Something I Learned

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Two years ago I gave up alcohol and rest days, and I've never felt better. Spoiler alert: the key was living at elevation in a place so beautiful it demands activity. Also, I discovered that speeding up recovery times and doing not only a variety of activities but a variety of combinations of activities equals less real rest.  

I spent a lot of years (like, 12 years) running between 40 and 70 miles a week. (Sometimes more). Each day was essentially the same. Out the door within 10 minutes of waking for as many miles as I felt like going. I usually took a rest day every 10-14 days, usually after a longer or tougher run. Sometimes I pushed it to 3 weeks. Don't get me wrong, I loved it. Sometimes I planned what I'd do the night before, and sometimes I'd just see where my feet took me: hills, long slow distance, to the track, the park, etc. But I also started getting chronic stress fractures in my metatarsals. I am HORRIBLE at being injured. Anyone who knows me well, without hesitation, will confirm. I have a really, really hard time being still. I got so many stress fractures that I invested in my own "boot," and would throw it on for a few weeks whenever I felt the burning pain in my foot bones. 

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But eventually I was sick of sacrificing even 5 or 6 weeks a year to heal my feet. I decided to spend more time on my bike, in the pool, and generally doing things other than running to get my fix. When I moved from New York City to Colorado in June of 2016, I first moved to Leadville: a town that sits at 10,200 feet. For people coming from life at sea-level, even 5,000 feet of altitude takes some adjustment; but 2-miles high can be straight-up scary. It took most of 2 months before I could run 3 miles without stopping to catch my breath. For a while, just walking and talking was a real workout. Swimming was ridiculous: a rest after every 50 meters. Each morning for the first month, I woke feeling hung over, even if I hadn't been drinking. And when I was drinking, it usually wasn't more than a beer or two before I'd feel sick. 

Going from NYC to Leadville was kind of like being injured, and I wanted to get better. I decided I'd give up alcohol entirely until I was used to the altitude. But after one month of a clear head and no alcohol, I dared myself to go a year. Honestly, after a year of no drinking, it wasn't even something I thought about. I'm pretty good at discipline: almost to a fault. If I give something up, it's just gone: not an option. I also noticed that I woke each day ready for adventure. I was discovering so many things to do that I had a constantly growing list. Two years later, my list is still very long. Just this weekend I started looking into kayaking lessons, and I totally want to surf the Buena Vista river park.

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I also made my vow because something really bad happened to a friend of mine involving alcohol. So there was a secondary drive of solidarity in the decision. Around that time I remember hearing someone on the radio say something like, "If you can't get through a day, week, month, year without alcohol because you think it makes things more fun, then you might just be a really boring, uncreative person." I remember being offended at the time, and then a little scared that they were right. Now, I totally agree. 

Obviously I'm not against rest: I usually rotate which disciplines I'm going hard in from week to week. For my first year of triathlon, I worked with a coach to learn how to pair activities together. A hard run in the morning and an easy swim in the afternoon. A long bike ride the next day and a short swim in the evening. Occasionally a trail run in the early morning and a short/hard hill ride in the afternoon. And then skiing, rock climbing, rowing, and SUP-ing every once in a while for a different kind of core strength. With so many days of double-duty, the body learns to recover quickly. I found that several two-a-days followed by a day or two with only one activity, feels like vacation. And if I've gone really hard for a while, or am just feeling drained, a hike with the pup or an easy swim feels better than doing nothing. So, rest is good, but variety and active recovery has been the name of the game for me. Basically, I just never want to miss a day outside. 

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I'm also not totally anti-alcohol. I fully support kicking your feet up with a cold beer or cocktail if that's your thing. Des Linden and Linsey Corbin are absolute heroes of mine, and both are known for their ability to recover with a libation. But for me, relaxing has come to include things that make me feel recovered instead of in need of recovery. Relaxing these days means hammock time, garden time, and falling asleep on the couch to a movie. 

Race Report: Boulder West End 3k

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I've been running since I was 10-years-old, when I'd "help" my dad get ready for marathons. That doesn't mean I am or have ever been particularly amazing (even during my cross-country days, I was usually 4th runner in), it just means I've run at a lot of events. Boulder Westend 3k made me realize that the best events are super simple, super cheap, grassroots, just a bunch of runners who love to run. We don't need swag. We don't need packet-pickup. We don't need all the crap that gets in the way of running. This race is so fun because it's spectator-friendly. Which means it's automatically not as fast as a track, or maybe even your typical looped road race. But, all those hairpin turns (3 times around a 1k "loop," down and back the same street) mean spectators get to see the runners several times. Nothing matches the hype of streets lined with cheering fans. Everyone imagines leading the pack--being the hero.  

I knew I wanted to watch the elites run, so I entered the open 3k, which went first: even if I could technically qualify as elite (women had to run it in under 13 minutes), it was WAY more fun to watch the pros than to be dusted by them. After rain cleared through the area, the sun came out and Pearl Street was bumping. I saw Noah Droddy before the open race, in addition to a few other familiar faces. No matter what day of the week, what time of day, what the weather is, people will show up to run: especially people in Boulder. This race was commemorating Pasta Jay's 30th year in Boulder, and the place was packed. It was all organized by former Olympic marathoner Lee Troop, and TEAM Boulder

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The open race was super fun. At first I thought making all those turns would be annoying, but passing the crowd 5 times in a few minutes was awesome. My legs were still recovering from a 100-mile ride with 7,200 feet of gain I had done the day before, so I wasn't trying to crush it. Nonetheless, the runners were keeping a good pace, and I managed a 6:45 average. I'm glad to know that with some work, I could probably get "fast" again. 

