After Comrades I had fully resolved to not train. I had been training and racing so hard for so long that I  was ready for a break. I decided that I would take the rest of June to not train specifically, to enjoy my life (and my birthday) and get rejuvenated. I have run when I felt like it, listened when my body asked for extra long naps and slept in on a Sunday morning.

I haven't taken any real break like this in a while. From the time I started to focus on qualifying for the Olympic Trials in late 2010, I have been in near constant pursuit of the next peak of fitness. And although I haven't burnt out or overtrained in that period of time, I still think, in the long term, burning, burning, burning is not a sustainable strategy. I just want to WANT to run for as long as I am able, and sometimes feeding that want means doing less of it or backing off.

I gave myself the month and I have enjoyed it. I have had accidental double days and plenty of zero days too.  

I was not completely satisfied with my race at Comrades. I know my fitness was much better than the day I had and part of me initially after the race wanted to, once again, leverage my fitness for another race. I wanted to prove how fit I was. But I didn't allow myself to pursue another race. I was very resolute before Comrades that I wouldn't simply rush on to the next race and I stuck to it. I am glad I did. There is no race or run or victory or time that can undo my Comrades race. Instead of trying to fill the unsatisfied feeling with something else, I simply let it be. I see that that dissatisfaction is fuel for the fire to come back even stronger and faster. It keeps you hungry. It keeps you pushing your limits. Now that I am starting to train again, I am motivated to reach for new heights.

Always in stride with the Baker

This past weekend I decided that I would kick off my training as any zaney ultrarunner would do: by running a 50k. The week before Nathan and I had been running on the Flume Trail on my birthday and he said it would be fun to run a 50k together. I thought it would be as well and suggested the Inside Trail Race's Marin Ultra Challenge. I am pretty sure when he suggested it, he didn't mean the following weekend, but I had been pondering the race for quite some time and made a strong pitch.

Heading up Old Springs, mile 30
Photo by Gary Wang

The race itself was low-key and fun. Nathan and I ran with fellow ninja and good friend Peter the whole time and we made quick work of the 33 mile race with nearly 7000 feet of ascent. Going in I thought I would just cruise, but between the three of us, we managed to push the pace for such a stout course. I don't actually think I've ever pushed that hard in a trail race before. It was really fun to run together and play off one another, I would blame Nathan "the Hammer" or Peter "The half-stepper" for the pace but I know I am equally responsible (going up Heather Cut off apparently I got the nickname Devon "Two Switchbacks ahead"). We finished what we started together, even working our way up in to co-4th place (I was first lady from the start) after hammering down Redwood Creek trail in low 7's. Good friends, good fun, good trails, great race.

 Photo by Tanford Tahoe
  Photo by Tanford Tahoe

All in all, I am very thankful I took a little break from the constant focus and training. I am ready to train, excited to race again and ready to explore my own limits.

The Pretender

Post 100k WC 2009 in Belgium. 4th place, team gold.

After Hardrock pacing, I switched gears and started focusing on my goal race for the early fall: the 2011 WC100k as a member of Team USA. My training started off well and I was feeling fast and strong, focused and like my training was progressing in a promising manner. One of my first big long runs on the road was a 5:07 effort for 42 very hilly miles from San Francisco to Fairfax to Stinson Beach. It was suppose to be a 4 hr effort but when I mapped out the route, I missed that google maps had sent me down a little known or possibly non-existent trail from Bolinas Fairfax road and I proceeded down the road that I was familiar with. After that run, I decided that it would be the only 5 hr effort I would do before the 100k. More than one might tax my body too much and I felt that I wanted to heed the lessons from Mad City 100k earlier in the year: that less is more.

I recovered well from that effort and a week later pounded out a solid effort at the SF Marathon with Nathan. I was very pleased with a 2:53 on that marathon course without any taper to speak of and the long run the week before. I took my normal day off on the following Monday and was back to training Tuesday with a good track workout in which I felt very strong. Wednesday I did a solid double workout day for a total of 20 miles. Thursday I hit a wall. I am not sure if it was a mental or physical one, probably a bit of both. I had moved my 4hr long run from Sunday to Thursday because I was heading out of town for the OR show on Friday and couldn't be sure I would have the time to do an effort like that while in Salt Lake. I doubted it. So in the wee hours of Thursday morning (I started running at 4:30am), I headed out with the intention of getting in my 4 hrs. It was raining, cold, windy and foggy. My body was feeling fatigued from the marathon on Sunday and my mind was saying, "I am just not that into this". I decided that physically and mentally, it was better to NOT push through so close to the marathon and did a modified route, covering 22 miles for the day. I finished up the week strong, including the hardest 15 minutes of my life at the Uphill Challenge, followed by a fantastic double day with friends on the trails in SLC. I ran 108 miles, despite no "long" runs and was satisfied.

