Sunday, April 26, 2015

Boston Marathon - 26.2 Miles of grit and brief flashes of runner's high

Once upon a time, in a small town called Hopkinton, 26 miles southwest of Boston, a 5-foot Asian chick waited with 27,000 other runners at the Boston Marathon starting line.


OK, I'm not that geeky. I just stuck that opening bit in there because Bart requested that I begin this blog with "Once upon a time." Small things make him happy.

Happy to get to the starting line healthy, ready, and excited! 
More than a year earlier, I had qualified for Boston at the Rock n' Roll Marathon in DC. Time to ramp up the miles on this girl's legs again!

My twin sister Phebe, a 2-time Olympic Trials Marathon qualifier, coached me through one of the worst winters for spring marathon training. Thanks to her, I got in a few track workouts, intervals in the snow, and long Sunday runs! Two days before the marathon, I arrived in Boston feeling antsy, nervous, and full of restless energy - just the way an endurance athlete should feel after a week of taper!

Pre-race Dinner: Whole wheat spaghetti, homemade pasta sauce, and ciabatta bread. Ice cream with warm cookies. nomnom.

Race Morning: Bagel with butter and a bowl of oatmeal. Two cups of coffee followed by a morning dump - always a relief to get it out of the system! Took in Osmo Pre-load just before we left for race start.

Race Start: Boston is extremely well-organized...they've got to be, since this was the 119th anniversary! Everything went smoothly with no pre-race hiccups, and I waited at the starting corrals with my mom, Phebe, and Bart.

Cold enough that I wore a down jacket to the start!

Trying to keep warm with the family!

About to head to the start line!

Did some dynamic stretches, then it was time to shed the layers and meet my fellow runners!

Miles 1-7: Just an extended warm-up for a long run
Easy pace, pretty much settled into a good rhythm. 7:45 miles. Took the advice of so many veteran Boston marathoners and didn't let myself get too excited at the initial descent.
Rain started to sprinkle, but it cooled me down and felt refreshing. Thankful that temps weren't blazing, although I wasn't exactly appreciative of the headwind. Found a few taller gentlemen and tucked in nicely behind them - thanks for the wind block, dudes!
Took in a Clif Shotblock at Mile 6.

Miles 8-12: My Happy Miles (before the pain cave)
Clipped along at a decent 7:40 pace. Legs loosened up and felt better as the elevation evened out. A few decent short and steep hill pitches gave my hamstrings a good wake-up call, and I continued to focus on not letting my hips drop.

Just before mile 12, I heard screams from a few hundred feet down the road. Soon, I was surrounded by screaming college girls from Wellesley holding signs that read "Kiss me, I'm easier than a marathon!" Talk about some motivation! I heard "Go, SNAPPLE!", waved an acknowledgement, and picked up the pace.

Popped another Clif Shotblock at mile 10.

Altitude Chart for the Boston Marathon

Miles 13-16: Bonding with my fellow runners 
By now, the runners had spread out quite a bit, and I found my niche with a few fellow runners, one of them an amazing 70-year old gramps who took 1 long gait for every 2 quick steps of mine! 

Hit the half-marathon mark at 1:41:00 and was pleasantly surprised that I was clocking in a bit faster than I had planned for. 
Wait - faster. Panic set in. 
Was I going too fast? Would I fall apart at mile 24? Shit, Phebe and Bart had warned me to hold back for the front half, because the last 13 miles of Boston is where people inevitably fall apart - hills and fatigue are nobody's friend. 
I berated myself for over-analyzing. Just focus on the last 13 miles, I told myself. Save your legs for Heartbreak Hill and conquer this bitch of a course. 

Clif Shotblock at mile 14. 

Miles 17-19: Deep in the Pain Cave 
Slowed down considerably to an 8:00 pace as fatigue set in and the hills caused my hip flexors to scream yelps of agony. I focused my mental energy on the upcoming Heartbreak Hill at mile 20...I had to take my mind off my slowing pace! 

Took a Shotblock at mile 17. 

My only action shot!
Miles 20 and 21: Heartbreak Hill - the dread, the climb, the aftermath 
The crowds thickened at the base of Heartbreak Hill, and my mom, Phebe, and Bart later told me that they were screaming on the sidelines, cheering me up the dreaded hill that everyone had warned me about. I was so tired that I didn't even hear or see them! 

Well, my training runs with teammate Steph Lundeby in the hilly neighborhoods of Arlington and Alexandria prepped me perfectly for Heartbreak Hill. I trotted along at an easy pace, keeping my eyes glued to the feet of the runner in front of me. Soon, I heard cheers from the sidelines: "You MADE IT! That's the LAST HILL!" 

