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One Way to Gain Big Vert & Volume In Training
Plus travel takeaways, film recs, and a mom's love
Welcome back. Today’s hump-day post includes training motivation, travel lessons, and film and TV recommendations. Coming up, I’ll host the monthly online meetup for paid subscribers on Wednesday, June 14, 5pm Mountain, and the special guest for the chat will be the amazing Erica Moore whom I profiled last week. If you’d like to be a part of it—and receive my deep gratitude for your support—please upgrade your subscription to paid.
That time I did a Double Everest
Last Friday, my heart pounded against my chest harder than I can recall in recent memory. I actually pulled open the neckline of my shirt and peeked into my bra to witness the thump-thumping that visibly expanded my sternum. What the heck, am I really this out of shape to be this winded?
I wasn’t running fast. On the contrary, I doggedly was hiking up a ski slope above 11,000 feet. Due to the heavy snowfall making most high-country trails around Telluride impassable, I haven’t logged much “vert” yet this season. When I realized that one of the popular ski slopes, called See Forever, had been plowed, I started hoofing up it. Just two and a half months ago, I had swooshed down it with scores of other skiers. While hiking, I had the mountainside and practically the whole ski area to myself.
In the midst of gaining over 3000 feet in elevation on that outing, from the valley’s floor to the top of Chair 9, I flashed back to exactly three years ago—the last week in May of 2020—when I did much, much more during seven days straight. That, in turn, got me thinking about how to structure this summer’s training block to get back into top shape.
Inspired by a pandemic-era virtual event in 2020 organized by Aravaipa Running called “Limitless,” I devoted a week to logging as much vertical gain as I could. The contest involved tracking vert with GPS. Speed didn’t matter, just elevation gain. Because life as we knew it had been suspended, it felt appealing to focus seven days on nothing but hiking and running up and down mountains.
I set a goal of doing the equivalent of Hardrock—33,000 feet of gain and 100 miles—during the week. But in the back of my mind, I toyed with the stretch goal of a Double Everest: at least 58,058 feet of vert. To do so, I’d need to average around 8300 feet daily.
I got in a groove each day of hiking up approximately 5000 feet in the morning, running back down, eating a picnic lunch, then logging another 3000+ in the afternoon. I felt both exhausted and energized, my legs and heart doing more than I thought they could while I listened to a bunch of audiobooks on the trail. When I reached my Hardrock goal by midweek, I committed to go for the Double Everest challenge.
Boom! Holy moly, I did it. The local paper even wrote about it. I burst into tears when my sweet daughter, home from college due to the shutdown, met me at the end of the final day’s final trail for a virtual finish-line cheer.
In hindsight, it seems alternately manageable and mind-blowing. Did I really do that?! Thankfully, I have the proof below:
Last Friday, I started to engage in a discouraging comparison of my present self with that 2020 version. It felt pitiful to be struggling up just one mountainside and just 3500 feet, because that was a small fraction of what I did during that big week three years ago.
Then I caught myself and thought: Stop. Reframe.
The truth is, leading up to the Double Everest, I was out of shape and stressed. I caught covid in late March right at the start of the pandemic’s shutdown, and my husband did too, with a case so severe he had to be hospitalized. For days, I thought he might die. By mid-April of 2020, I was just getting back to running and celebrated when I could do a 10K.
Basically, I did a covid-to-10K-to-Double Everest in a mere eight weeks. How?
It had so much more to do with mental characteristics, such as determination and patience, than physical fitness. I got in shape during the big-volume, big-vert week, not before it. I did it by giving myself the gift of work-free time and treating it as a retreat. Thankfully, my family supported me, so I could slip away each day relatively guilt-free. I didn’t feel rushed. I cared only about getting from Point A to B as steeply as possible to accumulate vertical gain. I broke the week’s massive goal into small chunks and focused on completing each trail outing one by one, step by step. It was an intense, introspective, oddly thrilling and motivating week.
It hit me while going up See Forever last Friday that I was doing just fine and taking steps to get in shape. I shouldn’t expect myself to do or feel as I did three years ago, because I wasn’t in the same context.
The gift of a DIY running camp
Reflecting on that big-vert week with its daylong outings—and also, thinking about the three-day Western States Training Camp that took place last weekend—motivated me to build a camp-like block into my training this summer, at least for three days. It’ll help me gain fitness and confidence for mid-September’s Run Rabbit Run 100.
