Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Hills of Sunol

Sunol Regional Wilderness

(Canyon View- McCorkle- Ohlone Wilderness Trail)
(11.2 miles)

Looking at the map for Sunol, I just became sad that I don't live closer to Sunol. We came down here so I could practice running the Ohlone trail for the Ohlone 50K at the end of May, but there are SO MANY other trails in Sunol! Perhaps I shall have to schedule another Sunol outing soon.

As I've said before, Sunol is definitely a spring/fall running locale. The hills get hot, hot, hot in the summer, but our weather on Sunday was pretty much perfect. Amusingly enough, I ran this exact same trail a year ago in preparation for Ohlone. You can read more about the trail in this run, but this time we took Neko (who was absolutely thrilled) and we ended up running shorter because we decided to climb up this hill on the right to see the view. It's kind of a pain to get to-- you can't see the extremely steep down-and-up that leads off the regular trail--but the view from the top was marvelous.

This is not a trail for the faint-hearted. In fact, it's hard to write much of a trail description besides this: It climbs and climbs until you turn around. Then you run downhill. I was pretty pleased though, because I felt pretty good the entire run. I felt like I could have run farther when we turned around, but decided to play it safe because of the 5 1/2 miles of downhill on my knee (which turned out fine). I'm pacing Mike next weekend at Miwok, and I figured that having knee problems as a pacer would be unmannerly. So we kept it shorter-- but still had a great run.

One hilarious thing about this run? The dog ran so much that she made herself really stiff and sore that night-- she was limping when she got out of the car! I spent the evening worrying that I had made my dog injure herself, but then she was fine the next day-- tired, but fine. It's not surprising that she was exhausted-- I'm sure she ran at least twice what we ran, and much of that at a dead sprint (this being her favorite way of moving from place to place). So one thing we know about Ohlone? It can even tire out an Aussie/Border Collie-- and that's saying A LOT.

Clearly, dogs are fine on this trail-- plenty of cows, but dogs can be off-leash. There's some water on the trail now, but we brought water for Neko, too, and if you're going to go on a long run/hike with your dog, especially in the summer, I highly recommend bringing water.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Volunteering al Diablo....

Mt. Diablo Marathon/50 Mile Race

Oh my friends. I have been smitten with a glimpse of a truly handsome devil. He's imposing, strong and can be ruthless, but he is beautiful and delicate in parts as well. And this weekend? He was HOT (that would be the "Mmmm... delicious" as well as the "Where's the shade?" kinds of hot).

'Tis true! I had only seen this giant from a distance, gracing the profile of the East Bay Hills, viewed from vantage points all over the Bay Area. I don't think he even knew I existed. I mean, it's not like we'd ever hung out or anything. People had talked about how he could be really harsh if you didn't know him, so I didn't want this marathon (or 50 miles!) to be our first blind date, but let me tell you-- I have now gotten to hang out with him for a minute or so, and we are SO doing this again! (I left my number with one of the squirrels) Hopefully next time I'll get to know some more of his more hidden parts... er... trails. But I'll be sure protection is involved--at least 45 SPF, because that mountain is BLAZING.

All silliness aside, I really did fall in love with Mt. Diablo. I think seeing the moon setting over the hills started the day off right. I got to the Mitchell Canyon Trailhead to help with check-in at 6:00 am-- there were already runners ready to go!

Once the runners were checked in (where I met Mr. Running and Rambling in person-- thanks for saying hi, Donald!), they were herded up to the starting area and then, faster than I expected, they were off!

After the runners took off, it was a scramble to throw food and supplies into cars heading up to Juniper Aid Station, where I was going to be working with Miki and a couple of other volunteers. This was a fun aid station, because both groups came through twice, so there was lots of action and I got to see people several times. (The 50 milers came through a 3rd time, but I was working the T-shirt handout by then.)

It was on the drive up to Juniper that I realized why everyone had talked so much about Mt. Diablo. The road to Juniper climbs up the mountain and you are treated to views of the entire Bay Area on one side, and poppy-covered hills on the other. I wanted to get out and run right then!

I didn't take too many pics at Juniper because my camera battery flashed as "low" and I wanted it to last the whole day-- but then the battery was fine later on. I think my camera's health was affected by being dropped on asphalt at AR50. Whoops. Anyway, here are two shots-- one of the runners coming up the trail, into the aid station, and another of me with Miki and Marissa, my fellow aid station queens and ultrarunners as well.

After seeing the 50 milers come through a second time, as well as most of the marathoners, it was back down the hill to get ready for T-shirt duty. I like T-shirt duty-- you get to see people at the end of the race and hear how their race went. Some people were ecstatic and others were in a lot of pain. It was a tough, tough day.

