Monday, October 26, 2015

A Family Reunion

Fall has arrived! The kids are in full swing at school and activities, and we have found our rhythm. The temperatures change, leaves fall, and fall break hits and throws the routine off. I am sure those with kids know exactly what I am talking about. Well we tackled this by escaping to Nebraska for a Thorson family reunion. The Thorson side of the family has members all over the world (literally...Hong Kong and Australia) and we were all ecstatic to get together for the first time in 2 years. The last time we were together was in Mexico for my sister-in-law's amazing destination wedding.

August 2013

Now 2 more kids have been added to the picture! What a blessing to play with my gorgeous nephews and hear those baby giggles. My kids loved making Walt and Ellis laugh.

The Thorson grandkids all together

We all had an amazing 5 days together reconnecting and getting to know the new dynamics of our lives. Thank you Larry and Leslie for making it possible for us all to have this time together!!

The great grandmas were also in the house! Great Grandma Fox is turning 80 and Great Grandma Thorson just turned 90! Yes that means we ate lots of cake celebrating these amazing ladies and their legacies. I hope I look this good when I am their age!! and what a blessing to have women to be a part of our kids' lives. Happy Birthday Deloris and Eleanor! Thank you for the wonderful example the both of you are as Godly and loving women.

Joel's dad (Grandpa Larry) treated Joel and my boys to a Nebraska Cornhuskers football game. Words can not even explain the level of Cornhusker fandom that runs in this family. This was truly a special moment!! My boys still chant "Go Big Red" in the car and talk about all the details at Lincoln Stadium.

We also had a fun fall day at Valas Pumpkin Patch conquering the corn maze, shooting apple canyons, racing pedal cars, and having good old fashioned fun. It was so hard to leave everyone and go back to real life. We can't wait to be together again!

Running in Nebraska was a treat to my lungs. This was the first time we have left Colorado since moving just over a year ago. And wow, it is much easier to run with no elevation! Joel even joined me on all my runs and even he was amazed (he actually went 8 miles with me-I thought I had killed him but he did great!). 

I am still in recovery mode after the 50K and trying to heal up some aches and pains before going into my next training cycle. Also trying to heal up my broken heart as I found out that I did not make it into the Boston Marathon. Although I received a Boston qualifying time in May, my time was not fast enough to make the 2016 cut off of 2:28 under the qualifying standard. Yes, this was devastating for me and I have had my pity party. I cried, a lot actually, and rethought through every detail of how I could have shaved off time in my last marathon. But I can't go back...only forward. And forward I will go as I fight for another qualifying time this year and a spot in the Boston Marathon 2017. I am officially registered for Grandma's Marathon in June 2016 and training begins in November! Not giving up.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Becoming an Ultra Runner

I set 3 goals for myself in 2015 at the New Year: 1) To BQ (Boston qualify), 2) to run my first 50k and become an ultra runner, and 3) to run 2015 miles in 2015 (only 300 left to go!). I have posted before about The Colorado Marathon and achieving my BQ time in the next step was zeroing 0n my first ultra. Even though it is only 5 more miles than a marathon-training is quite different as you are focused more on time on your feet rather than specific mileage. With trail ultras you are running much slower than you are on a road. So in June training began, and I entered into a world unknown to me. I received help and advice from many friends but a lot of it comes down to experimenting-what shoes feel the best, what to expect of yourself on a trail for hours, what nutrition works for you. Long training runs for a marathon are replaced with "sandwich" long runs, which are back to back long runs to get yourself acclimated to running on tired legs. Peak training week brought me to 74 miles (a record for me!) with my back to back long runs being 24 and 18 miles. The weeks and days went by and I found myself toeing the line on September 26 at The Bear Chase Trail Race in Lakewood, CO.

I have been blessed to get to know the race directors of this particular race, Ben Reeves and David Manthey, as they are regulars at my weekly run club. Ben has been a constant voice of encouragement throughout the months of training. There was added joy going to a race where I had many friends participating in different distances. Familiar faces are always nice! The Bear Chase has 3 ultra distances (50K, 50 miles, and 100K), a half marathon, and a 10K-something for everyone! It is a loop course run through the beautiful Bear Creek Lake Park with views of Denver and the mountains.

