Thursday, November 10, 2011

PacMan. (Or.."What I Got For Christmas")

Must. Keep. Swimming.    My mantra for several weeks now.  Since August came and went, I've literally been a fish out of water.  Or a chicken with my head cut off.  Or just ridiculously, almost painfully busy.  But I'm on a streak of what I like to call "fireworks in the butt".  I'm not really running on fumes yet, and if I'm lucky I won't have to.  I promised myself this year that I would do everything in my power to maintain that fantastic BALANCE in my life---even if my life is crazy.  I know this is absolutely necessary because last year at this time, I was in the same position.  Only I wasn't in balance check.  And I got sick.  (See  

So, I've turned health maintenance into a sort of game.  (Yeah, just like me to turn this into a competition, of sorts.)   I envision a nostalgic game of PacMan, where I am Pacman, desperately running from my enemies Pinky, Inky, Blinky and Clyde.   If I win, I get a billion extra lives--and make it through the holidays in peak condition, which, let's face it, is a reward all in itself!

And truly,  if this really were a game, I think I would have attained the highest score of all time, (yes, I'm bragging).  Because,  while my colleagues, staff, and athletes were all around me falling prey to the endless stream of illness that were passed back and forth for weeks and weeks--I somehow survived.   During one of our winter day camps, 8 out of 15 campers missed the last day of camp due to a nasty stomach flu.  Again, somehow, I survived.

How?  Well, I talk about BALANCE so much, that I sometimes think this blog should just be called "Balance 101".  But seriously, I can't think of anything more important than maintaining a healthy balance in our lives.  It's the foundation to everything else--our physical health, our emotional health, our longevity, our happiness, our relationships, our spirituality!  So in my mad game of "PacMan", I kept up with my routine.  I continued my running/yoga/crossfit regimen, I ate lots of veggies and whole foods (particularly after a bigger meal of holiday goodies and spirits), I took my vitamins, I made sure I got 8 hours of sleep every night and worked and played hard during the day so that the sleep I did get was highest quality.

I am proud of my family members for adopting the same tenacity for maintaining their health and balance too, because it was an extremely busy time for them too.  My dad officially opened the doors to Anytime Fitness right after Thanksgiving and has been working like a dog every single day, building a place that demonstrates and offers everyone an opportunity to experience the kind of health they deserve.  I love that even amidst the stress of opening a new business, my dad and mom both took time for themselves to keep their health in balance and made it a priority to get out of town for a couple of days during the holidays.  It was the first time, in a while, that every single family member was in town for Christmas and together.  And because everyone was healthy, we were able to really enjoy each other and our time together.

This is not something to take for granted, for sure!  It takes hard work for twelve people to keep themselves healthy, especially during the busiest time of the year.  So I am grateful that my family understands the importance of making it a priority for themselves and also doing it for each other.  Truthfully, it's the greatest gift any of us could ever receive.  It's something that takes diligence and perseverance and can obviously be very difficult at times.  But the rewards far outweigh the hard parts. I mean, who doesn't want a billion extra lives, right?  Aaahh...PacMan.  Anyone wanna play?

Part of the Anytime Fitness Gang at a Healthiest Town In America Event

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Skyline 50 Report...and Lessons Learned The Hard Way.

