Races & Adventures

Finding my groove

Photo by Andrew Tyler. On a snowy Strawberry Peak

Photo by Andrew Tyler. On a snowy Strawberry Peak

When I think about running I tend to think about rainbows, butterflies and cute puppies but it’s rarely the case. Although, I have experienced those things during both incredibly effortless runs and some amazingly dark painful ones too. Lately those runs have been of the latter. What I found out though, is that if I can smile through it, when times feel dark and difficult, I feel as though I gain a sense of invincibility through it all and become better for it. As I wobble, hobble and shuffle my way back into healthy running, I am overwhelmed by the sense of gratitude and appreciation toward my body for helping me do what I love. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about, right?!

I began running again toward the end of October, the main injury healed, however, because I hadn’t ran consistently in months, I had a few lingering pains. Being injury free I dreamed I’d jump right into where I had left off but of course, that was far from reality. I found that my once ‘easy’ runs around Griffith Park were slow with heavy legs and a pretty negative attitude. What I realize now is that as runners we all go through bad times, it’s inevitable. And as a runner, if you don’t experience that full range of human emotions, you never truly appreciate the happy moments. It may have taken a few weeks of lousy running to have a few incredible runs mixed in. What I needed to except is that these emotions are transient and I won’t always feel a certain way. Think less self loathing and more self acceptance, something I’m slowly grasping.

Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.
— Napoleon Hill

What truly lead me in the direction of ‘How Sawna got her groove back’ was when I decided to join the Salomon Run Streak that began on Thanksgiving and ended on New Years. When I think of run streaks I cringe, I’m a firm believer of rest and accepting what the body needs. However, this Run Streak seemed like something that called to me, a sense of motivation I didn’t have before but appeared suddenly and I took hold and I ran with it; literally and figuratively. The way it worked was you had to run at least one mile a day until New Years eve, 40 consecutive days. That’s more that I have run all summer and fall put together. Rarely did I ever run just one mile. What eventually occurred was that I would force myself out the door for that one mile and feel pretty terrible at first, a rickety machine barely able to function properly. But after a little wiggle, a little wobble and some happiness fuel to my bones, a majority of the time past one mile felt great and would opt to make those runs longer by, sometimes, hours. After the first week or so I found that the idea of running sparked excitement and joy and less force was made. I planned out new routes and longer days without even realizing the transition that was happening. I woke before my alarm clock with more pep in my step, if I had a tail I’d be wagging it till I was out the door on the trail in unison with Juniper. Tongue out, excitement running in my veins, slobber running down my face, the stoke was high. As much as I tried to stay present in the moment and in the run, I often found myself overwhelmed with gratitude, remember how terrible I felt a mere few weeks prior, a couldn’t help but run with a stupid grin across my face.

My partner in crime, Juniper. She didn’t partake in most of my training runs but she was so stoked nonetheless. My number one fan.

My partner in crime, Juniper. She didn’t partake in most of my training runs but she was so stoked nonetheless. My number one fan.

I may not have been the fastest or strongest but I appreciated where I was that moment in the runners spectrum and that in itself made me happy. What this Run Streak did for me was motivate me to get outside and move despite the emotions and mental barriers I had built. It slowly gave me the tools to break those walls down and be happy with where I was in the moment. Even if that present moment was a dirt road in Utah at 10pm in 20 degree weather running my one mile, it felt gosh darn good.

Fast forward to right here and now. Waving to you through the internet, HELLO! Currently packing my bags for a new adventure and race in Guatemala, UTX 90k this coming Saturday. It’s mind boggling how fast time flies. I don’t feel as though I had amble time to prepare, not for the distance, nay, but for the amount of vertical gain this race packs. With just over 25,200ft /7,682 meters in about 58 miles, this race called for quad busting training runs in preparation for what is to come.

4X Steep’n’cheap. Bahumbug.

4X Steep’n’cheap. Bahumbug.

After the Salomon Run Streak, I felt as though I had my base training solidified and could transition into more specific training for this race. This is all new to me, the idea of training for a specific race feels very foreign. Normally I’d just go out for fun runs, keep my distance relatively high and cross my fingers. Although I’ll definitely be crossing my fingers and toes for this one, I knew I’d have to incorporate some steep climbs into my runs if I wanted to survive this course. And that’s exactly what I did. It helped that on weekends my boyfriend Eamon would be doing these runs with me, keeping me accountable and motivated when I knew I wasn’t on my own.

Normal training runs consisted of Steep’n’cheap repeats which is the ridge west of Echo Mountain, 1 mile with 1,500 in gain, a ‘trail’ with almost 30% grade, the second incorporated Mt Wilson’s Jones Peak which is 1 mile with 1,781ft. Both trails are washed out deer trail that I wouldn’t normally suggest to run up and down. Mind you I DID NOT run down Jones, with its current trail conditions I do not have a death wish. Steep’n’cheap is runable, but safe? well that’s questionable. Incorporating both these trails into my weekly training was far from what I wanted to do. Back in October I had gone out for my first trail run since fully recovering and ended with a few somersaults onto a terribly rocky section of Mt Wilson. That day left me not only physically wounded but mentally scarred. I never wanted to return to that gosh darn trail. Unfortunately Mt Wilson is a connector to some pretty incredible trails in the San Gabriels and I couldn’t stay away too long. I used this race as a way to force myself to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and not letting my fears get in the way. After a few runs, and an incredible amount of patience and support from Eamon, I found that I was finally able to relax from all the stress I had built and enjoyed the trails again. I’m still not able to keep up with Eamon but let me tell you, trail running is so much more fulfilling and enjoyable when fear is not apart of the equation. With my fears finally dissolving I was able to spend more time in the front range, building my training intensity all while enjoying the process. With a handful of 20k vert weeks, mixed in with hot yoga and recovery days incorporating the most painful but necessary sports massages with VFE Julio I feel as though I did what I could. Yeah, I know I could’ve been doing more but with the limited time I had to prepare I’m quite happy with how far I have come.

Julio from is an angel! He deals with my squirming around the table during massages and gives me great tips to workout these tight muscles.

Julio from is an angel! He deals with my squirming around the table during massages and gives me great tips to workout these tight muscles.

It hurts so good!

It hurts so good!

So they say the hay is in the barn, right? All I can do is trust my training and my bodies ability to accomplish this goal and more importantly… have fun. I don’t believe this is a race that I am prepared to race but what I am prepared to do is give it my all, try my best to get the miles done and to have a little fun every step of the way. Results are this fleeting element of this long day I’ve signed up for, what I strive to focus on is enjoying the experience of this 90k rather than push too hard and struggle both mentally and physically just for a little faster result. I don’t know what to expect, nor do I know how my body will handle the terrain, weather, elevation but I am quite confident in my ability to adapt and roll with the punches. Weather forecasts predict a wet and probable thunderstorm during the weekend… I’m not crying, your’e crying.

I’m not ready, please don’t bring it.

I’m not ready, please don’t bring it.

Cross your fingers for me, Eamon and Len as we embark on this quest and send us all the good vibes because we are sure in for a long day!

A big fist pump and virtual hug to my peeps at Salomon, Suunto and GU Energy for being my biggest cheer leaders throughout this entire process. Social Media is definitely a highlight reel of peoples lives but with constant communication with these groups of insanely amazing people let me truly feel their love and presence throughout all the good times and not picturesque times! One day I’ll meet you all IRL but until then thank you all!

Procrastinating…

Procrastinating…

Ok, I guess I’ll start packing!

If you have a sec, send me your mantra, a positive note or some advice to keep with me during the race!














'Tis the season: Gift Ideas!

How did it get so late? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn! How did it get so late so soon?
— Dr. Seuss
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Where has the month go?

The real question I ask myself: Where has the year go? I’m not going to start talking about this past year, this post is far from a year in review. However, this month so far I can’t help but feel overwhelmed about what’s going to happen in 2019. Where will I travel? What races will I run? Will I even get into certain lotteries? Will I ever get myself some uphill skis? But before I go in full panic mode about whats in store for 2019, I need to wrap up this year first and with that comes the Howl’iday season!

If you’re like me, time flies too quickly to plan on gifts to allow for a stress free holiday. I like to make situations a bit more difficult than necessary and if there is a way to procrastinate- you bet I’ll find it! If you find yourself agreeing with me, or just need a few last minute gift ideas, this list is a mixture of things that are on my personal holiday list and things that I would recommend from personal experience as well as gifts for (a majority) trail runners, dog owners and maybe even non running related. Keep in mind I’m not a gear specialist, nor do I do any product testing for any of these listed here!

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  1. My experience from the spot device is getting nightly emails from my trail wife Lani as she was hiking the PCT, even when cell coverage was spotty or non existent- those nightly emails gave me piece of mind that she was ok and even sent her GPS coordination in order to track(stalk) her PCT trekking.

    As someone who tends to travel beyond the beaten path and do long adventures where cell coverage is non existent, this spot device when turned on will send an “OK” message to set number of people (dad, husband, bf, dogs personal mobile phone, whomever you want). Not only that but the “SOS” button would signal search and rescue if something lie-threatening should occur.

