Bella’s GoPro Game Recap

 

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We’ve had a busy trail race season this year. Between half marathons, marathons, and ultra marathons, it’s been a challenge to make brain space for little else other than running logistics and training. Sadly, Bella wasn’t able to come along and crew any of the major races so far due to dog restrictions, as well as the fact that Pat and I have both run all of our races together. As bookends on each side of the busy race schedule, we signed up for two fun 5ks with Bella.  The last race official of the season for me was the Rocky Dog Trail Run 5k at the GoPro Mountain games in Vail, Colorado.  It was refreshing to have a shorter, fun run as the last race of the season.  I wouldn’t have to deal with a running pack, gels, hydration, salt tabs, or chaffing.  And best of all, Bella, Pat and I could all work as a team.

The GoPro Mountain Games

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Bell enjoys some dirty, late-season resort snow.

The Vail GoPro Mountain Games are a three-day-long celebration that kicks off every June. Numerous competitions include everything from dock dogs, to white water kayaking, slacklining, trail running, bouldering, to mountain biking.  In addition to athletic events, adventure-loving people from all over the country gather to celebrate a mountain lifestyle with movie screenings, live music, and art. The event is dog-friendly, and dogs of every shape and size can be found at the Games.

 

Rocky Dog 5K

This is our second year running the Rocky Dog 5k. Last year, I was the third woman overall, and Pat won his age group, even though he slowed down to stay with Bella and I. I learned a few valuable lessons last year, which included not starting too far back in the pack at the start line. Trying to pass groups of tightly packed people and dogs connected by leashes was a nightmare last year, and it cost me some time! We also faced a few extra challenges this year, including a hefty sinus infection on my part, and irritated front paw pads on Bella’s part (she had dug a hole with something sharp in it a week before).  Luckily, Bella’s paws healed relatively fast and she was able to run without boots or vet wrap. I knew I would just have to deal.  Additionally, Pat and I had just completed the “Dirty 30,” 50k ultra marathon the weekend before and weren’t feeling very fresh, and it was still about 80 degrees in Vail by race time at 6 PM.

All factors considered, we decided before that race that we would run as a team, just as we did last year. If Bella struggled in the heat as she usually does, we would just have to slow down and go at her pace.  If one of us wasn’t feeling it, we would still stick together and cross the finish line as a family. This is the only race of the year where Pat and I run together.  Pat would be the “rabbit” and run just slightly ahead of Bella and I, and hopefully Bella would feel fast and want to pull me as she did during skijoring over the winter.

At the start line, we stacked up just behind the first row of runners.  The announcer explained the course as “you go up, and then you go down!”  The course was slightly different from last year, but we knew it would similar and there would definitely still be a climb.  I’m stronger climbing than on downhills, so I knew I’d have to play to my strengths and give it everything I had for the first half.

When the start was called out (there was no gun, so as not to startle the dogs), Bella shot off like a bullet.  Pat weaved between runners up ahead, while calling to Bella.  She followed right behind him without skipping a beat.  We plowed up the hairpin turns on the ski trail, and Bella pulled like a Siberian Huskey in her harness.  At the aid stations, we dumped cups of water on her cooling vest, and allowed her to run through a few streams along the course. I’m usually a little hesitant when running down hills on trail courses, but we flew down the mountain.  I didn’t have a choice, because Bella was pulling me so hard!  About a quarter mile to the finish, Bella was spent.  She slowed down considerably, and fell behind me.  We called her and tried to get her energy up, but we knew we had to ease up slightly for her.  Right at the finish, another woman passed us.  Even so, it was the fastest 5k time I’ve had in several years!

Race Day Gear Picks

  • Ruffwear Omnijor Harness–  We’ve trained Bella to pull ahead in this pulling-specific harness when skijoring and on leashed training runs.  It doesn’t restrict her IMG_6902breathing when working hard.  We noticed that several of the top finishers also used these same harnesses with their dogs as well.
  • Ruffwear Roamer Leash- We have the Ruffwear Omnijor Hipbelt and Towline for skiing, but like using the Roamer with the Omnijor Harness for running. Even the long length Roamer isn’t quite as long as the towline, which we like for better control around other people and dogs.
  • Ruffwear Cooling Vest- This was a must for the strong mountain sun and soaring summer temperatures.  We refreshed the vest with water at the aid stations during the race, and along Gore Creek while visiting vendor tents.
  • Ruffwear Knot-A-Collar- Low profile, which was especially nice with all of the gear she was already using for this event.

