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...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Friendliness to all experience...*

*(Credit to Flora)

Firetrails Practice
(Lone Oak- Meadows Canyon- Seaview-Skyline-Return)
(14 miles)

To explain this run, I have to take you back to Miwok. As you know, the weather was um, miserable. Cold, wet, rainy-- not at all what everyone had predicted for May weather. Lots of ridiculous moments, as Suzanne pointed out on her race report. As we were leaving, (another Bay Area ultrarunner) Flora said, "Well, that was a day to be friendly to all experience!" I laughed then, because I understood what she meant-- everyone expected it to be hot, clear, beautiful, etc., and well, the experience was wet, muddy and cold. However, the Marin Headlands can be beautiful in all kinds of weather-- I thought that even the freezing, fog-blanketed, wind-whipped Coastal Trail had a certain beauty to it. So I got where she was coming from, but it dropped from my mind pretty quickly.

Fast-forward to yesterday. I got off work, totally excited about running a good, long run. The weather was beautiful, my knee is getting MUCH better, and I felt like I *should* be running well right now.

I started at the Firetrails turn-around, because I'm dead set on running that this year, and I'm going to start practicing running the trail NOW so that it's all very familiar when I have to run it in October. I ran the first couple of miles to Inspiration Point feeling great, but when I crossed the road to head up on the Seaview trail, all my energy disappeared and I felt like I was a lump running along. I felt SOOOOOOO tired. Normally, I'm a decent uphill runner, and I actually *like* running uphill for miles. Yesterday, I thought I was going to die if I ran anything that resembled a marginally steep grade.

The weather was still beautiful, and I took a little time to snap some pictures as I was galumphing along, but I was not a happy camper. I was totally resentful about the tiredness that was pulling my body down. It was ridiculous, I thought. The week after I ran Miwok, I ran several hard runs and I felt GREAT. I had taken it easy last weekend (school), and I felt totally justified in expecting my body to be performing well.

But it wasn't. I felt like I had been running for days, every step taking a major effort. All I wanted to do was stop. Then I started inhaling bugs (yay spring) and then, to make things even worse, I slammed my thumb in a cow gate. It hurt. A lot. By this time, I was about 7 miles out and decided to turn around, even more resentful about the crappy run I was having.

For some reason, I thought of Flora's comment post-Miwok. "Friendliness to all experience." I was having the experience of a crappy run. Or at least, the experience of not having my body do what *I* thought it was supposed to do. But really, was the run all that bad? It was beautiful out, and I was running through green grasses and wildflowers, with amazing views all around. Really, not so much to complain about. So maybe I'd walk a little more than I thought I "should"-- but so what? I had my camera with me-- I could use this time to take more pictures than I normally would.

And like that-- the run was fun again. I have been thinking about this since yesterday, and how so much of what we usually get angst-filled about is because it's not what we THINK should be happening. Recently I discovered just how much I'm among all the people who have been screwed by the mortgage crisis, and I spent a good day or so thinking about all the things I won't be able to do for the next year or so, but then it struck me that really, if I didn't have all these expectations, I wouldn't be so upset. Plus, I've been eating MUCH healthier as a result of my "don't buy any food outside the house" money-saving strategy.

And here's the kicker-- I took one of my favorite pictures ever on Friday after I decided to not be so focused on what was NOT happening in my run. Here it is--I like it because it isn't a view we often have of these flowers. It's a good reminder to me that there are many other ways of viewing an experience, and being open to them can yield beautiful things.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Jesusita Fire

I took this picture in February, when I went back to visit my parents. If you went to this spot now, you would see absolutely no green.

Last week, the Jesusita fire blazed down on Santa Barbara, destroying over 75 houses and leaving the Santa Barbara front country charred and smoking.

Trails? Um, not so much. RD Luis Escobar posted this about 9 Trails-- it will be a while until Santa Barbara recovers.