 Right before the start of the Skyline 50.   Excited, but COLD!  Hence...the crazy moeben sleeves and strained look on my face!  We're not in AZ anymore!  HaHa!
There's nothing like racing in 60 degrees, slightly overcast temps after spending months and months waking up at 4:00 in the morning just to beat the sun, get some decent miles in before triple digits hit, while desperate for the only shade available-- a little sliver offered by a giant saguaro cactus!   Skyline 50 in Castro Valley, CA offered me every opportunity to kick some major ass--cool temps, soft trail, and a fast course.    When my brother, his girlfriend, and Kelly brought me to the start at 6:30 in the morning, it was so cold, I was wearing two sweatshirts and track pants.  I huddled over a little bonfire with some other runners and shivered with anticipation.  At the race start, I overheard two other women talking about the qualifying time needed for a spot on the North Face Endurance Championship Team for Dec and how they'd better break 5 hours.  After listening in on their race strategy, I realized I'd probably be stupid not to follow their plan, since I had every intention of gaining one of those spots for the team.  The first three miles of the race was a rolling paved bike path around Lake Chabot, which I was dreading.  My left foot, right below my middle toe and the ball of my foot had been bothering me for a few days and I was worried the pavement would irritate it more.  I was wearing my NB Minimus, which I knew would be fine on the softer forest trails and even the fire roads, but pavement?  Yikes!  I scrambled to get a spot near the sides of the path, where I could run on what little, narrow dirt I could find.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, I was moving fast.  Maybe too fast.  But I got those three miles done with a huge sigh of relief.  The next several miles were pretty hilly--lots of wide dirt fire roads with glimpses of the lake and some canyon country below.  The fog was still pretty thick though, and there were times I couldn't see anything but the road before me and the trees above me.  I cruised at a decent pace, keeping my two "competitors" in sight at all times.  We passed each other several times before hitting the single track forest trail near mile 12.  It was here that I felt most relaxed.  I was ahead of the girls and it was quiet.  The trail was soft , but challenging, with a massive amount of poison oak to keep me alert and constantly  watching my footing.  My speed was decent, I hit my goal of under 2:50 at the halfway point, decided to dig into my drop bag at the aid station and switched to my NB 101's since my left foot was starting to cramp up, and took two hammer gels along with some endurolytes.   I left the aid station feeling strong and excited to head into the gorgeous redwood forest.  About 5 minutes later, trouble started brewing in my stomach.  I took a ginger chew, hoping to settle things.  The vomiting started a few minutes later.  Frustrated, I tried to back track and drink more water.  I tried another gel, then another ginger chew.  Nothing stayed in my stomach.  Not even the water.  My back started seizing up from all the vomiting, and I was reduced to walking.  Several people passed me, offering salt tabs, electrolytes, and ginger.  Someone alerted the aid station a couple miles ahead and one of the volunteers met me about a quarter mile from station to assess my situation.  I was desperately trotting at this point and told her that I thought I might need to stop.  At the aid station, the volunteers gave me pepto, sprite, and more ginger and asked if I thought I could make it to the next aid station, 4 miles away.  I thought I could and went on my way. My back stopped seizing up, but I continued vomiting off and on for those next few miles.   At the next aid station, I drank some ginger ale and mixed it with some endurolyte fizz and this seemed to do the trick.  I was able to get back to my cruising pace and pass several of the people who had passed me in the forest.  Still, I had lost a good 90 minutes and came through the finish line happy to have finished, but frustrated with my time.

Having spent three months building up to race form, it was definitely disappointing that I had come to a point of almost DNFing the race.  But I certainly learned a lot from my experience at Skyline--#1 being that I simply can't be influenced by other's race strategies.  If I had stuck with my plan, MY strategy, instead of following those two women at the start, I probably would have run a great race and hit my goal and qualifying time for North Face.  I know I waited far too long into the race to fuel and hydrate properly and I certainly paid for it!  

No regrets though.  The course was beautiful and so different from my training grounds that I was mostly in a state of bliss, even after it was all said and done.  I met some amazing people, including several incredible volunteers who certainly went out of their way to help me out and cheer me on even in  my worst moment!   And though I didn't qualify for the championship team, I can still enter the championship race in Dec.  Another beautiful northern CA course---how can I resist?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Family That PLAYS Together...

1987 Urbanski Family rafting trip in Colorado.
Quite a while ago, I had the good fortune to be asked to speak at a Girls On The Run function.  Speaking to a group of middle school girls about the benefits of making healthy life choices, something I'm so passionate about, was a no brainer.  That is,  until one of the girls asked what I thought was a simple question:  Why did you decide to be healthy?  And why is it so hard for other people to choose to be healthy?  Hmmmm.  Yeah....I was stumped.  I mean,  I know MY reasons for choosing a healthy lifestyle, but I can't answer for everyone.  And I don't really know why it's hard for others.  So...I thought it would be really cool to ask others what they thought about this topic.  This post will begin a series of interviews I'll be conducting with various people who have been of significant influence to my choices.    More specifically, these people, I believe, hold great insight into the key to achieving and maintaining a healthy, happy lifestyle and by interviewing them, I hope that myself and my readers will learn more about the benefits of choosing to treat our bodies well.

My first interview is with Mike and Gail Urbanski, who recently became owners of Anytime Fitness, a 24 hour fitness center that provides a unique, non-intimidating environment where people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and fitness levels can come and reach their fitness goals.   Mike and Gail are also parents to 4 children (including me!) and 2 grandchildren.  Mike has been a runner for most of his life, having competed in countless road races, marathons, triathlon and ultramarathon.  Gail has also competed in road races, and has always incorporated endurance and strength activities into her daily regimen whether it be jazzercise in the 80's or rollerblading and cycling.  What better way to start off my interview series, than with the two people who have influenced me most!
Mike Urbanski  
Gail Urbanski 

GG (Gutsy Girl):  What did "healthy" mean to you as you were growing up?

GAIL:  I grew up in Los Angeles in the 50's.  Back then, we were always outside playing.  "Exercise" was not a word we really stressed.  Mostly, I think, because there was no need to stress it--we were constantly moving, rollerskating, biking, jumping rope, inventing games.  There were no special classes and there weren't a lot of organized sports, especially for girls.  My mother was extremely active and quite an athlete.  She played on a church volleyball team when she was young and softball until her father told her it wasn't "ladylike".  But later, as she became an adult, she was constantly seeking out new sports and activities.  I wasn't encouraged to play organized sports, but I was constantly playing hopscotch, tag, tetherball, volleyball, and basketball.  My mother did not let us sit around the house or sleep in.  She would come in our rooms in the early morning and sing loudly to wake us up.

