While the kids are visiting both sets of grandparents on the East Coast, Ian and I are enjoying a mini biking vacation in Sun Valley.
While the kids are visiting both sets of grandparents on the East Coast, Ian and I are enjoying a mini biking vacation in Sun Valley.
Forty miles for me on skis and 40 years for Ian. It was a big day for Ian on Saturday and we made the most of it with some family ski time in the morning at Buttermilk, followed by a quick Bowl Lap in the afternoon while my dad watched the kids. We wrapped up the day with dinner at Cache Cache in Aspen, which was pretty decadent.
I also managed to get in 40 miles of skimo training last week. My legs are starting to come around, and my fitness is getting better, which I’m noticing especially on the ascents. I need to spend a little more time skiing Highlands Bowl on my RSR race skis to get my descending legs more up to speed.
So far, I’m psyched with my early season training and fitness. Hopefully I will continue to get stronger and I’m really looking forward the rest of the race season.
It’s been six weeks since my ankle surgery and I’ve survived so far. And more importantly, so have Ian and the kids.
December 19th – Pre-op at Steadman Hawkins in Vail
But first let me back up. Last fall, I found out I had a ruptured posterior tibial tendon in my ankle. I’d been dealing with ankle pain for most of last summer, but it got pretty bad in the fall so I finally had an MRI done. I had no idea how bad it actually was. Repairing your posterior tibial tendon requires pretty serious surgery that involves grafting a tendon from another part of your foot, then cutting off your heel bone, moving it over and screwing it back in. The crazy thing is, I don’t even know when I tore the tendon. I think I might have done it playing ice hockey back in high school. Regardless, the time had come to do something about it.
The good news was some of the best orthopedic surgeons in the world are just down the road in Vail at the Steadman Hawkins clinic. Better yet, my friend Laura Clanton’s father is the foot and ankle specialist there. I knew I’d be in good hands.
So, when I awoke after my five-hour procedure, Dr. Clanton said the surgery went well. He repaired my posterior tibial tendon using my flexor digitorum longus tendon, he repaired multiple ligaments with artificial fibers and he moved my calcaneus over 1.5 cm and screwed it back on with a 7cm screw.
Sitting there in the recovery room, I started having buyer’s remorse. I knew that the surgery was necessary if I ever wanted to run and ski 100% again, but I’ve never had any kind of surgery before, and I’ve never really been injured for a long period of time. Lots of my friends said it would be similar to being pregnant, but I was able to walk, run, mountain bike and ski throughout both my pregnancies. This surgery comes with 3-6 months stuck wearing a cast–so that I can’t even carry my dinner to the table or stand-up to take a shower.
The first week after surgery was painful as the nerve blocks wore off but it went by pretty quickly with family around for the holidays. I had Ian, my mom and my sister-in-law here to wait on me hand and foot. (Which was only fun for about two days before it got really annoying.) After a week of being in the house, I was determined to make it to the gym for some seated weight lifting. Not surprisingly, it felt really good. Though it wasn’t a cardio session like I’m accustomed to, the core and strength training I did those first few times after surgery helped keep me sane.
Mom & Juniper on Christmas morning.
Then, three weeks ago, the doctors removed the soft cast I left the hospital with and put me in a hard cast. Right away I didn’t have to worry as much about the kids running into my ankle and sending pain through my entire body. I was allowed to rest my foot on the ground when standing still on my crutches and I was cleared to ride the trainer with one leg. Unfortunately, riding one-legged turned out to be really hard and proved how poor my full circles are. So I tried the rowing machine. That was a little better but after two sessions I landed in the ER with swelling and pain that we thought was a blood clot. Thankfully it wasn’t, but I decided to stick with my strength training for the time being.
Last week, I went back to Steadman Hawkins, they removed my cast and readjusted my foot again before wrapping it with a new cast. Now, I am cleared to hold 25 pounds of pressure on my cast while standing. Amazing! I no longer have to balance on one foot to pull my pants up. And after a week of 25 pounds feeling good, I’ll get the green light for 50 pounds.
That meant it was time for an experiment. With one cycling shoe, one cast and a flat pedal I got back on the trainer. Success! So far I’ve managed one half hour session and two one-hour sessions with my heart rate averaging in the low 130s’, which got me sweating pretty decently. Heaven.
So far, I found that some days are harder than others, but throughout this experience, I’ve never appreciated my family more. Both Juniper and Axel have learned to be much more self-reliant, making their own breakfast, getting themselves dressed, cleaning up and more.
Watching skimo races from the couch has been difficult and next week I missing the world championships, which just plain sucks. But I’m super thankful to La Sportiva for being 100% supportive and I’ll be cheering on all my friends and teammates who will be in Italy.
I’ve got at least a month or two left on crutches and then a long road back to fitness, but with some good PT and a little bit of luck, I’m hoping to run a few trail races late this summer on the Sportiva Mountain Running Team as well as well as ride a few late mountain bike races for the Basalt Bike & Ski Team.