Pre-100k training with Bestest Everest in 2009. 40 miles in 4:42.

Last week, I put in solid effort after solid effort (with plenty of recovery efforts in there too). I had a good track workout on Tuesday (400, 800, 400, 800, 400, 800, 400, 800. All repeats 1:17-1:19, 2:40-2:43) and ran doubles everyday. By Thursday morning, I could tell that I was feeling off. Not physically, just mentally. I was feeling down in the dumps. I was feeling unmotivated. I was feeling grumpy. I think the weather was just weighing on me and couldn't talk myself out of the negative space I was occupying. So on Thursday afternoon, I did something drastic. I just drove and drove until I found the sun and then ran on trails until I was tired, a bit sunburned and uplifted by a few hours in the sun. It meant 25 miles for the day, but unlike what my training plan called for. I didn't care. I needed to be happier above all else. I needed to crawl out of the doldrums. Friday morning, Nathan and I chased the sun again, this time on Mt. Tam above the fog. I was feeling more uplifted, more like me. I had my long run planned for Saturday and Nathan and I made a plan for meeting up in Tennessee Valley after I did a 42 mile road loop (the Paradise loop+ more from the city). I set off in the wind, cold and fog but couldn't get my mind into the effort in from of me. By mile 7, I was texting Nathan that I just wasn't into the run. I decided to have him pick me up at mile 11.5 and I would run with him on Mt. Tam for a couple of hours. I managed 4 hours for the day with 2.5 hours of that in the glorious sun on Mt. Tam but the workout was not the confidence booster I wanted or needed. I still remember back to my last Worlds in 2009 where I had a fantastic 40 mile run which Jonathan joined me for the second half of. I had not yet had a fantastic indicator workout on this cycle. Instead, I was just worrying that I had overcooked myself somehow. I ran on the trails again Sunday and gave myself a break from the road. I just ran and enjoyed myself again instead of worrying about the miles, splits and what this meant for my race. I covered 110 miles for the week, again with no real "long run" and 4 days of pure trail.

WC100k 2009.

I went into this week determined to have quality workouts. I decided that it wasn't a matter of hoping for a good workout or week, I would simply decide it to be so and it would be. And in the two workouts thus far this week, it is abundantly clear that I am ready. Tuesday I headed to the track and focused on hammering out my relatively light workout of 5x400 repeats with 200 recovery. I smashed the workout, finishing my last three repeats in 74, 73 and 70. I pushed myself and found, much like I did during the Uphill Challenge, that I had yet another gear. I finished the last workout and received applause from a few onlookers. One came over to me and said that he has seen me working out at the track and that I really inspire him with my hardwork. It was a really nice compliment and I appreciated that someone took the time to say it. I warmed down with Nathan and was very stoked to have run a 70. I don't think I have run a 70 yet this year and I am encouraged by the thought of getting faster at the track.

This morning, I planned to do my long run as we have fun trail plans for the weekend. I didn't want to miss out on a good road effort, even though I was worried about my ability to motivate myself to hit another 4-ish hr road effort. I decided to run 50k and see what I could do comfortably hard. 

Before I headed out this morning, I read an interesting article entitled "You Become What Your Pretend to Be". It really resounded with me. It was exactly what I needed. Last Saturday, I did a lot of negative self talk and talked myself out of my workout. I was determined not to do that today. Instead, I would simply pretend and therefore make it so. So I pretended:
that I was strong
that I was fast
that I was motivated
that I was worthy of a gold medal
that I was ready
that I was inspired
that I could do anything

And from the start, the workout was completely different. I ran comfortably but felt a levity about the journey ahead. Instead of worrying how the workout would go, I simply told myself it would be a good one. By the time I reached the other side of the Golden Gate bridge, I was dripping with sweat and beaming with pride (mind you it is only mile 7 at this point). I knew I was going to have a breakthrough workout. I knew I would never have doubts. I knew that I would run strong and fast and push it harder with each passing mile. And it was so.

I ran out to the end of the bike path in Mill Valley and turned around, laughing at the headwind that seemed to blow in both directions. I was 13.5+ miles into the run in 1:29. I popped a gel and headed back towards the bridge. At this point, I decided that I would push the remaining miles despite knowing that all of the bigger hills lay before me. I wanted to get to mile 20 steadily and then do a fast finish. I hit the 20 mile mark in 2:14 and pressed across the Golden Gate bridge with a smile on my face. Making it back across the bridge is such a nice feeling. I feel almost home, even though when I got across I took a right turn and headed away from home. I was determined to hit a sub 3 for my marathon split despite miles 22-26 being very hilly and partially on trail through Land's End including a sand ladder. I made it through Land's End and sprinted down the hill towards the beach hitting the marathon in 2:55:44. I realized that I was what I had started out pretending to be. I cannot remember the moment when I crossed from "fake it til you make it" into this being the reality of things. I was LOVING the run. I felt strong and fast and inspired. I just felt good. My body felt alive even though I was running really hard.

