Don't believe everything you think: Cascade Crest 100

When I think about racing these ultra distances I don’t actually think about the event itself but how I arrived to toe that starting line. I reflect on the miles of training, the highs of some runs, the lows of recovery days, the early morning wake up calls, the adapting to lingering injuries, re-assessing and addressing weekly goals and the constant motivation and support of loved ones. Without that support those miles would be inconceivable. Exploring the curiosity of running 50 miles, 100k, 100 miles is a strong driving force for me but the physical limits of the human body can override this desire all too easily. This summer I experienced something new; my body and mind continuously telling me I couldn’t achieve this race distance the weeks leading up to this endeavor yet there I was, standing at the start line, bib pinned on.

Cascade Crest 100 has been one of the races at the top of my list when first being introduced to the Central Cascade Mountains just outside of Seattle, Washington. It's no secret that most of my races revolve around the Pacific North West because of the beautiful terrain and even more incredible people; Cascade Crest was no different. 

This summer started off with a bang. My training felt solid, my body strong and my mind focused on my summer goals. I had several long training weeks and felt as though I'd recover and bounce back eager for more miles and quality time spent in the mountains. The best part was I never felt as though running was ever training but just an activity I was passionate about and was stoked to do every day. Unfortunately all of that was put on pause when I began feeling pain in my posterior tibial tendon that would increase anytime I'd run downhill and on flat hard surfaces. I was in the middle of a three week running trip in Colorado when I decided to come home early.

If not a mountain runner? Than what am I?

 Rich from VFE, hes a miracle worker, fights all the knots and tightness my body has been creating!

Rich from VFE, hes a miracle worker, fights all the knots and tightness my body has been creating!

A question that surfaced all too frequently those weeks during summer that were spent not in the mountains and most importantly, not running. I vest so much of my identity in ultra running and just mountain running in general, that once it’s taken away, even momentarily, I often asked myself “Who am I if I’m not running?”. It took awhile to gain momentum again once I accepted the fact that I needed to take time away from running to regain full health. I live, breath and dream about my next running adventure, be it local mountains, the Sierra or my annual trip to Colorado, I’ve always believed that I should work hard but play harder. Spending the rest of July and August far from those mountain peaks was devastating but I still had Cascade Crest 100 at the end of August on my Calendar. Everyday I questioned whether or not I should drop from the race, if my body would be recovered from my injury by then and if I should even run it recovered without even a mile ran in the last month. I took the process day by day, found my love of cycling and swimming again and was able to spend some time outdoors climbing with my boyfriend and some friends. Although I was still active almost everyday, I felt as though a part of me was missing, I was overwhelmingly sad I wasn’t doing the thing I was most passionate about and learned to mask those feelings in hopes that I can stay positive and focus on recovering. I gave up alcohol, all forms of gluten, and only consumed whole foods that were anti-inflammatory as well as incorporated a weekly strength training as well as sport massage with Rich and Julio at VFE in hopes for a quicker recovery. I dreamed of rugged trails, alpine vistas, mountain peaks, sore muscles, and crossing the finish line in Easton, WA.

Despite my gut feeling and well, my body telling me otherwise, we bought our plane tickets, booked an airbnb and the decision was finally made with a mere week left until race day.

On August 25th at 10am, I began the trek of 100 miles across the Cascade Mountains. Now, a couple months later, I shake my head at myself. I knew at the start line that I shouldn’t have been there and I continued to question my decision every step of the way. Not only was I still not healed- still hadn’t ran, but I was dealing with recovering from a cold, the wheezing in my breathing was a constant reminder of poor decision making.

The race normally known for its unbearable heat, was cold and rainy this year. The weeks leading up to the race, Washington and most of the PNW were dealing with fires and an overwhelming amount of smoke so the rain was welcomed with open arms.

I’d like to tell you that the entire thing was a mistake, running 100 miles when your body is not ready is pretty stupid. However, despite feeling pretty terrible most of the time, I was able to see an incredible amount of friends out on the course and even got to run half the race with Hilary and Ely. Those miles shared were pretty rough but shared with those two, made it an experience to remember- definitely would say it was type 2 fun! We supported each other, cheered on the grunts and howls and lifted each other up when times were low. Not only was I able to share those miles with two friends, I also picked up Eamon at Hyak Aid, mile 55, being my crew and pacer, this was a great test to our relationship! We continued off with Hilary and her pacer but not even a mile out of the aidstation, my posterior tibial tendon pain resurfaced and left me walking, tears flowing down my face. I waved goodbye to Hilary as she continued to run and debated whether I should just end this quest now, giving it a good 55 miles of trying. Eamon encouraged me to continue, despite my meltdown, and we continued forward.

The miles passed slowly, as my moods went from one extreme to the other as Eamon, the incredible partner that he is, continued with his positive pep talks and occasional embraces when my mood was at an all time low and perhaps a bit snappy. As the miles krept by, my eyes demanding sleep, I felt empty of all sources of energy and I couldn’t imagine the finish line. I’ve never experienced feeling this low during any ultra and didn’t know how to manage all the negativity that were surfacing. This person had taken over my body- this negative and sad person kept repeating the word can’t.

 Thank you Eamon for letting me borrow your socks and I’m sorry I put a hole in them :( Fantastic photo by Glenn!

Thank you Eamon for letting me borrow your socks and I’m sorry I put a hole in them :( Fantastic photo by Glenn!

 Genuinely happy to see Glenn again toward the top of Thorp. This climb seemed never ending. Before the 6 mile descent of my bodies destruction and unwillingness to move faster than a crawl.

Genuinely happy to see Glenn again toward the top of Thorp. This climb seemed never ending. Before the 6 mile descent of my bodies destruction and unwillingness to move faster than a crawl.

I can’t do this, I kept repeating to myself. Not only was I vocal about this belief but in my my mind believed what I was saying. I can’t do this, I repeated. My body was in a whirl of hurt, at this point it wasn’t just my shin but my right hip and my overall posture was slumped over trying to find a running position that wasn’t painful. In past races, I’d have a second, third, fourth wind, however, here there was no second chances- I was giving it my all.

Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that- thoughts.
 After a month of not drinking, I enjoyed a few sips of beer at the finish line… until the dehydration and headache hit me.

After a month of not drinking, I enjoyed a few sips of beer at the finish line… until the dehydration and headache hit me.

I crossed the finish line after 27 hours and 3 minutes of running. After years of envisioning running this race, I had never pictured the day to end like this. I wanted so badly to perform in such a way that when I couldn’t physically achieve that goal, I barely held on for dear life, exhausting all resources and crying a shit ton. I was disappointed in myself as an athlete, not just because I felt as though I could do better, but because I risked my health and my body to get to this point. Was it worth it? The belt buckle, the Hardrock qualifier, adding another month of not running? The race itself, was incredible! The volunteers, the runners, the supporters, the course (even in the cold) were all what I dreamed of, but was it worth injuring myself further? I can’t honestly answer that question. Despite being left with another injury that left me hobbling around for a month after the race, everything that happened during those 27 hours was an experience I wouldn’t trade, a hard lesson learn. It’s amazing the things we can train our minds to believe, for the best or for the worst.

It was then, weeks later, when I stopped focusing on how long it would take me to hobble to work, or worry about getting Juniper proper exercise, when I stopped stressing at the idea of getting back to my normal self and just let myself be, that I was able to heal. I remember the moment I took notice, I ran up my parents stairs to say hi and stopped at the top- light switch just flipped, realizing that I had just RAN up the stairs with zero pain and without effort. I realized I hadn’t been late to work lately and that I was able to cross the street before the hand started blinking and without hobbling. My body was feeling good and most importantly, I was happy!

With two weeks of transitioning the miles back into my routine and then three solid weeks of running in the mountains under my belt, I’m finally feeling back to myself. Injuries are no joke and the time it takes to heal and recover should be taken seriously, an idea I’m learning to grasp. Despite being injured, I look back at my summer and am amazed at how positive my reaction toward it is. Yes, perhaps I couldn’t run most of the summer but that time wasn’t wasted. I was able to build a healthy and loving relationship with an incredible human being, do other activities other than running that I’ve sidelined in the past, and I got to watch my best friend Rhea finish her first 100 mile race (also Cascade Crest), among many other things. I’ve always defined myself as a runner but it’s not what makes me, me. These last few months helped me realized that this one sport doesn’t define me as a person, but it’s the choices I make in the end that controls my happiness and overall well being.

Since Cascade Crest, I’ve been able enjoy time away from running, spending a few week in Peru as well climbing in the Sierra and just spending quality time with my family, friends and boyfriend. As much as I tried to write about my trip to Peru with Run Like A Girl, I felt as though I needed to get this specific experience off my chest (don’t worry, more adventure posts to come!). The negative feelings clouded my overall experience and writing about it helped me grasp all the good things and all the great memories I had made during that journey. As I embark on my next adventure, packing my bags for Mexico, I feel as though all that stress and negativity is behind me and the happy go lucky Sawna has returned and is ready for the next Chapter to begin.

Till next time!

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Goodbye 20's- HELLO 30's

 6.27.2018 Mt Langley 14,026 ft 

6.27.2018 Mt Langley 14,026 ft 

Here we are! The final days of my 20's and I'm not too sure how I feel about it. It feels like just yesterday I was celebrating my 21st birthday at my parents house and here I am now, a blink of an eye later in the midst of becoming a thirty year old...

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.
— Ferris Bueller

Last week I found myself hiking up Kearsarge Pass on Summer Solcstice in the midst of a breakdown. Despite the beauty that surrounded me, every step I took I wanted to cry. Filled with negativity and thoughts I wouldn't even say out loud for fear of shear embarrassment, I fully embraced the pity party I was throwing myself. As the day progressed, the party grew bigger and my negativity only grew stronger as I questioned my life choices; my work choices, my lack of power in running, my ability or inability to accomplish goals, my strength in said goals, my love life or lack their of and my overall happiness (and Junipers). I was filled with a sense of loneliness that I couldn't shake. Fully aware that I started my period the day before and the ultimate game changer that is the emotions and PMS- I've been given the red flag. If I was playing in the world cup, I'd be out of the game big time. I pride myself on being in control of my emotions or at least aware of any irritability or mood swings that may be occurring, but this time around it was out of my control, I was on an emotional roller coaster and it just wouldn't stop.

Hi emotions, it's me... Sawna- please go away and don't come back any other day.

Despite the fireworks of emotions going through my body, I smiled, talked to each and every hiker that I passed and cheered on my friend Vanessa as she hiked behind me. "This too shall pass" I tell myself. Everyone is entitled to good days and bad days and today is a not so hot one for me. I mean, it's definitely hot- temperature wise but there's a dark and gloomy storm going on in my body that needs to pass. Not to mention my flow this month being so strong I bled through my bathing suit and shorts not even a shear two hours into the hike. Normally I'd say TMI (too much information), but with age I've learned that we all poop, fart, burp, and us females all have menstrual cycles, so why hide anything. 

"Breath in, breath out" I tell myself. Things like this happen to girls everywhere, it's just my turn to experience it. 

(Photos of Mt. Langely 6.20.18 with Vanessa)

That evening I was in my favorite form of sleeping, on the ground. Just before 6 am Friday morning I woke and instantly thought to myself "Today is going to be a good day". We packed up our cars; I prepared for the days adventure as Vanessa packed to head back to LA. Yesterday I debated whether to go on today's planned run, a 22 mile out and back to Rae Lakes from Onion Valley- thinking it was too risky thinking I should've invested in a spot device if I was planning on running in the back country alone but quickly pushed the thought aside. Today is a new day, and I plan to enjoy every second of it. I sit up and remind myself that you don't have to move mountains. Simply fall in love with your life... be a tornado of happiness, gratitude and most importantly, acceptance. You will change yourself and the world by just being a warm, kind hearted human being not just to others, but to yourself. WELCOME BACK SAWNA.

