Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Exploring Colorado

We have now been in our new home of Castle Rock, Colorado for 3 weeks. However we are still residents of the Best Western. This forces us to load up the crew and explore as much as possible in order to escape our hotel walls where the main "toy" is jumping on the beds. Our adventures just allow us to every single day fall more in love with Colorado, and we get more and more excited to get into our new house and build roots.

Running has not been what I expected. I was warned about the elevation adjustment but for some reason thought I would be exempt, or at least that I was in good enough shape to push through the so called "adjustment" period in a week or less. I have since learned that it has nothing to do with your level of fitness. You lose 3% oxygen with every 1000 feet you gain so my sea level lungs are burning with 18% less oxygen on every run. I find myself hyperventilating usually about 3 miles in, and can only complete my runs with lots of walk breaks (especially up the numerous hills I encounter on very trail). Each run I start thinking "this is the one where I am magically going to be able to breathe again" and it hasn't happened yet. However if I just slow my normal pace down (by 1 to 2 minutes per mile slower), I can focus on my breathing and complete the longer runs. I actually went to a group trail run last week and brought up the rear dead last on our 7 mile run...but the group was so encouraging, gave me lots of advice to help me through this time (which I know now can last from 6 months up to a year...EGATS!), and told me to come back. I also hooked up with an "instagram" friend and her trail dog (don't tell my dad-he hates that I am so vocal on social media and the internet) and had an amazing run with her in the Garden of the Gods. All in all, even with the hyperventilating, the views are amazing...words can't even express. I think I am going to like my running adventures here! 

The older 3 started school on August 13th.  So far they each seem to love their teachers, the school, and the friends they are making. All smiles every night as we complete homework across the hotel beds for desks. Anna has also started with a local dance company and quickly making friends there whereas Asher starts swim practice next week with The Rock USA swimming club. Jesse has decided he wants to take weekly swim classes to learn the butterfly and get better at his other strokes so he can be on swim team next year with Asher (yes! Could it really happen that we could get 2 kids in the same sport!!). He still really loves baseball but we can't seem to find a team for that until the spring.

Josie was not happy about the others going to school. She misses them lots during the day!

But we did sign her up for weekly dance lessons so she had something to call her own. Her face was glowing as she put on her leotard and dance shoes.

We spent this last Saturday at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado. Yes Bill, we have been to the Omaha Zoo but truly are in love with this place. We had so many up close encounters like no other zoo we have ever been to in the US. Come visit us and we will take you to this zoo! I can't even pick my favorite moment but this was one of them. We got to feed, pet, and kiss giraffes (yes this giraffe left me pretty slobbery).

 Our first moose sighting...I could not imagine seeing one of these in the wild.

We also got to pet a baby wallaby, see and elephant get a bath and pedicure, and watch this hippo (my absolute favorite animal) do water aerobics. 

The sky ride at the zoo.

Then we ended the day with a trip to the "Shrine of the Sun" at 8,000 feet elevation above the Zoo on Cheyenne Mountain. You could see this tower from the zoo and Josie kept pointing it out and calling it "Rapunzel's Tower". She was ecstatic to go see it and climb to the top.

We never did see Rapunzel but felt like you could see all of Colorado from here! We had such an absolutely perfect day.

Next weekend's adventure includes a trip to the Garden of the Gods (one of my new favorite running spots here and I can't wait to take the kids). I just know the kids are going to love climbing on all the amazing rock formations and exploring the hiking trails. Hopefully we won't find any rattle snakes! It is still a HUGE fear for me...every run I am scouring and jump at the littlest stick. But besides the snakes, Colorado you are perfect!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Bridger Ridge Run in Bozeman, Montana

Photo taken from winddrinkers.org/ridge-run

Catrina Clarke and I, both military wives, become running partners during our time in Dayton, Ohio. We bonded quickly over the miles. When you are training for marathons, you have lots of miles to really get to know someone! She become one of my best friends in a very short time. When the Air Forces separated our families, we made a pact to travel and run one race together every year-our one chance to see each other and use the miles to reconnect. Last year she traveled to me in Virginia so it was my turn to head to her in Montana. Somehow we found this race called "The Bridger Ridge Run". It is a 20 mile trail race that only 250 people run every year. Awesome! I had just started trail running this year so I was super excited about tackling what the website said "was once the toughest trail race in America". This is exactly what the website says...

"In 2012, Runner’s World Magazine named the Ridge Run one of its top 31 trail races in the country, giving it the title of “Most Raw Exposure.” In 2013, Outside Online named the Ridge Run one of its Top 10 Bucket List trail runs in the WORLD. The Ridge Run is 19.65 miles of brutal climbing and descending, complete with unstable footing, unpredictable weather, and, of course, miles of exposure along the ridge line of the Bridger Mountain range."

We had to write an essay to get in (and we did!). So we signed up! We watched videos of past races online, we read about it, but I still didn't know what I had gotten myself into until I stepped onto that mountain. My mom keeps asking how I didn't realize it...I mean just read the exerpt above! I don't know how I didn't realize it but I sure ate some pieces of humble pie at 9,000 feet elevation.

