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Return to the Roads

After a hard effort at the Hagg Lake 50K I took the week to recover and then made my first return to the roads in over a year to add some much needed threshold work to my winter training.  After Hagg I took a day completely off from running, did some light swimming, aquajogging, and mountain biking with some easy running mixed in.  The Saturday after Hagg I accompanied my friend and long run training partner, Rian Beach, to Richland, WA to participate in the second annual Tri Cities Half Marathon.


Rian has had a profound impact on my running over the past few years.  Doing my long runs and long workouts with him has been both fulfilling and beneficial.  We were actually rivals in high school, but we reunited at a local fun run, the Salmon Walk 10K, a few years back and have been training together as much as possible ever since.  It was actually kinda funny the way we were reacquainted with one another.  My brother and I started out pretty fast down a hill pushing infants in jogging strollers.  The strollers probably helped on the descent, but when we had to climb back up the hills pushing them it got a bit more difficult.  When Rian tried to pass my son, Cairo, removed his shoes and began throwing them at him.  Rian kindly reached down and picked them up, thinking that perhaps it had been an accident.  Then Cairo started throwing snacks, granola bars, gold fish crackers, etc. and Rian finally got the hint that Cairo was far more competitive than the guy pushing the stroller.
My brother, Thomas Rivers, and I pushing our kids at the Salmon Walk
Rian lives in Pendleton, about 35 minutes away.  For much of the winter of 2010 we drove back and forth to each others towns to run with each other on the weekends.  Both of us had completed a couple of marathons, but we both felt that what we needed to dip under the 2:30 mark was consistency in our long runs.  We both got it during that winter.  Most of the time I'd be dragging the last few miles, but Rian insisted on dropping sub 6:00 miles the last few miles of our 18-24 mile training runs.  This stimulus had both psychological and physical benefits.  That Spring I PRed by over 5 minutes at the Eugene Marathon.  With his help, I was able to complete a number of marathons under the previous ceiling of 2:30.

Rian and I cooling down after the Wheat Field Half Marathon & 8K in The Dalles, OR 2010
Photo by Scott McMullen
It was that first winter of training with Rian that actually got me interested in running trail 50Ks to extend my training runs even further.  Now, it is my turn to try and help him make similar jumps in his racing.  Due to a coaching conflict, I won't be able to join him at Eugene this Spring, but I'd like to be able to run with him as much as possible between now and then.  So when we heard about the Tri Cities Half we decided to go for it.
Rian and I running up Dead Man's Pass in the Blue Mountains outside of Pendleton
Then we heard that it would be cold and windy.  Really windy.  Oh well, we'd adjust our goal.  We initially talked about trying to run 1:13 or 1:14.  Neither of us have been doing much in terms of speed, so we figured that would require a solid effort at this time of year, but we also thought it would provide a solid stimulus for our future aerobic development.  However, with the wind it was pretty tough to hit any sort of even splits.  The course was horse shoe shaped - started by going north about 3 miles, turned east toward the river, turned south into the wind and ran along the river about 3 miles and then turned around and retraced the same path.  The wind was at our backs about half of it and in our faces the other half.  So it really didn't seem too tough to go out in 5:20s with the wind to our backs for the first three miles, but once we turned into the wind it was more than a challenge to stay under 6:00 per mile.  Our initial time goals had to go out the window and our goals of winning, breaking the previous course record, defeating last year's champion, and getting a good workout in were still attainable.

Photo of the Start courtesy of Mark Harper, KAPPTV
We ran together for the first three miles or so.  After the initial blitz, I was bigger (taller and wider) than anyone else in the lead pack so I just tried to get as much wind in my sails as possible on the way out.  On the way back it seemed to have the opposite effect - the wind seemed to slam into my barrel chest and held me in place as others made up considerable ground.  We were still pretty close together at the turnaround.  Rian and I had opened up a gap on the others, but third and fourth were still in striking distance.  I tried to use the tailwind to my advantage from miles 6.5 to 9.5 and tried to drop the pace again to give me a cushion when we got back into the head wind from mile 10 to 13.

Swiftwick Aspire Twelve compression socks - perfect for the cool , windy weather.
Between the warm up, the race, and the cool down I would be running about 18 miles on pavement which is about 18 miles more than I typically run on pavement on any given day so my upper legs and lower back were not reacting well.  Thanks to the Swiftwick Aspire Twelve compression socks, my feet and lower legs were able to get the rest of my body back to the finish with no cramps and no hot spots or blisters.  I was still a bit sore from the effort the week before so the last few miles into the wind were more about focusing on form and trying to run as efficiently as possible.  The socks helped me stay focused on form and not on my feet.
Me, race director, Miguel Reyna, and overall women's champ,  Erica McElrea
Photo by Rian Beach
It turned out that both of us were able to beat the previous course record.  After fueling up at the PowerBar station and downing a few bananas we cooled down with the 2012 champ, David Hurtado (who is an engineer that coached soccer at the same school where I coach cross country and we shared a few athletes).  We looked for a healthy post race meal option, but the only place that was open that early was Zips so we had no other choice but to eat greasy hamburgers.  Protein is protein, right?