I began running up Kearsarge with a grin and stoke for what was to come. I realized their was a mile where you had reception and quickly sent a text or two of apologies for my emotional breakdown the day before. Quickly thanking the lack of service the day before for not giving me enough signal to truly portray the roller coaster. Phew!

As a continue toward the pass I think of all the crazy thoughts I experienced during this section and I try to rationalize why I was feeling those specific feelings and quickly brushed it all aside, distracted by the beautiful day that surrounded me. If you haven't been to Onion Valley Campground and the lakes leading up to Kearsarge pass, put it on your to do list NOW. I continued running every step, some sections slower than others depending on the grade of the climb but running nonetheless. As I entered the final section of the climb, an exposed rocky area with swtich backs leading up to the pass, I could hear cheering coming from the top. As I ran the switch backs up and finally got closer to the top, I could see about seven other hikers cheering cheering me on. Finally reaching them they all gave me a high five and congratulating me on my effort. What a welcoming! My fear of running alone getting pushed aside as I stopped to talk to the hikers for a few minutes before continuing on. 

Running down from the pass I couldn't help but grin. The last 5 years of running has never been about specific training, setting records or making myself better as an athlete but has truly been about exploring, having fun, sharing experiences with this community of outdoor enthusiasts and how it can make me better as a individual. I may occasionally loose sight of that, perhaps the occasional Strava CR, or my competitive side may take lead for just a moment, but my main priority is to experience what nature has to offer and enjoy it with people that share a similar passion. Going into my thirties, the stoke is high to say the least. I can honestly say these last few years have only grown in high stoke and epic adventures that I can not imagine what my 30's could possibly offer. 

The rest of the run is pretty much completely opposite of the day before. My face was sore from smiling so much, my phone filled with at least a hundred photos and countless conversations shared with local trail enthusiasts, whether PCT hikers; Rae Lake loopers, or just weekday adventurers. As I ran over Glen Pass and down to Rae Lakes for a quick dip before turning around, I couldn't help but stop and admire my surroundings. If it wasn't for the blood thirsty mosquito's sucking my blood at every possible second, I would've stayed longer than the few seconds I managed to swat them off for.  That day was filled with only excitement and thrill for where my feet and a positive attitude can take me. I was able to enjoy a 22 mile gorgeous run through Kings Canyon, Sequoia National Park up and over both Kearsarge and Glen Pass all by myself. I swam in alpine lakes, made friends with PCTers and even ran into my friend from Los Angeles, Michael Chamoun, at the end of the run and was able to catch up with him. The day was incredible, only to end with a home heated meal at Whitney Portal before the drive home. 

I think back about the last decade, my choices, my experiences, the life I chose and despite maybe making a few wrong turns, having to do a couple of u-turns and perhaps crossing the double yellow line a few times(shhhh!)- I wouldn't have it any other way. All those poor choices, all those wrongs, and even all the choices I thought were made in my best interest, all things I would never alter. Those choices, those decisions have led me to this incredible life with the most amazing friends by my side, while making the most insane memories along the way. I wouldn't change anything, not even for a second. 

As being a twenty something year old come to an end I made sure to go out with a bang. This week I have and plan on spending it with people I care about the most, whether cooking dinner, snuggling a furry pup even though its 90 degrees out, climbing mountains, drinking beer or dancing the night away at a fiesta themed party- I want to be surrounded with what makes me thrive. Right now I feel stronger than ever, more empowered  and excited for what my 30's will bring. All I know is that I'll continue to make every day the best damn day possible- even if it does consist of a few tears. 

Mt. Langley 6.27.2018 Rhea's first 14er and real experience with elevation sickness. 

The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.
— Eleanor Roosevelt
 Meet Kelly! We passed each other on San Gorgonio two months ago and became friends on instagram and now friends in real life, she's celebrating her 27th birthday a day before mine!  The power of social media is incredible!

Meet Kelly! We passed each other on San Gorgonio two months ago and became friends on instagram and now friends in real life, she's celebrating her 27th birthday a day before mine! The power of social media is incredible!

SO LETTUCE TACO BOUT A CELEBRATION! Wanna buy me a beer for my birthday, or a tasty vegan dinner or heck a plane ticket to Nepal? (I won't stop you) I've included a support button on my website for you to do just that! As an unsponsored athlete who attempts to work hard but play harder- things tend to add up. Adventuring, gas, races, fueling not only my body by my partner in crime, Juniper, it all adds up. No matter the cost I am determined to continue this exploration of nature, myself and of this gorgeous world a lifelong quest and your small donation significantly helps me make all of it possible- and is very much appreciated! 

Shoot, one beverage goes a long way! (especially when it's after a 10 hour day of hiking a friend down from a mountain after experience insane elevation sickness)

 

Well folks, I'll be turning 30 on the 30th and I couldn't be more excited. Excited to learn and grow with each new experience. 

Continue to follow along on the adventure!

(And past adventures! Still have Orcas Island Trail Marathon and Canada Adventure to post STAT)

TIll next time!

Expect the unexpected

We sit in the parked car as Tam, Andrew and Rhea all begin to layer up I stuff another chip in my mouth delaying the inevitable- going outside. See, I convinced Tam to visit from the UK, hardly convinced but used the beautiful weather we've been having as an incentive to spend a few days in town. I eat another chip covered in hummus as my gaze continues forward, looking at what? I couldn't tell you. We were in the clouds, a dense white fog left us with zero visibility and a light shower to remind us of the current freezing temperature. It was 32 degrees parked at Vincent Gap. "At first I was afraid, I was petrified" Gloria Gaynor belts out in the background. No, girlfriend, I don't think I will survive, not this weather. Sawna is a sun child. 

 The day we departed from Drakes Bay. 6 Days and 146 miles later...

The day we departed from Drakes Bay. 6 Days and 146 miles later...

Tam arrived from London the night before. We had spent 6 beautifully hard days in Costa Rica running the Coastal Challenge, what now seems like another lifetime ago and not just a mere 3 months. She had messaged me about visiting San Diego and had mentioned possibly hanging out. We quickly decided on her visiting for two days, some sunshine and warmth would do her good. What we didn't know was that the 80 degree weather we have been having would immediately disappear once she arrived, she didn't realize she had packed the fog with her. Thank you for that, Tam.

I was determined to make these two days incredible. If not for Tam, for my two days off from the stress of work. The last few weeks of working long hours at a bar has not been ideal, most evening spent coming home and melting into the couch unable to function. I had messaged Andrew, Rhea and Tony and we made fast plans on camping no matter the weather. We considered Horse Shoe Meadows but the weather nixed that immediately, the San Gabes seem to be the only place we'd be able to go. 

We all sit in the car, shivering, questioning our decisions. Tony decided to head back to Buckhorn and set up camp, it would be too difficult for Lou, his 14 year old dalmatian in this sort of weather. Thankfully I packed extra warm clothing for this unexpected temperatures. Tam had no idea what I was putting her through as we glance at each other with forced smiles, this will be fun, we reassure each other in a very unconvincing way. I stay positive and say things like "I'd rather be here than sitting at home" "better than working", but at the same time I was questioning my own choices. It was never the question of whether it was safe or not, it wasn't a huge storm we were walking into, but just an uncomfortable situation. After putting on what felt like a million layers we begin our trek up Baden Powell only to stop a few switch backs up and remove 999,999,999 of those layers. Although temps were in the 30's, the air was still and the more we hiked up, the warmer it got, and the more genuine our smiles became. We were deep in the clouds, unable to see around the switchbacks due to the thick fog. Despite the poor visibility and freezing temps we were having a great time! The dogs, Juniper and Lola, were running around, tongues out and chasing each other up and down the mountain as we all talked and enjoyed each others company. About three miles up we noticed the snow and icicles hanging from the trees. A round of a-paws for to the San Gabes for the ins-paw-rational snowy mountain views. Boy was this polar opposite of the 80 degree day I had on this mountain just last week, that day I could've definitely gone for a pupsicle. Get it, get it? Woof. 

We made our way to the peak of Baden Powell along with 10 or so PCT hikers. The hikers, hiking from the boarder of Mexico to Canada along the Pacific Crest Trail, were carrying large packs to get them through the 2,650 mile quest, while we were carrying mere small vests. Reaching Baden Powell at 9,399 ft on clear days often grants you a 360 view of the San Gabriel Mountains, however, on a day like today we were lucky to see 5 feet in front of us. Despite the lack of view, I tried to illustrate the views as best as I could to Tam. We all took photos and hung around at the top long enough for some cloud breaks. There were definitely some screams of joy coming from our group. 

Our run down the mountain was exciting. Oh the joys of running in tights and it inevitably sagging off my hips. Saggy crotch syndrome I like to call running tights. We had spurts of heat and cold as we began our descent, running through flurries of snow, icycles dangling from above, spurts of open views of the desert below and soft moist dirt below our feet. I couldn't help but giggle from happiness. Today was a good day. 

Our drive to camp was a mixture of defrosting and delayering from the days adventure. We packed our packs as best we could and headed to post up our campsite. It was a surprise to stumble upon three PCT hikers with a fire going in the big pit, I immediately said hi, attracted to the heat they were creating, and offered the wood I brought as a donation if we could hang out by their fire. They quickly accepted. After setting up our tents, we grabbed our snacks and made friends with Captain America, Butcher, and Jukebox. 

The evening was spent making new friends and hanging with old friends. The pups were pooped out and hung by the fire while we enjoyed some beers and eat lots of food. Well I ate a lot of food. After what seemed like hours of talking, we snuggled up into our tents around a whooping 9:30pm. I woke around 3 am, trying to convince myself that I should go back to sleep and that the need to pee wasn't dire, but my bladder rejected my argument. I crawled out of my tent to a soft white carpet, a few inches of snow while snow floated around me. If the need to pee wasn't necessary at that moment I would've spent more time enjoying just being still. It's not everyday in the San Gabes that you get to camp while its snowing. Full of excitement I almost woke Tam to tell her it was snowing, then remembered, she lives in the UK- she see's fog, snow, and rain all the time. She was actually trying to get a vacation from that sorta weather. Surprise, surprise, here we are in sub 30 degree temps in what was supposed to be sunny Southern California. 

The morning was spent trying to keep our hands warm all whilst not getting falling snow into our coffee. Our coffee didn't stay very warm too long. That was our cue to pack up and head out. 

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I wanted to show Tam one last thing before she headed off to what will be sunny San Diego, Strawberry Peak. Oh the beautiful Strawberry Peak, views of the San Gabes and Los Angeles in the distance, but today, barely the trail infront of us was visible. Alas! I made my attempt but mother nature was not in our favor. We climbed and ran back to the car with a rumble in our stomach. We were in need of a hearty lunch, our last stop being my favorite, Cafe Gratitude. 

Since her visit, it's been nearly 80 degrees everyday while I've been enjoying it in the discomfort of work. I've surprised myself by waking each day by 6 and going for run in Griffith Park in order for Juniper, and myself, to get some exercise in before a long work day. 

T-minus 3 days till I'm on a flight to Seattle and reunited with some of my favorite people while running around ORCAS ISLAND. 

I've never been to Orcas when it wasn't in Feb for Rainshadows 50k... the STOKE IS HIGH. Will be in Seattle Sunday evening till Monday night if anyone wants to hang out. Literally, lets go climbing. 

Till next time. 

Thank you Tam for visiting <3

 I have several similar photos and each one Junipers smiles is HUGE. &lt;3

I have several similar photos and each one Junipers smiles is HUGE. <3

 Can we all admire how cool Andrew is with Lola who weights WAY less than Juniper.

Can we all admire how cool Andrew is with Lola who weights WAY less than Juniper.

My unsuccessful attempt to be cool like Andrew:

Ok, Ok, last thing.

Just wanted to wish Tony a happy 30th Birthday. HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY BDAY!

Our adventures wouldn't be the same without him. He somehow knows how to make you smile a bit wider, laugh a bit harder and love way way more. We are all thankful to have you and your pups in our lives! I know Juniper loves me but lets be honest, she'd join your pack in a heartbeat! 

