Sunday, 5 November 2017

Autumn Ramblings

It's been two months since my last race and I have to say that I've really enjoyed having a little downtime. Sure, I do have a goal race in December but for the past few weeks, I've been focusing on getting back some speed and gradually increasing the miles without the added pressure of racing. Recovery from the Mogollon Monster went really well and I've had some really good training runs where I've been hitting my target pace when required, and I've managed to keep abreast with the local running scene by doing some voluntary work at a couple of the Aravaipa events.

During September and October, the weather in Phoenix was still pretty hot with temperatures still close to the 100 degree mark. Folks living elsewhere were talking about how autumn was in the air, and photos on social media showed damp, misty mornings with fog lingering in the fields, or pictures of mountains with a dusting of snow indicating that winter is just around the corner. It certainly didn't feel like that in Phoenix and I was in desperate need of some "autumn therapy". We headed north on the weekends to escape the heat, not only for our benefit but also the dogs, and we enjoyed some cooler weather in Prescott where we had a lovely hike with the dogs before heading to Lynx Lake to allow them to have a splash and a paddle in the water to cool off before I headed off on a little trail run and enjoyed the beautiful autumn colours of the trees in the forests.

Fun at Lynx Lake with the pups

Fun in Prescott
The following weekend we were in Flagstaff as we'd volunteered to help out with the Sky Race up that way. We were helping out with finish line breakdown and packup at the Arizona Snowbowl and our shift didn't start until 6pm so the plan was for Andy to walk the girls Brandy and Tillie whilst I did my 6 mile training run and spent some quality time with Wilson out on the trails. Being at the Snowbowl meant we were close to the trailhead for Humphreys Peak so I'd plan to arrive just after lunch and then head up Humphreys with Wilson in tow. Unfortunately, an accident on the I-17 heading north put paid to that and we arrived around 2 hours later than initially planned which meant I wouldn't have time to make it to the summit and back by 6. I was somewhat frustrated but there was little I could do, so Wilson and I headed up as far as we dared before the sun started setting and we needed to head back. We made it to 11,000 ft which meant at least another hour of climbing before reaching the summit, so reluctantly we had to turn around and head back.

Heading up Humphreys with Wilson

 A wee run part way up Humphreys Peak with my boy!

The trail was pretty steep and extremely rocky in places, but both Wilson and I had so much fun together and we ran side by side in unison, both happy and content to be spending some run time together. And the colours - oh my! The Aspens looked absolutely stunning against the blue skies and I was so happy to finally be experiencing a little bit of that autumn beauty.

Autumn has arrived up north!
Meanwhile, Tillie was having the time of her life exploring the forests with Andy and Brandy and apparently she was fascinated by all the smells on the forest floor, the squirrels chattering in the trees and all the other unfamiliar sounds of the forest that she was experiencing for the first time. 

Being in Flagstaff, the weather was certainly much cooler and by night fall, the temperatures were already falling close to freezing. I was in my element as I put on my hat and gloves and a warm fleecy jacket - I much prefer cold weather to the heat and I love putting on winter clothing and feeling all snug and warm whilst breathing in the cool, refreshing air.
Volunteer Shift at Flagstaff Sky Race and enjoying the cool, autumn night :-)
We worked our shift in the dark and the dark skies looked so beautiful with the stars twinkling away and the moon shedding it's silver light over the area. I shut off my headtorch a couple of times to enjoy the beauty of the night and as I did so, a shooting star flew across the skies above. With the cool temperatures, it finally felt like fall and I loved it! Even the dogs were curled up on their blankets whilst waiting in the car, snug as bugs in rugs :-)

Of course, on arrival back in Phoenix later that night, it was much too warm for thermals - such a contrast after just a 2 hour drive!

My next volunteer stint came just a week ago when I put my name down for the safety patrol sweep at the Javelina Jundred. I have an obsession about running at night and this time, I would be doing my shift between 1am and 6am and was looking forward to being out on the trails at the McDowells, helping out the racers and offering encouragement.

The day before Javelina, I received a message from my good friend Denenne. She was back in Phoenix again but this time she would be crewing for 3 running friends at JJ rather than racing herself. One of these friends - Ryan - was hoping to run around 16 or 17 hours in only his second hundred mile race and he was looking for a pacer for the last loop - would I be willing to help out?

I'm always happy to support other runners and help them to achieve their goals and so of course I said yes without any hesitation. This of course meant that I would now be completing 2 loops of the course giving me 40 miles in total and I would need to be a Javelina Jeadquarters for longer than I had initially planned.

