Indoor Training

"It's sad to see anyone inside on the trainer." That was the comment attached to an article about riding outside all winter lo...

Thursday, August 16

Ultra Part 4 - Dreams Worth Dreaming

This is Merideth's story about her first ultra - the Pikes Peak Ultra 50k. PPU is one of the harder 50ks in the state, with over 7k of climbing, including summiting Mount Rosa at over 11,500 feet before dropping back into the city. I have it split into four parts for easier reading.

At the base of Rosa, I encountered the second to last aide station where one of my friends was volunteering. Not only did I grab my typical potato chips and Coke, she also handed me some candied bacon she had brought with her. My nutrition felt really good at this point, and honestly, I stopped checking my watch. I was within 10 minutes of my target overall time, and I felt really good. I also had a bit of a cell signal at this point, and got a text from my coach - who had already finished - reminding to be mindful on the decent I had in front of me because it had some rough spots.

Just past the aide station, I received a notification on my phone for rain that was supposed to start very soon. I was grateful I was off Rosa in an area with tree cover, but I also knew that I had some technical spots ahead of me that would be more treacherous if they were wet. I also realized that I was past the 20 mile mark, and I was feeling good enough that I could run at a normal downhill pace with a normal gait. I wasn’t hobbling, my feet didn’t hurt, and I wasn’t having any issues with nutrition. I ran for a few miles until I got to the switchbacks on the trail near St. Mary’s Falls, and then I noticed the thunder starting. I had a baseball cap on my vest and a rain jacket in my pack. I grabbed my hat to start, but I didn’t stop since it was attached to the top of my bag. Big mistake. While focusing on getting my hat, I lost sight of the trail for a split second and caught my foot on a root or rock and fell hard. I landed off the side of the trail that was descending, so I started sliding for a few feet. Luckily, I mostly landed on pine needles, which slid with me. I climbed my way back up to the trail and checked myself over. Thankfully, I wasn’t bleeding anywhere. I just had a little rash on the front of my right shin and a good bruise on my left kneecap, but otherwise, no marks. I walked for a few feet to be sure my knee was ok, but then kept running. Once the rain and pea-sized hail started, I slowed down a bit to make sure I didn’t fall again. I also took advantage of the slower pace and ate another gel (which I can thankfully do without taking my eyes off the trail!). It only rained and hailed for a few minutes before everything subsided.

I arrived at the last aide station, the Gold Camp station where my drop bag was located, around mile 25. As I arrived at the aide station, a good friend completely took my vest to refill it for me so I could take care of my nutrition and grab my drop bag. I ignored the mess in my bag as I dug around for the charger for my watch. As she finished filling my bag, I grabbed my go to chips and Coke, as well as a tater tot they were cooking at the aide station. After regrouping, I finished one more small ascent - a mile up High Drive. This is my favorite ascent in all of North Cheyenne Canyon. My legs felt so strong, and I was able to keep a very steady pace all the way to the top. I didn’t even feel like I was 25 miles into a run. When I got to the top of High Drive, I starting processing that I might be able to come in faster than my 10 hour predicted race finish. I tried to keep a steady pace coming the 2.5 miles down High Drive that I ran in the first part of the race. I did walk a few times, but I was very happy with the pace I was able to keep between intervals. As I transitioned at the base of High Drive to the final 2.5 mile push into Bear Creek Park, I power hiked the uphills and ran as much as I could on the downhills.


On one of the last hills in Bear Creek
My husband and daughter, as well as a huge group of my friends were at the finish line waiting for me. My daughter was even able to run into the finish with me. I ended up finishing in just over 10 hours, but I felt AMAZING. I was able to run in strong at the finish, and I felt so good. No demons. No dark places in my head. The perfect race. Rain, hail, 7,500+ feet of elevation gain, strength, perseverance, solitude, strangers, friends, family, trails.

Crossing the finish line with my daughter

50k - 10:04  I am an ultra runner.

