Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fun and a Little Climbing at the Standhope 60k

I'm back! I'm back! I'm really back!  For those of you who've followed me through the last year you know how good these words feel to me.  I ran my first race in a year and all is good!  I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's start from the beginning. 
Cruising along near mile 18

It was truly a pleasure to run the inaugural Standhope 60k near Ketchum, ID on September 21st.  In some ways I couldn't believe it would actually happen, but in other ways I was giddy with excitement for the fun only an ultra can bring.  Last year while pacing at Wasatch I met a great group of people from Boise.  They were fun, welcoming and super fun to hang out with.  One person really stuck out though, my now-good-friend Tony.  I joke that he is my man-twin.  We have the same personality, the same outlook and the same competitive spirit that truly loves ultras and pushing our limits.  Tony has been one of my biggest supporters during my injury and sent encouraging words every time things looked bad (which was pretty often!).  Tony is one of those people you cherish as a friend, and I truly count my blessings for having met him.  Tony and I have been super excited to actually get together again and celebrate my injury being behind me.  We'd tried several other times to make it work but my injury always precluded me.  This time it worked!

I flew into Boise on Friday and was greeted by a dear friend, Amy, who I met at Bighorn in 2012.  I loved getting a chance to catch up with her, and her energy is catching... I was starting to get really excited for the race!  She helped me run some errands for food and ice and then drove me out to Tony's house where I was meeting Tony after he got off work.  While waiting for Tony I got to make rice balls with his awesome wife and met his 3 boys.  Tony soon arrived and we set off in his packed Suburban to the middle of no where for the race.  Dennis carpooled with us, and the 4 hour drive passed so quickly as we told stories and caught up.  Dennis was an awesome navigator, even giving a tour as we drove.  We only took one wrong turn - when Dennis insisted Wild Horse Creek Ranch we sought was on Old Chilly road. :)

We arrived at the ranch around 11:30pm.  As you might imagine, all the runners were asleep when we rolled up.  Our reservation was for one of the teepees, but we had no idea which teepee was ours.  Seeing that none of us felt like donning headlamps and opening doors to find one with space, we opted to sleep on the couches inside the lodge.  I was pretty stoked at this decision, as the lodge had heat!

We woke to the early starters coming into the lodge.  Although I think Dennis and Tony were awake as well, we all relished some more time horizontal before getting up at 6.  We did our pre-race prep and headed out to drive to the start around 7:20. 

On the drive to the start I had time to think about what I'd been through to get to this point.  It had been a long year of hoping to find the solution to my Achilles problems and fighting tooth and nail to get the answer.  I'd tweaked something on my left soleus earlier in the week and that had me a little worried.  (last thing I wanted to do was start my problems all over again on the opposite side!)  This race is at some serious altitude as well.  Starting around 7,500 feet, the course would climb 3 peaks - one 9k, one 10k and one 11k.  (See elevation profile at the end of this post) I'd never raced this high before - and a sea level dweller such as myself knew this could mean problems. 
Tony and me right before the start
After several pictures and introductions, the race began.  I was pretty tense and worried more than I should be.  My left calf was talking already and the altitude hit me immediately.  I tensed up and thought to myself that this could be a very long day.  Tony stayed with me and kept telling me to have fun.  The first climb I felt like I was breathing through a straw.  When I told Tony this, he said "What kind of straw - a tube, a drinking straw or a coffee stirrer?"  I laughed, but realized it felt like a coffee stirrer.  I tensed up more.  I managed to find a little rhythm on the flatter sections of the first climb and tried to stop and enjoy the view.  It was spectacular!
After the first climb, Tony blew by me on the descent, urging me to come along.  Tony makes it look so easy, bounding down the technical sections!  I took my time, and got my breath again.  When I caught up to Tony he again reminded me to relax and have fun.  This time, I listened.  I thought to myself how I've worked so hard to get back to a race and how just about every day for the last year I'd have given anything to struggle with just my breathing in a race.  This wasn't a cut throat race, I didn't care how I did and I wanted to have fun.  And that's what I set out to do.

