Photo taken by Randall Levensaler

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Thanks for the great ass and thighs!

Two weeks ago I flew back to my beloved keystone state to be inducted into the DeSales University Athletic Hall of Fame. This was an honor I will never forget, and also an event that triggered me to reach back to the memories of how my running career really began.

Like most now self-proclaimed runners, my first athletic experience actually came from a team sport, field hockey. Little did I know at the time, but this sport was laying the foundation for the runner I am today.
Senior year at Bangor High. 




Here are a few examples…

-Lets start with the most obvious, laps. Every practice started with laps or the occasional timed mile. Both were big hits with the team based off of the groans of excitement…me included. Apparently I couldn’t get enough and managed to get additional time circling the field for goofing off or letting the occasional curse word slip too loudly around coach. I should have known I was destined to run since the laps started to feel easy. Sorry for the occasional potty mouth Coach Alfred, but thank you for the extra time on feet!

-Agility drills. It will be embedded in my head forever to bend my knees and get low. Seven years of running around the field in a partial “squat” position will give you a hella strong butt and thighs, along with the perk of looking great in spandex. At the time I hated the idea of being muscular, but now I’m so grateful to have a “booty” because that strength helps me to run mountains. 
Charging in for the tackle.


-Learning to tackle (as in fighting the opponent for the ball in an upright position). Being 5’2 and fairly scrawny, I was no stranger to getting pushed and shoved. I realized that if I expected to win the ball, I had to use my elbows and throw my weight through my hips when colliding with a competitor. I only got carded a few times, which I was secretly proud of. This experience now comes in handy when I have to “fight” my way past guys that don’t like the idea of being “chicked.” 
I was pretty short...but I could hold my own :)


-Respecting fear. My biggest running nightmare is tripping over a rock and knocking out my two front teeth. I believe this fear stemmed from seeing my fellow teammates get hit in the mouth with the hockey ball or a high stick. After watching their mishap, I’ve learned to be hyper aware of my surroundings, and to always respect the mountain. Lisa and Lindsey, no one can rock a swollen mouth better than you two.

-Sprints. Ahhh yes…sprints are also code for punishment. Four of my teammates and I were awarded with additional post practice sprints after being accused for attending a party that allegedly had alcohol. I owe it to you, Shannon, for all the races I’ve won in a sprint to the finish. 
Getting ready to dish out the elbow and hip combo.


Now that I’ve realized field hockey was actually my secret weapon to becoming an ultra trail runner, I wish I could go back in time and add thanks to my field hockey coaches and teammates in my HOF induction speech. 


I’m hoping this blog post will suffice, and even though I’m a goofball and like to write with humor, I’m serious when I say thank you Bangor Field Hockey! Thank you for preparing me with your crafty little ways and for bringing out the runner in me that I never would have known existed. 
Senior night with best friends...and partners in crime.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Finding My Stride

Sealing the Deal
Two years ago I had the opportunity to watch the 2012 UTMB before racing my first time abroad at the Jungfrau Marathon in Switzerland for the World Long Distance Championships.  At the time, I wasn’t really into the ultra game (I had just raced my first 50k a month earlier- Speedgoat 50k), and was still experimenting with the idea of running long. Non the less, I was feeling psyched to see what Euro running was all about.

Upon arrival in Chamonix, I was blown away by the majestic meringue topped Mont Blanc. The mountain had it’s own unique personality…it would hypnotize you with its beauty and would call you to climb it, run it, ski it. I fell instantly under its “spell.”
Mont Blanc, Chamonix


The Chamonix valley was buzzing with anxious energy and bright colored UTMB The North Face finisher’s vests from previous years.  I had never seen a town and its residents embrace the running community with such enthusiasm and pride. Something about this observance made me feel like I was visiting my family on a holiday.  It was welcoming, warm, and loving. 
Jon Webb, Ashley Arnold, and I looking down on Chamonix from Plan de l'Aiguille in 2012.


Watching the runners “go into battle” against the beastly course that lay in front of them was so motivating and inspiring.  The only thing more magical was seeing all of the town’s people and other supporters line the last quarter mile of the course, cheering as these runners made their way back across the finish line. It moved my heart, which resulted in emotional water works. Yep, total softie.

This brief experience had “sealed the deal” for committing to come back and live it.