I’ll make it through this and I hope I can be as strong as my new ankle will be when I return. Thanks to my husband Ian, the kids, my parents and my friends here in Carbondale for all of the support they’ve given me.
I have a love/hate relationship with the Teva Mountain Games. I love that I met my husband at the event ten years ago. I love the world-class competition that comes to Vail for the four-day festival. I love catching up with old friends. I love all of the activities for kids at the event. And, I love the opportunity to win $2,000.
I hate the schizophrenia of doing four races in two days. I hate the pressure that I feel to perform in front of so many friends and media. I hate the juggling act that Ian and I try to perform as I race, he works the PR for the event and we both try to keep the kids happy and entertained.
Apparently, the love outweighs the hate as I was back again this year competing in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge.
Each year the racing begins with the downriver kayak sprint. A year ago, Gore Creek was almost at flood level for the race. This year, with a record low snowpack, the creek was barely a trickle, making the race much more technical, or ‘boney’ as paddlers like to say. I did a practice run on Friday evening and it helped me stay on line for the race Saturday morning to finish with a 45-second lead over my good friend Gretchen Reeves, and about five minutes over Sara Tarkington (who had never paddled whitewater before).
With a few hours to organize and hang with the kids before the mountain bike race, I managed to hand my bottles off to my coach Lindsay Hyman from CTS and get in a warm-up. I was a bit bummed to find out Gretchen, Sara and I had our own start time two minutes behind the pro women. Since I don’t do many mountain bike races with the big girls, I always enjoy racing among the Olympians that show up for the Teva Mountain Games. Anyway, after our three person category start, my legs felt like lead for the first climb while Gretchen and I traded spots in the lead. Over the first two laps, I managed to gain about a minute lead on Gretchen while she and I rode up through the pro field. Gretchen blistered the last lap and pulled me back in to just 26 seconds. Had we started with the pro field, we would have been 5th and 6th and in the money.
After the mountain bike race, I enjoyed the afternoon with the kids while Ian waited out the rain and lightning to race a shortened mountain bike race. Being cold didn’t seem to slow him down as he placed second in the Vet Expert 35+ category, just 10 seconds behind the winner. A late dinner with friends and six kids under the age of five got me to bed a later than I would have liked, but that’s the nature of this event.
With just over a minute total lead over Gretchen, I knew I had to run and ride strong on Sunday. Unfortunately for Sara, she did not have her best mountain bike race so she was sitting further back. After warming up and feeling less than stellar, I decided I would run my own race, try to keep Sara in sight (at least on the more open sections) and attempt to increase my lead on Gretchen. Pushing through the pain of the first climb straight up Gold Peak, I fell off Sara but kept my head down and raced smart. By mile three, I started to feel pretty good, passed some men and slowly started to catch back up to and eventually pass Sara. I never looked back for Gretchen knowing I was running the best race I had in me. I wore the new ultralight Vertical K trail running shoes from La Sportiva and they felt awesome. I finished the run as the 5th woman overall (again) and increased my lead to about eight minutes.
One of these days I will learn that sometimes the worse I feel in the beginning of a race, the better the race is overall.
After the 10K run, Ian took the kids around the event for a few hours so I could rest as much as possible for the final TT race. I took full advantage to eat and chat with Lindsay. To save every second possible, I threw on the skinsuit Ian got me in France last year and then jumped on the road bike for a short warm up. Starting the time trial 30 seconds and one minute in front of Gretchen and Sara respectively, gave me the advantage of knowing where they were at all times. Both of them passed me together in East Vail and I managed to stay with them for a few minutes before I dropped back. Keeping them in sight and no mechanicals became my goal as I knew that would keep me in the lead after the four events.
Sara Tarkington, me and Gretchen Reeves before the TT start
I did lose two minutes on the time trial but kept my overall lead. Relieved the racing was over, Sara, her fiance Doug, and I coasted down Vail Pass. As much as I hated the pressure of the races, I was very excited to win over such amazing women like Gretchen and Sara. I love that we are all friends and fierce competitors.
Impressively, my friend Josiah Middaugh won his SIXTH Ultimate Mountain Challenge title for the men. He has a great recap of his weekend here.
Gretchen and I have traded places on the podium many times in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge.
Ian and Michael Schilling. One of these days I’ll skip a training session to take a photography class because my skills are seriously lacking.
Throughout the weekend many people asked me how I do it all with two kids and there’s no way I could be doing any of it without Ian’s support. And thank you to Lindsay for the support as well as Honey Stinger, Bontrager, Trek, La Sportiva, Acli-mate and to my friends cheering me all weekend.
As I arrived in Geneva, the pilot informed us that it was 2 degrees Celsius, considerably colder than the 82 degrees it had been at home when I left. I bundled up for the drive to Chamonix to meet my teammates Lyndsay Meyer and Nina Silitch wondering if I was ready for skimo racing again after mountain bike racing in the desert the weekend prior.