    I DO NOT HAVE THIS yet… (cough, cough) and I know I should have something like this for future adventures. It’s not cheap- you can purchase it from REI with a 50% rebate going on through December 31st. You do have to activate it and purchase a subscription but in the end, this could be a life-saving investment.

Did you know CORAL is the color of 2019… need I say more? ITS THE BEST COLOR

Did you know CORAL is the color of 2019… need I say more? ITS THE BEST COLOR

See both neckgaitors wrapped around my wrist… I tend to fall rather easily and have a lot of snot drip no matter the weather.

See both neckgaitors wrapped around my wrist… I tend to fall rather easily and have a lot of snot drip no matter the weather.

Because this beautiful color looks great on anybody and why wouldn’t you want to choose mountains! Right?

Because this beautiful color looks great on anybody and why wouldn’t you want to choose mountains! Right?

2. Neckgaitors are a great gift for any trail runner. These bad boys work as a drippy nose wiper, a hand protector, ear warmers, headband, face protector, and even feet warmers when you have a layover for a few hours and are wearing sandals in 30 degree temps… I speak from experience. Buy one, buy two- they WILL be used. I confess I have dozens, but the new Choose Mountain colors have me swooning.

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3. Last October I met Val as we were all traveling to Mexico City for UTMX. Val is amazing. Right there in the airport she gifted me a DOGDANA she made for Juniper. You read correctly, a dogdana! She is exceptionally creative and her items on her etsey store prove it. The dogdanas fit on your fur-childrens collars and will only add to the already cuteness. She even has small ones that fit purrrfectly for cats. This is a fantastic gift for any friend with a pup and if you visit her store on etsy she has other fun printed great gifts for baby and even flannel kid/adult pjs. Really, you need to get matching prints for the dog, the kids and the parents… if you ask me that would make any Holiday card paw-some!

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Get your/family/friends pup a myraddog retractable leash and make them just as happy as Juniper frolicking in the snow!

Get your/family/friends pup a myraddog retractable leash and make them just as happy as Juniper frolicking in the snow!

4. Another great gift idea for pet owners is this awesome collar by My Rad Dog! It’s designed for the mostly off-leash dog! The Release N Run is a collar with a built-in 4ft leash which automatically retracts into the collar when you let go of the handle. Juniper has been using the collar for years! It’s perfect for hiking, biking, camping, backpacking, mountain running- it’s the ultimate in gear for you adventure dog and it pairs PERFECTLY with the dogdana as pictured above with Juniper. I constantly get asked what collar she wears when trail running and this is it!


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5. An obsession I’ve had for the last few years is my Territory Run Co “Gorge” hat! The design of this hat has been like no other and is my go to for any adventure run! They have a plethora of beautiful hats but this one takes the cake. Territory Run Co also has a collection of mountain inspired clothing and running apparel for everyone. These jogger pants had be swooning with first touch. They’re fleece lined and fit to be snug, the perfect pre and post run pant and really the perfect winter warm pant! You gotta feel it to believe it! I’m a naturally cold person, so when I found out they designed a fleece line jogger, I jumped with joy! If I lived closer to Portland I’d give these guys a high five on product design. Check out their other product, they have a new beanie, cool socks and a backpack that’s on my personal XMAS list!

I love all these designs with all my heart

I love all these designs with all my heart

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If I didn’t buy this mug I’d get arrested for TREE-son

If I didn’t buy this mug I’d get arrested for TREE-son

6. Treet your friends to some tree mugs or tumblers that I love with all my heart. Another etsy shop that I absolutely love is 2232 Handmade Ceramics! These make great gifts! Perfect for the coffee or tea drinker, or even the succulent lover with her beautifully crafted succulent planters! I’m a huge believer in supporting small business and craftsmanship and my friend Brooke Martinez is one crafty lady! My only problem is that I don’t want to buy these for anyone else, I selfishly want them all to myself!

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STOCKING STUFFERS:

Need some last minute stocking stuffers, or just smaller gifts?

  1. Picky bars! You can never go wrong with nutrition, especially date bars. It’s only a plus that Juniper and I are pictured on them but they DO have other flavors. This one is just the best, if you ask me…

  2. BEER! I do love a good beer, running or not! So stuff a good beer in the stocking or a good kombucha! I do enjoy a good Sufferfest beer because 1. obviously the name is appealing 2. It is born out of the needs of athletes and adventures. 3. The gluten is removed so most gluten free-ist can also enjoy!

  3. I’m a huge Gu gel fan! It’s easy on the stomach and easier to just grab and go run.

  4. The amount of plastic that end up in our landfill is absurd. Straws are made in 10 minutes and are used in about 20 minutes and remain on earth forever since they are not biodegradable. I ask for no straws when ever the opportunity arises but help promote the ban on plastic straws with giving the gift of reusable straws! Amazon has a plethora to choose from!

  5. Give the gift of a good book! Happy Runner by David and Megan Roche. They point out the mental and emotional factors that will help you learn exactly how to become a happy runner and achieve your personal best. This book is on MY Christmas list but you don’t have to purchase a running related book. There are some pretty fantastic books out there- check out goodreads.com for some reccomendations. You can normally find some great books at the goodwill and used bookstores for a few dollars!

  6. SUNGLASSES! Goodr shades are not only FUN with their colors and perfect fitted shades, but they’re all polarized for only $25 bucks a pair. What a steal! These ones are my ultimate favorite!

  7. A great calendar! If you’re like me, a good calendar goes a long way. I like daily reminders and I look at my calendar every morning as it is on my way into the kitchen. My favorite calendar so far is of Howie Sterns two dogs Joey and Micki! I just bought mine! Message Howie and you give the gift of some cute dogs with beautiful mountainous backdrops too!

With that said, the most important gift of all in my opinion?

YOUR TIME.

The best gift in the world are not in the material objects one can buy from the store or online, but in the memories we make with the people we love. This Holiday hug harder, laugh louder, kiss deeper, smile bigger, shine brighter and love longer- be the reason other people smile more!

Be happy!

Happy Howl’idays!

From Juniper and me!

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Llama tell you all about Peru

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Eight strangers from both the US and Canada set off on a quest for adventure in a foreign country. Their destination? Peru, home of Machu Picchu, an ancient Incan City high in the Andes mountains. Around Machu Picchu include a plethora of culture and archaeological sites portraying the Sacred Valley, the Inca Trail, the beautiful colors of Rainbow mountain and the Colonial city of Cusco. These women became fast friends as they perused the Peruvian sights, hiked the historical Inca Trails, ate incredible local food with wild alpacas as company, and climbed endless steep steps, laughing until it hurt. They went where there wasn’t WIFI, but found a better connection within themselves and in each other. These trails were filled with their laughter, encouragement, and motivating words for each other. Despite each of the many reasons these women decided to sign up for this adventure, they all left with huge smiles, new friendships and incredible memories that will last a lifetime. And, llama tell you, it’s a life changing experience.

And suddenly you know- it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings
— Eckhart Tolle

Where do I start? We all travel for different reason, some to escape the everyday norm, the stress of work, family or just an excuse to explore more. Whatever the reason, 8 women plus two Run Like A Girl reps boarded different planes from all over US and Canada, passport in hand, ready for their final destination- Cusco, Peru.

When I was approached with this opportunity back in February I couldn’t say yes fast enough. I was a day away from boarding a plane to Costa Rica for six weeks to help guide the retreats there as well as spend a week running The Coastal Challenge stage race. I was excited to continue to grow within Run Like A girl and have the opportunity to explore more places and meet amazing people. But at that time sure I was excited but with other events overshadowing this experience, I was trying fully to live in the moment. Fast forward to September, this trip was happening soon and I needed to prepare all the necessary items for the excursion. While packing I couldn’t help be overwhelmed with so many different emotions. I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to go to Peru, but at the same time, I was worried. I spent a majority of my summer injured and had just started walking sans hobble just two weeks before I was supposed to be leaving. Naturally, I stayed active by climbing or cycling but when the thought of even trying to run again, I automatically said, “I can’t”. Call me negative Nancy because it seemed as though the only words I knew were “I can’t” and as much as I tried to stay positive, those words lingered from the time my eyes opened in the morning to when they closed to sleep at night. I was determined to have a different mentality during this trip, try to forget about my poor choices during summer, my shattered goals, the constant feeling of adventure FOMO or my race that I’ve been re-living as a nightmare these last few weeks. I wasn’t traveling to race, run, achieve any huge goal or do anything but to assist in an incredible Peruvian experience for the rest of the group. I didn’t realize at the time that not only was I trying to heal from the negativity, but my body was finally given the opportunity to do some healing itself.

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live
— Albus Dumbledore

Arriving at the Cusco airport was like entering a dream. Especially, after almost 20 hours of traveling, short layover followed by long layovers left me feeling dazed and confused. I was picked up by the tour company, Apumayo, that we have our adventures booked with and was shuttled to our hotel in the heart of what looks like tourist central. I was then able to shower and eat breakfast before Courtney, one of the RLAG OG’s arrived. Once she arrived we were able to meet with the incredible owners of Apumayo and have any of our questions answered. They helped us plan our next day off before the entire retreaters arrived in two days. We spent the rest of the day touring Cusco, what once was the site of the Inca Empire that now has a population at about 427,000.

