What’s Next?

Hi everyone!  I hope you had a great weekend – mine was full of cookouts, northern lights, and hiking.  It’s still light out past 9:00 pm now so I’ve been staying up late to enjoy it.  I’m so happy I live in Alaska  :)  I also spent some time this weekend really thinking about what’s next in my running life.  I feel like there were many times last year when I was burned out from race training, and right now all I want to do is train for something!  I came out of Zion feeling great and wanting to become stronger and speedier.  And that’s my goal for this year!

IMG_4298I want to have this feeling as many weekends as possible!

The great news is that earlier this year, I was contacted by the GM of Skinny Raven Sports about the 2015 Her Tern Half Marathon.  You may remember that I ran this race last year, and did not PR.  It was my first non-PR half marathon, and also my first one since moving from PA to AK.  My training did not go so well – I was stressed, homesick, and adjusting to super-small-town life in Seward and a new job.  It was rough.  I wasn’t sure if I’d ever run it again because my memories of the last mile are ones I don’t want to think about ever again.  But Skinny Raven thinks that with the help of their Her Tern Half training group I could finally get a sub-2:30 on this half marathon.  So they signed me up!  I’ll be running the 2015 race on July 19th, and I’ll also be running with the training group on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings starting on April 29th.  I’m so excited to have this opportunity to PR with some extra help – and to finally enjoy the cupcakes at the finish line because I won’t want to puke!  Thanks Skinny Raven! hth2014sqaure-202x202 Once I had the main event of my summer running schedule planned, it was all about filling the rest of my summer with as many fun races as I could.  This is my plan so far: May:

  • Salmon Run 5k on May 2nd:  I think before I launch into half marathon training at the end of April I will try to focus on training for a speedy 5k.  My goal is to run this one under 30 minutes.  It’s been years since I did that!
  • Faster Than A Falcon 5k on May 9th:  I’ll be running this race as a running buddy with a girl from my Girls on the Run team and I’m so excited!  I’ll be running, walking, and skipping at her pace and doing whatever I can to help her cross the finish line, so no actual racing will happen here – just plain old running fun!

June:

  • Twilight 12k or 6k on June 5th:  This race is a race held at twilight on a Friday night with Moose’s Tooth pizza at the finish!  I’m leaning towards the 12k option but either one will be an automatic PR for me since I’ve never run either distance before.
  • Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon Relay on June 20th:  My manager just organized a 4 person relay group at our office and I’m so excited!  Each leg is about 6.5 miles and there’s a few hilly and trail-based legs so let’s hope I don’t get one of those  :)  I’ve never done a relay before and I’m really looking forward to it!  Plus, it’s right before solstice AKA the longest day of the year which means lots of sunlight and celebrating!
  • The Color Run on the 27th:  Everyone and their mom (literally) are running/walking this one and I can’t miss the opportunity to run with basically the entire city of Anchorage.  My GOTR girls are already talking about this race and so are my students!  Look for more info on this race soon  :)

July:

August:

  • Alaska 10k Classic on the 8th:  It’s one of the few 10ks in Alaska so I can’t miss it!
  • Big Wild Life Runs on the 16th:  There are so many race options this weekend and I’m not sure if I want to push it with the half marathon (it could be a good back up option for a PR if I don’t get one in July) or go hard on a 5k.  No matter what, there will be grilled cheese sandwiches at the end so I’m there!

There are a few more races throughout the summer that I might try to squeeze in last minute, but overall I’m excited for my race schedule.  I’m hoping there will be another half marathon in the Lower 48 somewhere in the fall, but I’ve got some time to figure my fall races out.  I took it easy last week because my body was really asking for a break, but I’m really excited to jump into my next challenge! What does your summer race schedule look like?  And do you have any good training plans for speedy 5ks?

My First Winter in Alaska

Hi everyone!  Now that it’s officially spring, I thought I’d fill everyone in on how my first winter in Alaska went.  One of the first things people ask me when they hear I’m from Alaska is “How are the winters there?” with the expectation that they’re always horrifically cold and snowy.  And I kind of feel bad to burst their bubble when they find out that the winter wherever they lived was probably colder or snowier than mine!  I was so nervous about my first winter here after hearing horror stories from so many people…people who live in the Lower 48, not here.  People here seem to love winter and told me not to worry.  And even though I worried a lot, it ended up being much different than I thought!  I’m sad winter is over, even though it wasn’t all fun all the time…

first winter

Temperature:  As far as winters go, it was a really mild one here in Alaska.  I know that things have been getting more and more mild here as the years go on, but this one (and from what I hear, last one too!) was pretty strange and I don’t expect this to happen all the time!  We only had a handful of days below zero, including the wind chill.  I have to honestly say that anything below 10 degrees feels the same and it doesn’t make a difference what the thermometer says.  At that temperature, your nose hair freezes and it feels pretty crazy!  But once temps went up into the 20s it felt pretty awesome.  Most days were between 15-45 degrees this winter, which was perfect for outdoor running!  But days under 10 degrees were really pretty because of hoarfrost and ice so I couldn’t be upset with low temps.

IMG_3961Frosty trees are so pretty!

Snow:  Um, what snow?  Once again, it was a strange winter.  We probably got 5-6 snowfalls this year and the biggest one was around 5 inches.  We didn’t have to use our shovel once!  The ground is frozen and the sun isn’t strong enough to melt anything, so once it snows it stays around for months before melting.  The cool thing about snow in Alaska is that there’s no panic mentality about it, and it becomes totally normal.  Most people love when it snows, including me – that’s a big reason we moved here!  The roads are frozen so they are safer to drive on with a thin layer of snow on top, especially with our studded tires.  Without snow, we had many days with super icy road conditions that were pretty dangerous.  I was told by many locals that this kind of winter is harder to drive in than a snowy one because of all the rain and ice, but I made it through it!