MIKE:  I grew up in Ohio in the 50's.  My parents didn't exercise a lot back then, and they both smoked cigarettes.   But my uncles, who were a little bit older than me were all into sports and very active.  They taught me how to play sports.   I played outside a lot, did little league, midget football, etc.   When we moved to Tucson, when I was in 8th grade, I participated in my first track meet and fell in love.  For whatever reason, being on the cross country and track team made me feel good about myself and this is what really led to my healthy lifestyle.  It wasn't so much by example, but by experience and falling into a sport I really loved.  I did it long enough that it became habit.

GG:  How about nutrition?

GAIL:  In my household, we ate a lot of fresh vegetables and fish from a delivery truck that came by once a week and blew a whistle in the neighborhood.  We didn't have a lot of sugar or ice cream.  Never soda.  On special occasions, like birthdays, we'd have treats.   Our parents went through the Depression though, and we were fortunate to grow up during a very a very good time and our parents wanted to provide more for us.  There was a mentality of "clean your plates"  and "sit there until you finish all your food".  They didn't want us to waste anything.

MIKE:  In the midwest, I ate more ice cream, sop, potato chips and Tasty Taters.  But we didn't overindulge, not the way people do today.  We didn't sit down and eat a whole carton of ice cream.  We didn't have time--we were too busy playing outside!  My mom grew up on a farm and we always had home made meals and fresh food.

GG:  When you met and got married, did you talk about your health or how your lifestyle as a couple would be?

GAIL:  No.  We didn't talk about our health, but I remember that when your dad was running back then, people thought it was odd.

MIKE:  It wasn't until 1972, when Frank Shorter won the olympic marathon that started the running boom in the United States.  In 1976, my brother and I started a running organization in Ohio and it took off.

GG:  How about when you had kids?  Did you make any conscious decisions together on how to keep your kids healthy?

GAIL:  There were a lot of progressive thoughts in the 1970's that contributed to our decisions.  For instance, when you were born, it was a big deal to make your own baby food.  Sugar and soda and things like that weren't talked about as being "bad" for the body as much as bad for our teeth.  But we just knew it wasn't good for our kids.  We didn't really talk about it.  We always tried to keep with our instincts.

MIKE:  I was racing a lot when our kids were born and constantly reading up on what was healthy for me, so that I could be at my best, so it just trickled down to our kids.  We owned a restaurant at the time, so we had a lot of fresh produce and meats and we were committed to being healthy ourselves and providing you kids with the same opportunity.

GG:  Were your kids as active as you were when you were growing up?

GAIL:  You were active very, very young.  You all started swimming early and ran in fun runs by the time you were 4 or 5 years old.

MIKE:  You came to all my races when you were little.  Your mom would run too and because it was a part of our lifestyle, you'd participate.  We just lived this way, we didn't have a conversation talking about how we needed to do this for our kids, it was a normal part of life.  Our vacations were about the outdoors--camping, backpacking, hiking, swimming, running.  You learned early that this is what we did.  As a result, you all wanted to continue to be active and whatever sports you wanted to do, we supported it.
My brothers and me 1988.  Our first backpacking trip down the Grand Canyon.  My youngest brother  was only 6 years old.

As you got older, we knew if you were involved in healthy things, you wouldn't get involved in unhealthy things.  We wanted that for you and for you to always be surrounded by people like that.

GG:  Obviously your family sees the benefit of being healthy and the longevity it has provided you.  People are always commenting on how young and energetic you are.  So what can you tell us about how you feel today and how you've maintained your health?

MIKE:  My shift is now not as much about being fast and competitive, but how healthy I can be.    I log what I eat and the type of exercise I do.  This helps me be more aware of what I'm doing for my body.  I crosstrain more now--swimming, biking, weightlifting ,along with my running.  I sleep better because I've chosen a new lifestyle (Anytime Fitness) that is less stressful, and healthier for me emotionally.  We look at the ingredients we put in our meals and don't eat out much.

GAIL:  I had two sisters die too young and it has really made me take a look at what I can do for myself and it's been a lot about preventative care.  I want to look good and feel good for me and it's why I always go for a yearly check-up to make sure I'm doing everything I can for my body.  It's harder as I get older and it's frustrating sometimes, but ultimately, I want to be good to my body.  It's not all about food and exercise---it's about how you deal with stress and it's effect on your life.

MIKE:  I want to continue to lead by example.  I believe I have an obligation to my family and children and grandchildren to be a role model.

GAIL:  Maybe it takes living and experiencing as much as we have to understand that it's about WELLNESS--it's the whole package.  I know that I have to be realistic and not beat myself up.  I can't be married to the scale, and I can't deprive myself.  I have to eliminate the stress in my life and balance it all out.