Life Abroad…the Leadup
Two years later me and my training partner, Ashley Arnold, were sitting in the Boulder library booking a flat in Chamonix proper for a month’s stay leading up to the CCC and UTMB. I sat there with mixed emotions of fear and excitement thinking this could be an amazing adventure, or one hell of a disaster. As my mouse hovered over the “book now” button, I looked Ashley in the eye and said “should we book it…we are really going to do this?!” Then the mouse went CLICK! I don’t think I actually waited for her response. hehe 
Goofballs and training partners.


We arrived in Chamonix on August 6th.

Our mornings consisted of two shots of espresso and warm milk, and a chilly walk down the cobblestone roads to visit “the woman” who works at Pain Fleury (or Fleury Jean…which is the BEST pastry shop in Chamonix).  We looked forward to greeting the mountain (when it wasn’t hiding behind the clouds), to getting our caffeine fix, to deciphering the woman’s morning message spoken in complete and perfect French, and to staring through the spotless glass case picking out the best looking treat she had made that morning. This was a ritual. 
Laundry day in our flat. Who needs a dryer!?


Starry eyed, Ashley and I would gaze at multiple maps (courtesy of Mike Foote) and plan our adventures. I would feel overwhelmed looking at the endless possibilities, and found myself wishing I had booked the flat for two months instead of one.

We hopped free trains and buses to the towns of Courmayeur, Vallorcine, Les Houches, and Trient. The only area we were unable to reach (without traveling for 4 hours) by public transport was Switzerland. 


The climbs would start in thickly wooded forests and steeply zig-zag above treeline. You were rewarded with an amazing view of the Mont Blanc massif and a refugio that would happily serve a light lunch and warm you up with a cafĂ© au lait, at a cost of course. Normally I don’t like to stop on runs, but I couldn’t help taking photo pit-stops at every high point. I want to make sure I have photos if I ever get into scrapbooking…

Thanks to the traffic of hikers, the majority of the trail was pretty smooth. It was nice to spin the legs and get some speed after crawling up the climbs. 
Ash and I enroute to La Flegere


This course also has its fair share of technical terrain. I thought it was crucial to practice the technical downs since I would be running them in the dark on race day. I didn’t want to deal with too many surprises since night running was already my crux.

Go Time
Friday had come; it was finally race day. As I sat on the shuttle to Courmayeur I kept wishing the town was further away. I was more nervous than I had been in a long time because of the immense pressure I was putting on myself. The enormity of the race was really sinking in and I began to question what the hell I was thinking.

I hopped off the bus and slowly walked to the center of Courmayeur. The starting arch was tattooed with sponsor logos and reached high over the road. Hanson’s Umm Bop played over the loud speakers (no joke) to get us in pumped up...ha. Anxious runners painted in spandex gathered behind the starting line fiddling with their gear to kill the final countdown minutes. Supporters lined the chute yelling inspirational phrases and snapped photos of their loved ones. A low flying helicopter hovered overhead gathering footage of the organized madness below. All of sudden, I had to pee. Nerves were well in check. 
20 minutes before start in Courmayeur


The UTMB theme song (also the theme song from Last of the Mohicans), blared as we slowly made our way across the starting line into town. The positive energy from the crowd was contagious and forced my fears and uncertainties to disappear. It was going to be a good day.

I spent the first 2 hours of my race hiking up a steep 5,000 foot (approx.) climb. Like anyone who isn’t thrilled about “hills,” I kept wishing for the top. I was stuck in a conga line of pain…a row of 1900 people stretching up and down the mountain all suffering the same burn. The upside, we completed the largest (and hardest) climb within the first few miles of the race.

Gung-ho fans hiked to the top of the Tete de la Tronche to greet us with their cowbells and  “allez allez allez” chants. The helicopter again hovered overhead in order to catch the triumphant moment we crested the first pass. I was never so happy to welcome harsh gusts of cold wind, for this meant I was at the top!

Relieved that the burning would finally cease (at least for a while), I embraced the next 15 kilometers with an up-tempo pace all the way to the Arnuva aid station (27km into the course). The slight downhill grade was perfect…this was my wheelhouse.

I took some time to properly refuel which meant filling my hydration pack and being sure to consume 5-8 tasty items from the huge buffet. I remembered to beware of the “eyes larger than stomach” syndrome! I gave my praises to the amazing volunteers and aid station support and was on my way.

Next up was the long ascent to the Grand col Ferret. The top of this pass is where Italy and Switzerland meet. Those who know me well know I’m not the biggest fan of climbing. I consider myself a much better downhiller and quite speedy on rolling/flat terrain.