IMG_3845-0Hiking on my first White Christmas!

Sunlight:  Full disclosure – I thought this would be the easiest thing about winter.  It was the hardest.  I didn’t understand.  No one really can unless you experience it.  On the shortest day of the year, the sun was up roughly 5.5 hours.  And by “up”, I mean that it’s low on the southern horizon and appears to be setting all day.  It’s not overhead, and it’s not strong.  Almost all of December it was hidden behind clouds and I couldn’t see it at all.

IMG_3675Mid-day near solstice

All of those things combined to give me a pretty wicked case of Seasonal Affective Disorder.  I had to use my HappyLight daily at work as well as take vitamin D pills, but I learned a few months ago that I wasn’t taking nearly enough and had to take 5 times the recommended amount!  I spent about two months out of the winter feeling tired and sad constantly, taking naps every day, feeling extreme exhaustion after every run (even short ones), and losing all motivation to do anything.  It was really hard, and pretty scary.  Now that the sun is up overhead again and stays around for almost 13 hours a day (currently 7:30 am -8:30 pm) I’m feeling so much better!  Seriously guys, SAD is no joke and if you think you have it you should definitely take vitamin D pills.  And don’t come to Alaska in the winter  :)

IMG_4233The sun rises late, but when it does it’s so beautiful on a clear day!

Running:  Once I got my shoes studded I had no problem running along in the snow!  Ice was not my friend though, so most of January and February was spent on the treadmill because I was recovering and didn’t want to mess up my hips with a fall.  I also personally draw the line at running in temps colder than 10 degrees because it just really hurts my lungs and is too painful for me.  But most runs this winter were outside with gorgeous views!  Snowy runs are my favorite!

IMG_3559Running along the coastal trail!

Other winter notes:  I thought there would be waaaaay more stuff to do here at Christmas, but the situation was pretty weak.  People here just don’t decorate like in Philly.  But it’s okay, because the night sky is lit up a lot!  It’s not visible every night, and you need to leave Anchorage to get a good view.  But this took up a lot of my winter weekends:

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Oh, and I hung out with a moose at my office that one time.  We had a wall between us, but I was still able to take the almost impossible moose selfie!

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Now that spring is here, I’m looking forward to hiking everything in sight as soon as the leftover snow is all gone.  I am already planning day trips to Talkeetna and Seward (watch out Bixler and Krystin!) and hopefully to some new places in Alaska too.  Today it was t-shirt weather again and I feel like short weather is right around the corner!

How was this winter where you lived?  Are you a winter fan or are you glad it’s over?

 

Post-Zion Observations

Hi everyone!  I’m back in Alaska and feeling pretty good about it.  And honestly, I feel kind of strange not writing my usual Monday Zion training recap!  I am so sad the race is over and want to do it all over again.  So I think I’m going to keep up with a weekly workout recap because it just feels normal now.  Here was my week:

Monday:  Angels Landing AKA like 3u4829340382 workouts in one – 5 miles

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Tuesday:  Hiking to Emerald Pools and along the Virgin River in Zion – 3 miles

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Wednesday:  Hiking in The Narrows – 6 miles

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Thursday:  We spent the day in Vegas before flying home at midnight and I had a pretty bad stomach bug and was seriously borderline narcoleptic (I even fell asleep at Panera while sipping chicken broth).  I think I was sick :(  But I managed to still try to enjoy my time in the sunshine.  Does outlet shopping count as a workout?   I bought new running shoes if that counts!  TJ Maxx had the exact pair of ASICS Gel-Exalt 2s that I was thinking about buying online for way less money!

Friday:  We got in at 4:00 am AST and I was definitely worn out.  Although our flight was pretty sweet because I got to see the aurora for half of it!  I had to work and had no energy left once I got home, so it was a rest day

Saturday:  My first post-Zion run was 2 miles in only 20:05!  I decided to be as fast as I could and it was awesome!

Sunday:  We took a 2 mile walk around University Lake since it was so warm and sunny.  We’ve never been out there before and had no idea that it would still be super icy from snow melt in a few areas and the non-icy areas were crazy muddy!  It was also an off-leash area for dogs and they were EVERYWHERE.  Like coming out of the woods and scaring us to death.  But it was pretty, and I got to try out my new shoes too!

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Now that the Zion Half is over, I’m feeling pretty good about life and also mildly depressed that it’s over.  Some other observations after half #5:

  • I can’t believe how well it went!  I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for weeks just hoping I’d make it through in one piece (and wouldn’t need to see Mr. Stupid Orthopedic Doctor again) and I feel so incredibly lucky to be okay.  It was such a beautiful race and I had a blast running it.  I’ve never finished a race feeling that happy before, and I know it was because of the scenery and the vibe!
  • I can’t stop thinking about how beautiful that race was, and how much I want to do another Vacation Races half marathon ASAP.  I’m wondering if I can squeeze the Lake Powell Half into my race schedule (and my vacation days at work) because that race manages to look even more beautiful!
  • My official race pictures are so amazing that I think I need to buy them.  You all know about my usual Garmin finish line pictures so this was an unexpected surprise!  Here’s the proofs for now:

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  • I reached the 100 mile marker of 2015 during the Zion Half!  I’m so excited.  I’m over 1/5 of the way to my goal for the year!
  • I neeeeeeeeeed to start doing better cross training that works on getting my leg, hip, and core muscles stronger.  Even just for helping me hike all summer long.
  • I also need to step up my shoe game.  Now that I know that my crazy pink ASICS Gel-Kayano 20s are not going to ruin my life like my stupid Adidas shoes from hell, I’m all about them.  But I know that I need more than one pair of wearable shoes, so I’m pumped about my new ASICS Gel-Exalt 2s.  And after trying out the Mizuno Wave Inspire 10s one more time, I think I’m going to order a pair of those too!

