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Trying to fit in a workout while traveling can be difficult, especially if you are traveling by car, across the country with 2 young children in tow.   I’ve been training for my first ultra for about 14 weeks now and I am still struggling to get my base mileage up to where it should be by now.

If you’ve been following along on my “Ultra Mama” posts, I’ve been recounting my training and experiences as I train to run the Rim to Rim to Rim (self supported in the Grand Canyon) in October.

We left last Wednesday evening for California, heading out to film Krystal, Janet and Matt’s first ultra attempts in the American River 50 in Folsom, CA.

The first two days were long.   I don’t think I could stand hearing one more “are we there yet?”
My goal was to somehow still try to fit in 30-35 miles of running a week on this trip, so I was going to have to get creative.

When we arrived in Folsom, I had kid duty while Scott was out on the course cheering on, filming and interviewing the runners.  So the boys and I spent the day hiking and I came up with some creative strength training moves in the hotel room.

I put together this little video of some of the exercises West and I came up with:

The next day it was my turn to head out and I decided to run part of the American River 50 course.  I did 10.5 miles and I was beat!   It was a tough, hilly and simply beautiful course.

The week following the race was purely vacation for us.  We camped among the giant redwood trees in Big Sur California where I fit in a 5 mile run climbing about 2000 feet through the forest to an over look of the Pacific ocean.

In San Louis Obisbo we visited a friend who produces some pretty unique adventure ultra races himself, maybe you’ve heard of the Fuego e Agua endurance events?
There are many trails in the area and my friend recommended a 5 mile loop in the foothills near the house.  I didn’t expect it to be 86 degrees when I headed out the door and so left with only a small 4oz bottle of water.

Running among the giants

The trail was beautiful, it reminded me a bit of parts of Colorado: desertous, lots of small shrubs, cactus and some big climbs.  After several miles I found myself out of water and a little bit turned around.  I had only been gone an hour but I was not quite acclimated to the heat and wild thoughts whirled through my head, “I’m not going to make it, Scott is going to have to hike up and look for me and find me lying here on the trail”.

I took a turn that started leading me in the right direction and somehow made it back to the main road.  When I returned my face was beat red, I had ended up doing over 7 miles.

The highlight of the trip for me was to be in Zion, a gorgeous national park in southwest Utah where I was to run the Zion trail half marathon on Saturday.  We had received several emails from the race director days prior alerting runners of the potential for storm activity on race day but we ignored those, forecasts that far out could be unpredictable and we were optimistic.  It was only when we arrived, and not a moment later when the torrential downpour began, while we setup the tent, through the night and well into the morning.

The 50k and 1/2 marathon were delayed 2 hours and I can only imagine what the 50 and 100 mile runners where going through as they braved the storm through the night.

Despite a sleepless night and the dismal conditions, I wasn’t about to back out, we had traveled all that way and I had been looking forward to this run for months.  So as I trudged through the ankle deep mud towards the starting line I thought about my race strategy:  start slow for the first couple of miles, keep my heart rate low, and finish!

As the race director predicted, it was a mudfest: a sloppy, slippery mess.  The course was changed due to the conditions and so we set out over rolling hills, and with every step our feet collected more and more of the sticky clay based mud.  To me it felt as though I were wearing a set of 2-3lb ankle weights.

Here is a video one of the participants did to show the course conditions (hover over the image to play the video):

Then we arrived at the road, which was a relief as we were able to release the heavy mud from our shoes but then we began the climb.   The road wound up and around a beautiful mesa.  Deep reds, browns and oranges and strange rock formations surrounded us as the rain picked up and soaked our heads and jackets.

I didn’t have my gps but I am guessing it was about a 2.5 mile climb that gained over 2200 feet.  As I wound higher, I could see the desert landscape unfold below me and the famous canyons of Zion in the distance.

The climb was tough, my legs were completely fatigued from the 4+ miles of running with “ankle weights” on and after the first mile I was reduced to run/hike intervals.  However, something I saw on that hill gave me hope and a renewed sense of energy.  As I approached the turnaround, I noticed that I had only seen a handful of men and 2 other women heading back down the road towards the finish.  And there was one woman just 100 feet ahead of me.   I was most likely in the top 15 and the 4th woman!

After grabbing a quick sip of water from the aid station, I sprinted down that hill, hoping to catch the woman in front of me and vying to hold my spot in the race.  This was an unexpected but welcomed surprise to my day!

The rest of the race was a slog.  The trail was even muddier than before and I just couldn’t seem to catch this elusive woman in the green jacket.  Just as I got to the top of one hill, she was heading down another.

Then I saw the outlines of the tents at the finish line and decided this was my chance to surge, so I picked up the pace, caught up with the woman and ran next to her for a couple of minutes and we chatted about the course and the weather.  As the finish line approached we both stopped talking.  We knew what the other was thinking:  it was time to sprint to the finish.  She took the outside line, in the grass and I on the other side of a large mud puddle.  I pushed but she pushed harder, I surged too early and was losing steam!

I was happy to finish right behind her with a 4th place shotgun finish.  Originally I had hoped to just finish but ended up racing anyways.   I knew I wasn’t completely ready to race, I am still working on building my base (aka lots of long, slow runs) and haven’t done any type of speed work for half a year, which explains why I wasn’t able to push through at the end.

I didn’t stick around for long.  There isn’t much to do with kids in the desert during a rain storm and knowing we had to drive for 2 more days to get back to Colorado, we wiped off as much mud as we could and headed out.

Note to self:  Next time, plan to stick around, cool down and stretch for a couple of hours.  Running a race and then sitting in the car for 2 days was NOT smart, ouch!

It is difficult to do an accurate report on this race as the course was so altered due to the weather.  After watching videos from previous year’s events where runners are running on steep, technical terrain (I even saw a part where you have to use a rope to get up one section), this course was a bit of a disappointment for me but necessary and probably the only solution other than cancelling the event.  The post race atmosphere was lively, with many tents and amazing volunteers.  I would definitely love to come back and try this event again, maybe event the 50k distance under better circumstances.

Next stop:  The Leadville Trail Marathon!


–  Lauren (aka “Ultra Mama)



Scott is the founder of Becoming Ultra and spends most of his time with his family and ideas to get people moving!