The course profile. The race starts at 7,000 feet elevation and ascends to 9,000 feet over the first 2 miles. Now that I have visited Colorado briefly and tried to run at 5,000 feet in the first week I know that running at elevation makes you feel like you are dying...literally running with a plastic bag over your head. I remained ignorant of the elevation until about a week before the race and started sweating over my VA sea level blood tackling this. I have only lived in Colorado for 2 days (not enough to acclimate!). But I was all in. And still even looking at this, I thought we would go 2 miles up, have a nice run along the ridge and then run back down. The evidence is right in front of me but I still didn't see it! Up, down, up, down, up down...yes I was blind. But at this point Catrina and I were in our hotel room, chatting away, already sleep deprived, excited about what we were going to see, and setting time goals (I laugh out loud about this now!!). 

After only a few hours of sleep thanks to angry man in room next to us yelling at his girlfriend on the phone all night, we hitchhiked with a girl we met the night before at an info meeting from the finish line to the start line which took an hour to drive to down this crazy bumpy dirt road (which was only 6 miles long)...yes everyone was hitchhiking! The start line was buzzing with excitement as the 5 different waves prepared to take off in 5 minute intervals.  The first wave were the true competitors. We were in wave 3 with a 6 hour time goal...again laughing out loud at that.

These are the switchbacks that you hit 1 mile into the run. There was a guy playing bagpipes with his dog howling away as we slowly made our way up. Again, I thought "we just have to hike up these and the hard part is over". I even thought that was the top...right there. Then we hit the top point that you see in this photo and kept going straight up for another half a mile or so. It took us almost 1 hour to get to the top of Sacajawea, the highest point of the ridge and the entire run. The elevation kept us at a slow and steady hike but we kept moving.

The view at the top of Sacajawea was breathtaking. I snapped some photos and selfies while catching my breath. I felt invigorated at this point (because the hard part was over, right?!) And who wouldn't be swept away by these views. We were literally on top of the world. By the way, we did run/hike that entire ridge line you see in this picture! After dropping down Sacajawea (sliding down along limestone shales) we did get to leave the ridge for about 2 miles and run through some beautiful forests. It felt amazing to actually run and stretch our legs at this point. We even laughed some and were sharing some stories with each other...you know reconnecting. We hit the 7 mile check point in a little over 2 hours feeling good. While guzzling some water, we overheard a girl going past saying "now the freaking hard part starts!". Catrina and I raised our eyebrows at each other...didn't we do that part already? Here is were the serious reality check came...we had about 3/4 of a mile of straight incline...using our hands to pull us up a lot of the time, sucking wind as the elevation climb depleted our oxygen. Along the top of the ridge, there were points were I was clinging to a rock as tall as me while skirting along the edge of another rock with my feet. (Sorry mom, I didn't plan on telling you about that part!). The views were amazing but if I lifted my eyes from my feet while in motion it caused some wobbling, and this isn't the place you wanted to lose your balance! Sometimes it even made you a little seasick as you were jogging but seeing the sky in your periphery. Catrina and I however did take every moment to stop (so we could breath) and capture pictures and take in the scenery. 

 Feeling strong

 The road behind

 The road ahead

 Another hill climb

 There were plenty of moments when I thought we would never finish (especially when we hit mile 10-halfway-in 4 hours and seeing that 6 hour time goal vanish), but there were plenty of moments that we smiled and laughed (like when Catrina ran into a tree while looking at her feet).

A rare moment of running (yes I will say we mostly hiked and power walked) and navigating the limestone shales).

The volunteers at the checkpoints were angels. They smiled, encourage, and allowed me to fill my pockets with gummy bears (my new go to on long trail runs!!). They took my pack off for me, filled it up, and helped me get it back on. They cheered. I wanted to hug them every single time. The camaraderie I built with other runners over the miles was also special. I chatted with Greg from Florida, who is fighting cancer and running this for the 4th time, and Juaquin from CA who kept us laughing, and the girl with the dangly pink earrings who can power walk like a champ, the girl from Michigan was dying along next to us, the guy from Nebraska, the guy from Minnesota, the girl who was doing this for the 8th time and wasn't feeling so hot (but still beat us), and the 80 year old man jogging by us smiling as he was running it for his 20th time. Of course I am wondering why these people keep signing up for this torture! At 14 miles (and 6 hours), my watch battery died and I grew somewhat panicky not truly knowing how many miles I had left. But we kept putting one foot in front of the other. As we topped the last peak (Baldy mountain), the volunteers cheered and said "it is all downhill from here!". I filled my pockets with gummy bears, took a deep breath, and began the 4 mile descent. It was like we were skiing. It was so steep that I would side slide down leaning on my left leg, then switch to side sliding down leaning on my right leg, and switch. We bounced off a few trees and with 1 mile left my legs began to shake uncontrollably. At the end, you reach a point where you have a choice whether to take the steep .55 trail to the left, or the 1.5 gradual trail to the right. You look straight down below you and see the finish line, you hear the cowbells, and you want to be off that mountain. We chose the steep trail and began side sliding to the finish line.