That was it? That was Heartbreak Hill? Yeeaaaahhhhhh!!!! Time to crush the rest of this run. I told myself that with only 5 miles left, I could surely push through 40 minutes of pain in my hip flexors and quads.

Clif gel at mile 20. 

Found Finley at mile 23 and the finish!
Miles 22-24: SHUT UP, LEGS! 
At mile 22, I reached the point where I thought about slowing the pace down...wouldn't walking for just 10 steps feel so nice? If I could just stop, and stretch out a bit, maybe even hop into one one of the medical tents and warm myself up...

At mile 23, I told myself that this was just a 5K on tired legs. I took in my last Clif Shotblock and locked in on a tall dude in a red jersey who I'd been running alongside for the last few miles. His gait looked strong, so I forced myself to stick with him for as long as I could. 

Mile 24 rolled around, and I could feel that my hips were dropping with each step. No bueno! Even hips, even hips, Mindy. I've learned that if I focus on my form and think of what I'm going to demolish post-race (for Boston - CANNOLIS!), it's my best bet to ignoring the pain and cruising forward.

Mile 25: I don't want this to ever end! Can't I stay in this moment forever??? 
The party was pumping. I felt like a local celebrity. Months of tough training had boiled down to these last few miles, and I was loving every agonizing step! Yeah, a few tears were shed.

Mile 26: Beat the clock, beat the clock, beat the...JUST FINISH ALREADY!
I knew I could break 3:25. It was gonna be close, and I tried to pick up the pace. My Garmin later showed that my last mile was actually quite a bit slower than the previous mile, but I felt like I was sprinting towards Boylston! I didn't quite break 3:25, but happy with the PR!

Relieved to be done! 
Mile 26.2: Seizing quads and chattering teeth 

Relief! I ran into teammate Maggi Finley at the finish line, and we shivered our way through the crowd. Congrats to Maggi for braving through the cold temps! 

I found my sister and Bart at the finish line, then we rushed on over to Mike's Pastries for some cannolis and a lobster claw! 

Shivering even with my space blanket. 

A box full of CALORIES

Hello, doesn't this space blanket look like the next fashion fad? 
Congrats to everyone else who ran the race! Teammate and friend Steph Lundeby deserves a tenacity shout-out...she hit the med tent at Mile 17 with hypothermia, and somehow still managed to finish the race! I'm more in awe of her determination to cross the finish line a third time at Boston than anyone's PR!

Thanks to my wonderful team and sponsors! The Snapple Tri Team has been such a wonderful network of friends, teammates, and training partners for the past 4+ years! 

Mile splits below. 

Mile 1 7:51
Mile 2 7:40
Mile 3 7:44
Mile 4 7:27
Mile 5 7:51
Mile 6 7:33
Mile 7 7:37
Mile 8 7:38
Mile 9 7:36
Mile 10 7:40
Mile 11 7:42
Mile 12 7:34
Mile 13 7:39
Mile 14 7:36
Mile 15 7:42
Mile 16 7:34
Mile 17 8:00
Mile 18 8:04
Mile 19 7:56
Mile 20 8:12
Mile 21 8:35
Mile 22 7:58
Mile 23 7:53
Mile 24 7:51
Mile 25 7:32
Mile 26 7:50
26.2 3:25:10

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Trekking through the Alps (and a few days of Italian wine revelry)!

I'm a bit obsessed with hiking and mountains - I guess growing up in the Rockies will do that to you! Anytime someone suggests a vacation, I don't think of sunny beaches or sandy resorts; I imagine high-altitude peaks all to myself with my trusty red backpack that has gathered dust from the Himalayas, the Cordillera Blanca, and the deserts of Jordan.

Bart only had two stipulations for our August vacation:
1. somewhere international (nixed my suggestion for Glacier National Park);
2. somewhere that had significantly cooler summers than DC (nixed my suggestion for Peru).

The Alps were an easy choice after I saw Google images of crampons and ice axes making their way up Mont Blanc and discovered a trek that went from the French to the Swiss Alps - the Haute Route. It was a 190-km journey, recommended to complete in 12-14 days, and had mountain huts, cabins, or refugios along the entire way...Switzerland, here we come!

The great thing about having Bart as a travel partner is that he's game for anything: I tell him the itinerary, he says, "OK." I tell him the route we're doing, how many kilometers we're walking each day, where we're sleeping, and he says, "OK, but you have to walk fast and keep up with me." The only thing he demanded was that we spend at least 2 days in wine country after the trek. Easy enough to tag on Piedmont, Italy after our hike!