Wednesday, August 15

Ultra Part 3 - Reaching the Summit

This is Merideth's story about her first ultra - the Pikes Peak Ultra 50k. PPU is one of the harder 50ks in the state, with over 7k of climbing, including summiting Mount Rosa at over 11,500 feet before dropping back into the city. I have it split into four parts for easier reading.

The race started at 6:30am sharp. The first 7.5 miles of the course included a few miles of rolling trails before the first big ascent started up High Drive. I started the race with just a small hand held water bottle and a gel. Earlier this year, I ran the High Drive Challenge, which is a 10 mile out and back race that includes the exact same first 5 miles as the PPU. I used my times from that race to help guide me on my pacing up the 2.5 mile ascent and to help me gage my food and fluids. Once I got to the top of High Drive, the course circled around to a trail called Captain Jacks, which is a mountain biking trail that descends another few miles to the first aide station. I felt great by the time I reached the aide station. I refilled my water, took my gel, and drank a small glass of Coke, which was available for runners. I did notice that I was behind on my goal time for this section, but I wasn’t worried. I had a lot of time to make up the minutes I had lost.

The second section of the race was the shortest segment between aide stations – a “short” 3.5 miles along a rolling trail combination of Spring Creek and Columbine. I was definitely feeling the humidity in the air, but otherwise, I was feeling really good.

The next aide station on Gold Camp Road was the main aide station for the race. I would run through this station a second time later in the race, but it was also where we were allowed to leave a drop bag. This race was my first race that gave me an option to have a drop bag. In my training, I had purchased a pair of more advanced trail shoes that worked really well on more technical trails, but I had experienced blisters when I used them for my longer runs. I had planned on switching to these shoes and grabbing my hydration vest at this aide station since the most technical trails were next. But I had a huge problem. I hadn’t locked the nozzle on my hydration vest, and my shoes were soaked. I also had some trail mix in Zip Lock bags that had spilled all over my wet bag. It was a mess. It was at that moment that I stopped to breathe. The shoes I was wearing were feeling really good at that moment, and we had experienced a lot of rain in the days before the race, so I wasn’t as worried about lose gravel on the technical part of the course. I kept on my shoes, grabbed my vest, and dug to find some backup snacks that were still sealed. I was also planning on taking in something salty at this stop, so I grabbed some potato chips and tater tots from the amazing station volunteers and took off. This stop alone cost me over 5 minutes. Something I will definitely fix next time.

I was dreading the next 6.5 miles of the course. There were two big ascents before the next aide station with a little bit of a flat reprieve in the middle. After the aide station disaster, I was also about 20 minutes behind my goal pace. This was not enough of a setback to be worried about missing race cutoffs, but it was a little frustrating. At this point, I was still around quite a few people because there were places were spectators could hang out, and the 30k course included the same trails up to this point. Once we hit the Gold Camp aide station, the course split away from the 30k. I was over 10 miles into the race, I had my audio book ready to go, but my demons hadn’t started creeping up yet.

I started this 6.5 mile section with a climb up a trail called Seven Bridges. Due to the torrential rain we had experienced before the race, the first bridge crossing had been taken out by a mudslide. The creek had rerouted itself around the former bridge, so a little unexpected jumping and trailblazing had to take place in order to get across. I felt strong during the ascent up Seven Bridges, but the humidity was draining. I kept an eye on my watch, but my pace for this section of the race was looking really good. Even though I felt like I was going slower than I wanted, I was quite a few minutes under my goal pace, so I didn’t make any attempts to speed up. By the time I finished the first ascent up Seven Bridges, I was at a beautifully shaded intersection that connected me with the Pipeline Trail. The first part of the Pipeline Trail is almost perfectly flat because it literally follows a pipeline that brings water into Colorado Springs from the mountains. I felt like I should run on this section to take advantage of the terrain, but I chose to relax a little, get my heart rate down, and refuel. I ate a PBJ sandwich I had picked up from my drop bag, and I focused on my hydration. The hardest part of the course was the next ascent up the end of the Pipeline Trail. When the uphill terrain started, I felt really good. There was another runner about 30 yards ahead of me, and I kept my eye on him. I would make small goals to power hike up to a spot he had just been, little by little working my way up the trail. Even though this was supposed to be the hardest part of the trail, I was able to complete it stronger than I anticipated. I was expecting to mentally crash during that ascent. I kept thinking about turning on my audio book because I felt like I was supposed to, but honestly, I didn’t need it.