Enjoying Javelina HQ whilst waiting for Ryan to arrive

I had never met Ryan but I knew that targeting such a quick time meant that he must be a good runner and I was somewhat concerned that I wouldn't be fast enough and would screw up his race. Thankfully both Denenne and Ryan assured me that all would be good, especially as Ryan would already have 80 miles in his legs by the time he picked me up.

I got to witness so many amazing performances that night including a new course record for the men of just over 13 hours (WTH??!!) and it was so nice to see so many other people meeting their goals. For Ryan, things unfortunately didn't go as he'd hoped but then that's the thing with ultra running - sometimes everything goes great and then other times we have the roughest race ever, and I've certainly learnt that no race is the same. I won't tell Ryan's story as that's for him to do, but what I will say is that he truly is a gutsy athlete. He could so easily have thrown in the towel but he persevered and still finished in a fabulous time, smashing his 100 mile PR in the process. He also tolerated my awful singing and terrible story telling - if it were me, I would have thrown myself into a cactus and ran away very quickly!

At the finish with Denenne and Ryan

From my perspective, I had a wonderful night of trail running. The conditions were perfect - cool temperatures and clear skies, and when I headed out on my second lap to do the safety sweep at almost 3am, it was great to see all the runners still out there pushing themselves onto the finish. I got to hear the coyotes singing again at 4am and I turned off my headtorch to savour the feeling of being out there on my own in the darkness just listening to the sounds of the wild, and then by 6am, the sky started to turn a stunning red as the sun started to rise above the horizon. It really was beautiful out there.

'Twas a dark night out there in the desert! at 3am

6am and the sun starts to make a break :-)
Despite having covered almost 40 miles overnight at the weekend, I was very surprised at my pace for my midweek tempo a couple of days later. I expected to be sore and tired, but my legs felt strong and raring to go. Now that things have finally cooled off a little, I have started to do my tempo runs outdoors again and I was very happy to have been running 6.40 pace even though it was in the dark with limited street lights. I've felt really good on my other training runs this past week too which is a good thing as by Thursday, I was back at the McDowell Mountains again, this time for the Ragnar Trail Relays.

Back in the summer, I was asked by a work colleague if I would like to join a Ragnar team in November. I had heard about the Ragnar Relays across the country and they had a good reputation for being very well organised and lots of fun. I also enjoy doing team events and so found myself saying yes to joining the "Insane Trail Posse".

Other than Allen and his wife Carrie, I didn't know the other members of the team and I was a little apprehensive as to how things would pan out. Andy wasn't able to come due to babysitting the dogs and I can be a little shy around new people, so the thought of sharing a tent with 5 other complete strangers for the next couple of nights was a little bit .... eeek!

I really needn't have worried as these folks welcomed me with open arms, had a fantastic sense of humour, and I thoroughly enjoyed their company. It was great to be on a team that was in it for the fun more so that the competition - sure, we would all be trying our best, but it wasn't about winning - it was about encouraging eachother, having fun and  finishing the event as a team.  We each ran 3 loops - the red, the yellow and the green, with the furthest distance being 6.6 miles. I know that I could have taken my time on each of the loops but being short for me, I wanted to run them hard just to see how my legs coped. My legs felt strong but my breathing was laboured and with all the dust in the air, my chest was wheezy, but I tried to run as best as I could for the team. I was extremely happy with my lap times, and I was extremely proud of our team as our last runner made his way to the finish line. We may not have been the elite on the day, but we had so much fun, so much camaraderie, and a great team spirit and that for me wins hands down.

Insane Trail Posse - what a TEAM! :-)
So now that the Ragnar Relays are done and dusted, next on my agenda is the Pass Mountain 50km in just a couple of weeks. I really wanted to race this one but as things stand, I may not be able to go. Andy is likely to be heading to Newfoundland in Canada for a couple of weeks and Tillie will be graduating from puppy school the same day as the race - if Andy isn't here, then Tillie's schooling is far more important which means missing the race. It is disappointing as I am feeling fit and strong right now, but sometimes things do have to take priority over running. Besides, my main race is at the end of December and there is always the option of going back to the McDowells once again for the McDowell Mountain Frenzy at the beginning of December to gauge how my running is going and what target I should set myself in the 24 hour.

I'm excited about ATY and I have set the bar high for myself. I'm feeling confident as things stand as I feel my training is heading in the right direction, but that could all change. For now though, it really has been a nice change helping out at races and making even more new friends. I count myself extremely lucky to be part of such an amazing, supportive running community that just keeps expanding and I can't wait to see who I'm introduced to next :-)

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