Even worse? This is the BEGINNING of fire season, and we don't exactly have a wet summer predicted...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Pacing: Version 1.0

Miwok 100K: Pacing....?
(20 miles)

Prologue: In which the circumstances of my presence at Miwok are revealed

To tell this whole story, I must rewind a bit and give you some back story. Many moons ago, Mike asked if I could pace him at Miwok. I was simultaneously honored and terrified (What if I didn't run fast enough? What if Mike thought I was annoying? What if I fell and broke something again?) but I said yes. I met Mike on the grueling climb up to Rose Peak at the blisteringly hot Ohlone 50K last year, and this kind of suffering tends to create bonds between people.

Not so many moons ago, Mike started having trouble with his calf (later revealed as an Achilles issue) and he spent the last couple of months cross-training and trying to avoid serious injury. Not so many moons ago, my knee started hurting at AR50 and I was really worried about being a pacer who got injured and slowed their runner. However, by Monday I was feeling good and ready to run.

Also running was Suzanne (a.k.a Fellow Trail Tart), and about 400 other runners I knew. (Slight exaggeration-- but this was definitely a "Who's Who" of Bay Area trail runners, with some big non-Bay Area names as well.) It was going to be a big party on the trails.

Scene 1: In which I figure out how to get to Bolinas Ridge

Got up Saturday morning pretty early. Mike didn't think he'd be at Bolinas Ridge (pacer pick-up) until 2pm, but I didn't want to leave my car there. Parking is limited, but beyond that, finding someone to drive me the 30-40 minutes into the hills of Marin AFTER finishing a 100K was going to be difficult. Steve was in the same boat as me, and we decided to carpool to Pantoll and then see if we could get a ride from Pantoll.

Here is where I learned my first pacer lesson. I had planned to take as little clothing as possible with me to pace, because I wouldn't have my car to stash stuff in. I wore my running attire (no leopard this time) and a light shell-- what I would typically wear if I were running in the rain. However, what I neglected to calculate was how long I would be waiting for my runner. We got to Pantoll around 9:30 in the morning, and it was definitely raining. Within 10 minutes of getting out of the car, I was wet and cold.

It was lots of fun to be at Pantoll though. Pantoll is at mile 22 of the race, at the end of a long and grueling climb. Some people came through with big smiles, laughing about the rain and mud, others were definitely not in their happy place.

I was pleasantly surprised to see adventure-racing Galen out, representing for baarbd. He came through Pantoll looking
pretty happy-- wet, but smiling.

More people came in, grabbed dry clothes, a sandwich, etc., and then headed out again. Just as I was starting to wonder where Mike was, he appeared at the aid station. He was hungry-- very hungry, and tired of running uphill. However, he had no pain, so this was a good sign. I got this very flattering picture of him refueling, and then he was off.

Moments later, Suzanne appeared. When I asked her how she was doing, she said "crappy," but she still had a big smile on her face, as you can see here. She introduced me to another runner's fiancé/dad crew (thanks, Leigh, for loaning your support team out!) who would be going on to Bolinas after Pantoll, fueled up and ran off.

By this time, I was cold. Rather soaked and cold. Thinking about spending the next 4 hours trying to stay dry was not making me happy. Fortunately. Leigh's crew were nice enough to not only give Steve and me a ride to Bolinas, but they let me hang out in their car at Bolinas as they waited for Leigh to come in, thereby preventing me from getting hypothermia, I'm sure.

Scene 3: Bolinas Ridge

So let me tell you about Bolinas Ridge. No, better yet, let me show you a picture. THIS is the Bolinas Ridge aid station. You can't see it because the rain was coming down in sheets, which then made rivers in the mud running down the path. Runners had to come through here twice, increasing the mud rivers running through everything. Doesn't this look like fun? Again, fortune smiled upon me, and I ran into another couple of friends. Gary was pacing Adam Blum, but his wife Holly was hanging out in the car. Once again, I was saved from hypothermia and had a great time hanging out with Holly for a while, watching people go by as they ran back toward Pantoll.

At about 1:30, I decided to get out and wait for Mike, who thought he would be going through Bolinas Ridge around 2:00, but I really didn't want him to show up and have me not there, so I got out and joined the "pacer tent." Again, don't these people look like they're having a great time?

2:00 came and went, and no sign of Mike. At this point, I was dying to run-- it was cold and wet and I could feel my legs getting tighter and colder. I was worried I would have to steal a space blanket from one of the people who were dropping from the race like flies. Seriously, it was a tough day and people were having lots of trouble staying warm. Several cases of the beginning stages of hypothermia were making lots of non-happy runners.

