Tuesday, July 8, 2014

2014 Mount Marathon Race Report

(Sorry for the long post - not trying to bore anyone to death!  A quick picture scroll is completely allowed!) 

Friday was my 6th Mount Marathon race. After taking last year off (to avoid injury pre-Olympics) I was excited to toe the start line of Alaska's biggest race yet again. However, the forecast wasn't looking good.... for the racers at least. The 30-40 thousand spectators love the sun but for the athletes, and particularly myself, the heat is bad, bad news. Pre-race I thought our group of women had the potential to at least threaten some of the records - either overall or age group but with the temps in the high 70's (which means high 80's on the mountain) it seemed virtually impossible. My time ended up being a minute slower than my PR and Strabel, the men's winner was a full two minutes off his best time even though he's arguably in the best shape of his life. I know some accomplished and highly trained runners who were up to 5 minutes off their best time. The heat was unforgiving and I'll tell you, four days later my legs are still screaming in pain and soreness. 


Part of me wonders if I suffered any permanent, irreversible damage to my legs during my exertional rhabdomyolysis episode of 2009 or perhaps I'm just genetically pre-disposed to struggle in the heat.  My win in 2012 was a minute faster and felt exponentially easier than a few days ago. Funny thing is that I spent Friday night in Seward and woke up Saturday (July 5th) to a cloudy, overcast, 55 degree day that would have been PERFECT for racing. I have no doubt in my mind I could have gone up to 2 minutes faster had it been 20 degrees cooler. 

PRE-RACE & PREDICTIONS: I was honestly a bit anxious going into the race because of an injury I've been dealing with this summer.  Somehow I managed to pull my medial hamstring 6 weeks ago and have had to modify training quite a bit. I was unable to do any fast running on the flats, jumping, or downhill training. I knew this wasn't going to serve me well in the race and I was down playing the injury and holding my cards tight. A SPECIAL "thank you" to my awesome PT Zuzana Rogers at Advanced Physical Therapy who worked with my 3x/week to get this injury under control. I knew this was going to be a challenge because both Christy and Najeeby are former road racers and Christy was speaking openly about her love of downhill running. With my injury I was unable to train this aspect of the race - their strengths. So, I trained like I usually do, as a cross country skier :) 

Going into the race one of the local news networks called me the "pre-race favorite."  I thought this was slightly unfair seeing that Christy Marvin was the defending champion and had won NINE straight mountain races leading up to this year's big show..... but, I've run into this phenomena before. Because I have the title "Olympian" on my name I've found that people expect me to win or at least excel in anything I do. Honestly, I think this is not only unrealistic but unfair. I'm human. I can be out of shape. I have been incredibly out of shape. If you saw me trying to run down Fourth Avenue I looked HORRENDOUS.  In the future I hope that this doesn't stop me from entering events. 

Race Start taken from high on the mtn. Photo: Danielle Bailey

Photo: Jim Jager

Aubrey Smith! Photo: Danielle Bailey

Photo: Danielle Bailey

Photo: Danielle Bailey

UPHILL: I've raced very little this summer. First and foremost because I needed a physical and mental break after a strenuous Olympic year. Second, I skipped some races I wanted to do because of my injury. I also needed the extra time to get in shape! It was a low snow year here in Anchorage and many AK runners had been on their feet since late winter/early spring. I felt behind! 

For some reason I expected the pace to be fast from the gun. When it wasn't, I was surprised. So, I settled in right behind Christy to see what would happen. At the base of the mountain we took the roots and Jeebs (Najeeby) made a last minute ditch to the Cliff. When the trails came together Jeebs was a good 25 feet ahead of us and kept that gap & lead for the first 1/4 of the race. I kept an eye on her and my ears open, trying to listen and interpret how hard Christy was working - specifically compared to my own exertion. Just beyond Squirrel tree I passed Christy to chase Jeebs down. I thought we would hike together for a bit but all of a sudden found myself alone.  At first I panicked - was it too early to be attacking this race alone? While there is no real "draft effect" in mountain running it's really nice to be able to hike behind someone and follow their footsteps and route choice. At this point I didn't know if Jeebs and Christy would end up banding together to chase me down. But, you can't over think it.... I just decided to go and go hard. 