I prepared mentally to try and embrace the pain cave, I had to conquer the mountain no matter if I liked it or not. I was a quarter of the way up and felt no fatigue…half way up, still no pain. All of sudden I felt like a rock star. I said to myself, “is this it…is this all the mountain has to throw at me?” I was pumped to finally experience what it was like to cruise up hill. I passed 3 women and multiple men, which fed my energy even more.

I had reached the top, and also cloud 9…my grin was ear to ear. I now understood why Rory Bosio smiled the entire time around UTMB. Confidence, a positive outlook, and the ability to just have fun, really do make one’s racing more relaxed and successful. 
Somewhere on on CCC


Next up was 13 miles of “butta” like downhill. It was time for me to go hunting. I love reeling people in…much rather pursue than be chased. I caught another 2-3 women and over 10 men by the time I arrived at Champex-Lac. I was so charged on adrenaline I felt invincible.

Champex is a very important and huge aid station. We are talking festival sized white tents pumped with warm air and lined with tables filled with gourmet treats, both sweet and savory. This is also the first aid station where CCC racers are allowed to have crew. I was very lucky that my new friend and fellow racer, Kelsie Clauson, had offered her mother’s help to crew a bag of gear for me. Hillary made eye contact with me as soon as I entered the tent and was quick to serve Pepsi and sweet/salty snacks. I was so thankful to see a friendly face, hear some English, and refuel. After a speedy and most likely awkward clothing change (dry shirt and sports bra) I was on my way.

A few minutes out of Champex, my stomach turned. This part of the course was fairly flat, so I was bummed to have to take it slow in order to calm my tummy. This was my real first “low” in the race, but I just kept telling myself it would pass. After a few solid burps, it did.

One of my race goals was to make it to Trient in the daylight. After that point there would be no more course surprises since I had practiced this section thru to the finish. I knew the recky would help my mental game when tackling it in the dark.

I was able to make it all the way to Catogne (top of climb after Trient) before having to pull out headlamps. It had started raining as I left the Trient aid station, so I decided that my pit stop for the lamps was also a good time for the rain jacket and gloves. It was now dark, wet, and cold…my nerves were starting to come back.

The downhill from Catogne to the Vallorcine aid station is fairly technical and even worse when you add water to the mix. My pace was forced to slow as I heeded to the slippery dangers. Feelings of frustration and anxiety took over as I worried about getting caught.

As I entered the Vallorcine aid tent, the rain wasn’t letting up and it was getting colder. I had one more ascent to tackle and was dreading what the conditions were like up high.  Temptation to stay in the tent danced in my mind.,.how nice it would be to relax and stay warm. I sucked down a bowl of chicken noodle soup to warm up and then forced myself back out into the rain for the final 13 miles. I could make it.

I now experienced my second and final low point. It wasn’t from food, but from a feeling of possible defeat and fear. I haven’t practiced much night running, and never any night running up high in adverse conditions. I told myself to keep moving forward because it would generate heat and eventually I would reach La Flegere (final aid station before Chamonix).

The drenched rocks sent my feet sliding as I climbed up to the Tete aux vents. Conditions only worsened as I traversed to La Flegere. Again, I was frustrated by my slow pace, worried about hypothermia, and was manifesting a female chase behind me.

I reached Flegere and was never so happy to drink a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup. No women had passed and final 5 miles were downhill. Finally feeling upbeat and re-energized I took off down the mountain envisioning the finish line with every step I took.

My excitement grew in spades when I hit the pavement at the bottom of the trail. I had a mile to go which would take me around town past encouraging supporters and lead into the famed finish chute. My heartbeat was in my ears, while everything else was silent.

Left right, left right. Every step brought me closer. My smile was ear to ear. There it was, the vision I had been dreaming about for two years. I ran through the finishing arch with my arms raised high. I had done it! My endorphins had never been so high, I had never been so happy. This was everything I wanted and it had come true. 
CCC finish...and my pain face, which is actually code for I'm so happy!


Conclusion
I completed my first 100k in 5th place with a time 15:59:13. My goals were to be in the top 5, top US female, and run under 16 hours to get a Western States 100 qualifier for 2015. I had accomplished them all J.  On top of that, I learned how to capitalize on my strengths and how correct my weaknesses. This was one of the best racing experiences of my life…to date J


Thank you to all those who have believed and supported me! My sponsors: PepsiCo, Julbo, New Balance, Pro-Tec Athletics, Ultimate Direction, my friends and my family, I love you all! Thanks for taking this journey with me, I couldn’t have done it without you!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Leadville Silver Rush 50 and 4 Pass Loop-FKT!