Longtime ultrarunner and coach Andy Jones-Wilkins has sung the praises of three-day running camps about four to six weeks in advance of a 100-mile race, logging around 70 miles total in the back-to-backs. He gives advice on how to plan a DIY version here. I agree with him about the benefits, although I would not want my peak run(s) to be only four weeks before a goal 100. I’d rather peak six to seven weeks prior to the ultra, recover with a light week, then have a couple more training weeks that include regular, confidence-building long runs before starting to taper.
With that in mind, I’m carving out several days in early August of consecutive back-to-back tough runs on terrain and elevation that mimic the Run Rabbit Run 100 route. I’ll try to approach it as a gift of a getaway. With ample time, patience, audiobooks, and scenery, I know I can go farther and log more vert than in any typical week.
Do you have any plan for back-to-back big outings this summer for training—or, just for the challenge of it? Leave a note in the comments describing it if so.
Life lessons from the Camino de Santiago
What follows is an excerpt of a bonus post I sent to paid subscribers one month ago, which I decided to share with all readers here in part to hold myself accountable to the lessons noted below. I’m happy to report, I have made an effort to do all the things noted below. Here’s my earlier post on the Camino for context. Please consider upgrading your subscription to paid to receive bonus content like this.
I intended to write you all with some travel tips gleaned from traveling abroad, which rekindled the dormant part of me that was a long-term world traveler back when I turned 40. But I realized, practical travel tips are mostly no-brainer common sense. The more meaningful take-aways gleaned from this trip, which I’d like to share, count as general life advice, not just travel advice.
These are some of the notions and calls to action that hit and stuck with me:
Walk more: Being in Spain without a car, I rediscovered the feeling of walking everywhere. Beyond the hours we spent on the Camino de Santiago, which added up to about 43 miles, we walked around the towns to shop and eat. While this low-intensity locomotion didn’t exactly enhance my fitness as a runner, it did adapt my feet to greater endurance. More importantly, it forced time in the day to think and observe, even more so than running does. Returning home, I vow to try to become a bike commuter (walking to town six miles away isn’t practical, but biking is) and to use our car less.
Smile and say hello more: With so many languages on the Camino (not only French, Portuguese, German, and of course English; but also, regional dialects such as Galician and Catalan), people tended to smile more to break through the language barrier, and “hola” and “buen camino” were the default greetings. People made eye contact, and I felt the connection despite the language differences. People rarely looked at their phone while interacting with others. When I return to regular life and stand in line at the grocery or walk down the sidewalk, I will try harder to keep my phone in my pocket to make this human connection with the workers and passers-by.
Try everything: Travel is a time for exploring as much as possible, including regional gastronomy. For me, this meant anchovies, sardines, and even a few bites of octopus that others ordered; plus, after-dinner liqueurs graciously offered by the host, and a pastry or two at breakfast. Back home, I will try to eat more intuitively and adventurously, trying more food I consider “indulgent” or “unhealthy,” and cooking some comfort foods with less concern about gaining weight and clogging arteries. Portion control is key, I think—appreciating small single servings to satisfaction, not to the point of feeling stuffed. To do so requires slow, mindful eating. I’m excited to try to re-create some of the traditional Spanish dishes we ate, such as croquettes, even though they’re undeniably less healthy (but doesn’t béchamel sauce with bits of ham rolled in breadcrumbs and fried sound delicious?).
Be flexible and adapt to differences (related to the above): Traveling abroad is a powerful reminder that the American way is just one way. The things that seemed different on our first day in Spain and made me miss my version of “normal” seemed like a new normal 10 days later. For example, in Spain, there are no Starbucks-sized coffees, only strong espresso diluted with a small amount of water and served in a 6-ounce teacup. Bathrooms, even in the upscale hotels, lack washcloths or Kleenex; they only have regular-sized towels and toilet paper (which comes in smaller, thinner squares). Building floors start at 0 not 1, so a first-floor room is what we’d think of as the second floor. The only thing I really missed were nut butters! Peanut butter and almond butter seem to be nonexistent in Spain, as in Argentina.
Celebrate and seek diversity (also related to the above): The phrase “celebrate diversity” is trite but holds true. As I type this on a flight to Frankfurt, where we’ll connect to a flight to Denver, I’m surrounded by Spaniards, Germans, Africans, French, Chinese. Some Muslim women wear hijabs. The nice gentleman next to me is from Kosovo, and I feel an affinity for him because his iPhone home screen shows him kissing the cheek of an adorable smiling and chubby baby boy, showing the universal kinship of parental love.