 

 

 

Lake Sonoma: When "Going Big" isn't smart and "Going Home" is not an option.

If you know me, I'm a big fan of the motto "Go big or go home". I do love my home because obviously that's were my bed is and the best place for sleep. But when I think of that motto I think of the opposite of everything in moderation. In ultrarunning, there is no real moderation. Everything is extreme, as is everything I do in my life. 

Buy a bag of cookies, eat it all. Buy a bag of chips, eat all the chips. Resting is doing long hiking miles instead of "runnning". Watching Stranger Things is watching the entire season in one sitting. I have no self control- give me all the Thai food, please. So when I found out I got into Lake Sonoma exactly 30 days before the race I was hesitant on how I would perform with limited amount of running since The Coastal Challenge. 

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Well those 30 days turned into an incredible learning experience; a huge practice in self control, acceptance and learning the act of rest. The days leading up to Lake Sonoma were spent, no not in the mountains where I yearned to be, but in bed with the flu and then with laryngitis. Sawna's caught the plague yet again. 

I spent days in a drunken slumber, unable to work because of my lack of voice, unable to eat because I was too tired to do anything. My darling Juniper stuck by me as my little spoon as we slept the day away. She never begged for food or to be let outside- she rest her head on my chest and we just slept in unison. It would've broke my heart if I thought of how I was dismissing her needs, but I was too tired to realize anything. I watched as friends trained, ran, climbed, and posted their incredible feats unable to even fathom walking down the stairs. My body ached, my breathing weezed, my cough rumbled deep in my soul, demanding more rest. It was completely impossible to work, I was off work for 12 days and still my voice lingered to fully return. 

The idea of racing Lake Sonoma wasn't a question, it was out of the picture. Let's be honest, was I really going to run hard anyways? Probably not, but there was no doubt that I'd still go and experience the weekend. Lake Sonoma 50 miler has always been a prestigious race that drew some of the elite of elite athletes, not only a high profile race among the entry list but the course itself is just one for the books. This book was not one I could put down. Now, lets turn the page. 

I was lucky enough to have the support of Gu Energy when it came to the race, lodging and all the logistics. I was a lost puppy that they cared for and it was nice to know that I would have friends there. The airbnb was located on a beautiful winery just 20 minutes from the start line, shared with Rebecca, Gabi, Elan, and a couple from San Francisco. After work Thursday I was frantically trying to pack, clean my apartment and prepare Juniper for her stay with her grandparents before I set off early Friday morning at 6am. 

One would normally know where the race they signed up for would be located. Well, that person was not me. I had no idea where Lake Sonoma was until I plugged it into the map Friday morning. Let the adventure begin as the 8 hour quest lays ahead. 

The city of Healdsburg is a small, tight knit community right along the cusp of Lake Sonoma in Sonoma County, about an hour and a half from San Francisco, given no traffic. I arrived right around 1pm to the Healdsburg Running Store where packet pick up is held. Don't let the small location fool you, its not only filled with some awesome running product, but even more incredibly nice and welcoming people. My normal nervous and hesitant emotions were quickly pushed aside when I realized how welcoming this community is. I spent a few hours getting to know Rebecca and hanging at the Gu tent while runners trickled in for packet pick up. Fellow Coyotes and socal badass babes Vanessa and Brianna came and said hello as we chatted with excitement about the next days adventure. The evening was spent packing race gear, catching up with Elan, Rebecca and Gabi and just enjoying the idea of spending a nice long day on an unknown beautiful course. 

I'm not going to lie, I was nervous. I had butterflies in my stomach as I hung around the start line, butterflies or it was the several Trail butter banana toast I ate for breakfast. It's funny, I've worked with several high profiled celebrities over the last few years and never did I get nervous around them like runners I respect and look up to. LS50 has several of them, so at any given point I could've just hurled my breakfast from those butterflies. Other than that, I had no doubt today would go smoothly. With zero expectation on time and my goal to only have fun and take it easy, other than pet all the dogs, I didn't have the anxiety that I had to perform, leaving only room for enjoyment. What a concept. To have fun! 

I don't know how to put into words the next few chapters of this book. My feelings were just constantly in awe, my emotions were relatively of joy with minor disappointment in my lack of fitness, my feet continued forward as the lush singletrack opened up to meadows of wildflowers and views of the lake in the distance. I found myself, sitting on my thrown in Lala land, a place I rule over when I'm running, located off in my head and far from the actual place I'm running when I finally come back to reality and notice I was head of a kongo line of a few runners.  "Let me know when you want to pass" was the first thing I said but when the girl refrained, we began to chat. She quickly offers up a game of Lake Sonoma Trivia. This rad girl, whom I later learned is named Zuzu and her friend Justin and I played trivia, then we played guess our birth city/profession from just mere little hints. A few miles into it, Sarah, a nurse by profession who born in Maine joined in the game. Those 11 miles flew by without a hint that we were in the beginning of a race and not a fun trail run with friends. I learned all about these three, their birth city, their profession, where they lived and yet I never knew what they looked like. Not waiting too long at the next aid station I continued forward, now with new opportunity to mingle with other runners and make more new friends.

The miles came easy but slow, I couldn't help but feel disappointed on my bodies lack of ability to run faster at an effortless pace. feeling as though there was no ink in my pen, the gas on empty in my car, I was running on fumes. I could feel the tightness in my hips and hamstrings reminding me that these last few weeks were spent horizontal on a bed instead of putting in hard efforts on the trails. With Cascade Crest 100 being my A race this summer and Squamish, Hardrock, and Sierra running adventures before that- I didn't want to risk the possibility of injury. "No way Jose", I tell my fiesta shorts wearing legs to simmer down. "Have fun, Sawna" I tell myself. "Use this as a training run, see how your body reacts and gage your next few weeks of training from what you learn today" I continue telling myself. 

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At mile 31 aid station, I lingered longer, casually chatting to friends volunteering and fully enjoying the wide selection of snacks. I chugged my last cup of coke and prepared to run off when I noticed Bri was running into the aid station. As I cheered her in, the look of despair covered her entire face, she didn't look like she was having fun. She quickly explained how terrible she felt, the idea of DNFing and asked if I would wait for her. A sudden flashback of Fatdog 120 reminded me of how I felt running into a majority of the aid stations, hoping to see someone I knew, feeling awful to the point of meltdown given my body were hydrated enough to produce tears and wishing I had a friend. I, without hesitation, told her of course and reassured her that we had all day if she needed to walk the next 20 miles. We stayed at the aid station long enough for her to snack and drink plenty of fluid before heading back on the course. The next few miles we chatted about the beginning of her race, how she felt, what she ate while switching between walking and running. As we continued forward, she pressed that I could run ahead of her if I wanted to. Honestly, a phrase I use a plethora of times to other runners but when I say it I really mean "please don't leave me". I had no intention on running faster, heck! It was nice to have a running partner in general. If you don't know Bri, she is a fire cracker, fierce and fast runner, even at this low moment she was having we were still cruising the miles. Knowing she'd run the downhills, I attempted to see how far I could push her on the accents, jogging the uphills as much as possible and giving her target points to run to before inevitably hiking. Slowly but surely she was coming back around, I could tell in her voice and our conversation that she was feeling a bit better. The moaning and grunts were becoming less of a background noise as we chatted the miles by all while our pace grew faster. Bri and I have ran together maybe once or twice during Coyotes but this would be our longest run together and longest time in general hanging out. We talked about both our 100 mile races coming up, how we got into running, future goals and just life. As our pace continued to get faster, her excitement seemed to grow and she finally admitted she was confident in finishing, not just finishing, but with a 50 mile PR. 

With the pressure off the race and performing, I realized how good my body felt. The miles were effortless and my body was using the Gu fuel beautifully, definitely feeling better at this point than I did during Fatdog. The way I felt, I could've continued running, and that right there proves that the day was successful. With zero aches and pains I could continue running this week and hopefully start building the miles once I fully recover. I was excited, but the race wasn't over. Bri and I continued to push forward and with only two miles left, I cheered her on every ascent, motivating her to run it in. We crossed the finish line with the time of 10:04, giving her a 20 minute PR! 

The rest of the evening flew by. Once I crossed the finish line I was made aware that finishers received a jacket, mind blown right there. Before making my way over to the swag bag table, I made sure to say hi to the plethora of dogs hanging around the finish line. Was this heaven? This is this fiesta I was looking for! Endless food, beer and all the cute dogs to say hi to. I only had to run 50 miles to get here- shoot sign me up every weekend! After retrieving my incredible swag bag, I made my way over to the array of food booths, ordered a personal cheese-less pizza and a veggie tamale. All food in hand, beer in the other, dogs surrounding me, and tired legs- life was good. 

 My race goal: Pet all the dogs was a success! Thanks for the pawsitively lovely photo Howie Stern!

My race goal: Pet all the dogs was a success! Thanks for the pawsitively lovely photo Howie Stern!

The next day runners and friends gathered at a local winery for some wine tasting and celebration. In the morning the sky gave a spectacular array of bright clouds that once the wine tasting started was dark and gifted us with a light shower. I don't think anyone really cared. The entire weekend was spectacularly well put together, the race organizers are professional in their kindness and charm (they even donate all proceeds to children scholarships). When I initially signed up I didn't realized how incredible this community was going to be, how well put together the race is, how many insanely talented and wonderful human beings it attracts and just how gosh darn nice everyone from the athletes to the organizers to the volunteers are! What else can I say to praise this race a bit more? Um, the signs along the course were awesome, and did I mention the tamales? 

So, this pretty much sums it up: Everything was great, I felt great, the people were great, the course was great, the food was great, the weather was great and the dogs... they were great. 

Before going back to the hectic long hours of running around work like a stressed out mad woman begins again, I was able to spend some quality time out on the trails with Juniper, giving me the opportunity to test the body for any kinks or pain. Each day was successful except maybe my body going with the flow a bit too much on top of Baden Powell, oh the perks of being female. Get it? Get it? Flow! Either way I'm taking it easy, recovering and indulging in some treats and beer before I stop drinking for another month or so... who knows. What's next? Gosh, opportunities change daily. Seattle in a few weeks for Orcas 50 miler? Squamish in June, Colorado in July, Cascade in August... the summer will be full of adventure and the stoke is HIGH and preferably I will be high as well- high on mountain tops that is. 

Till next time! 

 

 

 

 

 

Home sweet Los Angeles

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You don't truly understand how much you love and appreciate where you live until you are gone from home for an extended amount of time. Its pretty obvious now that I travel frequently, "caught the travel bug" some may say. The question of "where are you from?" is something that is asked frequently. Los Angeles has always been my home sweet home. 

"You're from Los Angeles!? Why? There isn't any mountains there" "Why would you want to live in such a terrible city" These are responses I constantly see myself battling. I take a shot of ginger, grab my $5 dollar coffee and light saber and attempt to battle my feelings for my home city. The moment I say I'm from LA I can see their facial expression go from curiosity to a child tasting a new vegetable as to say "EWWWW MOMMY THAT'S YUCKY". 

I find myself constantly defending the city. Don't get me wrong, I have a strong distaste for traffic, overpopulation, car honking, sirens, loud music, some people (errr most people) oh the list could go on. However, Los Angeles isn't just hustle and bustle, sky rises and traffic jams like everyone thinks. Well, yes, there are traffic jams technically all the time but far from the traffic jams, the people ordering their Vegan, gluten free, paleo, keto cupcake(like myself)- there are beautiful mountains that surround the city filled with endless trails. To the east you have the San Gabriel Mountains and to the west you have the Santa Monica Mountains which both offer a wide range of terrain to play on year round. And if you are up for a little more of a drive you have San Gorgonio, San Jacinto south and north east you have the Sierra Nevada. Not only are the mountains spectacular so close to home but the food is pretty awesome. As a vegan athlete I thrive off local produce and in Los Angeles you could find a farmers market any day of the week and sometimes a lemon or avocado tree nearby. Vegetables grow in abundance year round here and I like to say my diet is full of very radiant colors and from a nearby farm. 

