Saturday, May 31, 2008

UC Davis Nature Trail

Well, I don't have any pictures (or mileage) for this very short run, but this morning I ran the trail that runs around UC Davis, and it's worth running... or at least walking. I will put some pictures up when I'm back for class again in three weeks--I'm very impressed with this little trail though. As you run along the trail, different plants are arranged depending on the region of California. There is a redwood grove, a stand of woodland oak and a huge explosion of Matilija poppies that made me want to go home and garden. Unfortunately I am sitting in a quantitative research class today and working on SPSS software. (SPSS software is actually really cool... yes, I'm a nerd.)

Tomorrow= new trail! 

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Conlon Trail

Conlon Trail 
(Wildcat Creek- Belgum- San Pablo Ridge- Conlon- Wildcat Creek)
(9.09 miles)

I love this trail. This is my favorite, favorite, favorite trail in Wildcat Canyon. It's not exactly a secret (the cows certainly know about it), but it's so rare that I see anyone on this trail that I'm calling it a secret trail. 

I ran this today a bit faster than I probably needed to-- I was running behind schedule but really wanted to run this trail, as I haven't run it recently, and the puppies haven't been out enough this week. I kept worrying the whole time that I was going to be late, so I pushed it the whole way through. This is the longest run I've done since Ohlone, and it felt pretty good.

The trail starts out like Havey Canyon and Mezue from the Alvarado Staging Area-- up onto the ridge and all its steepness, but then continues on Nimitz Way. This is the same paved trail that leads out from Inspiration Point in Tilden, and technically dogs should be on leash on Nimitz Way... just to be clear about that. At the edge of Tilden Park, Conlon Trail forks to the right and up onto another ridge that
 provides, in my view, some of the best 360 degree views in all of the Bay Area. As seen in the first picture, there is a sweeping view of San Francisco, the Bay Bridge and Mt. Tamalpais, but if you turn to the right, you can see Mt. Diablo and the surrounding hills. In front of you, the view of Novato and the north section of the Bay frames the trail. You can even see the Carquinez Strait. Plus, this trail is a really fun two miles of downhill-- it's not technical, but it's steep enough in sections that you can really move. 

It's trails like this (along with the tamales) that help to redeem Richmond when I get
 frustrated with ladders getting stolen or random trash ending up in my front yard. Again, it is entirely possible to have a cow conundrum on this trail: let the doggie owners beware! I have had a couple of moments of cross-country thistle-collecting due to bovine presence on the trails. Today we fortunately saw only one group, and they were huddled under a tree.

So there it is: My Richmond Trail Recommendation #1. 


First, an incredibly silly picture of us opening up our wine at the campsite. (The wine is in the vitamin water bottle...) What is my face doing? 

Second, a picture of Pinnacles. And let's just leave it at that... but I had no idea nature could be so, well, suggestive...?


Pinnacles National Monument
(Condor Gulch- High Peaks)

I have driven past the Pinnacles National Monument turn-off countless times on my way to Santa Barbara, but always been so focused on finishing the drive fast, I have never stopped here.

After hiking out of Henry Coe, Jen and I had decided to come explore Pinnacles National Monument. This is not a super-convenient drive from the Bay Area-- probably better for South Bay people, but it was a good hour off the 101 just south of Gilroy. Highway 25 is remote, with rolling hills reminiscent of the Ohlone wilderness; it gives no hint of the topography to come. In fact, even the Visitor's Center does not suggest the rocky spires just beyond the rounded hills.

Due to parking overflow, we had to take a shuttle from the Visitor's Center to the Bear Gulch Nature Center. From there, we took the Condor Gulch trail (Pinnacles is a condor release site, attempting to bring back this bird from its endangered status), which led steeply up to the High Peaks trail. As we ran up to the High Peaks trail, we got several comments from hikers--apparently Pinnacles does not see as many trail runners. 

The High Peaks trail delivers. This trail affords stunning views of both the monolithic beauty of Pinnacles (first picture) and the surrounding hills outside of the park. We turned left at the junction between Condor Gulch and High Peaks, but going right 
 would have taken us to the Old Pinnacles trail, and the Balconies Cave. This was the longer trail recommended by the ranger at the Visitor Center, and based on the beauty of High Peaks Trail, I would love to come back and run this trail as well. (The other cave Pinnacles is known for, Bear Gulch Cave, was closed due to a bat population taking up residence. Too bad. I love bats.) 

From the ridge, the trail heads back towards the rock outcroppings, alternating between running in the shadow of huge volcanic boulders and cutaways that looked out over the surrounding
 countryside. It made me wonder what it looked like eons again when it was a real volcano. Perhaps time for some more John McPhee...

After this section, the trail becomes unrunnable, as you climb (literally) up over rocks and walk along tiny paths that had such a steep drop-off they were lined with hand rails. 

Overall, great run and definitely possibilities for more running fun-- I don't know when I'm going get back here (like I said, it's not exactly right next to the Bay Area), but I'm sure that I will. A final shot--courtesy of Jen--of me running down the trail...

P.S. Once again. Gambolin' Man has a much longer post on this area... worth reading!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Decision Made

I did it. Signed up for the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Miler. Time for some looooooong runs. Really long runs. 

Well, here we go...

Dick Collins Firetrails in October?

Hmmm.... I did not realize this race was in the East Bay, on trails I am familiar with. I am seriously considering it.

1) It's a 50M, which would help get me running enough for 9 Trails, the race I must recoup my losses upon.
2) It's local! 
3) It just doesn't look as hard as Ohlone (well, apart from being 20 miles longer). True, the elevation gain is larger, but there are no insanely long uphills... plus, I know most of the trails and can get to know the rest by October.
4) It seems like a good rookie 50M, unlike Diablo, which looks like, um, from whence cometh el Diablo.
5) Because it's local I could probably get someone I know to pace me and/or come be excited at the finish.

1) It's 50M.
2) I'm going to have to really think about core strength, particularly for my knees. Actually, I'll need to do more than just think about it.
3) That's a lot of loooong weekend runs. 