When I reached the aide station at Pipeline, I was now only 4 minutes behind my goal instead of 20. I refilled my hydration vest, grabbed more potato chips and Coke, and headed up the final big ascent of the race: Mt. Rosa. I noticed the fatigue on my legs heading to the summit, but I still felt really good. I made sure to take a gel half way up, and I paid very close attention to my hydration. Mentally I was starting to get really excited because I was about to hit the highest point on the course, and I was about to surpass the longest distance I had ever run. Also, I had conquered my demons. They were gone. I did end up turning on my audio book near the top of Rosa, but it was only because the course was pretty solitary at that point, and it was nice to hear another voice. The decent down Rosa was pretty rocky, so I took my time to be sure I didn’t fall or injure my ankles.

Tuesday, August 14

Ultra Part 2 - Ultra Dreams and Demons

This is Merideth's story about her first ultra - the Pikes Peak Ultra 50k. PPU is one of the harder 50ks in the state, with over 7k of climbing, including summiting Mount Rosa at over 11,500 feet before dropping back into the city. I have it split into four parts for easier reading.
Last year, I found a love for trail running. It started with the peer pressure of friends to sign up for the Pike’s Peak Ascent, but was solidified through the running of other local trail races and adventures on the back country trails of Pike National Forest. My confidence in myself as a runner really started to establish roots in trail running. I didn’t feel like I had to be fast. I just had to be strong and determined. Check. I could run a half marathon up the side of one of the tallest mountain peaks in Colorado and complete 5-6 hour long runs in the middle of the wilderness. What else could I do?
A few weeks after I completed the Ascent, I was continually researching trail running so I could learn more about trails, equipment, and training, and one word in my research kept popping up: ultra. For those of you who are unfamiliar with an ultra in the running world, it is any race longer than a 26.2 mile marathon. When completing my long 5-6 hour runs for the Ascent, I was always frustrated that I couldn’t stay out longer. I felt like I was physically and mentally ready to tackle an ultra, where I would be on my feet for much longer. I also had my supportive coach, Tracy Thelen of Thelen Coaching to help me realize that a 50k is only about 5 miles longer than a marathon. I decided to support a local trail running family that directs races as Mad Moose Events. They have a fantastic reputation for putting on stellar races with amazing support. Another bonus was that the Pikes Peak 50k that I decided to run included some of my favorite local trails, so I was able to actually train on the trails that I would be running on race day. This made the daunting task of running my first 31 mile race a lot less intimidating.
I was so excited about the training. Hour after hour on the trails near where I live sounded like the perfect way to spend my summer, so in November last year, I bit the bullet and signed up for my first 50k.
The past few years with my running, I have completed many training runs and races socially with a friend or groups of friends. Once I hired Tracy to coach me, I chose to become more of a lone wolf. My workouts became a lot more focused and intentional. I was doing hill repeats, intervals, and ladders for the first time in my life. With my customized workouts, I was able to focus more on my form, pace, and effort during each run. My self-acceptance as a runner was becoming stronger and stronger.
Once the New Year rolled around, I chose to focus solely on trail running in order to prepare for PPU. I only signed up for three trail races between January and July, and I ran as many of my training runs as possible on trails. While I still desperately enjoyed being on the trails, my mental demons started impacting my training. I think that most people I know who run would agree that the gross majority of running is mental ability – not physical ability. When you spend 15-25+ hours a week on your own on dirt trails, you spend a lot of time in your own head. I tried to combat this by listening to audio books on most of my long runs. However most of the time, this wasn’t enough of a distraction to keep the demons away.
Overall, my training wasn’t what I had pictured. My legs did exactly what they were supposed to, but the mental frustrations I was encountering were exhausting. I trained on the trails that made up the 50k, but a lot of the time when I was supposed to go back to these trails for more training, I just couldn’t. I thought that exploring some new dirt would help, and sometimes it did. A little. But most of the time I just kept becoming less and less confident in my ability to mentally push through this race. I knew I had the legs to do it, but I didn’t want to remember my first 50k for the mental pain.
Two weeks before the race, I texted Tracy and told her that I thought it would be a good idea for me to drop down to the 30k, the shortest distance that was being run that day. She asked if we could meet to go through her plans for me for the 50k – broken down aide station by aide station – before we decided. Logistically, the plans that she had carefully laid out for me were all very doable. I knew physically I could do it. We even talked about “distraction techniques” for what I could do if I started mentally crashing. Ultimately, I decided to stick with the 50k because I knew I would always regret not trying. I think it would have been easier to swallow a DNF (did not finish) compared to a DNS (did not start).
The week before the race, I worked to make sure I had all the gear I would need. I had all of my gear packed up and ready to go a few days early just to be sure I hadn’t forgotten to buy or wash something. I wore clothes I had trained in frequently and food I had always had on me during training. I also worked with Tracy to make a game plan of what food, fluids, and gear I would need to think about at each aide station stop. Last year during the Ascent, my fluids and nutrition were a huge problem in the last 3 miles of the race, so I knew this had to be very carefully planned with some backup options in case I started noticing issues during the race.
Some friends that were also running the race posted about being nervous and regretful about signing up in the days before the race. Honestly, I didn’t feel that way at all. Once my gear was all ready to go, I was ready. I had made the decision to be strong and determined. I could do it. I am a red-head, after all. I just needed to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. My training was strong enough that I knew I didn’t have to worry about three time cutoffs on the course. I was going to do it and I was going to enjoy myself. I had finally made that choice and there was no going back.