I've done two races this year and set course records at each.  I've got my first mountain bike race of my life this week at the Echo Red2Red XC and let's just say I don't expect the streak to continue, but I do plan to have a lot of fun and enjoy one last ride before I am on the road every weekend at high school track meets.

Two years and looking forward

As I prepare for the upcoming Hagg Lake 50K, it is hard to believe that I am entering my third year of ultra running.  Hagg Lake was my first attempt at a distance over 26.2 miles two years ago and I have been hooked ever since.

Since that time, I have often been asked what is so appealing about the distances and races that go beyond the traditional 26.2, often over challenging terrain. While I still consider myself a neophyte to the sport of trail, mountain and ultra marathoning, I've concluded that there are some overriding traits to the sport that appeal so much to me and a burgeoning bunch of newbies seeking the next challenge:
  • Community - While I don't have a large pool of people to train with on a regular basis, I have felt a part of something bigger than my small-town self each time I have participated in an ultra.  From check-in to take-down I have felt the embrace of an eclectic group of people who love what they do and enjoy sharing it with others.  
Energetic volunteers at the first Aid Station at Trail Factor 50K 2012.  Photo by Micheal Lebowitz.
Aid stations and finishing chutes are managed by energetic volunteers, many of whom are runners themselves, who give up a couple weekend long runs to do trail maintenance and share their local trails with guests visiting their stomping grounds.  Times and places fade away as participants, photographers, volunteers, race directors, crew members, and spectators relate tales from the trails and bask in the sense of fulfillment that only comes when people approach and exceed the perceived limits of human potential.
Finish line crew from Trail Factor 50K 2012.  Photo by Michael Lebowitz of Long Run Picture Company
  • Variety - My 20s were spent on the roads.  While I don't mind long straight-aways as much as some, I have certainly enjoyed the change in scenery, surface, and speed.  Technical terrain poses a definite challenge to me.  My feet are huge and I am much more accustomed to running on flat, even terrain.  The variety in race terrain has forced me to seek out more varied terrain in training and has helped me find greater fulfillment as I work toward strengthening my weaknesses.
The only single track within an hours drive of me in Echo, Oregon.  I've spent every minute of the winter that I could running and biking these trails. 
  • Comradery - Some of my most treasured relationships have been forged on the trails.  Yet what is so unique about these relationships is that they are not limited to an inner circle of early starters, elites, or old timers.  In fact, one of the most refreshing parts of the sport is the sense of communitas shared at the finish line when those who have finished await and cheer for those who are finishing. 
Start of the Flagline 50K led by Max King, Ryan Bak, and Mario Mendoza.  Ate dinner the night before with them and their families and then played in the woods for a few hours together the next day.  Photo by Michael Lebowitz
  • Tranquility - While training for ultras definitely requires discipline, the variety in courses and weather conditions all but eliminate the unhealthy obsession with splits on every training run and workout.  This enables the runner to be more in tune with his/her environment and body.  This holistic approach enables training to be adapted to the way the body feels and the way the winds, rains, and temps affect the body.
Climbing Mt. Chirripo, the highest peak in Costa Rica, with my brother, Thomas Rivers Puzey.  This was part of his two month stint as a volunteer porter and national park ranger.
  • Responsibility - Perhaps the most appealing thing about the ultra community is the sense of responsibility that so many who spend long hours in the woods and on mountains feel toward the environment and fellow runners. Sure they want to bag peaks to kick off their mornings or weekends, but they also want that same experience to be available to them and countless others time and time again.  They feel a responsibility toward their surroundings.  They want to care for it.  They want to eat responsibly and advocate for responsible stewardship of the land and waters that produce healthy foods, breathtaking views, and endless adventures.  They also want to share the sport with the next generation of endorphin junkies.
I've met some great friends on the trails including Max King and Ryan Bak.  They help coach the teams and athletes my XC team competes against.  When we compete on those terms it seems even more competitive than when we race ourselves.  Photo by Riley Smith
Flanked by two of the most passionate guys I know, Nick Triolo and Yassine Diboun.
Photo by Micheal Lebowitz

I look forward to greeting the friends I have met over the last few years and meeting new ones on the trails, at the aid stations, and at the finish line of the races I'll be doing in 2013.  I'm particularly looking forward to doing so many races I have always wanted to do throughout the NorthWest that will let me get to know new places I've never been before.

2013 Race Calendar