My brother's response last night when I asked him what he thought? "I think you're f**kin' crazy!" 

Decisions, decisions...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Henry Coe- hiking extravaganza!

Henry Coe State Park
(Corral- Forest- Manzanita Point- China Hole- Creekside- Poverty Flat Road-Middle 
Ridge Road- Hobbs Road-Upper Camp)
(12? 13 miles?)

So just to be clear--this was a backpacking trip, not a trail run (for that, see Pinnacles National Monument posting to follow). But one could easily turn this into a trail run. Well, easily is a relative term, I suppose.

I had never been to Henry Coe. ICO groups a-plenty have used Henry Coe as a jumping-off point to introduce youth to the fun of backpacking, but I had either taken my groups to Briones or Tilden, or made the farther trek to the Sierras. It's a little far for a day trip from San Francisco or the East Bay, but a great weekend backpacking option--especially in the winter or early spring, when it's too snowy in the Sierras. Stymied by the weather this weekend in the Sierras (our first choice), Jen and I decided to head down on Sunday morning to Henry Coe.

We became enamored just from the drive in, which winds up from Morgan Hill, past Anderson Lake County Park, into the hills, providing some stunning views even before we started hiking. At the Visitor Center, where you  must check in and purchase a permit, we were helped by John Verhoeven, one of the most enthusiastic rangers I have ever met. You, Ranger Verhoeven, are a credit to your park. It MATTERED to Ranger Verhoeven that we enjoyed our stay at Henry Coe!

On our favorite ranger's recommendations, we headed down, down, down to China Hole, billed as "the favorite swimming hole" of the park. We took the Forest trail detour and educated ourselves with the Nature Guide provided along the path. This path was beautiful-- filled with poison oak, to be sure, but also flanked by my favorite California plant ever: the manzanita! (My second favorite is the madrone, and there were plenty of madrone trees in Henry Coe as well...) With red, smooth bark and some amazing heat-withstanding properties, the manzanita is a truly unique plant. (My recommended reading on the abilities of the manzanita, as well as other California chaparral, is from John McPhee's The Control of Nature--the section on the San Gabriel Mountains. Fabulous.) 

China Hole Trail dropped down to (crazily enough), China Hole, the swimming hole on Coyote Creek. Dodging the ubiquitous poison oak, we made our way along the Creekside trail--one of the prettiest sections of the trail we were on all day. After a gentle section here and then on Poverty Flat road, the trail climbed (and climbed and climbed) sharply once we started on Middle Ridge road. Here, again, I was treated to the lesson I have yet to internalize: If I don't eat enough, I'm useless. After an hour or so of climbing (probably 7 miles of hiking so far), I began to get hungry, yet in true Victoria fashion, decided to press on and just finish (ignoring that we had 5 more miles to go). This led to a very silent Victoria and a concerned Jen, but once we ended up at Upper Camp, our home-away-from-home and I ate some cheese and crackers, the world looked fine. Silly me. 
The next day, we took Hobbs Road back out, with the steep uphills affording some lovely morning views. 

We were back in our car by 11, heading off to our afternoon's adventure at Pinnacles!

Final thoughts? Henry Coe is absolutely worth a visit. Beautiful flora, stunning vistas, challenging hiking or trail running
 (definitely enough up and down!)--AND enthusiastic rangers--what more could you ask for? One last point of appreciation for Henry Coe: the rangers keep track of who is at each campsite, and steer you away from campsites that are full, or suggest campsites that are empty. This, in my opinion, is enough to make one's weekend.

For a longer description of Henry Coe, I suggest (once again), the work of Gambolin' Man...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Why I (sometimes) Love Richmond

Ok, so according to, Richmond has 4.79 times the national average for homicide. That's not good. It's really not good, and I don't especially like that about Richmond. But you know what Richmond (San Pablo) has? TAMALES that come to your door! I spent $3 for 3 wonderful, delivered-to-my-doorstep tamales today. I lived in North Berkeley for 8 years and no one ever came by selling tamales. (Ok, so I didn't have my ladder stolen out of the backyard, either... but let's not quibble.) You could also buy oranges or strawberries or corn (with cheese, lime and chile- yum!) from the mobile micro-enterprises of Richmond. 


Oy. This week, I've been re-inspired to "take it to the next level" (and subsequently signed up for the inaugural Skyline-to-the-Sea 50K and the Sequoia 30K... and I'm tossing around the idea of doing Diablo...), which meant that I've been thinking about a) speedwork and b) core strength. 

I used to run on alternate Tuesdays with Tampalpa, but since I'm not working in Marin, I've found myself without a track group- if anyone knows of one that meets either early morning in El Cerrito or north, or later in the afternoon in Oakland, let me know...

After running a short 3 on Thursday, I needed to shower before going back to work, and ended up at the gym. Perfect opportunity! I hate the gym, but it has weights... and my arms need them... badly, apparently. After the briefest session in the gym on Thursday (I do mean BRIEF-- I'm not trying to injure myself!) and then 45 minutes of trying to tame the jungle of foxtails that is my backyard, my arms are DEAD. What a shadow of their former competitive swimming selves...

Tomorrow I'm off to explore TWO new parks I've never been to-- Henry Coe and Pinnacles-- yay for new adventures! (Just as long as I don't have to use my arms too much.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Miraculous Week...

"The world is full of wonder, and miracles, but man takes his little hand and covers his eyes and sees nothing." (Israel Baal Shem)

Well, the weather this weekend is not looking miraculous, but I have been thinking about the week and in the interest of not falling into the trap above (one of my favorite quotes), I've been thinking about several miraculous things that happened this week.

1) Ohlone. Not that this is any more miraculous than any other race, but the more I think about it, especially in relation to what I wrote about last, and the commitment to a goal that long-distance running requires, the more I am amazed at human beings and the power that people have when they truly invest themselves in something. I have really appreciated writing about something that I have done for so many years--it has made me evaluate how running has shaped me as a person and how much I have learned about what I (and many others) are capable of with commitment and dedication. 