IMG_4658They’re still bright, but not as crazy as my pink ones!

  • After all of that hiking, I realized that I definitely want to get into trail running.  Any tips on that?
  • This was my first vacation after moving to Alaska (going home to Philly doesn’t count) and I was strangely so excited to come back.  Utah was beautiful, but not as beautiful as Alaska!  And I was so excited to come back to temps in the 40s and not have to wear sunscreen constantly.  Also, sea level is where it’s at  :)  It really solidified how happy I am here and how lucky I am to live in the most beautiful place on earth!  I used to cry every time I had to go home from vacation when I lived in Philly and would dream of living somewhere better.  And now I am!!!

Now that it’s officially spring, my workouts will be changing and I’m so excited.  I’m hoping for some speedy runs, hill repeats, and no more treadmill runs.  I felt pretty bad for all my east coast friends and family when I saw that they got snow on the first day of spring because they were all so sad about it.  I was kind of jealous – we haven’t had snow in months!

IMG_4647Our ground situation in Alaska.  Let’s hope the grass starts growing earlier than June!

And now that it’s spring I also need to try out some new Alaskan cross training.  I put all of my unused winter stuff in our storage unit today (snow shoes, ice skates, and our shovel – we didn’t get enough snow to use that thing once all winter!) and I’m hoping to replace them with a bike this summer!

Any tips on getting stronger and faster as a runner, learning how to trail run (especially in bear country), and fitting in as many racecations as possible?  And how was your first day of spring?

Zion Half Trip: The Narrows

Hi everyone!  Sadly our awesome Utah vacation is ending :(  We’ll be doing some shopping and eating at places we don’t have in Alaska today while we wait for our flight in Vegas, and tomorrow it’s back to work again.  Honestly, I’m kind of excited to go back to normal temps and give my poor legs a break!  But I’m going to miss being only 2 hours behind my parents time-zone wise and I’m definitely going to miss not having any responsibilities.  Anyways, let me fill you in on how our last two days have been (if you missed my race recap, Bryce trip, or Angels Landing hike check them out now!).

Tuesday:  We woke up and our legs felt HORRIBLE.  I had expected my legs to feel bad the day after the half marathon and they were kind of tired while we were in Bryce, but the day after we hiked Angels Landing we both felt like we couldn’t even walk!  We could both feel it on the the front of our thighs from the tough descent off Angels Landing – we probably took it too fast but I was trying to get off that mountain to safety as soon as possible!  After we dragged ourselves out of bed and out to Zion, we decided to avoid any hikes that were labeled “strenuous” because we legit didn’t think our legs could handle it.  We hiked the Emerald Pools hike (both the lower and upper pools) and then hiked the Kayenta trail to The Grotto and walked along the river until the shuttle came.  We had some up and down portions to deal with, but overall we were okay.  It was a really chill day and we needed it!

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IMG_4586Look at all the cacti!  I was geeking out!

We also did the Riverside Trail to the mouth of The Narrows, which is a narrow canyon that the Virgin River runs through.  It’s actually a hiking “trail” that you need to rent gear to complete, and after watching people walk out of the canyon I told Andrew that we totally had to try it!  I used to love playing in creeks and rivers as a kid, but I’d never had the chance to actually walk up the middle of a river and I had to try it out!

Wednesday:  We woke up super excited for our hike in The Narrows, although our legs were still pretty beat.  There are a few outfitters in Springdale that will rent winter gear for the narrows including water shoes, neoprene socks, and dry bibs, and we were able to reserve outfits for the afternoon.  I called to find out what we needed to wear underneath, and they recommended fleece layers because the Virgin River was only 41 degrees!  It was in the 60s and cloudy, so I knew I was probably going to be pretty cold and wore my fleece-lined running tights and a long sleeved running shirt.  We were so excited to get out there!

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Once we reached the beach at the end of the Riverside Trail, there was no other option but to walk right into the river!  I could feel my socks and shoes slowly filling up with water, but the dry bib kept my legs totally dry.  Even though I could feel that the water was cold, it didn’t actually make me cold because I was nice and dry.  We also had walking sticks which were great for finding our way along the river without tripping on any large rocks on the bottom of the river.

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Honestly, I did fall a few times!  The river was often too deep to see the bottom, and the combination of strong currents and lots of large rocks on the bottom made for a tough trail.  I’ve never been in a river that deep and strong before, and it was pretty crazy!  We walked upstream for around 3 miles, which took us 2.5 hours to do.  Along the way we saw so many beautiful canyon views and rock formations.  It was awesome!

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IMG_4628Looking straight up!

IMG_4624We could almost touch both sides at once!

The river occasionally left sandy areas on the sides of the canyon, and you could see a trail where people had walked on it to avoid some of the stronger sections of the river.  I’d say that about half of the first 3 miles of the trail was on land and the other half was just on the river.  I liked that we could give our legs a break by walking on land every once in a while.

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The trail runs on for 16 miles and can take all day for experienced hikers, but the good news is that you can turn back at any time to fit your schedule and ability!  After about 2.5 hours we turned back.  Since we were going with the current instead of against it now, it only took us 1 hour and 15 minutes to get back!

