Endurance Challenge!

Just a quick check in to break some exciting news. It looks like my goal 50 mile race for the year is changing again, but for a really good reason this time...I AM MOVING BACK TO CALIFORNIA!

If you have been following my blog or twitter at all, you know how unhappy I have been in Massachusetts (this winter killed my soul) and how often I talk of missing California and physically aching I am so sad to be away. I thought I would adjust and that feeling would change but it didn't. Now, with the recent extreme change in circumstances in my life stemming from the catalyst that is breaking up with Lee, I find myself with one last opportunity to make California work. So I am running with it (no pun intended) before it slips through my fingers.

In mid-August I will be hitting the road with Bagel and my best friend Hanna!

This also, of course, means I'll be missing Vermont 50. I am okay with this; honestly, shifting my goal race back a few months is probably healthier for me, because as everyone can see from my training recaps, I'm not at the weekly mileage I need to be at 8 weeks out from a 50 miler. The North Face Endurance Challenge is definitely a more grueling race and a pretty tough one for a first 50 miler, but it is run largely on the same trails as the Rodeo Beach 50k I ran almost exactly a year before this race will be held, so I know what to expect. I also remember that last year my running group in Berkeley was all training for the North Face 50k or 50 mile, and I'd imagine they are again this year, so hopefully I can link up with them again for long training runs and some more epic mountain running like last fall's Mount Diablo run.

It is really scary to be picking up and starting over AGAIN. When I came back here to be with Lee, I thought this was it, I would be in New England forever (even though that was never what I wanted.) But I've learned the saying is true - you can't go home again. I came back a different person and no matter how hard I tried to make myself fit back into my old life, it wasn't going to happen. And honestly, no matter how I feel about the breakup, I feel grateful that it is opening up this opportunity to go back to the place that I love - I don't know that I could have ever been happy long-term here. I need to be back on the west coast.

So, that's my happy and exciting news! I'll be spending the next few weeks wrapping up at work, scrambling to pack everything (I'm becoming an expert on this), getting the logistics of the road trip worked out, moving out of my apartment and into a temporary situation with one of my best friends and his girlfriend for a couple of weeks before I leave, camping in Acadia National Park, running the TARC Summer Classic 50k, and then getting the hell out of here!

Anyone else have any exciting news to share?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Vermont 50 training recap, week 5 - 7/6/15-7/12/15

High above the tree line on the Franconia Ridge Trail.

This was a quality over quantity week for me. My mileage was low again but I don't have the same anxiety about it I've had the past few weeks because I know that my training was solid. Again I struggled with my weekday mileage but things have been so crazy over here and I got some kind of awful summer cold from a coworker so I feel good about getting three miles in. For the weekend, I didn't do any long running, but got in an awesome training hike - we did the Franconia Ridge Loop in Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire's White Mountains. It's a dream of mine to some day do the whole 30 miles of the Presidential Traverse, but this 9.5 miles was so hard I can't imagine how difficult the whole hike is - I feel like I'm back in pretty good shape but I don't think I'm quite ready to take that challenge on just yet. Those mountains are brutal.

Here's what the week looked like:

Monday 7/6/15: Rest
Tuesday 7/7/15: 5 miles
Wednesday 7/8/15: 2 mile walk with the dogs
Thursday 7/9/15: 5 miles
Friday 7/10/15: 5 miles, 2 mile walk with the dogs
Saturday 7/11/15: 9.5 miles (hike)
Sunday 7/12/15: Rest

Total mileage: 24.5 miles

Like I said above, I feel like I'm in pretty good shape right now. Compared to my fitness level a month ago when I did a much easier hike, I was pleased with how I handled the mountains Saturday. 5 miles feels like a short run again. I feel like my base is established and now I'm ready to really kick it up. 

My goals for this week?

1) Follow my training plan! Can I do it? I need to look at my weekend miles because I am volunteering at Vermont 100 on Saturday which might mean moving some runs around to accommodate but otherwise I have no good reason to not follow my training plan this week.

2) YOGA. I keep getting emails that my 10-class pass is going to expire so I need to use these classes!

And one final thought...