I spent the next 6 hours (literally-- that's how spread out all the finishers are for this event!) handing out T-shirts, eating pizza and chatting with runners, volunteers and other PCTR groupies. Good times.

I have to include this last picture because I think this is one of the most radiant smiles I've seen on someone finishing a race-- can you believe this woman just finished a marathon on a ridiculously hard course?

After seeing Rick finish, I had to head home to beat the arrival of some house guests. All in all though, a great day-- and definitely a location I'm coming back to! Otherwise, how will Mt. Diablo and I progress in our obviously written-in-the-stars romance?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A blogoversary for me!

Exactly one year ago today, I started this blog. I have spent this week thinking about everything this blog has brought me, and being really thankful I decided to start writing it.

Obviously, I ended up running a lot more trails than I would have otherwise. I have continued my full-fledged love affair with the East Bay Regional Parks, and I feel even more blessed to live in the Bay Area (ok, we're a little smug here) than I did before, if that is even possible. I have run trails that feel like the 80 during rush hour (West Ridge on a Saturday morning, anyone?) and I have run for miles and seen no one beyond my running companion (Ramage Peak trail).

What I am the most thankful for though, is the opportunity to get to know a WHOLE bunch of really amazing people (both in real life and the "cyber world"). I have felt supported, encouraged, laughed (at and) with, inspired and amazed by the people I have met this year, many of them because of this blog.

So yeah. Go blogging. And thanks for reading, peeps! Much love and hugs to you all!

(Don't worry-- the cheesiness will be gone by the next post-- it's a new trail!)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Edifying Run for Nerds...

Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve
/Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve
(Skyline Gate- Skyline- Huckleberry Path- Skyline Boulevard (whoops)- Round Top- Quarry Trail- Pond Trail- Volcanic Trail- Round Top Loop- Bay Area Ridge Trail- Skyline)
(8.6 miles)

While neither Huckleberry nor Sibley have enough trails individually to warrant a run, this was an exquisite combination of trails, and includes plenty of learning opportunities for the inner nerd in you.

We started Easter morning from Redwood's Skyline Gate around 9:30, and barely got parking. If you are trying this hike on a weekend, come early or be prepared to be creative in your parking search. (Alternatively, if you wanted to do a little less mileage, it's possible to start from the Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve trailhead, just up Skyline Boulevard-- far less cars will be parked there, I'm sure.)

We started out on the East Ridge Trail (take the big fire road to the left) but very quickly turned off on Skyline Trail. This leads to Huckleberry, a great little botanic wonder that I have covered here. This morning, the views were outstanding, as can be seen from this vista of Mt. Diablo.

We took the upper path through Huckleberry, planning on coming back on the lower loop on our return. This was a great plan, but it meant we accidentally missed the turn off to the Bay Area Ridge Trail, and we ended up on Skyline Boulevard for a short moment (1/4 mile?) until we reached the entrance to Sibley. Getting on to the Bay Area Ridge Trail would have added another 1/2 a mile and a very steep section of trail.

However, if we had done that, we would have missed the informational kiosk at the entrance to Sibley. Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve was, to quote the informational brochure, "a complex volcanic center that was the source, 10 million years ago, of most of the lavas that underlie the ridges from Inspiration Point in Tilden Regional Park to Moraga." Perhaps you are not as nerdy as me, but I love learning different historical facts about the trails I am running on. Plus, there was a John McPhee quote included in the park information. John McPhee is one of my favorite writers-- I was convinced, simply through the strength of his writing--that geology is a fascinating subject. I will read anything John McPhee writes.

The trails in Sibley are very flat, so do not come expecting huge elevation gain/loss. However, Sibley has a high ratio of gorgeous-views-to-miles of trail. It was possible to see the Bay on one side and Mt. Diablo on the other. Mining practices have carved out hillsides in dramatic relief, exposing layers of geologic history (nerds, get out your natural history books!). Finally, Sibley is an explosion of color at the moment-- hillsides are covered with lupine, accented with California Poppies. I highly recommend running here in the next couple of weeks. Sibley will be beautiful even with the characteristic East Bay golden-brown hills of summer, but it's stunning at the moment.

We took Round Top to Quarry, and then decided to take the tiny Pond Trail loop. By itself, the little pond is quite beguiling-- a little spot of peacefulness tucked away on the hill. As we started around the pond though, frogs started jumping off the side of the pond into the water--lots of frogs! Jen took a video to try and capture the noise the frogs made as they jumped in- it sounded like a partial duck-quack, only shorter and quieter. Dogs aren't supposed to be at the pond, and while I'm clearly a dogs-on-trail kind of person, I was happy Neko wasn't there to scare the frogs. Some of them were quite large, too.