Well, where to start!  The past 30 days have been a crazy ride for me. I guess it really all starts with my Western States 100 (WS100) attempt.

In a nutshell, I had no idea I would be toeing the line at WS100 until 5 weeks prior. That being said...the odds were not in my favor to have the race I imagined, but heck, it was worth a shot. I dropped at Michigan Bluff (56 miles) due to poor nutrition (not nearly enough) and because my mental game had been lost.

Of course, the next morning I was angry with myself for dropping. I was already searching for another race to fill the void. I was fit, hungry, and wanted to see the hard work pay off.

What do you know, the Leadville Silver Rush 50 mile was coming up! It was a) in Colorado b) two weeks away c) and at high elevation. After speaking with my coach, if I could focus on recovery for two weeks, I could "suit up" and run the event as a "B" race. The main goal was to work on nutrition (consume 250-300 calories per hour) since that was my big struggle at WS100.

What do you know...if you actually feed your body correctly, you race great! I ran in 3rd for the majority of the race and then passed the 2nd place female after coming off the third climb. I had gotten a second wind and with the iron quads I had developed from all the downhill running (in prep for WS100), I took off.  I felt fresh...unbelievably fresh.

With 5 miles to go, I had caught the girl sitting in 1st. I was still feeling surprisingly great and decided to do a surge (thank you speed workouts). I pushed for approximately 2.5 miles and then decided to look over my shoulder. She was no where in sight. I cruised into the finish to nab my first 50 mile win. This was my third time toeing the line at a 50, so I was quite excited by the outcome and for figuring out my fueling!
Silver Rush 50 mile finish...me almost tripping.

Riding this endorphin high, I decided to spend more time in the high backcountry. What better place to enjoy some solo time adventuring than at the 4 Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells Wilderness, CO. For those of you who don't know, the 4 Pass Loop is approximately 26-28 miles long with about 7,500 feet of vertical gain (depending on what GPS you use).

It was only 10 days since the Silver Rush 50, but my body was feeling decent. My goal race is the CCC (100k in Chamonix, France on August 29th) and I knew running this loop would create a strong training block.

I arrived at the West Maroon trail head parking lot around 6:30am on Weds. 23rd. The air was cooler than expected which made me pull on "arm panties"...(is that what they are called now?). Not wanting to waste time I grabbed my Ultimate Direction SJ pack and lucky PepsiCo trucker hat. Phantograph-Fall in Love was thumping on my ipod...I was ready.

My intention was to have an enjoyable run in the high country, but in the back of my mind I knew the current women's FKT was set by Darcy Piceu at approximately 7:15 (according to Peter Bakwin and his convo with Darcy Piceu). I decided that if things were going well, I would aim to go under 7:15...but if not, it would still be a great training run and beautiful day in the mountains.
The start. Snapped this at the sign next to parking lot.

Well, I wasn't even to Crater Lake and my legs already felt kind of blah. Not the best way to begin a 26-28 mile run, but hey...you don't always feel great at the start of a race either.

Crater Lake Split - I went counter clockwise.

I reached the top of Buckskin Pass at 1:21:04. I hiked way more than I was expecting, but kept a good clip. I spent a few minutes vista gawking (how can you not!), and actually debated whether or not this run was a good idea. Quick note: There is still a big snow block at the top of the pass forcing you to traverse west in order to get around and above it.
Buckskin Pass
View from Buckskin Pass looking West.

3 minutes later I was started down the pass towards Snowmass Lake :) Although I felt lousy on the climb, I felt great on the descent. One of my favorite parts of the run are the rolling shaded trails below Snowmass Lake.

I reached Trail Rider Pass at 2:53:19. In my mind, I was now half way done (which really isn't true). I snapped a few photos and was on my way. Note: The immediate descent off of TR Pass is quite steep and loose. After a quarter mile or so, there is a great stream to replenish your water supply. I probably wasted a good 5 minutes trying to get my Aquamira tabs out of the packaging...
Trail Rider Pass
Mountain Selfie on TR Pass :)
Now onto what I would consider the crux of this loop...Frigid Air Pass. After you finish a long descent, you have a "never ending" approach to the pass. The upside, you have the opportunity to view beautiful flowers for miles :) After you climb past the waterfall, you reach Fravert Basin. This section is open to the sky, and climbs at a grade that is not steep enough to hike, but not flat enough to race on (unless you are Sage, Rickey or Anton).