Suddenly I looked up and Suzanne was already at the Bolinas Ridge station-- but where was Mike? Suzanne said she had passed him between Pantoll and Bolinas Ridge, but she hadn't seen him on the out-and-back section at all. I hadn't even bothered checking my phone, as there was no reception, so I couldn't tell if he had called me. We asked the aid station people, and they radioed in to find out that Mike had dropped at Bolinas Ridge the first time through! I didn't know because I was in the car trying not to get hypothermia. Later Mike said that he had run up against the fun combo of being undertrained due to injury and being really, really chilled, and decided that being miserable for another 34 miles wasn't worth it and dropped at Bolinas Ridge.

Scene 4: Pacing!

Well, with this piece of news, I figured I might as well run with Suzanne-- I was freezing and had no other clothes at the finish line (more pacer lessons) so I didn't really want to get a ride and then wait for hours for Suzanne, and I wanted to get a long run in, so I took off with Suzanne.

Now, there are ultra jokes about runners dropping their pacers, and I had worried about that a little beforehand, but I was assured by several very experienced people that it would not be a problem pacing someone that was faster than me. Well, it almost was a problem with Suzanne. I was deeply thankful there was uphill on this 20 miles, because Suzanne is an incredibly strong downhill runner, and we were literally flying down the hills.

The great thing about being a pacer is that, being fresh, you can actually enjoy the scenery. Even though it was rather miserable for the first few miles (it was so windy and rainy, I almost lost my hat), when the rain stopped and we hit the Miwok trail, it was beautiful. This is one of my favorite pictures from the day-- verdant, lush surroundings. Notice Suzanne still smiling.

Another thing that's supposed to happen when you pace someone? They're supposed to get really tired and cranky and I was hoping to use some of the motivational, handling-bitter-people techniques that I perfected in 7 years of teaching middle school. Suzanne did not require these skills at all. While I think she was perhaps done noticing the beauty of the trails, the ONLY time she got cranky was right after we crossed Highway 1, with maybe 6-7 miles to go. However, Suzanne's version of "cranky?" Saying she didn't want to go uphill anymore, and then apologizing for being "a whiny pants." I highly recommend pacing Suzanne. But only if you can sprint downhills.

Coming into Tennessee Valley, however, Suzanne started to get "post 50-mile brain." I noticed it coming on as she said "we" had already run over 50 miles. When I pointed out that no, I had in fact, only run 16.5 miles, and SHE was the one who had run over 50 miles, not "we," she told me, "Don't make me choose a pronoun," because it was too much effort. Then she started channeling her online yoga instructor and told me that "This pose can be very therapeutic for the knee if it is done with awareness." When I ended up doubled over in laughter at this bit of wisdom, she told me not to make her laugh, because she was too tired, which of course inspired even more hilarity.

I am SO pacing Suzanne for her 1st 100. I can't wait to see who or what possesses her brain after 75 miles.

Anyway, after Tennessee Valley, it was a rather brutal (this late in the race) climb up over the ridge, and then back down to Rodeo Beach, where Suzanne was greeted with much fanfare. I got to hang out and see lots of people come in, hear how Rick's race went, and realized that while I have a couple of lessons for next time, I LOVED pacing and I'm totally excited about pacing some more.


For the future (and anyone else that might decide to become a pacer)-- here is the wisdom gained during the day:

1) Just because I was not running 60 miles did not mean I wasn't running. I completely neglected to figure out a dry change of clothes for the finish line. Fortunately, Suzanne packed her entire wardrobe in her car and had an extra shirt and jacket.

2) If I'm going to be waiting for a long time, I need to bring clothes. I didn't want to deal with leaving clothes in Steve's car, but if I had not been fortunate enough to meet people who let me hang out in their car, I would have probably gotten too cold to run.

3) Figure out a better system with my runner in case of dropping, as happened here. It worked out fine, but if they had not kept a master list of who was dropping, I would have been completely unsure of whether I should have left Bolinas Ridge or stayed.

Really though-- what a great way to spend the day! Anyone need a pacer?