2) Along those same lines, I closed out with the teachers I have been working with this year, and it got me thinking about the caliber of people I am fortunate enough to work with. I have worked with people this year who have amazing stories, who have struggled, and who have stepped into teaching with their full hearts. (Lest one think that I am Pollyanna-ish about education, and the people I have worked with throughout the years-- I'm most definitely not. People who know me well have been privy to many comments that are not fit for public display about other experiences in education I've had-- I will leave it at that.) I used to come away from the classroom feeling blessed and overwhelmingly grateful to have the chance to know so many amazing people (my students)--I absolutely feel that way about the teachers I have worked with this year.

3) I get to work with an organization that recognizes people are both flawed and beautiful (indeed, perhaps that our flaws are what make us beautiful). What a freakin' miracle THAT is...

4) Finally, I got to hear from some of the teachers I work with how this year (and me) has affected them. While accolades and appreciation are always nice, it struck me because some of the stuff people brought up as having an impact, I had no idea about. It reminded me of Ohlone again, and what can happen when we continuously apply ourselves to doing better, even when it seems to do nothing. 

The hour of cheese is over. You may now go back to your regularly scheduled program.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Csikszentmihalyi- 3 times fast!

I do not know if I could spell his name on my own, but Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a psychologist at the University of Chicago who has developed a theory about inner experience. According to him, the optimal moment occurs when a person is completely absorbed in whatever he or she is doing--he calls this moment, "flow." In his words, "...I developed a theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow--the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, just for the sake of doing it." 

I spend a lot of time thinking about education and classrooms, and I spend a fair amount of time thinking about running. I was thinking this week about the "cost" of Sunday's run. Fortunately, it was not fatal for anyone, but for me (and I think for a whole bunch of other people), it was an experience of "flow." What I have been flipping around in my mind is the general disconnect between school and the experience of "flow"--how many people ever have moments of being so involved in what is happening in school that they lose track of time? Over 135 people were so committed to "the sake of doing" Ohlone that they pushed themselves through extremely difficult conditions. While there were some who realized more pushing would have been dangerous, and others who ended up in grave danger, what is impressive is the commitment demonstrated by all involved. What would our schools look like if they were places that inspired this kind of dedication to a goal? What would a school look like, full of the joy of extremely hard work? That's what long distance running IS--finding joy in extremely hard work. I am so NOT someone who will bemoan today's students as lacking in work ethic--I was a good student but nothing in school ever inspired me to push myself the way running does, and I think this is really sad. To be a little grandiose, what would our world look like if we created opportunities for everyone to become this involved in what they were passionate about? 

Enough philosophizing for the night...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Alum Rock Park- who knew?

Alum Rock Park
Penetencia Creek Trail
(3.31 miles)

Oh, the soreness! My quads are not what they normally are... in fact, they are but pitiful players at the moment. Every time I ran down the slightest hill (and I do mean slight), my quads barked their protest. 

And yet... a new trail today! In San Jose! 

I have been coming to San Jose for the past year and grumbling about all the trail running I *haven't* done while I was there. San Jose made me get a gym membership, for heaven's sake! Imagine my surprise when I found out there was a park with trails... less than 2 miles from one of the schools at which I coach teachers. Instead of going to the gym, I could have been running at Alum Rock Park during lunch breaks. (Insert more grumbling here...) 

In any case, thanks to José, I made the acquaintance of Alum Rock Park today. We went on a short run (but after Sunday's epic journey, I think that was appropriate), and I was suitably impressed with this urban gem. I'm a big fan of parks that people actually USE. (Yes, this should make me love Tilden, I KNOW.) I got there at 6:30 and in the 15 minutes I spent waiting for José, easily 5 different groups of people got out for a quick evening jog, walk or mountain bike. Go people of San Jose-- use your public parks to be healthy!

This park is also the closest thing I've seen to Sycamore Canyon in Santa Barbara, and it made me a little homesick. Once above the oak trees, San Jose's hills are covered with grasslands (much like Ohlone), whereas Santa Barbara's are mostly chaparral, but the oaks and sycamores stretching over the stream we ran alongside made me feel like I was back climbing 

Apparently on the weekend, if you don't park in the small parking lot outside of the kiosk, you must pay to park... and four-legged furry friends are not welcome here, but I will be back to explore more of the midweek options (perhaps not until the fall) at this lovely Tuesday surprise. 

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ohlone Post-Post Mortem

Well, the results of Ohlone came out today, and I felt much better about things-- everyone was so much slower because of the heat, I actually placed better than I did last year! 

Here's me at the end of the race-- courtesy of Louis' photography. You can see that I'm a little out of it.... and a very funny picture of me getting attacked by my running buddies-- notice the tongue on Teco the Licker...

Lastly, me with some other fool-crazy runners. L-R, Mike (first 50K, won Rookie of the Year award), me, Catra (she actually ran the course THREE times in a row, completing 100 miles instead of the measly 50K), Glorybelle/Lillie (winner of the other Rookie of the Year award) and Danny. 

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ohlone 50K

Ohlone 50K
Fremont-Livermore (Del Valle Reservoir)
(31 miles)

Good Things about today:

1) I finished.
2) The course is beautiful.
3) People came to see me at the end!

I can't say that I actually spent that much time thinking about #2, because I spent a lot more time being very hot and wanting the run to be over. However, when I *did* get a chance to look up, the Ohlone wilderness is stunning. Hot, harsh and steep, but stunning nevertheless.

I'm not going to go into a long description of the whole race (it felt long enough as it was!) but here's a quick high/low light summary. 

Going up to Mission Peak (picture to the right) I held back more than last year, where I ended up running with Rena Schumann, who has run oh, a TON of ultras and is a) really experienced and b) fast. This should have been a clue for me last year, but I ignored it. This year, I was trying to hold back more at the beginning, thinking that I would have more power for the climb to Rose if I didn't leave it all on Mission Peak. (Click here for an elevation profile of the course. It's a little insane.)

