Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring has sprung!

Pine Mountain Rd-Kent Lake Loop
(Pine Mountain Rd- Oat Hill Rd- Old Vee- Alpine Kent Pump Rd- Little Carson- Unnamed trail- Oat Hill- Pine Mountain Rd)
(8.7 miles)

I almost didn't run this trail this morning. I had to be somewhere at noon, and I had a moment of thinking, "Well, you will be back at the house much faster and you'll have less of a carbon footprint (because it's the Bay Area and we think like this) if you run at Wildcat." And then I thought, naw-- I really wanted to run someplace new, so I threw the dog in the car (metaphorically speaking) and headed for Marin.

This trail starts off the side of the Bolinas-Fairfax road, but goes the opposite direction from this trail. I'd read about this area from the literarily luminescent Gambolin' Man, and I'd ran the Kent Lake portion of the trail before, but the rest was completely new. Pine Mountain Road is a well-traveled fire road, popular with bikers and hikers alike. I hit the trail around 8:45 in the morning, and apparently, this is a good hour to get started if you want to avoid the crowds. I saw exactly one other person on the Pine Mountain Rd section, with an off-leash (gasp!) dog. (Dogs are supposed to be leashed in this area, but I decided not to make a citizen's arrest. Whether I decided to unleash Neko or not is classified information.)

Anyway, Pine Mountain Road is definitely not singletrack, but it is a beautiful section of trail. The trail follows the ridge, and I could see both Mount Tamalpais and Mount Diablo when I turned around. Unfortunately, the light did not cooperate and the pictures I took of the view did not do it justice. You'll have to run this for yourself to see what I mean.

After a mile on Pine Mountain Rd, I took Oat Hill Road. I did not see any more people for the next hour and 45 minutes (yes, I was running slow today!), which for a Sunday in Marin is shocking. Oat Hill Road has plenty of other gorgeous views of the Bay and of the green hills of Marin, but the real jewel of this run (à mon avis, if you will) was Old Vee trail.

Normally, I'm pretty happy on the trails, and I challenge anyone to maintain any level of bitterness when running with an aussie/border collie mix-- but every once in a while there are trails that surprise me so much that I'm freakin' overjoyed to be me and getting to run on that particular trail at that moment. Old Vee was one of those trails. Old Vee doesn't look like Marin-- it looks like you're running in the Sierra foothills (which I desperately miss right now, I admit), and it's gently sloping fire road with a stream next to it, AND IT'S BEAUTIFUL!! So beautiful that I didn't take any pictures. Nice, Victoria. I think the other thing is that it's not a trail I've ever heard anything about, so having a little slice of Sierra-looking goodness may have seemed more fabulous than it actually was. Either way, I was loving life and trails and Marin and Neko and all things Spring down Old Vee.

From Old Vee, I hit the flat Alpine Kent Pump Road for a couple of miles, then the Little Carson trail. Because I couldn't determine from the map if the trail intersected the Carson Falls trail, I ended up turning up an unnamed trail that was so deserted I was getting rid of spider webs as I climbed. This trail was beautiful but very steep-- not so much running here. Next time I will definitely try the Carson Falls trail, because Carson Falls is supposed to be lovely, but I had a fun afternoon to get back to, so couldn't explore too much.

The unnamed trail met up with Oat Hill at the amusingly-named Bathtub Gap, where I snapped this picture of Neko and me before I realized she had a bunch of ticks on her-- the not-so-exciting part of spring with a border collie. Then it was back by way of Pine Mountain Road, but by this time, the hordes had started to swarm-- tons more people on this route by 10:30.

All in all, I was extremely glad I had gone. Next time, I'm taking Little Carson all the way up to the falls, fording the stream to get back up to the main trail if necessary. I'm pretty curious too, about taking Pine Mountain Road in a big loop that I could not find the end of on my map-- I think one could cobble together a pretty good 15-16 mile loop, but I would probably do the loop either very early or on a weekday, given the number of people on the trail by 10:30.

Overall? Lovely! Yay Spring! A nice last "mini-long" run before next weekend's (gulp) 50 miler!!

Dogs are supposed to be on leash, but there are definitely stretches of deserted trail....

A last note: the ceanothus is out right now-- big swaths of lavender-blue flowers in bloom. Don't miss it!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Attack of the Leopard!

PCTR Pirates Cove

Oh, more pre-race silliness!

As you can see, I DID end up getting some leopard print arm panties. I have matching gaiters as well, but they did not make it into the picture. However, based on the number of compliments I got on my outfit (no joke-- one guy actually told me the leopard print was inspiring!), I'm sure this combo will make it into more race photos in the future.