We crossed the finish line at 7 hours and 45 minutes, 2 hours after our time goal, only 20 runners behind us, and over 4 hours behind the winners! Yes someone actually ran that thing in 3 hours and 28 minutes. But I have never been more proud to finish anything. It was truly the hardest thing I have ever done in my whole life. As I crossed the finish line, I looked to my left at the guy ringing the cowbell and reached for him as my legs gave out and I collapsed. He graciously carried me to this bench as I cried (yes I CRIED). I was so happy to be finished and just could not believe what I had just done. I sat on this bench for quite awhile answering the texts from my mother who I think believed I may have died and my darling husband caring for our 4 kids back at a hotel room in Colorado. And watched others rejoicing as they finished climbing their mountains. 

So was it fun? People keep asking me that. Fun just isn't the word to describe it. Not many words can. It was the adventure of a lifetime. I don't regret one single step and will always cherish these moments I got to share with my dear friend. I am strong. I can do anything. I see that now more clearly than ever. Will I do it again? Catrina and I laughed about those crazies as we hobbled around the next day. 5 days later, I still can't walk right and scream anytime one of my kids bumps into my legs. I am not sure how long it will take to recover from this and I am anxious to sign up for my next race. But as I write this recap and talk it over with Joel (who wants to do it now), I think yes, I could see myself doing it again. I just might be one of those crazies.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Road to Colorado

We took 8 days to travel cross country from Northern VA to Denver, CO. You might say we took the "long way" as we first went to West Virginia to visit my parents (and drop our dog off for a temporary stay), then went to Minnesota to visit Joel's parents, on to Omaha to visit Joel's grandmother and finally landed in Colorado. Our longest day was an 18 hour drive from West Virginia to Minnesota. I had planned on a hotel stay during that journey but my husband convinced me to push on and we made it! The kids did much better than I expected on all days! But all were happy to unload in our final hotel room knowing we do not have to load up again until we go to our new house!

Breakfast with my Mom in West Virginia before we began our 18 hour driving day. It was very very hard to say this goodbye. Being a military family, we go through times were we are far far away from family and times when we are close. For 4 years now, we have lived within easy driving distance to my parents. We usually see them once a month or every other month. It is heart breaking to go so far from them again. Thank you Mom and Dad for always being there for us at the drop of the hat when we needed you!

A quick stop in Ohio to visit with my lifelong friend Hillery Gaiser. We have been friends since we were 7 and have never lived in the same place or gone to the same school! It was great encouragement to my kids who are missing their VA friends to know that these lifelong friendships do exist!

The 18 hour day was super hard but it was true joy to wake up to Grandma and Grandpa Thorson and Great Grandma Fox in the morning! We had never visited them in their Cottage Grove, Minnesota home so it was very special to see their new digs and visit the Hope Community church were Larry pastors. It was also very nostalgic for Joel who lived for some time in the Twin Cities area during his childhood and teenage years.

 The Rock Island Swing Bridge in Inver Grove, MN was so beautiful and offered amazing views of the Mississippi River.

I even got a chance to run underneath it during one of my long runs on the Mississippi River Regional Trail. Even during a road trip, running is included! I am in my tapers weeks preparing for my 20 mile trail race in Bozeman, Montana on August 9th! It was wonderful getting a chance to run in different places and see different scenery. It always makes running feel brand new and invigorating. Running along the Mississippi River was such a beautiful blessing.

The grandparents took us to Valley Fair for a day! We will never say no to more roller coasters! Well, Anna will...lol. The younger 3 rode lots and lots of spiny rides. Us adults could handle all the roller coasters but had to draw straws every time it came to the spiny rides.

Larry paid for 30 rings in the ring toss preparing to let all the kids get a chance to win. However with 1 toss, his first ring went on and he won this! Josie was the happiest 3 year old in the world. I have always wanted to be one of those people carrying a giant stuffed animal around an amusement park. It totally rocked!

Asher of course rode every ride in the park (and some 2 or 3 times as there were no lines). Grandma Thorson rode the majority of them with him too (see her shivering in the back row next to Joel and Jesse)...but Asher always in the front!

Jesse lost his 3rd tooth in 2 weeks during our Minnesota stay. He was very concerned about the tooth fairy finding him there, but she (I mean he) managed to make it!

Onward to Colorado! It was tough finding space for our new pet in the car but Josie would not let us leave it behind.

And we made it 8 days later! 

We are so happy to be here...still in a state of disbelief. The kids start school on August 13, so we have escaped the hotel walls by back to school shopping and exploring. There are going to be lots of adjustments! School hours are 9am-4am as opposed to 7:30-2:30...when do they do homework? And you have to pay 50 cents each way per child to ride the school bus...that is $3 a day! The mountain views never get old but we are all going through elevation acclimation (me with my running more than the others). I will keep you posted on how long that takes! Not sure how I feel about a running trail that says "Beware of cliffs and rattle snakes"...might stick to the hotel treadmill for a little bit! We close on our new house on September 9th (yes, that equals 5 weeks in a hotel) and Joel starts his new job on September 15. This limbo phase is going to last awhile, but the party has started!