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!!