Monday, December 21, 2009

Red Rock 40: Finally an Ultrarunner...

Red Rock 40

Remember when this was a running blog? I mean, remember when I actually BLOGGED? Yeah. Pretty exciting... and rather long ago, I realize.

Well, I'm finally catching up with this race and then I have another race to post as well, in which I'm going to tell you what I've realized about running this year. So you have a whole TWO postings to look forward to.

Hold on to yer hats, ladies 'n gents. The excitement just doesn't cease.

Anyway, I have to talk about this race first. I've talked about this race a few times. This race, along with the 50 mile distance, was my "vendetta" race. In '07, I DNF'd this race due to knee issues. Then last year, I was recovering from a broken foot and not ready to race. FINALLY, this year, I was healthy and ready to run.

Ready to run with not just a little trepidation, however. When you have tried to do anything more than once, and not accomplished it, there's always a bit of the "what-if" factor. (For those of you who have not read the Shel Silverstein poem, "The Whatifs," I highly recommend you stop what you are doing and go read it now for the best description of the "what-if" factor.) What if my knee started hurting again? What if Firetrails was a total fluke and I couldn't really run that far without collapsing? What if I wasn't really an ultrarunner and it was going to take this race to really find out? (I'd go on, but I think you probably get the picture...)

Anyway, I went down to Santa Barbara to spend Thanksgiving with my parents. We had a lovely meal (outside!) with some friends and then did the now traditional (because twice= tradition) wine tasting the day before at Jaffurs (my father's comment: "it will keep you relaxed") and I woke up early on Saturday morning, heading for Red Rock.

I've talked a little about this race before, but humor me with 20 seconds of background. This race used to be Santa Barbara 9 Trails, which was all Santa Barbara front country trails. (Front country= ocean side of the Los Padres mountain range.) Due to the Jesusita Fire last spring, the course had to be moved, and RD Luis Escobar decided to start it from Red Rock, which is considered Santa Barbara back country. From Red Rock, the course headed up towards Cold Springs Saddle, then down to meet up with the original course until Romero Canyon, at which point it turned around and followed the same trail back. (With an additional 5 miles...) I had run the first 7.5 miles of the course over Labor Day and was really looking forward to the run.

We started in the dark, a small group of runners, only one of whom I knew at all. (Suzanna Bon, the eventual womens' winner, was another Bay Area representative.) In true trailrunner fashion, however, friends were easy to make, and I found myself 4 miles into the race in the company of a bunch of hardcore women. For a mile or so, I ran with two women who had completed more than 15 Ironman triathlons apiece, the 2nd place finisher, and another woman who had completed at least 2 100 milers. For some reason, there were no men around for this section of the course, and someone remarked on how we were running with a bunch of impressive women. It's true. We were.

I ended up running for a few miles with Kathy, one of the "Trail Hoes" (FABULOUS sweatshirts!) and the eventual 2nd place winner. (She's not in that picture, by the way, but IS in the picture here.) For some reason, I thought that because I was running with her, I should not pay attention to my own nutrition needs, but follow hers-- and she didn't need calories the way I apparently did. She had pulled ahead by the time we hit Cold Springs Saddle, but for some reason, I decided I didn't need to monitor my own nutritional needs, and if I felt decent, that was a good reason to not eat. (Yeah, it's probably as bright as it sounds at this point.)

Really though, I didn't eat because I was feeling great and didn't want to mess with the "magic." And the race was feeling pretty magical at this point. I mean, really-- when you see the views we had at every turn? How could you NOT feel like it was a magic race? (I'll explain how in a minute, don't worry.) I was SO happy though-- I love Santa Barbara county and I think the trails are gorgeous. They're completely different than the Bay Area, but wherever I looked, I had an amazing view. I could have stopped and enjoyed the view for hours.

I came in to the turnaround and was extremely happy to see my parents. It's very rare in my races that I ever see anyone who's not already connected to running, and seeing my parents (who think I'm crazy for all this (extremely) long-distance running stuff) come out to support me was a huge boost. I had some food (not enough) and took off again, totally surprised to find out that I was in 4th place at that point.

Ha ha ha ha. Then the non-eating caught up to me and about 20.5 miles into the race, I crashed BIG TIME. I realized that my non-eating plan was about the dumbest thing I could have done, because I was totally out of gas. Unfortunately for me, this was also probably THE hardest section of the entire course. The trail out of Romero Canyon is ridiculously un-runnable. It goes straight up, and then straight down. It does this for a good 5 miles, and then it climbs straight up for the next 3 miles until you reach Cold Springs Saddle again. Grueling, difficult running. Especially on not enough calories.

This was the dark part of the race. A couple of people asked me if I was ok as they passed me (never a good sign). At one point, I went to pull my salt caps and ibuprofen bag out of my hydration pack, and the hole in the bag (that I had not noticed) spilled them all over the trail. All of them. Fortunately, at that point I had regained enough sanity to see the humor in the situation, but I was very close to weeping openly at the silliness of losing all my salt caps and painkiller in the worst section of the trail.

What I found fascinating even at that moment though, was the certainty that even though I felt like crap, I knew I'd get through it and that it would get better. I kept telling myself that if I could just get to the top of Cold Springs Saddle, I would be fine. And really, I knew I *would* get to the top of Cold Springs Saddle. I knew the aid station would have ibuprofen and salt caps if I really needed them, and I knew that I'd eventually make it up there.

The trailrunners I met supported my theory that trailrunners are the best people ever. As I dragged my sorry self up towards Cold Springs Saddle, a couple asked me if I was feeling ok, and then walked me through the list-- did I have enough calories, enough salt, etc. Even in my misery, I felt taken care of, and that's a pretty good feeling to have.

Finally I got to Cold Springs Saddle, had soup, ibuprofen, salt, and some coke. The fabulous volunteer at the top made me eat a potato in her sight, because she was worried I was going to wander off down the trail without enough calories. I took a sandwich for the road and toddled off down the hill.

Here was the point that I realized that all the miles I've done this year have finally paid off. My thoughts as I left the aid station? "It's only 12 miles! Anyone can do 12 miles! You're home free!" Even in my calorie-deprived state, I paused for a moment to reflect on how I would not have made this statement a year ago. "Only 12 miles" is just under a 1/2 marathon. But it felt so doable and comfortable. Don't get me wrong-- it definitely took me a minute to finish it-- but once I was under the 12 mile mark, I knew there was no way I wouldn't finish the race.

After I left Cold Springs Saddle, I just enjoyed the last 12 miles. I stopped to take more pictures, and tried to look around me more, happy that I was getting to experience this area of Santa Barbara County that very few people ever really see.

By the time I was down to the last 4 miles, I had my mojo back and I was running pretty strong. I was met at the finish line by my parents and my aunt, who was in town for Thanksgiving and who I don't think has ever seen any of my athletic events. Having a support crew at the finish was fantastic, and made me want to come back and run this event again every year (not how I was feeling on the death march up to the saddle, might I add).