One of the first things Lyndsay mentioned was that a Foehn (pronounced phoon) wind was coming in. Having never heard of such a thing, I assumed this had something to do with a typhoon. Lyndsay also said that often people who commit crimes during the foehn winds in Switzerland, can have their sentences reduced because they make people temporarily insane. Oh, and they bring on migraines and raise temperatures by 30 degrees.
With our race just two days away, we ignored the winds and started prepping our gear and ropes for the Patrouille des Glaciers. Thankfully both Lyndsay and Nina have raced the PDG twice, which occurs every other April. With their knowledge, we got ourselves dialed and headed to Zermatt for final preparations and instructions from the race organizers – the Swiss Army.
Nina and Sari get help from Nina’s son, Birken, prepping the rope.
Just as we departed Chamonix, we heard news that the first wave of the race on Wednesday had been cancelled due to bad weather and poor visibility. Our race was scheduled to start on Friday night and we just hoped the weather would clear.
The foehn winds and the weather was all anyone could talk about in Zermatt as the racers took over the quaint Swiss village. With reports stating that the weather would be worse on Saturday night, the Swiss Army decided to start the race as planned on Friday evening with the first group starting at 9pm and subsequent heats going off every hour until 3am.
Nina, Sari & Lyndsay before the race.
Nina, Lyndsay and I started with the midnight group, running with our skis and boots up the valley towards the Matterhorn for just over an hour. We felt the wind and the warm temperatures but didn’t quite realize we would face 100 kilometer per hour and stronger gusts as we gained elevation up to Tete Blanche.
PDG course (from right to left – Zermatt to Verbier). We made it to Arolla. Avalanche was just after the Col de Riedmatten.
Our team worked very well together as we climbed roped up into the strong winds. We were moving quickly passing teams that had both started with our group and before us. By the time we crested and headed down to the Dol de Bertol, we had all added our wind shells and down mittens as the winds grew stronger. My Polartec NeoShell proved to be extremely wind resistant in gusts that I had to brace for so I would not get blown over.
I am confident in my skiing and racing abilities, however I was the most nervous about the descent in the PDG where our team had to ski roped together. Both Lyndsay and Nina are amazing alpine skiers and I worried all season about slowing them down. The visibility was poor with all the blowing snow but with strong lights from Ay Up! we managed to ski fast and pass several more teams.
With one more very short ascent while roped together then a large descent into Arolla, the halfway point, we were all starting to feel as if we were just settling into the race. As we reached Plan Bertol and a checkpoint, the wonderful mountain guide that was helping stuff the rope back in my pack, informed me that the race was going to end in Arolla. In disbelief, I apparently turned around and yelled somewhat loudly while blinding the poor man, ‘What? Are you kidding me?’ I was somewhat convinced he was practicing his English joking skills and wanted to see what my reaction was. It was windy, but we had passed the dangerous section on the glacier with the crevasses so I thought we would be able to continue. He assured me he was not joking.
Adjusting to skiing on the rope was not as bad as I feared.
Lyndsay was suffering from snow blindness in her right eye but it did not slow her down on the long descent into Arolla. We passed countless teams struggling to keep their speed up in the dark and finished the shortened race in just over 4 hours and 40 minutes landing us 7th place among the elite women’s teams.
Once we arrived in Arolla, we met our support crew that had graciously spent their night standing in the wind to give us more food and water. They informed there had been an avalanche further on the course. Relieved to hear that no one was hurt but very disappointed we could not complete the entire course, we followed the Swiss Army’s orders and took the long and winding bus ride to the finish in Verbier. Although the bus crossed the finish line, it wasn’t quite what we had hoped for.
Coming into Verbier after the long bus ride. Not exactly the feeling we were hoping for.
With Lyndsay getting sick on our way back to Chamonix, we chalked it up to being nauseous both from skiing with one blurry eye and then the bus ride. However, as we arrived at the house, I soon became sick and we spent the entire day sleeping on the couch. We slept right through the 150 kilometer per hour foehn winds that tore roofs off schools and hotels, knocked hundreds if not thousands of enormous trees over and had the fire department supporting old buildings to prevent them from collapsing.
Feeling much better on Sunday, we took a run on the trails and through town to assess the damage. Lyndsay and I realized what we had slept through while poor Nina had another sleepless night listening to the carnage around her home. We were thankful everyone was okay and mystified by what we had missed.
As I fly home, I am thankful for an amazing trip to Europe to race in a sport I love so much. With my ski mountaineering race season officially over, I must thank many people for the successes I’ve had this year: My amazing husband and supporter, Ian, as well as my children Juniper and Axel; my parents for babysitting help for training sessions and races; La Sportiva for fast and light skis, boots and bindings; Polartec for my baselayers and wind protection; Honey Stinger for keeping me fueled; and The Max Marolt Scholarship for helping me get to the Patrouilles des Glaciers. Thank you all very much!