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We then had to wait for the park shuttle to take us all the way back to the park entrance.  In our wet shoes  :(  But overall it was such an awesome trail!  I’ve never done anything like that and it was a lot of fun.  In fact, it was probably one of my favorite hikes ever!  The scenery was beautiful and I’ve never had the opportunity to see anything like it before.  I felt like a little kid playing in the river, and I was so distracted with strategically picking a trail up and down the river that I wasn’t tired at all.  Zion ranks the trail as “strenuous”, which is what they also ranked Angels Landing.  In my opinion, this trail was way easier and more fun.  But there was a risk of flash flooding (which we would not have been able to survive) so it’s definitely still one to be careful with.  I’m just glad that the Virgin River gets barely any rain, especially this time of year!

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Have you ever done a river trail before?  Would you rather hike tall mountains or explore canyons?

Zion Half Trip: Angels Landing and the Angels Club!

Hi everyone!  Time for another update on what we’ve been doing in southern Utah during our Zion Half Trip (if you missed my race recap, go here.  If you missed our day trip to Bryce AKA wannabe Mars, go here.).  On Monday, Andrew and I decided to do the craziest, most difficult and terrifying hike we’ve ever done:  Angels Landing.

IMG_4507Yes, the trail runs along the top of that from left to right.  Ahhhh!

Why did we decide to hike this 5,790 ft mountain 2 days after I ran a half marathon?  Because Vacation Races, the company that hosted the Zion Half Marathon, offers a challenge to runners.  They have a list of post race challenges on their website, and this is the most difficult one:

“The Angels Club is a salute the hardcore among us. I want to reward anyone who hikes Angels Landing after the race. Any runner who sends me a picture of themselves at the top of Angels Landing within 72 hours of the end of the race which includes:

A clear view of your face
Your bib with bib numbers clearly visible
Your finisher medal in plain view

Will join the Angels club and will forever be immortalized on our website. We will post all those pictures here along with the runner’s name.  Additionally, those runners will get 50% off the next year’s registration.

*Every year, several people die hiking Angel’s Landing, largely due to not fully appreciating its dangers. Please take the hike seriously, and do not act irresponsibly if you decide to attempt the hike. It is not intended to be accessible to everyone.”

I’m not exactly sure if I’ll be able to run the Zion Half next year, but something totally made me want to complete this challenge and earn a place on their website.  I love hiking as much (maybe more!) as running, and I love the challenge that hiking presents.  It’s physically and mentally hard, but just spending time in nature in a beautiful place makes the effort worth it.  Plus most hikes have an aspect of going somewhere and seeing something that most people never get to experience, and I love that!  So even though I knew this hike would be a challenge, I was all about doing it within 72 hours of the race.  I mean, I hiked The Beehive at Acadia National Park which had metal rungs attached to the cliffs to help with climbing, how much worse could this be (foreshadowing alert!!!!!).  FYI this is the number one ranked thing on TripAdvisor to do in Zion, and probably the most popular hike in the park.

Andrew and I arrived at Zion around lunchtime and struggled to find a parking spot.  They have very few places to park at the entrance, and since peak season started on Monday we had to take a shuttle into the park along the scenic drive.  We had to take two shuttles to reach The Grotto, which was the starting point to the hike.  We ate lunch in silence while staring at the peak of Angels Landing.  It was so big and the trail looked ridiculous.

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At the beginning of the hike I was having a blast!  We were walking along the river with beautiful views of the canyon and the occasional cactus.  I’ve never seen one in person before so I was excited!  Andrew was super nervous and wasn’t really talking.

IMG_4509No fear!  (yet.)

But soon the trail turned into switchbacks that were carved into the cliff, and they were in full sun.  And did I mention that it was 80 degrees?

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We were melting after only 20 minutes and I was concerned that the heat was going to keep me from finishing the hike.  This hike should definitely be done in early morning or later afternoon to minimize the heat.  But we eventually made it to Refrigerator Canyon, where at least there was some shade and a flat trail!

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Then we went up some really short, steep switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles that seemed to go on forever.  We were gasping and sweating and taking so many breaks because of my tired race legs…and then we were finally at the top of Scout’s Overlook!  This is the end of the “normal hike” and the beginning of the part of the trail that I was afraid of.  The rest of the trail to the summit runs along a very narrow ridge with sheer cliffs on either side that drop 1,200 feet.  At some points it’s only wide enough for one person, and there are chains most (but not all) of the way for people to hold onto.

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Note:  after I hiked the trail I was googling it and found this article about a death on the trail.  What really hit me was the comments – especially the ones where people almost fell or actually witnessed someone fall.  I don’t think I would have hiked the trail if I would have read these things beforehand.  This trail is no joke and if you’re not comfortable with heights or confident as a hiker DO NOT DO THIS HIKE.  There is no margin for error up there.

Anyways, I’m not afraid of heights and I’ve done things like this before so I figured I could handle it.  So I started the trail and was immediately overwhelmed by how terrifying it was.  There were sections where it was hard to get good footing because the cliff was on a slant and where there were no chains and I had to rely on my very minimal rock climbing skills to pull myself up.  After a few minutes of climbing we reached a large flat area which I mistakenly thought was the top.  Nope, this was the top:

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I almost started to cry when I saw that.  I was staring at all the tiny people on completely vertical thin sections and I just knew I couldn’t do it.  I’ve never turned around on a mountain but this was too much.  I’m not afraid of heights, but I’m afraid of dying.  And The Beehive in Acadia was nothing compared to the length of this!  It was at this point that we met a lone woman who was also considering turning around.  Her husband was afraid of heights so she was doing it on her own and was having second thoughts.  But after about 5 minutes we all decided to keep going.  She stuck with us for the rest of the trail and we bonded over the experience!

