Moab Trail Half Marathon 2016

I have literally been writing this post for a week and a half.  My apologies if it seems a little jumbled.

It's fine, I only blog about my races anymore, it's fine.

My radio silence around here (brought to you by homework) has prevented me from even mentioning that I was training for another race.  I've been taking it relatively easy since the last half marathon I ran back in April because my joints needed a break.   I was still running every other day and working on improving my mile time in short increments instead of my usual long runs.  But around the same weekend I ran the RedBull 400, I realized that I really wanted to run another half.  So I googled, "Utah races coming up" and saw the Moab Trail Half Marathon.  I'd heard good things about the Moab Marathon (spoiler alert: not the same race) and that it was relatively easy in that a lot of it was downhill or flat ground.  It was in 6 weeks and I figured I could jump into my usual training program at the halfway point since I was already conditioned up to that point.  Still, 6 weeks felt like a absurdly short amount of time to train (based on my experience) and I decided to refer to it as "Deathbed Repentance."

Even though I didn't realize this race was different from the other Moab marathon, I did at least pay attention to the fact that it was a trail run.  I devoted my Saturday mornings to long runs in the mountains.  A few weeks into Deathbed Repentance, my co-worker and I were talking about it and I said I had heard it was fairly easy, to which he replied that there were a few different Moab runs and he asked if I had looked up the coarse map.  I hadn't and thought it would be a  good idea to do that just to get a better idea of what I signed up for.  The results were definitely not what I was expecting.  The vertical feet shot up and down frantically and as I scanned the elevation changes, I realized I was absolutely not running an easy race.  Thankfully, my runs in the mountains had a decent climb to them and I felt like I was still preparing well for it.  Looking back, I think I could have incorporated some steeper, but shorter hill training sessions, overall though, I wasn't completely unprepared.  By the time the race ended, I had climbed a combined 2,214 feet.  Even on the decent, there were still steep hills.  I don't know what Moab race I had heard about before that was mostly downhill or flat, but this was not it.

So, Moab is about 3 1/2 hours from our house in Midway.  We had to go north Friday night to get some exams out of the way, but we left our house bright and early Saturday morning and got down there before noon.  I didn't think to check what time check-in was at our hotel, though, so when we got to the front desk, they were like, "Oh- yeah, check-in isn't until 3:30."  Landon and I laughed and were like, "That's cool.  We'll go get some lunch and go for a hike and come back in a few hours."  They gave us directions to the Visitor's Center where we could get more information on hikes and other activities.

I didn't realize that Arches National Park was right across the street from where we were staying, so after we got some lunch we decided we should go see Delicate Arch- the arch that is on the Utah license plate and one of the most famous attractions in the state.  We have both lived in Utah our whole lives, but never seen it.

As we were driving through the park, we stopped at Balanced Rock.  It's exactly what its name says it is- a massive boulder balancing on a column of rock.  It's so large, it looks like it could roll off at any second.  But did that stop us from climbing all over it? No. Of course not.  We had our fun there for 15 minutes or so, but were quickly back on our way to Delicate Arch.

The trailhead was a few miles up the road and the hike was a little strenuous for the first mile or so. But after the initial climb, it was just walking around on slick rock; it wasn't a hard hike by any means.  It was gorgeous though.  I can't get enough of that red rock.  There wasn't really a trail to follow for most of the hike, it was wide open slick rock with frequent arrows pointing us in the direction we wanted to go, up until the last half mile or so when we walked up a natural path that reminded me of Pride Rock.  We were just around the bend when we saw a hole in the rock that was the perfect window to Delicate Arch.
We climbed up it and got to enjoy a nice little preview of the whole thing before we were surrounded by the crowds.  I've seen these kinds of arches all over Utah.  Heck, remember Rainbow Bridge at Powell?  But even seeing so many, I'm never not blown away at what wind, water and a little time (billions of years) can do.
Once we had finished our hike and got back into town, we were able to check into our little motel and get cleaned up.  We had gotten a small glimpse of downtown Moab when we had gotten lunch earlier, but I wanted to go walk around and shop and get some dinner.  We walked all around trying to find a place that didn't have an hour long wait and after walking all the way up and back down main street (in heels) we settled on the bar and grill directly next to where we parked our car an hour before.  I got a chicken quesadilla that I pretended was the large, cheesy pasta dish Landon ordered.  Landon knows how to carb load far better than I do.

After dinner, we went back to the motel because Landon had some homework he had to get submitted that night.  I fell asleep immediately (cause that's how I do) and when Landon finally came to bed, it woke me up and I experienced the most intense WHERE AM I?! feeling of my life.  The panic attack lasted all of three seconds before I was completely unconscious again.

The race didn't start until 8 am Sunday morning, which is the latest start time of all the races I've done so far, AND we were only a 10 minute drive from the starting line compared to the usual hour long drive I've made for races in the past.  So I got plenty of sleep, especially because day light savings landed on that day.  I know all of my mommy friends hate day light savings, but I'll be honest, this year was definitely a perk for me.

I woke up at 6:30, braided my hair and went down to grab some continental breakfast for Landon and me.  I'm sure I was a sight to see trying to take a stack of toast and Eggo waffles in one hand, a glass of orange juice in the other, and yogurt, syrup and butter in my arms as I scurried across the parking lot before the food got cold.  We ate our breakfast of champions in bed while we watched the news and then headed out to go pick up my packet with all my race goodies.
It was a beautiful morning, the sun hadn't come up over the red rocks yet, but the sky was light blue and the air was crisp.  We followed the Colorado River up the canyon and found a parking spot right next to the starting line.  I ran to pick up my things and Landon came over to walk around the area with me.  