This event was pretty major for me, though. For one, I FINALLY finished an event that I had entered twice before but never finished. For another, it proved that Firetrails was not a fluke. That race seemed so magical that I had wondered if I was really capable of doing that again. This race, particularly since a good 8 miles of it were not wonderful or magical in the least (in fact, they sucked), proved to me that yes, I can have a crappy part of my race and still finish. Rick said after Firetrails that "Good trouble shooters finish many races." I didn't run as fast as I did at Firetrails at ALL (in fact, the race was 10 miles longer and it took me 30 minutes more to finish!) but I feel so much more confident that I can have a lame section of a race and get back on track. This race (because of the death march section) made me feel much more than Firetrails that I might be able, finally, to call myself an ultrarunner.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Miler- Finally!

Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Miler

Wow. It's 8 am on Sunday, the day after Firetrails, and I'm completely awake. I've checked email and refreshed my Facebook newsfeed enough times that I might as well get started writing this while it's still fresh.

(Note: there are very few pictures in this long-ish race report. Thanks to Suz for the one on the left.)

This race started in 2008 for me. I had decided after Ohlone that I wanted to sign up for my first 50 miler. I had planned to run Skyline to the Sea as a last training run, and we all know how that went. Dick Collins last year was spent handing out awards at the finish line, pink cast on my foot.

Fast forward to April of this year. I still wanted to run a 50 miler, so I signed up for the American River, which, thanks to my knee making a painful appearance, became American River 18. (Not to disparage AR50, but the 18 miles of paved bike path--and there was more after that--was one thing that let me get over the DNF. I run trails because I like dirt.)

By this point, I was feeling pretty frustrated. In the last year, I had met a bunch of ultrarunners who were talking about what 100s they'd run, or were planning to run, and I have been asked a couple of times if I'd run a 100 yet. (And yes, the word was "yet.") I said no, I had yet to run a 50 miler.

Needless to say, by the time yesterday morning rolled around, there was a bit riding on this day for me. I REALLY wanted to finish this race. I was also pretty happy that I was back attempting my first (completed) 50 on East Bay trails. I have a lot of East Bay love, and it seemed very appropriate to be running a milestone race on hometown trails.

My main goal was to finish, and to have a good time while running. I knew there would be tons of people I knew out on the course, either running, spectating or volunteering, and I was looking forward to spending the day getting to see everyone. In the back of my head, I had a "if everything goes perfectly" goal-- to break 10 hours--but I didn't tell anyone this, as I didn't think it was very likely.

I drove up to the Lake Chabot Marina yesterday morning in darkness--but it was already a flurry of activity, with head-lamped runners checking in, adjusting their gear and greeting each other. Many hugs were exchanged as I ran into all the people I knew who were running as we got ready for the send-off. Sooner than expected, Carl brought us over to the starting area, and we were off!

The first 2 miles (and last 2) are on the paved path that encircles Lake Chabot (but we're not going to hold that against it). I ran with Leigh and Mike, trying to start conservatively, as I have a long history of getting excited about racing and going out too fast.

As the group started to spread out, I tried to keep my pace at a comfortable, manageable speed, staying as relaxed as possible. I checked my watch around an hour and found that I was right around 10 hour pace, but since we had just started the race, I figured I'd slow down later on and stopped thinking that was an attainable goal and just kept running.

During the 2nd hour, I started to get worried, though. I was running with people that I had no business running with. Steve has completed a bunch of 100s and is MUCH faster than me, and I was keeping him in range. I ended up running with Larissa for a bit-- another runner who is WAY faster than me. I kept checking in with myself, asking if I was pushing it too hard, and reminding myself to keep it relaxed and easy. Here's the thing: it WAS feeling easy. Not easy like drinking-a-beer-on-the-couch easy, but I felt great. I was power hiking the steep hills, running everything else, and I felt marvelous.

Another very cool thing about this race: The Golden Hills Trail Marathon starts at the turn-around point and then heads back along (mostly) the same trails as Firetrails. This meant I got a huge hug from Miki while heading up one of the steeper sections toward Steam Trains, but it also meant that it was a continual stream of "good jobs" coming from runners as they passed by me. Seriously, trail runners are the best for giving each other support.

At Steam Trains (mile 21), a fellow runner was working the aid station and she looked up in surprise to see me, as I had come in just behind her boyfriend, who is also MUCH faster than me in real life. She asked me what I was doing, and I said I didn't know, but I was feeling good, so I wasn't going to question it.

I had really started trying to focus on the ultrarunner tip of concentrating just on the next aid station, and this was making things go much faster. There are tons of aid stations on this course, and each 3-4 mile section kept appearing faster than I thought it would. Even the climb from the turn-around back to Steam Trains, which is the longest stretch of uphill in the entire race, seemed to go by quickly. As I went through Steam Trains again, I heard my name being called-- Suz and her boyfriend (who is also a runner, or so I've heard...) were out cheering people on. It was especially nice of her to come out because she was planning on running FT herself (with me, even!), but a stupid knee injury had sidelined her just days before. It's easy to get bitter when you can't run a race that you were looking forward to, but they came out to support people anyway. (This is part of the reason I maintain that the trail running community has a very high percentage of quality people.)

It definitely helped to see familiar faces at Steam Trains, and I took off down the hill feeling happy and upbeat about the final 20. Incidentally, I was at least 15 minutes faster than my 50K PR time by the time I hit 31 miles, which definitely gave me a lift. (A confused lift, because I still didn't feel like I was running exceptionally hard, but a lift anyway.)

About a mile and a half away from Sibley, my knee started to hurt. I was SO MAD. It couldn't have been any more perfectly timed, either-- I go a TINY bit further than I've ever gone, and it starts to hurt. This definitely messed with my mental state, which had been ridiculously happy up until this point. I had thoughts of dropping at Sibley, because I didn't want to run 17 miles of pain, and then I got sad because I was doing so much better than I thought I was going to do-- it didn't seem fair. (And yeah, I know life is not fair, but this is my brain mid-50 miles.) However, I did stop to stretch my hips out and realized that it got better when I stretched, so I decided to keep on trucking and NOT drop at Sibley. Miles 33-37 were definitely the low point of my race. There is a very steep section out of Sibley that was PAINFUL, and people were starting to pass me, which hadn't happened much during the rest of the race.

Then there was a good section of uphill that made me feel better, and I ended up chatting with a really nice guy who was very encouraging and told me I was doing great for my first 50 miler, especially if that was my "dark moment" (which it was). People telling you that you are doing well is always helpful, and I realized that my knee wasn't going to be painful for every step, so I was feeling better about making it in.

Skyline Gate was the ending point of the dark time. Steve H gave me a big hug, I saw Suzanne again and I was so overwhelmed with the niceness of the people I know, I almost started crying. (So maybe I was a little tired at this point, too...) I also realized that I was going to finish this thing-- even if my knee got worse and I had to slow way down for the last 13 miles. This resolve was tested as I headed down Stream, but Steve (fast person from much earlier in the race) caught back up with me as I was walking and asked me if I'd taken any ibuprofen. I was trying to avoid it, but I realized that one round would probably fine, so I did. And what do you know-- drugs help. Seriously, I think it loosened up my hips, which meant that my knee was running in a better position, and it generally stopped hurting.