I felt absolutely great going into Sunol from Mission Peak. There are some amazing views as the trail descends, and I felt relaxed and loving the race. When I stopped at the Sunol aid station though, my legs seemed suddenly much more tired than I thought they were, which was my first inclination that I might not breeze up the hills to Rose Peak. 

I will say this: I think the training run we did a couple of weeks ago really helped, because it felt like I got to the Backpack aid station and the Goat Rock aid stations much faster than I expected. (Having the Garmin helped, too.) The really long and painful slog came after the Goat Rock station up to Rose Peak. It felt like the trail went on and on and up and up. And it was hot. Did I mention that yet? Very, very hot. (There were actually two people who needed major medical attention (helicoptered out) due to heat exhaustion, and more than usual who did not finish because of the heat.) I did a lot of walking on this section. 

One of my favorite moments in the whole race came at the top of Rose Peak (picture at the start), where I had just picked up my "no-cheating" plastic bracelet and snapped the above picture. The man passing me (probably just a couple of years younger than my dad) asked if I wanted him to take a picture of me, and I said no, that I wasn't really looking my cutest. He stopped and said, "Well, I think you're looking pretty good right now!" Thank you, sir, for making me smile at the top of a hot and grueling climb!

After that? Well, let's just say that I spent a lot of time a) being mad that I had forgotten how much uphill was still left after Rose Peak and b) wanting the race to be finished. 'Nuff said. 

The other great part of my day was being met at the finish line by a support team! I think the last time I had people come out to see me finish a race was in 1996-- and it made such a difference! Thanks to Chelsea, Louis, Ella, Kyle (who brought the pups), Jenn, and Alex, who biked from El Cerrito to Livermore yesterday, for coming out to see me finish. Eating great food in the shade and hanging out with you guys was the best ending to a race I've ever had!

And from a trail perspective--this area is definitely worth more exploration. I've said before I would love to come back and run more of Sunol, but Del Valle Reservoir is full of stuff to do after a run, like swimming, kayaking or barbecuing next to the lake. I think it would be fun to come out, do a run before it got too hot, then spend the rest of the day lounging around in and out of the water. 

Not sure how many new trails I'll be doing this week....

Saturday, May 17, 2008

In Our Own Backyard- March 15th-October 12th

Support the Oakland Museum! 

No running (resting for tomorrow's odyssey)--instead, my mom and I went to see the Oakland Museum's photography exhibit on the East Bay Regional Park District. It was absolutely worth it, and I highly recommend visiting in the next couple of months. The exhibit consists of photographs entirely by Bob Walker, who took more than 40,000 images of East Bay Regional Parks. According to the exhibit, he started visiting the parks because he wanted a place to walk his dog, and from there, he fell in love with the parks and used his photography skills to advocate for protecting several different open spaces in the East Bay. 

Like everything else in the Oakland Museum, the exhibit is moderately sized but extremely well-chosen. Many different aspects of the East Bay Regional Parks are highlighted, and there is a great section on one of the current open space issues in the Bay Area--that of the North Richmond Shoreline--which is actually in MY backyard, being a Richmond resident. 

The whole exhibit left me very grateful for the efforts Bob Walker and many other people have made to preserve the stunning open spaces in and around the urban centers of the East Bay. It even got me thinking about how to get more involved with the struggle to preserve what little open space still exists in Richmond. 

One of the other current exhibits is called Cool Remixed: Bay Area Urban Art and Culture Now. I appreciated the juxtaposition of this exhibit, mostly the work of Oakland urban youth, with the generally people-free images in the Bob Walker exhibit. The treasure of the Bay Area is both--a highly urban population, with escapes routes for those times in which we need solitude, or the chance to run 31 miles without touching pavement, as I will do tomorrow with a bunch of other crazy trail runners!

So hie thee hence to the Oakland Museum of California. Plus, there is a quote in the exhibit by Gambolin' Man, whose blog I absolutely recommend checking out for beautiful pictures and literary luminescence....

Friday, May 16, 2008

Exercising in the Heat...

So there was no running today, and while I must go get my house ready for a dinner party, I was sipping a Friday afternoon beer and reposing a minute before I started chopping. While messing around looking at different running sites and blogs, I came across a link to this article about running in the heat. It's very interesting-- and then I flipped through their archive and found several more articles about heat and exercise. While I wouldn't say that I'm now looking forward to the oven I predict I will be running in on Sunday, it's fascinating to know that the heat-induced slow down is your brain's way of making sure your body does not overheat. At least, that's the truncated version of it all. I'm going to spend some more time reading through later tonight or tomorrow, but I thought I would share it here as well. Definitely worth reading!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Briones Crest: Sans Vache

Briones Crest
(Seaborg- Briones Crest- Old Briones Road)
(6.89 miles)

96.8 Fahrenheit today. At least, that's the Garmin reading of the situation. This makes me feel better, because Sunday's predicted temperature (as of right now) in Sunol is 93-- a whole THREE DEGREES cooler. This is great news, because today was hot. WAY hot. I'm now worried I'm going to go out too fast just because I want to finish before it gets ridiculously hot... like it was in Briones today.

Having said all that, today's run was a winner. No dogs today because I didn't know how much water there would be and I also didn't want to have to traipse around in the foxtails avoiding herds of cattle. (Of course, that means I saw very few cows... with plenty of space to go around the ones that I DID see!) 

Anyway, parked at the cheap spot outside the Bear Creek Entrance, although since it was a weekday, no one was at the kiosk and apparently I could have parked inside without paying. I followed the paved road toward the archery range, at which point I took the Seaborg trail to the right. (On the map I have at home it's called Homestead Valley, but the Briones brochure called it Seaborg.) This trail spent a brief moment on a relatively even plane, then began to ascend sharply once it entered an oak grove. 