Because of the warm temps there were people lining the mountain offering feeds & water.  Folks were offering drinks and/or to pour cold water down your back or on your head. THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who was out doing this. On such a hot day it was crucial for all of the racers and I ultimately think it helped keep many people - myself included, out of the hospital. 

Someone made the comment to me that I didn't have my usual "Holly Race Smile" so I must have been working hard. I'll admit, I was in the zone. So I'm really sorry that I can't thank individual feeders personally. I don't remember who you are!  But THANK YOU! 

I stole a glance at my watch half way and decided that I was feeling good enough to turn the jets on a bit. If you're going to go for it, go for it, right? I had a good top half of the climb and somehow managed to round the summit rock with a two minute lead. Some people thought the race was said and done but I have enough experience with Mt. Marathon to know that it's not over until you cross the finish line, literally. I had my work cut out for me.... 


Photo: Todd List Photography

Photo: Danielle Bailey

Near the top  Photo: Andrew Dougherty

Photo: Andrew Dougherty


DOWNHILL: I think I was quoted directly after the race as saying that I felt like a marionette trying to run down a mountain. I felt great on the uphill and wasn't expecting my legs to feel as flooded as they felt once I hit the high-speed scree.  The complete lack of snow this year also meant that we had to stay on our feet for the entire race and robbed us of the high-speed snow glissade which I happen to like quite a bit. I did my best to lean into the hill but felt myself relying on the breaking ability of my heels to much; not the technique I was going for. It's one thing to practice the downhill at speed and it's a hole nother ball game to race the downhill after a hard uphill in the sweltering heat. The scree and "gut" felt slow and un-coordinated but not disastrous.  People along the way were cheering, "no one in site" & "you've got it!"  But again - Mt. Marathon isn't over until it's over. 

Then came the road and things immediately got really painful.  Everyone who watches the race automatically assumes that the 38 degree step pitches of the mountain are the most difficult part of the race but that actually couldn't be further from the truth.  A friend told me last night that he was standing with a high school boy who was commenting on racer's running form once they hit the road. Now I'm not a pretty runner to begin with but if you saw the last five minutes of my race one would probably never think that I was the race leader. Again - you don't know how bad this hurts until you try it for yourself.  

I think that Rob could tell that I was in the world of hurt and lucky for me, he sprinted down the mountain with a full backpack in time to dose me with cold water one last time. (Thoughts and flashbacks of 2009 were a bit too close & personal....)  

Most of the descent ends up being pretty quiet and it's not until you round the Cliff that the explosion and  noise of thousands upon thousands of people hit you. There is also a cop car waiting at the bottom of the Cliff for the leader to follow and warn spectators that race leaders are entering the city streets.  And now begins possibly the longest 5 minutes of my life. I felt like death. My legs wouldn't move. Rob told me I looked horrible. Strabel told me I looked like a race walker that wasn't racing. Both of these statements were entirely true. It was ugly.  The worst part is that I had no idea where Christy was - or how fast she was catching me. I usually have a rule of not looking back but in this race, I looked over my shoulder many times - only to learn nothing. I either couldn't see her or I was too delusional to differentiate her charging stride from the tens of thousands of people that lined the course. People also told me that when I looked back it was a quick flick of my head and shoulders but instead my entire body turned and I almost started running uphill.  I don't remember this but pictures reveal that I was "running" from side to side, rather than a straight line. (This is funny when you consider how little time I had to spare) 

Despite the intense pain I was experiencing I'm impressed with my ability to remain positive in the moment. A large part of this I attribute to working with a US Ski Team Sports Psychologist over the past year. I've spent time with Pam working on affirmations and positive mantras. So, for example, I was thinking "you can do this" rather than "S***, she's going to pass you!" This stuff is really powerful and I plan to write about it more later when I share with you my professional and academic aspirations (soon!) 