From there, things generally improved little by little, as I realized I was getting closer to the finish line, and that I was going to absolutely break my "if everything goes perfectly" goal time. By the time I hit Bort Meadows, I was feeling SO good about the day, I ran the next 3 (blissfully flat) miles holding around 8:30s, and feeling much more fabulous than I thought I would have been feeling at that point.

From there, it was a short 3 miles (with some lame hills on the first mile!) to the finish line. I finished in 9:33, much faster than I would have ever remotely thought myself capable of.

A few take-aways from the day:

1) Training helps. (Who knew?) I have been running more long runs this past couple of months than I ever have.

2) While I didn't have any major stomach issues, I don't think I was eating enough either because nothing appealed except for coke and watermelon and the occasional 1/4 sandwich. (This is particularly tragic because Ann Trason, the RD, baked all week to have about 3 kajillion different kinds of yummy-ness at the aid stations. Not eating chocolate chip cookies was one of the few sad things of the day.) If I'm going to run more than 50 miles, I need to figure this out--especially if there are delicious baked goods available.

3) Running on trails I knew= HUGE. It was a major mental support to be running along and know the trails, and know when the aid stations were scheduled to appear.

4) The reason people run these long distances? It's FUN. Seriously, until the knee problem started again, I was having the time of my life. Sure, some parts were harder than others, but I completely understand the draw for 100s. Once I got back in a better head space after the knee stuff, I was back enjoying myself. I'm definitely taking some time for rest and recovery (and lots of knee work!) but I'm looking forward to my next race already....

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Santa Rosa trails...

Howarth Park/Spring Lake Regional Park/ Annadel State Park
(Bob Whiting/Medica Ridge Trail- Spring Lake Loop- Bay Area Ridge Trail- (unnamed trail)- Cobblestone Trail- Rough Go- Lake trail- Canyon- Rough Go- Cobblestone- Spring Lake Horse Loop- Sullivan Ridge Trail)
(10.9 miles)

Well, who knew? Santa Rosa has some really great trails.

For various and sundry reasons, I've been spending some time in Santa Rosa lately, and as a result, I've needed to find some trail time around the city. Now, it's not that I would have said Santa Rosa *didn't* have good trails, but I would not have expected great trails so close to the city. However, these two parks offer great options for anyone who happens to find themselves in Santa Rosa.

This run started off at Howarth Park. Howarth Park is extremely accessible, and seems to be a major draw for families on the weekend. The run starts off relatively flat, winding through oak and bay trees that put me in mind of Santa Barbara running.

After hitting the water fountains at the end of Spring Lake, I headed toward Annadel on the paved road that heads away from Spring Lake. Just inside the park boundary, I found an extremely steep unmarked trail that led up to Cobblestone Trail, aptly named for the rocks that keep one foot-focused, despite the amazing views of the city and surrounding countryside.

Then I took Rough Go trail until Lake Ilsanjo-- this is a three-lake run, by the way-- and we all know how much I love trails that go by lakes. Lake Ilsanjo is a bucolic spot of repose in the middle of Annandel, and I highly recommend making sure it's part of any Annandel tour. I took the trail that skirted the lake, and then decided to add on a small spur of the Canyon trail to add a bit more mileage. A biker that I met told me that the South Burma trail was magnificent and not to be missed, but last weekend I was on taper (Firetrails coming up on Saturday!) and so didn't want to add on excessive mileage.

After circling Lake Ilsanjo, the return trip was a retracing of my steps until I reached Spring Lake Park, at which point I circled the other side of Spring Lake and then Lake Ralphine, the center of Howarth Park.

I'm rather looking forward to getting back to Annadel-- this is some great trailrunning, although its state park designation means that dogs are not welcome. (Howarth Park is fine with dogs as long as they are on leash.) If I lived in Santa Rosa, I would probably haunt this park for the convenience combined with great trails factor. Definitely worth checking out.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Red Rock Preview...

Red Rock
(Red Rock-Gibraltar-almost Forbush Flat-then back)
16.5 miles

Apparently I'm not doing too well with keeping up-to-date on this blog. I ran this trail the day after the Romero Canyon, but clearly it's been a while since I posted-- and I have multiple other runs to write about!

Anyway, this was one of the best runs I've done in a while and it made me very, very excited for the Red Rock 40 in November. I feel very afraid to say this in writing, but the beginning part of this trail, at least, *might* be easier than the original beginning of 9 Trails out of the Jesusita trailhead. Yes, it's 5 miles longer and I have been told that the climb up the canyon, once you get past Forbush Flat, is brutal. So I have that to look forward to.

I wanted to try out this end of the course, because I am not familiar with the trails out of Red Rock at all. I've heard about them for years, but never actually explored them. As I discovered this Sunday, most people hike the first 2 miles of the trail, but never get past Gibraltar Reservoir-- which is too bad, because it is stunning.

I started with the plan of doing two 8-10 mile loops. I thought I would use my car as an aid station rather than trying to go 16-20 on one hydration bladder.

Starting out, I had a little trouble following the trail-- it winds back and forth over the somewhat dry creek bed (although a couple of beautiful swimming holes were still available!), and I found myself getting a little confused. However, this section of the trail is really quite flat, and for someone who was expecting the Jesusita trail (which has no flat at all!), this was a welcome change. I wonder how much water will be in the creek by November...

After that, the trail heads toward the Gibraltar Dam, which is probably about 3-4 miles out from the trailhead. The day was not too hot yet, and I felt quite uninterested in turning back to my car again-- new trails beckoned over the horizon!-- so I made the decision to keep going onward rather than turning back.

Just after the Gibraltar Dam, I found the ranger station, and I stopped to make sure I was on the right track to head toward Forbush Flat. The rangers said yes, I was definitely on the right trail, but did I know that was a good 4-5 miles from where we were? I said yes, and continued on up the trail, apparently to the confusion of the rangers, who could not understand why anyone would head out on her own to such remote territory, I suppose.

I am so glad I did, though! This was some of the most glorious, amazing running I have done in a while. I saw not one single other person from when I left the ranger station to when I came back to the Red Rock trail, about 3 miles from the trailhead. This is shocking because the trailhead is only about 40 minutes from Santa Barbara proper-- it's true that there is no water out there, and you'd have to be either on a mountain bike or a pretty strong runner (or backpacking), but my point is that it's not a remote trailhead. If I ever moved back to Santa Barbara, I would definitely spend lots of time in this area, because it's challenging, gorgeous terrain.

Gibraltar Reservoir, as can be seen in the first picture, is a wealth of photo opportunities-- the trail follows the side of the reservoir until it gets to the old mine (which you can also see in the first picture). Then the trail heads into the much more remote Santa Barbara back country-- and the water disappears almost immediately. Yucca plants and chaparral cover the hillside; the air smells immediately of Santa Barbara nights. This sounds strange, but especially in the summer, when the wind blows over the top of the ridge, it brings a certain scent to Santa Barbara, and all I can ever say about it is that it smells like home. One day I will figure out what plant it IS that is so typically Santa Barbara, but for now, this is all I can tell you.