For some reason, insomnia (which I have perhaps one time a year?) decided to strike Friday night, and by the time I got to the start line, I was running on about two hours of sleep. I *know* it's supposed to be the night before the night before that affects you the most, but I was definitely mentally ill-at-ease with so little sleep.

I got to the start, checked in, hung out with Jo Lynn and Rick (totally classic shot), almost forgot to put my Garmin on before the start, said hi to everyone and then took off at a brisk uphill walk at 8:30.

As can be seen on the course map, the 50K does two loops of the 20K course, with a little (10K little) extra loop added to the first 20K loop. I have never done a loop 50K before today-- Ohlone and Skyline to the Sea are point-to-point courses, so once you get through a particularly grueling climb, you know you'll never have to run that piece of the course again in the race. Knowing I would have to come back and run the 20K loop again did interesting things to my mind. On the one hand, I think it helped me go slower at the beginning, knowing I would have to deal with the climb out of Rodeo Beach after completing 18 miles already. On the other hand, I think I was a little too focused on how I would need to run that section again, so I would hold back more than I really think I needed to.

As I said, I did a better job of holding back at the beginning. When I started the extra 10K loop after Tenessee Valley, I felt great, and continued to feel pretty strong until the top of Marincello. For some reason, even though the next section was downhill, I started thinking about how I had at least 6 miles left of THIS loop, and then ANOTHER 12 miles. My legs immediately began feeling more tired, and I would say that miles 12-15 were rather painful. I picked up a bit after the Conzelman aid station (all the 30K runners speeding it up for the finish helped), but then felt like I came to a dead halt at the top of the hill out of Rodeo Beach, and took a good mile to start feeling decent again.

Leaving Tennessee Valley for the last time, I dragged myself up Marincello. I started to try a run 1 minute/walk 1 minute alternation, which worked for about 15 minutes before I succumbed to walking. I do think this was a good idea for me though, and I'm going to try it at another event in the future. By this time it was raining and cold and wet, and I was half-tempted to run just to get warm. Emphasis on the "half" part of that sentence.

At the top of Marincello, things switched again and I found a huge reserve of energy I didn't realize I had. Don't get me wrong-- I was not moving super-fast, but my mental state went from "this is SOOOOOOO long" to "Hey-- you have 6 miles left, and most of it is flat or downhill. You can absolutely do this!" While my legs did not suddenly feel light and limber, everything seemed much more possible and I really enjoyed the last 6 miles. I even ran more of the uphill than I had run the first time I came through the same section.

I also started looking at my watch and thinking about if it might be possible to break six hours. I didn't have any kind of goal time, but I had figured somewhere between 6:00-6:30 was reasonable. When I hit the last aid station, I had exactly 30 minutes to finish 3.6 miles. 1.5 was downhill, but the last two miles were pretty flat with a tiny bit of uphill grade at times. I decided to go for it, and I ran HARD the last few miles, even holding sub 8:00s on the flat part. I broke six hours (well, I think it was a little shorter than 3.6 miles), but what amazed me is how much faster I could go at the end than I had thought I could. Let's not get carried away-- I was in pain and I couldn't have gone another 10 miles at that pace, but I really didn't know I could go that far and still have energy left over at the end. While I am definitely nervous about AR50, I think this race taught me two things:

1) I am stronger than I think I am. Don't get me wrong-- I am still probably under-trained for AR50, but I had much more in the tank left than I thought I did. My goal for AR50 is still just to finish, but I'm more confident about that now than I was before Saturday.

2) Running ultras is SO mental. Again, see #1. I know adequate training is necessary-- but I've been fascinated lately by the difference my mental outlook has on my performance. As I've pointed out before, running relaxed helps a lot. When I'm feeling good, I know that talking positively to myself helps a lot as well. This time I kept trying to remind myself (with some success) that however I felt at that moment was not permanent-- if I felt bad, I would feel better soon but also that if I felt good, it didn't necessarily mean I wasn't going to feel bad again. It's the dharma of running, I suppose. (As a side note, it's been fascinating to me how applicable Buddhist teachings are to long-distance running. I feel a post forthcoming in the next few months.) What I want to start playing around with is keeping myself positive when it hurts and I'm starting to feel like I can't do it, whatever "it" is. The "feeling bad" moments, when I think about it, were more mental feeling bad moments than feeling physically bad. Of course my legs were tired and tight and of course I was hungry--but that didn't change after about mile 12-- what changed the most from mile 12 to the end was my mental state.

I have also discovered my superpower secret weapon race food-- candied ginger! I ate some at the top of Marincello (round two) and it was amazing how much the spiciness of the ginger acted as a pick-me-up and calmed down my slightly complaining stomach. Definitely going into the belt in future races.