DAY ZERO-A

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We woke early in order to be outside waiting for our taxi by 3:30am. Our destination was a 2.5 hour drive away. Found in the breathtaking mountains of Peru, with its glacial water Humantay Lake is a popular destination for hikers just beginning or ending their trip. Surrounding the Salkantay mountain range, the lake is at 4200 mt / 13799 ft. formed by the glacier water melt from Humantay mountain. Humantay is a snow capped mountain 5835 m / 19143 ft which helps give the beautiful glacier lake its name. Its STUNNING. The previous day Apumayo had suggested we hire our own taxi for the day to avoid the crowded tour companies and their lengthy trips. This will cost us about the same price, take us half the time- not having to pick people from god knows which hotels and about 200 less people- no joke. Despite not having a guide (which is always an advantage seeing how much history and knowledge of the surrounding towns and mountains we missed) we were dropped off in an empty parking lot in front of a tiny miny market and managed to find the correct path.


We passed several eco pods that host overnight stays and a huge area where straw mini tents were set up as well. You turn toward those tents and head straight up the mountain trail, passing the only “bathroom” that was monitored by the hosts maybe 4 year old son. Yes, kid, take all my money. Then, we continued passed the small village of tents and entered an open area where the trail to Humantay Lake was clearly visible- you just go up from there. We passed a few trekkers that were starting their journey to Machu Picchu, this Salkantay trek is another option for a few day adventure.

Deep breaths. It was freezing when we arrived, but once the sun came out and we began the ascent, it quickly turned warm. You can continue pass the lake and enjoy the views from above. The owner of Apumayo told us he enjoys mountain biking that trail, and I thought I was crazy.

DAY ZERO-B:

I attempted to walk back to the market to buy some gifts and ended up sitting in a woman’s booth trying to not throw up. It rained, it hailed and I just walked back to the hotel and puked. I did get some great gifts, tho.

I attempted to walk back to the market to buy some gifts and ended up sitting in a woman’s booth trying to not throw up. It rained, it hailed and I just walked back to the hotel and puked. I did get some great gifts, tho.

Courtney had suggest that we arrive to Cusco a few days before the group to help acclimate and get a feel for the city. I don’t normally have trouble with elevation but came along for the ride nonetheless. Thankfully because on our second zero I spent the entire time either in bed or telling the toilet my deepest darkest secrets, i.e. puking my brains out. I’ve never gotten so sick while traveling in foreign countries and am not sure what pushed me over the line but these are a few things I can suggest in order for this not to happen to you.

Bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands constantly. Peru has great archaeological sights and the rocks are pretty gosh darn old, it doesn’t mean you have to touch them- because everyone does.

Do not drink tap water or any juices from street vendors. Our guts are not use to digesting these bacteria’s and will cause sickness almost right away.

Be selective on places you eat. Mom and pop shops are great but wait till the end of your trip to try any new things, your stomach would less likely turn at that point.

Avoid overeating your first few days. Being at high elevation cause your body to work harder, don’t cause it more work by excessively eating the incredible food you find. Hi! My name is Sawna, I am an over eater all the time.

Thankfully I was the only one that got sick from our group and it was before our adventures but please just be hyper aware. There’s no greater problem then going to an incredible restaurant and not being able to eat because of how bad your stomach is turning and then having to watch everyone eat said incredible food. Practically my nightmare.

That evening we met our group and had a pow wow with our Apumayo local guide, Yaiber the magnificent.

DAY ONE:

One thing I want to highlight is that when you book your flights, always allow a buffer day. Due to storms in Texas and somewhere in Canada, a few women had delayed, missed or cancel flights and worst of all delayed AND lost luggage. We emphasize the dire need to pack your necessities in a carry on and check in the rest because you just never know. Thankfully all women arrived safely just before we boarded transportation for day one.

We departed Cusco at 9:00am and drove 45 minutes in our private transportation toward Pisac archaeological site and market. On the way we stopped at Awancancha a Llama Project. There we were able to learn about, see and feed the Llamas, Vincunas and Guanacos. At the end of the feeding area there were women weaving patterns for tapestry they would sell. The patterns were all memorized when they were children and now their small children were watching their mothers and the trade is passed down. These women wore intricate hand woven outfits and hats that represented the region they were from, something we were able to witness everyday. In the same area we were taught a few things: 1. How they use flower, plants and vegetables to naturally dye yarn. 2. Over 4,000 varieties of native potatoes grow in the Andean highlands of Peru because they are well adapted to the harsh conditions that prevail in the high Andes. 3. Today, farmers along the Peruvian coast, highlands and jungle grow more than 55 varieties of corn, more than anywhere else on Earth corn, and you can just about find it in any color including yellow, purple, white and black.

Before leaving we stopped by the main store that sold real alpaca products and not the “maybe” alpaca products that are really just fake items in the market.

The next place we visited was the Pisac archaeological site which gives insight to the Inca’s advanced masonry skills. The Pisac market is a great place where you can find some unique and authentic souvenirs. The Inca site remains somewhat mysterious as to what their absolute purpose was, but it seems likely that they were part of a settlement along a vital Inca road with the Amazon rainforest to the east of the mountains, it is generally understood that Pisac provided a connecting point of sorts between the highlands and the jungle. We learned there that the four cosmological Quechua principles are water, earth, sun and moon and is protrayed throughout the Inca Trail. After visiting the market and the Inca site, we then headed to our hotel in the Sacred Valley of the Incas in the town of Ollantaytambo. FYI. There’s killer ice cream and vegan ice cream steps away from our hotel and Llamas grazing in the front yard, you know, the norm. The group all meshed well instantly and although the stoke was high, my stomach was all over the place attempting to recover from the intense ab workout the day before.

TIP: This is the day that I learned tortilla in South America means omelette, you know, with eggs. So as some who eats plant based and orders veggies and tortillas (I did think it was odd but wanted to try something different) and it comes out as an omelette! I was pretty gosh darn shocked. Thankfully, Court shared the amazing veggie burrito she ordered that was the size of a thigh.

DAY TWO:

Places we visited:

  1. Ollyantaytambo Ruins

  2. Moray Agrigultural Laboratory

  3. Salt Pans of Moras

  4. An incredible all you can eat buffet with pisco sours(they will make it without the egg too!)

Day two of our adventure started off in the local ruins of Ollyantaytambo, a five minute drive from our hotel. The weather forecast called for showers along with every other day but the morning was stunning. With the day agreeing with us, unlike my stomach (Despite the two bags of saltine crackers I ate) we were able to soak in the sun rays and view a site of a major battle for the Incas. We then drove for about an hour to the Moray Agricultural Laboratory where several theories as to what the concentric circles were used for but widely accepted as an agricultural research station. Each level of the terraces had its own microclimate. The shape both concave and convex represents the duality that is core to the Inca religion: Valley and mountain, man and woman, sun and moon. The clouds rolled in quickly and the rain rolled in as we entered the van. As quickly as it came, the rain disappeared- typical storms in the region. The ride to the Salt Pans was winding, be sure to sit in front if you deal with any sort of car sickness or have experienced any kind of food poisoning lately. I normally do not get car sick but I couldn’t escape the van any quicker for fresh air and deep breaths before any possible hurling would occur. Thankfully it never arouse.

These salt pools we were visiting have been harvested since the Inca empire came into existence. The pools are fed by a nearby stream, which is quite amazing! We were given time to peru-se the area and even try the local salt seasonings. I had posted that everyone was getting salt for Christmas… I wasn’t joking. Santa’s bringing salt this year, all!

We spent the rest of the evening packing our packs for what was the biggest adventure of our trip, the Inca Trail.

DAY THREE:

The day began in a van full of excitement as time passed rather quickly while we drove the bumpy dirt roads following the Vilcanota River and the railroad tracks. We were delayed around 45 minutes by some road work ahead that kept us in a backup. The air was filled with excitement and anticipation for the Inca Trail experience, none of us; the woman, Courtney nor I knew what to expect. We presented our passports and passed through the checkpoint and stopped for the obligatory photo at the beginning of the trail and set out on our quest. for the great unknown. The first part of the trail is wide dirt paths, local people still live along the first three miles of the trail and use the paths for travel and farm work. The time flew by as the conversations flowed amongst the group. We may have met a mere few days ago but we all connected instantly, making this journey all the more special. We talked about our personal lives, expectations of this trip and trail as we took in the incredible scenery. When we entered the lunch area, each and every one of us had our jaws on the floor, no one expected to see a tent lined up with ten chairs, ten sanitize buckets for your hands and another tent where the chef and su-chef were cooking up our feast. These may be a trek, we may be sleeping on the group but we were eating like Queens on a thrown. When I first arrived in Cusco I was worried that there wouldn’t be much of a vegan selection, but to my surprise, there are options everywhere due to its abundance in vegetables and grains. Just like in the city, our personal chefs kept in mind that half the group was vegetarian/vegan and ensured we had an abundance of food. Emphasis on abundance.