Briones is not Marin, nor is it Tilden. Briones in the summer (probably like Mt. Diablo and Sunol, I'm sure) is HARSH. If you can cope with high temperatures though, or run earlier in the morning, Briones can be spectacular. At the intersection of Seaborg and Briones Crest, I went left, following Briones Crest and was treated to a series of postcard views of Mt. Diablo like the one above. Eventually the powers of the trail decided it was time for me to stop resting while I took yet another Mt. Diablo view as the trail dropped a bit below the ridge, only to climb up to a view of Mt. Tamalpais and the Bay in the distance. Admittedly, at this point I was rather hot and cranky, and rather less overwhelmed with the beauty of my surroundings than normal circumstances would dictate. 

And yet, continuing on Briones Crest Trail, the trail tipped over a ridge and suddenly I had a view of the Carquinez Strait and the Benicia Bridge with the delta spreading out into the distance. This picture does not do justice to the view--of this I am certain. This triumvirate of views added fuel to my rant about Tilden. Yeah, Tilden's great--but it does not have the quality of views Briones can claim. (Tilden's temperatures at 2:00 p.m. were probably more runnable than those today... I'll give Tilden that...) 

I will do this run again (maybe earlier in the day?), adding Mott Peak to the loop, but today I was feeling rather wilted and came down Old Briones Road, a fun, gentle descent back to the parking lot.

Overall? Great run. Unbeatable views. Perhaps an early morning (or not summer) run, but great training for Ohlone this weekend. Again, dogs are fine off-leash, but beware the cattle conundrum...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bovine Belligerence, or Why I Hate Cows

Briones Regional Park
Pereira Trail- Briones Reservoir Viewpoint
(? 3?)

This run started out well. I parked on the road near the Bear Creek Staging Area entrance so as to avoid parking fees. I thought I'd do a nice hot run to get used to running in the warmer temperatures in preparation for Sunday. Great. The puppies were ecstatic to be out, I was going to do a new trail-- things were going to be marvelous.

I did see some cows skulking about off to the side as the trail turned away from paralleling Bear Creek Road, but I thought simply that it would lessen the bovine presence later on. I took the Pereira trail when it forked left from Deer Creek and ran up a really nice little steep section that immediately gave views of the surrounding hills. I thought "What great preparation for Ohlone!" and kept running. I even snapped the first picture on my way up-- its slightly blurry focus makes me think of an oil painting. It clearly illustrates spring's final moments, small patches of green quickly losing ground to dry grasses.
Right. Once on top of the ridge, I decided to head out to the Briones Overlook detour. The trail leads out to a point from whence one can see (huge shock) Briones Reservoir. There is a stone bench dedicated to Ivan Dickson, and the trail sign up to the overlook reads "Ivan Dickson Overlook," but it was marked "Briones Reservoir Overlook" on my map. Either way, lovely spot for a pause. As can be seen, the puppies enjoyed a quick rest as well. 

As we came back to Briones Crest, there was a cow standing in the middle of the road. I thought I'd just go over the hill (off the trail) to the left of the cow and continue on my merry way. Now, perhaps if I'd had a pair of the slightly funky, ever-so-stylish Dirty Girl Gaiters, this would not have been an issue. Or perhaps if I had been wearing longer pants. Gaiterless and shorts-clad, this was a horrible idea. Every single foxtail in existence jumped onto or into my shoes--enough that they crawled into my socks and began to hurt when I walked. Plus, there were a fair number of thistles lurking amongst the foxtails that managed to draw blood *and* make my legs itchy. Additionally, I have now taken the dog to emergency three times for foxtail issues; the last thing I want to do is take her in again. When we got to the top of the hill, I looked over and realized the trail and surrounding area was covered with cows. No getting around them. 

I'm sure someone will tell me at some point about how to deal with cows, how to get them to move when and if you want them to, but thus far, my methods have been unsuccessful-particularly with the dogs. Cows in Wildcat and now Briones do not like dogs and tend (in my experience, again) to run AT the dogs instead of away. I have been tempted to let the dogs go and see if instinct will do its work, but I think the EBRPD would not approve of amateur cow-herding. 

So in attempting to avoid the cows, we backtracked a bit and then started to take a short un-cowed connector trail to where Deer Creek met up with Briones Crest. All was well until we rounded the corner and found multiple cows on and around the trail AGAIN. At this point, I was done pulling nonsense out of my socks and I was done with cows, so I decided to turn around and run back... only to find the first group of cows had left their dark corner and were now scattered over the trail as well, necessitating a quick climb over a hill and through multiple foxtails once more. 

I might be back at Briones tomorrow though--it's probably the closest I can get to replicating Ohlone conditions without driving down the 680 AGAIN, and my run today didn't exactly last long enough to get used to the heat.

This was the start of a great run. Loved the overlook, hated the cows. Bring your dogs, have them off leash, but may you meet no cows....

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Summer Week Richmond 2008

So I don't need anyone to tell me this is a picture of a road, on a blog that is supposed to be about trails. I took this picture just to let everyone know it's Summer Week in Richmond (that's all we get here--normally it's gale force winds by 2:00 p.m.), and the hills are turning color FAST. Those hills were verdant beauty two weeks ago-- they are fading even as I ran by them today! 

No new trail today-- I'm trying to take it easy before Ohlone this weekend...which promises to be very, very warm. Must remember my S-caps and hydrate often...

Lots of wildflowers are starting to disappear from the heat. The purple vetch covering the hillside less than two weeks ago is gone, but I found this wild sweet pea blooming by the side of the trail today. This may be the last of the spring runs--from here on out, we're drying up!

Finally, a quotation about running that might well be about life:

"Each time you run you will receive lessons. You have enrolled in the school of ultrarunning. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid. What you think makes no difference; the lessons will be presented until they are learned." - Keith Pippin

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Kent Lake

Kent Lake
Alpine Lake Dam start, Alpine-Kent Pump Road
(9.09 miles)

Normally I wouldn't call any run in Marin secret-- Marin is trail runner mecca, and a hub of activity on the weekends. And yet, if I was going to call a run in Marin secret, this would be it. People flock to Tennessee Valley, Phoenix Lake or Deer Park Elementary trailheads on the weekend, but few make the drive to get to Alpine Lake Dam and this out-and-back trail.