Now, I've only done three half marathons before this one, so I my experience is somewhat limited, but the races I've done in the past have felt different than this one did.  There is usually a lot more booths promoting their products, more advertisements, and just, a lot more noise.  This race was very different. The venue- if you could call it that- was just a bunch of tables with food, some fire pits scattered around, and a band with a trumpet, trombone, tuba, and a drum playing their hearts out at the starting line.  Honestly, the vibe was so chill and friendly I could have hung out all day.  And the food?  The food was different too, usually it's all oranges and bananas and that energy goo (that I hate), but here they had home made chili and bread, pb&j sandwiches, candy bars, chips, coke, along with the oranges, bananas, and energy goo.  I didn't eat any of it, because I had just slammed a mini stack of Eggos, but I really appreciated the spread they had out for us.  It was so real and down to earth, and the vibe of it all was so comfortable.  Usually before races, I get a nervous jitters and can't shake the I-have-to-pee feeling no matter how many times I hit the porta-potty, but not this time.  I was there to have a great time, and the band and the people with their dogs and everything else just made it feel like we were at a party in the desert.
The race began promptly at 8:00, but I was in the 4th wave so I didn't go until about 8:20.  Once we were off, I knew immediately that it was going to be the hardest race I'd done, but I also knew it was going to be my favorite.  The first few miles were all uphill, and not uphill like the Zion race where it was barely an incline, but uphill like the hike we had done the day before the Delicate Arch that had us huffing and puffing.  And from time to time our entire path would be boulders and rocks that we had to climb up and over and hop from one to another.  My legs were on fire, and my lungs burned as I pushed through the pain and climbed up steps in the slick rock that were waist high to me.  In the first four and half miles, we had climbed well over 1,000 feet in elevation; 200+ feet more than the entire 13.1 miles of the Zion Half I did back in March.
Once we had climbed to the highest point in the race, we had came back down through the rocks and into a wash that we followed for the another mile.  This wash was full of soft, deep sand and it was like we were running on the beach.  I don't know if any of you have ran on the beach, but it is NOT EASY.  Your core is a lot more engaged because it's harder to balance in, so while climbing over boulders and up strenuous hills was tough, the run in the sand was by no means a break.
About 5 miles in, we came to our first aid station.  Usually at aid stations, they have the water, fruit and goo, and it's run by a bunch of volunteers that you can tell are immersed in the running community.  But the men who were running this station were in their middle ages, a couple had beer bellies, and they had driven their jeeps in on Friday and had been camping there for the past three days.  They were sitting in their camping chairs at the tables that had more coca cola, with potato chips, M&Ms, and licorice.  They had the normal gatorade and goo, but they also had those little to-go packages of apple sauce.  I slurped down one of those bad boys after two cups of water and two cups of gatorade and I put another in my camelbak for the road.  I thanked them profusely for staying out there and having the best aid station of any race I had been in.  They were so kind and happy, I wouldn't have minded hanging out longer and shooting the breeze with them.

And that applesauce? Pure genius. Way better than goo.

Following that aid station, there was a couple more miles of sand with the occasional rocky section.  The trail went up and down and eventually led to the road up a very long, steep hill.  This part, was probably the most boring out of the entire race and it was still incredible.  It was strenuous, for sure, but the cliff that surround the road were majestic in ever sense of the word; we even saw some petroglyphs along the way.

Once we reached the top of that hill, the trail turned off the road and wound through more boulders until the trail was hardly a trail at all.  It was a single track that wove through cracks and crevices in the rock until we were standing on the edge of a gorge that, in some places, had a 300 foot drop to the bottom.  The trail ran right along the edge and continued up and over boulders, this was probably the slowest part of the race because everyone was taking extra caution over the obstacles.
There was one section that had volunteers stationed to help you had to climb down the slick rock.  I sat on my butt and slid down it and took their hands on the rest of the section.  Once we past that, we had to basically crawl under these over hangs, all while still on the edge of this gorge.  It definitely got the adrenaline pumping because you were one small misstep from a deadly fall.
Once past that death trap, we followed the trail down into the gorge.  By this point it felt pretty normal to be climbing and hopping from boulder to boulder, under trees and through the sand.  This entire race was marked with little orange ribbons about every 10 feet to show you where to go, and at the beginning of the race they told us if you go more than 20 feet without seeing a ribbon to turn around and go back until you do.  Well, this happened to me and a few others on our way down the gorge.  I was pretty close to the guy in front of me so I was just following him as we wove through the terrain, but the trail progressively headed into thick brush and sticker bushes.  Soon the trail started to fade away altogether, as I slowed to a walk.  The guy in front of me ran a few more feet, until he slowed down and turned back to look at me.  I asked him if he had seen any orange ribbons in awhile and he told me he hadn't.  I turned around to see that about three other people had followed us off the trail.  We called out to them that we were off track to to turn around until we could find the ribbons again.  It took a few minutes, but we got back on the trail and were on our way again.  I'm glad they had the ribbons though, I hadn't realized that I had been relying on them as much as I had.