Photo credit @melissa.raguet on Instagram

Race Day Sunrise
Photo credit The Bear Chase Trail Race on Facebook

The 100k and 50 miler started first at 6:30am. I got to chill with my sweet friend Malia over the next hour after we cheered her husband and other good friends on at the start.

Then Malia and I set off at 7:30am.

 I knew it was going to be a hot day and was unsure how my body was going to respond, so my strategy was just to go at the pace I knew I could sustain for as long as I could and hope for the best! I did have an A, B, and C time goal but ultimately it was just about finishing. My first 16 miles went great! I felt great, was right at a sweet spot with my pace looking at a 5:00-5:15 finish, and I was having fun chatting with other runners and enjoying the views.

I slowly became aware of something shifting though...I was getting hot, very hot, and it became hard around mile 18. But it's an ultra, right?! It supposed to be hard! Or that's what I told myself. I came through the checkpoint (mile 18.5) to my husband and kids ringing cowbells and cheering.  This is where I have to take a break in my story and post some adorable kid pictures. As usual my husband corals the children. Bear Creek Lake Park was a great place for them to explore and fish and get dirty without the worries of driving to different locations, or dealing with cars or crowds.

But coming across them at this point, all I could think about was how hot it was. My sweet Anna grabbed a bandana and dunked it in ice water for me to wrap around my head, and onward I went on my last loop still hoping for a 5:15-5:30 finish. I had a fall around mile 20. Parts of the trail were very sandy and a hidden rock tripped me. No broken skin thankfully! Just some bumps and bruises, and dirt covering me from head to toe.

The 7 (YES 7!) waster crossing felt amazing in that heat. I was trying to look all tough for the photographer but I think I just look like a big dork.

Mile 24 was my breaking point. The bottom of my feet were hurting unbelievably bad (wrong choice of shoes?), and I was so hot. There were aid stations about every 3 miles and each time wonderful volunteers filled my bandana with ice that I kept wrapped around my head. I knew I was dehydrated but could not figure out what exactly my body needed. I had been drinking and taking calories so much that everything just seems to be sloshing around my stomach. My stomach was cramping and I had more than my share of bathroom stops over the last 12 miles. At the mile 24 aid station all the volunteers were asking "what can we give you?" and I just started crying because I didn't know! I could feel the sobs swelling in my chest and then Malia's husband Steve (doing the 100K) taps me on the shoulder "I caught you!". I quickly wiped the tears away because I didn't want him to see my crying, and then we shared some miserable miles together. We tried to chat about life in general but kept coming back to the misery of "sucking it up" and pressing forward even when things aren't going the way you planned.

Steve and I...misery loves company!

Steve is a seasoned ultra runner and I learned a lot from him over the miles (and he kept me going). The lsat 3 miles I joined up with runner who I had been leap frogging the whole time...well joined up is the wrong word. I clung to her. I fell in right behind and her and stared at her feet the entire 3 miles. She says I kept her going too, and we crossed the finish line nearly together.

5:50.41-I was an ultrarunner! The joy I felt on the inside is written all over Asher's face as he ran across the finish line with me. It was not A, B, or C goal but I did it...8th in my age group, 16th female overall, 42nd to cross finish line.

It was amazing to have so many at the finish line to share in my accomplishment. My amazing saint of husband (who dealt with the kids catching dead fish in their water bottles), my kids, Joel's Aunt and Uncle who took time out of their vacation to be at the finish, and many running friends including the race directors who were the first to surround me the second I crossed. Joel even said "I couldn't' get to you because there were so many people!". I felt like a rock star. After I shared a little bit of my disappointment in performance with Ben, he said "#1 A goal should always be to finish Mary". Those words have stuck with me. Every race is different. Every race teaches you more about yourself-physcially and emotionally. Not every race goes your way. and Not every race is finished. But thankfully this one was and I can honestly say that I have more ultras in my future.

Malia came in 1st in her age group and 5th woman overall!
She is my rabbit.