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Then the main event. Noah Droddy hung back for the first loop, and let the other top guys set the pace. By the last loop, he was inching to the front, and by the final straightaway he was totally crushing it. He looked over his shoulder a few times to make sure he was set: no one was near him. I haven't seen official times, but he crossed the line right around 8:35. It's fun to see the local hero win a race, especially one who is such a good character. Noah and I had the same cross-country coach: went to the same tiny college in Indiana; so, it's like he's family. Overall, this was a great community event. There was a 1k race for kids under 12, several local vendors on hand, and plenty of outdoor seating to grab a bite and watch the best of Boulder. 

Do it: Century Ride (7,200 ft of climb)

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Sometimes you've just got to do something epic. It's been several weeks since I've done a ride over 60 miles, so I decided to do a full century. I got up at 5am and was on the road by 5:30. My favorite breakfast in the world is a Clif bar on the spin. The road to Brainard Lake has been under construction for several months, and just reopened last week. Anyone who bikes in the Boulder area knows that the ride to Ward is a long, tough climb, and then adding Brainard Lake is 6 more miles and about 1,200 more feet of gain. This last push is all above 10,000 feet, and has a dizzying effect. After a sunrise spin around Carter Lake, I got down to business. I took Highway 7 (Peak to Peak) from Lyons through the canyon. (I especially love the detour that goes through Raymond: this is my favorite route in the fall when the Aspens are changing). Then came the climb to Ward, and that extra push to Brainard. 

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I find that breaking a long ride into little pieces helps me enormously with the mental game. For me, this ride was: Home to Lyons, Lyons to Raymond, Raymond to Ward, Ward to Brainard, Brainard to Boulder. It's been super warm in Colorado, but I thought it would be nice and cool up above 8,000 feet. It was cooler, but not cool. This was still a sweaty, sweaty ride. 

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I assumed I was over-packing when I stocked my pockets with 2 Clif bars, 3 gels, and a pack of Shot Bloks, in addition to 2 water bottles with Skratch. I ended up eating both bars, 1 gel, and the pack of Bloks over 7 hours in the saddle. I ran out of water entirely around the time I was starting the Brainard stretch (mile 56). I've hiked this area before, and remembered that there are some camp faucets. Luckily, I found one at the campground about 2 miles in. I was pretty dehydrated at that point. I kind of love the feeling of going so hard that nothing in the world is better than water.  

All in, this was an incredible ride start to finish. The views at Brainard are truly a reward worthy of 7,200 feet of climb, serious sweat, and dehydration. And the descent on Lefthand is like pudding. As soon as I got to Boulder, I took a dip at the pool, showered, and drank a LOT of seltzer. Stay epic, Colorado!

Race Report: Boulder Peak 2018

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For the past two years, as soon as this race is over, I tell myself: don't sign up for this race next year--it's too hot. But then the scorching heat is replaced by the cool Boulder weather we love, and I only think, That's such an epic race, I have to do it again! So I'm writing this here, to remind myself: it's an epic race, and it's almost always the hottest week of the year. Here are my details:

The morning before the race I did a shake-out open-water swim with no wetsuit. It was the first time in a long time that I had gone that far without a wetsuit. And honestly, it felt great. More range of motion, nice and cool, and I oddly felt faster. I swam around 1,200 yards, and decided I'd try a race without a wetsuit. (This is where most people opt for a speed suit, but I don't have one). What I didn't take into account was, I was alone in a calm lake on my rehearsal swim....that's very different from race morning chaos. (I have been swimming with the open-water crew at Horsetooth for the past several weeks, but always in a wetsuit). I learned my lesson. And that lesson is, the wetsuit is my friend: take the wetsuit. It just cuts down on so much fatigue. As I was swimming in only my tri suit, I kept feeling like I was having a panic attack. It wasn't a complete disaster, but my pace was 1:46/100 yards where I was hoping for 1:38 or faster. I tried to put it behind me as I entered T1 and remembered I didn't have to strip a wetsuit. T1 = 2:33 

This year they did the waves by gender, which was different from last year. First, the elites, then all of the men (youngest to oldest), and then the women. At first, being in wave 10 had me worried I wouldn't begin until 8am: they said they were going to leave 5 minutes between waves, but only ended up leaving 2 minutes. I started right around 7:25am. 

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I'm still earning my street-cred as a cyclist in Colorado, and I've been doing a LOT of climbing. I don't have a tri bike because I honestly can't rationalize it. I think of myself as a swimmer, a biker, and a runner, but only mediocre at the actual triathlon. Nonetheless, I honestly think the road bike is a better choice for this race. I passed A TON of tri bikes on the way up Olde Stage, and really for the entire first 8-miles of the race. (I still can't believe that some people unclip and walk up this not-at-all-enormous hill). There's actually no better feeling than whizzing by someone on a crazy-expensive tri bike and aero helmet as a roadie. After the Olde Stage climb, there's a 35 mph speed zone. But...it's really just for safety. The rest of the course is rolling and fast. I made myself eat two gels on the bike, and my entire bottle of water. The heat was getting intense even on the bike. My pace was 18.1 mph for a 1 hour 24 minute split. 