Monday, August 13

Ultra Part 1 - Prologue

This is Merideth's story about her first ultra - the Pikes Peak Ultra 50k. PPU is one of the harder 50ks in the state, with over 7k of climbing, including summiting Mount Rosa at over 11,500 feet before dropping back into the city. I have it split into four parts for easier reading.

I am a runner, but you would never know by looking at me. I don’t fit a stereotype of what one might think of as a runner – lean, tall, strong. My sister and father have had running in common for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I remember watching my dad leave for hours at a time to complete his runs, as well as watching him run across the finish line of our annual local 10k in rural central Illinois. When she was in middle school and high school, I remember watching my sister at track meets – tearing up the track in the 400. Her junior year of high school, she even ran on a relay team that won second place at the Illinois state track meet. I remember wanting to be a runner so I could have that in common with my family – to fit in more – but I was not built like my dad or sister. Slow to the core, I never saw myself as a runner, but my desire to try to fit in more pushed me to try SOMETHING. I knew I couldn’t compete with my sister on the track, so I went out for cross country. I was always the last one on our team across the finish line. I couldn’t even come close to keeping up with the rest of my team. I always felt like I was practicing alone. Racing alone. Finishing alone. Then I went to college.

My freshman year of college, I was working on figuring myself out. When I went home for the summer before my sophomore year of college, I was working a full time job. However this was in my hometown of less than 5,000 people, and I had limited access to a car to take me anywhere where I might find something to occupy my free time. So, I set a goal to run all the roads in the city limits of my hometown. That took less than a month to complete. All the runs were slow and steady with no goals for time or distance.

Time for a new goal. I had no desire to train for a 5k or even a 10k. Those races were for “fast people”. It was also around this time in my life that I was starting to understand my freedoms. Weekend trips on Amtrak to Chicago were starting to become part of my life. In trying to plan out my next goal, I combined running with my love for the city, and decided to run the Chicago Marathon. You don’t have to be a fast runner to run a marathon. You just had to finish. I could do that. I was told that I couldn’t, but it was this point in my life that I realized the true depth of my stubborn red-headed nature. I could do it. Just watch me.

Fast forward 17 years, 3 marathons, and 119 other races, and a move to Colorado later...