The second aid station was at the bottom of the gorge, but I only stopped for one cup of water and kept on my way trying to make up for the time I had spent exercising caution on the edge.  I had been warned by a runner at the continental breakfast back at the motel that there was a creek you had to run through at mile 11.  I completely forgot about it until we were in it.  It looked shallow, but the man in front of me proved that it might be deeper than we thought when he took his first step and FELL ON HIS FACE when the ground wasn't where he anticipated.  This was the same guy I followed off the trail, but I wasn't about to follow his lead on that.  The water ended up being just past my knees, so like, pretty deep for a creek.  We only had to run through it for about 50 feet, but my shoes were full of water, mud and small rocks for the remaining two miles of the race, which didn't feel great, if I'm being totally honest.  And I didn't initially laugh at the guy who went swimming in the creek on accident, but I visualized it later and had a good laugh.  Karma got me for that, though.  There was another creek we had to cross, and as I tried to ease my way down the bank, I slipped in the mud and fell on my butt.

We followed the bottom of the gorge for about another mile and a half before it spit us back out on the road, and as we came around the corner, I could see the tops of the porta-potties that were at the finish line! I immediately felt that rush of adrenaline as I neared the end of the race.  It was a cruel trick though, right before we ran into the venue, the trail took a hard left and spit us back down into the river bed.  My watch told me I was almost at 13 miles, so I was a little confused, until I remembered my our little set back with losing the ribbons.  There was still about a half mile left to the race.  The trail ran alongside the venue and I could hear the band playing at the finish line.  There were still a lot of small but steep uphills we had to climb to get back up to there, but the trail was lined with the spectators who were ringing cow bells and cheering us on.  I scrambled up the last hill and ran to cross the finish line.  When I registered for this race, at the end of the registration, it said to write something about yourself for the announcer to read as you crossed the line.  So when I stepped over, the announcer said, "Whitney Street from Midway, Utah.  She likes to party!" (Where are my Hot Rod fans at?!) I thought I was so funny when I submitted that, and I thought I was equally as funny when he read it out loud as they handed me my medal.  I finished the race in 2:39:00 flat.  This was longer than most of my other races, but I credit that to all the variations of the terrain and also getting lost for a couple minutes.  I actually felt really awesome about finishing in that time, I was anticipating the earliest I would finish was 2:45.

Landon was there at the finish line and scooped me up in a big hug, telling me how proud of me he was.  We walked back out to all tables.  The chili was gone, but they had pots full of chicken noodle soup and plates full of quesadillas.  There was cocoa and coffee and more soda; it was just like a big cookout.  We got our fill of food and took our last looks around before we drove back to the motel so I could shower and get ready before we checked out.  I had to take my shoes and socks off and put  them in a plastic bag before I could get in the car because they were so dirty.  And Landon had me sit on his jackets since my butt still had mud all over it.  I was a mess and I was so grateful that the motel let us have an extra late checkout so I could get cleaned up.

We left the motel around 12:30 and decided we'd go back up into Arches National Park to hike around some more before we went home.  My feet were killing me, though, so we figured it would be best to keep it limited to the "nature walk" kind of hikes rather than a day hike.  We got to look at The Fiery Furnace, but you need a hiking permit to actually go in it, and then we walked around the Devil's Garden for an hour or so.  It was still the most beautiful day without a cloud in the sky.  I wish we would have had more time down there to explore because we barely scratched the surface in the 20 hours we were there.  We will definitely be back soon!
Around 2:30 we decided we better get going since so we wouldn't be rolling into our house too late.  We stopped at Landon's mom's to get Josh, but we didn't stay long.  It had been a crazy weekend and we were in need of some zzz's before work the next morning.

I look back on this race and am kind of blown away at how fast it all happened.  From the moment I decided to sign up for it, through Deathbed Repentance and then the actual race itself.  It was the hardest race I've done yet and it took me longer than a normal run would, but it flew by.  I had the time of my life and I will always think of these last few weeks with fondness.  And now that I know what to expect, I'll be switching up my training program for next year.  Because you better believe I'm going back for seconds.

The Redbull 400

This post is coming in a little late because I'll finish blogging about Lake Powell before I post it, but I wanted to get it all typed out while it's still fresh in my mind. (Said the same thing about my Lake Powell posts that took me two weeks to write.)

I will start from the beginning- the beginning being last September when I first found out about the Redbull 400 race and had every intention to participate, but I couldn't get off work and my cousin was getting married that day.  And I swore on that day last September that nothing was going to stop me from running it in 2016.  Let me take a minute here to explain to you what exactly the Redbull 400 is.  The Redbull 400 is the world's most extreme 400 meter race that has a 200 vertical foot gain as you sprint UP the K120 Olympic Ski Jump in Park City at an elevation of 6,870 feet.  Park City is the only location in the United States where this race is held; there is one in Whistler and the rest are held in Europe, so it's a pretty big deal to have the opportunity to participate in it.  Typing all that out makes it sound pretty extreme, right?  Wait until you're standing at the bottom of the jump looking up; it seems next to impossible.  Also, fun fact: the top of the Park City ski jump is the highest altitude out of all of the other race locations. So- there's that.

Anyway, I forgot about that promise I made to myself to sign up for it this year until last Wednesday when I saw it pop up on my Facebook Events.  I remembered how badly I wanted to do it, but with this whole night shift schedule dictating my life, I wasn't sure if it was something I was going to be able to do.  The page said it started at 9 am on Saturday morning, the 24th of September.  I knew I would be getting off work around 8 am, so I would have to go straight to it without getting any sleep beforehand.  I knew that would effect my performance on every level.  But I also knew I would be extremely disappointed if I didn't do it.  I clicked on the "Buy Tickets" link just to see how much the entry was and what it consisted of when it was all said and done.  One entry cost $50 and it included a t-shirt and food voucher.  I skimmed over the page and realized that there was only one single ticket left for purchase.  I knew at that moment it was mine and I clicked the purchase button to sell out the race.