Ultimately though,  this works for us because we have an incredible support system in each other.  We both want a healthy lifestyle and it's much easier to achieve it when you have that support!

GG:  What about your gym, Anytime Fitness ?

MIKE:  Some people think we're crazy for doing this at our age, but this is what we do---we take risks, especially when it's about helping others and supporting others in reaching their health and fitness goals. We recognize that so many people are just afraid to get started and that's why we're passionate about offering a non-intimidating environment.

GAIL:   Again, it's the whole wellness thing.  I know the benefits of a life less stressful and I don't want to deplete all of my energy every single day.  It's a lifestyle and we want that for others.

GG:  Thank you for taking the time to talk about this!

GAIL:  This was good.  I think it's important to remember why we do this and why it's so important to us!

GG:  If people are interested in your gymAnytime Fitness where should they go?

MIKE:  Our website isn't done yet, but if you go to the link (click on my links above) it will take you to our Facebook page and you can find out more information.  The renovations start Tuesday 7/12 and we're hoping to open by late summer!
Mike and Gail's grandsons Michael and Grady.  It runs in the family!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The "ON" Button

In six weeks, I'm racing the Skyline 50 trail race in Castro Valley, CA.  I say "racing" because I truly mean to try and kick it up a notch and see what I'm capable of this year.  In the past, most of the ultras I've entered have been more about "just finishing" than actually racing.  This is the first year I've felt healthy enough to raise the bar.   If all goes well, and I end up reaching my goals at Skyline, I'll be racing again in December at the North Face Endurance Championships in San Francisco.

I'm pretty excited that at 37 years old, after years and years of "almost there" , I'm finally feeling like I'm reaching my athletic capabilities and goals.  KNOCK ON WOOD, I'm healthy and uninjured..FINALLY!  This level of health has actually saved me in the last few weeks when "survival mode" had to kick in during some extremely long days that required me to be in constant motion and have non-stop energy from before sunrise to after sunset.  What I found was that maintaining and being diligent about my training schedule, sleep schedule, and nutrition needs during these crazy, whirlwind days most definitely allowed me to have enough energy and stamina to make it through without getting sick or suffering a major lapse in training for my race. Yay!!!

So, I started thinking about what has really attributed to my ability to feel so "ON" lately.  As I entertain thoughts of kicking up my competitive goals with ultrarunning, I realize that I've made some adjustments  over the last few months that have made a significant difference to my overall health and the smaller details of my training regimen.

1.  YOGA.  I finally caved and put my past negative experiences with yoga aside and decided that with my extreme flexibility "issues", it was absolutely imperative that I either spend tons and tons of money to hire a personal "stretcher" or find a yoga class that I actually like.  I started 3 days a week at Yoga Oasis in downtown Tucson a little over a month ago and BINGO-- It's working!  I like the fast pace of the class, which incorporates a rapid progression of popular yoga poses mixed with some other challenging poses that kick my ass.  The challenge is good for me and keeps me from being "bored".  And the benefits are worth the $4 per class.  I'm feeling more flexible and less rigid on the trails.  And most important--I'm preventing injury!

2.  CROSSFIT.  I've talked endlessly about this topic before and how much I love crossfit training.  Unfortunately, I don't get to do it every day, but I spend at least 3 days a week either training with a group or doing the workouts at our gym.  I've strayed away from most of the workouts that require olympic lifting, only because I don't do it enough yet and when I do, I tend to get hurt a little bit.  So, until I can devote more time to crossfit, I'm focusing on the metabolic conditioning and workouts that incorporate more relative strength work like pullups, handstand pushups, squats, box jumps, and sprinting.

3.  FOOD.   Eliminating pretty much all sugars and caffeine before my R2R2R proved a positive move in changing my energy reserves and output.  Maintaining this change has been very important.  The few times that I added sugar back into my diet resulted in such sluggish, sleepy, poor performance, that I think I probably lost at least a couple quality days of training, working, and just living with good energy.
I've also discovered that I have a difficult time processing most grains, especially rice.  The performance nutritionist I work with had me change things around to incorporate mostly vegetables and salads with added proteins into my daily menu and this small (or large) change has also proved positive in increasing performance levels.  Fortunately, I really love trying new, unique veggies and recipes, and also have several wonderful green-thumbed friends in my life who have been bringing me weekly goodies from their gardens!