IMG_4536Hanging onto chains and not looking down.

After struggling through the terrifying first section, the rest of the trail was actually much better.  It was wider and many sections had a cliff you could lean on/use as a handhold as you made your way up.  I was sweating and tired but I booked it up there as fast as I could.  And it was honestly worth it when I saw the views from the top!

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I couldn’t believe we made it!  I got pretty emotional up there.  Andrew said he’d been having some heart issues near the top with his heart beating faster than normal, and I’d been feeling really shaky from some mini anxiety attacks on tough parts of the trail.  So we spent a while at the top enjoying the view and letting our heart rates go down!

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I also made sure to take my picture for the Angels Club!

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Our descent was way easier than I anticipated, and I butt-scooted my way down some tough sections and tried not to look down.

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Once we reached the flat area where I almost gave up, I saw a girl who was clearly thinking of doing the same.  I cheered her on and she decided to head up there!  I loved all of the camaraderie that happens on a tough hike – I met so many people who helped me and I tried to help as many people as I could.  I also told everyone I met that we were all crazy for doing the hike and they agreed!  Overall there were a ton of people on the trail of all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities that were totally rocking it.  There were people who helped me through tough times and had gone on ahead and were so happy for me when they saw me at the top.  It was like we were all friends up there!  Once we got back down off the mountain after 5 hours of hiking I was exhausted and relieved – but so incredibly proud.  I don’t usually feel invincible after a run, but I always do after a good hike.  I’m so proud of us for doing it!

IMG_4561So happy I did this!

Would I recommend this hike?  Yes, if you are not afraid of heights and are mentally and physically strong enough to handle it.  Although I will never, EVER do that hike again.  It was hands down the craziest thing we’ve ever done, and I hope we don’t ever do anything like it again!  If you want to see what the hike is like but don’t want to do it yourself, check out this time lapse video of the tough part of the trail that I found on Youtube!  It’s only a few minutes long but perfectly shows what we went through!

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What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?  Have you ever hiked a trail like this?  Would you join the Angels Club if you ran this race?

Zion Half Trip: Bryce Canyon National Park

Hi everyone!  I’ve had a few days to recover from the Zion Half Marathon (missed the recap?  Check it out here with a few extra course pictures I took from our car yesterday!) and I’m feeling great!  It’s almost like hiking is some kind of magical bandaid that fixes everything.  I knew during the race that I didn’t want to aggravate my old running injury, but I also wanted to make sure I was able to hike all week after the race.  Let’s be real, a national park vacation without hiking would be awful!  But I knew that I’d be pretty sore after the race, and I wasn’t sure what to hike in Zion that wouldn’t aggravate my legs, especially since I wanted to start hiking on Sunday (the day after the race) so that I wouldn’t waste any time.  It was also HOT in Zion on Sunday (80 degrees) and we kind of wanted to get somewhere cooler.  So we were excited to discover that Bryce Canyon National Park was 2 hours away, had a pretty easy trail to the bottom of the canyon, and it was only 50 degrees there!  We left St. George around 10:00 after Andrew let me sleep in to recover from the half.  I was completely unaware of the elevation of Bryce – Zion maxes out around 6,000 ft above sea level at the top of the hiking trails, but Bryce goes over 9,000 ft!  As we drove there we started to feel a bit sick from the elevation change.  It felt like we had a lot of pressure on our heads, and we both started to get weird headaches.  We drank a ton of water but didn’t really feel back to normal for a while.  We also noticed that as we drove higher, there was snow on the ground.  And when we arrived at the entrance to Bryce we were greeted with more snow than we’ve had in Anchorage all year!

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We found out that they’d had 3 feet of snow a few weeks ago which I didn’t even think could happen in a desert!  We stopped by the visitor’s center and based on the snow we decided to do a loop from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point via the Queens Garden Trail and the right branch of the Navajo Loop Trail (the left branch was closed for the winter).  The whole thing was 2.8 miles round trip, and the Queens Garden Trail was the easiest trail to the bottom of the canyon.

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First of all, I need to tell you about hoodoos!  They are crazy rock formations that are formed from a combination of wind, rain, snow, and time.  Here’s more info on what they are and how they form.  Bryce is full of them and they were a crazy sight.

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They kind of looked like crazy sand castles, and they were all huge!  We kept climbing down into the canyon until we reached the bottom.

IMG_4377Seriously, how is this a real place?

IMG_4372Hoodoo tunnels

At the bottom we found ourselves in a forest – and found the trail covered in snow!

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IMG_4387Desert mud and snow

We slowly made our way back up through some switchbacks on the side of a canyon wall.  And at the top we had some incredible views!

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We spent a lot of time just sitting and staring at the canyon from up here.  It was amazing and we’ve never seen anything like it – and probably never will again!  We were able to take a quick paved trail from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point to get back to our car, and then we drove around to a few overlooks.  If you only have time to do one thing at Bryce, go to Bryce Point!  The actual overlook was “closed” because of snow, but we hopped the log fence and hiked out to the point in the snow – in our flip flops  :)  The view was so worth it, especially since the sun was setting!

IMG_4479Hoodoos everywhere!

Overall it was an incredible day trip and I highly recommend it if you’re anywhere close by.  The scenery was so unique, the hiking was pretty easy, and it was much cooler in temperature than the rest of southern Utah.  And I loved that my legs were feeling great afterwards.  It was so nice to be out in the sun hiking again!