The final 4.5 ish miles home were no easy task. It is uphill all the way from the beach but I was determined not to relent on the pace and zig zagged my way up the park, up each hill and sandy bit of trail. The miles ticked away and I approached the final giant hill up to my house. I pushed up it, grunting, sweat flying everywhere. I wouldn't go easy on myself even though I was nearly home. I pushed up and over the top and sprinted down my block and beyond my house. I simply couldn't finish my run .01 short of a perfect 50k. I didn't have to go far and I dramatically hit stop on my watch 3:29:13. 6:44 min/mile for a 50k. Wow. That felt good. 

As the article mentioned, "our attitudes influence our behavior" as well as "our behavior influences our attitudes". On this run, I definitely found this to be true. I started off the run with a positive, even if just pretending or slightly uncertain, attitude and it made my behavior positive as well. Because I felt positive, happy and hopeful about the run, my running was comfortable, strong and inspired. Then, because my run was going well, my attitude continually got more positive and inspired. By the end, I am sure I looked like a crazy person running 6:40s through the park with a wild grin on my face. I became what I pretended to be. It was the breakthrough I was hoping for and it shows me that come race day there will be no pretending. There will just be a goofy grin and joyful running as I count off loops in a small town in the Netherlands.

Stinson Beach 50k

After last week's race at Lithia Loop, the first thing that came to mind after finishing was breakfast, then it was chocolate and a whole host of things other than racing again the following weekend. But after a good 14 mile recovery run on Sunday and a day off on Monday, the race warm-fuzzies were wearing off and I was back to my coach-prescribed ass kicking on the track and in workouts.

I knew that a bunch of my fellow Endurables, Ninjas and many friends were all going to be out racing either the 25k or 50k at PCTR's Stinson Beach Race. Nathan was going to run the 50k, so on a whim, I signed up for the 50k on Wednesday. After all, just like last week, my training schedule prescribed me a run that would be just about how much time it would take me to finish the race if I was running at a hard workout pace.

Stinson Beach is a two loop course for the 50k and has just over 7,000 feet of climbing in two epic climbs and descents on each loop. My greatest motivation for doing the race was to get some time running up Steep Ravine and down Matt Davis which are both a part of TNF50 course. I absolutely love bombing down Matt Davis. It is technical, steep and one wrong step could easily send you off a cliff or bust a knee or ankle in a season ending injury. I looked forward to that part.

I was feeling okay Saturday morning and my legs were not too bad after 55 miles of running in the week, but I was still not sure how much power and stamina I would have to make it up Steep Ravine and up Deer Park Fire Road, which are both very sturdy climbs.

When we got to the race, it seemed like a big running family reunion, complete with some of the missing characters running up to the start line to stay hi in the middle of their double dipsea run. It was a perfect morning, warm and clear as we lined up to head up the hill.

Off we went up Steep Ravine for the first time. I was by myself behind a decent sized group of fast guys and I didn't want to push too hard, too soon. The 50k started 20 minutes before the 25k which a bunch of the Thursday Ninjas. My motivation for the first loop was avoiding being caught by smack talking buddy Brett Rivers. He is a master smack talker and I knew there would be no end to it if he successfully chased any of us down with such a lead. Thankfully, he did not catch me.

Arriving at the top of Steep Ravine, I felt good and my pace felt solid. As I crested the top, I saw that fellow Endurables member Kristin was pretty close behind me and I decided to push a bit on the gradual and then steep downhill to Redwood Creek trail. I pressed and when I looked back I didn't see her, so I figured I had given myself a cushion for the next climb. I know from Endurables runs she is a great climber and I definitely did not have the energy to push the uphills, so I wanted to play to my strengths of flat and downs and just float the ups (and by float I mean trudge).

I made it most of the way up Deer Park the first time before being passed by Leor Pantilat passed me as the first runner in the 25k. Luckily, he would be the only 25k runner to pass me. Ha, Brett didn't get me (though he did come in 2nd, congrats buddy!). He told me that the next lady back was several minutes, but I couldn't be too confident in that. I was happy to be done with the first round of the hills and enjoyed the nearly 4 miles of descent to the end of the loop. Ok, honestly as I was descending down Matt Davis pretty hard, I was having a really hard time being motivated to go out for a second loop. I came into the aid station at the bottom with Mark Tanaka (after I helped him get back on course) and he urged me onwards and I started my second loop.

