Saturday, July 23, 2016

Grossglockner 30k Austria Trail Race

When Kiet and I planned this trip to Austria I decided we should run a trail race. The Grossglockner Ultra Trail race offered a nice short 30k (along with their 110k that starts at midnight, yikes!). I immediately signed us up and Kiet said he would run a little before Austria. The website told us we would climb over the highest peak in Austria (awesome!) and see some amazing views. Perfect.

Our morning began at 5:30am with a bus ride up a narrow winding road to the gondola that then took us to our starting point. The race starts out by a beautiful blue-green lake.

Heading down to the start of the race.
We had wondered if we might run on snow and within the first 100m we did. I figured that might be it for our token "snowy run." I couldn't have been more wrong.

Standing at the start Kiet and I noticed that most of the athletes had hiking poles. We felt out of our element only slightly as everyone around us chatted in German.

First mile before it gets spread out.
Within the first mile we were scrambling downhill over boulders, trying not to trip and fall down the mountain. I felt like much of the race passed us in this first mile, but I didn't really care because I made it down the hill without breaking any bones.

The views were out of this world. See the snowy peak wayyyyyyyy off in the distance? Yes, that is where we are headed - to climb directly over the top of it. I am horrible at descending technical, rocky terrain. It seemed like what remained of the rest of the field passed me on the downhills. But when we reached that uphill in this photo I was in my element. I like to climb and I finally felt like I wasn't going backwards anymore.

There were a lot of river crossings. Many of them had log bridges. The ones that didn't I seemed to manage to step directly into the river more times than not.

After climbing over the massive peak (we topped out at about 8,500 ft) and descending a crazy rock-filled mountainside, we arrived at the glacier that we needed to descend to get down to the valley below.

This was by far my favorite part of the race. Trying to run / stay upright / ski-slide down made me laugh nonstop.

After this photo (which makes it look as if we are skilled at glacier running), I managed to slip and slide down half the glacier. 

There were a number of places where we needed to hold onto cables to climb up to a waterfall or around a narrow trail on the edge of a cliff. I loved this and thought it was awesome.

The 30k race had 3,500 feet of climbing and 8,400 feet of descending. On paper that sounds incredibly appealing. In reality it is SO. MUCH. DESCENDING! Oh my, our quads.

The finish was super fun and Kiet and I both agreed we felt we had both just raced an Ironman by the time we were done. I finished in 4:29 and was the 11th female, which I thought was ok for a girl who can't descend on trails.

Thanks to Kiet for laughing nonstop with me and being the best travel friend ever. And especially for signing up for this crazy adventure and for the ability to see the beauty mid-race even when your legs are cramping and you want to kill me for choosing this painful racing venue. Also - all the awesome photos are courtesy of Kiet's mad photography skills while staying upright. Had I tried to be photographer at this race I most likely would have fallen off a cliff, while descending of course.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Austria Mountain Biking

Kiet and I rented mountain bikes today in search of an epic adventure. Austria delivered. He found a mountain bike app for his phone that allowed us to track our route offline and then proceeded to select the hardest route available. We rented some mountain bikes and started pedaling (tennis shoes mind you - no clipped in pedals for us...)

About a mile into the ride we started climbing. Up and up and up. I have been running 50-60 miles a week for a while. My riding consists of about one (flat) coffee shop recovery (read: soft-pedal) ride a week. I figured if there was cappuccino somewhere on the route maybe my body wouldn't know the difference.

It was rather toasty out and even the goats were hiding in the shade.

I stopped several times to "take photos" - and eat the giant Bavarian pretzel I had stuffed into my pack before we left. I'm fairly certain without that pretzel I might be sitting next to a cow with a giant bell around his neck watching the sunset rather than writing this.

The views were breathtaking. Literally.

My legs hated me. I may have walked. Several times. I suppose a 27 mile ride with 5200 feet of climbing might be a tad bit aggressive off coffee shop training.