Despite my super healthy daily green juice, I do indulge in the occasional vegan treat. Occasional, meaning daily right? The option for vegan fast food, junk food, or just you're optional fake processed meats are endless. As much as I love to cook and create new recipes and stray far far away from those processed fake "meats", it's nice to try a nearby vegan joint for something I normally wouldn't make myself. Some of my favorites consist of:

  • Cafe Gratitude (Chilaquilles for Breakfast, Whole Bowl/Humble bowl or Gracious Wrap)
  • Donut friend (try the Cinnamineral and have them add ice cream or almond butter, or the xray speculoos or create your own donut)
  • Mohawk Bend (I get their buffalo cauliflower and kale pizza- EVERYTIME. Also great local beers)
  • Cinnaholic (Across the street from Mohawk Bend- Any Cinnamon roll you can dream of)
  • Doomies (Junk food dream come true, any fake meat you would dream of- I normally go for their chocolate/peanut butter brownie).
  • Shojin Sushi (Probably my favorite restaurant that I don't go to very often- Try the Pirates of the Crunchy. The best)
  • Golden Road Brewery (One of the best post San Gabe long run, Wold Among Weeds beer paired with their Vegan Burger and fries)
  • Vinh Loh Tofu (Really great Vietnamese vegan join. The owner Kevin will order for you after asking a few questions. Great after long runs but beware of the inevitable gas bombs).

Spending nearly two months in Costa Rica truly opened my eyes on how I took my LA lifestyle for granted. I complained about all the terrible things and never was truly grateful for all that it offered. Since being home, despite being plagued with a sickness that left me basically vertical for two weeks, I was so happy to be in my bed and home. 

When I wasn't sick (still kind of sick) I tried running a different trail each day and using my vitamix and made a solid effort to try to cook new vegetable dishes. Each trail offered views I've seen a handful or more times but this time with a different set of eyes, a new perspective. At times I wanted to stand on top of the mountain and declare my love. Something I've never truly felt for another person, other than Juniper, but for these mountains I can honestly say they've stolen my heart.

Not just the mountains but LA has several fantastic climbing gyms that I found I truly enjoy going to. There are also several nearby bouldering and climbing areas outdoors that are incredible! Places like Stoney Point, Malibu Creek, Horse Flats, and where I was a few weeks ago Bishop and Alabama Hills which is located at the cusp of the Easter Sierra. The variety of outdoor activity year round is endless. 

While in Costa Rica my schedule was constantly on the run, physically and mentally. With working back to back retreats and the Coastal Challenge 147 mile race mixed in the middle,  despite the amount of fun I was having I was unable to eat and train the way my body was used to. There wasn't always a kitchen at my disposal to cook the fuel my body craved nor the time to go to the grocery store to purchase the necessary ingredients for such a meal. Thus eating out became regular. Beans and rice became a daily staple- literally for breakfast, lunch and dinner staple. I felt bad for Hailey when we were in a car together, gas bombs were dropped on a regular basis as my body fought to digest this food it wasn't accustomed to breaking down regularly. Costa Rica was an incredible experience, filled with endless adventure, the best company and the funniest collection of boomerang videos but I yearned for the nutritious meals I cooked myself daily when I was home. When the opportunity does arise to return to the beautiful country, I hope I plan my own nutrition a bit better before hand. Other than my eating habits, I had a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out). Watching my friends on their runs on the local mountains I grew envious of their experiences. Trails that I have been on probably a few dozen times, if not more, I was still jealous. I missed my home dirt, and most of all my homegirl, Juniper. Any given day in LA you have an opportunity to run a mountain within any 30 minute drive. Want to get up to 6,000ft- 10,000ft? You can within a 30-60 min drive from LA basically all year round. When I travel, not just in Costa Rica, I am constantly in search of a great trail that doesn't take too long to get to, doesn't require permits that you need to apply for beforehand and I can still get done with most of the day left. In Los Angeles, the trail options are endless and at your finger tips. Not only is there a plethora of trail options, but the running community in LA is so grand that you could have a running partner any day of the week. Not just a "partner" but one of your best friends! Work schedules fluctuate and offer companionship on trails not just on weekends but on weekdays as well. This gives me the opportunity to catch up with my best of friends without having to deal with the normal hustle of the trails on the weekend. If you know me, I want all the adventures all the time no matter what day it is! GIMME GIMME GIMME! 

Los Angeles is home to some pretty intense mountains, people, traffic accidents, food and incredible weather. That's right, the weather is quite beautiful 99% of the time. And even when its raining, it's mighty fun to run in. Oh I love Colorado and the PNW and I hope I do live there at some point in my life but at this point in time I'm enjoying the sunshine far too much to see how white my skin can get in colder climate. The sun is glorious, vitamin D is amazing. Really though, vitamin D is extremely essential in ones life. I was dangerously lacking the important vitamin during a time I was injured and I never realized how important it is to ones daily activities and functions. With beautiful weather it's incredibly easy to wake up early and eager to get outside and be active. 

My home is full of things that I love and if I ever find myself needing to adventure outside the limits of the city, it is also a great launching point to so many other locations. Only a 3 hour drive to the Eastern Sierra, 5 hours to the Grand Canyon, 6 hours to Tahoe and LAX offers great flight deals when planned in advanced- say to Canada, Alaska, Mexico, Peru, and all the other amazing places to see and explore. 

I'm forever grateful to call Los Angeles my home, to have the San Gabriel mountains as my playground and to have so many incredible friends because of this city. It also helps that my wonderful parents, sisters, brother and the rest of my family all live here :) Still, I'll continue to travel, adventure and explore new cities, towns, trails and lands. 

But for now, damn it feels good to be home.

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Don't believe me? Come visit and I'll show you!

Some of my favorite trails:

Mt Wilson:

Mt Wilson: Starting from the base at Lizzie's trail Inn or you can opt to start at Chantry Flats. It's a choose your own adventure as the many little trails connect to the main trail. Some favorites are Joan's Peak, Hastings Ridge, Rim Trail). 

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Strawberry Peak:

You can start from Red Box and take the main trail or Rubio Canyon and cut the run in half for a sweet 3rd class climb-Junipers not too stoked about that, Thanks Vince. Also a great loop if you go down to Strawberry Meadow, around Strawberry Peak to Redbox and down to Switzer Falls. 

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Mt Baldy:

1.Bear Canyon, Peak, 3T's, Cucamonga. 2.Manker Flats, Register Ridge, Peak, North Backbone, Pine & Dawson & the PCT & back 3. Register Ridge, Peak & down Ski Hut or Devils backbone & down the ski lifts from the Notch. 

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Islip Saddle:

Parking at Islip Saddle and climb Mt Williamson to the peak and continue onto the ridge to Burkhart trail and down to Devils Punch bowl to the campground and back up to Islip. OR Start from Vincent Gap to Mt Baden Powell and follow the PCT (And AC100 course) down to Islip saddle and down to the campground to manzanita trail back up to Vincent Gap. 

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Mt Lowe:

Start from Lake and take Steep and Cheap to Lowe toll road and follow the main trail to inspiration point and continue on to Mt Lowe Trail followed by Markam and San Gabe Peak. A great trail if you want to just run or do intervals. 

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Griffith Park: 

Ah a mile from my doorstep, GP is home to the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, and the Batcaves that were filmed in the first batman movie. My favorite begins in Bronson Canyon and up over the batcaves to the main road till you hit the single track that leads you to the road to the Hollywood Sign, there you can run down from the main trail or hit the single track that will give you a 1000ft descent in a mile back to your starting point. 

Need any trail, food or just fun recommendations... Just ask! 

Till next time ya'll! I'm running Lake Sonoma 50 miler this weekend despite my lack of training at all since I got sick. Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

 

The Coastal Challenge 2018

“Vamanos Suzanna” I can hear Ester from a distance, beckoning me to continue running with her and Ragna. I catch up but can feel my right quad begin to tense up when I increase my pace, a pace I cannot keep. I press my hand against my quad hard enough to hold it off from seizing up. “Do not cramp now, Sawna, you’re almost done” I say. "I have nothing left, my body weak, my muscles sore, thirsty for rest" I think to myself. I’m running on fumes, I just can't do it anymore. 

Day 0

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I arrive at the Best Western Irazu in San Jose where the race registration was held the day before the race. Although it was a relaxed affair I felt completely out of my element. Instantly I spot elite runners branded by their sponsors; Hoka, The North Face, Salomon, Merrell, making me question what I'd gotten myself into. Sitting in the conference room, I notice that there were people of all fitness levels, sizes, shapes, and ethnicity- this seems like a well rounded bunch of athletes, I instantly sigh with relief. At the same time I couldn’t help but gawk at some of the women’s bodies. "Close your mouth, Sawna, you're drooling" I say to myself. These runners radiate confidence and look prepared for the test at hand.  Rhea, who is in Costa Rica for the Run Like A Girl retreat starting tomorrow, was thankfully by my side as I looked over at her in awe. Somehow knowing what I was thinking she quickly says “Don’t worry, Sawna! You’re strong and you’ll do great!” She assured me "They don't know, but you are someone to watch" she ended with. I’m nervous, obviously, but more so because I don’t know what I’ve gotten myself into. Despite working several jobs, sometimes three in a day just to afford this race, last week was the first time I had even looked at the course profile and sat jaw open as I googled meters to feet- they have some pretty tough climbing sections that I didn’t anticipate. Well, it’s not like I trained anyways. I’ve made my bed, so I may as well lay in it. Later that night I prepare myself for the weeks adventure, anticipating my body acceptance to whatever pain is in store. “This will be fun”, we’re my last thoughts as I drifted off to sleep. 

Day 1

I wake with a jolt, thinking I’ve overslept. My phone read 2:50AM, 5 minutes before my alarm was to set off. I quickly brush my teeth and wash my face before making coffee. As I begin the coffee, my roommate Carrie, tooth brush in mouth, nonchalantly mentions that there is a scorpion by the toilet. 

Oh. My. Dog.

I silently go through all the scenarios of the scorpion attacking my foot while I peed or whilst brushing my teeth. I snap back to reality, grab the glass cup on the bedside table and went to the bathroom and trapped the sucker underneath it. The day is starting off on the right foot! 

 Before the miles.&nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;Photo by: Hilary Ann&nbsp;

Before the miles.     Photo by: Hilary Ann 

The adventure began with a 3 hour bus ride to the start of the race. A girl with beautiful red hair quickly sat next to me and introduced herself as "Josie", from her accent I could only assume she was from the UK. We conversed the entire drive, with two long pit stops for the bathroom we finally arrived at bumpy dirt road and both walked off with a new friend. This is as far as the bus will take us, the final 2k we must walk. The runners chatted along the road as we swayed from side to side, avoided the large puddles of deep mud before the road opened to soft sandy beach and cobalt blue skies. Welcome to the starting line of 235 kilometers.

 RLAG Super Squad Photo by the talented: Hilary Ann

RLAG Super Squad Photo by the talented: Hilary Ann

Several photographs, a few pee stops in bushes, and before you knew it all racers lined up behind the starting line. This is reality, I signed up for this. In "Cinco, Quatro, Tres, DOS, UNO" and we were off! 

"Do not push the first 8 miles" I remember Hailey repeating to me. The race begins with a flat section to the first aid. Your initial course of action is to sprint- opportunist would think so, but when it's 10am and the days heat and humidity at an all time high, you must conserve your energy. I quickly set into a comfortable pace and continued forward. The heat, although extremely hot, did not faze me and I noticed quickly, that I actually enjoyed it. I ran alongside farms of palm trees for what seemed like ages, passing several runners along the way who looked as though they may have pushed themselves too much in this heat. I was in a good groove, singing to myself as I drank my sweet Gu hydration water, tablets I had never used before but seem to be working very nicely with my stomach at the moment. Fingers crossed it continues that way. 