4.  SLEEP.  Study after study over the last several years has shown that people who lead very active daily lives sleep better at night.  It's kind of a no brainer.  I mean, we watch kids run themselves ragged outside playing for hours on end and think "they'll sleep well tonight!"   So why don't we think that way for our adult selves?  Too many adults (and children unfortunately) lead very sedentary lives.  We drive our cars, we park in the closest spot possible, we sit at our desks, we sit down to eat, we sit in front of our computers, our tvs, our video games and then we lay down to sleep at night.  Hmmmm.   Sure, some adults exercise the prescribed 30-60 minutes 3 days a week.  But compare those workouts to the hours spent sitting or laying down every day?  No wonder so many people struggle with sleep!  Their bodies aren't tired!   I am so grateful to have a job that requires me to be active, on my feet, and moving constantly.  And I know that as much as I can sometimes complain about the hours and how tired I am by the end of the day, I now realize that if I didn't have this job, I might not have these wonderful nights of great sleep followed by a good, energetic, quality day.   (I should mention here that it's true that a lot of adults are "tired" by the end of the day.  But I would encourage all adults to take a look at what's making them "tired".  Because caffeine can make you tired, food can make you tired, sitting can make you tired, and weather, illness, and too much sleep can make you tired.   This kind of tired doesn't necessarily make for good sleep and can, in fact, make for sleep problems.)

5.  TRAILS.  My favorite, beloved trails in the Rincon, Santa Rita, and Catalina Mountains are shut down due to fires or fire danger.  So, while I continue to perform my daily rain dance, I have had to explore some other trails in the Tucson area.  Sure, some of the new trails I've found are too rocky, have had me cursing and falling over myself and into cactus, but the thing is---it's still a trail and it's what I love and why I do what I do.   I spend a good portion of my day on mountain trails.  Quiet and peaceful, I get to think about things in my life and sometimes work out problems or stressful situations.  Mostly though, I get a daily lesson on me and my character--flaws and all.  Because the trails challenge me and push me to choose whether or not to embrace the challenge ahead.. or not.

So...these days, while I'm out on the trails, I'm thinking a lot about what else might up the "ON" and what might be possible for me in the next few years athletically.  Dreaming big, setting big goals, and most important, consistently listening to my body.  Because I'm pretty sure I won't achieve much if I start to ignore these things. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Under Construction...

A month after my R2R2R and I'm on a bit of a wind down.  Healing some small, nagging aches and pains and adding some crosstraining and Crossfit back into my training regimen.  Post epic run, I definitely have felt the letdown after the hype and excitement has simmered.  Fortunately, I'm not one to not have another adventure or goal in the near future, so the letdown has been short lived.  Nevertheless, the bit of fog I've been wading around in has led me to do some serious re-evaluation on pretty much everything going on in my life from my weekly training to my competition goals to my career goals to my thoughts on where I want to really be in 5 years.  Yikes.  Heavy stuff.

After 37 years with myself, I certainly know what makes me tick.  And what doesn't.  I know that I'm a creature that grows bored with routine and daily activity that leads me unchallenged.  I know that I have to feed the competitive monster in me, I know that I need to be intellectually stimulated, and I know that I have to maintain a good balance of body, mind, spirit in my daily life.   When something is off balance,  I'm pretty much a disaster.   And everyone, unfortunately, can tell.  I'm OFF.  I'm miserable.

Currently, I'm not miserable.  But I'm a little off.  I'm bored.  I'm also antsy, itchy, and craving something HUGE.   And I'm not sure if jumping out of an airplane, or even traveling to the other side of the world can curb this craving.   I know this, because in my deep, heavy, self-analytical discussions with myself, I have narrowed down a few things...

Number One:  Through my work, I have had the rare opportunity to help young girls grow into confident, athletic women.  I have worked with countless girls who struggled with their identities, their body image, and their mental toughness.  And more often than not,  I got to watch them overcome those hurdles and rise above teenage adversity, embrace their athletic prowess and become incredible young women.

Number Two:  My favorite part of my job has always been what I've achieved in Number Two.  It's what led me to my vision of Gutsy Girls Adventures to begin with.  Hmmmm...

Number Three:  It's not enough to dream about doing something huge.  If I don't feed the dream, I'm only going to feed the boredom again and stay right smack dab where I am.   This life is short.  If I'm unhappy with my situation, what's the point of staying in it?  And after all these years of teaching young girls to embrace the unknown and conquer their fears, what kind of example am I if I don't live by my own words?

Number Four:  LEAP!   After my wind down phase, I am now in my "under construction" phase.  This phase involves a lot of journaling, lots of note taking, lots of emailing and talking to people I admire and have asked to mentor me, lots of late night discussions with my partner over what steps are realistic to take today and what steps might need to be taken later, and most importantly--being accountable to myself to do something to move forward EVERY DAY!

Number Five:  Maintain BALANCE while in "under construction" phase.  It's easy for me to get carried away with the excitement of change and the HUGENESS of what I want to accomplish.  It's also easy to get overwhelmed.  So, it's super, super important for me to meantime, keep things balanced and take time in my daily life to recognize the here and now.  Because sure, I've got big plans, but I've also got some pretty awesome stuff right here in front of me that simply can't be ignored.  