It takes getting away to a place like Spain to realize more fully how homogenous my hometown is, and consequently, how one-dimensional my point of view becomes day by day as I see only people who look like me, and I read only the news I want to read. I love our mountain town, but this trip redoubles my commitment to take a big trip annually to somewhere different that brings us into contact with others who come from different places and cultures. Why? Why not just stay home? Because it’s too easy and narrows the mind, leading in extreme cases to nativist points of view. I really doubt our congresswoman Lauren Boebert would have turned out as she did if she were educated by world travel earlier in life.
This trip also reaffirms my commitment to study and improve my Spanish. Speaking Spanish connects me to the immigrant community in our town; it makes me brave enough to speak Spanish to the checkout clerks at our grocery store who are here on work visas, or undocumented, from Peru and Mexico, who smile and light up with appreciation when a white person speaks their language. It also enables me to take substitute teaching assignments with English learners and talk Spanish to the kids and teens, earning a bit of their trust. I simply love the Spanish language and hope that language study will help keep my aging brain sharp.
Go see that art show or hear that history talk in town. I’m lucky to live in a place where the commitment to art, culture, and history is much bigger than the town’s small population would suggest—we have music festivals, film festivals, thinkers’ symposiums, gallery walks, you-name-it. And yet, Morgan and I rarely go out to participate in them (although I try to attend authors’ talks at the library). After visiting archeological and art museums on this trip, I’m going to make more of an effort to go to shows and talks. It’s not only a chance to learn, but also to connect with others. (Note: I recently went to a poetry reading in town, and the poet and her collection deeply moved me.)
The past couple of weeks, I watched several more TV shows and films than usual. I got hooked on two shows I highly recommend: Beef on Netflix, and Somebody Somewhere on HBO Max. (Sadly, I did not watch Succession—I didn’t pay attention when my husband was watching it, and now I wish I had, given all the rave reviews.) I also savored Air, about the development of the Nike-Jordan brand, which so perfectly and hilariously captures the culture and events of 1984, my sophomore year in high school.
Then, last weekend, I took a deep dive into Mountainfilm, the 45-year-old festival here that showcases films about outdoor adventure, activism, and the human spirit. This Instagram post describes a few of my favorite feature-length and short documentaries. I urge you to see The Grab and Bad Press if possible, both of which stoked my appreciation for old-fashioned hard-hitting journalism. (I went to journalism school eons ago and worked as a daily newspaper reporter for a few years.) Hats off to reporters and filmmakers who sacrifice so much to cover important and often dangerous stories.
Mostly, these and other films—plus a panel discussion I attended about water in the West—motivated me to take action on personal and political levels for the sake of the planet and for next generations. I encourage you to try to see Mountainfilm on tour or attend the festival in person.
My baby is all grown up
And finally, today is my son’s 22nd birthday. I love and miss him so much (he’s working on a ranch this summer, mostly off the grid and out of touch).
Looking through old photos, I found this gem from 2006, when he was 5 and his big sister Colly was 8, and I signed them up for a kids’ race the day before I ran a marathon. His expression says it all. He never liked running or hiking; he developed into a baseball player early on, then a skateboarder, snowboarder, horseman, golfer, and major sports fan who follows several major-league teams.
I learned that you can’t force your kids to enjoy running (or any other thing you want them to do, such as play a musical instrument—I made my daughter take piano lessons for six years, and it didn’t stick at all). They are not your clones. You may think you’re merely encouraging them to do the thing you want them to do, but if they’re not intrinsically drawn to it, they’ll feel pressured and criticized. Let your kids find their own “thing,” and love and support them unconditionally as they are.
If you’re the parent of young kids, you might appreciate this article that I was interviewed for, “Ultra(mom)running,” full of parenting advice for runners.
This Instagram post below shows some photos and video of how Kyle turned out. I’m so grateful and full of love. I don’t write about parenting much anymore, and words fail me now to adequately convey the degree to which being a mother expanded the meaning and fulfillment, along with love and joy, in my life.
I’m first and foremost a mom, even now as an empty-nester, and being the mother of my son and daughter always will be the best, most central part of my identity.
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