 At the first aid station, my first of 193,743,289,259 sips of Poweraid. Photo by: Hilary Ann

At the first aid station, my first of 193,743,289,259 sips of Poweraid. Photo by: Hilary Ann

The first aid station came and went and I found myself running alone. The dirt road quickly gave way to a hilly single track. "Welcome to the rainforest" I thought as my body is completely drenched; my boa shorts sag a bit from the weight of the water as I wring my shirt and the sweat pours down. The hilly single track turns into some steep climbing and my running turns into a hike as I begin singing "Come what me" as both Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman just to entertain myself. Although alone, I'm in a great mood.

The beautiful single track that, come on, really was never a trail but a bushwacked section, spit you out onto another dirt road. We followed the dirt road down to the second aid station and it continued on, gifting you more of the rain forest, its vegetation and small waterfalls from the safety of the small road your feet traveled on. This is where I spotted Josie again. I was ecstatic to find a friend to chat with even if it was for a few seconds. I pressed on. 

I had made the mistake of grabbing a banana at the last aid station and my stomach almost immediately started rejecting it. Through the opposite end. I quickly glance behind me to see how far Josie was and quickly took a pit stop on the side of the trail. Relief. 

 Photo by Ian Corless

Photo by Ian Corless

 Photo by Ian Corless

Photo by Ian Corless

The miles seemed fairly easy during this stage, we had a beautiful single track that climbed up to an overlook of the river and our campsite just below. Which means, we are almost done. The trail, blanketed with leaves, was soft under the feet, allowing a speedy descent straight down the trail. The tree covered descent opened up to a river, one you must cross, twice, to get to the finish line. It was cool and welcomed, passing a few photographers as the stage came to an end. 

 Happiness in the moment. Photo by Hilary Ann

Happiness in the moment. Photo by Hilary Ann

The stage ended in Rifiki lodge. This is where Cicadas were made known, and where I truly understand that, no, the wet stuff isn't a light rain, but these bugs peeing on you. 

Camp was nestled on Rifikis lodge property, an 843 acre private reserve on the pristine Savegre River. Tents lined up with tired runners as we all gathered for dinner and listened to the Cicada males singing their mating call. The cicadas song didn't end as I laid soaking in my tent. It was hot, humid, and I sticky from constant sweating. I laid there, begging for sleep to come, waiting, wishing, hoping.

Day 2: 

Sleep never came, I lay in my tent hoping for my alarm to sound soon. I can hear people start to rise around me, notifying me that the day is beginning. 3:30 am and I didn't sleep a wink. The easiest morning tasks seemed daunting and difficult to manage. I sat at the breakfast table, eyes half opened as the coffee washed away the Trail Butter I had just eaten for breakfast. A ritual I will soon find everyday, I put my pack on and prepared for the days journey.

My eyes fight to stay open as we begin our first ascent. I can't manage to keep up with Josies pace as I linger farther back. I'm huffing and puffing, unable to catch my breath, my body begs for rest. It's only the second day, yet I am first aboard the struggle express. I continue to grind up the trail, unable to find balance. My shoes, the inov-8 trailroc 285 are my absolute favorite shoes to date, however, without tred, they are worthless. But alas! They are what I am currently wearing and are not managing to keep grip on anything. I'm frustrated beyond belief, tripping, falling, sliding, rolling ankles, unable to stand properly. My body yearns for sleep and yet here I am, pushing it far far away from what it needs. I'm hiking with fellow RLAG participant, Kerri as we converse on races we've done and trails we've experienced. It was a nice distraction from the fatigue my body was feeling. 

 'twas a booty-full day in the end. Photo by: SeekTheWild (Andres Vargas)

'twas a booty-full day in the end. Photo by: SeekTheWild (Andres Vargas)

There was a climb, a ridge line, and then a dirt road descent, back to a climb, back to a descent into a field. I couldn't push my frustration away as I continued to trip and roll my ankle as I pressed forward. What was my issue? The negativity flowed as quickly as the streams we were passing and I was merely a fish unable to swim against the current. Aware of my negativity, I make my best attempts to stop them immediately. There was a point, running along with a local Tico that I realized the problem wasn't the "trail" or my shoes, those were all but simple excuses, but the issue was just me. All I needed to do was change my attitude and my energy, form and my running would adjust accordingly. And that's exactly what I did. I pictured being back in Los Angeles, dealing with traffic, rude people, sirens and was instantly thankful for the situation I was currently in here in Costa Rica. I reminded myself that we were running toward Dominical, a town I've spent countless days at the previous week and some time last year during the RLAG retreats. I'm running toward a familiar place. At that very moment while hoping rocks to cross a stream, I slip (surprise, surprise) and my feet fly straight up and my back straight down on said rocks. "Hold back the tears, Sawna". I did a quick body check, felt a jolt a pain in my lower back but everything else seemed fine. "I'm ok!" I assure the Tico that was running with me. At this point, the stoke was too high to let a simple fall bring me down. 

I found my groove, and I ran with it. The heat of the day finally arriving and I savored it. I don't know if it was the sun or finally arriving on even terrain but I was thriving. Fatigue long gone, I was overwhelmed with a sensation I hadn't felt all day; power. Cue Kayne West 'Power' song...

 I get by with a lot of help by the rope, trying not to get pulled by the current. Photo by Ian Corless

I get by with a lot of help by the rope, trying not to get pulled by the current. Photo by Ian Corless

Power in my heart, power in my legs, power that motivated me to push forward. I began singing Queen "Don't stop me now" as I quickened my pace on the road, inevitably passing both Josie and Mirta, leaving me in the third place female position. Needless to say, finishing it Dominical I was beaming with happiness. I chugged my Vega Protein/Chia/Flax seed/Super Green concoction and immediately walked to Mongo Congo Cafe for a Vegan burger. 

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It was just after 11am and I had the rest of the day to eat, recover, rest and maybe go for a sunset swim with friends.

The Coastal Challenge, I could get use to this.

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Day 3

Every cuss word ever imaginable currently going through my head and out my mouth. Cursing at The Coastal Challenge and everyone who created this specific route. One step, two step, three step, FALL. The vines are booby traps that yank you in every direction that is not the direction you intend on going, the trees covered in sharp pricks warning you of your unwelcomeness. The trail- oh the “trail”, doesn’t exists, merely an area bushwhacked that vertically drops off a cliff. 

One step, two step, slide on butt. 

One step, two step, slide on stomach. 

I’m beyond frustrated by my failed attempt at running today. My attempt only left me face planting on the ground or slipping backward. I continue to walk forward, slowly and with high knees, trying to avoid all the vines of deadly traps. I blame Vince, my best friend and evil trail finder that recently moved from LA to Colorado, for this, a “trail” I know he’d absolute love and it makes me undeniably mad and happy at the same time. 

 Chasing Waterfalls Photo by Hilary Ann

Chasing Waterfalls Photo by Hilary Ann

One step, two step, FALL as I grab a branch, holding on so tightly I see my knuckles turning white, my feet dangle beneath me as they desperately try to find the ground. I begin questioning my choices, and as always, my sanity. “Why am i doing this”. “I’m not good at this”. I made the mistake of not purchasing both new shoes before this trip and have suffered the consequences ever since. My Salomon Sensepros and Inov8 trailrocs on their last leg. The price I pay to save a bit of money was not worth it. The tred on both shoes completely worn off, hence the constant slipping, falling and unstableness. I swear I’m not this clumsy. Well, sometimes. Finally reaching a section of trail with a view, my movement stops and I stand straight to take in the view. As I’m almost breathless from the view, or possibly the trail, my body is graced with a sweet cool ocean breeze. I close my eyes, inhale deeply, and am reminded why I’m here. This; The constant adventure, the views, the heat, the people, all of it, is why

Today started off surprisingly well, for the first 3 miles. I was running next to Ester and continued forward in a similar pace. Although I knew my pace was not fast, I felt as though running next to Ester was a red flag. A warning that perhaps I'm pushing too hard and need to back off. A thought that soon became a reality once the river and rocks became the next few miles and hours of sheer torture. OK, I'm being quite dramatic. It was only sheer torture because I couldn't go as fast as I wanted, or am capable of. The past two years I've struggle with injury after injury with, of course, my ankles. The idea that I could possible do that again today, was terrifying. With other runners already running with blue and purple ankles, I refused to be one of them and by doing so, I took it slow. I lost a lot of time and that's OK. I continuously assured myself that it was OK to take the section easy, but with that came loss of motivation for the entire segment. I didn't try to move fast, I just took my time, crawling over rocks, swimming across the river as I gazed at what beautiful sights surrounded me. We passed by two very large waterfalls and continue out of the river area, HALLELUJAH, and continued onto a road that would inevitably lead us to single track of bushwhacked trail filled with fern booby traps, steep drop offs, slippery logs that made it a continuous obstacle course.  

 Photo by Andres Vargas

Photo by Andres Vargas

One step, two step, FALL. A cycle that repeated only to my frustration. I find myself questioning the idea that I actually paid to do this. I put myself in this situation and will continue despite my current frustration, no matter what things always get better. 

And they did. I jogged down the trail as best I could and onto a road to the next aid station. After this aid station there was the last miles all on the beach, I couldn't help but be excited. After the day of endless adventure I was excited to be in the sun and on soft terrain. My spirit began to lift as I cruised the beach passing the infamous whales tale, enjoying a slight breeze with only the occasional thought that I could possibly be lost. I remind myself that we are supposed to run to the end of the beach but it didn't stop me from searching for the pink flags. My search ended as I could see the large green coastal challenge flag off in the distance, a sign of the day coming to an end. Almost the end, the beach section ended with a mini climb before spitting you out to the highway. I'm not a huge road running fan however todays highway section was welcomed. I quick section that sped me straight to the finish and only 6 minutes off the 3rd female. I sigh with relief. Welcome Marino Ballena National Park, our campsite for the night.

Everything is sore, my feet, my quads, my arms. Why my arms? Probably from the few times i held onto trees for dear life as my feet lost balance and my body slipped from under me. As I laid on the massage table I held back the tears. Not because anything hurt but because it was so nice to be touched(that sounds weird). A hug would've sufficed but the massage was a welcome treat after a day of loneliness. I laid there as she worked on the kinks of my calves and quads while being treated to a show of howler monkeys and their family just above me.  Despite the days unfortunate discomfort, it ended surrounded by 100 of my new friends and that is probably the best part.

Day 4

If I were peanut butter, this climb would be the jam to my sandwich. I can't help but sing "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen ever so softly as we continue our biggest climb of the week. "Is this it?" I think to myself. I eat mountains for breakfast, and this is easy compared to some of the mountains I train on back home. I try to back off Ester who is hiking in front of me. Obviously I have a big fat girl crush on her, who wouldn't!? She's confident, strong, fierce, and later I found out she is extremely nice. At the beginning of the race I was too nervous to make conversation as we ran together. Since we got off the boat and began running, we kept the same pace and all I wanted to do is talk. As we continue climbing up, I couldn't help but think of those days on Jones peak, North Backbone and even Bear Canyon, all in worse condition and more technical than the trail I'm currently on. I play to my strengths and steep climbs are my specialty. I try to back off Esters heals as I continue singing Queen acapella. I held back from pushing on the climb despite my love for a jog straight up a steep ascent. Before the first aid station we began conversing, she began asking me what races I've completed, who my sponsors are, where I was from, trying to get a grasp on who this girl was attached to her hip. Time flew by as we were engulfed in conversation. I felt as though our pace was fairly easy but with such great company I didn't want to push it further. I was having the most fun I'd have all week! 

 Photo by Hilary Ann

Photo by Hilary Ann

We ran the hills, the ridge line, the descent and even after going off trail on accident for a bit, straight into the river. "Oh boy, not another river navigation segment" I thought instantly. As much as I wanted to stick by Ester, I couldn't help but slow down as my feet constantly slipped underneath me. I accepted that perhaps this technical section would be my weakness, but I knew there would be more climbing sections and that I could catch up. I didn't' let the river bring me down, I stayed positive and persevered. It wasn't long until I caught back up to Ester, as we both continued to climb up the rolling hills. Our conversation consistent, I couldn't help but feel gratitude toward this beautiful person, letting me join in her days run was just what I needed this week. After spending most of the challenge running alone, spending an entire day running along side someone I extremely admire was a dream come true. 

