Here's a few of my favorites and albeit across the spectrum, I hope you enjoy as well.
Epic weekend in the desert.... post coming soon. ❤️
Two weeks ago I found myself in the Death Valley desert. I’ve been needing to get away but my passport was in process of being renewed which meant no exiting the country. GASP. So it seemed like the perfect getaway to fly to California and lose myself in the desert mountains.
Fact: It takes almost as long to travel to the Death Valley desert as it does to fly to Italy, with no gelato upon arrival.
The only formal goal was what Coach Amanda had written on my workout schedule. Thankfully she knows me well, and generously drowned me in miles for the weekend.
I departed Austin with hopes of indulging in solitude and peace. There is something truly majestic about the desert. Maybe it’s the simplicity. While I was there, I had no electricity or cellular service and I welcomed the serenity of this disconnection. My living quarters for the weekend consisted of a cement slab, four plastic walls and a cot. It was everything I needed and nothing more. Simple.
Similar to life, at times Highway 190 is unforgiving. It will hurt you when you least expect it. But I ran anyway, up, up, up the mountains and down, down, down. I felt the burning in my lungs and my heart wanting to jump out of my chest. I still haven’t determined if I’m running from something, or to something. And I don’t care to find the answer anymore. I run. It’s what I do. I’m a runner. It’s who I am.
There’s a lot to learn from the desert. The magnitude of the mountains will teach you humility. When you’re running down the road with mountains towering over you the very idea sinks in that in a blink of an eye and the tumbling of boulders, you can be crushed into nothing. This entire life that I think is so incredibly important, in the grand scheme of the desert, is nothing but a grain of sand by comparison. The desert after all was here before me. It will be here after me.
But just as quick as the desert can hurt you, it gives you strength in return. The solitude and silence from the surroundings will strip you down to nothing but your own thoughts. There’s no more hiding, no more wearing masks. It’s the confrontation of sorting through these thoughts that give strength. It’s the act of taking bad thoughts and purging them out of the body in the form of sweat and tears. It’s the clinging to words of wisdom, and certain memories that give you wings to keep flying, to keep moving forward, to keep chasing dreams. This liberating metamorphosis doesn’t come easy in the hustle and bustle of city life. But the desert is always ready and willing to evaporate sweat and tears.
And so here’s some simple photos from two weeks ago. On the eve of flying back to the desert, I feel ready for the physical and mental challenges the desert will throw my way. My life is unfolding faster than I expected with enormous changes in the horizon. For now the desert is my playground and sanctuary, the moderator of my thoughts.
After an incredible evening with Le Tartarughe, a few of them invited me for a run around Como Lake the next day. I’ve heard stories about the beauty of this place and have seen all sorts of images but for one reason or another hadn’t made the visit until now. I didn’t realize how much of a treat I was in for.
I had to stop and take a photo of the Bellagio sign primarily because of the humor that when I originally think of Bellagio, I think of Las Vegas. After this day however, I have newer and better imagery of Bellagio.
Como Lake is stunning. And Bellagio is everything I’ve seen in photos. Of course it wouldn’t be complete without pretty much everyone pointing out which house belongs to George Clooney. Hahahaha! One thing I didn’t expect was the size of the hills! We kept climbing and climbing and climbing. I definitely needed the mountain training and after trashing my legs snowshoe running, this was certainly testing the legs again. Luckily the group was nice enough to let me stop along the way for photos and they were terrific about giving me some history of the surroundings. There should be no surprise that we managed to make time for a gelato stop either! Here's some photos along the way.
We finished the run at a little chapel that was dedicated to some of history's greatest cyclists. From the outside, I would never have expected this, but inside this little chapel housed bicycles, jerseys, photos and dedications for many cycling heroes, the likes of Fausto Coppi, Eddie Merckx and Marco Pantani! Despite that I'm a runner, this was amazing and inspiring.
Finally, a video they made of our day. A beautiful momento with Le Tartarughe. <3
Post Swiss mountain epic adventures…. I hopped a train to where else - Italy!!! My favorite place on the planet. It’s a trip I very much was looking forward to since January, always counting the weeks, the days, the hours, the minutes to my arrival.
This time there was a purpose for visiting outside of racing. I was invited by Le Tartarughe della Kirghisia. This is a running group in northern Italy, just north of Milan. And can I say, I totally think they’re the coolest! I first spotted their jerseys in 2014 at the start of the Nove Colli race. There were several of them toeing the line that day and the two-time female champion of the race, Antonietta Ferrara, is also a member. It was neat how close knit they are as a group because one of them told me that they were all there to run the race and specifically encourage and cheer Antonietta. What a group! Perhaps I should also mention that their logo is a turtle which of course I’m all over.