I had always had respect for ultra runners, but my admiration for them has truly deepened. It isn't about who is the fastest, who trained the hardest, and who is the best prepared. It comes down to sheer will and perseverance. I watched 2 friends finish their 50 miles in that heat...both utterly beat down and destroyed, not reaching their time goals, but still giving it everything they had. And Steve completed that 100K in 14 hours and 38 minutes...22 minutes under the cut off, being the last one to cross. He was hurting. It wasn't his best day. But by golly he was smiling when he finished. It is seeing those examples that make me realize that we all have that inside of us...and can find it if we are willing to go to that icky miserable place and be at peace with it.

As far as ultras go, I HIGHLY recommend The Bear Chase Trail Race. The loop course makes it wonderful for families and spectators to see you and also hang in a care free environment. Plus you don't have to carry so much because of access to your drop area. The volunteers were nothing short of amazing, hurrying to meet every runners needs in any way they could. It was well organized and went off without a hitch. The course is beautiful (and I am told relatively flat and fast as far as ultras go...but I am not so sure about that). However I am sure I will be back again. But dear Lord, can you please provide cooler weather?!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Pikes Peak Ascent

I am finally taking the time to sit down and recap my 13.34 miles up Pikes Peak Mountain. This race is one that has been on my bucket list for a few years. I never really thought it was possible until we moved to Colorado-and then it became an actual reality. I can see Pikes Peak from my house and from day one here, I couldn't wait to sign up for this one. As I began 50K training, it only seemed logical to throw it in there as part of my "training". I quickly learned that it doesn't really work that way as the race starts at 6345 feet and ends at 1411 feet and looks like this...

I was doing great with the 50K training, but as the weeks and days drew closer to Pikes Peak day, GULP was all I could think. Nothing really adequately trains you for ascending a 14'er except running, training, and climbing 14'ers (which lets just be honest, I hadn't been doing!).  I originally had a time goal of 4 hours, but truly the whole thing started causing a lot of anxiety, and I daily had to to just tell myself "you can and will get to the top". Time just didn't matter anymore as I knew I hadn't trained properly. Either way, I was crossing this one off my bucket list; because as life generally goes, race day came whether I liked it or not.

Many advised me to just carry a handheld up the mountain, but I decided to go with my Ultimate Direction Vest and use this experience to practice fueling for my upcoming 50K. I lined up at 7:30am on August 15 (after 2 majorly long waits at the port a potty) as the gun went off and waves started in 1 minute increments. I was in wave 14 (with the bib number 1492...hey I discovered America!). 

There I go in my usual neon yellow outfit!

The first mile is through the historic own of Manitou Springs, which has unbelievable character! Many locals were out cheering with their cowbells. My goal was to run (slowly) this mile as I knew there wouldn't be much running the rest of the day. I kept a 10 minute mile pace as even this part was deceptively uphill. I passed a woman power walking like a champ (and gave myself a little pat on the back).  Then I hit Barr Trail and the hiking portion began. I hiked as fast as I could make my legs go-I had heard that the beginning and the end were the hardest (and steepest) part of the race, so I just wanted to keep a good brisk pace. I feel into a pack, and we stayed together as we wound our way through a portion called "the W's". It was special getting to know the others around me. A few who were coming back for their 3rd or 4th times, first timers like me, some from Kansas and Texas. My thoughts: "surely I can beat those who aren't used to the elevation" and "people keep coming back?! at least I can plead ignorance this time." "Holy cow, the speed walker is passing me!" Yes all thoughts that would come back to humble me in so many ways. We reached a beautiful wooded section around mile 5-7 that actually had runnable portions. It felt good to stretch my legs a bit, and I passed the speed walker again (another pat on the back). 