The trail rolls along a dirt road for a bit before you descend steep technical switchbacks. Ester, knowing how much I slip and perhaps can be a disaster waiting to happen offered to lead the run and I could follow her footsteps. Having someone in front gave me to confidence to trust my feet and gain some speed as we hoped, skipped and jumped over logs, around ferns, through rock piles all the way down to the next aid station. We had begun running on the road and I couldn't help but think I didn't want this segment of the race to end. Today didn't feel as though we were racing but two friends running together having fun. Perhaps this isn't how you "race" but it was a nice distraction from the weeks loneliness on trail. 

We finished Palamar Sur Central Park and then transported the few kilometers to camp. The area was large and enabled campers to spread out their tents a bit. I immediately scheduled a massage and went to take a shower. If you know me, you know my feelings toward showering. This week I've showered everyday and sometimes twice a day, probably the most I've showered all year. My schedule back home is normally packed with work hours and training, normally my extra minutes between the two are either for cooking my meal or showering- guess which one I normally prefer. Showering during the Coastal Challenge is a necessity. The heat and humidity leave you constantly wet from sweat and sticky, a cold shower is the only reprieve. 

One of my favorite things about The Coastal Challange is that it's a small race, a little over 100 runners creates an intimate vibe. It's not just a days affair but a week of camping, eating, running alongside the same athletes. At one point I was sitting next to the top 5 males, eating and chatting for a few hours. This would never happen in any other race atmosphere. 

After chatting for what seemed like hours, I grabbed a pizza to myself and finally found my blow up pillow. Tomorrow will be our longest day yet, 50k to Drakes Bay and after today's run, I am quite looking forward to it.

Day 5

 Photo by Hilary Ann

Photo by Hilary Ann

The issue I have with stage racing is knowing when to push, when to hold back and when to cruise. At what point do you know what to do? At this stage in the race I know everyday was merely an attempt to just finish without too much effort, guaranteeing energy for the days miles going forward. Today was no different, the idea of having someone to run with is ideal however I promised myself I'd go at my own pace, whatever that may be.  

 Where's Sawna Photo by Ian Corless

Where's Sawna Photo by Ian Corless

Wake up time is 3am to be able to pack my belongings, eat breakfast, go to the bathroom and board the bus by 4:45am. Sleep was very minimal due to the heat and my poor choice of eating an entire pizza that just sat in my stomach, my body making its best attempt to digest it all night long. Every morning I've packed my belongings and with the incredible help of RLAGs Courtney and Dayna they've helped take down/put up our tent. Godsends those two were during the week! After packing my items I made my best attempt to eat my morning amount of Trail Butter for breakfast as I washed it down with coffee. I could get use to this morning ritual. Trail butter has been an instrumental asset to my training as I am not one to eat breakfast, the pouch of nutty goodness is nutrient dense in just a few bites and super easy to store. It can be a bit pricey at 6 dollars a pouch but being over 700 calories, that's well worth the cost. At least that's what I tell myself when I look at my bank account and go to trailbutter addiction meetings. HA. 

The bus ride dropped us off at Sierpe river entrance, we had to take a ferry across to the other side to begin the days 50k travels. From what I hear of the today, the course is very runnable on wide gravel roads. Playing to my strength of keeping a consitent pace, it felt great to just run. Ester and I ran together for very little time before I broke away and continued forward at my own pace. If there is one thing I know I'm good at, it's running hills at a consistent pace and today I was going to run my own day. 

After the first aid station the terrain stayed the same, gravel roads led to more gravel roads, the heat making more an appearance in this fully exposed terrain. The entire time, my stomach screamed with unhappiness. Perhaps by the pizza, or maybe, just maybe, because this is my 5th day running in the heat. I had stopped several times to pee and felt as though I was needing more and more water as the day pressed on. My stomach issues growing more apparent and my pee stops being more frequent- almost feeling as though I was getting a bladder infection, things got a bit painful. Despite the discomfort, I kept my pace and pressed on. Finally after over half the miles passed, technical forest section break up the gravel road and things got a bit interesting. 

I felt a bit dizzy running through the technical rainforest, thinking I needed to pee every few minutes but nothing but pain occurred. I continued to drink my gu hydration flask, hoping it would help this pain simmer down. Running through the rainforest created a more humid atmosphere as I tried to navigate my way around the branches and ferns when suddenly I heard some movement in the bushes ahead. Taking my eyes off the trail for a second, my feet trip on a something on the trail and my body plummets forward crashing into a tree alonside the trail. I hug the tree as if thanking it for saving me from a complete fall when I saw it. The thing that distracted me from running just ahead finally made an appearance as it slithered across the trail for what seemed like 15 seconds. A very large, fat, black snake. I hold onto the tree for dear life as it continued past the trail and across to the other side, away from me. I've always been a Gryffindor fan and perhaps this is the day I get punished for not choosing Slytherin. Harry Potter humor brings me back to reality as I carefully ran by the trail and sprinted past the snakes previous path. 

Well if that didn't wake me up, perhaps another snake encounter would, or something else. Before arriving at the estuary and aid station, you run along the beach and a short trail behind some houses. To my surprise these house do not have gates to protect you from guard dogs. Pretty vicious dogs may I add. As I run by these two dogs, one small and one rather big come at me barking and growling. The large dog begins to bite at my feet as I increase my pace, yelling at the dog to get away. He didn't ever bite me but was able to remove my left shoe as we play dug a war and I am able to run off, relieved and shoe in hand. The days adventure only continues.

After running around the peninsula and crossing the boat to avoid, you know, crocodiles, I finally arrived at the next aid station. From there you run a bit more forest trails, and at this point in the day the heat is blasting. I can see the beach from the trail, excited about how close I am, when I see something on the right side of the trail ahead of me. This time thin, brown with white diamonds on the back. A fleur de lance,  a highly venomous and deadly pit viper species. My stomach drops, heart racing as I see the snake slowly slither away in the opposite direction. I wait a moment before passing the trail in the opposite side and pick my speed up, trying to leave this area as quickly as possible. Arriving at the beach my heart rate begins to decrease and I settle into a slow rhythm, "I'm so close" I think to myself. I put another Gu Hydration tablet into my Salomon flask as I feel my body aching for something other than water, Gu being a great alternative but lets be honest, I dream of an ice cold coke. My bladder only feeling worse I continue forward, rest and a soda is in the near future. 

I arrived in Drakes bay 6 hours and 1 minute and in 2nd place later, heated, bladder pain but full of happiness. Stage 5- CHECK. The camp, hustled and bustled around me, not yet set up yet as I sit and reminiscence of the week so far. 5 days and over 130 miles done and I feel great. Despite perhaps having a bladder infection or whatever may be going on, I'm quite happy with my performance and ability to stay consistent. We are in Drakes bay! Ask me 5 days ago, I couldn't imagine today, being at the finish line, one more day to go. I had the rest of the day to relax, recover, swim, eat and enjoy with fellow racers and now friends. 

One more day, 14 more miles to go!

Day 6:

“Vamanos Suzanna” I can hear Ester calling me to keep running with her and Ragna. I catch up but can feel my right quad tense up when I increase my pace, I pace I just cannot withhold. Just before mile 6 I begin to back off, slowing enough to hold off my quad from seize up. “Do not cramp now, Sawna, you’re almost done”. "I have nothing left", I think to myself. I’m running on fumes.

 Photo by Hilary Ann

Photo by Hilary Ann

I see them both leave the aid station as I quickly approach it. I notice Coconuts surrounding the table as the volunteer handed me a cup of coconut water. I declared my love for him as I chugged the sweet nectar and pressed on. I could see both Ester and Ragna off in the distance still on the beach, as I tried to push my pace, my quad quickly reminding me of its violent situation. 

 Stellar group to be lined up with! Selfie by Kevin

Stellar group to be lined up with! Selfie by Kevin

Today, the 6th and final stage of the Coastal Challenge, is a mere 14 miles that incorporate a little bit of each terrain we had experienced the last 5 days. I remember sitting on the bus on day once and the main advice Josie had given me is to live in the moment, take each day at a time. I couldn't imagine being here, day 6 and 145 miles later. 

This morning were given the opportunity to sleep in, with a 7:30 start time we all took the morning activities at a leisurely pace. Lining up at the start line you could see everyone smiling from head to toe, excited that they've made it this far- the victory lap. Talking to Ester we had agreed we'd try to keep Ragnas pace. "I don't know if I can maintain it, but I'll try" I confirm. 

I couldn't keep pace, and that's ok. Perhaps if my quad wasn't seizing up, I could have. I do not know. I inevitably went back to my leisure pace, after 5 days it didn't falter. And just like that, 6 days 143 miles 33k in elevation gain, 30 hours 41 minutes and 3rd female- DONE. 

I've ran the miles, built relationships and created memories that will last a lifetime. The Coastal Challenge isn't just a stage race, it's an epic adventure that continues on, despite the miles ending. 

 Photo by Hilary Ann

Photo by Hilary Ann

 Photo by Hilary Ann

Photo by Hilary Ann

 Photo by Hilary Ann

Photo by Hilary Ann

 Photo by Andres Vargas

Photo by Andres Vargas

The finish line was a party, the cooks were making a feast, a small bar stand set up for cervesas while runners reminisced on the last 6 days of adventure. Beer in hand, the second beer I've had all year (had one right before the race) and well worth the wait!

Thank you to The Coastal Challenge for an incredible race. Thank you to the cooks who woke up EVERYDAY at 1 am to start  breakfast and worked till way after I went to bed each night, the food absolutely incredible. Thank you to the Run Like A Girl team, Hailey for "forcing" me to sign up and to Court and Dayna for their endless dedication and hard work to make racers more comfortable during the week. Thank you for the massage team for their countless hours and magic hands that helped ease my sore muscles. To the RLAG, Gu Energy, Goodr, Territory Run Co and Choose Mountains team for their constant support! 

Now as I sit beach side, between surfing and running I'm able to type my heart away in Santa Teresa. I can reflect on the last week, my experience and my want for more. Immediately I want to sign up again, obviously, but it'll take some time for me to pay off this current trip before I can think of investing in another race a year away. 

If I were to sign up again, a few tips on things to bring/not to bring:

  • Hammock (plenty of trees to hang from, away from the ants of death)
  • Blow up mattress (LUXURY) It's nice to bring out of tent and lay in the shade, away from the ants
  • A bigger tent (bringing your tent helps, there's bit of a mess trying to find your tent everyday when you don't set it up yourself)
  • Your own recovery shake-> Key to faster recovery and dense nutrition. I brought Vega performance protein and mixed it with chia/flax seed and a superfood green powder. Drank it everyday after each run and sometimes 2X.
  • More nut butter. I ate a jar of nut butter during the RLAG retreat I worked the week prior and didn't want to eat Trail butter other than for breakfast in hopes to conserve what I had. Next time I'll bring more!
  • More snacks, nuts, dried fruit, healthy alternatives to get more calories as a vegan. 
  • Did NOT need my sleeping bag, created more hassle to pack things and took up too much room. 
  • Brought too much leisure clothing. All you really need is one bathing suit, one comfy shorts/tank and maybe a dress for last day. 
  • Heavy duty bug spray. The bugs are no joke. They will eat you alive and cause extreme discomfort. 
  • 2 pairs sunglasses incase yours swim away/fall off the side of a cliff. 
  • extra socks that you know your feet like. I re wore a few pairs of stance socks because my feet never blister in them and was nervous to wear anything else!
  • Ear plugs are a necessity during the night and/or headphones. 
  • Waterproof phone case
  • Your own fuel for the race, do not depend on aid stations

DAY ONE

DAY TWO

DAY THREE

DAY FOUR

DAY FIVE

DAY SIX

Till next time! 