I decided to turn around before getting to Forbush Flat, because I was running a little low on water and I didn't want to do anything risky while running alone. (Considering this recent story, I think conservative behavior while running alone is a good thing...) However, this run has me looking forward to Red Rock 40 immensely. I know it's going to be a TOUGH day, and I'm not looking forward to the straight up-and-down of the Romero Canyon section (and probably the post-Forbush Flat section as well), but this run is going to be one of the more unique that I have done, I think. Congrats in advance to Luis Escobar, the RD, for not throwing the towel in on it once the Jesusita Fire happened, and for expanding the possibility of Santa Barbara trail running.

If you find yourself down Santa Barbara-ways, I highly recommend checking out the trails on the other side of the mountains. There are some glorious trails for the experiencing, if you can handle remote, self-supported running.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Romero Canyon- RIDICULOUS!!!

Romero Canyon
(Romero Canyon-Buena Vista Trail)
(5.13 miles)


(I can say that-- I'm from Southern California. From Santa Barbara, in fact, which is where this run is.)

So two years ago, I DNF'd at Santa Barbara 9 Trails. This race is legendary in Santa Barbara and holds a large amount of charm for me because it's on trails I hiked with my parents while I was growing up. I DNF'd because of my knee issues relating to my weak posterior, and then last year a) I broke my foot in September and b) the Tea Fire caused the race to be relocated to Ojai, which I have passing but not deep affection for. This year, the Jesusita Fire destroyed much of the Santa Barbara front country trails, and I was terrifically sad to think that I would be shut out from revenging myself on 2007's DNF yet AGAIN.

Fortunately, the RD Luis Escobar has created a new race, the Red Rock 40, that adds miles to the trails AND will be run on some of the more remote Santa Barbara back country trails. I managed to get myself entered (it's sold out already), and as I was down in SB for my father's inaugural wine bottling extravaganza (yes, he's making wine!!! and it's really good!!!), I decided to warm up the wine bottling by starting at the 1/2 way point and running along part of the trail to get myself used to it.

Now, in 2007 when my knee was an issue, I remember thinking this part of the race was very tiring, but I chalked it up to being exhausted mid-race.

Ha ha.

Ha ha ha ha ha!!!

No. The reason I remember this being tiring is because the trail is RIDICULOUS. I couldn't believe how long it took me to do 5 miles. There was absolutely no flat or rolling on this section of trail. It was either grueling up or "I-need-to-walk-this" downhill. I seriously slid (yes, even in my fabulous Wildcats!) trying to WALK down a couple of sections. I decided I needed to do every single one of my long runs going up and down Eagle Peak on Mt. Diablo. Not just running Mt. Diablo--running ONLY Eagle Peak (Or walking and then trying not to slide downhill, which is how one "runs" Eagle Peak).

Over and over in my head I kept thinking, "You're doing 40 MILES of this in November. What on earth possessed you to do that?"

Fortunately, the trail affords plenty of gorgeous views while one is gasping for air, and I suppose that will be my consolation for spending a large number of hours running Red Rock 40.

Because, dude-- this race is going to kick my slowly-gaining-strength glutes.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ms. F-n-D finally runs Lake Chabot...

Lake Chabot Loop
(Bort Meadows Staging Area- Brandon Trail- Ten Hills- McGregor George- West Shore- Bass Cove- Columbine- Cascade-Brandon)
(15.8 miles)

Sheesh. This run was HOT. And not because the Trail Tarts of Power were running. I mean, we certainly heated up the trail on our own-- if I must be modest about these things-- but I really meant the weather.

And while this run was quite delightful in some ways, here's a hint: when it's boiling outside, you might want to stick to Redwood. And by stick to Redwood, I mean down in the stream section, under the redwoods.

However, let me tell you about the nice things about this run:

1) It's almost completely runnable. The Trail Tarts were trying to save their legs this weekend (one 50K last weekend, one 50K the next), so between that and the heat we walked quite a few sections, but if we had been in our normal PowerTart form (with normal temperatures), we could have run just about all of it.

2) There are multiple water stops. After a recent brush with dehydration, this is a plus. Also, one of those water stops is at a golf course that apparently provides reading material in the bathrooms, should you be so inclined.

3) You run by Lake Chabot for a few miles. I am a big fan (as everyone probably knows) of running by lakes. Even though it was blazing hot, it's nice to have a large body of water right next to you.

4) It's Firetrails practice! Not all of it, but enough that I felt as if I were doing my Firetrails training some good (besides getting some miles in, of course).

It starts out with a section on Brandon that looks flat but which is actually slightly downhill, making you feel like a rockstar fresh out of the gate. Then the trail winds through some eucalyptus trees for a while, providing some welcome shade on Sunday's run. Then the trail comes out on the top of the ridge and you follow Brandon down to the golf course (where reading material and a water fountain await you...). This section was one of the most brutal on Sunday because it was so exposed-- the heat seemed to rise up from the trail in waves. (And yeah, I'm sure it's hotter in Arizona right now. But we're wimpy Bay Area people who don't know what it's like to run in blazing heat all the time.)

From the golf course, we took Ten Hills trail. Apparently there are MORE than ten hills (false advertising!), but they're all rolling hills and again, if it weren't 5,000 degrees outside, quite runnable. This was a nice trail though- most of the time it was relatively shaded.

Water stop #2 was at the Lake Chabot Marina, the start/finish for Firetrails. We hung out here for a while, slurping up as much water as we could stand. If we had a car there, we might have called it a day, because another 5 miles was not sounding like a picnic. However, we saw no one we knew (and hence no car) so we slogged on up the trail. The first bit of the Firetrails course is on a paved path that runs next to the lake-- this is nice if you have a baby jogger, I suppose, but it was nicer when we got onto the trails.

The section that leads away from the lake (Columbine-Cascade) was one of my favorites of the whole run. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, I was a little over taking pictures and trying to avoid whining about how hot it was, so I forgot to snap any, but it's a green leafy section in the East Bay in the middle of the summer-- nice.

From there, the trail connects back with the last mile or so on Brandon, and you can realize that the trail that looks flat is actually slightly uphill-- enough to make you bitter about running it, but not enough to make you feel ok about walking it.

All in all, a great loop and one I think I will do again! Thanks to my fellow Trail Tart for bringing me out there-- next time we'll run when it's not Saharan desert temperatures.

Also, it's all EBRPD land, so you can bring the pup- must be leashed around Lake Chabot/Marina area, but if you bring enough water, no problem!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Not about running....

First, a little background to this posting:

I used to teach in San Rafael, but I have always lived in the East Bay and I took the Richmond Bridge every single morning. Trying to avoid traffic, I would usually leave my house by 6:45 am at the absolute latest, but usually it was more like 6:30. As I am not a morning person, this was generally the grumpiest point of my day. I made it into the car, but I was not happy about it.

Taking the bridge every day, you get to see the same people in the toll booth. Some of them just took your money and moved on, and one woman seemed pissed about having to see me every day (I made it a personal vendetta to be extra cheery when I was in her lane and always told her to have a nice day), but there was one woman who stood out from the rest.