At 7.5 miles, you hit Bar Camp, where the most amazing aid station was set up with plenty of food, candy, water, gatorade. All the volunteers along this race were uplifting, cheering for every runner by name (names were on our bids...but still it was a nice touch). I took a moment here to guzzle some gatorade and eat a couple mouthfuls of grapes. I am not sure why but I could not pass those grapes up. Imagine a child with a mouth stuffed full of marshmallows...yes, that is what I looked like. I then gathered my wits and pushed on. This is also the point that you start hearing the announcer at the finish line (a cruel effect of the mountain I guess). I was also starting to fade a bit. I noticed my speed walk was slowing and my "gang" was pushing on without me. The speed walker cruised by me again. How is she doing that?! "You just dig in honey" she told me. And it kills me to admit this but I never saw her again...meaning she beat me. Yes, an older woman speed walking the entire race beat me up that mountain. So did a few of those out of towers who weren't acclimated to elevation. This is the point where I had to take one mile at time. If I had my phone, I "might" have called my husband and cried a bit. It got hot...and I mean really hot. My back started hurting and I got a headache (elevation maybe? Not sure). The last 3 miles were brutal. I kind of fell into this assembly line of people shuffling up the mountain but I took the time to snap a few pictures once we got above tree line.

 Looking back on where I came from...3 miles left to go.

The patch of snow at the tippy top is right near the finish line. It looks a lot closer than it actually is!

 Meanwhile I had this waiting for me at the finish line! I am so blessed to have this crew behind me every step of the way.

The last 1-2 miles is so steep that yes, that far out, I could see my family teetering on the edge of the rocks and hear their cheers carrying down to me. It is truly what kept me going!

Here I come into the finish line! It was really just a conga line the last 2 miles. There were times that I would have liked to gone a bit faster but it wasn't worth falling over an edge trying to get around others. And even if I could pass 1 person, there were 19 more ahead of them. At one point someone said "It's like we are on the Walking Dead" and it made me laugh hysterically...because it was so true!!

Joel's view of the finish...runners trucking up and spectators all around. The yellow sign is the finish.

I made it to the top in 5 hours 1 minute and 35 seconds. Not at all what I originally set out to do but nothing that I am ashamed of! It was great to see friends at the start, along the way, and at the finish.

I am so happy to check this one off the bucket list-plus I got a sweet finisher's jacket and another amazing adventure. (and I will admit I have a little burning flame that might push me to do the marathon some day). However I do plan to train much differently next time around (and perfect the art of speed walking because that lady was amazing!!!).

Friday, August 14, 2015

Chase the Rainbow

This past year I have had the awesome opportunity of being an ambassador for Ragnar Road Relay Series for their race in Colorado. It is has been so fun meeting other people who love this series as much as me, and together sharing our Ragnar love! Of course this position ends with the actual race which was this past weekend. I had never run the road relay in Colorado since we had just moved to here last I had the ultimate goal of running both the Ragnar Trail and Road Relays in Colorado (bonus-you get a special double medal!). I have posted on here previously about my trail experience which was in June, and up until this point I have to admit that I liked the trail relay just a smidgen more than the road. However something amazing happened over 200 miles with 12 mostly strangers that has now swayed me towards piling 12 people into 2 vans over 2 days again and again.

I made the decision to captain a team early this year, which comes with the pressure of finding 12 people. My Dad may never forgive but I found my 1st 3 members on instagram! They were from PA and within a few weeks of talking and planning they had their tickets bought to Denver. The other team members fell into place quickly after that...another ambassador, a friend of a friend, the husband of a friend, a Saucony rep and his wife that I met once at work, a run club buddy, another friend of a friend, and HOLD THE husband!!! That's right folks...Joel got tired of me repeating all my amazing stories (that are never as funny when you try to repeat them) and decided to see for himself what all this hype is about. So 12 mostly strangers piled into 2 rental suburbans and headed to Copper Mountain to start our 200 mile relay adventure.

It all begins with decorating your "vans". Well I guess it really starts with a team name. We picked "Chase the Rainbow" going with the skittle theme. Ragnar isn't about how fast your team can go-its about the adventure and fun (their tag line is "Find your Inner Wild"). Costumes are usually involved and it is quite hilarious to see what other teams come up with in clothing and van decorating.