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Have you ever been to Bryce or seen a hoodoo before?  Where is the craziest place you’ve ever seen?

Race Recap: Zion Half Marathon

Hi everyone!  Guess what:  I FINISHED!!!!  And it wasn’t my slowest race ever!  But we’ll get to that later  :)  For now, let’s start with day 1 of our trip!

Day 1:  We woke up at 2:30 and flew out of Anchorage at 5:00 am AST.  The flight was rough – I couldn’t really sleep much and the descent hurt my ears as always.  We had a connection out of SeaTac for our final leg of the flight at 11:30 PST and landed in Las Vegas at 2:00 PST.  I was an exhausted mess, but managed to see the light at the end of the tunnel:

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CHIPOTLE!!!!  And right next to it was a Dunkin Donuts!  After eating a ton of food and coffee we headed out to the nearest Trader Joe’s to stock up on cookie butter before driving to St. George, Utah where we’d be spending the next week.  We got in around 8:00 MST and we were looking around for a place to eat, and we found a Chick Fil A which was totally unexpected!  I ate at almost all of my favorite Lower 48 places in one day so I was a happy girl.

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Day 2:  I had been up late due to some very loud kids playing in the pool all night, so we slept in a bit before heading over to Springdale for the race expo.  Driving to the park wasn’t really exciting, but when we entered Springdale I was DYING.  The scenery was gorgeous and I couldn’t believe I’d be racing there the next day!

IMG_4281HOW IS THIS REAL LIFE?!

After getting my own bib and shirt, I started my volunteer shift at bib pickup.  It was fun getting people all set up for the race and meeting other runners, but I didn’t realize I’d be standing the whole time and the combo of my lack of sleep, the elevation, and being on my feet all day totally wiped me out.  I carb loaded on some pasta before heading to sleep.

Zion Half Marathon Race Day:  I woke up at 4:30 and got dressed in a tank top, a thin long sleeved shirt, capri pants, and a hydration belt.  The race was cup free, but had water stops about every 2 miles and I knew I could refill as needed.  My goal for this race was pretty simple:  I just wanted to finish without any injuries!  Zion National Park is about 45 minutes from St. George, so it was a long and dark 45 minutes for me to contemplate all the things that could go wrong and how much I was afraid to run this race.  I just kept thinking about my MRI and the pain I’d had 6 weeks ago, as well as how sick I’d gotten after my last 10 miler.  Oh, and our elevation above sea level and the elevation chart.

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Seriously though, has anyone ever had a calm race morning?  Mine are always filled with nerves!  Andrew dropped me off around 6:30 so he could drive to the finish line (it was a point to point race) and I did not want to get out of the car.  It was around 50 degrees out but it was dark and super windy which made it feel so much colder.  I hung out in the warming tent until it was time to line up for the race.  There were so many of us running it that they had to stagger the race to get us to all fit into one lane of the road, so I didn’t actually start the race until 7:50 instead of 7:30.  By this point I was frozen and I didn’t really warm up until about 3 miles into the race.  During this time the sun began to rise over the mountains and I was so distracted by the beautiful sights that I forgot to take any walk breaks!  We had beautiful desert and mountain views all around us, and we also frequently ran past ranches with cows and horses in fields.  I felt like we were going downhill for the first 4 miles and didn’t want to stop until we starting going uphill, but I forced myself to take some Sport Beans close to the 5 mile mark and walk a bit.

IMG_4493Typical views from the course

I kept waiting and waiting for those gradual uphill climbs that were promised on the elevation chart, but they never came!  Instead I felt like we spent the first half of the race going downhill.  I had been riding the downhills and going way faster than I wanted, so when I hit a giant hill at the halfway point I just couldn’t do it anymore…and I walked the whole thing.  It was a mile long.  I felt like I should be beating myself up and pushing myself to run, but I just couldn’t do it.  Because first of all, the views were amazing and I was noticing them so much more while walking.  Second, everyone else was walking.  Third, I was at the halfway point of a race that I almost couldn’t even start because of an injury – why push it now?  Fourth, this was in no way a PR race and I was on vacation – I can walk if I want to and I don’t deserve to feel bad about it.  I assumed I’d have a hilly second half of the race so I walked up that hill and then ran down the other side.  And then kept on running downhill again until around mile 8.  It didn’t make sense how I was still running downhill when the elevation chart said otherwise, but I just went with it.  After mile 8, I started walking a lot more than I wanted.  I was so tired, and I felt really weak and had a bit of a headache (later I found out this was probably from the elevation) and running for a few minutes at a time took so much out of me.  I began to worry that I hadn’t actually been running downhill and it had been some kind of mind trick that had caused me to use up all my energy early.  At mile 10 we entered Springdale and the combination of incredible views and lots of spectators caused me to speed up a bit, although this section was definitely uphill.

IMG_4499Taken from our car, but it’s the same view as in the race!

I walked probably half of every mile at the end because my legs and hips were starting to hurt a bit and I was so nervous about re-injuring myself.  I just wanted to finish in one piece!  I knew when I hit mile 12 that this was not going to be my slowest half, and I tried to push to make it across the finish line as soon as possible.  I seriously gave it my all and could not have run any faster during this race given the circumstances.  The last 0.1 miles were downhill and it was an incredible feeling sprinting down that hill while the announcer called my name.  I was so excited to finally be a finisher!

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The post-race food was awesome – we got a box of recovery food including Honey Stinger waffles and a mini cliff bar, plus chocolate milk!  Oh and we got this:

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This is the biggest medal I’ve ever seen, and I felt amazing wearing it.  We took some time to walk around near the entrance of Zion to stretch out and take pictures before heading back to St. George.