Awards and Recovery

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During awards, we learned that I had won my age group, and Pat still placed third in his age group despite slowing down for Bella and I.  Once again, we earned two medals!  Bella wasn’t thrilled about sitting on the Yeti cooler, but we still managed to snap a few victory shots. After the ceremony, Bella proudly wore her medals through Vail Village, but mostly seemed to enjoy all of the attention and pets from friendly strangers.

The next morning, we enjoyed a leisurely hike in Vail with friends and family.  For once, we didn’t have a goal or objective, other than to simply enjoy our surroundings and turn around whenever we wanted.  Bella enjoyed some unstructured time with her best canine friend, Maxine.


What’s Next?

Pat still has the Never Summer 100k ultra marathon at the end of July. For that race, Bella will be able to come along to crew for the weekend.  As for me, I’m hoping to run a 14,000′ peak by late summer with Bella.  It’s been a great race season for me, and I couldn’t have asked for a better conclusion than my win with Bella and Pat at the Rocky Dog 5k this year!

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Bella rests up for her next adventure at our campsite in Vail.


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Tails and Trails: Trail Running Series Part 2, Ruffwear’s Roamer Stretch Leash

I’m reflecting back on my work year, and can’t help but laugh when I think back to an interaction with a couple of coworkers way back in August.  The two teachers had come down to my classroom to ask about a couple of students on my caseload who attended their math classes.  I had just started in this building, and didn’t know anyone yet.  The only decoration on the wall at the time was a photo collage behind my desk of recent adventures: backpacking in the Indian Peaks, sunrise just above tree line on 14,000′ Long’s Peak, a multi-day backcountry ski trip in Aspen, camping in the Moab desert, loping on my favorite horse (Freckles) in Gold Hill, fly fishing the South Platte river. “So,” one of my coworkers commented, “I see you are an adrenaline junkie.”

His comment makes me chuckle, because if you spoke to any of my outdoor companions, they would tell you that I am one of the more cautious and anxiety-prone adventurers you will meet.  I don’t like to feel unsafe.  I consistently overpack for road trips, earning myself the nick name of “the bag lady.” I don’t get too close to ledges, and scold those who do. On overnight trips and day hikes on 14,000′ peaks, I bring more food and warm/waterproof layers than I could possibly need, making my pack extra heavy. I bring along first aid kits, headlamps, emergency bivvies, and fire-making materials. I’m extra slow running downhill, for fear of tripping.  I do love a good adventure.  I just want to make it back home in one piece when it is over.

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“Getting into trail running has made me have to overcome fears of falling on rocks, and get back on the proverbial horse when I do inevitably fall.”

Getting into trail running has made me have to overcome fears of falling on rocks, and get back on the proverbial horse when I do inevitably fall.  Pat and I have a handful of favorite trails in our area where Bella can trail run off leash with us.  After finishing a recent road marathon and raising over $2,000 for Mountain Summers, I discussed a new goal with Pat.  I’d like to try running up 13,000′ Mount Audubon.  This run is not much more than a jog in the park for Pat, but for me, it’s a big deal.  I’ve suffered from altitude sickness before, and know that running up a mountain that big is no joke if you aren’t ready.  “I know you and Bella will be there to help me out,” I say.  “Well,” Pat says, “Bella has to be on leash there.  So maybe it isn’t the best idea.”

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“Neither one of us have ever trail run with Bella on leash; it could be dangerous.”

Neither one of us have ever trail run with Bella on leash; it could be dangerous.  Three major issues are: 1) Going uphill, Bella could leap up for a rock, only to be accidentally pulled backwards by my weight.  2) Going downhill, Bella could jump down off a big rock, setting me off balance and causing a downhill fall.  3) If I fell, even on a flat section, the leash wouldn’t be long enough for Bella to get out of the way.  I couldn’t bear the thought of hurting her. However, I also couldn’t bear the thought of trail running without her.  In the rare event I travel somewhere beautiful without Bella, the entire trip I think…”Bella would just love this.”  Her love for running and for the mountains invigorates and inspires me.  It just makes everything seem so much more….complete.  On a big run like Audobon, I need her there.  Also, I realize, in just two weeks, I’m running the Vail GoPro Rocky Dog 5k Trail Race with Bella. How will I run with her on leash?  The course isn’t even mapped out yet, due to a snowy spring. I have no idea what to expect.