Every single day, this woman had a huge smile on her face. I would literally feel myself smiling as I realized I was in her lane. You'd drive up and she'd say, with a big grin, "Good MORNING!" and just like that-- it WAS a good morning. Sometimes she'd send me off with a "God Bless you" or a "Have a great day!" and sometimes she even called me "honey." Whatever the words, I always felt better as I drove away. I used to think about (indeed, some friends have heard me discuss it-- probably several times) how that job could be totally tedious and perhaps if I was a toll worker, I'd be pissed like the other one, but this woman really took every single interaction she had with people as an opportunity to share some warmth and kindness with the world. Those interactions reminded me that I always had an opportunity to be kinder to someone, to be in a better mood-- it reminded me that we choose so much of our outlook on the world, and there was nothing stopping me from reaching out, in whatever small way it was, to another human being.

She was my favorite toll person. Hands down.

Flash forward to today, when I was crossing the Richmond Bridge again. I almost missed the sign saying "In Memoriam of Deborah Ross." I couldn't see the picture clearly, but I thought-- I hope it's not that wonderful woman. I came home tonight and found out that yes, Deborah WAS the name of my favorite toll person and that even worse-- she was murdered by a recent ex-boyfriend, while she was working in the toll booth.

Obviously this is heartbreaking and it has made me very sad. (I'm not going to have a rant about domestic violence, but go support your local organizations.) I didn't really know her, so I didn't go to the funeral (plus, it was two weeks ago), and it's not like she was a big part of my daily life-- especially now that I don't commute to San Rafael any more. However, her life was important--I am sure that if she impacted my morning commute in such a positive way, she must have done the same thing for thousands of people over her toll person career. So I'm writing this in memoriam of such an amazing person, and also to remind myself that we never, ever know what impact our words and actions can have on others. Deborah Ross had no idea what my name was, but she made my life better just by her joy and warmth toward others. I hope that I can keep trying to do the same.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Montaña de Oro 50K- back in the racing saddle!

PCTR Montaña de Oro 50K

Ok, ok, I KNOW it's been a terribly long time since I figured out how to post something new. And yes, I realize it doesn't take too long to post something.

It's not like I don't have things to say, either-- I have fallen in love with a pair of shoes and my new hydration pack-- that ALONE would be worth at least two blog postings! I've run in some great areas lately-- AND had an amazing adventure crewing for a friend... so yeah, I've been busy. However, that busy-ness did not include posting on this blog. I am determined to rectify this situation though, because I have missed writing-- and reading other peoples' blogs, because I haven't been doing much of that, either. I kind of went into a writing hiatus-- both for this blog and for school (it's more of a problem for school, but oh well). I am hoping this blog entry will mark the end of that hiatus.

Anyway, yesterday I ran PCTR's Montaña de Oro 50K. Yes, a 50K! And guess what? Pain-free knees! (I know everyone was on pins and needles about that one, so I thought I'd provide the spoiler early.)

Montaña de Oro is on the Central Coast of California, an area that I have driven by countless times on my way to Santa Barbara, but never explored the trails. It's about 2 hours from my parents' house, and that means I am usually tired of driving and ready to get to Santa Barbara or just getting started and not wanting to stop and make the trip home any longer. It's too bad though, because this is a gem of a park.

I managed to talk my mom into doing her first trail race EVER, so the two of us left the house at a ridiculously early hour. By the time we got to Los Osos, it was daylight but quite foggy. Thanks to Google maps assuming we'd drive 55 miles an hour, we got a great parking space, and then spent the next hour chatting and watching people fill up the parking lot.

The Montaña de Oro course does two loops twice (12k, then 13k, then repeat). Normally I am not a fan of a loop course, because I hate feeling that I have to come into the finish and then go back out again, but for some reason this time it was different. It may have been the balanced quarters, and doing each section just twice-- whatever it was, I loved this course.

The first 12k starts along the bluffs (2 miles of flat! what joy!), then cuts up toward the peaks. The first time I did this loop, I was filled with the joy of getting started and I felt relaxed and very strong. I was quite honestly surprised when we reached the top of Valencia Peak-- I was expecting it to take longer for some reason. Perhaps this was because we were completely fogged in until we reached the very top of the peak, and so I had just assumed we were going to keep climbing. This made for a happy Victoria, as you can see here. Climbing up to Valencia Peak is not an easy trail, however, and the rocky shale around the peak makes for some tricky footing going up AND coming down. Once you get off the shale portion however, the rest of that loop is pure fun to run.

The second loop climbs up to Hazard Peak, but it is much less steep than the Valencia Peak climb. This loop was also gorgeous. Whereas the Valencia Peak loop is primarily out in the open and facing the ocean, the Hazard Peak loop takes you into the canyons made by the coastal hills. This trail as well had a nice bit of flat before started climbing, then after about 2 miles of climbing, a glorious stretch that winds down to the finish line again.

After such a fun couple of loops, I thought the third loop would be as much of a breeze as I had remembered it on the first one. Unfortunately, someone had put much more uphill on the 2nd Valencia Peak loop and I really wanted to stop. I also have noticed that I hit a low point in 50ks right around the 18 mile mark. For some reason, things can feel good at 1/2 way and then 3 miles later, 13 miles more seems ridiculously long, and I'm convinced I will feel like a slug the rest of the way. I'm getting better at recognizing that I will get through this period, and I tried to remind myself that I usually felt this way at mile 18, so to try to stop being despairing and just move through it. That sort of worked-- it was helped by the lifting of the fog and realizing that I could see up and down the coast, and the higher I got, the better the view became.

Once I turned around from the peak and started that extremely fun descent, everything got much better, as I knew it would. Hitting the aid station and getting some laughs in with Sarah before I headed out on the last loop up Hazard Peak got me back into a good mood for the rest of the race.

My mom enjoyed her first trail race, although I think the 12k she did was probably a little tough for a first trail race for someone who doesn't like downhill, but I think I might be able to get her to try another-- maybe Woodside if she comes up to visit? Either way, an absolutely wonderful day! Looking forward to my next race now!!!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ultra-date Land: Sonoma County thrills

Austin State Creek Recreation Area

(Gilliam Creek Trail-East Austin Creek Fire Road- Park Road)
(~8.o miles)

Ok, all you running peeps. I think I have figured out the best plan for an ultra-fabulous date.

You must enter the park through Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. (They're two different parks but they use the same entrance.) Park outside in the free parking lot if you get there early enough, or you will have to park 3 miles up the road, as I did. If you start from the parking lot outside the Ranger station, you could probably get in a good 16 miles, and at least a bit of it would be running through the very, very tall redwood grove that, while smaller than the groves in Yosemite, for example, are quite stunning on their own.

I missed the free parking though, so I drove up a tiny one-lane road to the Gilliam Creek Trailhead. From there I took the Gilliam Creek trail for almost 4 miles. The trail starts out on the ridge and you get many sweeping views before the trail drops steeply down to Gilliam Creek. Once the trail hits Gilliam Creek, it has to get my vote for one of the best "secret" trails I've been on. I saw only two hikers on the trail the whole time I ran, and I can't for the life of me figure out why more people weren't on the trail, except for the significant climbing in and out of the creek's canyon. Seriously though-- the trail hops over the creek several times, keeping the trail much cooler than the ridge above.