But then again, I made it, so I think my training plan is fairly solid.

And you know what - in Austria they have little hüttes at the top of the mountains with cakes (that I can't pronounce - I think mine was a schwetze...strudel) that are served with Suhne. Always say yes when asked if you want suhne (it's fresh whipped cream)! I got my cappuccino and then descended the mountain for a very, very, very long time, making my "coffee shop ride" complete.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Austria Trail Running

Two years ago when I raced in Walchsee, I knew I wanted to come back to explore Austria. I have done a LOT of trail running in my life in some amazing places all over the world and the run Kiet and I did yesterday ranks in my top 3 favorite runs of all time. It started out with several miles straight uphill - the kind where your lungs, legs, heart and mind are all screaming for you to stopit!!

We dragged our jet-lagged bodies up and up and up, occasionally turning around to enjoy valley views below (and to congratulate ourselves on how far we had come - "ohhhh look at the tiny trail down there we used to be on!")

As we crested the summit we were surrounded by wild horses and cows with giant bells around their necks. The clanging bells added background music to the valley filled with wide open beauty and never-ending trails. The cows chomped down on fields of grass that sprawled out like a portrait. I seriously wanted to don a Julie Andrews dress and twirl around singing the Hills are Alive (which no doubt would have completely ruined the pristine moment).

Trails sprawled out before us in every direction, with not a single person in sight. The occasional cow blocked the path that led to our next view.

We came across a map of a 54k loop that we have already planned to come back and either run or mountain bike on our next adventure.

Amazing adventures like this with one of my very best friends somehow seem to keep me going when the rest of life throws curve balls my way. I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to see and experience so many parts of the world on foot.

The highest point on our climb . . .

We both grinned like 5-year-olds as we flew down the mountain past the clanging happy cows and the few scattered Austrian huts toward the Backerei that would no doubt complete the run.

As I sit here writing this at 4am drinking a cappuccino and listening to the rain outside, the long sleepless flight and losing an iPhone in an Uber and somehow amazingly getting it back while in Vienna now seem like small blips on the radar of this adventure. On to the next!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Crown City Classic 12k

I raced a 12k and didn't feel slow!! The 4th of July did not disappoint... If you're looking for a fun way to spend the 4th of July in San Diego, I recommend this race. We started by running under a gigantic American flag. The parade post-race was awesome - Coronado does a fantastic job and it was super easy to walk over to the main street after the race.

So the race.... Elliot and I had decided I should try to hold a pace that seemed almost-doable for this race. I chose 6:20 pace because it seemed really hard but MAYBE possible for me at this point in time.

I was lucky in that Eric decided he felt good on race day and wanted to pace me. This may sound odd, but I've never actually run a race where I looked at my watch and tried to hold a specific pace. I have always just run, often without a watch. So we started out at our desired pace while everyone and their brother went out at a sub-6 pace, which was fun because I knew later we would probably re-pass many of them.

At about the half way point I was in 4th (female) and actually got frustrated because my plan had been to run my consistent pace and focus on MY race, and now I was running into the small issue of actually racing and wanting to pass a girl to move into 3rd, but not get re-passed or have her come with me. Eric can of course chit chat and hold full conversations at my very-uncomfortable-I-can-barely-breathe pace, so as we caught her he told me we needed to pick it up when we passed her. I knew this, but wasn't exactly sure I had another gear. Thankfully I started to feel better as the race progressed and was able to pick up the pace a bit.

Around the 5.5 mile mark we joined back up with the 5k (which means we were weaving in and out of 5k walkers, baby strollers and children). It wasn't much of a problem on the main road, but at one point we were funneled onto a bike path and it became an obstacle course.

In the end I finished 3rd in 47:35. I averaged 6:25 for the race and was very happy. Next week I leave for Austria and the next race will be a 30k mountain trail race where we run over the highest mountain pass in Austria.