This run was suggested to me by a friend, and I'm not sure I would have picked it without his suggestion. Even this morning, while driving to the trailhead, I had a moment of thinking that it was too much driving from Richmond and maybe I should just go from Natalie Coffin Greene. Once I got past the place we started to Alpine Lake a couple of weeks ago on the Bolinas-Fairfax road, I became so enthralled with the scenery that it became worth it--even getting to this trailhead is gorgeous. The trailhead starts right at the Alpine Lake Dam, right off the Bolinas-Fairfax road. There is minimal parking on the roadside, but apparently there is more parking 1/4 mile up the road at the Cataract Road trailhead. At first I was thrown off by the locked gate to the right of the dam, but then I saw the Kent Pump trail sign just past the gate and ducked under it.

I was saying to my brother tonight that writing about trails has made me pay more attention to the microclimates I pass through as I run. Today's run put me in mind of the Sierra foothills (Oakhurst? Maybe a little higher?) rather than Marin. Even from the start, pine trees mix with redwoods--the smell says Sierras rather than coastal climes. I did not have the impression of being in Marin today, and Sierra foothill-like running for 20 minutes more of driving is
 not bad. 

The trail was easy, too. This is probably the only trail in Marin where one can run a relatively flat trail for 9 miles, but it was nice to run a continuous pace. The trail runs along the old Kent pump (hence the name) and it occasionally pops out into view, furthering the comparison to the Sierra foothills--I thought the wooden structure supporting it looked like an old mining track (minus the pump, of course). On second thought (and some minimal research) I do not know if it's out of use, as the lake is a current water source. I should make a list of all the questions my runs have inspired and go find answers to them...

Finally, this trail begins and ends at Alpine Lake Dam, worth seeing in its own right. I would bet that far more roadies see this dam than most--it seemed to be a regular snack stop, which is understandable, considering the view. From one side, Alpine Lake sparkles, surrounded by trees, and to the other, the dam drops down steeply. Apparently in the winter and early spring, watching the dam spill warrants a visit.

This trail is also dog friendly. You can have your dog on a leash without a problem, and based on the small number of people I saw on a Sunday morning, I wonder how many people would actually be around during the week to see if the dog was on or off the leash...
Today's run felt pretty easy, which I am taking as a good sign for next week's run. I think I'm probably in good shape to run a solid half-marathon. Too bad it's a 50K. 

Saturday, May 10, 2008

My Mom: The O.R.F.

O.R.F.= Original Running Female

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about daily practice (see previous posting), and how we get to it. In the past, friends have asked me how I manage to be consistent about getting a run in (or some other form of exercise) almost every day. 

I believe that a major part of how I got into sports in the first place was my dad's influence, and I'm not trying to discount his support at all, but when I think about the most consistent model in my life of daily exercise, I think of my mother.

My mom did not grow up in an athletic family, nor did she grow up in an era where women did a lot of sports. Somehow (maybe because of my dad, I don't really know), she started running. Raising two kids with a ton of after school activities and working full time (not to mention preparing a home-cooked meal every night) did not leave tons of extra hours, and my mom got up at 5:30 and ran before work every day. Most days she had finished her run and shower by the time I woke up, but it was always there. Daily exercise was just something you DID, irrespective of the other drama happening in your life. She didn't make a production of it--it wasn't Big Deal Running, it was just a daily practice. Sometimes she ran races, but she always made sure she got some exercise in.

Knowing many people in social work careers (teaching, non-profits, etc.), I have seen many people (particularly women) put others' needs ahead of theirs to the point of ill-health. Now, my mother is not the woman I learned to relax from, nor did I learn from her that sometimes indulging oneself is a good thing. She did teach me (through her actions) about holding a time sacrosanct every day for herself alone. It could be argued that my mother has so much excess energy that getting some of that energy out every day actually benefitted us as well, but she taught me it was possible to have a hectic life and keep some time sacred for oneself. I learned to carve out time every day for something I need, something that keeps me healthy.

I spent a year being a single foster parent for a teenager, and while it was one of the most profoundly amazing years I have ever had, it was also one of the most exhausting (I have SO MUCH respect for single parents!). Running was one of the anchors that pulled me through that year. No matter what was happening, I got out and ran, and I can thank my mother for setting the framework (perhaps completely unwittingly) for this practice. 

In a recent conversation, a friend remarked that when you set a boundary, in a sense, you are saying "I love myself." I grew up with a woman whose running said every day that she loved herself, that she was worth taking the time for, whether or not she framed it to herself this way. Because of this I have never questioned whether I was worth taking the time to make sure I do what I need to stay healthy. My mother gave me a powerful gift, even if she never knew (well, until she reads this) what I received. 

One of the clichés in teaching says "Modeling is the most powerful teacher," but like any cliché, it became a cliché because there is a large element of truth to it (otherwise, why would people repeat it)? I learned more from my mom's daily actions about taking time for my own needs and caring for myself than anywhere else. Modeling: the gift that keeps on giving... Seriously though, I think this quality of my mother's (that I have now made my own) has supported me every day more than almost anything else I can think of. I'm sure that she had no idea when she got up and put her running shoes on every morning that this commitment to herself (which is what taking care of yourself is) would end up supporting her daughter--but it did.

Happy Mother's Day to the Original Running Female in my life!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

While doctorating...

Quick thoughts for the day:

1) I think it's time to start easing off before Ohlone.

2) I realized today that nutrition (particularly iron) is important when upping mileage. 

3) Rest is important and probably the hardest for me to be consistent about. (There's so much to be excited and obsessive about in the world--who wants to sleep?)