Now lucky for me, the three days leading up to the race, a storm blew into Utah, the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time.  A tornado touched down (literally my nightmare) right by my brother's work and did a number on a few buildings.  The wind wreaked havoc on all of the trees and fences in it's path, and the rain caused flash floods all over the state.  On top of all of that, it canceled our night work for three nights.  So Friday night, I was able to get a good amount of sleep and show up bright eyed and bushy tailed for the coldest race I've done to date.
We pulled up to the Olympic Park around 9:00 after we stopped for a quick breakfast.  My heat didn't start until 11:30, but I was eager to see the heats before me, you know, so I could really psych myself out.  I was completely caught up in pre-race jitters and began to seriously wonder if I was going to make it up the course.  We got out of the car to be greeted with weather that would make you think it was November.  The mountains around us were capped in snow, and the storm clouds churning in the sky let us know it didn't intend to let up as we trudged through the sleet down to the Redbull tent.  They had heaters set up for us to crowd around a coolers stocked with every flavor of complimentary Redbull.  These were my main focus for the next couple hours until my heat started; Landon and I successfully stockpiled 15 cans of Redbull in our car before it was time for me to line up.
I had three goals going into this race: 1. to have a killer time, 2. to finish the race, and 3. to not come in dead last.  But second to last was totally acceptable.  I was in the 3rd women's heat out of 4, and as I watched the heats before mine some serious self-doubt creeped up on me.  It's pretty normal for pre-race jitters, but this race was so different from anything I had ever done before and the only training I had behind me was that I run every other day.  But I hadn't done any hill or sprint training or anything that would really benefit me for this race, and I was genuinely wondering if I was going to give up the ghost halfway up the jump.  Landon was my voice of reason leading up to the whole thing.  He was very confident in me and gave me pep talks every 20 minutes until it was time for me to give him one last kiss before I went to the starting line.  He told me he would be at the 200 meter mark on the stairs next to the jump and that he would follow me to the top.  (If you look the the right of the jump, you will see the stairs that Landon ran up; he basically did the race with me.  I told him I'm signing him up next year whether he wants to or not.)
We lined up about five minutes before the gunshot went off and I was able to talk with some of the other women while we stretched and jumped in place to try to keep our muscles warm.  Most of the girls I talked to were from out of state and had trained with a team to be there.  I was so impressed with their dedication and again felt like perhaps I was a little out of my league.  But they were so kind and empowering that the self-doubt was kept at bay.  We kept our eyes on the jumbotron on the hillside that counted us down and were off at the sound of the gun shot.  The first 100 meters was across the field and was all flat.  I made sure to pace myself because I didn't want to wear myself out on the easiest part of the race.  Once I was stepped onto the turf of the ski jump, I tried to stay upright for as long as I could, but around the 150 meter mark it was too steep and almost in unison we all dropped to our hands and feet to bear crawl our way up the rest of the jump.
Another obstacle to this race was that the jump was slippery.  The rain and sleet had done us no favors on that front and if the rope netting hadn't been there I really don't think I would have made it to the top.  Even with my brand new running shoes that had all of their tread on them, I was slipping with each step.  I clung to the ropes and pushed onward and upward.  As I neared the 200 meter mark I could hear Landon off to the side cheering me on, and what a welcoming sound his voice was at the halfway mark.  My lungs were on fire and there was sweat dripping off my face that was numb from cold not five minutes before.  At the 250 meter mark, the ski jump leveled out enough for us to run upright  for a small stretch until you crawled up a wooden bridge and onto the steepest stretch of the race.  I had to pause at the bridge to try to catch my breath before I crossed the point of no return.  Landon continued to call out words of encouragement as he trudged up the stairs.  I took one more deep breath as I started up the last stretch.  This was the worst part, not just physically but mentally.  I was in my head pretty bad there at the end.  I couldn't hear as much Landon anymore because the stair were roped off towards the top and he got stuck behind the spectators.  There was a guy, though, right there at the top who was cheering on everyone.  As I approached he zeroed in on me and told me not to quit.  It must have been written on my face that I wanted to stop again to try to catch my breath, but he wasn't about to let that happen.  "You are so close, don't you dare stop now!"  "You only have one more net to climb up!" "You've got this! Push through it, you're almost there!"  Something about having a stranger yell at you to not stop is both terrifying and completely empowering.  Like, yeah! I can do it!  And with his shouts of fortitude I found myself at the platform at the top.  I pulled myself up and rolled onto the mat.  The finish line was about five feet from the edge I just crawled up and over, but I was so totally drained that I literally rolled my body over the line and off the mats to lay on the cold concrete.  My eye were closed as I gasped for air and I felt one of the volunteers pull my timer off my ankle.  I opened my eyes to a lady offering me a cup of water and I took it as I slowly willed myself to sit up and rest against the wall.  The seconds passed and the pain drained out of my legs and the fire in my lungs dissipated.  I watched the women who had been behind me climb over the edge one by one and I could hear the man who cheered me on continuing to shout encouragement to the other athletes.  I smiled because that guy was the real MVP.  One lady crawled onto the mat and barely crossed the finish line before she rolled onto her back with her arms over her face and her breathing labored.  The volunteer who had taken my timer told her she needed to move off the mat and she didn't move, she completely ignored him.  "M'am?" he asked, "You need to move out of the way, please."  Again, she had tuned him out and didn't move a muscle.  He finally walked up to her and gently took one of her wrists to help her move out of the way, but she still didn't make any attempt to move, so he just drug her body off the mats.  I couldn't help but giggle at the whole scene.