It took everyone once of strength in my body and my brain to get across the finish line and when I did, I immediately collapsed right in front of the hard charging Christy Marvin. She was gaining on me FAST and I gave up anywhere between 45-1 minute of my lead on the 3/4 mile road alone.  Christy had an AMAZING downhill nearly two minutes faster than mine and her split rivaled many of the top men! After talking with many racers it seemed like the people that had good uphills suffered on the down and vice versa. It was hard if not impossible to excel at both given the hot conditions. That said, I was incredibly impressed with Christy and had the course been 25 yards farther than it was, she would have certainly passed me! 



Photo: Danielle Bailey

Photo: Jim Jager

Photo: Zuzana Rogers

The "Gut"
Photo: Freeze Frame Photography

 Photo: Glynn Strabel


Chasing the cop car with the ER in the background... Photo: Rebecca Mcgee


Photographic evidence that I did what I don't like to do! Photo: John Browne

Following sequence from KTVA.... 


Gave it my all.... 

THE AFTERMATH: The finish pen is a bit of a blur as I was still pretty delirious. Once the interviews has subsided I was tasked with walking back to my car which was virtually impossible. Luckily a friend with a razor scooter was nearby and I stood on it while Rob pushed me 6 blocks uphill to get some dry clothes and my bike so I could coast down to the river to soak my legs. I also found Zuzana who gave me a leg flush immediately which helped a ton. I went from not being able to move to being able to limp around at a slow pace.

From there the afternoon & evening unfolded in it's usual manner. My annual ice cream bar tradition, talking to too many people and virtually missing my shower opportunity, etc. etc.  Today, as I sit here at my kitchen table it's been four days since the race and my quads are still incredibly sore to the touch. Not 2009 sore but alarmingly so.  I'm impressed by MM racers who are already out hiking and have resumed normal training. I'm still a couple days out from that. I know that by nature we're highly motivated people but I'd really urge people to take the rest their body deserves.  If you push this race will beat up your body and resuming training prematurely will only take you backwards.

Yesterday we started our annual women's ski training camp up here in Alaska. We have the girls from the US Ski Team here in town training with many of the other top domestic women in the field. We also have a special guest, Celine Brune-Lie from the Norwegian National Team. While I'm training with the group I'm modifying workouts to give my legs the recovery I know they need. On Sunday we'll fly up to Eagle Glacier for a week of on-snow training and my goal is to be 94% functional by that time.

Thanks for hanging with me through this crazy long post. If you made it this far you must be an endurance athlete! :)

Photo: Rob Whitney 


Top women, left to right: Ann Spencer, Christy Marvin, Me, Najeeby Quinn, Junior Overall Allie Ostrander & Denali Foldager. 

Photo: Chris Jones


APU Takes BOTH cups! Photo: Chris Jones


Here is Beth Bragg of the Anchorage Daily News' account: 


Also, here is a replay of KTVA's live TV coverage of the race in the form of a 1:28 minute YouTube video. It must be said that I'm REALLY disappointed that two networks showed the 3pm men's race LIVE on TV while the women's race was only available via Internet stream. Whatever happened to equality? Anyways.... someone pointed out that this is good treadmill material if you're in need of something like that :)  And yes, KTVA did a great job of putting this together. Thanks to their dedicated reporters and photographers, many who were covered in dirt & sweat from head to toe by the end of the day! 

Last but not least, congratulations to ALL the finishers of the 2014 Mount Marathon Race. There were many little battles out there and I'm happy to report that I haven't heard of any serious injuries!  Thanks to all the race organizers, sponsors, volunteers and water dumpers.  There are too many people to thank to thank folks individually but you know who you are! 