DAY FOUR:

Climbed from the valley below to Dead Womans Pass at nearly 14,000 ft.

Climbed from the valley below to Dead Womans Pass at nearly 14,000 ft.

I awoke to repeated flashes of light pouring through the tent as the sound of thunder echoed through the mountains. We rose to wet grass and a feeling of nervousness in the air. Today we were going to get high! Other than high on endorphins, we will hike higher than most have gone, simply by foot. We are hiking up and over Dead Womans Pass at it is known to challenge the spirits of those who undertake it, yet also rewards them generously out of sheer accomplishment. At 4,215m / 13,828 ft, it’s the highest and most dreaded point of the Inca Trail, and nearly 1,800m (5,905 ft) higher than the altitude of Machu Picchu itself. Definitely perceived as the most difficult day with only a million and one steps. I could tell most of the girls were nervous but the nerves were quickly shaken off once we set out to hike. We began the easy flow of conversation with the endless photos of wild flowers, the jungles vast green vegetation and the occasional Llama on the trail. And yet the factors that make the day more difficult than any of the others are what make reaching the pass one of the most rewarding moments, probably the second most rewarding moment on the trail. It’s at this mini summit when many feel a first sense of real accomplishment, not alot of people get to experience 14,000ft and its a grand moment. These women are undertaking something physically unusual and emotionally strenuous, and it serves as a great life moment for those that choose to be here. During this day, I was reminded of the important to be in the moment. It’s a practice I had lost and standing at Dead Womens pass watching these fierce, strong, beautiful women overcome this grand moment reminded me of the importance. A beautiful reminder to not dwell on the past nor dream of the future but to concentrate the mind on this present moment.

We descended as new women. Women with an unwavering confidence in our abilities; women who won’t give up; women who know limits but push them anyway; women who don’t underestimate the power of women supporting each other; women who no longer come from a place of ‘I can’t’ but now a place of ‘bring on the next challenge because I CAN!
— Toni Brooke, trekker and fellow badass

That evening is one I will remember for forever- or until I fall hard enough on one of these crazy runs and hit my head hard enough. Obviously kidding. That evening as we camped overlooking glaciers and razor sharp mountain peaks nestled between clouds us 10 women and both our guides nestled into our dining tent just talking, laughing and enjoying each others company for hours. There were no cell phones, no wifi- but the connection was far better than any 5g network. We laughed, we cried, we played cards, we debated and just conversed as if old friends. This is what the Inca Trail does, it creates beautiful friendships and incredible memories that will both last a lifetime. I will sleep happy and only have a few nightmare about stairs.

Note to hikers, Llamas WILL spit on you if you get too close. They are wild but the Peruvian government accounts for them and even gives them names (they have a tag on their ear with their name so the government can keep track of them).

DAY FIVE:

Llama tell you a story about when a porter walked around a llama and got spit on three times; it’s wet, it’s thick mucus and it’s pretty forceful. This is what was going through my mind as Doris turned her head to smile for the camera….

Llama tell you a story about when a porter walked around a llama and got spit on three times; it’s wet, it’s thick mucus and it’s pretty forceful. This is what was going through my mind as Doris turned her head to smile for the camera….

It may only be our third day on the Inca Trail but it seems days longer. From our campsite today, a majority of the trail will be downhill, a far easier effort level than yesterday. This morning we are considered half way there, we have todays hike to Phuyupatamarka, just above Machu Picchu mountain and then tomorrows final hike to the ruins of Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes.

This day I would describe as unforgettable. The landscape changes dramatically and you will find yourself transported into one of the stages of the Amazon called the cloud forest. It’s obvious that you are in a tropical jungle, just still above the clouds. You cross through two Incan tunnels carved out of the mountainside and visit the incredible archaeological sites called Sayacmarca & Phuyupatamarca. There are a lot of stairs going down on this day that were not only steep, but insanely slippery and sometime quite narrow. It was quite humorous to watch the group descend oh so carefully whilst the porters casually fly down with 60lb packs running a sub 7 minute mile, no big deal. Although considered one of the easier day, our hiking time was repetitively around the same amount of hours, we wanted to to take more time to enjoy the views, the ruins and being present in this moment

Our guide, Yaiber, had said he picked our campsite at the highest location possible in order to get the best sunset and sunrise. No sooner than arriving at camp did the unpredictable weather start to form; clouds rolled in along with some rain. It was by far one of the coldest evenings as we all gathered in the main tent. Our body heat managed to keep the tent warm as we reminisce on the days adventures, the jokes, the llama selfies, the incredible food and just the comraderie and beautiful friendships we’ve created. We had happy hour and then dinnerX3 plus wine and dessert for celebration. Once everyone was getting ready to pack and call it a night, we collected what we all had for tips for our guides, the chef, su-chef and all the porters that had been doing an incredible amount of work for us! Before going to bed, the sky had cleared and white peaks popped out in the distance while stars overtook the night sky, it was quite the send off for our last night on the trail.

DAY SIX:

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Our final day on the trail and probably the shortest amount we need to hike. I can’t believe the days had flown by so quickly but looking back it seems as though it couldn’t have only been four days- too much had happend. I wanted to stay on the trail, away from any wifi, social media or any home obligations for just a little bit longer. Today was when we would cross the Sun Gate and enter Machu Picchu.
We decided to not wake up super early to arrive at the Sun Gate during sunrise along with the 8 or 9 other groups but instead enjoyed our morning. After breakfast we were gifted a glorious view of why the area was called the cloud forest. We hike behind our campsite to a nearby peak and took the views in. No matter the direction everything was just gorgeous as you watched the mist move in and out of the mountains.

Today we are set to follow the famed Royal Highway through orchid-rich cloud forest to Winya Wayna ruins, Winyawayna means Forever Young (Cue Alphavilles Forever Young song). Afterward we continue our descent until we have a very short ladder like ascent of 50 or so steep rock stairs that lead you to the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate is much higher the Machu Picchu itself, and gives you a view that stretches far beyond the ruins. It’s the first glimpse you get of Machu Picchu and it encompasses views of the surrounding peaks and the valley leading down into Aguas Calientes. You can spy the buses coming up the roadway and congratulate yourself for getting here the hard way.

After four days of hiking, I sat there, watching all the women walk through the stoned archways of the Sun Gate- that is a moment I will never forget. Despite the arrival to the Sun Gate being a pretty incredible experience, it’s really the build up of the last four hard days of hiking you are remembering- the fact that you hiked this dream place seemed all too surreal. I could see it in their faces, the raw emotion, the wonder, the glory, the “I DID IT” revelation. Despite all the times one hears “you' can’t do it” and even from our self, the inner daemon agreeing and saying “I can’t” was shoved off the Sun Gate walls that morning. Each and every one of them put their fears aside, built the courage up, booked the trek, made the commitment, and climbed those 50 steep stairs to see their dream come true. Because in the long run we have every opportunity to achieve our biggest dreams, but it’s ourselves! We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self confidence, by not speaking up, not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.

The arrived at Machu Picchu and sat on the lawn and eat a snack, basking in the glory before another storm rolled in. That evening we checked into our hotel, took a shower and met for dinner. Maybe it was because we were on the trail for a few days, but that evening couldn’t have been any more perfect. The restaurant Yaiber selected was INCREDIBLE, the ambiance, the food, the beer, did I mention the food was all incredible. Dear reader, if you find yourself in aguas calientes, you MUST go to INDIO FELIZ. They didn’t have craft beer (cerveza artesenal) on the menu but just ask and they had the most delicious IPA. And did I mention the food?

DAY SEVEN:

Back to reality, back to WIFI.

Back to reality, back to WIFI.

We may have finished the Inca Trail but the adventure doesn’t stop here. A few of us opted to climb Machu Picchu mountain while the rest of the group toured the ruins. The mountain is just shy of 3,000 Inca stone steps which take you 2,000 feet up (about 1.25 miles)to the top of the mountain. 

I joked around while waiting in line that I would race someone, ha! I think that’s funny now considering how my body ached at the time but boy did we have fun! Toni, Steph, Kelly and I climbed those steep steps, quickly passing all the others who entered the mountain gates before us until there just wasn’t anyone else to pass. We climbed those 3,000 steps, no stopping, our heavy packs on our back, heart beating so hard, huffing and puffing until there wasn’t anything else to climb. It took us about 38 or so minutes to reach the top and the view was incredible! We took our time descending, the steps being rather steep while there are no handrails, just a sheer steep droop off if you decide to tilt to the side. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has a fear of heights, even I wouldn’t dare look to the side to where the steps ended.

After our mountain peak adventure we met with Yaiber for a tour of Machu Picchu before heading back to town to catch the train back to Ollyantaytambo and then a van back to Cusco. We then had dinner at our favorite vegan spot, Green Point (You gotta try the pad thai) just a few steps away from our hotel before passing out for the night.



DAY EIGHT:

It was great to be back in Cusco. We had a later morning that usual and took a tour around Cusco and the magnificent ruins of Sacsayhuaman and its impressive rocky constructions. We were pretty wiped from trekking and wanted to hang out into the city so Yaiber was able to take us to the local chocolate factory before saying our goodbyes.

