Sky High from the Island in the Sky
I've made it no secret that I've had a rough summer of training in Austin. Between a challenging work schedule and the oppressive heat, I've found it increasingly difficult to get my runs in. Adding to that, since my spring race schedule (check out the race reports here), I had been feeling a bit "over" running, if you could say that. Personally, I knew that I needed to take a break and step away for a bit.
So step away and take a break is exactly what I did. I originally had told myself that I would take the remainder of June off and start running in July. When I got to July and still didn't feel good about running, I took some more time. As I got to the end of July, I realized that the time was ticking ever so slowly closer and if I had any intention of running, I should probably get back to running.
The weather has been intermittent since then. I've been spoiled with some serious nice cool mornings, some crazy wet and scary weather (Hello Hurricane Harvey!), but I was able to step up my routine considerably. I made it a point to keep focusing on getting in the small runs when I could - 3 miles here, 20 minutes another time - as a means to getting myself used to running. My goal then, and still today, was to make running fun for me and something that I wanted to do.
As we got closer to Sky Island, I realized that it wasn't going to be a year for me to run the 50k again, so I signed up for the 25k. I knew the field was stacked with fast girls (hellooo Cate & Kate!) so that helped to take a lot of the pressure off of running. Not to mention, I was also familiar with the course, so it all helped to make it a (relatively) stress-free experience.
So, speeding up the story to the part you're all interested in, I went into the Sky Island weekend under-trained on the trail, but feeling mentally and physically pretty good. I had kept up my strength training throughout the summer and I knew that base would help me on the technical parts of the trail.
We set off for Fort Davis on Friday morning, lovingly taking the "scenic" route through Del Rio and some border towns, marveling over the rugged terrain that somehow needs a gigantic wall built through it. We stopped to stretch our legs at the scenic outpost with an amazing view of the Pecos river.
Fun fact: This is the highest bridged river crossing in Texas. And it's gorgeous!
From there, we drove into Alpine and on our way to Fort Davis. Paul had booked a cute little cabin just outside of town, so we stopped for a moment to check in and drop our bags. To be honest - I was quite happy to be out of the car and on solid ground again. What can I say? Long road trips are not my forte.
We stopped by the campground where the race start/finish line would be in the morning and visited with our friends who were camping. It turned out that the cabin was a good idea. A big storm blew in that night, just as we were heading to the McDonald Observatory. The Star Party was cancelled for the night, but we were able to stick around and listen to a short lecture on the stars.
Fun fact: Did you know that the sun is halfway through its life cycle and when it dies it will expand outwards past Mars, effectively wiping Earth out of the galaxy, before shrinking back to the ball of matter smaller than Earth? Well, you do now.
With lightning crashing all around us, we drove back to the cabin to prepare for the race the next morning. At some point in the night, I woke up briefly to climb out of bed and peer out the window, completely in awe of just how hard the wind was blowing. I was infinitely glad that I had been persuaded to stay in a cabin this year since this EXACT same thing happened to me last year, but I was in a tent.
The morning of the race was cool and calm. I quickly dressed, having laid my race outfit out the night before. Today I had decided on a tank and shorts combo courtesy of Lululemon, my Salomon hydration vest, Zensah compression sleeves, and Brooks Cascadia trail shoes. As always, I packed a couple Salted Caramel GUs and drank my morning UCAN.
I felt ready. I was happy. The race was going to go well!
We started much earlier this year - 6:30 versus the much later 8:00 start - and I was quickly reminded why I need a new damn headlamp. I do this every time, but, again, in the darkness of the Davis mountains, I was carefully and cautiously picking my way through the terrain because I couldn't see a damn thing. Again: Ashley, buy a new headlamp.
I can't say enough good things about Spectrum. This is my second time to Sky Island and, as always, the course was technical, but fair, well-marked and fun. The aid stations were stocked with all my favorite goodies (yay Coke and peanut butter - I'm a simple gal!) and Mallory and Jason always do such a great job with explaining the course and making sure we all have fun.
Fun was exactly my objective this time around at Sky Island. I wasn't planning on running hard and I didn't want any part of a race where I felt like I was dragging myself to the conclusion. I ran the first bit alone, not knowing all who was in the dark around me, but I did happen to run the switchbacks with Joe P., owner of Tejas Trails. It's always fun to meet others in the running community, especially when you've ran their races! Plus, we're all equal in the dark and I was happy to have someone about my pace to run a few miles with.
We separated at the first aid station and I jumped into my ragtag band that I would run with for the rest of the race. Much love to Bre and Dan and Jordan for making the remaining 11 (?) miles something fun! We ran, we hiked, we climbed, we also sang Bubba Sparkxx a cappella (deliriously so while we climbed!). It felt great to just run with a group of friends and have FUN. Hooray! I was back to my normal self.
My loose goal had been to finish in/under 4:00, since I had run the 50k in 8:12 the year before. Happy to say that we closed out the course just under, in 3:5x, a welcome surprise since no one was trying to run hard.
After we finished, we had some homemade pizza, lovingly made by Jason's mom, and relaxed as the other 25k finishers rolled in. I was on the lookout for Paul, who was running the 50k. He came in a short time later and, after much convincing, rolled out for his last and final loop (thanks to everyone who convinced him to keep going! Ya'll rock!).
Post race, after a quick shower and food run, we headed to Marfa to spend the night with friends, drinking and watching the Longhorns game (ahhh, so close. So many overtimes!).
As I look back on the race, I have nothing but happy memories. I love this weekend because it's the perfect blend of getaway and race weekend. Already looking forward to the next one!