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T2 = 1:37  The run at Boulder Reservoir is almost entirely exposed. I'm a huge fan of the crushed gravel, but this is a brutal course. Almost everyone I saw was stopping at each mile for water. I stopped at most aid stations myself. It was too hot to risk serious dehydration. I actually felt really good for the entire run. I think I could have pushed harder and probably come away with at least a 7:45 pace, but I played it safe and was satisfied with a 7:55 pace for a 48-minute split. 12th out of 27 in my category (but with the second fastest run), 45th woman out of 200. 

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Overall, this is a great race. The heat is always a factor. I would love to race this course in late-September or October. My time last year was right around the 3-hour mark, and this year it was 2:49, so I'm stoked that I trimmed it down, despite the swim. I don't know if I'll race this again (I probably will). The Withoutlimits crew is so great. Everything about the race organization is always awesome. And there's nothing better than a slip-n-slide finish!

Nutrition: Peanut Powder

For a long time I thought smoothies were what people ate/drank when they were trying to be "healthy" but really just wanted a milkshake. Now I know that wanting a milkshake is actually fine, and smoothies are always delicious. 

I bought a Ninja 1,000-watt blender a few months ago at Costco. I made a few smoothies with frozen fruit and fruit juice. I bought some Vega protein powder. They were fine: refreshing and healthy. It all lasted about 2 weeks. Until...I discovered powdered peanut butter. When I first saw this stuff (years ago), I rolled my eyes. I didn't get it. I thought it was for people to take backpacking. But then it finally dawned on me: IT'S FOR SMOOTHIES. Now I'm researching if it's okay to live on peanut powder and banana smoothies for all meals of the day. I highly recommend the PB + banana combo with almond milk as the liquid, but I've also mixed in cherries, and all kinds of berries. Nothing I've tried it with has been bad. 

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The nutrition breakdown on the peanut powder is: 2 tablespoons (which is a LOT of powder) contains 50 calories,  1.5 grams of fat (zero saturated fat), 95 mg of sodium, 5 grams of protein, and only 2 grams of sugar. It's like the perfect "food." (I'm in no way against regular peanut butter, the powder is just super amazing for mixing). 

Especially on hot days (it's already been in the 90s in Colorado more than I remember from the past two summers), smoothies are the way to go. I sometimes have a hard time eating after a hot workout, but I will drink all the liquids. 

Race Report: Lory Xterra Trail Tri

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Get out of your comfort zone: you'll almost definitely find something you didn't know you'd love. I did the Without Limits triathlon series last year, and I loved the atmosphere of those races: laid back, locally owned/run, open to anyone, but still with legit competition and serious athletes. This year I decided to try one of their races that DIDN'T take place at the Boulder Reservoir. I found Lory Xterra. 

The swim for the race was pretty simple: an out and back around a series of buoys (right around 1,000 yards). The reservoir was nice and calm, and the race location is situated so that the swim course is pretty secluded (and beautiful). The water temperature was 68-degrees. Race organization was really well planned out from start to finish. The first 3 waves of the swim left with only 2 minutes between them. Then they took a 15-minute break, and the remaining 5 waves left with 7-minutes between. I was in wave 4, so right after the break. They've developed this system so that the rest of the course is never too congested. In my opinion, it's pretty genius. 

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My only complaint about preparing for this race was that I found out a week before that no CX bikes are allowed on an Xterra course. That's not explicit on the website. It also wasn't listed at all in the race announcement email. I purchased a Specialized Diverge last October, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to race with my new bike. I'm hugely grateful that I posted "Lory Xterra practice ride" as the title for a workout on Strava. A friend saw it and told me to check the status of CX bikes. I contacted Race Director, Lance Panigutti, and sure enough: mountain bikes only. So...I had to rent a bike. Not a huge deal, really, but with a little more notice I would have planned differently. I'm mostly grateful that I got this information at all, and didn't show up on race-day with my CX bike! The course is for sure doable on a CX/gravel bike, but easier on a MTB...much easier.

I picked up a Santa Cruz Pivot Switchblade from University bikes. This bike was insane. Way more bike than I'm used to, but super fun. If I had a spare $7,000, I would totally buy it. This bike made everything on the course fun and easy. I still need some practice with my confidence, though. On the first loop, I got passed several times, but everyone was super nice. By the second loop, things were spaced out pretty well. Overall, the bike was my weakness, but by the end of the 12+ miles, I felt like I was finally holding my own. 

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Early this year, I decided to do as much of my running as possible NOT on pavement, so I've really gotten familiar with this course and the other local trail systems. I still can't believe that so many people who do triathlons, but especially trail triathlons, dread the run. There were SO many people walking and giving up. This run course is AWESOME. Pretty much straight up for 2.3 miles, and then down. The overall elevation gain is right around 600-feet, and all within the first half of the (5-mile) run. The views of Horsetooth and the entire area are amazing. And the trail is so nice: single-track, switchbacks, packed dirt, and some fun rock areas. In other words, everything you should love on a trail run. It's pretty exposed, so I was thankful that we had a lot of cloud cover. (The weather was really perfect: 60s and mostly cloudy). I seriously love this run. And the fact that I got to pass everyone who had killed me on the bike! 