Since I was beginning to lag, I was worried I was going to get caught. Since I was not in super "crush the competition" mode, I didn't know if I would have the heart or energy to make a race out of it if I was challenged. I wanted to win, no doubt about it but my race tactical brain was no engaged. I was nearly to the top of Steep Ravine when I saw that I was in fact, not several minutes ahead and that Kristin had caught up to me on the climb. I took the last few minutes before the aid station deciding what I wanted to do. I knew I could try and hammer down Coastview and Heather cut off and push it on the flats of Redwood Creek to try bank some time for the Deer Park climb again, but that if I did that, I ran the risk of her coming with me and exhausting myself for the climb. So I decided on something else, I casually filled up my water bottles, let her leave the aid station first then caught up to her and matched her pace. We ran together, chatting, enjoying the company under the mid-day heat. It was her first ultra and it was great to see her doing so well. I told her that she could feel free to pass me anytime (as I lead us single file down Coastview), as I was not really feeling like hammering on my already tired legs. So we ran together. I knew she would be faster up Deer Park than I, but was hoping that I might be able to keep her within range and use my superior technical downhill running to catch her.

I huffed and puffed and scraped my way up Deer Park. I was moving decently well and caught glimpses of her a few times, but was definitely losing ground. I neared the top of the climb and caught a young guy who told me this was his first ultra and he hadn't trained for it. I told him he was doing great considering that!! I also told him I was trying to decide if I really wanted to hammer and chase her down. He told me I should, "she's right there", he said. And by right there, meant, I knew, not close enough I could see. But I was at the top, I had gotten through the tough climbs and got to celebrate the run with a nice downhill and then be done. That was what mattered.

I filled my bottle at Pantoll, ran out and contemplated my strategy. At moments like this I think about Gary Robbins and his words about "winning the battle, but losing the war" (at transrockies) and since this was suppose to be a training event for TNF 50 in 3 weeks, I really contemplated whether or not to go after her or just chill. Before my mind could make itself up, my body did it for me. I got a nice burst of energy and my legs started moving. I started working the last bit of rolling trail of Coastal before hitting Matt Davis and the steep technical downhill part. There were a ton of hikers on the trail and I felt like I was dodging and weaving and running through people like a crazy person (not through them literally, I didn't touch anyone though there were a few I wish I could have pushed out of the way).

I popped out into a clearly before the really steep part and spotted her. She was less than 1/4 mile ahead, running near Mark Tanaka. My mind got on the same page as my body and I went into hunting, racing mode which was completely different than my casual (but strong) mode from the rest of the race. While the first go down Matt Davis had made me laugh at how well I navigated, this time I felt like I was in the zone. My feet went between the roots and rocks and twists without having to think about it. I leaned into the curves and danced under the fallen branches and around the many hikers that were all over the narrow trail. I descended faster and faster and faster. I was 30 miles in and my legs were urging me onward instead of begging me to stop. Down, down, down. Then I spotted her, a switchback ahead, less than 50 meters. I dug my foot into a tight corner and gained. Closer, closer. 20-10-5. We hit a flat patch and I caught up to her. "How's it going?" I asked. "I am just ready to take my shoes off." She responded. I thought for a second about pulling up, ceasing my charge and running it in with her but I was feeling it too much. We were about to enter a curve and I told her I was going to pass. I dashed past her and figured she would come with me. I pressed on, faster and faster. Not because I wanted to beat her per se, but because my body was responding to the fight. It wanted to win, it wanted to go down swinging. I caught up to Mark again and he too sped up, we hit the road (I was about 5 meters back from him) and pushed to the finish line, not daring to look back until I was rounding the corner off the main road. I finished 10th overall, first woman in 5:05 and set a new course record. Kristin was just over a minute behind me, running a great first ultra!

Nathan finishing 3rd overall in a tough mens field in 4:49! 
Photo by Leor Pantilat

I was really happy with how the race played out. I ran hard all week, fought a cold and still put together a great race. I also realized how much fight I have in me when I think I am completely tapped out. I really dropped the hammer on that downhill and moved myself out of a place of relative indifference to complete focus and effortlessness. It was pretty cool to be able to make that switch.

Men's winner, Leigh Schmitt and I after the race.
Photo by Rick Gaston

Larissa and I hanging out after the racePhoto by Leor Pantilat

We hung out for a long time after the race. Cheering our friends in, just enjoying everyone being there together on a beautiful late fall day (75 and sunny, fall yeah haha). All in all, couldn't ask for a better day.

The coast and the city beyond from Highway 1.

Best part of winning? Coffee mug!!!

Thanks to Sarah, Michael and all of PCTR for putting on such a great event!