There was even a beautifully perfect swimming hole along the trail-- I was tempted but had a barbecue that I was already going to be late for, so I kept running. For variety's sake, I decided to take the East Austin Creek Fire Road back. This led up to Bullfrog Pond Campground, and I had heard that this was a great vista spot. I was not disappointed! It was!

It should also be noted that the East Austin Creek Fire Road was hot, exposed and very steep. It is a good moment to practice hills and, in the summer, heat training. I was not sure if variety was the spice of life I should have been looking for. I should have perhaps looked for a shadier option.

Anyway, I was highly impressed with this hitherto unknown trail area. It's not a vast network of trails like Marin, but one could easily run a 20 miler without repeating any trails at all. Plus, (here's why it's an ultra-date suggestion) this is right up the road from Guerneville and the Russian River. I was rather perturbed that I had scheduled a barbecue in Sebastopol and had to hurry to avoid being late. It would be entirely possible (and indeed, suggested) to take a long run, then a long swim (with picnic supplies gathered somewhere in Guerneville) and then some wine tasting, because this is smack dab in the middle of the Russian River Valley Wine Country, which means it is FAR less touristed than the famous Sonoma County wineries.

Honestly, could you have a better day?

(No pups on this run, however...)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Getting back on the runnin' horse...

Friday: Shaver Grade/Yolanda
Saturday: Mezue Trail
Sunday: Volunteering at Pacifica

Ok peeps. I think I'm back in the saddle. It took a minute, but I'm feeling the strength build up around my knees from all the exercises/elliptical work I've been doing, and it's starting to show on my runs. This weekend in particular was a great one for running/running related activities, and I'm looking forward to the rest of July and August.

Friday morning we had a Trail Tart run of power, as I introduced Suz to one of my favorite sections of Marin--all the trails out of Phoenix Lake. Well, we didn't do ALL the trails out of Phoenix Lake-- we just did this one. It was rather a crazy run, as both of us thought we were trying to run hard to not slow the other one down, so we charged up Shaver Grade and then barreled down Yolanda. However, it was a gorgeous day for running and prepped us perfectly for a Marin Brew Co lunch.

Saturday morning was rather cold and dreary, as see in the above photograph, but I did a quick 6 on the Mezue Loop with Neko before prepping myself for a day of BBQing and salsa-- one of the best days EVER!

Sunday found me volunteering at PCTR's Pacifica run. I started the day somewhat envious of the people running-- the weather was perfect for running, and the Pacifica course is quite lovely. However, I was volunteering with some other fabulously fun runners (Leigh, Kathy, Andy and Lori), and the day was looking pretty good.

When runners started coming back complaining of stings, I quickly changed my tune, and I became quite happy that I was not running. Last year's Skyline to the Sea left me totally nonplussed by days with multiple stings. There was one runner who won the "Friendly to All Experience" award, though. (Well, he won it in my head, even if I didn't tell him.) He came in and said, "Man, that was awesome! It made the run so exciting to spend the rest of the time wondering if those wasps would be around each corner!" Talk about embracing your experience! He truly wins the award for Most Positive Runner Ever, in my book. I know now that no matter how much I try to look on the bright side, there will always be something to aim for.

The other highlight of my day was finally meeting someone who I "met" through my blog, but finally met in person! Luciano has been reading and commenting on my blog for quite some time, but I had never actually met him until yesterday! He and his wife come to California for the summers, and he brought me a gift of Nutella! I am currently trying to ration it out and not eat it all in 24 hours. So far it looks like we'll at least make it to 48, but Nutella is soooooooooo delicious!!!

Ok. Expect to hear some more running stories in the next couple of months. This blog has been sadly neglected for the past couple of months. Time to remedy the situation!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Western States Inspiration

I'm finally back! Well, a little bit at least.

I finally finished my doctorate classes on Saturday morning (still have 2 papers and must get started on the dissertation now, so not over-much celebrating) and headed up to Western States 100 to hang out with some crewing/spectating friends and be excited about being done with classes.

I headed up to Foresthill, the aid station at the 62 mile mark, and where runners could pick up their pacers. Because there was ample parking, it was a hugely popular place to spectate, cheer and otherwise soak in the atmosphere of this race.

This was the 36th running of Western States 100, and as one of the oldest and most popular ultras in the world, it generates quite a bit of hype. For the past few weeks on running blogs, Facebook and different running forums, it's been a big topic of conversation. (Quite honestly, it made me very happy I will never be the subject of speculation as to "Will she win or not" talk, because I would think it could generate quite a bit of pressure, and running 100 miles seems like enough pressure in and of itself.) I had never been, and I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but even being up there for Saturday afternoon/evening was extraordinary and I highly recommend it to anyone for several reasons.

First of all, running 100 miles? That's like, the coolest thing ever, I've decided. 100 miles is a long way--a very long way. 238 runners finished out of 399-- and while that seems like a large number dropping, that's still a LOT of people that ran 100 miles last weekend. (Plus, there were many people who dropped at distances like 62 or 85.2 miles, and those distances are nothing to sneeze at, either!) All these fabulous ultrarunners definitely inspired me to think about doing one of my own in the coming years (not any time soon, as you'll see with the latest knee(s) update).

Second, the volunteers required to support this event were inspiring even without the runners. Andy B came up the night before to Duncan Canyon and camped out in the dust to work the entire day on Saturday and then showed up at the finish line for a while. Miki came with three other PCTR regulars, worked an aid station during the day and then they came to work at the finish line all night (well, her shift started at some ridiculous hour, so I'm just calling it all night). I heard someone say that 1500 volunteers were needed to put on the race to ensure that runners were taken care of at each aid station they went through. That is some serious ultra love.

Watching people come in at the finish line was also amazing. The runners finish by running the last 300 meters or so of Placer High's track, with the announcer calling out their name, home town and some kind of tidbit about them, so by the time they cross the finish line, you're cheering for an actual person and not just some running machine. (For example, the first place woman, Anita Ortiz, is a mother of four children-- how's THAT for incredible!)

Overall, it was a great experience and I'm sure I will be back next year (probably not running it, however!). At the moment, I'm in knee rehab territory, which is actually going pretty decently, considering that my knee that has not been straight for the past 10 years is getting straighter (and hence the knee issues). Yoga, the elliptical and lots of exercises are doing their thing-- it's just not going to be a quick process. However, I've been running a little every day and I'm pretty confident that I'll get there soon. I'm hoping to run at Sequoia, but perhaps I will try for another interesting run in the next few weeks-- even if it's not super long!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Rodney Dangerfield Run

PCTR Mt. Diablo 8K

I am about to go into a doctoratin' frenzy, trying to finish up papers and classes by June 28th. As a result, it's likely that I won't be doing much racing for the next few weekends-- maybe not even so much long running! (Gasp!) I was not excited about this turn of events-- I haven't been at a PCTR event since I volunteered at Diablo 6 weeks ago-- I was going through withdrawal!