Peace, love and happiness

 

Welcome to Costa Rica

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I sit in a hammock, unable to read, starring off into the distance. The scene so very different than that I’m accustomed to in Los Angeles. Where the city is full of cars and bodies of people hoping to make it big. Here, it couldn’t be so far down the opposite direction. Chakra Eco lodge, in Costa Rica, collects about 15 people from all over the world for a retreat or treat to a closer look at a more natural state of being. To be far from where phone signals exists and to be closer to nature and what occupies its lands.

I sit in my hammock, completely at peace. Most of the day we spent hiking through the rain forest to the high mountains that rest beside our lodge. A hike full of crystal clear waterfalls, roots, endless vegetation and rays of sunshine. I can’t help but be tranced by the clouds rolling through the valley. Cows of all colors and sizes graze along the ridge line adding some color to the vibrant green landscape they call home. Bursts of cobalt blue peak through the floating clouds as flocks of birds glide across toward the mountains. I can’t help but imagine where I will be this time next week. Shivers shoot down my body as the hair on my arm stand tall. I’ll be in the midst of running the Coastal Challenge, a six day stage race that runs through both heavy tropical forest and beach terrain. Six days, 147 miles and 31,304 ft of elevation gained.

The course is set along Costa Rica’s tropical Pacific coastline but weaves at times into the Talamancas, a coastal mountain range in the Southwest corner of the country. You’ll finish near the border of Panama in a serene fishing village that until recently was only accessible by boat. 

I’m both excited and terrifying of this experience. Being vulnerable to the terrain, the heat and to all the new people. I feel as though I am entering a new school with a different language. I don’t know what to expect. My training plan was very limited this season. After Zion Traverse and Ray miller 50 miler 3 days apart in early December, my days were filled with working hard and playing very little. With the Holidays in full force, I opted to spend more time with my family rather than skipping it to be in the mountains. January was filled with more work and quality time in bed plagued with first the flu, then bronchitis. With being sick and training very minimal, I promised myself I'd have a dry January and maybe even not drink till after the race, I needed to be healthy. Training didn't exist in my book and my only priority was to be well enough to board my flight to Costa Rica. 

 Life requires balance and most of all, patience. Patience was my focus for these last two months. There are those should've, could've, would've moments but it's something I try not to dwell on with training for these kinds of events. You must overcome the obstacles that is the course of life and in the end it may not be what you expected or hoped but the fact that I’m here despite the minor pebbles in my path is what the journey is truly about. No one's journey is always perfect and that is what I’m trying to grasp. "It’s OK, Sawna" I keep telling myself. "You’re in Cost Rica, if you end up walking the entire course- so be it!". As much as continue to push that belief onto myself, I'm not fooled. I'm rather disappointed in my choices and efforts coming into this race but in the end grateful for the opportunity to toe the start line.

 Photo by Hilary Ann

Photo by Hilary Ann

As I finish my time here at Chakra , I begin to shift my focus to our final days in Dominical beach. Being here, in the environment already has been an incredible experience and I thank the universe and Run Like A Girl for the opportunity to call this "work". I begin to shift my thoughts away from work and more toward the Coastal Challenge as the days pass quickly. My thoughts about the race and my abilities are initially negative, but with a good support team here from the RLAG community, those thoughts have faded into only positive thoughts. I must keep focus on what's important.

Enjoy the process, the journey, terrain and most importantly HAVE FUN.  My one and only goal, to have fun. Yes, I’m a competitive person, however with a race like this how does one accomplish being competitive? It’s a whole new world to me(cue Aladdin song). Not only is the terrain different but the overall challenge ahead is unknown. What I do know is that I will be learning new things about myself through trials, pain, and adversity. I will be finding strength by ignoring the negative and surrounding myself with only positive thoughts and energy.

We each have our own individual reasons we do what we do, and my reason, whatever that may be this week, will drive me beyond my limits. I will seek it, I will find it and I will push farther. 

Coastal Challenge HERE I COME!

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Packing List:

  • Boa Shorts(ALL THE FUN PRINTS)
  •  Stance socks
  • Ridge Supple Socks
  • Rlag Visor/buffs
  • Territory Run CO Hat/bisor/socks
  • Salomon 12L Vest
  • LifeStraw
  • Suunto watch
  • Inov8 TrailRoc 285 X2
  • Salomon Sense Pro's 2
  • Goodr Shades X2
  • Trail Butter
  • Dates stuffed with pecans + sea salt
  • Gu gels/electrolytes/chews
  • Vega Protein
  • Super Green Mix
  • Roll Recovery R8
  • Black Diamond Hiking poles
  • Choose Mountains Buff/Bandanna(My colar bone chafes)
  • AND a photo of my main gal so I can channel her energy and happiness during the race ;)

Lettuce taco 'bout Junipers Birthday

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As I sit here at a coffee shop at the airport in Mexico City, I look down and all I can see is Junipers hair. Its everywhere! On my tights, on my purse, on my sweater, my nose starts to tingle and my eyes begin to water, it's been less than 8 hours and I miss her with my entire heart. 

Yesterday myself and a few friends met at early at the dirt Mulholland trailhead for a sunrise run. Who cares about saying bye to me, really, they came to wish Juniper a happy birthday. On February 4th, Juniper turns 4. It's not her exact birthday, a date known only by who left her on the side of the highway at a few months old, but what the vet estimated would be her birthday. 

Someday's I catch myself staring at her, most of the time it's during a run, other times it's when she's curled up in a tiny ball sleeping. I think to myself "How did I get so lucky? What did I do to deserve you? Why do you love me so much?". There are days when she'll go out for a 30 mile run, no problem, stick by my side, and radiate with happiness the entire time. Other days she perfectly content sitting on my lap on my living room chair, just being cuddled like a puppy. 

4 years old.

Time does fly when you're having fun. She's my partner in crime, my baby girl and most of all, the love of my life. Despite not being there for her actual birthday, I celebrate her birth everyday. I thank the universe for the person who abandoned the sweet puppy, because it led her to me.

Here's to many many MANY MANY MANY MORE years of extreme amounts of epic adventures and endless cuddles. 

Here's some(lots) of my favorite moments shared with my lovebug!

 

Goodbye Flu, hello trails!

With the new year came a sickness that sidelined any prospective training that I hoped to achieve this month. I ran less and focused more on rest and the occasional hot yoga to stretch and sweat the tightness away. This last week, however, was heavenly. All of a sudden when Monday rolled around- POOF! My sickness had disappeared, I had finally two solid nights without the cough of death and I couldn't be more ecstatic! On Monday I thought it was merely a test from my body and had went for another hot yoga class and to work without even considering running. I thought to myself, maybe I can run this week. Perhaps this plague is finally gone and I can spend some quality time outdoors. The thought sent shivers down my spine, oh the outdoors! I look over to Juniper who was laying on her bed looking bored. We are going on some adventures! I stated as I picked her up, fumbled a bit, and hugged her so tight she started to lick me face to stop.

GRIFFITH PARK, HOLLYWOOD

Tuesday I woke up with excitement, another night of peaceful sleep. WHAT A JOY! Juniper and I managed to do a tempo run up to the Hollywood sign that left me smiling from cheek to cheek. I live about a mile from Bronson Canyon and the batcaves- you know, where the filmed batman, and it's normally my go to entry point for the Griffith Park trails. In Griffith Park it's a choose your own adventures trails, with immediate scrambles that take you straight to the Hollywood sign or pristine fire road that, although take a handful of miles, will also lead you to the Hollywood Sign and Observatory. There is also great opportunities to skip the fire road and head straight to lush single track, but today we stuck to fire road and were able to let Juniper off leash as we managed to keep a faster pace than normal.

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Afterward I recovered with a walk to the climbing gym to work on a few problems. As I sat in the Sauna afterward I pondered the rest of my week, I had some free time to devote to "time on feet" in the mountains and I wanted to choose it wisely with my Costa Rica trip approaching soon and with a nice little wind storm blowing our way Friday and Saturday. I giggle with excitement- the opportunities are endless.

BACKBONE TRAILS, MALIBU

Initially for Wednesday I figured I'd do a long run on Mt Baldy but with the current snow conditions I didn't think it would be quality training for the heat in CR, although, what in January would be? Instead I figured a good 'ol run on the Backbone trail in Malibu would suffice. This trail offers single track, fire road and ocean vistas in a 22 mile lolipop loop that is part of the Sean O'Brien 50 mile and 100k course. I have some fantastic memories with friends on this trail and one not so very fantastic memory of the actual race four years ago. Overall it's a great loop if you're looking for something that consist of more running and rays of sunshine.

We parked at the trail head and were ready to go by 8:30am. At first I had Juniper off leash but with a distance like this I quickly grabbed her raddog leash (that looks like just a collar) and kept her close- I didn't want her to get too tired too quickly. The first part of the trail is single track for about 3 miles and opens up to Zuma Ridge fire road for a small climb up to Buzzards Roost where you get a beautiful view of Malibu and sometimes, if weather permits, Channel Islands. Following the fire road down, it's hard not to focus on the ocean, a view I'm not accustomed to seeing on my normal long runs. Once we got to the parking lot at the bottom of the fire road, I was able to give Juniper lots of water and a few treats before heading back onto a single track to Canyon View trail- back up we go. At this point it was getting very warm and without having to hold onto Junipers leash she stayed right infront of me. She's pretty good at staying close to the person that will give her treats and water! I could feel my shoulders getting sun kissed as we continued to climb up the trail as my friend Phil commented that we'd be in polar opposite conditions on Mt Baldy. I didn't realize how hot it was going to get, both Phil and I were drenched as we hiked and jogged up the single track. During the climb I had picked a few ticks off that I notice had jumped on Junipers fur and I was instantly disgusted. Ticks give me the hibeegeebees. Blah. Excuse me while I go shower from disgust.

I kept Juniper on her leash closer to me, thinking that the farther away from the brush we were- the less likely she'd get ticked. Once we got the the fire road to run down I stopped to give Juniper water and there may have been 12 new ticks on her fur. Poor Juniper waited ever so patiently as I aggressively shook them off her in sheer frustration. About a few feet later she had 5 more jump on her. If there was a way to say "Hey trail, I'm done!" I wouldn't stopped running right there and then. The idea of having to constantly brush Junipers fur of ticks made me not want to continue- but what needed to be done, I realized, was to run faster. After 15 minutes thoroughly checking her back, neck and chest we started to run down the fire road. I found that if we didn't stop, the ticks would have the least amount of time to jump on her.

We ran down to the creek and as I sprayed some water on my neck, Juniper was able to cool her body in the cold water. I stared at the water, her fur and continued to stare at her fur the duration of the loop. I couldn't tell you how many ticks I flicked off despite having her close to me on lead.

We ran, when I say ran I mean jogged very slowly, back up to Buzzards Roost. With Juniper on leash and my water getting low, we flew down the fire road and jogged back to Kanan were the safety of the car and a coca cola waited. I then proceeded to pick more ticks off Juniper- OH THE JOY. This area isn't normally infested with ticks but we did just get our first rain storm last week and they are everywhere, not just on the Backbone trail. The best part was after all the time brushing the off Juniper I felt as though they were crawling all over me. A hair tickle- omg it's a tick, my backpack strap touched my arm- omg it's a tick, my shoe lace on my ankle- oh wait no, that's a tick crawling up my leg. I shivered with disgust as I flicked it off me. Giving my body another check of possible crawling monsters before I said farewell to the BB trail, it'll be a while before I return. Cue tick nightmares for the next week. 

