Monday, December 31, 2007

Reflections on a Year of Running

I wasn’t actually planning one of those typical “year in review” blog posts, until Scott Dunlap tagged me with the assignment. I guess I just needed the motivation! I ask my students to reflect on themselves as writers twice a year by reviewing all their writing pieces and assessing their strengths and weaknesses as writers. They whine a lot of course, but the process is invaluable in my eyes. Through reflection we see our own learning and progress take place, and can use that information to set appropriate goals. Given the value I place on reflection for my students, one might ask why I wasn’t planning such a post. What my students don’t understand is that I truly empathize with them. I understand the challenges of reflection and self-assessment.

Let me share a typical scene from my classroom for illustration.

Me: “After filling out the evaluation, please write me one page in which you discuss your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Please use specific examples from your own writing to support your opinions.”

Student: [whiny voice] "What? Why do we have to do this?"

Me: “So that you can figure out how to become a better writer, and think more about what you’re writing and why.”

Student: “But I don’t want to think!”

Me: [sighs in resignation] “I know. Just try.”

Fortunately, looking back at my year of running is much more fun (and far less depressing) than assessing my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Whew! So, without further ado…

1. Most memorable moment on the trails.

There are so many choices, but I spend a lot of time running with one of my dogs as my only companion, a crazy border collie named Cap, and those runs comprise most of my running memories from the year. My most memorable was a training run we did in June on the Tahoe Rim Trail. We had an epic day running 26 miles on the trail, essentially running the TRT 50K course, minus the Red House Loop. I planned to carry everything I needed for the day, and set out with a hydration pack filled with food and water and two handheld bottles. I felt like a fully loaded mule, while Cap bounced around my legs like a jack rabbit on speed. (Note to self: look into doggie backpacks for Cap.) Although only June, I knew there would be very little left in the way of natural water sources, so I would also be sharing my supplies with Cap.

We had an incredible day and saw almost no one else on the trail. Although it wasn’t too hot, it is bone dry at 8000 feet, and I was careful to conserve our water usage. Nonetheless, with 6 miles to go, we ran out of water. It doesn’t sound too bad, but since I had been sparing with the water all day, I was already quite dehydrated. I never thought 6 miles of downhill would feel so hard. It was a good lesson, and it was also one of those days where “toughing it out” was good mental training. Upon returning to the car we both inhaled a few quarts of water, then jumped into Lake Tahoe for an exhilarating reward and ice-down.

I remember floating in the clear water of the lake, utterly refreshed, gazing up at the surrounding mountains where Cap and I had just spent the day, and laughing in joy at our brilliant adventure. Although physically drained, I never felt stronger and more alive.

For a "most memorable race" I would have to give the nod to the Cool 12 Hour Night Run. Howling cyotes, shooting stars, running in the pitch dark when my flashlight burned out, a close encounter with a skunk, and a billy goat in a tree! Whoever said the Olmstead Loop was boring??

2. Best new trail discovered in 2007.

This is a tough question. Although I spent time on a lot of different trails this summer, very few of them were new to me. For a brand new trail, my favorite was Discovery Park in Seattle. It’s an incredible little slice of wilderness in the middle of the city.

Closer to home, I would say the Hole in the Ground Trail. Although this trail isn’t exactly new to me, (I have mountain biked it a few times) this year was the first time I did any trail running on it. It’s a popular trail for mountain bikers due to its scenic beauty and technical difficulty. This meant that bringing Cap required a lot of time with him on the leash. He wasn’t quite 2 years old for our first run on this trail, and it was the beginning of his serious training as a running partner.

The best features of this trail: high altitude (it’s near the Sierra crest) technical running, breathtaking scenery, and a perfect lake for swimming right at the halfway point.

3. My best performance of 2007.

The Way Too Cool 50K. If you don’t like crowds on a trail that is mostly singletrack, then this race may not be for you. Otherwise, I can’t recommend it highly enough. A combination of solid early season training in preparation for the Death Valley Trail Marathon, and an accidental 2 week taper led me to a strong performance of 5:26. Although you can’t really compare this course to the TRT course, (my previous PR) I took pleasure in the fact that it was a PR by an hour and 20 minutes. Much of this course is graced with long smooth “barely downhill" downhills with great footing. There are only two climbs, and they are both short and steep. I think my keys to a good performance were maintaining a solid pace hiking the two uphills, and letting fly on the long easy downhills.