Back to my visit... The purpose of the trip was to partake in their Evening of the Nove Colli. Each month they host an event and invite outsiders to come speak, etc. March they decided to have their event specifically revolve around the big race in Italy that I’ve done the last two years. I adore this race for so many reasons. It’s also been a race that I’ve had the most difficulty writing about because it leaves me speechless every time. There is so much suffering on the course, sweat and tears but at the same time I've spent long sections of the course crying from unexplainable elation. So...of course I accepted the invite without evening having to think about it!
Two members, Fiona and Giovanni, were gracious enough to host me at their house and they were fabulous company talking about running, the education system in Italy and the running club. They treated me to a delicious home cooked dinner and breakfast the next morning. One more meal, and I’m not sure they would have gotten rid of me! :)
When we arrived to the event, everyone greeted in standard Italian fashion with kisses on both cheeks, laughter, excitement. Have I told you how much I love it here?
The meeting took place in a cinema theatre. The organization of everything they put together was very well done. They had orchestrated video clips with images from the Nove Colli race and all of their runners. Past finishers were invited to sit on stage and also the race director, Mario Castagnoli was there in full force. He is so precious, I can't say enough good things about him. I was completely surprised by an unforgettable introduction from Giovanni before being welcomed on stage where I got to sit with Antonietta. This was such a treat! I admire her so much. Last year after Nove Colli I was able to finally communicate with her a little more in Italian and for this trip I really got to spend time getting to know her more. She’s not only an accomplished and strong ultra runner, but she's as sweet as apple pie!
During the evening, runners in the audience could ask questions pertaining to training, racing the Nove Colli, or about us. And yes, all of this was in Italian! I had been practicing [in Italian] all of the things I thought I might need to say for this evening but luckily I also had Fiona by my side to help translate just in case.
Past finishers were given certificates for their accomplishments. Antonietta and I were given beautiful flowers AND as a group, they made me an honorary member and presented me and the race director with personalized jerseys!!! My very own Turtle jersey. Tell me how happy I am now....Oh, and as you read this paragraph imagine me screaming and jumping up and down because that would be an accurate description of my excitement while I write this!
The evening ended with everyone walking over to a hall to enjoy all sorts of food and drinks for chatting and photos. I remembered to bring my Italian flag with me (and a Sharpie!) and asked if everyone would sign my flag. They did!! There are all sorts of sweet messages and smiles written all over the flag. Now that I’m back to my life in Austin, the flag hangs proudly in my apartment. Every day it greets me and I end up with the biggest smile on my face <3. Sometimes moments happen in life that are indescribable. They’re felt inside so deep that no dictionary has the words to express the emotions experienced. This is one of those moments. Everyone I met that night was special in their own right and incredibly warm and welcoming. They are passionate about running not for the sake of exercise but because day-in and day-out they live the value of what running brings, that is, friendship, team work, and unforgettable experiences from training, racing, and spending time together.
[P.S. Unrelated... but note the ITALIAN colors of my X-Bionic jersey!! OMG... I found this online and had to have it. I received a photo of this jersey roughly one year ago and ever since, I'd been trying to figure out how to get my hands on it. Done and done. Love it!]
Sigh.... it's been a few weeks, more like 21 days to be exact, and I miss the mountains. This was my second day up top. It all seems surreal now.
Perhaps I can find new mountains to play on the next few weeks!
Wheels down and I find myself in Switzerland for the first time ever. It was a last minute addition to my trip, and I’m ecstatic about this. Being that it’s still early March, there is snow everywhere. The locals have told me that there has been very little snow and consequently the tourist sector was hit pretty hard. They lost something like 20% revenue on account of the minimal snowfall. Ouch. However, being the Texas gal that I am, the snow I see is a winter wonderland! I’ve made arrangements to dabble in snowshoeing while I’m here. I would have already tried it but during my trip to the Dolomites over Christmas (sorry, I forgot to blog), there was barely enough artificial snow to line the shorter ski slopes. But I’m here now with enough snow to make it EPIC. Girl.Gone.Wild in the snow. :)
My first day on the mountain I went to summit Furggelenstock and didn’t bother to rent poles. The initial ascent was concerning in that my leg muscles weren’t firing the way I wanted. In my head I envisioned being Killian Jornet but with long curly hair, and instead I think I closely resembled a weiner dog in two feet of snow. Once I crested the steep sections, I found the runnable quasi-flat sections with beautiful long switchbacks with vistas for creating postcards. Up up and up I went and in good company too! With the likes of Vasco, Elisa, Annalisa, Ligabue, Fedez and a few others pouring into my ears. I was the director of brilliant music videos - at least in my head.
The sun was intense despite temperatures staying barely above freezing. Honestly I couldn’t have written a better script for my first day on the mountain. There was no need for poles either. Though I was a little curious if I’d be able walk the next day given the change in muscles.