The second climb was easier for me than the first.  I could breathe again!  I felt my legs really starting to warm up and I was finding my groove.  The views continued to be spectacular and I realized how much fun these climbs were!  (yes, I love to climb - and the tougher the climb the better IMO!)  Tony flew by me on the descent again but I caught him once the technical section of the descent was over.  He told me later that he could tell something about me had changed.  My form was relaxed and I was moving more fluidly.  When someone else notices this you know it's a big difference! 
View along the 2nd climb
After the 2nd descent we came into what I felt was the major aid station, at Falls Creek.  Coming into this aid station is where the photo at the top of this posting was taken.  At this point I was smiling and having a blast.  It had warmed up considerably so I was able to shed my long sleeve.  I was actually looking forward to the 3rd, and largest, climb! 
Heading towards the 3rd climb
The climb started fairly easily - and I enjoyed catching up to several people along this section. It kicked up for a bit along a rocky section of the climb and then leveled off in this large canyon.  The views were breathtaking.  As we ran through the grassy sections in the pictures below, I started to wonder how we were getting out of the canyon.  There was only one way out and that was UP! 
The saddle on the right side of the ridge about an inch from the edge of the photo is the saddle we crossed over
We ascended a somewhat steep climb to a gorgeous alpine lake and then looked straight up at what we were to climb next.  The photo taken below was of me a ways down from the summit of the 11k peak.  The grassy field in the back center of the photo is where I took the 2 photos above.  And you can also see the awesome alpine lake.  
 As we neared the summit, the temperature really dropped and the wind began to howl.  The clouds had started to roll in as well and the warm sun disappeared.  I was desperately cold and my fingers were going numb but I decided to descend a bit before stopping to remove my shirt from my pack.  I was with a great guy named Jeff at the summit and he snapped a quick picture of me before we headed down. 
11k feet!
From this point the race descends to another alpine lake and then makes a quick ascent over one last ridge before screaming downhill for about 6 miles to the finish.  When I reached the lake and the aid station, I got on my warmer shirt and some gloves and was finally able to stop shivering!  They told me I was first woman and I was psyched to hear that!  I was feeling pretty good and looked forward to that finish line!  

I took a few wrong turns on the descent and managed to slide on my butt once pretty well, but other than that I enjoyed getting back into the trees and still had a smile on my face!  As the miles ticked by I started to wonder how far we had to go.  Unfortunately my fully-charged Ambit 2 was completely dead when I pulled it out of my bag the morning of the race.  I'm still not sure how this happened during travel, it did not record any data.  I was left without my beloved GPS during the race and had no idea how far we had to go.  My legs were strong but I wondered if I should continue to pound the GU or if I could ease up.  I kept eating to keep up my energy, always the right choice!  

The finish did come - 8:43 and 1st female.  I'd done it!  I finished the race and was healthy!  
Just after the finish
As I wandered back to the car to put on dry clothes I found myself in tears.  I was so happy.  "I did it. I'm back." was all I could say to myself.  I almost didn't believe it, I'd dreamed about being able to do a race for so long it felt like I'd never get the chance.  I wanted to hug everyone who'd helped me get back - my friends, my PT, my family.  As the tears streamed down my face, everything came full circle.  I fought for a year to get back to doing what I love.  Times were tough, doubts were high... but it was all worth it.  I'm stronger, tougher and more passionate than ever.  This might look like a race win... but it's really a victory for me. 

After the race, Tony and I shared a few beers and I was so thankful that I could share my "victory" with him.  He is a good friend and good friends have made a huge difference to me this year.  I couldn't be more excited about more adventures with Tony and new friends!  The Boise crew was super fun and made me feel immensely welcome.  For the whole weekend I am eternally grateful.  This one not only meant a lot to me, it patched a hole in my heart that's been aching for a long time.  

Showing off Ink N Burn!

Boise crowd post-race

102030 7,0007,7008,4009,1009,80010,50011,200Elevation (ft)


  1. AMAZING VIEWS!!! and Congrats again.

    Maybe I'll pull off something good in Spokane next Saturday (?) :)


  2. When I plotted out the race course, I thought it would be a good run, but I had NO IDEA how incredible of a course it would actually be. Next year, I'll be pulling out all the stops on this one, as well as trying to get it added to the Skyrunning World Federation. Glad to hear you overcame your injuries to knock it out of the ballpark. Not too shabby Jen.

  3. Nice report Jenn, and good to meet you out there on the course!

  4. Wahoo! I'm so glad to hear that you're back, you're really back! That's amazing! And to come back to racing with such a splash is amazing! Congratulations!