This might be one of the only times you will ever see me wear a tutu! Oh what one does under pressure! Our girls had a lot of fun trying to take this picture at the start line. The guys gave up after awhile and left us to it. Teams are assigned staggered start times based on their projected finishing times, and we got slotted with a 10am start. Teams started as early as 5:30am and the last group left at 11am. (this means Ragnar thought we were fast but we were slightly concerned). Amy in the orange tutu was runner 1 and started our team off with a jump and a smile right at 10am.

From the start line, teams travel in their 2 "vans". Van 1 consists of the first 6 runners and once each runner has completed 1 leg relay style, van 2 takes over so van 1 can rest and eat, and then the process is repeated 2 more times until every runner has completed 3 running legs.

Along the way, teams will "tag" other vans when their occupants aren't looking with stickers or magnets so by the end you have quite a collection. Here our runner Janelle is putting a bag of skittles (our token tag) in the skeleton's mouth of team "Motley Shues".

The Colorado Road Relay had the highest elevation for Ragnar ever marked at an exchange! It was at 10, 660 feet. This is where I got to kick off my first leg after our runner Jen climbed pretty much straight up for 4 miles. I am decked out in my night gear because, yes you run through the go until your team finishes the course. You sleep (or try to sleep) in token "rest stops" set up by Ragnar at local gyms or high schools. Some sleep in their vans. Most teams run on only a couple of hours of sleep (if even 1!).
At the end of each leg, runners check off the box! You also mark your "road kill" or how many runners you passed on your leg. This might be where competitive Mary came out (just a little). Our whole entire first set of legs in Van 2 (my van), we were at the back of the pack. Exchanges were being tore down behind us and volunteers were leaving. For about 2-3 legs, we were the last team on the course. Then slowly but surely we started racking up the road kill.

Colorado offered up some of the most amazing scenery I have ever seen. It was absolutely breath taking.

 And then the costumes come out at the finish line. Our intention was to be a pack of skittles but we did get mistaken for teletubbies a few times. Oh well, we had a blast either way! Mike (our last runner) led us to the finish after taking in 27 kills in his last leg alone!

See-we look like a rainbow coming down the mountain!!! It was a fabulous finish.

 "Together we ran 200 miles"

Then it was just time to party together and belly laugh over all our adventures.

We ended up 28th out of a 161 teams and placed 1st in our division!

And there you have it folks...12 mostly strangers now best friends. It was so sad to part at the end of the weekend. Then good news: we won a free entry into Ragnar Las Vegas and are already planning our trip in November. Skittles reunite!!

And some of you may be wondering what Joel's final thoughts were on this crazy adventure. After his first leg (which was 7 miles in the dark-I was super worried he was going to hate me), he hopped in the van, looked at me and said "This. Is. Fun!". We are now laughing together at all the inside jokes and he literally can't wait till Vegas. I have found a race he actually likes!!!!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Sweeter with Age

Joel and I are now another year older. On July 9th and July 10th we turned 36.

As the years have gone by, and are age has slowly ticked upward I have realized that life has only gotten better. I am stronger, healthier, and happier than I was in my 20s and we truly have so much to be thankful for. We had a wonderful time celebrating. Joel totally stepped up his game this year as I found 1 present hiding somewhere everyday of the week of my birthday. Then he surprised me on my birthday with tickets to the Cirque De Soleil Kurios.

There was a brief moment where I felt totally guilty that we hadn't brought the kids as it was so magical and fantastic! But of course the moment did pass.

 The kids and I designed a scavenger hunt on Joel's birthday with the big present in the end being a family night at a Colorado Rockies Game.

The Rockies lost (very sad) but I learned about rally caps! Yup, I really didn't know this was a thing.

Running is another thing that gets sweeter with age. I learn something new about myself with every race and every step. I never even dreamed of attempting a 50K a year ago and I'm now halfway through my training. July has been a huge month of preparation as Joel and I are running Ragnar Relay Colorado this weekend, then I have the Pikes Peak Ascent next weekend, and the big 50K in September.

Thank you Lord for another amazing year. One that brought us home ownership, a new state that we love, health so that we can get out there and enjoy it, new family members, and everyday joys that are too many to list.