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Overal, this was an awesome race!  I felt incredibly exhausted afterwards, but you know what?  I MET MY GOAL!  I finished and although I felt a lot of leg pain, it was pretty normal stuff (and I was able to hike in Bryce all day on Sunday, more on that tomorrow!) and I know I didn’t re-injure myself.  And the fact that it was faster than Beat The Blerch and only about 1 minute slower than Disney Princess is pretty awesome too.  I would highly recommend that anyone who is interested in visiting Zion National Park runs this race.  It’s so awesome how much they encouraged visiting the park after the race, and I felt that it was a perfect excuse for a racecation.

Pros:

  • Beautiful scenery.  It was the most beautiful race course I’ve ever seen!
  • Lots of water stops that were stocked with Nuun and Honey Stinger gels, as well as bananas and oranges!
  • Lots of quiet sections that were perfect for just taking it all in
  • Really cute swag and a giant medal!
  • It wasn’t super expensive
  • It finished at the entrance to Zion National Park
  • Did I mention the views?

Cons:

  • The elevation above sea level was pretty rough – it ends at around 4,000 feet above sea level.  I trained at sea level and I could definitely feel it.
  • It was cold at the start and warm at the end, and windy throughout the race.  That made it hard to pick a race outfit, but I did pretty well!
  • The sun rose right in our eyes and I totally didn’t think to bring sunglasses.  I also got a bit sunburned, so be aware that you need to think about the sun!
  • The course is definitely not flat.
  • We were running either on one side of the road that was shut down (making it into a one lane highway for anyone driving into the park) or running on the shoulder and sometimes there was a lot of traffic which was distracting.

Overall, I would highly recommend this race and might try to do it again someday.  I will definitely be doing more races in the Vacation Races series as soon as possible too!

IMG_4288I did it!!!

Would you run Zion?  What is the highest elevation you’ve ever run at?

Friday Five: A Day In The Life

Hi everyone!  It’s Friday, AKA Zion Half Marathon expo day and the day before the race!  I’m volunteering to do bib pickup at the expo for a few hours this afternoon, which gets me a free shirt (#winning) and 50% off another Vacation Races race in the next year!  Other than that, I’m trying not to totally panic and to stay overly hydrated.  I know you’re all dying to hear how Utah has been going since we landed yesterday afternoon, but you’ll have to wait until Monday to find out!  Or check out my Instagram to see what I’ve been posting since landing in the desert.  Hint:  I ate a lot.  Follow me at runawaywithkk!

Anyways, today is another installment of Friday Five with Mar, Courtney, and Cynthia!  Today’s theme is “A day in the life” and I think it’s pretty funny it’s happening while I’m on vacation.  I did one of these posts about a year ago back when I lived in Philly and it was funny to see how much my life has changed since then – and how much coffee is still part of my life!  Even though I’m on vacation, we’re just going to pretend it’s a typical Tuesday in the life of Kristen K.:

6:45 – Wake up and check my email/facebook from bed because I’m too tired to move.  Not a morning person here.  I eventually force myself to get ready for work and pack a bag of workout clothes for later.

8:00 – Drop my husband off at work, and then drive to my office.  My commute is like 7 minutes!  I work for a national nonprofit as an educator, so I spend my morning prepping lessons and email schools and organizations to set things up.  Oh, and I chug coffee until the sun rises.

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10:30 – I head out to my lesson for the day at a local secondary school.  My lessons lately have been about community service, and it’s so awesome to see teens getting excited about helping their community!

12:30 – I leave the school and usually eat lunch in my car to soak up the sunlight.

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1:00 – More emails, lesson prep for tomorrow, meetings, etc.

3:00 – I change into my workout clothes and head over to a nearby elementary school to coach Girls on the Run!  We do a lesson on life skills and friendship, and then we let them run for a half hour.  We make it really fun and I’m kind of jealous – I wish I could do stuff like that when I run!

5:30 – I drive home and eat dinner while watching old episodes of Parks and Rec with my husband.  RIP Parks and Rec  :(

7:00 – I go for a run at Planet Fitness.  Now that the sun doesn’t set until after 7:30 I should be able to run outside instead!

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8:00 – Catch up on blogs and take time to relax.

10:00 – Bedtime!

I feel like I’m kind of boring and busy…but I love every second of it!  I love my job, my city, and my volunteer position.  And while I don’t love running on a treadmill exactly, I do love that I can run a few times a week in shoes that don’t hurt my feet.  Reading my old post from Philly was kind of weird…I miss Wawa and Philly so much but I don’t miss the craziness of that job!  And I love that I spend significantly less time driving in traffic.  I think I definitely made an improvement over the past year  :)

Tell me about a day in your life.  Are you dependent on coffee?

Things I’m Loving Right Now

Hi everyone!  This time tomorrow I’ll be on a plane on my way to Las Vegas!  We land at 2:30 pm and I’m making a beeline for Chipotle and Trader Joe’s before heading out to St. George, Utah!  St. George is only 45 minutes from Zion National Park but they had available hotel rooms that were 1/3 of the price of the ones right outside the park, so that’s our headquarters for the next week.  I’m kind of freaking out about the plane rides (I HATE PLANES), the 70 degree weather that I’m probably going to melt in, and the super high elevation of Utah, so today I decided to write about things I’m loving right now to take my mind off things.