After a couple minutes, I was able to get to my feet.  I still needed to brace myself against the walls and railings as I walked over to the stairs to look for Landon.  He was sitting on the benches about 10 rows down and I braced myself for the task of walking all the way back down those stairs with Bambi legs.  I made eye contact with the random man who cheered me over the finish line and smiled really big and told him thank you.  He told me I did a great job, and it was a really beautiful, genuine moment between two strangers.  I found Landon and he wrapped his arms around me tightly.  He told me he was so proud of me and I beamed at his praise.  He then told me that I finished in 10th place in my heat which came to a complete surprise to me.  Honestly, the entire race my gaze was kept downward and I paid no attention to who I passed or who passed me.  So, to hear that I hadn't come in dead last was great news; I had officially met my three goals I had set that morning.
We got to the bottom of the stairs, and I told Landon I was genuinely impressed that he had ran up those bad boys along side of me.  I said that the only thing harder than what he did was what I did and I think he totally could have done the race.  Next year I really am going to sign him up no matter what he says.  We walked back over to the Redbull tent to see the times that were posted as each athlete crossed the finish line.  My plan was to see what my time was, grab another Redbull or two, and hit up the food trucks with my food voucher they gave me before we headed home.  We waited in front of the TV's for a few minutes while the servers struggled to scroll through the standings.  They finally got them going again and they started in 60th place and continued to show the following finishers.  As I skimmed through the names that flashed on the screen, mine was not among them.  We had heard one of the volunteers say that the top 50 of each category would go to the finals later that afternoon.  Landon kept saying over and over, "You're going to be in the top 50.  There is no way you aren't."  I started to sweat a little with every update of the standings as my name was not among them.  It finally started back at the beginning.  I wasn't in the top 10, I wasn't in the top 20, but boom, my name showed up in 31st place with one more heat to go.  Landon jumped up and down, laughing hysterically and I just stood there trying to get it through my head that I was going to do that again.  "There is still one more heat left." I protested.  "Yeah, but 20 people will have to beat your time to knock you out of the finals!"  Landon laughed.  He was right, statistically speaking I was almost guaranteed a spot.  We watched anxiously as the last women's solo heat took place.  I was next to the monitors as my time came and went and when it updated I had been bumped to 43rd place for the final standings.  I was in the finals.
the moment we found out
Looking back at it all, I'm actually pretty proud of myself.  Coming in 43rd out 160 women on the most extreme 400 meter sprint without any previous training other than my normal exercise routine? That's cool, right?  Well, cool until you're standing at the bottom of that ski jump again.

I'm kidding.  It was still cool.

I got to talk to a few ladies there while we were waiting and they had been training with a coach and team out in L.A. for this race.  Another chica I met had been in the Marines for 11 years and now goes around the country doing Ultra marathons and hard core endurance races and had flown from Boston to do this race.  To be surrounded by women of this caliber was beyond empowering and it opened my eyes a little bit more to what I am capable of.

When Landon and I were driving into Park City that morning, I told him that in the email it referred to all of us who were participating in the race as "athletes."  Then I said that I had never in my life, even in the last two years, identified as an athlete.  Landon asked me what I identified as then, and I responded, "I don't know- just some idiot who runs around!"  And while I stand by that, in the moments leading up to the final race when I was surrounded by what I would 100% label as athletes, it was the first moment in my life that I thought, maybe I AM an athlete.  And a realization like that can be a little earth shattering.  You've all been with me on this journey. You all have witnessed the substantial amount of weight I have lost and how I have slowly learned about bettering my health via diet and exercise.  You all know where I started.  So you all must have at least a slight understanding of what this kind of re-branding feels like.  The thing about it is that it's been so gradual that it really was just this last Saturday that I finally realized that I wasn't just some idiot who runs around, I'm an athletic idiot who runs around.  And that's so awesome to me.  I hope I don't sound like I'm bragging; it's actually very humbling to me.  But like, it's okay to be proud of yourself in these moments, right? It's a really awesome thing to feel good about your body and its accomplishments; self-love is harder to get than any trophy, medal, or muscle.  And while I can't say that I love my body 100% of the time, the opposite is true actually, I find myself in these moments more and more lately where I'm like, hell yeah, Whit! And feeling really great about my progress and my accomplishments.  Making it to the finals of the Redbull 400 was one of those moments.

I told myself and the ladies around me that this was the victory lap.  I was just going to have fun with it and not try to kill myself over it, because I definitely wasn't going to win.  I still had my three original goals in my mind: 1. to have a killer time, 2. to finish the race, and 3. to not come in dead last as the announcer counted down to the gun shot.

The course was a lot muddier the second time around; after all the heats throughout the day, it had been through the ringer and this made the ski jump even slipperier.  I paced myself even more, trying not to wear myself out right off the get go.  Again, I kept my vision fixated right in front of me except for the split second when I looked up at the ski jump as we were approaching the bottom and boy was that staggering.  I immediately cast my gaze back to the ground and focused on taking it one step at a time as I bear crawled my way up.  I paid no attention to the women around me and only listened for Landon's voice cheering me on as he ran up the stairs alongside me again.  As I reached the bridge in the middle, I had to stop again.  It's like I have to remind my lungs how to breathe at that point.  Landon was behind the plexi-glass yelling to push through the pain, and I'll be honest, hearing that while you're feeling like that?  Kinda makes you want to push them off the ski jump.  But I also needed to hear it, and ultimately he was the reason I was able to push through it.  Because y'all, that last stretch up the ramp is so brutal not just physically, but also mentally.  But also- physically. For real, dogs.
When I finally got to the top, I rolled my body over the finish line and onto the concrete again.  This time though, my legs sort of seized up.  I kept trying to straighten them out and what I felt was the weirdest sort of cramping I'd ever experienced.  It wasn't a painful cramp, exactly.  It was more immobilizing with a hint of soreness.  It was weird and I just laid on the ground and laughed through it.