Saturday, August 4

Summer Recap

It's been a busy few months and I've been remiss on the athlete updates and results. Lots of racing and training going on for Thelen Coaching athletes over the summer. Quick recap of all the great things going on right now. Hopefully I didn't miss anything!

May brought some fun events and some serious events. Merideth traveled to Southern Utah for the Ragnar Relay Zion, racing with her family. The trail relay events are as serious as you make them and Merideth and her team had a blast. They ran hard but also enjoyed the family time camping in the desert.

Merideth coming through camp during the Ragnar Relay - Zion

Also in May, Brenda rode in the Santa Fe 50 mile ride, smartly making the choice to drop to the shorter distance when the weather proved more then challenging. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor and making the smart choices can mean more time to train and play later.

Over Memorial Day, Dianna and Merideth ran in the High Drive Challenge 10 mile race, running to summit of High Drive and back down. It was part racing, part trail scoping for later adventures. And it's always great to run in challenging local events. A little further to the South West, Ray and Judd raced the train in the Iron Horse Classic. Ray made it part of a long weekend of training and got to explore the singe track around Durango after the race. Judd was one of only a few to take on the road race on his singlespeed fat bike, but still had a solid performance, riding close to his time from last year.

June started out busy. Brenda and her four teammates raced in the Elephant Rock Sunrise to Sunset 12 hour mountain bike race. For an all women's team racing against the men's and co-ed "geezer" teams, they held on to a 6th place finish. Shana headed to Leadville to run in the Turquoise Lake 20 trail run, using it as a training run for her half marathon later in July. Dawn finally got into the open water at her first triathlon of the season - the Colorado Sprint Triathlon. She had one of her stronger races ever, placing 7th in her age group.

Shana at the Turquoise Lake 20k

The weekend of June 9/10 saw a lot of action. On the mountain biking side, Dennis headed down to Salida, CO for the Salida BFL. He raced the 88 mile base loop on the singletrack and jeep roads between Salida and BV. Sticking to a smart hydration and pacing strategy, he completed the trek in just shy of 13 hours - a solid time for that event. Brenda went north to Wyoming and raced in the Goudy Grinder at Curt Goudy State Park. This was her second time racing there and she finished strong her class on a hot day. The runners all gathered at Garden of the Gods Park for the Garden of the Gods 10 mile race. For Dawn, Dianna and Shana it was a return to the hills of the garden, on a day with challenging conditions between smoke from nearby fires and the heat. Dianna and Shana both had solid performances, running close to their times from last year in much harder conditions. Dawn set a new personal best in the 10 mile race, running 1:56:57 - a PR of nearly 14 minutes.

On June 16th, Shana toed the line for her summer A race - the Leadville Heavy Half, a 15.5 miles journey around the east side of Leadville, CO. She had a great day, finishing with a smile in 4:24:55

The finish line awaits Shana at the Leadville Heavy Half!

Some hits and misses in July with a few unfortunate injuries that derailed events. But things are back on track now and even the bad races are important learning experiences. Some bad news for Dennis as the Vapor Trail 125 was forced to cancel the event for this year, throwing his summer plans into a tailspin.

On the 14th, Brenda returned to the Pagosa Springs Duathlon. This year was a great race for her as she felt strong on the first run, comfortable and confident on the bike leg and then able to keep the pace high for the second run. A huge improvement from last year's performance!

Brenda at the Pagosa Springs Duathlon, ready to go! 
Out east, Jennifer was getting ready for her summer A race - the Scream Half Marathon in North Carolina. She finished in 2:27:42 and learned that downhill is fast, but it's hard on the legs the next few days!

The end of July brought the Pikes Peak Ultra - Merideth's first Ultramarathon. She picked a challenging one for her first race, but had the home town advantage when it came to training. Pushing through a few issues and one nasty thunderstorm, Merideth finished in 10:04. She will have her race story featured in a few days. There's nothing like the experience of finishing your first ultra and I know this will be a memory she treasures
Running across the finish line with her daughter