The only downside to our vacation was the flight I chose; I had to wait until Bart's work schedule was settled, so I ended up booking RT tickets to Geneva on Aeroflot. Both out-bound and return itineraries had layovers in Moscow. Look at a map and tell I'm not a genius when it comes to mapping out flight itineraries; but it ended up saving me $2200 in plane tickets, so hey, you get what you pay for!

La Premiere Partie: "Stuck" in Chamonix, France
Well, Aeroflot lost our luggage, so we spent our first 48 hours waiting in Chamonix, France. Not a bad place to get stuck! Chamonix is at the foot of Mont Blanc, and I scrounged through our hostel's lost-and-found to uncover some jewels: the next few days, I lived in men's running tights that were 5 sizes too big, an oversized Gap hoodie, and a wool scarf! The best reason to be in Chamonix is Mont Blanc - pics galore below!

Following the ridge to base camp of Mont Blanc

Couldn't get enough! 

The valley shrouded in clouds below us...

I could stare at this forever! 

Peaks after peaks after peaks...

Freezing at the base of Mont Blanc

Receding glaciers 

One last long look before we took off for scree...

La Viande du Voyage: The Haute Route
Once our luggage miraculously appeared on our hostel's doorstep, we immediately sorted through our hiking gear and set off for the Haute Route. Each day took us over a pass (or two, or three) - which is essentially a hiker's route through a mountain range or over a ridge.

For nerds like me who love Excel, our route is detailed below (and in the link). If you're looking to replicate our route, I'd recommend the following changes:
  • Day 4 - take Col Termin route, which avoids Col de la Chaux. Col de la Chaux was extremely difficult to ascend and descend; wouldn't be surprised to learn if there had been a rockslide earlier this year! 
  • Break Day 6 up into 2 days, sleeping at either Cabane de Moiry or Barrage de Moiry. 
  • If you're pressed for time, cut a day out by taking the train from St Niklaus to Zermatt on the last day - you won't miss any sights, and you're skipping out on the part of the trail that essentially runs parallel to the train tracks anyways. 

Chamonix-Argentiere-Col de Balme-Trient
21 km
8.5 hrs
Easy; shares route with the Tour of Mont Blanc
Trient-Fenetre d'Arpette-Champex
14 km
8.5 hrs
Pass is difficult; first glimpse of awesome glaciers. Champex is about 45 min from Champex-Arpette (stopped for a snack)
Champex-Sembrancher-Le Chable-Clambin-Verbier-Cabane du Mont Fort
11.5 hrs
One of more pleasant days; saw where the Tour de France climbed Verbier; Cabane du Mont Fort had some delicious spaghetti (and 4-Euro showers)
Cabane du Mont Fort-Col de la Chaux--Col de Louvie-Col de Prafleuri-Cabane de Prafleuri-Lac des Dix
15 km
8 hrs
missed turn for Col de la Chaux and went up Col des Gentianes, adding ~3km to the day. Col de la Chaux NOT recommended; difficult pass, especially in areas with ice. Lots of loose screw, vertical climb on ice. Cabane de Prafleuri does not accept CCs and turned us away; had to hike another hour to an ugly hotel at bottom of Lac des Dix, which turned out to have an amazing dinner and hot showers!
Lac des Dix-Col de Riedmatten-Arolla-Lac Bleu-Les Hauderes
22 km
8.5 hrs
Chose Col de Riedmatten route because Pas de Chevres has three vertical ladders that are dangerously close to rock face. Happy we chose this route; had ropes and chains to aid us in climbing the loose areas. Les Hauderes was one of our more favorite villages to stay in. Tried raclette (essentially mounds of steamed potatoes with even more mounds of melted cheese) for dinner. Had a fantastic bakery for morning bites!
Les Hauderes-La Sage-Col du Tsate-Glacier de Moiry-Barrage de Moiry-Col de Sorebois-Zinal
28 km
11 hrs
This day sucked balls. Col du Tsate - essentially a 3.5 hour climb straight up a mountain. Didn't enjoy it. Glacier de Moiry has two routes - we chose to continue to Barrage de Moiry rather than Cabane de Moiry. The descent from Sorebois to Zinal was grueling and we were starving. To the point of delirious. Thank the Buddha for the kind lady who helped us find a hotel in Zinal; tried croute for dinner and stuffed myself silly.
14 km
6 hrs
"Easy day" relative to past 2 days. Officially left French Switzerland and passed into German Switzerland. Forcletta climb was easy, if only because we had just done 3 passes on Day 6 alone.
Gruben-Augstbordpass-St Niklaus
16 km
6.5 hrs
Another "easy" day - view from the Twara was absolutely magnificent. Enjoyed last day at high altitude. St Niklaus is a fairly busy town; bakery, post, bus systems.
St Niklaus-Tasch-Zermatt
18 km
5 hrs
Easy day, but the route follows the railway tracks and is extremely boring. No sights until right when you break into Zermatt. If I were to do this hike again, I'd take the train from St Niklaus to Zermatt - you don't miss any sights/peaks/panoramas, and you can do several day treks or trail runs from Zermatt!