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“Her love for running and for the mountains invigorates and inspires me. It just makes everything seem so much more….complete.”

So, I did some research online and contacted our pals at Backcountry K-9. Immediately, they sent a Ruffwear Roamer Stretch Leash our way to try out.

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” It has been raining for weeks now, and the rocks were wet and slick.”

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“Most of the time, Bella kept the perfect amount of tension on the leash, allowing for hands-free and worry-free running.”

Today, we drove to the Mount Galbraith trail in Golden, a new stretch of singletrack for us to try out. The trail alternates between packed singletrack and rough, rocky, steep sections.  It has been raining for weeks now, and the rocks were wet and slick. The Ruffwear Roamer Leash not only made the run enjoyable, but it made it possible.  How have we been running without this piece of gear our whole lives?  The elastic makes the leash contract when not fully stretched, taking in a little extra slack.  Bella is free to jump up and down rocks, and I can barely feel the shock around my waist.  I tried it out on the uphill, Pat tried it on the downhill. Note that this leash cannot necessarily be clipped to you and your pup and forgotten. There is an extra layer of attention and awareness of the extra slack that is required, in order to prevent tripping on the leash.  At one point on the downhill, the Roamer did get wrapped around Pat’s leg. However, the extra give and stretch kept both he and Bella safe, and he was able to stop and adjust without any incident. Most of the time, however, Bella kept the perfect amount of tension on the leash, allowing for hands-free and worry-free running.

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“Running today, I felt ready for a summer of trail running, ready for the Rocky Dog, the goal of conquering Audubon with Bella now in sight. “

Running today, I felt ready for a summer of trail running, ready for the Rocky Dog, the goal of conquering Audubon with Bella now in sight. One of the aspects I love about trail running is how quickly you can start to see progress in your conditioning. The struggle of that first late- spring season run up Mount Sanitas a couple of weeks ago now seems far away. Already, trail running is becoming easier, I am able to breathe and more completely enjoy the experience rather than simply focusing on trudging forward and making it to the end.

Adventure is about the experience, rather than the gear. However, without this particular leash, we wouldn’t be able to share today’s or future leashed trail running and hiking experiences with Bella. Thank you, Ruffwear for another thoughtfully created piece of gear!

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“Adventure is about the experience, rather than the gear. However, without this particular leash, we wouldn’t be able to share this experience with Bella.”


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Tails and Trails: Trail Running Series Part 1, Ruffwear’s Ridgeline

I’m sitting in a windowless building and the air conditioning is a little too cold, but the receptionist can’t figure out how to change the temperature on the building’s thermostat. About fifteen minutes ago, I sat out on the lawn with my classmates, eating a ham, cheese, and avocado sandwich Pat made for me while purposefully facing the warm mid-day sun. Like many outdoor enthusiasts, I watched the sky, scanning the approaching dark clouds for lightening and signs of rain. I predicted that maybe in an hour or two it would hail. It was difficult to tell, because Denver’s tall, dark buildings obscured most of the horizon.

Now, the professor’s words are sailing over my head, and I’m struggling to keep my eyes open. He’s speaking about best practices and exciting new techniques for teaching students with special needs. Wonderful ideas that I know from experience are all but impossible due to federal, state, and local district mandates. Good thing it is so cold in here, or I couldn’t stay awake, I think.

I’ve spent 12 of the last 24 hours in graduate school, after a long week of teaching rowdy middle-schoolers and attending a battery of meetings so intense that I actually packed an extra stick of deodorant in my work bag. It’s the end of the school year, and as I drive home, traversing multiple lanes of stop-and-go traffic with hail pinging off my windshield, I think about how quickly another Monday is coming up.  I begin to become anxious about all the paperwork I need to complete over the next week, all the parents I need to contact. I think of some of my students who are struggling right now, behaviors bubbling, as they anticipate the only structure they know dissolving over the next three months.  I drive defensively through a depressed neighborhood, made infamous by the movie-theater shooting in 2012. Even so, I speed up through a few stale yellows, hoping to make it home a few minutes sooner.