The original plan was one day out on the mountain and then departure to Italy the following day but I couldn’t resist and change plans. After I came off the mountain the first day, it began snowing A LOT. READ: Tons and tons of fresh snow. And just like that, I decided to stay an extra day to play on the mountain again. Have a look...
Day II: The legs felt completely normal with no sign of soreness. I’m attributing this miraculous recovery to the incredible gnocchi followed up by truffle and gelato I had the previous night. So naturally it made sense to try and trash the legs. Because you know, it makes no sense to vacation and not incorporate training. I was up and out of bed early allowing me to be the first on the mountain I promise I’m not competitive, this is merely an observation. This time I decided to rent poles mainly because I decided to take the west side trail to the summit. This side didn’t have the flat sections from the day before. Instead it was along the edge wrapping around the mountain and than along the ridge to the summit. Keep in mind, that I’m doing this alone… Not the best idea but I’ve done dumber things so of course I forgive myself. Anyway, as I made my way up toward the ridge I was thankful for deciding to rent poles. At one point, my left foot (which was the side of the drop-off) hit soft snow and my foot slid off. I caught my fall with the weight on the right foot and staked the pole into the ground. At this point, it hit me that I really had no business doing this alone. If I lost balance and fell, I have no doubt that crawling back up wasn’t an option. And it’s doubtful anyone would find me mainly because no one knew where I was.
My heart was pounding out of my chest. Thankfully I managed to bring my left foot back up. I started coaching myself as if I had someone giving me step-by-step instructions, Breathe, just relax, take a step, and step again, and another step. There’s no need to rush. Relax, smile, breathe... It was the only way to stay calm. I could see the ridge a few feet ahead but with the baby steps it felt like eternity. When I finally reached the ridge it felt slightly easier than what had just occurred probably because I practically straddled the ridge to make sure I didn’t slide off one side or the other. Obviously this was not the right time for a selfie but visualize with me here for a moment…. big brown eyes and face pale as a ghost. I think that’s probably an accurate description.
On each mountain peak (not sure if it’s all mountains), there is a massive wooden cross. I was told that they remain from the era of shepherds herding their sheep up and over. At that time, it was a religious marker in hopes that the sheep and the shepherd would safely making their journey. Presently, the crosses remain there but not so much for the religious aspect as more for simply a point to follow. The cross was absolutely insight now and the summit a few feet away. This time, the view from the top was quite different. There was little to no visibility of anything except fog. I think it was fog. All of the mountains and villages I could see the day before were hidden. Winds were gusting the fresh snow into the air and I wasn’t sure if the weather was about to turn for the worse or if it was normal. I took a few photos for memory sake and took the east trail to descend. I don’t think my heart, or stomach, could handle another slip-up.
The descent was wicked fast. I was still the only one out there and on the flat sections with all the fresh powder it felt like I sprouted wings. It wouldn’t be a successful snow trip without a snow angel so for good measure so I crossed that off the list.
Back down at the base I grabbed a quick lunch. A quick glance at the time confirmed I had plenty of daylight to summit for a second time. This time for speed. The sun was finally burning off the fog as I strapped the rackets back on. The second time up I passed several others and it was obvious to me that I made the right decision to stay an extra day. In roughly another two hours or less I will have three summits within 24-hours. Mountain training - just what the doctor ordered. It's moments like this that really leave you feeling alive. Wow...
Heading up the second time was a little more slippery because enough traffic had gone through to pack down the snow. But my favorite section of switchbacks was still soft and fluffy with powder. I miss it just sitting here thinking about it. At the summit, one last photo for good measure and that’s when I hit it. Racing back down I threw caution to the wind and figured even if I fell, the snow was enough to pad my fall. This wasn’t like trail running with roots and rocks. With snow, there was never a concern about falling. On a few steeps slopes I even had hang time. :) And just like that, my final mountain adventure was over. I felt sad taking off the rackets and walking to the bus stop. Two days in the mountains left me very spoiled and wanting more. Hmmmph!
So I’m done with early season short races and in full force training for the big races. This year I’m entirely ecstatic about what’s to come. I purposely have been holding out to receive all of the appropriate confirmations and alas, here’s the line-up….
May: Nove Colli 125-miles (202km)
July: Badwater Ultramarathon 135-miles (217km) - Invitational only
September: Spartathlon 153-miles (246km) - Invitational only
**November: Phidippedes Run 304-miles (490km)
Originally I'd plotted out a race schedule with a lot more shorter races, i.e., 50-miles to 100km, and only one long race. However, after several days of that schedule staring me in the face, I realized it was a far-far cry from following my heart. There wasn’t anything about the schedule that scared the hell out of me. I like the new schedule much more and I'm coining it the Grand Slam of Ultra Road Running. I said it first!