Eventually, I was able to stand up (though I'm pretty sure I really did look like Bambi on ice) and walk over to get some water.  My legs were so shaky that this time around, Landon and I opted for the chair lift ride down over the stairs.  When we approached the landing at the bottom, I was genuinely curious if my legs were going to support me when we stood up.  They did, but shakily so.  The final standings were posted and I improved my time by 17 seconds!  Honestly, I was just as shocked by that as I was by making it into the finals.   
Landon gave me a huge hug and beamed like a proud parent; it was really sweet, actually.  He told me I had done amazing and was so proud that I accomplished all three of my goals not once, but twice.  We left pretty much right after since it was almost 4 PM and we had a lot of homework to do and I had to go into work in just a few hours.  Also, my feet were soaked and frozen and I was looking forward to a hot shower when we got home.  All in all, it was a crazy day, and one that really put my progress and abilities into perspective.  I learned a lot about myself, and I think when that happens, it's a success no matter what.

And that was it.  That was the Redbull 400.  One of the craziest races I've ever done.  I have big plans to actually train for it next year and see what kind of magic I can work with a little practice under my belt.

If any of you want to join me... :)

Lake Powell: Day Five

This was the final morning in Lake Powell.  Landon and I awoke early to the house boat shaking as we backed up from the shore to head back to the marina.  We came out to the kitchen where all of our friends/boat mates were eating a simple breakfast of Einstein Bagels and schmear.  After we ate, we all congregated on top of the boat to take in the beauty of Lake Powell one last time.

Doug was at the helm on top and he had to step away for a second and I was quick to swoop into his place.  I was initially joking, but he insisted I keep driving the boat.  I use the term, "driving" loosely; the boat was driving itself and I was merely steering it.  Though, with a boat that large, the smallest turn of the wheel will turn it quite a bit.  It was going slowly enough that it wasn't like playing Corners in the car where you're swerving all over and people are flying everywhere, but when we looked behind us for the time I had been driving, our path was a continuous "S" pattern.
Everyone was a critic, saying I was a drunk driver and things of that sort, but when I passed the responsibility to Shawn and then to Mary it was clear that none of us were great at it.  We had our fun, but ultimately decided that Doug should definitely continue to be the driver and captain.  That was of course until we decided we all needed a group photo and demanded that he leave the wheel to pose in our photo with us.  A bunch of risk takers, obvs.

Once we pulled up to the marina we had only arrived at 5 mornings previous, a somber feeling came over us all.  It was like the end of summer camp where everyone is giving each other hugs and promising to stay in touch.  I still get sad thinking about saying goodbye to those beautiful humans.
As we gathered our bags, a cart showed up to take us and our things up to the parking lot.  It could only take half of us, though, so Landon and I along with John, Mary and Thayne said our goodbyes to Shawn, Stacy, Will, Jaime and Oswaldo.  It was so sad! I felt like I wasn't ever going to see them again.  The cart drove us up to an island in the parking lot and dumped all of our bags on the ground and headed back down to the docks to shuttle the rest of our group.  I realized that everyone's bags had come up with us, so Landon and I volunteered to stay with the stuff until the rest of the group came to get it so no one's stuff got stolen.  We said goodbye to John, Mary and Thayne and waited for the rest.

Once they showed up, we had to go through yet another goodbye as we got our things and walked to our car.  It may have just been me, but I was so sad.  I loved my new friends, and no matter how much we promised each other that we would plan activities together, there is always that whole "real life" looming in the back of our minds.  And real life makes things hard.

Landon and I had been driving for about 10 minutes when I realized I had to pee (classic Whitney) and requested we stop at the next gas station.  Landon agreed since we just happened to need gas.  We pulled up to the pump and not 30 seconds after we got out of the car did we see Shawn and Stacy pull in the same gas station.  We all had a good laugh and accused them of stalking us.  We all went in to use the bathroom and get caffeinated beverages for the long drive ahead of us.  After we all paid, it was yet another goodbye to two of my newest favorite people.  I swear to you, my heart broke a little more each time I had to say goodbye to our couple counterpart.  A few more hugs and waves through windows and we were on our way home for real this time.

Despite the cookies we were eating and my bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper, I managed to fall asleep in the car for an hour or so.  When I woke up, Landon had been sifting through a playlist on my phone looking for one song that he had really liked on our way down.  The playlist in question had nearly 600 songs on it and he didn't know who sang the song or what it was called.  So we spent the next hour trying to find it.  When we finally found it, it was the song right before the song we had started with; I found that particularly hilarious.

By this point in our journey we were about halfway home and hungry.  And Landon had needed to pee for at least 4 exits.  We decided to pull over at the next stop for gas and Costa Vida.  Landon was putting gas in the car and I was throwing some garbage away when who should pull up behind us once again but Shawn and Stacy?  At this point, I really think they were stalking us. Not really.  But it was so funny that we kept showing up at the same gas stations with zero communication.  We decided that it was fate that we have one more lunch together before our trip was officially over.