Cheers - have a good one! 
Holly :) 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Olympics of Alaska

......Is tomorrow, July 4th.  Mt. Marathon is without a doubt the biggest race in AK. Tomorrow will be the 87th running of the race and many claim that it's the second oldest footrace in America - second to the Boston Marathon. The hype is in full effect and I literally cannot go anywhere in town without people inquiring. To give you perspective the town of Seward has approximately 2,500 full time residents. On July 4th nearly 30,000 - 40,000 people flood to Seward for Independence Day celebrations - centered around the race. There have been lots of stories as of late leading up to the race and I thought I'd put a collection of them here, on my blog for anyone that's interested.

Laying in the Emergency Room, 2009 photo: Dennis Brooks

The race has garnered some serious national and international attention after the tragedie(s) of two years ago where one race disappeared and has never been found and another, local Mt. Runner Matt Kenney (Story on Matt HERE) fell down the Cliff and suffered a severe TBI. Two years later Matt will be "getting back on the horse" and racing Mt. Marathon again - this time in helmet. I'm already looking forward to cheering Matt on once my race is completed!

Today's Anchorage Daily News article about the women's race:

I agree that this year's women's race is going to be incredibly exhilarating. I have NO idea what's going to happen tomorrow and that's why it's so exciting. I have to admit, I'm pretty disappointed that two TV stations are showing the men's race LIVE and the women's race is only available via Internet stream. 

Christy Marvin, the 2013 defending champion was recently featured on National NPR with Melissa Block!


My story with KTVA, complete with footage from my race finish when I came in 212th place...


Maps, other videos, etc:


Max Romney made a fantastic video about last year's men's race where the long-standing race record was broken.  This year he'll be at it again filming a longer documentary. He's already done pre-race interviews with all the contenders and it's my understanding he'll be out tomorrow with 12 video cameras on the mountain and maybe even a drone for aerial shots! 


An incredibly well-written article about the 2012 race in Runner's World called the "Last Man Up." 

Race updates, results: 

Live video feed here: 

Here we go! Have a fun & safe July 4th everyone! Race report to follow...... 
Cheers, 
Holly 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Breaking the Silence......!

Many of you have probably noticed, I've taken a sabbatical from my blog. Apparently that sabbatical and resulting silence was more needed than I previously thought. I've laid in bed countless nights composing posts in my head but unfortunately, they never exist on the screen in the morning. What have I been up too? Here are some quick Q&A's just to get something out into virtual life. I have to start somewhere, right?

Sanding in style - with full protection!


What have you been up too the past 2 months: 


Training - (in AK!) public outreach projects in AK & helping build a multi-generation cabin in Hope, AK. I've been on a handful of fun, small adventures with my Husband and it's nice to feel pseudo-normal again. I've enjoyed drinking coffee and reading the paper edition of the morning newspaper at my own kitchen table!


Most people are downright confused about your move to not do full time World Cup anymore..... 

Contrary to confusion I am NOT retiring. I'm pumped on a new goal - FIS World Loppet Marathons. This will have me racing 40, 50 & 70 kilometer ski marathons all over the World. No North American (to my knowledge) has really ever taken this on as a goal and I'm really excited!

What's the best thing I ate today? 

I LOVE blueberry season. And I'm totally smitten over CLIF Mojo Dark Chocolate Almond Sea Salt Bars....

Everyone wants to know - am I doing Mt. Marathon?

Why, yes actually.... it's a little race on July 4th in Seward, AK. People tend to think of it as the "Olympics of Alaska."  The hype is in full swing with only 10 days to go until race time. Check out this crazy YouTube from the race a couple of years ago:


You 
mentioned Adventures? What kind of adventures have you been on? 

Long distance adventures in Alaska are one of the ways I gained the fitness I did.... It's my favorite part of living here and I had two really sweet trips this spring. Rob was on BOTH of them too so that was fab. The first was a beach bike ride on our FATBACKS from Captain Cook State Park to the end of the Homer Spit with our good friends Katie and Justin. We were on our snow bikes which also work great for the beach. We ran our tires at approximately 12 PSI....... The second was a traverse of Chugach State Park with Rob. We started up Bird Ridge and just kept going until we descended on the Pioneer Peak trail out near Palmer. That trip connected some of our favorite trails in the park with a ton of back country and a whole heck of a lot of vert!  We hiked 50 hours in four days to bag that one. You do the math!