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Overall, I recommend this race, especially if you're new to triathlon or new to Xterra, or just love off-road. This is a well-organized race in a beautiful setting. 

 

Nutrition: From the Garden

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When I was in first-grade, my mother let me help her build a garden in our side yard. It was a raised box, probably 10' x 10'. We had 4 different kinds of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, and basil. Probably other things things too, but all I really remember is that we had SO MANY tomatoes and peppers that my mother took bags to all the neighbors, and gave some to the mailman. I didn't even like tomatoes back then, but was so proud of our garden, that I tried them on everything. 

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When I was in graduate school, I lived in what seemed at the time like a tiny apartment; that was before I had lived in New York City. My friend and I bought a plot at the community garden and spent a couple evenings a week tending to it. That was the first time I had planted potatoes: they were amazing. So creamy and earthy. We also grew Brussels sprouts and all kinds of herbs. We attempted baby eggplants, but they never came up. But, the old woman with the plot next to ours had beautiful eggplants all summer. 

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I grew window-box herbs at our 4th-floor walk-up in Harlem. The box overlooked our fire-escape and 146th Street. It wasn't much, but I still loved adding fresh basil to homemade pizza. 

Now that we have a ton of room in Colorado, we're growing all kinds of things. We just keep adding. In the raised box we have strawberries, peppers, 2 kinds of basil, tomatoes, arugula, onions, and garlic. We also have a little plot of squash and zucchini, two more pots of tomatoes, an area of potatoes, and I just put in pumpkins. Everything is coming along pretty well so far. We've sampled the basil and arugula: so good. I forgot how peppery fresh arugula is. I've really got my fingers crossed for everything else. It's trial and error this year, but I'm looking forward to some hearty garden meals. Throughout my life, everything I've ever grown has tasted infinitely better than store-bought; but also, it looks and smells better. Grow what you can where you are: if you ever have too much, give it away!

Something I Learned: C02

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I ride between 120 and 170 miles a week: usually a mix of country roads and mountain roads--sometimes dirt and gravel roads--and many of my miles are done in the early morning and out of cell-phone range. Yet, I'm still less than comfortable when it comes to changing a tube. I can do it. I've done it several times. I'm actually pretty good at it. But anytime I hear or feel an indication of a flat, I get a little panicky. A few weeks back, I had a front flat coming down after a decent climb. I got it changed without much trouble and was on my way. The very next day I had a rear flat. It seemed to be a slow leak, so I just inflated it with C02 and hoped it would last the rest of the ride. Two miles later, totally flat. I changed the tube, and tried to use the rest of the C02. As I was releasing it, the tube literally froze and crumbled. I've heard that this can happen: I've talked to people who have gotten frostbite from C02, and who are generally weary of it. So, at this point I was stuck. I had a tube with a puncture, a completely ruined tube, and zero C02. 

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Luckily, it was a brilliant day around noon, and several cyclists were out. As I was attempting to phone a friend, a man rolled up and introduced himself: Chuck. He sat down and patched my not-entirely-ruined tube. Kind people exist everywhere, but I've been especially impressed with how willing cyclists in northern Colorado are to lend a hand. It took Chuck a while to properly patch my tube, but we talked about retirement (his), local music, and the toughest climbs in the area. After patching me up, he hand-pumped air into my fixed tube, and sent me on my way. The next day, I invested in a hand-pump of my own, and now carry 2 tubes. I'll still pack a C02 cartridge, and have nothing against it, but if I had been any farther out: up a mountain or in the country, and someone as kind (and prepared) as Chuck hadn't come along, I would have been out of luck. It's a tricky thing when the only way to learn is to practice, but the best case scenario is not to have to practice. I feel a little more equip now, and a lot more grateful for kind people.  

Anthony Bourdain

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If you've never worked in a restaurant, I would argue that you're lacking a key piece of human empathy. There's something about preparing food for other people--strangers--that brings us all together. Nourishment, sure, but also just having a hand in filling others up, how ever they need it. There is community and fellowship and peace in a good meal. And restaurant work is one of the toughest businesses out there: no matter if you're scraping by or wildly successful, it is constant labor.

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After I finished graduate school, I worked for two summers in south-central Montana. At the time, I know that I experienced extreme loneliness, self-doubt, and exhaustion; but looking back, I think of those summers as life-changing and the kind of life I'd always kind of like to get back to. I started off at Second Street Bistro as waitstaff, but eventually moved to the back of the house preparing salads. My day started at 4pm and ended at midnight. I rented a 2-room apartment in an old mansion on E Street in Livingston. I had an air-mattress, one plate, one bowl, one cup, one spoon, one fork, one knife, and a laptop that could play DVDs. Sometimes rented movies at the grocery store Red Box. But most days, I made myself get up at dawn, swim laps at the local pool, and then drive to a trailhead and hike until I had to be at the restaurant. Most days, I didn't say any words to any other people until I got to work. Montana is gigantic, is one thing that I learned. I saw moose and bears and big-horned sheep. I often felt tiny. 