4) Leftovers made into a new dish are one of my favorite things ever. (With my Garmin and a Tarte Tatin and lots of other stuff...)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

East Bay Regional Parks: Photography Exhibit

Oh yeah. Another non-running (but related to trails of the East Bay!) event happening: the Oakland Museum's current photography exhibit is completely centered on the East Bay Regional Parks. I have not been, but I definitely want to go before the exhibit closes in October.

It's a two for one! Learn about all the different ecosystems of California, AND celebrate the beauty of the regional parks, where we find the majority of trails in the East Bay.

Golden Spike Redwood

Dunn/Golden Spike Loop
West Ridge- Graham- Dunn- Golden Spike- Monteiro- Dunn- Baccharis-West Ridge
(8.36 miles)

This was a great new trail for a midweek run. The trail started at the Skyline Gate parking lot, leading to the right on West Ridge. The West Ridge trail runs in and out of shaded areas and sunny, dry areas that put me in mind of Santa Barbara chaparral. West Ridge leads mainly downhill, but this section gently rolls as opposed to some of the steep drops coming later.

It was a little unclear at times if I had reached a trail junction as opposed to a short trail
 leading to the neighborhood nearby, and I needed to stop several times to check my map. However, upon reflection, every time I came to a junction, there was a clear sign. Lesson for Redwood: if there is no sign, it's not a junction. Keep running.

At the intersection of West Ridge and Graham, the trail leads to the right and drops sharply. There is plenty of chance to practice technical downhill running on this trail--there were one or two sections where I did not practice my newfound technique but almost walked, it was so steep. 

Graham trail runs through huge redwoods until the junction with Dunn. At this point, the trail leaves the shade and continues to drop down, offering chances to practice quick footwork over big sandstone rocks. I almost took Dunn back but then decided to add a couple of more miles and turned right instead of left, heading towards the EBRPD building. This section gets a little tricky, because it seemed like there were several places to turn off, but eventually I ended up at the Golden Spike turnoff.

I have no idea why the trail is named Golden Spike, but this is a trail worth running. Single track, no bikers (I only saw one other person the whole time I was on the trail-- for a run in Redwood after work, that's pretty impressive.) and probably very muddy in the spring. The trail starts low and almost immediately I found myself running up some very steep switchbacks. The steep uphill sections are not excessively long, but they definitely work the legs. I kept telling myself that practicing uphill in the second half of the run would be good for Ohlone, too. This is a beautiful trail--it winds through trees, offering glimpses of views through the trees and steadily ascending until the Monteiro
 trail junction. The Monteiro trail continues up the hill... as does the Baccharis trail-- all the way until ending up back on West Ridge, which I took back to the parking lot.

Again, Redwood is a great place for the pups-- lots of happy dogs bounding down the trails today. It's also worth running Redwood right now to see the plethora of wildflowers lining the trails. Sticky Monkey Flower can last in the heat of summer, but many of the tiny wildflowers out now will not last past a few hot weekends. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Being in the Present: Part II

Today, I was doing an observation in a high school class and one of the students said, as he walked in, "Nice tattoo." (I was wearing a dress that showed my (gasp) ankles and calves.) I got my tattoo when I turned 30, and it makes me happy every time I look at it.

I'm not going to tell the story of how the tattoo came into existence, except that I am glad that Ivan managed to take my ramblings (and ridiculous sketch) and turn them into something exquisite.

My tattoo is a red lotus intertwined with a tiger face. The lotus is the symbol of wholeness--it has beautiful petals that cannot exist without roots that dive down deep into the gunk of the swamp. The tiger, to me, symbolizes power that is content with itself. It does not try to be anything other than what it is-- a big cat. 

I have been thinking lately about how I have steadily increased my mileage, and the problems that have plagued me before (notably knee issues) are not there. I think that some of it probably has to do with better technique, but I have been wondering about how much of it is due to my own level of contentment, which is quite possibly at an all-time high. This has meant that I feel much more relaxed on runs, even when they are long and arduous. Check out this blog for some more ideas on the connection between running and intuition, but for now, I will leave you with yet another quote by one of my favorite authors:

"Expansion never happens through greediness or pushing or striving. It happens through some combination of learning to relax where you already are and, at the same time, keeping the possibility open that your capacity, my capacity, the capacity of all beings, is limitless. As we continue to relax where we are, our opening expands." (Pema Chodron)

Monday, May 5, 2008

Loving the Plateau

My supervisor/ boss/ colleague/ quasi older brother suggested our team of three read, in order to frame our work for the next year, a book called Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment by George Leonard. Leonard talks about "loving the plateau," that is, the time between spurts of growth or change that we normally call "achievement" or "progress." 

Despite its metaphor for life (which I will permit you, gentle readers, to extrapolate for yourselves), I have been thinking about its relevance to my own running. I am looking forward to Ohlone, as I haven't run a race since December (flakage on Sunday's tri duly noted), but I was thinking the other day about how much this blog has brought me back to the daily practice. I'm definitely running strong (well, for me anyway), yet I am reminded by Leonard's words how the present moment of practice, the never-ending grind of getting out, putting on my shoes and showing up for a run is what really counts:

"Practice, the path of mastery, exists only in the present...To love the plateau is to love the eternal now, to enjoy the inevitable spurts of progress and the fruits of accomplishment, then serenely to accept the new plateau that waits just beyond them. To love the plateau is to love what is most essential and enduring in your life." (George Leonard)

Enjoy your plateau.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bon Tempe Gorgeousness

Bon Tempe Lake
Ross Commons- Natalie Coffin Greene- Phoenix Lake- Shaver Grade- Hidden Grove- Sunnyside- Shadyside- Pumpkin- Madrone- Fish Gulch- Phoenix Lake
(9.98 miles)

Alpine Lake might be my new favorite lake in Marin, but this run has the sentimental factor going for it. I have run this loop many times, and it's one of the tried and true runs in my book.