WESTRIDGE TRAILS, SANTA MONICA

On Thursday I had initially planned to run with the Socal Coyotes at 6am in Santa Monica but ALAS! I had woke up at 6 am realizing I had forgotten to set me alarm. Whoops. I had an appointment to renew my passport and the office is located in Westwood. What a breeze that was- signed, sealed, delivered and I'm off to CR soon! Since I was already on the Westside I figured it was a great opportunity to run one of the trails in Santa Monica- Westridge trail being the closest. Technically the trail would be considered Los Angeles, with countless connectors it can take you to Topanga Canyon, The Valley, Brentwood, Santa Monica and if you want a really long run, Malibu. The best thing about these trails are that you choose your own adventure; single track scrambles, long fire roads, nice climbs or all flat- you choose. I stuck to the flat fire road and was able to lose track of time as I shook my heavy legs through Westride and to Topanga Canyon and back for a nice unplanned 16 mile. Once I arrived back at my car I realized it was 75 degrees out which made the exposed fireroad even more heated- not a bad heat training day! Pretty stoked with the days event I was able to chill for a few hours with Juniper and head back to the West Side for some recovery hours at the climbing gym with fellow coyote Pedro. Productive day indeed!

STRAWBERRY PEAK, SAN GABRIEL MOUNTAINS

I woke up feeling a bit depleted. I knew I hadn't drank enough water- big NO NO, Sawna. I slept poorly as the wind roared against the window beside me. Juniper and I haphazardly collected ourselves and set out for another run, this time meeting in the San Gabriel Mountains. as I prepared to leave, ominous dark clouds blanketed the sky as the roaring wind whipped the palm trees from side to side, leaving me thinking that today may not be all that sunshine I was hoping for. As I exited the freeway and started up highway 2 my fears quickly disappeared as I drove out of the dark clouds and into a cobalt blue sky. Feeling like I just entered a Disney movie as birds began to sing, butterflies landing on my mirror, squirrels talking on nearby trees all welcoming me to paradise- you know, the whole shebang. Shockingly at 8am in Los Angeles, I cruised on the freeway and along HWY 2 and was parked at the trail head 30 minutes later- this must be a personal record. Andrew, Rhea and their paw-sitively energized furkid, Lola, showed up just a few minutes later. We ensured we had all the necessary gear as Juniper and Lola chased each other and then we were off on the trail that led us up Colby Canyon, one of the trails that connects to both Josephine peak and Strawberry Peak.

Our destination today was not Strawberry Peak itself but around it. With the winds being over 25 mph at the peak we figured we'd avoid the extra mile to the top and continued on, making a big loop. We began running on the trail, fur kids chasing each other up and down the trail as we crossed a few stream beds that led us to up the canyon. As we hiked up the switch backs to the saddle, we couldn't help but admire being above the marshmallow clouds. It had been a couple of weeks since last seeing Andrew and Rhea, we had spent those first few miles catching up, but at this point we couldn't help but talk about how beautiful the day was. As we approached the saddle we couldn't help but feel giddy for the day. There were two other guys who had just left the saddle and began hiking up the neighboring peak as we set out on the single track to Strawberry meadow. The single track runs along the canyon side as we loop around to the back of Strawberry peak and then proceed to go down to the Meadow before shooting back up to the Strawberry Peak saddle. Before we turned the corner I stopped to take a few photos of Andrew and Rhea together and noticed the two guys that had set out before us were standing on top of the peak looking over the blanket of clouds- it was a beautiful sight.  

As we turned to the backside of the mountain and began to run down into the meadow we couldn't help but admire the soft trail under our feet and beautiful sky full of cumulus clouds above us. Both Lola and Juniper continued to chase each other, back and forth, as we all stabilized ourselves trying to not get knocked over. Their happiness shown from the smiles on their faces to their tails wagging so deeply that their bodies moved along with it. 

Once we reached the Strawberry saddle we finally got a taste of the 25 mph winds, sending any warmth from the sun away. Both Rhea and I instantly put our windbreakers on as we stopped to take a few photos. We continued running along the single track toward Red box when I spotted a tick on Juniper. Not again! I thought. I brushed it off and we scanned both Juniper and Lola for any others. 'Tis the season. As we passed Red Box and continued down to Switzer Falls we began running into the clouds. The air moist and the blue sky quickly disappearing into the dense fog it was refreshing to be running in such a different range of weather. We finished the run with a jog down highway 2 to our cars and some quality time searching for my ticks, you know, my favorite. 

The day didn't end there. We left the San Gabes, back to the city, for some quality fuel at Vin Loh, a Vietnamese vegan joint that is located in an unassuming strip mall deep in the heart of Reseda. Kevin Tran, the owner, is know for his athleticism and good judgement, will suggest something better than what's on the menu. Tell him what flavors, textures you're in the mood for and he'll bring you the best dish in the house- the food is that good.  We picked up a few different dishes and headed to Andrew and Rheas house. As we sat in their backyard enjoying the food, both Juniper and Lola continued to play, unphased of the 14 miles ran earlier.

Afterward we hung around the climbing gym until our hands and arms too sore. It was a multi sport kind-of day!

MT WILSON, SAN GABRIEL MOUNTAINS

I wake to hear the strong winds roaring outside. From my window in the loft I see the palm trees that line my neighborhood swaying side to side, looking as if they'll snap any minute. I look down from my pillow and spot Juniper passed out on her dog bed, unaware of me starring as I begin to climb down the ladder. I shoot Pedro a text about today's run, maybe altering our original course to something less exposed to the wind, he quickly agreed. I take Juniper for a quick jaunt before packing my things to leave. This week has been great for her, lots of time with friends and hours on the trails that deserve a nice day off to get some quality rest. She sits by the door as I continue to pack, her eyes begging me to let her join the party. Rest, Juniper, you need rest. She continues to plead with her eyes as I try to leave. I motion her to go to her bed as I quickly make my exit. 

I'm sitting in my car, as I turn the ignition to start Junipers eyes burn my mind. "Well, we have adjusted the miles today, so it's not too long", I think to myself. I've convinced myself. I turn my car off, run upstairs and grab a bag of her favorite Zukes treats and call her over- "JUNIPER, LETS GOOOOO!". Her face gleaming and her body shaking from not being able to contain the excitement. She wisps by me and almost slides into the hallway wall as she flies down the stairs and sits by the car door as if to say "Come on Mom, you're moving too slow- ADVENTURE AWAITS!"

We park about a mile from Chantry Flats trail head as the main parking area was completely full. Cars lined the side of the road in every which way possible in order to park as close to the main trail as possible. We jog our way up and begin running past Chantry parking lot up toward the winter creek trail to upper winter creek. I keep Juniper on leash the entire climb in hopes that she saves any energy she would normally use running circles around us instead of staying beside us. The weather was perfect, tucked inside the trees we could feel a slight cold breeze, but nothing of the 30 mph winds predicted. I kept my long sleeve on knowing that the peak was only going to get colder. We continued climbing, settling into a nice comfortable hike. We both agreed that we wanted to take the run moderately easy in order to have sufficient energy to spend at the climbing gym afterward. 

Our route led us to the Mt Wilson observatory. The peak was 32 degrees and windy. My hands and face frozen as Pedro and I began running, more like shuffling, trying not to step on any of the ice covering section on the ground. Of all the dozens of times I've ran around Wilson, I have never been to it's lookout. Shocked. Amazed. Baffled. Crazed. I don't know what I was thinking. Pedro showed me where it was and my mind was blown. 

The look out was shockingly warm and we embraced it's heat as we defrosted a bit before heading down the trail. I have to admit, I was uncomfortably cold. With gloves and a long sleeve, I could've definitely found comfort in one more layer. But ALAS! We focused on just moving to maintain heat.

 Both Pedro and I have yet to run Mt Wilson's rim trail and today seemed like a fitting day to both experience it's wonders. And boy was it wonderful. The air crisp, the ground soft and gentle yet offering a very thin single track that demanded attention. I lead the way as Juniper, now off leash, stayed between Pedro and me. Pockets of frigid air gave way to the warmth of the sun as we cruised down in a single line, passing several green patches of tall trees with leaves of orange, yellow and some bearing no leaves at all. As we approached Newcombs saddle we stopped to savor the moments passed, a trail I had failed to experience for years welcoming us with its beauty and minimal technicality. I take a glance at Juniper, happy as can be, ready for more miles as she smiles eagerly at me. "I can't believe you almost didn't experience this" I think to myself. Juniper, off leash still, leads the way. The excited pup begins to prance, soaking in the sun as her tongue flops to the side of her face, offering the trail a wide open smile as she gracefully glides down. 

As we continue running down, we pass several streams. With each stream passing, the water fueling Junipers energy as she speeds up and runs harder and faster through the canyon. This girl is unstoppable. After a long week outdoors I truly thought she would be tired, but her stamina and strength continues to surprise me. As we climb the road back to the Chantry parking lot we pass several dozen people and their dogs. Juniper, by my side, looks up at me with each passing dog- knowing full well she'll get a treat if she stays by my side instead of bolting to say hi to the dog. Not only is she fast and strong, she's one smart pup.

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Another day of adventuring in the mountains and then a few hours of bouldering at the gym is pretty much my favorite kind of day. I ended the night at a friends house in the hills for a get together with some fellow Team In Training teammates. Still to this day, I can't believe how far I've come. Training for my first marathon almost 6 years ago and then entering the Ultra community. How my life has shaped ever so differently than I expected, and how I'm so thankful for what I have and the beautiful people that surround me. 

Since this week of adventuring, Juniper and I have enjoyed several more outings with friends as I prepare to take off to Costa Rica. That's another story in itself. 

Alright, time for me to shower these stinky feet and head to the airport. Headed to Costa Rica for 6 weeks. 

Till next time,

Peace, love and happiness

Treat Yo'Self- Recovery Protein Pancakes

I woke up Monday morning with a thirst I couldn't seem to quench. I was hungry, but for what? I wanted something filling, and fulfilling. Sunday I spent most of my day running in the San Gabriel Mountains with friends, 22 miles with over 6 thousand in vertical feet gained. We were determined to enjoy the last of the dry weather as there was a huge storm approaching, hopefully bringing the dry California mountains some snow at last. 

Back to food, what my life revolves around. I had struggled to prepare anything for dinner the night before due to lack of groceries and this morning I found myself on the same struggle train. The only thing I had all the ingredients for was, coincidentally enough, what my body was pulling for- PANCAKES. Normally I don't keep any sweets or treats in my apartment- because Sawna likes to snack hard. With pancakes I like to see it as fueling my body for recovery. You can adjust them to your taste buds but for the most part it's my healthy version of my childhood favorite breakfast!

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup oats 
  • 1/4 cup protein powder (I use vega sports vanilla)
  • 1 tbsp baking poweder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • tsp of ground flax
  • heaping of chia seed
  • heaping of hemp seed
  • 1 flax egg (1 tsp of flax meal + 2.5 tsp of water mixed alone and left for a few min)
  • 1 cup water + more as needed (or almond milk)

OPTIONAL

  • Blueberries/Bananas 
  • Pecan butter/Almond butter/Peanut butter

INSTURCTIONS

  1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl.
  2. Slowly mix water into the dry ingredients. Add flax egg last. 
  3. Place pan on burner(on high- I find that it cooks fully and doesn't break when the temperature is closer to high) with a little bit of coconut oil/your choice of cooking oil. 
  4. When mixture is poured onto plan, disperse evenly and add blueberries/sliced bananas. Wait until bubbles appear in the center of each pancake and when you think its ready- give it a good 30 seconds longer. FLip and cook for a few more minutes. 
  5. Add your favorite nut butter on top and if you're feeling extra frisky- add some syrup. I use organic maple syrup from thrive market. 
  6. It makes about 6 pancakes. Serves 2 or one hungry Sawna.
  7. TREAT YO'SELF

NOTES

  1. These are oat pancakes so they tend to be on the heavier side- to make them thinner and a bit more fluffy you can use Gluten Free flour. I've used the one from Trader Joes and it definitely fluffier and less heavy. 
  2. When pouring the water, it's not supposed to be runny. The mixture should stay a bit thick but not cookie batter thick. The more liquid you had- the more likely it will break when you flip it. -----> learned form experience. 
  3. Normally I use just pecan butter on my pancakes but I had just received a new container of maple syrup and was feeling extra sweet... either way they will fill you up!