I reached FA Pass at 4:54:56. Note: Sage, Rickey, and Anton were already back in the parking lot enjoying a beer at this point when they did their FKT attempts. Mind=blown.
Frigid Air Pass

Well, the worst part is over. With an upbeat attitude, I took off towards West Maroon Pass...it is only about 1-2 miles away. I was rolling pretty good until the terrain began to climb. My legs were sick of ascending. I reached WM Pass at 5:37:12...feeling tired.
West Maroon Pass

I only had 7 miles to go (all downhill), and realized it was possible to go under 7:15. I aimed to run aggressive in the sections that I could. Note: There are many technical sections from the top of the pass all the way back to the parking lot. Not the fastest 7 miles one would hope for.

With about 5 miles to go, I ran out of water. I only filled up once...which was probably a mistake. I was now at a lower elevation and could feel the heat soaking into my skin. My mouth was dry...I fantasized over the gallon jug I had waiting for me at my car (even though it would be warm). 3 miles from the parking lot I ran into other runners who had started an hour before I did. To my surprise, they were locals from Glenwood that I knew! I told them I was trying to finish under 7 hours, but was dying from lack of H2O. The kind and generous people that they are, were quick to offer some of their water. I had to respectfully declined because I knew I could not call my attempt: "solo unsupported" if I had taken it.

Finally, the gravel path that parallels Maroon Lake was in sight. I had made it. I finished at the parking lot with a time of 7:05:53.
Finish. Same sign at parking lot as start.

I was so happy to be finished, and to have squeaked under 7:15. It was a tough day for me in my current shape, but I'm sure with more recovery after the 50, I could go sub 7 hours easily. I'm hoping my FKT attempt will inspire other females to chase/set times on Peter Bakwin's FKT site .

Now for a little rest and recovery :)

If anyone has questions about my 4 Pass Loop FKT, please feel free to email me at : gklucrezi@hotmail.com
Screen Shot of my route from Movescount.com





Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Training for WS100: Road trip to the Grand Canyon!

I always say life is an adventure and an attempt to keep things exciting. … So why not give the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run (WS100) a shot? My 4th place finish at the Ice Age Trail 50 rewarded me with an unexpected automatic entry into WS100.

I was quite perplexed with my decision to race even though most people seemed to offer an easy yes or no: “Western States as your first 100? It’s a no brainer!”  or “What has your training been like? You do realize this is 100 miles?”

I’m seven ultras deep into my long-distance career: 5 x 50k and 2 x 50 mile. I would say that I’m finally getting the hang of it, but 100 miles … this is entirely a different beast.

Sure, the 100 has crossed my mind plenty of times. It is the ultimate endurance distance or at least the one that warrants the most bragging rights (so it seems). I’m constantly curious of my abilities and potential limits, but I had been saving this bittersweet pain for 2015 … or 2016 even. Alas, the stars aligned for a reason and, the time is now!

So how does one prepare for Squaw? What about a road trip to New Mexico and Arizona with the Grand Canyon’s rim2rim2rim as a highlight J
The planning process begins!


My best friend, training partner, and #trailsister Ashley Arnold (@AshleyHArnold) and I put together a road trip that will help prepare her for the The North Face Laverado Ultra Trail, and me, WS100. 
Ash and I acting completely normal. Carbondale, CO circa Fall 2012.


The first stop will incorporate camping in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains outside of Santa Fe, NM. I’m looking forward to waking up to an amazing view, a hot cup of coffee, and hearty cup of Quaker’s Summer Berry Oatmeal before spending quality time getting vertical.
The best portable breakfast EVER!


Stop number two is Flagstaff, AZ, home of trail running all-stars such as Rob Krar and Chris Vargo, to name a couple. To me, running is a very social sport, so I’m excited to explore the town and its trails with great friends. (Plus, we’ll finally have access to a shower at this stop!)

Our third way point will be the Grand Canyon (GC). Neither Ash nor I have previously been to the GC, so running the R2R2R will be a definite adventure. (Thanks to Chris Vargo for the heads up on toting extra liquid.) I guess it is the “warm” season J. Add one extra case of Naked Juice Coconut Water to the list! 
Woot woot for hydration!


With tired legs, Ash and I will drive back to the “motherland,” also known as Carbondale, CO. There is no way we could pass by without doing a tribute run on Red Hill or Mount Sporis. This is where ultra running started for us both.

After expending our last bits of energy, we will return to the trail-running Mecca, Boulder, for some much needed R&R.

With quality miles, lots of vert, heat training, and friendship still in tact (haha), I’m pretty sure this road trip will help us both get one step closer to our goals on the trail.