Of course, I don't have it all figured out yet.  I'm 37.  I'm just BEGINNING to figure it out!  But that's part of the fun, right? --where I've already been, what I've already done, the mistakes I've made, and what I've learned along the way.   Truly,  as deep in my head as I can get sometimes, I've discovered that I'm really just a big kid who has big crazy dreams and looks at most things in life as a giant amusement park--with a few big, scary, stomach dropping rides with twists and turns that end up being pretty darn AWESOME!  Which leads me to Number Six...

Number Six:  Don't take it all TOO seriously.  

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Warrior Dash! (or why I should definitely run in a costume)

Last Saturday, my fellow "warriors" and I departed for Florence, AZ to compete with other equally insane "warriors" in a 3.4 mile obstacle course race that promised to be "the craziest freakin day of your life".

Warrior Dash 2011.  Just check out the footage on their website and the video above:    and you'll see why.   I think what made it truly "crazy" was the environment--the crowds of people in ridiculous costumes (we saw a whole group of people dressed up like Pat Simmons and another group dressed in tutus) some not particularly looking as though they were in any shape at all to run 3.4 miles, much less climb a cargo net or jump over fire.  In fact, the scene was more like a giant outdoor concert or party with live bands, lots of beer, turkey legs, and drunk people in costumes dancing around, high fiving and chest bumping each other while covered in mud from the course.  Wild.

My group looked pretty tame as we lined up at the start of our 12:30 wave. The event would be held over two days with waves starting at 8:00am and running every half hour until 4:00pm.  We're talking THOUSANDS of people getting their warrior on!   Once the fire torches blew to signal the start of the race, it was a ridiculous attempt to push through the shoot through all the tutus and capes and kilts to get any kind of normal running stride.  But that was part of the fun and if I ever thought I'd be competitive that day, I should have positioned myself in front, not smack dab in the middle.   It was entertaining anyway and I realized, as I passed hooting and hollering men and women in neon tights, tutus, and dresses, that this whole thing was pretty reminiscent of the couple of times that I ran Bay to Breakers in San Francisco.  Only this time, there were no naked people.  Bummer.

My brother pushed out of the crowds pretty early on, and I decided I felt good enough to follow him.  This made it much, much easier to get through the obstacles up ahead without too many people stopping or slowing us down.  First obstacle was jumping over and under several walls about four feet high.  Next up, we had some small dirt hills to climb up and down.  Then a junkyard of cars and tires, a big cargo net, a tower of hay bales, balance beams, more cargo nets, another wall, and finally...the firelogs and mud pit!  I had planned on doing something ridiculous, since I wasn't wearing a cool costume, and maybe cartwheel or flip into the mud pit, but in the end, I would probably have landed on the guy in front of me and drowned him, so I opted for a bit of a belly flop instead.

The mud was pretty awesome and a great way to end this insane event.  Once our group was in, we immediately went to the beer tent for our free beer and then headed off to the "showers"--a concrete slab about 8x8 feet where we stood, like cattle, while crew members stood on water trucks hosing us down.  Hilarious!

In the end, I decided that this was a perfect event for me after the seriousness of the week before.  It was even better that I got to do it with family and friends!  I did decently too--32nd out of an insane number of nearly 800 and was pretty happy I didn't die out there or fall headfirst into the fire.  We are already planning for next year's Warrior Dash, will be recruiting several more of our family members and friends and yeah...we'll be designing our costumes way ahead of time!

I HIGHLY recommend this event to everyone!  It's just a fun, crazy, challenging day that you'll surely remember forever and at the very least, you'll definitely get some awesome pictures!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Adventures In The Grand Canyon

Last weekend was a blur.  Pretty surreal too.  Kelly and I left Tucson at 5am on Friday morning, driving straight to the Grand Canyon south rim entrance and catching our first amazing glimpse of the Canyon that day at around 11:00am.  We walked around on the rim trail, snapping photos and then took the shuttle bus from the visitors center to Bright Angel Lodge for a lunch of taco salad and roasted red pepper soup.  Yum!  We went by the Bright Angel trailhead so Kelly could see where I'd be finishing the next day.  The weather was perfect---clear and sunny and temps around 58 on the rim.  We stopped by the ranger table so that I could ask when the first mule trains leave for Phantom Ranch so that I could avoid having to try and pass them on the trail.  (Mule etiquette requires you to step aside when the mules pass and apparently it's difficult to get the "driver" to let you pass when running.)  The ranger told me I should be fine if I left by 5:00am, but reminded me of the mule rules.  I was trying to avoid explaining that I was running, not hiking, (running in the Canyon, and even hiking from the rim to river and back is something they frown upon.  But with good reason---250 rescues are made a year.) but it eventually came out and the ranger raised an eyebrow at me and lectured me on proper hydration, salty snacks and electrolytes.   We took the shuttle over to the South Kaibab trailhead, where I would start my run that next morning.  I sat near the edge of that "big ditch" and looked down and across, thinking to myself, "how the hell am I going to do this?"  