Biking in x-tra tuff boats on the beach! 

And Outreach? 

Last week I hosted 26 APU Juniors for a day of training camp in Hope during their annual "Death Camp."  The athletes (U16) roller skied up to 23 miles and then did a 4k foot hike. They also learned they aren't allowed to walk pass the pull up bar without hitting it up.

I also did a presentation for the United Way Emerging Leaders Group on behalf of Healthy Futures - an awesome program that I'm involved with. I talked about my role of giving back to my community as an athlete and educated them about HF and other projects I'm involved in in AK. Last week I also had a preliminary meeting with folks from the Chugach National Forrest and the Teen Media Institute about doing a multi-media project about recreational opportunities in the Chugach. Anything to get people excited about spending time outdoors - and then protecting them b/c they love them! Every week has been just that busy with fun projects.... I'm a lucky person :)

Post-ski, boot strip.... 

The Juniors hitting up part of the HOPE gym :) 

Friends at the Chugach also hooked me up with this awesome poster that I've been wanting a copy of for a while now! Thanks Sara!


Will you participate in the annual, upcoming Alaskan Women's Training Camp? 

Heck yes!  It starts right after Mt. Marathon so I should be good and rested :) We will spend the first week in town and the second week up on Eagle Glacier. I can't wait to see my friends, teammates, and special surprise International Guests!



 My Solstice Tweet? 

Beach Bike ride yesterday with Rob Robert Whitney was awesome until..... we went to bed and the bugs came out. Of course we took a tarp instead of a tent to go lighter (?!) .... woke up every 15 minutes in a pile of sweat & deet. I "slept" with my head net on until at 4am I decided that enough was enough. We started our AK Solstice off by riding away from the bugs, on the beach, in the rain at 4:30am. Lucky for us it was plenty light out!

 Best article I've read lately? 

A friend shared this article about Beyonce with me a while ago and I passed it along to my USST teammates. USST Women's Coach Matt Whitcomb recently asked me for the link and I re-read it tonight. It's one of the best pieces I think I've ever read. Truly, it's worth the 6 minutes that it takes to read.


Other than that, life is good.  I'll leave you with this thought: Make this your mission today and everyday. It's certainly mine! (Bummer sticker compliments of Annie and Dennis Ronsse's Van) 

Cheers, 
Holly :) 

PS. Did you know that Devil's Club are actually edible? Check it out on my friend Heidi's awesome cooking blog here: 

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A new exciting phase in life!

Big news coming out of my world. That is, if you haven't heard earlier this spring I decided to withdraw my name from the "renomination pool" for the US Ski Team. To put it in plain and simple words, next season I will not be an official member. I emphasize the distinction because I hope that I will always be an "unofficial member" as the team is kind of like extended family to me. I've spent close to 200 days outside of Alaska the past few years, 95% percent of those days being ski team affiliated. It's more time than I've spent with my husband, friends and family combined. 

Perhaps the largest challenge throughout this whole process is trying to tell people that although I'm not on the USST, I'm NOT RETIRING. Understandably people think that I must be done or maybe I'm even pregnant if I'm choosing to NOT pursue the World Cup full time. However, that's simply not the case. I can assure you that I'm very motivated to train and that I'm not done skiing.  I simply want more time with my husband & family, more time at home in Alaska, and an opportunity to do some non World Cup races where I can realistically chase the podium.  

Alex Mathews of Fasterskier wrote an article the other day about my decision. Read it below if you're interested: 

Not on the U.S. Ski Team List, Brooks Still in the Hunt for International Podiums



In my mind I will always be a part of this awesome team!
 Team from 2012-2013... Now of course with the addition of Soph! (Photo by the infamous Reese Hanneman)

Girl's Team in Toblach, Italy this year... missing Jess. (Team RUDY!)