I am so beyond psyched that Scott Jurek successfully completed his attempt for an FKT south to north on the AT from Georgia to Maine this Sunday! Like many ultra runners, Scott is one of my idols and biggest inspirations, especially as a vegan. His career has been so impressive and he is such an amazing person and figure in the sport. Congratulations Scott!!!

How was your weekend? Any epic runs/races/hikes? 

Franconia Ridge was my first time on the AT and it was so exciting knowing Scott had just passed through there recently on this epic traverse - have you ever hiked or run any of it?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Toughness in ultramarathoning: more mental than physical

I've been quiet this week. As you can imagine, things haven't been the greatest around here, and I've been working hard to just keep the wheels from totally coming off of my life. In spite of what's going on, I've been managing to do some running, and I have been thinking a lot about running, too.

When I fell last weekend, I was only about a mile into my run. I quickly went through some questions in my head - is anything sprained? No. Broken? No. Do I need stitches? No. Okay, keep running. I didn't have enough water left to wash out the cut on my knee as most of it spilled when I fell (thanks a lot, super leaky Nathan handheld) and it was very hot out so I needed to conserve what I had left for the run. So I figured I would just handle it when I got back, and even though the easier option was to head the mile back to my car and call it a day, I pushed forward on my run. I realized I was hurt more mentally than I was physically - the fall affected my mood more than it did anything else - and that meant that I could turn it around. The most important kind of toughness in ultramarathoning is mental toughness.

People are always telling me this sport is literally insane and assuming we are all somehow super-human tough. What they don't know is that physical toughness, while important, especially in terms of endurance, takes a back seat to mental toughness. Without the mental toughness to keep going in the later miles of a race when you are dealing with severe fatigue, all of your muscles lighting up in pain, and potentially other issues like bleeding or vomiting, you aren't going to cross any finish lines. Without the mental toughness to push through a training run when you are having a bad day, or you've fallen down, or you're hot and uncomfortable or any other number of things that could go wrong, you're never even going to make it to the start.

People who have been running ultras a lot longer than me often talk about how the difference between a DNF and crossing the finish line of a 50 or 100 mile race is almost entirely mental. Your body can keep going for a long time after your mind gives out as long as you can find a way to mentally persevere.

Think about everyone's favorite story from Western States this year, 70 year old Gunhild Swanson who was the last finisher with 4 seconds left before the cutoff. Her story was inspirational, but not just because of her finish. When you read the whole story, you'll see that at times she was on pace to finish with plenty of time to spare - even a 28 hour pace - but she got off course and lost all of that lead time. But she didn't give up. She tapped into that mental toughness necessary to keep going, and she finished her race.

With Hardrock coming up this weekend, I imagine many runners are going to hit some mental depths most of us haven't yet had to face, but they will keep pushing forward to finish the iconic race. This fantastic piece by Andy Jones-Wilkins on iRunFar urges runners to remember the gold prospectors who were the distant predecessors of the Hardrock runners - their exhaustion and mental depletion - and use that as inspiration to summon the mental grit and will necessary to keep going in the race when they are despairing.


I used to be someone who gave up on everything. I was the kid who quit every hobby, instrument, or sport. I was known for how unwilling I was to run or participate in athletics. I'm not a particularly "tough" person by any physically measurable standards. But I am mentally tough, and getting tougher. Hours on the trail in difficult conditions, reaching emotional peaks and valleys you can only experience on a really long run out in the woods, are teaching me how to push further than I ever thought possible. I'm learning patience, humility, and a more positive attitude - most importantly, I'm learning how easy it is to fail if you don't embody these traits.

I've also learned that often it's the (mentally) hardest runs that give way to the most amazing rewards. I said this once before after a long run in the Berkeley Hills when I got very lost but was treated to the most breathtaking view of Mount Diablo in the distance. This last weekend, after the fall I described above, I saw a deer on the trail. She jumped off the trail right in front of me and just stood a few yards away watching me for a while before we both continued on. It was a special moment that I would have missed if I had given up on my run when I fell.

These lessons carry over into my life outside of running as well. The mental toughness I'm developing through ultramarathon training is what helps me get through really difficult times like the one I find myself mired in now as I watch the dissolution of my relationship and life as I know it.

Is anything broken? No. So keep moving forward.