Guides are very important, as are porters and our chef, but guides make the experience so much more. Yaiber felt like family instantly and he quickly gained our respect and our hearts. His love for Peru shines and is quite contagious.

The rest of the day was spent shopping or soveniers, relaxing and pacing for tomorrows final adventure.

DAY NINE:

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I have seen this tourist destination all over social media and have read about the sediment created from mineral deposits over millions of years that has created these 7 different colors, Rainbow Mountain. This mountain, discovered less than 5 years and has been a tourist attraction ever since. Before that time? Local said the area had always been covered in snow, until it finally all melted and a colorful mountain appeared from under it. This mountain has created jobs and tourism for the community when employment didn’t really exsist. Guides lead over 1,000 hikers a day to the site and even had a wetland filled in to create a parking lot for vehicles.

The road to Rainbow mountain is quite lengthy trip from Cusco. The drive alone was spectacular, despite being extremely bumpy, you are one a single mountain road with Alpacas on either side of the road and beyond. Vast green lanscapes, white mountain peaks and no one insight but the car full of people.

None of us knew exactly what to expect, we hiked in a group and then seperated as the hike became a bit more strenous especially coming up to 16,000 ft. I was shocked at seeing how many people(Perus version of Disneyland, there were dozens) were out in jeans and vans and unprepared for what this was- a mountain. I understand I was in shorts but I was wearing layers upon layers, I definitely packed light for the entire trip and ended up donating what I had left to the porters families. Here, Families were taking there kids in sneakers and sweatshirts and asking how much further just a mere quarter of a mile into the hike. The trail was crowded and just before reaching the junction of Rainbow Mountain, it was so crowded you had to pull off your best dance moves to sashay around people. But once their wasn’t anything left to climb, you are left breathless- figuratively and literally. You understand why hundreds of people want to visit here, to experience the wonder, to feel as though nothing really matters when beauty like this exist. It was a great achievement, for myself included, to reach new heights of 16,500 ft.

This area is absolutely stunning and I understand why so many people want to visit it, but I can’t help but feel conflicted. I want to see this incredible place, I’d like to spend more time here but I also feel like I’m playing a part in the destruction of this beautiful and fragile alpine environment. Talking to our guide during the huge buffet lunch they provided, he says it’s only a matter of a few years before the land is ruined by the tourism boom.
That evening, after the bumpy ride home, we all gathered for our final dinner at Green Point Vegan Restaurant (It’s seriously THAT good) and reminisced about the weeks adventures, the highs, the struggles, the emotions and what brought us to this dream location. Tears were had, laughter was heard, hugs were given, and of course lots of food was eaten before we said goodnight.





Peru has awoken so many things within me. My visit to this magical place has reminded me to be present. I’ve been re-living choices I’ve made, particularly racing when perhaps my body wasn’t ready, having a summer of injury that had just left me an unhappy, unbalanced, and disappointed in my inability to reach these expectations I had of myself as an athlete and as a human being. I have been dwelling on the past and dream’t of the future when all I needed to be was grateful for the present. Words can not portray the immense gratitude I have for the opportunity to guide for Run Like A Girl and to have met such inspiring and kind-hearted people in doing so. Watching these women battle fears, emotions and overcome such obstacles helped me realize that I too was overcoming an obstacle: the fear and constant worry that I’m not good enough and overuse of the thought “I can’t”.

Because in the end, I’m the only person stopping myself and I’ve decided that I can.



My personal tips when traveling to Cusco:

  1. Pack light and pack old clothes. I only carried a 30L carry on for the entire trip. I re-wore outfits several times. I suggest packing old clothing because at the end of the Inca Trail you have the opportunity to donate things to the porters and their families. Your items would be treasured and greatly appreciated. I packed light due to my fear of my baggage getting lost since I had three connecting flights. Rightfully so. I also brought a fold up duffel in my purse to bring home purchases. On my flight on the duffel acted as my large purse and I still didn’t need to check in anything.

  2. There are women and children who carry around a baby lamas in Cusco that ask if you want your photo with the Llama. Do not indulge. These poor Llamas are bought when they’re weeks old, far too young, to be used for tourism and these kids are missing school because they think they have more opportunity making money on the streets than getting an education. To make matters worse, these Llamas are not properly fed, only given dried milk and usually die due to malnutrition.

  3. The shops in town normally carry “maybe” alpaca products. The vendors tell you what your purchasing is made of alpaca and baby alpaca wool when it’s just a polyester blend manufactured somewhere else. Just because the brand is called 100% alpaca doesn’t mean it’s made of anything alpaca. Just know what you’re purchasing.

  4. Try their delicacies. I’m not saying try guinea pig because I just imagine snuggling a pet but Peru does have some other great things to try. Their “Pisco Sour” is a well known drink (I got it without the egg) and it tasted like a margarita. They also have a corn drink we tried one day on the trail. They also have great local beer!

  5. Bring hand sanitizer and toilet paper with you EVERYWHERE.

  6. My two favorite restaurants in town where Green Leaf vegan, I reccomend the Pad Thai, Pancakes or their veggie burger and the Ginger lime kombucha- you can’t order wrong (Even the non vegans agreed with this) and Jacks Cafe. Jacks is vegan friendly but their food is incredible! Its a tiny spot with no bathroom and worth the wait if it’s crowded. I’d recommend that humus, the pumpkin soup and the bruschetta!

  7. We stayed at Apu Huascaran which was walking distance to everything and fairly inexpensive.

  8. Having puffy walking slippers for after hiking during the Inca Trail was amazing

  9. Thankful for everyone who let me charge my phone and camera with their portable chargers because mine died (I kept leaving my camera on and drained the battery). Bring an external battery, or hey, even a solar one!

  10. On the trail, you don’t NEED to eat everything and ask for seconds or thirds. You don’t need to act like you’ve never eaten before and the food might disappear if you don’t consume every bite—-> this is just advice for myself for when I return in September. I don’t need to act like a starving child every time there’s a plate of food in front of me!

    Do you have any tips or recommendations I should add? Send me an email!

I normally would include a Spotify list of songs that remind me of this trek, but gosh darn this post took me too long as it was. I know its months after the event but it’s difficult to spend hours on a computer when days in Los Angeles are so incredibly beautiful that I constantly feel as though I should be outside with Juniper frolicking in meadows and on mountain peaks. Since being able to run again, it has stolen my attention but I felt as though I couldn’t move forward with my blog without taking a step back and completing this post. Since Peru, several incredible events occurred; being able to run again, a Sierra adventure, Mexico, Cactus to Clouds and finally snow in SoCal- all things I want to write about, in due time.

Till next time!

Write here…

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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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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! 

 

 

 

 

 

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.     Photo by: Hilary Ann 

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 ;)

Fatdog 120: An extra long walk in the Park.

A vibrant green log sitting next to the river bank beckons me to come over, welcomes me to sit on it's ever so soft seat. I'm about 85 miles deep and still have a grueling 40 more miles to go and have spent the last 24 hours questioning my life decisions. Trying to hold back tears, I quickly inhale another gu energy gel without gagging. 

"This taste so good" I say out loud, trying to persuade my taste buds that this consistency I've been eating for 24 hours is actually what my body wanted. My two friends I've made during the race, Denis and Andrew, are already out of view now. I've fully excepted the idea that the rest of this quest may be ran alone. I start to cry; shoulders tense up, face goes into an awkward and seriously ugly expression but tears do not flow as they normally do. Acknowledging that I'm dehydrated I quickly snag a few more gulps of water and begin jogging again. "Don't be such a baby" I tell myself as shock waves ripple through my calves and crash into my quads, completely fighting my commands- nay my begging, to continue forward, but against the pain I persevere. Salt stained faced, dirt covered legs, oh so tired legs, I continue forward... one foot after another, one gel after another. 

 

Wednesday, August 9th. 

I hop onto a greyhound from Squamish back to Vancouver to meet up with Oliver and Molly, both whom will be racing this weekend. A ping of sadness flows through me as I spent the last week here with my fellow RLAG crew and making new friends while working their Adventure Retreat. Hailey, Eduardo and their fur kid Paxi opened there house and hearts to me and I will forever be grateful for their friendship. 

I wave goodbye to some fun filled memories as one adventure door closes and another opens to the unexpected. I look forward to the next bunch of adventurers, Oliver who is running the 120 miler and Molly her first 50 miler. Once together we talked, laughed and bantered as if old friends our entire lives, a bond merging by a shared passion for the trails.  With a pit stop at a grocery store (and liquor store- because in Canada you can't buy beer where you buy your groceries) we were off to Manning Park, where the reception scarce, the trails vast and the smokey air dense and slowly coating our lungs. 