Over time, chef Brian Menges gave me more and more responsibilities. He ran an organic farm at the edge of town, and started letting me take his old truck to pick the vegetables. I even got to choose which vegetables to feature from week to week. I learned more about people and the earth and life in general working at the restaurant than I ever did in any other job. 

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Near the end of my time in Montana, Anthony Bourdain did an episode of No Reservations at the bistro, featuring long-time regular, Jim Harrison. What I noticed about both of these men was, they weren't afraid to be who they were. They wrote poetry, painted, went fishing, loved food (and wine). In the most rugged part of the country, these guys were just doing what they loved. That was important for the community--the entire world--to see. Bourdain often featured people doing what they loved, no matter the conditions, no matter the success. He told the stories of all of us, and he made us all noble because of it. Even though I didn't really know Bourdain, or Harrison, my tiny connection to them has meant more than I can possibly explain. 

Something I (re)Learned: Perspective

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Every time I drive 3+ hours southwest to my friends' ranch between Buena Vista and Leadville, Colorado, I'm reminded of what really matters (and doesn't). There's a lot more calm there: a lot more quiet. They have 170-acres and a 5-month-old baby boy. So, the only things that really matter are water (they run hydroelectric power), hay (which is really an extension of water), and family. They work hard, have fun, and roll with dozens of unexpected situations that come their way, daily. Cell phones are largely useless on the ranch. Breathing is a little more labored at between 8,000 and 10,000 feet. You go to bed when it gets dark, and you wake up when it gets light. You pray for rain. 

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Access to so much (too much?) makes it easy to put value in unimportant things. I found myself forgetting about things like Strava and Twitter and email. After 5 days in the mountains, I kind of didn't want to return to these things. All of the sudden, I didn't really care how many vertical feet I had climbed or how fast: just that I had gotten to the top, and could see for miles. 

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There are reminders all over the ranch of how little the world of farming and survival have changed. Over the year that my friends have lived there, they've collected all kinds of artifacts. Farm equipment, bear traps, tools. Things become unearthed. I spent one night in their camper at the top of a ridge. The sky was clear and the stars were immense. I've spent time in rural New Mexico, and in a remote location in Montana--those are the only other times I've seen stars so bright. That night sky alone is enough to prove that nothing much matters--that our entire existence is a bit of a coincidence. 

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My goal moving forward is to bring a little ranch mentality back home. Maybe push some of the data aside and do the thing for the sake of getting to the top and looking out at all there is to see. Try to put more value in the basics: water, stars, breath. And also, make the trip to the mountains more often: embrace the feeling of being very small. 

Do It: Round Mountain Recreation Trail

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Outside Magazine just (re)featured an article about the sometimes-secret gems that are state parks. National Parks get all the glory, and rightfully so--they're generally the most awe-inspiring places in the nation--but there's a lot of other good land, too. 

To get to the summit of Sheep Mountain on the Round Mountain Recreational Trail, you take the "Summit Adventure" route. The trailhead and parking lot are 4 miles west of the Dam Store in Loveland, Colorado--on US 34 along the Big Thompson River. 

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The first mile of the trek offers views of the Big Thompson and US 34, which are pretty cool considering the completion of the new road. Then you switchback farther into the wilderness, and things quiet down. I like hikes like this because the payoff of the uphill is just being able to see farther and farther. You'll come to a split rock, and a spring, and mile markers, but the reward is just being present: seeing Rocky Mountain in the distance. 

Buy your pass to the national parks for sure; but also, soak up what's just down the road and maybe not as popular. 

Do It: Estes Park (via 34)

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It's true what they say: you don't miss something until it's gone. I moved to Loveland, CO in 2016, and enjoyed several trips to Estes/Rocky Mountain National Park via winding US 34. Eventually I learned of the massive flood that had come through a few years earlier. The 2013 flood of the Big Thompson River caused $280 million in damages, and washed away parts of the highway. In order to get the necessary work done, CDOT closed sections of 34 throughout the past years; most recently, it's been closed between Estes and Loveland for 6 months. 

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It's an incredible early-morning bike ride: through the canyon with rock cliffs on both sides, and over small bridges, all while listening to the river. Turning right on 43 in Drake and going through Glen Haven to enter Estes from the north/east sort of hides the view of Rocky Mountain National Park until the very last climb. And that very last climb includes 4 switchbacks that are all at least 10% grade. 

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The road opened for good on Thursday at 4pm, and I left at 7am on Friday for my first trip up the freshly paved road. I think I was actually the first person to ride it, at least according to Strava. I decided to make it a day and circle around from 34 to 36, through Lyons and back to Loveland. A little over 75 miles--finishing right when it was really heating up. 

It's about to get busy in Rocky Mountain, which is fantastic. I'm grateful to live in a place where rides like this are possible. Get out early: avoid the heat and the traffic, and soak up what ever incredible sight is near you!

Nutrition: Bars for Picky Eaters

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For a long time, my go-to pickup line/explanation for my diet was, "but I eat eggs, so at least we can go out to breakfast!" I've been vegetarian since I was 10-years-old, and dairy-free for most of my adult life. I've done stints of entirely-vegan, and I largely consider myself vegan, except that I occasionally eat eggs, and honey. I love honey. People have different reasons for being picky eaters, and I'm aware that being able to choose what I eat (and don't eat) is generally a luxury. When I was a kid, I was overly attached to animals. Some might argue that I still am. When I found out that someone had to kill a turkey so that we could have Thanksgiving dinner, I vowed (to myself and my family) that I would never eat an animal again. I ate nothing that Thanksgiving: my first version of protest. 