Landon went to the bathroom while I went to get in line with Shawn and Stacy.  Stacy was trying to figure out what the special was that day and asked us, "What day is it?"  And without missing a beat, Shawn started to sing a song from a Space Ghost album I had memorized word for WORD when I was in jr. high.  It was an entire album of dumb music, but I found it so funny and nobody ever knew what I was talking about when I would sing songs from it.  So when Shawn sang, "What day is IT?" in Brak's voice, and I looked at him and sang in the same voice, "Could you please tell ME?"  And a smile spread across his face as we sang in unison, "What day is IT?! I'm confused you see!"  We both started laughing and Stacy gave us the look I always got when I sang those songs and shook her head and laughed, saying, "I can't handle you two."

We had a great last lunch with them and said one more final goodbye (this time it really was for good) and promised to find time to get together again.  And I really hope we do.  Over the last two weeks, I've expressed to Landon how much I miss them probably ten separate times.  People that you connect like that with are rare, and I hope we can continue to have a friendship with them.

We stopped one more time on our way home at the Redmond grocery store to stock up on our favorite foods from the trip including the raw milk, whole milk greek vanilla yogurt, and grain-free granola.  After that, we didn't stop until we got home.  I was in desperate need of sleep, but I had to get back to work on the night shift that night.  Talk about sleep deprivation.

And that was it; that was our trip.  I can say that it was my favorite part of 2016 and even two weeks after the entire trip, I still think about it multiple times a day.  I'm so thankful Landon got this job and for how great this company treats it's employees.  This trip was an experience of a lifetime and I will cherish the memories and friendships we made for the rest of my life.  Seriously, it was that good.
*Cue Vitamin C Graduation Song*

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Lake Powell: Day Four

Last full day in Powell, people.  The recap is almost over.  And although we are nearing the end of the trip, there is still so much excitement to be had.
Wednesday morning Stacy, Shawn, Landon and I awoke bright and early to go surfing again. Well- it wasn't bright quite yet, but it was early.  We drove out the spot where the wind was least invasive so we could get in our morning sesh.  I even got up on the wakeboard for a few minutes before we headed back for breakfast.
It was going to be a beautiful day; the weather wasn't a threat to us after the storm from the day before passed over.  After we ate our breakfast fit for royalty and had our morning discussion, it was time to decide what we were going to do for the day.  There was another hike that people were going on and Landon asked me if I wanted to go, but I had heard talk of a rope swing 120 feet high that I was not about to miss.
The rope swing was set up by Sam, the man who had played to Oscar worthy prank on us the night before.  And I'll be honest when I questioned whether I could really trust the man after that.  He doesn't actually work for Redmond either, he and his wife were on the trip because they were friends with one of the guys there.  So when word got out that he had set up a rope swing, we were told if we were going to go on it, Redmond wasn't going to be responsible for any injuries or death (seriously) that may occur.  Did any of that sway my desire to take the plunge?  Of course not.
Landon on the other hand was on the fence about the whole thing.  He refused to make any sort of commitment until he got there to see the entire set up.  The boat dropped us off down the channel a bit from the actual rope swing; we had a decent hike up the cliffs and back to where it was set up.  Landon and Shawn hiked up with me and the six or so others but still were not decided if they were going to jump or hike back down.  When we got to the spot we looked over the edge and it got so real.
That white line marks 85 feet, the ledge we stepped off was another 40 feet above that.  Looking at this picture is daunting enough, but I cannot describe to you what actually being up there was like.  It was so very clear that if for some reason the ropes failed and we hit the water, it meant death.  And seeing the little harness we would wear with a single carabiner that hooked to the rope didn't seem nearly like what you would want keeping you tied to the living world.  But it was.  And so, one by one we lined up to get fitted in our harnesses.  Landon and Shawn were still only observing for the time being as I stepped up to the edge.

I was so excited and so, so terrified.  I can honestly tell you that I've never been so scared in my entire life.  And I have been skydiving and done my fair share of adrenaline inducing activities.  But this?  This was just a rope swing set up by some guy who invented the Squatty Potty and is really good at pranking strangers.  So making the decision to trust this man and his homemade rope swing was literally a leap of faith.  I was so nervous that I was jumping up and down while I waited for Sam to get the rope pulled back up which made everyone else nervous for me.  They told me to step away from the edge until I was safely harnessed if I was going to be jumping around like that.  I figured that was a good idea.  Once I was in the harness, I stepped up to the edge and tried to remember to breathe as everyone started to countdown from five.  Those five seconds were brutal and I knew I had no choice but to take the step off once they reached zero.
And once they all yelled zero, I did it.  I stepped right off the edge to free fall 120 ft.  I've never experienced such and intense stomach drop and boy did I scream.  It was one of those screams that should have shattered windows.  It was every ounce of terror leaving my body in a matter of four seconds.  


Once the line was taut and I was officially swinging, the screams of fear turned to screams of delight, and I had the adrenaline rush of a lifetime.  I'm going to post the video, but trust me when I  tell you to turn down your volume or else anyone near you will think you're murdering someone.
I still get mad butterflies watching that.  After you were done swinging for the most part, then you had to focus on getting down which was still a task in itself.  There was a loop on the rope that you had to put your foot into so you could stand yourself up on it enough to unclasp the carabiner.  It sounds easy enough, but doing that on a swinging rope is a lot harder than it sounds.  And then, once you were unhooked, you had to wait until you were about to swing forward and then let go and sort of jump backwards so you wouldn't get caught in the rope when you dropped the 20 feet down into the water.  I did it pretty smoothly, though my left arm was away from my body when I hit the water and that didn't feel great, I'll be honest.
When I got back to the ski boat, I grabbed my towel to dry off and looked up to see who was next and I was completely shocked when I saw the bright pink shorts Landon was famous for wearing the entire trip standing at the edge.  He said after I jumped he knew he wouldn't live it down if he didn't jump also.  And he said that he needed to do it sooner rather than later before he talked himself out of it.  And in complete contrast to myself, he didn't make a peep except for a single, "Woo!" in the entire jumping and swinging process.  When we were laughing about it, he said he was so petrified, he physically couldn't make a sound.  You can turn your volume up for this one, because that little "Woo!" kills me every time. :)
We both agree that this rope swing was the most extreme thing we've ever done.  One might argue that skydiving is more extreme, but there is a certain validity to it that rope swing just didn't have.  Plus, having a trained professional in charge and two parachutes is a lot more comforting that trusting an amateur and a single carabiner.