1.  French Toast:  It’s my favorite breakfast food (and maybe overall food).  And not just the amazing homemade stuff that my husband makes me every few weekends (yeah, he’s awesome!) or the stuff I get at the diner with caribou sausage on the side.  I’m talking about this too:

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IT IS BACK AND I AM OFFICIALLY FREAKING OUT!  This was my favorite cereal as a kid and I’m so excited about its return.  I found it at Target and I almost ate the whole box in the last week!  And I ate some while writing this blog post.

2.  People who are more insane than me:  Yeah, so I moved all the way across the country to live in a crazy place.  I gave up a lot to follow my dream, and for the most part I’m happy.  Sometimes I get homesick though.  And during one of those homesick times I found this article about a runner who is trying to move TO MARS.  No joke.  She would train to be an astronaut for 9 years before making a 9 MONTH JOURNEY ON A ROCKET to get there to form the first human colony on Mars.  And it’s a one way ticket – she’ll never come back.  Seriously, no matter how homesick I get at least I’m still on Earth!

3.  Sunshine.  There is so much of it now that daylight savings time happened!  I still go to work in the dark (it rises above the mountains around 9:00) but it doesn’t set until 7:30 and I’m all about these late nights for running.  It’s also strong enough to be warm now, so I try to eat lunch in my car to absorb as much vitamin D as possible.  Soon the sun will never set…and I’ll be exhausted from all the midnight hiking and running I’ll be doing!

4.  Girl Scout Cookies:  I have already dropped $10 on cookies and I’m sure I’ll be spending more soon.  I’m working my way through some Tagalongs and I just bought Samoas today  :)

5.  The fact that Dashboard Confessional is going on tour this summer!  The 16 year old hidden inside of me lost my mind when I heard this!  I have no idea if I’ll be anywhere near these cities, but I’m just so excited that people get to relive their high school years again!  I spent the last few days at work listening to A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar and I have to say that I was definitely emo as a kid.  That stuff is so depressing but so catchy!

dcIf you just sang those lyrics in your head/at the top of your lungs, we are officially BFFs

On that note, what are you into lately?  Anyone else recently buy Girl Scout cookies or listen to emo music?  And any last minute advice for acclimating to running 3,000+ ft above sea level?

Zion Half Training: Week 11

Hi everyone!  This is my last Zion Half training post!  How crazy is that?!?!  I’m almost there!  So what did I do this week?

Monday:  rest day

Tuesday:  Girls on the Run and a 45 minute walk.  Today was also a big day at work that I’ve been stressing about for months, and it went really well!  It was so nice to be able to relax for once!

Wednesday:  45 minute treadmill run, 4:1 intervals.  It was so warm today but I just couldn’t get out on the trails before sunset.

Thursday:  Girls on the Run and then some stretching yoga at home.  Another super warm day so the girls ran outside!  Just not me.

Friday:  45 minute treadmill run, 4:1 intervals after book club with my coworkers.  It was dark after I got home, but it was so nice and warm out again!

Saturday:  It was 45 degrees and sunny outside all day, so I decided to run my last long run of the training cycle!  I had 6 miles on my plan and I was so excited to run outside.  My doctor would have killed me if he knew, especially since the terrain changed a lot!  Half of my run was on inch-deep slush/puddles, a quarter was on hard ice, and the other quarter was on solid ground!

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I ran 2 miles towards the mountains and back, and then 1 mile towards the coast and back.  I did this in case I needed a water break (I left some in my car) but I ended up feeling great and just powered through it.  Not only did my body feel great, my brain did too!  The sun was warm and it felt like spring.  I was having a blast out there and was laughing out loud as I ran through giant puddles.  It was like I was a little kid  :)

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If I hadn’t had to deal with ice and deep slush, I would have been running at a pretty fast pace.  I only walked once per mile whenever I felt that it was unsafe to run (like in a tunnel where there was ice on the bottom that was covered in ankle deep water!) and I think that on clear ground on race day I should be able to keep up a good pace.

IMG_4196Thanks Mizunos for once again being the best shoes ever!  I’ll miss needing studded shoes!

After running I raced back to shower before heading downtown for the end of the Fur Rondy.  Through some terrible oversight we missed the ceremonial start of the Iditarod, but we did get to see the Running of the Reindeer!  People paid $30 to run down 4th Ave while reindeer chased them.  It was kind of scary to watch but everyone looked like they were having fun.  And then I ate reindeer sausage because it’s just too yummy  :)

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I was kind of sad about Fur Rondy this year – our lack of snow and cold weather made it not as fun as it should have been.  They had to bring in snow on trucks to fill in the streets, and all the snow and ice sculptures melted.  And I’m pretty worried about how the dogs did running in 43 degree weather!  Next year I’m hoping it will actually feel like winter (and that I don’t get the dates of the Iditarod wrong!).

Sunday:  yoga at home.

It was a great week and I’m feeling awesome about the race!  I know I won’t PR, but considering the fact that I really thought I’d have to pull out of this race a few weeks ago due to hip pain I’m just so happy that I’ll even be starting the race!  My plan for this week is to:

1.  Run 1-2 more times before the race.  I’ll have to see how I feel on Thursday when we arrive in Utah, but I’ll try to do a really quick and easy run that night if possible.

2.  Go to an actual yoga class or two.  It’s spring break and I have no excuse to make it to one this week!

3.  HYDRATE.  So much.

4.  Foam roll and stretch a lot.

5.  Relax!  I need to not stress about this.  Everything will be fine.

Thanks everyone for your support during this crazy training cycle!  I couldn’t have made it here without all of your encouragement, support, and tips.  I can’t wait to tell you how it goes!

Did you get to run outside this week?  And are you aware of my new Instagram account?  Hit me up at @runawaywithkk and I’ll follow you back!