4. I don’t know how I previously survived without...

My dog Cap as my running partner. Have I talked about him enough yet? Every girl needs a good training partner, and sharing an adventure is always more fun than going alone.

5. The person I would most like to meet on the trails in 2008.

My response to this question is non-specific. My favorite part about ultra running this year was all the wonderful people I met, and my goal is to do the same next year. At Sliver State I met Olga and Scott for the first time. At TRT I met Jessica and Addy. During that race I met and ran with Tate, probably the most significant encounter since we spent about 45 miles together that day. Never underestimate the rarity of finding someone with whom you are compatible both as a runner and as a friend! At Lake of the Sky I met Peter and Catherine, and at Helen Klein Catherine and I got to run together for several miles. There were innumerable others whom I met during races as we briefly shared a few miles of trail, not to mention race directors like Nancy Warren, Norm and Helen Klein, and Robert and Linda Mathis.

Community is an important part of ultra running, and one of the things that will keep me coming back to races (and keep me blogging!) So, I would most like to meet all the people I have not yet met!

6. The race I am most excited about for 2008.

TRT 100, I guess. (Do I sound excited?) I’m still tossing around races for next year, and the excitement won’t really kick in until I have my calendar established and my training begun. Still, this is definitely the right course for my first 100. I feel intimate with that trail, and I love the course.
Hey Tate, are you reading this? Do you want to run TRT 100 with me?

The only person I am tagging on this game is Catherine. This partly because all the other blogs I read have already made a post similar to this, and also because today is the last day of 2007, so it's getting a bit late for this sort of thing. (I am the biggest procastinator I know.)

See you all in 2008!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy New Year!

Growing up in Southern California, I never even knew there was such a thing as “the off season.” To me, that simply meant the relaxing lull between cross country and track seasons, when I ran on my own for two weeks over Christmas break. It wasn’t until I moved to Minnesota when I was 22 that I discovered the true nature of seasonal sports.

I was more of a climber than a runner at the time, and I was a bit stunned when I realized that my main option for winter climbing was 5 months indoors hanging out with spandex clad chalk hounds who’s primary concerns were whether that hold was “on,” and if their buddy spent too much time hangdogging. I took a brief foray into rock climbing’s much less popular winter cousin, ice climbing. Although I did love the gear, (How cool are crampons! And ice tools? They look like something straight out of a slasher movie!) I did not enjoy the shivering stints at the endless belays in 20 below temps, bundled in my partner’s oversize down coat and trying desperately to keep a decent grip on an icy rope with giant mittens on my hands.

Ice climbing not turning out to be my big passion, I decided to try my hand at other winter sports. That led me to dog sledding, naturally. Well, I was in Minnesota after all. I spent a winter working as a handler for a musher in the northern part of the state. While I spend more time on other winter sports these days, dog sledding was a passionate and intense love affair. A friend once described it as the winter equivalent of white water kayaking. Thrilling! Unfortunately, it also requires a lot of dogs.

Living in the Sierra, I have turned my off-season pursuits to sports more practical to the locale, like skiing. Lest you think skiing is purely a gravity sport, and not much of a workout, let me enlighten you.

Cross country skiing is in many ways the winter equivalent of trail running. You can get out into the beautiful parts of the mountains, with little or no other people, and it’s an incredible workout. I love skate skiing for the high intensity and speed, and classic skiing for its access into the backcountry and untracked beautiful areas.

Even at the downhill resort, I get a workout telemark skiing. It’s essentially like doing squats all day long, no joke. In the last week I got in my first two ski days of the year, spent about 3 hours skiing each day, and my quads feel like I just finished a 20 mile downhill run. If that doesn't seem like enough for you, try tele skiing in the backcountry. A few hours of skiing uphill to 'earn your turns' will kick anyone's butt. Definitely good off season training.