Finally, I think I'm becoming a reluctant convert to ice baths. I didn't sit as long as I probably should have last night, but it helped. I'm going to slog a recovery run this afternoon, but overall, I feel better than I ever have after a 50K.

Plus, I got a coaster for my efforts! I think these are the coolest things ever-- if you are a 50K finisher at a PCTR event, you get a coaster with the logo for the race on it and the date-- and if it's your first ultra, you get a really special one commemorating that as well. I kid you not-- one of the things that kept me from stopping at the 30K (which I was greatly tempted to do) was getting a coaster. (And pride as well, but the thought "I want my coaster" went through my head more than once...)

I think from here to AR50 is some mellow runs, maybe one longish run next weekend, but then... Victoria attempts 50 miles! Aack!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mt. Tam-- to the top!

Mount Tamalpais
(Ross Commons-Phoenix Lake- Eldridge Grade)
(15-16 miles?)

This was rather a last-minute run. I decided Saturday morning that I would run Mt. Tam in preparation for Pirates' Cove next weekend. You see, one must run Marincello Road TWICE during Pirates' Cove. Marincello Road is one of the most irritating sections of the race because it's completely runnable, but it's continuous uphill. I can appreciate Redwood's French trail, because there are sections that are just impossible for us mortals to run, and so one feels perfectly justified in walking. Marincello? Not a chance. To this end, I decided to run Mt. Tam following Eldridge Grade all the way up.

As I've said before, Eldridge Grade is somewhat of a freeway up to the top of Mt. Tam. It's a fire road and tons of mountain bikers use it (flat enough to bike!), which can detract from the running experience (or add to it, depending on your appreciation for spandex-clad bikers). There are definitely ways of finding more single-track routes to the top, but I didn't want to have to think about directions, and I wanted to practice slow, gradual uphill. The other benefit to Eldridge is the constant support of hikers who see you *running* the route they are walking. At least 3 different groups of people expressed admiration as I ran by, and that's always a mood-lifter.

I had much chance to practice for Marincello, however. Eldridge is miles of gradual uphill that finally reaches the road to East Peak. From there, a quick .5 miles up to the top. According to this sign, the top of Mt. Tam is 2,571 ft. above sea level, and Phoenix Lake (where I started) is 130 ft, so in 6 miles or so, I climbed over 2,000 ft. Pretty good for some climbing work. Running up Mt. Tamalpais is just frankly gorgeous, no matter if it's on a fire road or single track. I can think of few trails in the Bay Area that afford such marvelous views of the entire Bay Area. (Ok, Angel Island is great, and I *still* haven't been on Diablo, which I know is tragic.)

Anyway, I finally ended up at the top, ate a quick snack and then headed down again as it was rather freezing at the top. Here's a shot of me looking rather pensive. (No, it's not a product placement for the North Face...)

I'm not sure if I should have run this a week before Pirates' Cove-- this run was rather challenging, but I had a lot of fun, so I suppose that's what counts. I will become friends with my foam roller for the rest of the week, trying to pamper my legs before next Saturday.

You can take dogs on Mt. Tam, but they need to be on leash, and running with a border collie on leash for 15 miles is not my idea of a good time.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Well, if you really want to know...

All about me!!

So the fabulous Jo Lynn, a.k.a La Singletrack Junkie, offered to send five questions to anyone who wanted to be interviewed. Seeing as I'm always down to talk about myself to interested parties, I immediately signed right up. Here's a bit about yours truly:

1. What race are you most proud of and why?

Ah, a tricky question. I think that the race I'm the most proud of is the first Ohlone 50K I did in 2007. I had been a foster parent for the year before, and it was a rather rough year (amazing and growth-filled and fabulous, but also really, really hard). When she moved out in early February of 2007, I went into a "must do something for ME" phase and I signed up for the Ohlone 50K, not having any idea what I was in for. I went into it thinking, "Let's just have a good time," and I remember hitting the aid station at 26 miles and feeling surprised there were only 5 miles left, because I was having such a good time. I was proud of that race because I ran pretty well (faster than Ohlone 2008, with the crazy heat spell!) and because I wasn't sure I could do it-- and I did just fine. That was pretty much the start of the ultra ideas.

2. What is your pre-race/ long run routine?

Um, it's pretty scientific. First, I don't drink too many adult libations the night before. Notice I said not "too many." If Deena Kastor does not abstain the night before races, I see no reason for me to, either. That morning? Multi-grain oats for breakfast, hair in braids and then assembling a variety of Lara bars and Clif shot bloks for sustenance during my run. I usually give myself plenty of time to get to the race start, because I hate feeling rushed, but that's about it for the routine. I try not to get too obsessive-- I have a tendency for obsession and neurosis in my life overall, and having it creep into my running (which is supposed to be FUN) is something I'm trying to avoid.