After checking into our hotel, I dumped all my gear on the bed and began to put my pack together.  I have an Ultimate Direction Wink hydration pack that fits me perfectly and with the mesh vest straps in front with lots and lots of pockets, I can carry quite a bit.  And yeah...I had a LOT to carry.  10 Hammer gels, 1 roll of Perpetuem solids, 3 small baggies with single serving of HEED, 1 baggie of beef jerkey, 1 baggie of salty nuts, 1 baggie containing 24 Endurolyte capsules, 1 bandana, a small first aid kit, a small camera, my cell phone and I still needed room to fit my moeben sleeves and long sleeve tech shirt after I took them off when it got warm!  Oh yeah...and I had a full 96 oz bladder to fit in there too!  

I ate a spectacular dinner of oven roasted chicken, salad, and a couple rolls and after taking a long, warm shower, I was in bed and asleep by 9pm.  The next morning, I was up a little before 4am, putting last minute things together, filled my pack with water, got dressed and arrived at the visitors center shuttle stop by 4:45am.  It was FREEZING!  40 degrees with a good, chilling wind.  Thankfully, Kelly was riding the shuttle with me to the start and I could give her my extra layers before heading down the trail.   The bus was full--a few hikers, but mostly people wanting to take photos of the sunrise from Yaki Point, which Kelly was planning to do after seeing me off.   At the trailhead, I took one last bathroom stop, peeled off my extra clothes, snapped my pack into place, turned on my headlamp and posed for a pre-run photo.  I looked around for Wayne and Patricia, two fellow Tucson trail runners who were supposed to start around the same time, but didn't see them and decided to start anyway.

I had never been on the South Kaibab Trail before and it certainly lived up to all the things everyone had told me--though rocky and steep, the views were INCREDIBLE, especially at sunrise! About 30 minutes into my run, however, I felt a leak in the bottom of my pack.  Great...I just not have secured the top of the bladder enough.  I stopped for a second to rearrange things and realized I had a true leak in my bladder.  Crap!  I dug through my bag for my duct tape and tried to stop the leak, but it wasn't holding! Frustrated, I started asking hikers coming down if they had any tape.  Within twenty minutes, I had a crazy assortment of duct tape, athletic tape, and even masking tape holding the bladder together!  Wayne and Patricia passed me and Patricia donated a piece of athletic tape and gave me some words of encouragement.  I still had a handheld bottle and thought I could definitely make it down to the bottom and refill at Phantom Ranch and maybe grab another water bottle at the canteen and at least complete a Rim to River to Rim.

So, I continued on my way, trying not to worry about the water issue and made it down to the Colorado and black bridge in about an hour and half (despite 20 minutes of hassle with my pack).   I stopped at Phantom, refilled my handheld, bought an extra water bottle, drank some HEED, took some more endurolytes and went to the bathroom.  I had 14 miles to go up to the north rim with not water availability.  My pack was still holding water, so I decided to go ahead with my plans and head up to the north rim.  Patricia passed me on her way back from the 3rd bridge.  She had decided to turn back there, her legs were really hurting.  Wayne was up ahead somewhere, hoping to get to Roaring Springs.  Running along the river was a great distraction, especially as I went through "The Box"--a huge canyon carved out by the creek.  I crossed several bridges and then started really climbing.  There were some murky, wet spots, but other than that, I didn't get too wet, even at Wall Creek where I had to cross a small waterfall.  At this point, two other runners passed me going the other direction.   The female, I recognized as Darcy Africa, a phenomenal ultrarunner from Boulder, CO.  Turned out she was going for a FKT (Fastest Known Time) and trying to break the record that was set just four days before by two other well known female runners:  Devon Crosby-Helms and Krissy Moehl.  They had run their R2R2R in 9:12.  The way Darcy looked, however, she was well on her way to breaking their time!   Darcy gave me a thumbs up and told me I looked great and to "get after it!"--just the inspiration I needed!

At Cottonwood Campground, I felt the taped up bladder in my pack give way and break open, water poured down my backside.  I knew of only one other runner/hiker on the trail at this point and that was Wayne, but I had no idea how far ahead he was from me, so I decided to press forward.  I still had over 24 oz in my handheld and the extra water bottle from Phantom Ranch full as well.

My legs felt good and my feet were holding up very well.  Once I hit Roaring Springs, however, I had to power hike some of the steeper sections.  I hit the Supai Tunnel, with 2 miles left to the north rim and saw a hiker heading down the trail.  After explaining what I was doing, he offered me an extra water bottle!  Unbelievable!  He told me he was camping for the night at Bright Angel and had plenty of water to hold him until he got back down and actually thanked me for lightening his load!  I seriously almost kissed the guy!  I was getting colder as I climbed higher and it really felt like I'd never get to the north rim, but finally, the trail leveled out a little and I saw the forest ahead of me and the trail head!  I put on my long sleeve again, checked my watch and realized I could make good time and even be ahead of schedule if I pushed hard back down to Phantom.