I had a bunch of other social events planned for the rest of the day, so I had originally written off the possibility of doing any kind of a race on Saturday, but then Sarah suggested I run the 8K. The 8K???? Who runs an 8K? (Ok, so I've run lots of 5Ks, and quite a few 10Ks, so plenty of people run both of them, but lately? Not so much...) Plus, now I hang out with people who wouldn't even bother changing into their running shoes to do an 8K-- let alone drive for 30 minutes to do one.

BUT the race was going to be on Mt. Diablo, and as we all know, I'm in love with the big devil. AND I'd heard a rumor that the t-shirt design was going to be very cool, with RED in it. I love red and really don't have enough in my running wardrobe with that color, so I signed myself up and even talked a friend into running his first trail race with me!

We got to the start early so I could see all my trail peeps (yes, that IS how I think of them!). They were all running the longer races though (25 and 50K), and when they heard I was running the 8K, I got some interesting reactions. One person asked me why I was running the 25 and not the 50, and when I said "I'm running the 8K" she said "Oh. I don't know what to say to that." I did see Cynthia just before the longer races took off, and ran into Jo Lynn in the parking lot-- here is the pink trail brigade!

It was Jo Lynn who delivered the final insult as she headed toward the start line-- "Have fun on the baby race!!!" she yelled back at me. Um, thanks. As my friend pointed out later, the 8K was the Rodney Dangerfield of trail runs-- it didn't get no respect!

The 8K at Diablo is not a super-easy 8K. It's almost 3 miles of up and then around 2.5 straight down. Given that my knees weren't totally happy from last weekend, I probably shouldn't have been running on them, but I thought oh well, it's less than 6 miles, I'll be fine. The uphill was great-- my knees were doing fine and I was having a good time not worrying about saving myself, which I usually think about while on the beginning climbs of a longer race. As you can see from this picture, even though the trail never got up to the top of Diablo, you still ran surrounded by beautiful views.

Unfortunately, my knees were complaining on the downhill and I had to slow down a few times to stretch out and walk a few feet when it was too steep, but I had a great time running hard and was very happy I managed to get out and run a quick race before jetting off to a social-event filled weekend.

I missed not seeing everyone else finish though....

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

C'est Spécial, Ohlone...

Ohlone Wilderness 50K

One of the best things about learning a different language is discovering expressions for which there is no translation in English. Take the word "spécial" in French. You might look at the word and assume it means "special" in English. And you would be wrong. If someone calls you "spécial," it's not necessarily a compliment--but nor does it mean "riding the short bus" special. "Spécial" means that it's rather particular. You could like it or you could hate it. Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue is a good example. I love the activity and the grit and the people selling "Kill your television" bumperstickers right alongside a thriving Greek system. But this is not everyone's opinion. Lots of people can't stand Telegraph Avenue. People generally feel this way about teaching middle school-- you either love the craziness or you run screaming in terror, but you don't feel very neutral about it.

The Ohlone 50K? C'est spécial. This course runs from Fremont to Livermore, through the (big shock) Ohlone Wilderness. Inland hills in the Bay Area get hot during the summer-- very hot and dry, and usually by May the hills are covered with dry grasses. This landscape does not appeal to everyone--nor do the neverending climbs. I love this area though-- I fell in love with it the first year I ran it, and I'm still completely enamored with the golden hills that give way to scrub pine areas that put me in mind of Sierran foothills. Ohlone is similar to teaching middle school though-- people don't feel very neutral about it. Here's two stories to illustrate the different reactions people have to the course:

Story #1: I end up running with a woman from probably mile 21-23. We talked about how the course was so much cooler than last year, and then she said she was sad she didn't bring her camera because there were so many stunning shots.

Story #2: After the race, I was talking with another running friend who ran the race for the first time this year and I mentioned wanting to come back and do a picture-taking run, where I stop and take pictures whenever the mood strikes me. She blurted out, "What is there to take pictures of? It's SO barren!"

Perfect illustration. Ohlone, c'est spécial.

Anyway, to get to the race reporting bit of this posting....

I started late and almost forgot to get cash for the park entrance at Del Valle, so by the time I got to the reservoir, I was feeling a little flustered. Fortunately the buses had not left and I had time to pull myself together and eat a shot blok or two. The ride to the start was nice-- I am starting to feel like an old-timer for this race, and I spent a large part of the ride to the start answering questions about the finer points of the course for the running friend who starred in Story #2.

Once at the start, there was just time to put on sunscreen, and say hi to Lori and Andy, who I had met at Ohlone last year when Lori ran the race. This year, Andy was running and Lori was on pup duty for the day. I met up with the Austrian Cougar (a.k.a. Norbert) and Steve, who had run Mission Peak the day before to hold himself back and run this as a training run for Western States.

On the way up to Mission Peak, I think I went out too fast once again, because I was ahead of Norbert and just behind Steve by the time I got to the top, and considering Norbert blew by me once we hit the top, and I never saw either of them again, I should have held back a bit. But I was feeling good, and coming out of the fog was beautiful.

I tried to take it easy from the top of Mission Peak to Sunol, as it's all downhill and a good chance to rest before the grueling climb to Rose Peak, but I felt tight and heavy the whole time. Plus, coming into Sunol, my left knee started to hurt and I immediately went into a tailspin of bitterness. I stopped and stretched it out, which helped a bit, but I was instantly in a pretty bad head space. I fueled up at Sunol and headed up the trail.

Fortunately (ha) the trail from Sunol to the next aid station is all uphill, which did not bother my knee but was exhausting. By the time I got to Backpacker's aid station, where Rick was helping out, I was definitely in a dark place. My knee hurt on the downhills and I was pissed about it. I had been doing my exercises and had no idea things would have been anything except for great. I was tired and knew the rest of the trail was going to be tiring uphill or painful downhill. I came very close to asking if I could get a ride out of the aid station, but for some reason, I decided to keep going straight up the hill. Plus, Ann Trason had just personally made me a sandwich without bananas because I had complained about the banana presence in the rest of the sandwiches. (Bananas are one of the only foods in the world I loathe.) You cannot accept a sandwich from Ann Trason and then drop. That would be embarrassing. So I headed up the hill, sandwich in one hand, piece of potato in the other.

Here's a secret though: I never ate the sandwich. For some reason, food was not appealing to me at all. I drank a little Coke at the aid station, which is the strangest thing ever, because I HATE Coke in real life, but apparently I like it during ultras now, because it was pretty much the only thing I had the rest of the day. However, I knew I should be eating, so I carried my Ann Trason sandwich along with me. And kept carrying my sandwich. And kept on carrying my sandwich... all the way until the next aid station. Yup, I carried a sandwich for over 3 miles.