Later in life, I discovered that I was lactose intolerant, and gave up dairy. But I've also been an endurance athlete my entire life, and from ages 18-26 I had a hard time maintaining a healthy weight. So I allowed myself eggs. As I've gotten older and have learned more about nutrition and cooking, I've gotten better at balanced meals and proteins. But also, things have changed. Back when I made my vow to that turkey and myself, even being vegetarian was weird. Now, living close to Boulder and in 2018, alternative diets are the norm.  

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If being "vegan" isn't picky enough, I'll add that I'm also allergic to caffeine and don't drink alcohol. If you're suddenly thinking that I would NOT be a fun date, it's not true! At least I hope not. But also, my idea of a fun date involves outdoor adventure, water filtered from a mountain lake, and a protein bar. Which brings me to...protein bars: I've eaten a lot. Like, A LOT. A protein bar stands in for lunch at least a few times a week. My current absolute favorite is Clif Bar's carrot cake. That's been my go-to lunch on the slopes, in a bike jersey, or on a day-hike for a while. But! I also just discovered No Cow; (their motto is "No Cow. No Bull. No Whey!") These bars are dairy-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, soy-free, vegan, with no sugar added. I know that SOUNDS like eating dirt, but they're not that bad! My overall review of a bar that has only 1 gram of sugar, 22 grams of protein, and none of the "bad" stuff, is, they're good. I ate one of these for lunch before a decent swim workout, and felt full with no distress. 

One thing I've never done--even though I've trained and raced my entire adult life--is get up early to eat breakfast 2-3 hours before activity, as is recommended. In fact, I usually train on an empty stomach, which I know is horrible. But, if I'm going to do something longer than 2ish hours, I'll eat a bar. Today I did a 75-mile bike ride (5 hours) with a few big climbs. I ate a Clif bar maybe 30-minutes before I left at 7am. I used electrolyte mix (Skratch) in my bottles, stopped mid-way for a lemonade, ate a gel and some electrolyte chews as needed. As soon as I got home I had another Clif bar (new flavor!) and a vegan yogurt. And tons more water. Probably not an ideal way to get protein and nutrition--I do enjoy real food--but for me, when I need something quick and easy, it works. 

Gear: Altra Superior 3.5

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When I lived in Brooklyn, NY, I worked at a (then) locally-owned running and triathlon store. It was like Cheers but with gear instead of booze. The manager had been there for 9 years, and was king of the neighborhood. Kids stopped in on their way home from school. Loyal customers brought cookies on holidays. Regulars showed up for group runs in the pouring rain. Even though I had been teaching higher education for more than a decade, I learned more in the running store than I had since I bagged groceries at the local co-op during graduate school. Everyone should be required to work retail or an otherwise low-wage job as an adult: humanity might be saved. 

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I specifically remember when we were introduced to the Hoka One One (pronounced oh-nay oh-nay). I took a picture of a quarter next to the height of the cushioning, and rolled my eyes for months. We were at the tail end of the minimalist craze, and I felt embarrassed to even have it in the store. I treated the Hokas as sort of a joke: whenever I brought it out for a customer to try on, I said something like, "And then there's THIS!" Other employees made a note of telling us all if they sold a pair. We'd wager bets on how soon a customer would return them.

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Fast-forward...I've been wearing nothing but Hokas (Cliftons) for at least 2 years. After finally breaking down and buying my first pair, I couldn't get over how light they were, and how 100% injury-free they made me. Now they're everywhere. I even saw a photo of my cross-country coach wearing a pair! (Go Tigers). 

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But, when I started getting serious about trail running a few months ago, I started tripping on rocks. I know this is largely (if not entirely) human error, but I wanted a new shoe: something with a low drop and more traction. I found the Altra Superior 3.5. Like the Hoka, this is a unique shoe, and certainly not for everyone. It is "minimal" in that it is zero-drop, but it's nothing like a racing flat. The cushion is perfect and the grip is incredible. I haven't tried the rock plate that can be added because I love it as-is. My foot doesn't move around at all, despite the "foot-shaped" toe box.  

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Altra is built on the ample-forefoot room (their motto is "embrace the space,") which I love. I recently put this shoe to the ultimate test. Horsetooth Mountain in seriously muddy, foggy, slick, rainy conditions. I ran a little over 6 miles with 1,600 feet of climb and descent. This shoe was amazing. Even thick mud didn't stick to the lugs on the sole: it transitioned well from mud to rock to grass. (For a long time--like, 7 years--the Mizuno Wave Rider was my shoe; but my main complaint with that shoe was that "stuff" constantly got stuck in the wave plate: snow, mud, rocks...) With the Altra, I went through puddles and streams and even scrambled up some rock, and never slipped or collected the trail in my shoes. While the upper isn't waterproof, necessarily, I never felt uncomfortable despite being covered in mud and rain. At the end of my run, I sprayed them off with the water fountain at the trailhead and the grime washed right off. While mud and rain haven't ever been my ideal conditions for running, they might soon be with the Altras.  