Each night, we stayed in a hostel or a mountain refuge. Switzerland is not cheap, even in the high passes; rooms per night were anywhere from 55-90 Swiss Francs/person, but everything was so clean and meals were often included - no need to pack any camping stoves, sleeping bags, pillows, or even water purification tablets! 

Some pics below, but see the full album if you'd like to see all the photos of our hike! 

Looking out from our first pass, Col de Balme 

View from Col de Balme

Water Break! 

Our descent into the valley from another pass 

From glaciers to cow pastures

Perfect timing - cows let out for grazing for the day! 

Cabane du Mont Forte, Day 3's hotel 

The tiniest room for 2 people! A cozy squeeze. 

View from Col de Louvie 

An unusually cold summer in Europe meant that not all the trails were clear of snow...

Looking back on our ascent past a glacial lake 

Where there is no trail...make one! 

Lovin' this life! 

Despite trail markers, we managed to get lost in at least 3 major ways during the trek!

Obligatory picture at another pass 

King of the lake! 

A rare moment when I feel much, MUCH taller than 5'...

Just before it started to of Col de Prafleuri

Lac des Dix 

We passed through an ibex sanctuary! 

Where we're standing used to be alllllll glacier...

Another receding glacier...still beautiful, but quickly receding. 

Trail markers mapping my route! 

Top of Col de Riedmatten

Jagged peaks for miles and miles!

Lac de Bleu, before Les Hauderes 

Passing below the tree line on our way to Les Hauderes 

Swiss village that seemed to have only one inhabitant - a cheese maker

Leaving the village of Les Hauderes

On our way up Col du Tsate 

Lac des Moiry 

Carrots for the donkeys! 

Ascent to the Forcletta 

Moooooo...this cow became quite angry at how closely I passed! 

On the only day we ran out of bread...Bart made a salami sandwich. 

Hey, North Face - need a new poster boy? 

Town of Jungen, just before the descent to St Niklaus
Unfortunately, once we reached Zermatt, the clouds were so low that we couldn't even get a good peek at the Matterhorn. I was so disappointed! We walked around town, balked at the tourists buying Mont Blanc watches for 2000 Euros, and contented ourselves with the local supermarket. I treated myself to a half-kilo bag of Haribo gummy bears...the wonderful thing about hiking is when you stumble upon a sleeve of Pringles or a freshly baked delicious! 

Ciao, Italia! Drinking our way through Piedmont 
When I told Bart that we were going to Switzerland to hike the Haute Route, his only demand was that we have at least 2 days in wine country. We settled on Piedmont, Italy after my IT director raved about the robust wines from this region. 

A 180* change from the first part of our vacation, but 100% in the right direction! The next 3 days were spent eating, drinking, and living out of our flip flops. I discovered my favorite place just 2 blocks from our hotel in Turin: 

Our last meal in Italy - at Eataly's pizzeria! 
Among our favorite places in Italy that we visited:

La Spinetta in Castagnole Lanze

Bart inspecting the grapes...

What a lovely family-run vineyard! Ended up having our own private tour, since the Brazilian group ended up being an hour late...woot woot! They also make FANTASTIC olive oil! 

Bart's first comment when we arrived at the Spinetta winery: "They definitely have a larger production than we do. Definitely." (We're currently making blackberry wine in our basement, which should fill all of 12 bottles). 

Ceretto Winery in Alba 

A much bigger production than La Spinetta...barrels upon barrels of Barolo! 

Some cool vineyard-viewing capsule. 
a tourist hot spot, but gave us a chance to sample wines from vineyards all around Piedmont.

What an amazing vacation! The Haute Route went by so quickly, and our whirlwind tour through Italy was a blast! Next up on the bucket list: Patagonia! Life is wonderful! I'm so happy! 

We also managed to stuff a suitcase (bought in a luggage store in Alba) and our backpacks full of 16 bottles of wine! We are packing GENIUSES!!!! Only one bottle broke, but not our most valuable :) Our wine basement is now fully stocked!

Lining up our wines-to-be-packed on the last night in Italy...
Full vacation album here