3. What is your favorite post race/long run meal?

Mmmmmm...... food. I love eating. Let's see. My current immediate discovery is chicken noodle soup, but that's for the immediate, 15 minutes-after-finishing kind of meal. My favorite BIG meals? One delight is a tunafish melt. Protein and warmth. Yum. Another is the tried and true hamburger-- another combo of protein and warmth. I could go for a burrito without too much problem as well-- preferably Cancun's Nopales en Asada burrito, but I'd take a regular Carne Asada as well. Really, I'm not a picky eater and as long as it was more substantial than a salad, I'm willing to partake.

4. When did you start running? What made you stick with it?

I've always exercised. I started swimming on a team when I was 5 1/2, and I swam a LOT until I was 16. At that point, I had a falling-out with the coach of my club team and decided I would quit swimming for the club and run to stay in shape until the start of high school season. I joined my school's high school cross-country team and found out that, thanks to my swimming background, I was a pretty strong distance runner, and the x-c team appreciated having me there. My high school swim team was extremely strong. We were league champions my sophomore year, and the talent ran deep. While I didn't hurt the team, my presence wasn't as needed as it was on my high school track team, who desperately needed someone who would be a 2 miler. It was nice to be needed, so I switched to track instead of swimming my senior year. Then, when I went off to college, I ended up running on my own to stay in shape, and to stay sane. It has honestly never occurred to me to NOT run or do something to stay in shape. My parents (particularly my mom, as I have written about before) set an amazing example and I think that since it was just part of what people did in my family, I have never thought of exercise/running as something I had to "stick with"-- it's just something that I plan into my day without really thinking too much about it.

5. Were you always a trail runner? If not, what made you switch to trails from roads?

No, I was not always a trail runner. I have been an inveterate hiker since the tender age of oh, say, 2 years old, but I never thought about running any of the trails I hiked. When I moved to the 'hood in 2004, I needed a place to go running, and I was not about to run through my neighborhood on my own. Plus, my brother's dog needed to be exercised, so I started running in Wildcat Canyon because I could let him run off-leash. Around this time, I met my friend Jen, who is an incredible athlete and adventure racer, and she introduced me to another friend who ran with Tamalpa on Wednesday night trail runs during Daylight Savings. After about 2 trail runs, I was pretty hooked. Trails + running? These were two of my favorite things EVER-- why hadn't I combined them before? I never looked back after this, and with the discovery of PCTR, who needs to? Plus, there's no reason to wear fashionable gaiters in road runs, and we all know it's important to look fashionable on the trail...

Ok. Now here's the deal:

If you would like to play along and be interviewed by me:
1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by giving you five questions (I get to pick the questions.)
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

You should play-- it will be exciting for all involved!!

Thanks to Jo Lynn for the questions!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Minxes in the mud!

Ramage Peak Trail
(Chabot Staging Area- Ramage Peak Trail)
(11.5 miles- but it seemed much longer!)

First, for the prurient amongst us-- yes, there were two very muddy ladies on the trail today. But there was no wrestling and no titillating pictures. Just to be clear about that.

A new trail today! It's been quite some time since I explored uncharted (for me) territory. This hike was characterized in David Weintraub's East Bay Trails as "one of the most adventurous hikes in the East Bay, combining beautiful scenery, rugged terrain, and a sense of isolation found in few other East Bay parks..." You can do this as a 10 mile point-to-point from the Chabot Staging Area (the EBMUD staging area, not from Lake Chabot) all the way to Las Trampas, but we only had one car today, and I was thinking I wanted to go a good deal longer than 10 miles. This was before I realized how much mud slows one's pace.

Weintraub is right though-- this trail is isolated. As we drove by Lake Chabot on our way to the trailhead, tons and tons of cars were spilling out of the parking lot. We were one of TWO cars in the parking lot at this trailhead-- and we never saw any other people the entire afternoon. For the accessibility of this trail (literally 10 minutes past Lake Chabot!), I find it truly amazing how easy it is to find spots in the Bay Area that take you away from the madding crowd with very little effort.

There is one possibility for the lack of people on the trail. They might have known how muddy the trail is, post-rainy weeks. Perhaps we would not have taken this trail today, had we known how much muddied our experience today would be. And it was-- very, very muddy.