 

 

Do It: 12,183 Feet

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High Point on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park sits at 12,183 feet, which makes it not only the highest pass in Colorado, but also the highest continuous motorway in the United States. More than 8 miles of the road are above 11,000 feet. Each spring, for a few weeks, Trail Ridge is open to cyclists and pedestrians, but not to cars. This time is spent readying the visitor centers, getting water pumping at the restrooms, and generally maintaining the park. It's also, obviously, the best time to be up there. 

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I recently biked from the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park (which sits at 8,400 feet) up to High Point, and around the top area--which is like being on another planet. The trees disappear, the snow on both sides of the road grows higher than can be seen over, and the air is thin. A little over forty miles and 5,000 feet of gain all in. There was some wind at the top, but I've driven the road when the wind was far worse. Overall, it was the quiet that impressed me. 

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The majority of other cyclists I saw at the top were women, which is not usually the case on the roads that I frequent. I met a group of 3 women who (like me) were biking it for the first time, and another woman who was going all the way from Granby to Estes on a bike that looked to weigh almost as much as she did. She had clearly been camping for a while. A thing I've learned is that women in Colorado are not afraid to do challenging feats alone. 

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I bought an annual pass for Rocky Mountain and all the rest of the national parks when I entered. Now more than ever, it seems vital that we maintain and support these treasures. I only live about 30-miles from Rocky Mountain, but every time I enter the park, it feels like such an escape. And any time spent above 11,000 is just automatically dream-like. It's important to be in these places: to feel small and get a little scare from the sheer size of everything else. 

 

Nutrition: Home Brew

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Most people have something that they're willing to spend money on, even when they don't have money to spend: small vices--things that make us feel extravagant. Cigars, alcohol, chocolate, shoes. For me, it's kombucha. (I mean, I spend money I don't have on plenty of other things, too...usually cycling socks, cycling caps, and sunglasses). But kombucha is stupid expensive, and I buy it. On-tap, some of the cool new places in hip mountain towns charge more than $5 a glass! I rationalize it by reminding myself that I *don't* smoke cigars, drink alcohol, or care much at all about a shoe collection. Still, once I became the person buying the family-sized bottles of kombucha at Sprouts, I decided I should try my own hand at making it. 

Back in the day, my mother made her own yogurt, so I figured I had it in me to do this. Some friends gave me a "scoby" (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) or "mother" and that's maybe the best gift I've ever received. The scoby is...super gross: slimy and unappealing to look at or imagine ingesting in any way. And it grows. But also, it's super amazing! When put in a broth of tea and sugar, it creates a delicious effervescent beverage that's claimed to help everything in the body, but at the very least just tastes good.  

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I've experimented quite a bit over the last 2 months. The first batch I tossed entirely. It was like pure vinegar. I hadn't put enough sugar in. The second batch was better but I didn't let it sit long enough before refrigerating, so it was mostly flat. But now it's getting good. I've been brewing 5 tea-bags of earl grey black tea with at least a half cup of white sugar. I let that sit for a day or two and then add it to the scoby. I test it with a straw after 10 days, but it can sit for up to 2 weeks. Then I add a little honey to individual bottles (recycled from purchased kombucha before I was in the brewing biz). I pour the 2-week-old concoction into the small bottles and let it chill. The earl grey and the honey work really well together. Next I'm going to start adding some fruits to the 2-week sit. 

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I'm making a gallon (or 6-8 small bottles) of kombucha for less than I was spending on one at the store. Which is nuts. I've also started making my own hummus in big batches. So...I guess it's clear that I live in Colorado is what I'm saying. And that now I can buy more cycling caps. Let me know if you have any tips for kombucha! I'm excited to try new ideas/flavors. 

Do It: Open Water

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Until I moved to Colorado, the only open water "swimming" I did in my lifetime consisted of dips in lakes and rivers, and occasional trips to the ocean. Always a source of refreshment, rarely a source of endurance. When I worked summers on a ranch in Montana, the snow would melt and feed a fast-moving creek that eventually ran into the Yellowstone River. On scorching July afternoons, everyone would line up on a bridge over the creek and try to work up the courage to jump in. Instant pins-and-needles cold. You'd get just enough time submerged to desperately want to feel the heat of the sun again. 

In Colorado, though, open-water is sport. Last June, my first triathlon was a sprint: on the first Saturday in June. I rented a wetsuit a few times in May to test things out. Each of my trials lasted no more than 10 minutes. The first time I went in, the water was 48-degrees. I instantly thought of the creek in Montana. On race day, the water was reported to be 60-degrees, but I think that was an exaggeration: it still very literally took my breath away. 

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After that first race, I purchased my own wetsuit, and swam many, many more times: I joined an open-water club. By the time I got to my final triathlon in September, I felt like an old pro. My favorite open water swims were early mornings at Carter Lake even before the fishing boats were out. The water was calm and cool and quiet. This year the local lakes are already reporting in at 67-degrees. These days, in general, I'm less afraid of the cold and more intimidated by the heat. I dipped my toes in with my pup the other day, and it was far warmer than pins-and-needles. The pup is just barely a year old: we adopted him last August, and he was too small to really get in the water then. Last week, though, he was VERY excited to splash and play. I'm looking forward to taking him to some early-morning swims. I'm looking forward to spending even more time in Colorado's beautiful water. 