After the thrilling frog-sighting, we took Volcanic Trail back to Round Top. Volcanic Trail winds through a huge basalt lava flow--the brochure for the self-guided tour drops names like "chalcedony" and "zeolites" in its description-- how's THAT for nerdy?

Once past Round Top, we took the Bay Area Ridge Trail back towards Huckleberry. This is a great stretch of trail as well-- it drops very steeply down off the ridge, winding through shady oak trees and lots of poison oak, crossing an unnamed creek and then climbing back up the canyon to Huckleberry.

In short, a great option for a meandering run on a Sunday morning. This run has too many beautiful corners to rush. It would also be possible to start at Joaquin Miller or another gate in Redwood to add some more mileage on, if 8.6 were feeling short.

No dogs at Huckleberry, and dogs only at parts of Sibley, so I wouldn't recommend taking the pooches on this run.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

AR50= Annoying Race

American River 50
(morphed into DNF American River 18)

Well, as you can see, you do not see a picture of me in a snazzy finisher's jacket. Yesterday was both irritating and lots of fun.

Well, I suppose I should start with Friday. Phyllis and her husband picked me up after work and we headed up to Sacramento. By the time we arrived, we were definitely hungry-- and fortunately, Phyllis had scouted out the Hoppy Brewing Company, which as you can see from the picture, advertised "Great Food, Awesome Beer and Cool People." Being cool people ourselves and fans of the other two categories, we went in. THEN they had a "beer sampler" where you could try ALL the beers for the extremely reasonable price of $6.75. Being cool people who know a bargain when we see one, we of course opted for the sampler. All three of us. When the beer came, we spent a good 20 minutes laughing at how ridiculous our table looked, considering two of us were supposed to be running 50 miles the next day.

Then it was back to the motel and to bed for us, getting ready to rise at the ridiculous hour of 4:15. I made some coffee and oatmeal for breakfast and by 5:15 we were in the car, headed for the start.

It was very dark at the start. And there were a lot of runners. And very huge lines for the toilet.

They shooed us all up on the levee for the start, which seemed to happen pretty fast. I've never been dropped off for a race before and usually I get to races early because I HATE dealing with parking and worrying about time.

The first 27 miles of AR50 are pretty flat. The first 15 are ridiculously flat. Pancake flat, even. I don't remember the last time I ran a race on such flat terrain. Phyllis and I were trying to hold ourselves back and all I could think after mile 2 or so was how bored I was. Yes, there was a sunrise and we were running alongside the river and that was nice and all-- but I was trying to run really slowly, which is not so interesting either.

However, when we hit mile 5, things started to get more interesting. But not in a "hey, cool trail!" interesting way-- more in a "uh-oh-- what's THAT?" kind of way. My stupid knee started to make its presence known, and by mile 8, I was in full-blown pain. I could stop and stretch it out a little, which would help for maybe 1/4 of a mile, but it was not getting better. Phyllis was running with me, but as I could feel myself needing to stop for stretch breaks, I told her to go on ahead-- which she did. (She ran to a great sub-10 hour finish for her first 50 ever! Rockstar!)

I limped on for another 10 miles, but by mile 18, I was not having fun. Quite literally, it hurt every step, and this was not the way I wanted to spend another 32 miles. I dropped at the aid station at mile 18, and then got a ride to Beal's Point, where I was supposed to meet my safari-barbie-pacer in crime. Needless to say, Suzanne was rather shocked to see me walk up from the parking lot. She let me cry on her zebra sleeve for a minute (and posed for this fabulous picture), and offered to hang out with me for the rest of the day while we waited for Phyllis, but I told her that was silly-- she came all this way, she might as well get a run in.

I took Suzanne's car (and two other runners who had dropped) to the finish line, where I spent a good four hours volunteering at the finish line, taking chips off peoples' shoes as they came in. As at Firetrails, volunteering lets you see the fast people come in, which is not an experience I will ever have if I'm running the race myself. It was also a little bittersweet, because it definitely added to the "I want to be a finisher, too!" vibe, but I was definitely having a better time than if I had sat around all afternoon. Plus, I got to give people I knew hugs as they came in, like Andy, and then Phyllis right as she came over the finish line. (I also confused people, with a "but aren't you... what happened... I thought...") Considering Andy ran a sub-8:00 finish, he probably would have eaten his hamburger and taken off to find a post-race beer by the time I had arrived. So DNFing has its silver linings, I suppose.

Up next? Well, back to the PT, I suppose. And no more flat concrete. Now I'm off to ice my knee and then take the dog on an outing, possibly with a post-race libation included...