Ugh.  Looking back at these photos and videos still gives me a thrill.  Shawn was up next after Landon.  I was so proud of all of us for being so brave!   We only did it once each, but 10/10 I would do again given the chance. And it was one of those things that you'll always look back on and be like, "Yeah! I did that and it was INSANE!"  Landon actually cut his finger open when he dropped.  He thinks he got it caught in the rope, but isn't totally sure because he didn't actually feel it.  Probably from all the adrenaline.  He only realized that he was cut because after we took this photo he saw all this blood on my back! GROSS.
Aside from Landon's hurt finger, the only other real setback we had with the swing was when Doug, our house boat captain went off it.  He was the last one to go and he was pretty nervous about the entire thing; we really peer pressured him to do it.  We all cheered and hollered when he jumped, but when it came time for him to unclip and drop in, he didn't have quite enough strength to get out of the whole get up.  I feel like I need to reiterate that standing up in that loop, holding yourself there with one hand while the rope is swinging back and forth and you're trying to get the carabiner undone with the other hand is not easy.  And after such a surge of adrenaline, you were left feeling absolutely exhausted.  So it was very understandable that he didn't have enough energy to do that.  We were starting to get worried when he really wasn't able to get himself out of it.  Sam was still up on top and said was going to cut the rope.  Darryl yelled up to Sam and told him to hold off for just a little longer, then he threw on some wake boarding gloves, pulled the ski boat underneath Doug, grabbed hold of the rope and CLIMBED UP IT TO HIM.  Then he was able to help Doug hold himself up long enough to unclip the carabiner, then hold onto him as we backed the boat out from under them and then dropped Doug into the water.  It was SO RAD.  Darryl was the hero of the day and we were all so proud of Doug for being brave enough to do the swing.  He said he was never going to do it again, though. haha

Once we were all done at the rope swing, we went back to the camp to eat some lunch and chill out for a bit.  We went to lay out on the deck, but were only there for about five minutes when Darryl came to find us to see if we wanted to go ride the air chair.  I was the only taker out of our little group, Landon and the others still wanted some R&R, but I had always wanted to try the air chair and wasn't about to pass up the opportunity.

I don't know if you guys know what an air chair is, but it's basically a seat on top of a ski, and depending on how you shift your weight you can get that sucker to FLY out of the water.  It's insane.  I watched Darryl and Sam ride it before I tried it out and they made it look so easy.  I'll be honest, I was a little frustrated with this contraption; usually I can pick things up pretty quickly.  But the air chair?  That sucker was hard!  I probably tried 8 or 9 times and the longest I was able to stay up was not quite 10 seconds.  They told me I had done really great for a beginner, and after watching some of the others who were noobs, I did feel a little bit better for sucking, but man- I've got my work cut out for me for next year's trip!


After we had spent another hour or two on the air chair, it was time to go back to the boat for dinner.  This was our last night there so they really went all out.  I mean, the food the entire trip was unreal, but that night they had flown in Alaskan King Crab legs and filet mignon!!  Like, are you kidding me?!  And then just an entire barrage of sides that were garden fresh and absolutely mind blowing.  

I want to cry just looking at this.  I mean, Alaskan King Crab and Filet Mignon. COME ON. And we devoured this feast off paper plates and plastic utensils.  Like, that just doesn't get any more epic in my opinion.  They really outdid themselves and I fear no meal nor trip will ever live up to this one.

We ate our fill and then sat back to enjoy the movie of our trip that the MJ the media guy had been putting together for the entire week.  It was weirdly sentimental to me in that I had only met these people 4 days ago and I was watching this movie of all the memories we had made and felt such a strong bond with them.  It did not feel like we were a bunch of acquaintances, but real, genuine friends.  And I still feel that way.  And I can't help but think what a cool company Redmond is, that they can do that for their employees.  I have told Landon probably 73 times since that he can't ever quit this job.

Once the movie was over, they brought out the ice cream and orchard fresh peach cobbler they had made with peaches that Will and Jaime had flown in from Colorado with them.  I CANNOT WITH THE FOOD, YOU GUYS.  It will never be done justice by my mere words.  You will all just have to get jobs with Redmond so you can come on the trip next year and see what I mean.  We died all over again with how good it was and then we all gathered around tables to play games for the rest of the night.  We played Hedbanz which I think is pretty much the same as Ellen's game Heads Up where you hold cards on your forehead with a band and you have to ask everyone else questions and try to guess as many cards as you can in one minute.  We played late into the night and laughed so hard we probably burned off half of our dinner.  

After a couple hours, we were absolutely drained and decided to call it a night.  It was a little sad for me because it was basically calling it a night on the whole trip and I just was not ready to say goodbye to my new friends, the adventures and the food (especially the food).  

And that is a wrap on night four.  
BRB while I get some tissues because I miss this place and people so bad! 
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