FATDOG 120

The 120 mile event is considered one of the top 9 toughest ultras in the world by Outside Online. Difficult point to point trail race with elevation gain 28,453 feet (8672.7 metres) just less than Everest 29,029 ft.(8848 metres). You cross three stunning provincial parks and one recreational area in British Columbia, BC: Cathedral Provincial Park, Cascades recreational area, E.C. Manning Provincial Park and Skagit Valley Provincial Park. Scenic, technical and non-technical trails, one river crossing, and sumptuous aid stations. Well rewarded for climbs with top of the ridge vistas and a very demanding final leg to finish. Starts near Keremeos and finishes at beautiful Lightning Lake. Racers of all distances are required to carry several items with them at all times in case of emergencies and/or weather changes.  Unlike most 100 mile races, this particular one begins on Friday morning at 10am. 

Thursday, August 10th

I woke in a pool of sweat. I look around and can't quite place where I am. As the room begins to come back into focus, remembering how just the day before we all jumped on our beds like young kids at summer camp (4 beds in the room) checking which were the softest before claiming our own- I suddenly begin piecing together my dream. There is nothing quite like dreaming of running a 100 miles without shoes on while searching for your hydration pack with zero assistance from the volunteers. It was a silly dream that I obviously knew will not come to fruition.

After packing the last of my drop bags we were off to Manning Park where check in would be held and a few miles on course to be ran.

MANNING PARK: 

E.C. Manning Provincial Park is a provincial park in British ColumbiaCanada. It is usually referred to as Manning Park, although that nomenclature is also used to refer to the resort and ski area at the park's core. The park is 70,844 hectares (273.53 square miles). The terrain in the park, which includes most of the Hozameen Range sub-range of the Canadian Cascades, varies from wet coastal rain forests, to jagged snow-capped peaks, alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, to a chain of small lakes, and broad river beds along the valley floors. A network of trails crosses the park, some of them following routes used by the fur trade and native hunters and traders. The park is best known for its midsummer displays of subalpine flowers, but there are other flora such as at Rhododendron Flats(If you run Fatdog, you'll get a constant eyefull of the most beautiful flowers that even having a rough day can't make you not enjoy), near the park's western entrance, which has a substantial colony of pinkish-red rhododendrons, a protected indigenous species that blooms in early- to mid-June. Some of the less common species the park aims to protect are the mountain beaver and the wolverine.<-- So cool

To say I was nervous would be an understatement. The entire day my stomach was churning. I felt like I didn't belong in such a race. I couldn't hold any food down, the toilet and I became dearest friends and I was just filled with butterflies. During the race briefing in Princeton my stomach screamed. Searching the room I couldn't help but feel intimidated by my peers. I couldn't help but to continue asking myself WHAT AM I DOING HERE? With Javelina Jundred being the only other hundred mile distance I've completed I couldn't help but let my insecurities get the best of me. Ay caramba, what have I gotten myself into? 

Friday, August 11th

I had my race kit ready and even slept in my American Flag BoaUSA shorts. Brad and his wonderful wife Johanna (she made all the vegan pumpkin pies for Hardrock, among other yummy goodness) led the way in their car as Oliver, Molly and I followed in ours. The night before we spent around the dinner table laughing at Brads jokes and just enjoying each others company before the big dance as I inhaled my dinner and most of Mollys. 

We parked alongside the dirt road and instantly I had to go find a bush to pee in. The 2 hour drive deeper into the smoke haze was spent with decent cell service and I was able to talk to my coach Chris Vargo, my parents and some friends before heading back into the back country for the next few days. Shockingly enough my nerves had disappeared. With so many friendly faces around, I didn't feel so intimidated. A group of coyotes were out here running as well; Vishal the 120, Anna the 50 and Gwendolyn the 40 miler and of course a few of my favorite PNW friends were running as well; Colton and Lisa Large. I tried to take photos with as many people as I could! I mean that's what I'm here for, right? To socialize!

Well, I did sign up for this right? After a final gear check we were sent off! We ran up the dirt road and looped back down to disperse a bit before the inevitable konga line that will form. I began hiking after fellow Territory Run CO Wilder runner Jennifer Love and her runner Larry who she was pacing and basically ran with them for a bit. 

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How I feel...

My mind began to wonder. Extra effort given to push through the dense air, my lungs not agreeing with the quality of air mixed with 90 degree temps I was forcing into them. The climb seemed never ending, was it a mistake to not have hiking pole? Probably. My breathing short and shallow, unable to fully gasp in a complete breath I continue in a forward motion, climbing upward. In the dark haze of the distance I can make out the mountains, it may not be picturesque but still oh so beautiful. I stop to take it all in. Despite the idea of running this kind of distance, I promised myself I'd enjoy the views- no matter how terrible I felt. Using the moment I attempted to catch my breath, still unable to breath to my full capacity- I continue. This was only the beginning, I had no idea the magnitude of suffering I'd endure within the next several hours. We have only reached 10 miles of the race and I couldn't breath properly.

I begin running the decent, remembering some advice Nick Coury gave me during Hardrock and I immediately slowed down. People passed me, sure, that was inevitable, but my thought was to save my quads. We were descending into the next aidstation and I was ok with taking my time. The girl with the red shorts passes me and we begin talking. I'm in no place to be competitive but we chat about the race- her third time running it and other races we've both ran. Despite the inability to breath properly, it was nice to have a friendly conversation. Almost a constant during the beginning of this race!

Running into Ashnola I was completely out of water. I instantly spot Randy Duncan and am overwhelmed with happiness! So thankful for the incredible volunteers! I am full of smiles, quickly forgetting how I had been feeling the last few miles- lets be honest, since mile ONE.

All photos above by the talented and amazing Jeff Fisher! 

I leave the aid station fully stocked and begin running the fire road to the next climb. I run into Nik, originally from Russia but is living in Issaquah. I lose any concept of time at this point. We had spent a few miles talking and that slowly just faded. I stopped to pee and Nik continued on, I knew I wouldn't catch up to him, my spirits began to spiral down. I continued forward and slowly but surely my stomach began to turn, next was cramping of all different locations, and my energy level began to plummet. I took electrolytes and began drinking even more water, worried that my body was starting to shut down. At this time the terrain was a bit more manageable, rolling hills along a meadow filled with an abundance of wild flowers of all colors. I find myself stuck in a mix of emotions, fighting my body's lack of strength and my minds will to shout in immense happiness over these beautiful colors. THESE ARE AMAZING! I wanted to instantly take photos of all these glorious colors and send them immediately to Rhea, my wild flower trail runner best friend back in Los Angeles- yet the will and energy to do so was too much to bear. The ripple effect of these cramps, up my calf and quad reminded me to stay focused. I verbally apologized, and mentally snapped a photo of the moment in time- the sun castings it's rays oh so delicately upon the pedals as they sparkles there well wishes and happiness to me. I drank it all in but still with the aftertaste of regret. I continued forward, ever so slowly. 

Breath, Sawna, breath.

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I force myself to stop running, forbidding my legs to continue if I am unable to breath fully.  If I have to hike- so be it. I spend the next mile, although on a flat trail, just walking. taking in Deep breaths, forcing more electrolytes down to possibly stop the cramping along with more water- stomach disagreeing with every action. 

I continue on, my motivation was to catch up to Nik, to have someone to chat with. My body, although still moving well, didn't feel right. I could see him running in the far distance and I knew I wouldn't catch him. Attempting to run along the mountain meadow, the view was breathtaking, quite literally and figuratively. A guy passes me and is extremely chipper, points out the incredible smoke cloud behind us of a fire that just began. Yeah that's interesting but my real question is how are you so happy? Instantly I knew I had to stick around this guy: Denis from Seattle I quickly learned. I ran close by him and another runner during the Flattop Descent. It was nice to have some people to run with but my mind was focused on how badly I had to pee but with nothing coming out. I continued to drink more, took an electrolyte tablet and continued forward listening to the two runners talk. I was worried. The drops of pee that were coming out were dark dark brown and I couldn't tell if it was brown or red. It felt as though I had a bladder infection, not a fun feeling and one I wanted to resolve quickly. As we run down Denis starts conversation with me and I quickly begin talking about my issue. I need advice. More electrolytes and more food. I take two more electrolyte tablets. I was thankful to have the gu roctane drink pretty handy, the fruit punch one that I could easily sip on! (The Summit Tea one, the only thing I could describe as the closet thing to human flavored throw up, not a flavor id be sipping on anytime soon). Slowly my stomach began to settle and we both celebrated an hour or two later when I was able to pee more than a few drops. Phew- a sigh of relief. 

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I may be able to pee but the leg cramps and low spirits continued. There's a very sad Sawna running through the mountains right now and although I was acknowledging the feeling, I couldn't mend how broken I felt. I craved a familiar face, a family member, a friend, a loved one... I craved a hug. A warm embrace, a shaken too- saying "Sawna you can do this". Every molecule in my body was telling me otherwise, telling me my body wasn't ready nor happy about the toll I was putting it trough. I hoped that I'd be surprised at an aid station and looked forward to each one to come... thinking maybe. Yet when I arrived, my mind wondered, there were so many loving faces, although strangers, each embraced me with warmth and kindness and any other expectation flooded my mind. 