Contemplating races this year with what I WANT versus what I NEED, I had a wild moment and found myself pulling up the Badwater website to see if I could actually apply. The fact that fate led me to the race on the very last day of applications sealed the deal. I sat down, filled out the various questions, took a long breath and pushed the Send button. It was destiny from that moment on as I waited to hear from both Badwater and Spartathlon race officials to either invite me or not. The chances of getting into Spartathlon were [slightly] better since I had auto-qualifying standards. But still, nothing is guaranteed and I take nothing for granted. Both of these races are extremely important in the ultra world and there are a large number of very talented runners out there wanting a spot. Before celebrating entry, I wanted to see my name on the list.
February 9 was the official day to receive the coveted e-mail from Badwater. All day long I waited and it wasn’t until I was standing on a segway in downtown Austin, getting ready for a tour when I heard the jingle on my iPhone that an e-mail came through. Seriously?! Here I am barely balancing on a segway, getting instructions on how to turn left and right but I really need my iPhone!! Mind over matter - I went from a wobbling segway rider to phone surfing and segwaying (is that legal?). It was the e-mail I hoped for, an invitation!!! In a moment of pure elation, I did circles on the segway with high-fives to my coworkers. They are a precious group and although they really couldn’t understand why I was in tears from being invited to go run 135-miles in the desert during the hottest month of the year, they were excited for my excitement. I’m grateful for them.
Spartathlon invitations on the otherhand weren’t announced until March 9, around 6pm Texas time. I was in a Hobby Lobby when my friend sent a text to tell me the list was published. Anxiously I scrolled down looking for the USA list and saw my name. Relief. My heart was pounding at the same time my stomach did backflips. As I think back to this moment, I can’t begin to express the level of importance of getting in. Spartathlon was my A-Race last year but my race schedule ended prematurely from the double stress fracture in August during the Berlin 100. Spartathlon is a race not to be missed. First, it takes me to Europe need I say more? :) But second because it’s one of the longest races in the world [on road]. For ultra road runners like myself, the number of ultra road races can almost be counted on one hand. Also for personal reasons that coincide with my previous academic studies, it’s an enormous cultural experience that I’m intrigued by. Anyway my race schedule is as complete as I can get it with the uncertainty of November. It’s not that I’m waiting for an invitation for the Athens>Sparta>Athens race but the problem is the uncertainty of whether or not the race organizers can get everything approved from local authorities to host it the race for it’s second year. Or maybe I do it regardless? Hmmmmm…...
More news to come about all of this. Right now the focus is training and more training but also lining up crews, logistics, and travel is also part of all the preparation. There’s a reason why these races are called Ultras and it’s not just because of the miles we run on race day. Whew!
The race season is here. As usual the Austin Marathon usually kicks it off for me. The marathon this year was really humid and most of the runners were concerned about the humidity and heat. I set out to run an even pace and get the miles in versus racing it hard primarily because I was post stress fracture and the goal was to protect the foot. I mean let’s face it, I don’t need to PR a pre-race marathon but I do need the training!
The day panned out well. It wasn’t a marathon PR, but it was a PR for that course which is considered one of the hillier marathons in the country. And anyway the more important point is that the foot had no issues. I’m still amazed by the human body. From normal to broken to normal again. It’s really only in the mind that the broken continues to linger. The body doesn’t keep a memory of it. At least not that I could tell from running.
Two weeks later, I toed the line at the Cowtown 50km in Ft. Worth. I owned the course record for the past two years after winning it in 2014 so I really didn’t feel any pressure. It’s one of those things that after winning a race, going back a second time I can either try to run it better and try to beat my time, or relax and enjoy it the second time around. And that’s just what I did - I showed up and had a great training run.
Again the foot fracture sat in the back of my mind. Not because I felt it but because quite frankly any injury is traumatizing with the big year I have ahead of me, I feel even more need to be cautious. On a separate note temperatures were suppose to climb up but with the wind was howling at 18mph it kept us all cool. In some sections with the headwind, we definitely had to work a little…or at least I had to work out there. The wind made me feel like a tumbleweed - an appropriate description in Texas. I still love the part of the course that takes us through the Stockyards. Maybe one day I’ll run this race and stop to take my own photos. In the meantime, Here’s some pro photos from the race though. I guess by the constant grin on my face mission accomplished - I had a blast.
But check out how fabulous this photo is, more specifically, look at the three race numbers. One half-marathon runner, one marathon runner, and one 50km runner all coming through the finish line together with smiles!! Proof that ANYONE can be a runner. That’s the beauty of this amazing sport. Running doesn’t discriminate. If you run 10ft a day or 50km in a day, you’re a runner. Celebrate it!