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!!