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Crossing the Pasayten River around 8pm my spirits were at an all time low. Although I had only ran a mere 39 miles, my quads felt as though I had already ran 100. They were beat up and I was ready to sit down and not get back up. I was still running with Denis, who provided great company and conversation but I was done, physically and mentally with this course. I didn't want to go any further. I held onto the rope as my legs emerged into the water, trying not to let the force push me aside I hold back tears. Reminding myself that this is something I wanted to do, something I paid to do. I go to sit down and realize Denis is putting the reflector jacket on and I don't even stop. I knew if I wanted to drop I couldn't do it at a minor aid station and may as well continue forward than prolong the inevitable.

I just want to get this over with.

It's only two miles at Bonnevier where I can drop. One foot in front of the other I follow alongside of Denis as we continue running along the road toward Bonnevier. 

What an aid station! We got there and it was full of crew, pacers, and volunteers. I am instantly greeted by Jeff Fischer, fellow Territory Run CO Wilder runner and I hold back the tears that want to flow out. "Don't be a baby Sawna, MAN UP" I tell myeslf. My body cramping up like crazy I express how terrible I feel and without a word he is helping. "I cant drop now" I tell myself. This is so embarassing!  I make my best effort to smile and try to portray that I don't feel like shit. "I can't drop" I repeat. I try to put fresh socks and shoes on and my leg goes in a full cramp. Jeff the angel that he is, remedies it. Gives me a banana (none of the aidstations carried bananas) out of his car, some electrolyte tablets and forces me to eat. Just having a friend around my spirits begin to rise.

Dang it, am I really going to continue? All sorts of cuss words flow through my mind. 

I search for Denis and he's waiting for me. 

More cuss words flow through my mind.... HERE GOES NOTHING.

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Dang it, Sawna.

I grab my 1,000 pound pack which barely has room for water due to the long list of required gear and profusely thank Jeff for his help. As we exit a volunteer asks to check our required gear and I simply asked her to look at how bulging my pack was and ensure her that I have EVERYTHING. It was heavy. The next section is 11 miles of climbing toward Heather aid station and it was already dark. We began to climb and think it's not too late to turn around but quickly notice a pep in my step. Whoa, the cramping has completely disappeared and I instantly feel like chatty Cathy. Denis and I chat the entire climb, talking about his wife and baby, my fur baby... really just anything and it seemed as though time flew by. With only 129 pee breaks and 1,452 farts we arrived at Heather and were able to restock on food, water and some laughs with volunteers. All the chairs were filled with runners looking a bit disheveled and I was amazed at how well I felt. My body didn't feel so good, but my spirits were high. 

We thanked the incredible aidstation volunteers for being there and were off on the next section. It was a runnable section toward Nicomen Lake. 10 miles it said, it felt more like 16. We ran for what seemed like hours upon hours and only passing one or two runners. This is where we ran into Vishal sitting on the side of the trail, not feeling so well. After offering help we continued on and met up with Andrew a fellow runner who just like us, didn't have any pacers. We continue onward together as a group for what seemed like another hour. 

Arriving at Nicomen we were shocked to see that they barely had any water left and only a batch of saltine crackers. Maybe that's only what I saw but I was relieved to just be there. We only stayed a minute or two before we continued on. It was a long trek toward Cayuse Flats. It was late and we were all tired and overwhelmed by the miles that we have ran already. My eyes were getting heavy, my feet were clumsy and before I knew it I was on the ground- not remember the last few seconds. Had I fallen asleep? Who knows. 

Denis, Andrew and I continue forward at our best attempt to run. Eager for the next aid station We try to calculate how much more time we had. I had already ran out of food and was quickly draining my water yet was still peeing every ten minutes. I had started with two flasks and a bladder and somehow my bladder was already out- not realizing the there was a tear in the spout and had been leaking water this entire time. Great. I've had this pack for not even a month and a half and its ripped during the most important race. 

We continued forward, our hopes high that we were getting close to the aid but the trail continued onward and so did we, in silence. My mouth dry, pack light from lack of water and nutrition, I dig for anything of substance and find a packet of Nutzo butter and I was elated. FOOOOOOOOD. 

After much walking the last mile and a few whimpering on my part we arrived at Cayuse Flats. I was happy to be there! They had breakfast burritos and bacon cooking and my mouth was salivating. As I eat some watermelon and wash it down with another Gu... If there was a time I didn't choose to be vegan, this would be it. I ate watermelon, avocado and some blueberries but I felt as though I couldn't catch up to how depleted my body felt from running out of food. The next aid, Cascade was only five miles away of steep climbs and descents, yet my eyes could not stay open. Fatigued, tired, overwhelmed, I don't know what it was but I was struggling to keep up with the guys. They wouldn't have any of it! I looked at each log, each patch of leaves as an opportunity for sleep but if they kept going, as did I. I wasn't going to loose these guys now. At this point I was getting really irritated about my peeing situation. It continued every 10 minutes or so. A problem I wished to have at mile 25 now seems like such a chore. I need more food. Cascade aid came up quickly and I was able to devour some pickles, more avocado and chips. I ran into Nick Knipe, fellow Coyote runner and pacer to Vishal and explained to him how poorly Vishal felt and how worried we were for him. 

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2 miles from Cascade was Sumallo aid. It definitely wasn't two miles but at this point nothing matters. Vishal comes sprinting in with Nick and I'm floored by how amazing he looks. What the holy Crackers. WHAT drugs is he on and how do I get some... is my thought as I pick my jaw off the ground, unable to wrap my mind around how he's actually here. 

We depart the aid as a group. How am I still here? My eyes won't stay open and I'm struggling to keep up with the guys. 13 miles until the next aidstation seems unbearable. I've eaten 4 gu's in the last 20 minutes. Why you ask? Well, I eat a gu and instantly feel better for a minute or two and then crash hard, then repeat. The trail is rolling and manageable, a runners heaven if, maybe,  we haven't ran over 80 miles already.

A vibrant green log sitting next to the river bank beckons me to come over, welcomes me to sit on it's ever so soft seat. I'm about 85 miles deep and still have a grueling 40 more miles to go and have spent the last 24 hours questioning my life decisions. Trying to hold back tears, I quickly inhale yet another gu energy gel without gagging. 

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"This taste so good" I say out loud, trying to persuade my taste buds that this consistency we've been eating for 24 hours is actually what my body wanted. My two friends I've made during the race, Denis and Andrew, are already out of view now. I've fully excepted the idea that the rest of this quest may be ran alone. I start to cry; shoulders tense up, face goes into an awkward and seriously ugly expression but tears do not flow as they normally do. Acknowledging that I'm dehydrated I quickly snag a few more gulps of water and begin jogging again. "Don't be such a baby" I tell myself as shock waves ripple through my calves and crash into my quads, completely fighting my commands- nay my begging, to continue forward, but against the pain I persevere. A flashback of last months Hardrock 100 flies through my memory. "You have no right to complain, Sawna" I scolled myself. This shit is easy compare to what Katie went through. I remember how her knee locked up just before Chapman yet, despite the elevation, the pain, and the time already on feet- she pushed through. I remind myself that I have no reason to complain, do I want to run Hardrock 100 one day? Hell fu**in YES, so I wipe these invisible tears, suck it up, and cancel the current pitty party I was throwing myself. But boy do I like to throw a good party! Salt stained faced, dirt covered legs, oh so tired legs, I continue forward... one foot after another, one gel after another. 

A few runners passed me as I plastered a smile on my face and greeted them with enthusiasm. Maybe if I pretend to feel good, I'll trick my body. I begin whimpering as I jog ever so slowly as I repeat to myself "it could be worse, I could feel worse!". I hear talking and fast feet approaching as I'm shuffling along and see its Gwendolyn, another coyote flying by. Note to self: sign up for shorter races. She's running the 40 miler and I couldn't help but feel jealous. I feel the ugly face crying approaching and I pushed it aside. STOP IT SAWNA, MAN the F- Up! I could feel my brother by my side, cheering me on- he was always the one to say if your dreams didn't scare you... they're not big enough. Always pushing me off the skate board ramp or toward the next black diamond with my kid snowboard strapped to me feet, or toward the next big wave. Well, Tono I'm pretty sure this is as stupid as it gets. I snap back to reality, hopeful, I think the aid station is soon, I could feel it. 

Saturday, July 29th...

I woke up to car lights. Parked at the Red Box ranger station in the San Gabriel mountains, I can count on one hand how many times I've slept in a bed since I left for Colorado in June. After being in Colorado for a month training, pacing for Hardrock and drinking tons of beer, I came home and continued to Airbnb my apartment- hoping to make some extra money before leaving again for almost two weeks in Canada. I assured myself that it aided in my trail running. Instead of sleeping in my apartment all the way in Hollywood- I'd sleep at trail heads in my car and wake up right where I'd want to run. A few times I'd sleep at my parents but the majority of the time I tried to live out of my car, shower at the climbing gym or lets be honest- not shower at all. It was an adventure! I can honestly say my vegan dirt bag dishes I put together were ON POINT. Everything I'd ever need is in my car, an ice chest, cooking supplies, change of clothing, my computer, books, my journal, and of course my fur baby. At times I found myself questioning why I pay so much to live in an apartment when I seem so much happier being mobile.