I got down in almost half the time it took me getting up North Kaibab and by the time I got back to Phantom Ranch, I was ahead of schedule by almost an hour!  At Phantom, I took another bathroom break, refilled my water bottles (now I had three!), checked my feet for blisters (none!) and considered, for about a minute, whether or not I'd head back up the South Kaibab, instead of my intended Bright Angel Trail.  The difference was, Bright Angel is a little over 3 miles longer.  Also, the FKT runners go back up South Kaibab and I thought, briefly, that it would be cool to get a benchmark time for myself just in case I decided somewhere down the line that I'd want to attempt an FKT.  Yeah...the thought was pretty short lived as I remembered that there are no water stops on South Kaibab and there was no way to tell Kelly that I had changed my mind.  So, I pushed on toward the Bright Angel Trail, crossed the silver bridge and enjoyed the short lived flat, sandy trail slightly above the Colorado River.  I saw some groups of rafters below and heard a few shouts of "Whoo hoo!  You're crazy girl!" and "Nice Job".  Once I hit Pipe Creek, I realized why I needed those water stops.  I had almost depleted my water again and the switchbacks and Devil's Corkscrew were looming ahead.  Still, it was pretty breezy and overcast and it made for an easier run uphill, not having to deal with the heat.  I refilled my water bottles at Indian Gardens with 4.8 miles to go.  But I knew the hardest, steepest part of the trail was ahead of me.  The cuts in the trail from erosion logs were killing my pace at this point as I had to jump over or onto them.  I really didn't want to walk any of it, but in a few places, especially as the trail got more crowded with hikers, I welcomed the brief moments of powerhiking instead.  Passing was getting a little annoying, especially as I got closer to the 3-mile rest house and crowds of hikers appeared.  It boggled my mind how so many people could be so clueless as to hike down without water, in sandals and jeans.  I saw one woman heading down wearing a long skirt and sandals.  She was carrying a massive camera...but no water bottle.  And she looked at ME like I was crazy!!!  I did get a lot of funny looks.  At this point I was getting a lot of comments too and people curious about what I was doing.  One little kid said to his dad, "she looks really tired".  Ha Ha--you have NO idea kid!

At the 1.5 mile rest house, I decided to kick it into gear.  At this point, I had nothing to lose.  I was way ahead of schedule by over an hour and though my legs and back were hurting, my lungs were holding up really well and I wanted to push it to the finish.  I started thinking about chocolate cake and an ice cold beer (not together.  But what the heck!) and how this was the most awesome way to celebrate my birthday EVER.  When I saw the Bright Angel Trailhead and the rim ahead, I pumped my arms in the air and kicked it into gear!

11 hours and 8 minutes after leaving South Kaibab trailhead that morning, I arrived at Bright Angel Trailhead!  Almost 44 miles and 11,000 feet of elevation gain.  No blisters. No falls. No stomach problems.  Minus the problems with my hydration system, I was feeling pretty good!  Tired, yes.  And once I stopped running, I started cramping up, but overall, I was ok!
                                     The End.  The sign might be holding me up, but I feel Great!

Kelly had made a huge banner for me and put together a great finishing package of snacks and goodies!  Back at the hotel, I sat in an ice bath, called my parents, and told them about all my adventures (and misadventures) in the Grand Canyon.  And after a pizza dinner and warm shower, we opened a bottle of champagne and watched "The Blind Side"...which I barely made it through before falling FAST asleep!

A couple of other notes:
*After having issues deciding what shoes to wear for this run, it turned out that my New Balance Minimus were exactly what I needed.  No rock bruising, no issues with my toes sliding on the downhills, and I felt flexible and confident on both the steep downhills and uphills!  And best of all--no blisters at ALL!

*Turns out Darcy Africa DID post a FKT that day.  She did it in 8:28!

*This run was by far the toughest run I've ever encountered.  But it is also BY FAR, the most spectacular run I've done.  It felt surreal, especially the next day, when Kelly and I returned for one last glimpse before heading back to Tucson.  Looking at the vastness, the incredible, intimidating size of the Grand Canyon, I could hardly believe I had JUST run it, the day before.  If you haven't been to the Grand Canyon, you MUST go!  You will never see anything like it on earth!
                                                    The day after.  Look--I can squat down!

So what's next for me?  Well...I have the Warrior Dash (a 3.4 mile run and obstacle course) this weekend (however slow I may be after last weekend!).  And I have the Skyline 50K in Northern CA in August and then the NorthFace Endurance Championship 50 miler in San Francisco in early December.  Meantime, I'm going to spend some more time doing CrossFit and maybe take that skydiving trip I've been talking about!  Stay tuned...