Getting started with this run is a big tricky, especially on the weekends. Natalie Coffin Greene should be the trailhead, but the parking lot is miniscule and trying to find parking on the weekend is a good joke. (Today there were at least three cars waiting for people to leave the lot when I went through.) Thanks to Ross' highly territorial parking restrictions (do not tempt them either-- I misread a sign and ended up with a $30 ticket once--more expensive than I generally want my runs to be), you are not permitted to park anywhere along Lagunitas Road until you get to Ross Commons, almost a mile from the trailhead. During the week, parking can be found by the tennis courts, but parking is prohibited here on the weekends. I don't get it, but in a county that didn't want Bart in the 1970's, I suppose it all makes sense.

From Natalie Coffin Greene, the fire road leads up to Phoenix Lake, following the lake until Phoenix Junction. At Phoenix Junction, I took Shaver up and up, past the Five Corners (six, actually) trail junction and continued up Shaver until crossing Sky Oaks road. The trail follows the road for a hundred yards or so until the tiny Hidden Grove trail forks to the left. It is possible to continue straight on the road and end up at Bon Tempe Dam, but I prefer Hidden Grove, both for the view of Bon Tempe coming over the hill, and also because it provides more time to run on the Sunnyside trail.

Sunnyside is, as its name promises, the hotter, sunnier side of this trail. It is also the side of the trail one is more likely to see fishermen casting from lakeside, dry grasses and big oak trees- a completely different ecosystem than Shadyside. I also ran past a man who looked old enough to be my grandfather (definitely older than my father) who was wearing what looked to be a Quad Dipsea shirt. Thank you sir, for reminding me that running a 50K in my 30s is not the pinnacle of greatness I can aspire to. Talk about upping the ante! Despite my irritation with Marin's parking pitfalls and its lack of trails where dogs can be off-leash, Marin has a long and glorious history of trail running, and it is sometimes possible to see people on the trail who might have been around for all of it and who are still out there running. This alone is enough to make me feel inspired while running in Marin--I run by someone who has obviously seen a few years (and a lot of miles) on the trail and I am reminded that even if I can't trip the light fantastic the way I could when I was 20, there are a lot more miles of trail spreading out ahead of me.

Back to the run-- the trail goes over the dam and then to Bon Tempe's Shadyside. Instantly, the temperature drops, making this a great trail to run on a hot day. It's hard to believe, looking at the picture to the left and the first one, that these microclimates are literally steps away from each other. (As an aside, Oakland's Museum of California has a marvelous permanent exhibit on the different ecosystems of California- no other state has as many!) Shadyside eventually winds around to the Lagunitas Picnic Area. If you want to add crazy mileage and elevation gain to your run, this is a great place to run up Mt. Tamalpais, but today I was not ready to add so much more.

From here, it's possible to head straight down to Phoenix Lake by way of Fish Grade, but I decided to add a little loop, taking Pumpkin Ridge to Madrone, then back to Fish Gulch which parallels Fish Grade and eventually ends up at Phoenix Junction, where I retraced my steps back to the car. This loop adds a little uphill on Pumpkin Ridge, but the downhill on Madrone is tons of fun, and the trees for which the trail is named (Pacific Madrones) are beautiful, with even smoother bark than Manzanita.

It is possible to take dogs on this trail, provided they are on leash. This is also a great picnic area--benches and gorgeous views abound, should one decide to stop the running for a snacky-poo. All in all, one of my favorite running routes in Marin. Highly recomended.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Mezue Trail

Mezue Trail
Wildcat Creek- Belgum- San Pablo Ridge- Mezue- Wildcat Creek
(5.98 miles)

If anyone was wondering, I love my Garmin. Love it, love it, love it. It's pretty much the greatest thing ever. Well, apart from a perfectly cooked Tarte Tatin, or maybe an unexpected massage, or the last two movements in Bach's Sonata Number 2 in A minor for solo violin. Or a couple of unmentionable kinds of moments. Excepting all THAT, my Garmin is fantastic. My brother is becoming a fan, too. So I am converting more people to running geekdom. Garmin should appreciate my efforts on its behalf.

Anyway, for lack of vehicular motivation, we opted to run in Wildcat again today. We ran the Mezue trail, normally voted "Most Likely to Have Bovine Encounters." One memory I have of this trail involves Jen yelling at a cow, "Get away, you big stupid piece of beef!" Cows in Wildcat are not as docile as they are in Briones. The cows at Briones tried to get away from the dogs and me last time I was there--cows at Wildcat have run AT us (with absolutely no provocation, might I add-- I make the dogs heel around the herd). If you can get over the cows though, this is another dreamy trail.

Mezue starts off like Havey Canyon-- from the parking lot at Alvarado Staging Area, up Wildcat Creek trail until Belgum, at which point you climb straight up to San Pablo Ridge and run with the entire Bay Area spread out around you-- Mt. Diablo in the distance to the left, three bridges and the city on the other side of a glittering blue bay to your right. This trail confirmed what I wrote yesterday-- it's better than the Sea View trail in Tilden.

Once over the rather strenuous uphills, the trail forks just before a corral. I have never seen livestock actually in the corral, but it's a good marking for the Mezue turnoff. The Mezue trail forks right and after a short climb, follows a beautiful downhill stretch (fast, fast!) until the water fountain at the trail intersection with Wildcat Creek, at which point the trail follows the well-used Wildcat Creek trail back to the parking lot.

The one caveat I would present is the muddy slop trail runners will find during the wet season. Most of the run dries out fast, as it's exposed for most of the run, but the cow-dominated section is also the muddiest--during rainy season, expect to spent at least a quarter mile unable to run through the sticky East Bay mud. (I swear, the mud in Wildcat and Tilden has a higher clay content than the mud in Marin, but no one has confirmed or denied said hypothesis yet.)

Beyond that, this trail is another which gets far less use than one would expect for such an accessible trail. We saw just two groups of people, two single hikers and two bikers once we turned off Wildcat Creek trail. As can be seen in the picture, my two running buddies love this trail-- again, dogs under voice control can be off-leash in Wildcat, and when you have two border collies at the house, this is a very, very good thing.