Given all that, I think this is a gem of a trail that I can't wait to come back to in drier times. EBMUD trails are definitely less well-marked than East Bay Regional Parks trails, but it is beautiful scenery to run through. The trail starts out skirting a christmas tree farm and then a cow pasture (cows seem to be the main users of EBMUD land-- there were cow patties a-plenty!). The one reminder of civilization is the shooting range nearby-- for quite some time the bucolic landscape had a soundtrack punctuated by intermittent gunfire. How picturesque.

From there, the trail alternates between open hillsides, carpeted in brilliant green (one advantage of the recent rain) and gullies shaded by oak trees. Those gullies? Mud city. And the thing about this mud is that you can't just run through it-- it was bien slippery. Plus, this was some steep up-and-down. All this made for rather exhausting trekking, even though we weren't running the whole time at all. I felt like the times we were running were actually the least tiring moments of the whole run.

Then the trail climbs steeply up to Riley Ridge. From here, Ramage Peak is just a few steps away. This is also the point at which one could continue on to Las Trampas for a point-to-point, or a very long out-and-back run. (There is also a possibility of creating a loop in Las Trampas and then heading back on the Ramage Peak trail for probably a 17-18 mile run.)

The view from atop the ridge is, as seen in the first picture, quite beautiful. Everywhere we looked we could see green hills-- and no sign of civilization! We were menaced by a gang of cows though, who were not impressed by our presence whatsoever.

We also saw two groups of wild turkeys, but they flew away before we could capture them on film. Jen almost stepped on this little newt, who I suppose we might not have seen on drier trails, so perhaps there is some consolation for the hours spent slurping through the mud.

In the picture below, you can see the beauty of the feet (and legs) after a couple of hours on the trails. So very delicate, those trail runners!

Afterwards, we headed back to Oakland for a burrito and a beer-- and since I forgot to bring pants to change into, I ended up in the skirt I was running in-- and mud-covered legs to match! Yes, I got a couple of strange looks, but at that point, I was so hungry, I didn't care. (Actually, I don't think I ever care what people think of my fashion choices if food is involved.)

There was also a video of me taken today attempting to do a "Sound of Music" moment on a hillside (because really, what's a trail run without some silliness?). If I am technically advanced enough, I will try to post it here.

In summary: Ramage Peak? Worth doing in dry weather. Because it's EBMUD land, no dogs, no bikes and you should definitely get a permit. No one asked today, but when I ran Briones Reservoir last year, we were asked for a permit 4 minutes after we parked. Fear not, Ramage Peak trail-- I'll be back!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Getting the Worm

Bald Hill
(Nathalie Coffin Greene-Phoenix Lake- Shaver Grade- Connector- Bald Hill Trail- Yolanda- Worn Springs Rd- Return to Phoenix Lake)
(6.0 miles)

This was supposed to be a much different run. The plan was to meet at Rodeo Beach at 7:00 this morning, but unfortunately my running companion called me at 6:40 to say that her car was broken into last night and she wouldn't be heading to Marin. As I was already in Marin, I decided to hit the trails a little closer to Richmond than Rodeo Beach, and headed for Nathalie Coffin Greene-- and at 7:oo in the morning, one can actually find parking!

When I woke up early this morning, it was pouring, but an hour later, the rain had stopped and amazing light was coming through the clouds. I decided that even if I wasn't going to Rodeo Beach and all the views from there, I still wanted a view, so I would run to the top of Bald Hill, which I hadn't done in a long, long time.

My run today started like this run, but then took the left-handed Yolanda trail instead of the right, to head up toward Bald Hill. Yolanda is a beautiful trail that follows the hillside, opening up to views of the hills of Marin. As you can see, the recent rains have prompted a proliferation of green growth.

Yolanda ends at Worn Springs Road--to get to the top of Bald Hill, you turn right, up the hill. I must confess that at this point, my running wasn't always um, running-- this hill is STEEP, and for some reason I felt sluggish (like a wet sponge) today.

However, once I finally got to the top of Bald Hill, the view made it completely worth it. The light shining through the clouds made me feel like I was in an inspirational Hallmark card, and from the top of Bald Hill, I could see most of the Bay.

After snapping a few pictures, I headed down Worn Springs Road and back to Phoenix Lake. This loop was less than we had planned to do from Rodeo Beach, but I think it's definitely a worthy little loop-- some rather difficult uphill and a screaming downhill as you come down Worn Springs Road.

Once again, I was glad to have gotten up much earlier than I would have on my own. I wish the car break-in had not happened, but we're thinking about making it a regular occurrence, so there will be more mid-week Marin runs!

Also, it's possible to take dogs on this trail. They are supposed to be on leash, but there were very few people on the trail at 7:00 am, and I saw a couple of dogs (gasp!) OFF-LEASH!