Finally home, I think about making it out for a run. My legs are stiff and cramped from sitting for so many long hours.  The small space between my shoulder blades aches from frantic typing.  Pat is still out fly-fishing with his buddy Steve in Golden, and Bella looks at me expectantly. After letting her out briefly, I “rest my eyes for a minute,” and don’t wake up until the next morning.

I wake up to Bella whining and slamming her body against the bed, shaking it. This is how she wakes me up. Pat is already downstairs making coffee, and I smell eggs frying on the stove. Yesterday’s pessimism seems to be gone. Today is Sunday, the day we reserve for trail running! I peek between the blinds before heading downstairs with Bella: sun hits the faces of the Flatirons and the Front Range, no clouds in sight. I can see the rocky summit of Mount Sanitas. In a few hours, I know all three of us will be standing on that very spot.

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“When I select her red Ruffwear Ridgeline leash from the hooks on the wall, she whines again and prances like a parade pony. Bella knows what this means: trail running off leash!”

After breakfast, Bella and I inventory the gear she will need for the day. When I select her red Ruffwear Ridgeline leash from the hooks on the wall, she whines again and prances like a parade pony. Bella knows what this means: trail running off leash! A few months ago, a well-meaning neighbor let Bella out while we were at work, and lost our original black Ridgeline in the grass. After forming a two-person search party posse for the missing leash and coming up empty-handed, we immediately ordered a new one from Backcountry K-9, in red this time so it would be easier to spot if dropped. We gather the rest of our items, and book it to the trailhead, leaving paperwork, laptops, textbooks, and our adult responsibilities behind. FullSizeRender_45

On the trail, Pat leads the way, followed by Bella and then myself. Once we reach the off-leash area, I unclip the Ridgeline from Bella’s pack, and clip it easily around my own waist. The lightweight, elastic leash contracts and sits comfortably, ready and waiting if we come to any situation warranting a quick restraint system. Bella knows she is free, and bolts ahead.

She bounds up and down red Colorado rocks, probably running at least 3 times the distance we DSC_0140do. Over the past few months I’ve been mostly road running long, gently rolling distances to train for a marathon that already came and went. Despite being in shape endurance-wise, the steep climb at elevation to Sanitas makes my lungs burn. Lactic acid builds in legs not yet conditioned this season for leaping up and down rocks. I notice the crimson and golden wildflowers nodding in the spring breeze, already grown extra-tall due to this spring’s unusually persistent rains. Towering rocks loom over us at Settler’s Park, slackliners are stringing a line between two large boulders.  A red hawk sails on the air currents nearby, and a herd of deer graze in the valley below.

FullSizeRender_26We reach the summit of Sanitas. I’m barely hop-jogging over rocks as I reach the summit marker.  Flatlands to the East, high peaks still covered in snow to the West. We stop a moment so that everyone has a chance to rehydrate and catch a breath, then head down the steep East side. As I begin the descent, I briefly note the tall buildings of Denver, now barely noticeable and hazy in the distance, before my focus snaps back to the task at hand: navigating safely down the mountain amidst scree, mud, rocks, and tree roots. I become almost meditative, intense, focus breaking only to look back for Bella when I haven’t seen her for a minute or two. Every time I turn around, she’s always right there behind me, and Pat is always just ahead, leading the way.

I think about my goal of running 13,000’ Mount Audubon with Bella by the end of the summer. I’m not ready yet, but I know after a few weeks of runs like this I’ll quickly get into shape. Again, my focus shifts back to getting down. I remember a bad fall I took in this same spot in January after toeing a rock, and instinctively start picking up my feet just slightly more. Around the next corner, a FullSizeRender_36woman is walking with a herd of young goats. I quickly leash Bella with her Ridgeline, stop in wonder to pet the little white goats, then continue on safely past the motley group.

Back the trailhead again, we let Bella into Boulder Creek to cool off. After fetching her stick in the strong, mountain runoff current half-a-dozen times, I slip the leash around Bella’s neck and pull the clasp end through the handle, as we forgot to bring a regular collar in addition to her running pack.

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We reward ourselves in town with some frozen yogurt and a craft beer before heading back home to face responsibilities such as laundry, grocery shopping, responding to a full inbox, and fine tuning any number of spreadsheets for work. I’m disappointed that my one weekend day is already over. I know that during tomorrow’s commute, I’ll gaze over to the Flatirons, remembering those hours of freedom, with my best friends. At least, I have next week’s run to look forward to.


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