Juniper and I set out to run Strawberry peak and perhaps a bit more. My coach, Chris Vargo, put together a great training plan for me and this was the last week of training before the big dance, Fatdog120. Today I was tired, but was set out to snag back my CR for the climb that was stolen sometime this month by Rhea (get it gurrrrl). At the peak, tired and already sweating at 6:30 am my semi long run turned into only a summit. I was ready to go home. Yes, my car is great but I could use a real bed for a good nights rest and tonight I'll make that happen at my parentals house. I have one last hard run tomorrow and three days to deep clean my apartment for the next visitors as I attempt to pack for two weeks in Canada. I'm excited but mostly overwhelmed. I could use a nap- but I'll settle for pancakes at Cafe Gratitude. Taper mode is fast approaching, nerves starting to kick in. 

This is really happening...

Saturday, August 12th

This is really happening...

I'm not going to continue writing about how terrible the race was, how terrible I felt, how much I cried, or how much I wanted a hug... wah wah wah wah wah. That's what you have been reading and I apologize for that but I'm trying to describe exactly what was going through my mind and how I truly felt. At times throughout the day I'd force myself to smile, wow I felt so stupid, but honestly it helped, I forced a smile and eventually it came naturally. This race has been on my bucket list since my first year running Rainshadow Running Gorge Waterfalls 100k back in 2014 where I met Dave and a few beers and Project Talaria videos later he described how incredible this particular race was, it's trails and how it needs to be on my bucket list. Three and a half years later here I am. 

I'm running into Shawatum aidstation, thankful those 13 grueling miles are over. My pack gets refilled as I ask for a banana. The aid station has none. Shocking. I then start asking the spectators and others cew if anyone has a banana and a girl runs over with one. THANK YOU again! (Literally walked around yelling if ANYONE HAD A BANANA- I've gone looney) I spot Andrew and wave as I down another half of avocado and wait for some veggie broth to be poured. My mouth is salivating for calories other than gu. Don't get me wrong- gu has been working. But honey, it's been 93 miles, I want a pizza or like a good brown rice veggie bowl. My pack gets filled and the water automatically starts spraying from the nosel. It's completely torn, and I don't think I bite that hard on a pack I've only had for one month and two weeks... just saying. Knowing I have only 6 flatish miles till Skyline I opt out of filling up both my flasks. One flasks has water flavored throw up and the other still has the rest of the actually good tasting roctane in it. I finish my banana and jug the veggie broth and Andrew and I jog out. My legs are tense but my spirits high. The peeing every 10 minutes continue but my heavy eyelids begin to lighten and I become energized- finally. Andrew and I slowly make our way to the next aid as we talk about life, adventures and our homes. After awhile Anna, another Coyote who's running the 50 miler, passes us. It was so nice to see a familiar face! I was elated that she looked so happy and so strong, this girl is a beast and shes running fast! Dreaming that I could be running her speed I pick up my step, and ask Andrew if I could lead the way for a bit. 

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A this point the sun decided to pay us a visit. It's rays shining through the trees and kissing my skin with its warmth. I accept it's offer of warmth, embracing it's instant energy and positive charge. Everything around me seemed to perk up, the trees sang against the light breeze, the leaves greener, the ground softer. I begin to sweat heavily, but it felt more like a detoxification, my body riding of all the crap I've been eating. Weirdly enough my speed began to pick up. One step in front of the other, faster, and faster.

What is this feeling?

My legs! I don't feel them, or should say I don't feel the lactic acid build up. I'm running and running a good pace. I've somehow lost Andrew and continue forward joyous on how my body was feeling. 

I FEEL GREAT

I don't know what the cause of rejuvenation is but I gladly accept it- I felt better running at mile 95 than I did at mile 1. I caught up to some of the 40 milers running and ran with them straight to Skyline aid where I was greeted again by Randy Duncan, Lori and so many runners. It's a party! I have my hydration pack refilled again, letting them know not to drop the spout or all the water will spray out as I downed a blueberry smoothies a volunteer made me. For once during the race my face hurt- from smiling so much. I spot Denis sitting in a chair and he tells me I've passed a female runner and am now second female and I couldn't care less. I was high on life and I couldn't wait to continue running. I grabbed a gu, and filled a flask with veggie broth and at 2:20pm was back on the trail. 

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I recite a mantra that I have used since my first year at Javelina Jundred (Thanks Mike)

I am cool.
I am calm. 
I am powerful. 
I am a machine.

I'M A MOTHER FU**ING MACHINEEEE

I start singing "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen as I continued running up the trail. 

My legs, my body, my spirits all feeling great! I didn't want to stop, knowing I had ONLY 20 miles to go! The thought of finishing was now a sure think, never seemed like a reality most of the race. I told myself "this is just like any other run, pretend Vince is in front of you and you're just trying to catch up" a constant occurrence in all of our runs together. So I continued running, singing to myself, passing other runners, completely alive, as alive as the water draining currently from my hydration spout. 

I continue, feeling strong, up the mountain. At this point I stopped looking at the distance on my watch because it seemed as though every aid was off. My pack had already been drained of water and I only had the veggie broth left. I began to hike, hoping that thirst will not become an issue before the next aid station in god knows how long. I didn't mind, yes I feel great and could keep running but the views were incredible! Why not enjoy the moment!?!

Arriving at Camp Mowich I explain my water leakage and request only partial refill and just relied on both my flasks. My spout continues to spray and I give up, I leave it leaking as I talk to Vishal who sitting at the aid station trying to fix his stomach pains and then I continued on. 

Did I mention how great I felt? Because I still didn't believe it!

Is someone playing a trick on me? How is it that I feel this good now? Was it worth suffering for 95 miles for a glorious 25 miles? Maybe not, well obviously yes... I'd do it again. I stopped to snap a few photos of the snow capped mountains in the distance. I realize I hadn't taken any photos since around mile 10 yet held onto my phone the entire time. The views, although still hazy, were breath taking... in a good way. I continued running along the ridge line toward sky junction. 

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I was flying!

Once I was at the aidstation I grabbed a mini cliff bar and immediately left- the finish line was at my finger tips and I was only 8 miles away. 

8 miles. 

That's it. 

Since Skyline I had only eaten my gu gel and the flask of water down veggie broth and my body wasn't hungry. Now this is Sawna, the mountain runner I know! Don't ask me who that whining baby was before- I don't know that girl. 

I grunt as I am forced to hike up a climb, why did I think it was all down hill from the last aid station. There has been several mini climbs along the way and on this one I hear "Oh hey Sawna"  I've caught up to Gwendolyn. Whoa. I ask her opinion on how many miles we had left- and continued forward. Thinking these mini roller coaster climbs will inevitably end and we'll have a sweet steep descent to the finish. 

Finally hitting the descent after Skyline Ridge. Photo by:  Brian McCurdy

Finally hitting the descent after Skyline Ridge. Photo by: Brian McCurdy


 ̶I̶ ̶a̶m̶ ̶c̶o̶o̶l̶.̶
̶I̶ ̶a̶m̶ ̶c̶a̶l̶m̶.̶
̶I̶ ̶a̶m̶ ̶p̶o̶w̶e̶r̶f̶u̶l̶.̶
̶I̶ ̶a̶m̶ ̶a̶ ̶m̶a̶c̶h̶i̶n̶e̶.̶

I'M A MOTHER FU**ING MACHINEEEE
I'M A MOTHER FU**ING MACHINEEEE

I repeat to myself as I begin running the descent toward the finish line as the last 33 hours events flash through my mind. Two days ago I was on the same trail thinking how would I feel at this exact moment and I would've never guessed. Not for a million bucks. I knew exactly where I was. 

Two miles left from this tree branch...

1.5 miles left from this junction... 

One mile left from the bridge... 

As I run along the river toward the bridge, the Finish Line is just across the water. As much as I wanted to cry this entire race, I was almost emotionless. I couldn't put into words how I managed to get to this point... how did I do that? I feel as though I was asleep for half of the race, not quite remembering certain sections or how time flew by. 

And just like that I ran underneath the Mountain Madness arch with the sun still out and I was done- 2nd Female finisher and 14th overall in 33 hours 30 min. Something I wished for the entire race yet was a bit sad that it was over. Yes, there was cheering from spectators but the finish line was anticlimactic. With no pacers, crew or friends it seemed like any normal day in the park. Not that I expect a party at the finish line but it just wasn't what I expected. I quickly spotted a familiar face, Oliver, and all those feelings disappeared. His genuine happiness and enthusiasm for life is contagious and I was so happy to see him, although that meant he dropped. 

What can I say? I crossed the finish line at 7:30 pm with the wind in my hair and sun on my face. The last section took me exactly 5 hours and 10 minutes, being the fastest section of the race for me. How? Don't ask me! My body hated me for most of the race and then finally agreed with what I was actually doing. I scarfed down a veggie burger and a few water bottles while chatting with Oliver before showering and returning to the finish line to wait for Molly. I grabbed a chair, and used one of the emergency blankets from my pack that I carried for two days and watched the others run in. It was around 11pm Molly, pony tail flying in the wind, smile on her face, sprinted toward the finish line and completed her first 50 mile run! I was elated for her!