This was the bitter and whiny part of the race. I kept being afraid of the downhill I knew was coming after Rose Peak, and I didn't have any energy to run up the hill so as to take advantage of the knee-pain free section. I was obsessing about how long it was going to take me to run all the way down with knee problems-- and worried there would be no place to stop and drop if I needed to. I had a really funny moment of missing Neko too-- the last time I was out on that course was when Neko got so sore she couldn't walk that night, and I really wanted the happy-to-be-alive energy she has. This left me feeling dumb for missing my dog in the middle of a race, which made me even more annoyed...

And then... I started channeling some helpful stuff. Somewhere around mile 17, it gets a little flatter and I figured out that I could probably run a little. Not a lot-- maybe just a minute here or there. I realized that yes, my knee was definitely THERE, but I could stretch it out and it would get better for a minute. I thought about my favorite online yoga instructor, who is always talking about "finding ease in your effort." I thought about being friendly to all experience. I thought about the comment Rick left after Pirate's Cove, where he said that during ultras, "job #1 for [him] is to keep the mind and spirit happy." And THEN I thought-- um, DUH, Victoria. You LOVE being out here. The whole reason you run for hours is because you get to be outdoors in beautiful places and see lots of cool stuff.

Oh. Right. And suddenly it didn't matter anymore that my knee was bothering me, or that it could take more time than I wanted to finish. I was happy again and looking forward to whatever the trail had to offer.

Once I had made the transition to that head space, the rest of the race was really enjoyable. I enjoyed the climb up to Rose Peak and chatted with the volunteer handing out wristbands, who took this picture of me. Don't get me wrong-- my knee hurt-- AND the other knee started hurting, which it has never done before, and that sucked, but I would stop and stretch it out and just carry on as best I could. Plus, at one point when I stopped to stretch out my knee, I noticed all these ladybugs on the ground-- literally thousands of them all over. I bet most people ran straight through this section and had no idea they were stepping on so many ladybugs-- and if my knee hadn't been hurting, I wouldn't have seen them!

By the time I got to Schlieper's Rock, I was happy about having only 5 miles or so to go-- Monica snapped the picture at the top of this post of me drinking even more Coke. The section from Schlieper's Rock to Satan's Pit (great name, I know!) was pretty much the worst from a pain perspective, and I have never been so happy to start climbing again. However, I realized that my 1st year's time would probably have been broken if I had not needed to walk most of the single track section after Schlieper's Rock. This could have made me bitter, but it just made me happy that I was in better shape than I thought I was.

When I finally limped in, I was thrilled to hear Jo Lynn yelling my name. She didn't run the race, but came out with her friend Christy to run a little of the course and to support some of her friends who were running-- like me! I think that knowing people are going to be there at the end is one of the most motivating things EVER for me. Well, that and beer. Fortunately, there were both and I spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out with Norbert and his family, Roy, who came to see the finish as well, and a bunch of other runners.

One unexpected treat? Speedsters Clare and Jon suggested going down to the reservoir to cool our legs off-- but it turned into an impromptu swimming session, and that was definitely the perfect way to end the day!

Ohlone-- j'y reviens!!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Correndo con il trio infernale en Mt. Diablo!

Mt. Diablo!
(Mitchell Canyon trailhead-Mitchell Rock trail-Eagle Peak-Meridian Ridge Rd-Deer Flat Rd- Upper Juniper- Summit!- North Peak trail-North Peak Rd- North Peak trail- Zippe-Olympia Rd-Wasserman-Donner-Hetherington Loop-Donner Canyon Rd-Tick Wood trail-Back Creek-Coulter Pine trail-Mitchell Canyon)
(16 miles)

As I had said before, I was embarrassed to say that I had never (until last Tuesday) run on Diablo. It's ridiculous, I know. I talk all the time about how much I love exploring new trails (it's true! I do!) and yet I had not explored one of the biggest trail networks in the Bay Area.

However, I can now hold my head up high and toss around names like "Eagle Peak" and "Deer Flat" and "Tick Wood Trail" with aplomb. When people talk about coming down from North Peak (shown in the above picture) and how it's such a tough descent, I can nod knowingly and picture the slippery, twisty, tricky, flower-lined trail too.

In short, I have finally arrived.

Here's the best part about this day, though-- it was a day of playing hooky, too! See, Sarah (of PCTR fame) and Suzanne (of Miwok fame) and I had tried sooooooo hard to find a weekend day to introduce Suzanne and me to Mt. Diablo. (Suz had never run it either, but as someone who claims to get wilty in heat, this is not quite such a surprise.) We tried and tried, but thanks to PCTR events and graduate school and other life happenings, it was looking impossible until someone suggested we just take a day off. What? A day off? Who DOES that? Oh yeah. Lots of people take days off. I don't know if it's 7 years of teaching middle school and HATING to write sub plans, but I am completely trained to not take days off. Even when I can, and the only thing my boss said when I told him I was taking off May 19th was "great!" I still forget that the world will not come to an end if I don't work that day.

Another secret: turns out the world is absolutely STELLAR when you don't work and play hooky on Diablo!

I got to the Mitchell Canyon trailhead late, thanks to finding out my directional sense is 5% less than I thought it was (an important 5%, it turns out), threw on some sunscreen and we headed out.

We ran 16 miles of the marathon at last month's event-- and that 16 miles left me very impressed with the marathoners... and REALLY impressed with the 50-milers! Mt. Diablo is no joke. I'm not sure if we ran more than 1 mile of flat the entire day. But you know what? It's so beautiful, you don't care. Well, you don't care as much. All that climbing means that every time we turned around, there was another scenic vista. I felt like I was in a live advertisement for the Bay Area, because all we could see were views of some part of the Bay Area. We could look up the Delta, over to Mt. Tam, across to SF, out at the hills stretching toward the Central Valley-- really, it gets to the point where you become blasé about the view-- "oh yeah, another view of the closest 50 miles-- haven't we seen that already?"

Fortunately, if you got bored looking out at scenic vistas, there was plenty of beauty on the small scale. Mt. Diablo still has (for probably the next week or so-- get out there!) tons of wildflowers, and looking down was easily as rewarding as looking out to the big views.

Here's the thing about Mt. Diablo though-- the downhills are just as challenging (for me, more so) than the uphills. We ran the famed "all downhill except for little North Peak" route from the summit-- and it's TOUGH. My friend Jen, a notoriously strong athlete (she won the women's division at 24 hours at Cool this year!) had talked about how hard it was, so I definitely wasn't expecting a cakewalk, and running that section with 10 or 34 more miles on my legs? Sheesh, but there are some strong runners out there. I definitely felt like I was picking my way down after Suzanne, a.k.a. "Let's sprint downhill at Miwok" and Sarah, who is also a very strong technical downhill runner. I really *want* to do Diablo next April, but I think quite a bit of training is in order....

The best part about this day though? Finding out that apparently, Sarah, Suzanne and I are a walking comedy show. There were multiple times were we had to stop and walk not only because the trail was straight up (although that happened plenty, too) but because our hilarity made running impossible. (And yes, we *will* spend the day running-and-being-hilarious-for-hire, so if you want to fund our trail-inspired laugh-fest, let one of us know.) All this plus our post-run sushi stop made this day a brilliant introduction to Diablo. Have no fear-- this is the first in many diabolical adventures to come...