Do It: Gold Hill, Colorado

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Ten miles outside of downtown Boulder, Colorado is a step back in time. Mapleton Avenue changes to Sunshine Canyon Drive; after about 6 miles of winding pavement, it switches to dirt, and then gravel. By the time you reach Gold Hill, you've climbed over 3,000 feet. A sign greets travelers with all the relevant statistics: Established in 1859, elevation 8,463 feet, population 118. There's a store and an inn and a school. There are old dogs wandering the road. There's probably some lingering snow piled up. Cyclists know to stuff a jacket in their pocket as it's usually 10-20 degrees cooler up top. 

There are several options up to the old mining town: a road from all four directions. I've climbed up two of the roads, descended one, and still have one on my list. Lickskillet is the steepest county road in the United States, and after going down twice on a road bike, it's still solidly outside of my comfort zone. Even riding the breaks the entire way, you slide and skid down the gravel. It's one-mile of between 15-20% grade. But, it empties onto the smooth-as-pudding Lefthand Canyon Drive, where coasting back to town at 30 mph feels absolutely luxurious. 

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I recently "raced" the pavement of Sunshine Canyon, which means I went all-out and had an average pace of just 8 mph. Then I meandered the rest of the way on the dirt to the top. I can't really explain why I love these mining towns so much. The thin air, the reminders of striking it rich, the old general store that's been selling coffee and treats for over 150 years: it all feels like a treasure--like I've done something impressive just in getting here. 

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I can't wait to keep climbing these roads. Eventually I'll make it up Lickskillet. Eventually I'll take the longest route and hit two mining towns in one trip. There's still gold up here: even just in the experience of the trip.  

Something I Learned: Slowing the Pace

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Trail running has always sort of intimidated me. But, anything I'm not really good at intimidates me. I tend to be a one-pace person. That pace has changed over the years, but generally I go x-minute miles with only about 20 seconds difference. Ever.

I grew up running with no devices and never really worried about numbers. When I went to college, my father got me a Timex watch that had one feature: a timer. I went out for between 40 and 50 minutes each morning during the week, and 80 to 100 minutes on the weekend. I ran every day and didn't even know how fast I was going. I drove routes in my old Chevy Lumina, in order to have some idea what the milage was. When I started running cross-country, everything was new to me. Tempo, fartlek, repeats. The only "speed" work I did with my father was sprinting to the end of each run: maybe 100-200 yards. 

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Because speed work wasn't how I was born into running, I feel like I always sort of dreaded it. Each first day of practice after a break from school, my college coach would have us run a timed mile. I never stopped running during breaks, so it wasn't a big deal for me. But my teammates (whether they did their own conditioning or not) would run so hard they'd vomit. I never got that: I never went that hard. 

I've given trail running a few chances here and there, but recently I think I'm finally GETTING it: like being a kid again. Pace doesn't really matter. Or, not like it does on flat land. There's zero consistency. Get up the hill (or, mountain), recover, and fly down the other side. It's. So. Much. Fun. I've been getting up earlier and earlier to be the only one at Devil's Backbone in Loveland, Colorado. The first-light sun on the rocks is always stunning. There are several different trail options, and all give way to views of Rocky Mountain National Park--namely, Long's Peak. 

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I like the concentration of being on the trails: it's actually freeing. There's so much to think about (rocks, foot placement, climbs, mud, grass...rattle snakes) that you can't get wrapped up in anything else. Nothing can clutter the mind except the trails. And I'm totally fine with my miles spanning at least 3-minutes on the trails: it all balances out. 

Something I Learned: Swim Stroke

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Swimming is like writing: most people have been doing it in some capacity since they were children, so they assume they know everything there is to it. Not so. Both take a lot of practice. With both, you tend to be surprised that you've been doing something wrong your entire life. 

My brother and I took swim lessons from the time we were very young. We pretty much lived at the pool--indoor and out, winter and summer--with our house just blocks away from an athletic club. All the workers knew us by name. Then, when we were a little older, we took private lessons and even diving lessons (I never did really nail the back flip). Over the summer of 4th grade I joined a team: I entered every event listed and came away with blue ribbons most of the time. As I got older, swimming became something I only really did when I was injured from running, which meant I started to look at it as punishment. Where running and biking were adventures, swimming was always just a workout. 

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When I moved to Colorado, I became more serious about triathlons. Which meant I had to really consider how much I knew about my stroke. I started improving pretty quickly, mostly because my husband swam in college and often gave me things to think about, and occasionally wrote my workouts. 

But it wasn't until I joined a Masters team that things started clicking. I took a private lesson and felt like I was in grade school all over again. I watched video of my position in the water, and a few times we even put mirrors at the bottom of the pool to see the full stroke. The other game-changer was investing in FINIS Agility Paddles. I found out that my literal weakness was not following through with my stroke. In a lot of ways, I was going through the motions but not really putting my muscles to the test. With my stroke, it's as though I've been riding in the small chainring for years, and just discovered the power of the bigger ring. Today we did a lot of pulling: the FINIS paddles are so nice because they're just slightly larger than your hand but they force so much more work to happen. Swimming is finally (almost) as fun as biking and running.