For the first time since the season ended I'm finally getting settled at home, in Alaska. This spring I opted to spend two weeks in the Pacific Northwest catching up with family and friends.  In the past couple of years family visits have been outside of security at the airport or crazy 24-hour, everyone gets an hour type visits. I really wanted something a bit longer.  Here are some pictures from my trip down South:

 Tulips at Seattle's Pike Place Market.

The crown we got for my Grandma's 90th! (acquired at a Drag Store on Broadway in Seattle of course!) 



My Grandma, "Oma" complete with her crown, Ferry wings and bright pink boa! 

 Walking Cannon Beach with my sister, dad & mom... Thanks so much to my wonderful friend Merritt for hanging out and then letting my family crash her beautiful beach pad!

 Hot tub time with sibs Scott and Robin

 All four of us together in front of Nick and Ellen (Scott's friends and adjoining farm) old chicken barn - ready to Tour Shaw Island (where my brother now lives) via two wheels!

 Triplet Siblings on Shaw Island's South Beach


I have had SO MUCH FUN these past four years and I don't regret a single day, decision or action. Also, like I said earlier, it's not over yet - I'm just starting a new phase :)

In all reality this front page picture with the Anchorage Daily News wasn't that long ago. My sports psychologist likes to use the analogy that I'm like a cat with many lives - college Holly, professional consultant Holly, Ski Coach Holly, USST Member Holly, and now ______ Holly! I'm really excited about the future... 


I still need to put together the details for the next phase of my career but first I'm anxious to spend some quality time with this guy..... and to be clear I'm talking about the one on the left, not the right - sorry Al!  

(NBC Commentating booth in Sochi) 

Thanks so much to all of you for your continued support and encouragement. Stay tuned to see what happens next!  Until then, make each day count! 
Sincerely, 
Holly 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The family Suburban should pull up any minute now!

I'm sitting at my friend Merritt's place in Cannon Beach waiting for my family's Suburban to pull up any minute. We've having a bit of a "family reunion" after a long season on the road. Also, I'm embarrassed to say that I can't even remember the last time I saw my brother, Brian. There are many wonderful things about World Travel, the Olympics, etc, etc but missing your family is not one of them. I'm super pumped to see them and this upcoming weekend, help my grandma celebrate an early 90th birthday party.  Don't tell her but a pink boa and sparkly crown is coming her way! 



I absolutely love Alaska but whenever I travel "outside" I'm reminded of all the fabulous things elsewhere too.  Here in Oregon spring is in full force. It's lush, everything's covered in moss, the cherries are in full bloom as are the tulips and daffodils. It's magical. It's colorful. I love it. 


Catching up with Merritt :) 

I'm looking forward to life slowing down a bit and enjoying that extra cup of coffee. I feel like I've been running and scrambling ever since the races in Anchorage ended a bit ago.  One big component of this was the traditional USOC trip to Washington DC to meet the President. Yep, that's right, the President!  I actually wrote an article about the experience for my hometown paper, the Anchorage Daily News. You can read it here if you're interested: 


 The women's team in WA. (Kikkan and Ida had other spring plans before the trip was announced, hence only five of us) 
 Obligatory jumping picture with the National Mall behind us. 

One really fun thing was celebrating Rob's birthday. For the past X number of years I've completely and physically missed Rob's birthday. I decided that this year things had to change. So, the day after the 30k we had a mountain side birthday for Rob half way up Manitoba Mountain. We hauled a grill and all sorts of fun supplies half way up a mountain. FIFTY people showed up to help celebrate and I think it will go down as a pretty epic party :) 

Here is our friend Greer with the most decadent cake I've EVER had. I'm pretty sure the thing weighted at least 20 pounds and it should go without saying that it was delicious! 

Nearly last but not least the APU team is preparing for our annual spring fundraiser to help cover the costs of the past competition year. If you live in Anchorage and haven't been it's actually a pretty fun time. Put it on your calendar or better yet, if you're so inclined to donate something to the cause, shoot me an email! 


Oh - and of course by the time I actually got this blog published my family has shown up :) Here we are on a beach walk last night. It's great to see them! 

Cheers & thanks for reading, 
Holly