Currently I’m on winter break, and enjoying the opportunity for a little more exercise. Christmas came early for me when a winter storm caused a snow day on the last day of school before break. (Did you realize when you were a kid that your teachers looked forward to snow days more than you did??) I spent my snow day cross country skiing through the forest out my backyard with my two dogs. I forgot that deep powder is better suited to downhill skiing than cross country, and it was a serious workout. I tried to get the dogs to break trail, but the powder was over their heads, and they are too smart for that. It took me 2 and a half hours to ski a trail that is a 30 minute run in the summer time, and I loved every minute of it!

XC Skiing: "Get off my ski tails doggies!"

The Unbroken Trail Ahead

Ultimately, I have come to love the off season sports in their own right. I know my body can't handle 12 months of running, and I am ready for a change of pace by the time fall comes around. I'm not as comfortable with any sport as I am with running, but that's part of the enjoyment. Facing a steep downhill slope on a pair of skis is definitely pushing the limits of my comfort zone. Other things have to take a back seat to training for races so often, that its fun to get some variety in my exercise. Winter time also brings an increase in my yoga practice, which I have found is critical to maintaining a healthy physical balance. The strengthening and stretching of a variety of muscles in yoga, dissolves the tension that builds up in a season full of running.

At this point it’s time to start training for next year’s races. I haven’t really decided on my races yet, but like most of you, I won’t be running Western States this year. There have been a number of heated discussions on other blogs about how hard it is to get through the lottery, (You have a 13% chance according to the WS website!) so I won’t go off on the topic here. As a two time loser however, I was especially concerned by this statement in the rejection email, “Be aware that the WS organization is considering a modification to the two-time loser rule, however, and your two-time loser status may be impacted by change to the protocol.” Great. To be honest, I would like to run another 100 before an attempt at States, so I wasn’t disappointed at all about not winning the lottery. However, I was kind of counting on that “two time loser” status to get me a guaranteed entry into the ’09 race. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Two probable races for next year include Miwok 100K and TRT 100. If I’m really going to do TRT, then that will be my focus, and any other races will simply be training runs. One thing to note if you’re interested in doing Miwok: it appears to be going the route of Way Too Cool. Last year it filled in three days. Entries for the 2008 Miwok race open on January 6, so I suggest you mark your calendars. (Of course, I marked my calendar for the Way Too Cool sign-up, but I forgot to set my alarm. Oops! Guess I’ll be volunteering this year!)

Looking back on the year, I had a full load of races and a great season. Admittedly, the only race I was really in ideal shape for was Way Too Cool, which was very early in the season. Still, I was happy with my race at TRT 50, and HK50, and I really enjoyed all of my other races. I think my favorite race was the 12 Hours at Cool night run. There is just something about the serenity of running alone at night that is quite unlike most other trail running.

Have a happy new year everyone. I’m off to write my training calendar for 2008!

Donner Lake, viewed from our xc ski on "the back loop"

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Beautiful Day at HK Classic

Saturday was the running of the last event in the trail series, the Helen Klein Ultra Classic. Named after the ultra running legend herself, the race is put on by Helen and Norm Klein, and follows an out and back course along the American River in Sacramento.

My journey began Friday afternoon as I headed “down the hill” from Truckee to spend the evening at a friend’s house in Orangevale, very near the start of the race. Upon hearing that I planned to run 50 miles the following day, my friend exclaimed, predictably, “I wouldn’t ride my bike that far!” I gave her that placating smile that is the usual response to this sentiment (or even better, the statement ‘I wouldn’t drive my car that far!’) But after pausing to actually think about it, I had to agree, “I don’t think I would really ride my bike that far either!” I said. She laughed, but hey, my back and shoulders get really tired from cycling!

The race began at Cavitt Jr. High School, and runner check-in was in the gym. I arrived early for once, at around 6:00 am, to check in and get my race goodies. The brightly lit gym was already full of runners pinning on race numbers, adjusting hydration packs and prepping drop bags. It was a great place for the start and finish, as the gym provided a warm place to wait, and the use of the locker rooms and showers was wonderful after the race.

Norm explains the course

Norm had breakfast ready, and I was comfortably sipping my coffee and eating a bagel when Catherine found me. She would be running her first 50 miler today. We finished all our pre-race duties, and gathered with the crowd in the gym to hear Norm’s briefing about the course. It was pretty straightforward, since we would be following the bike path the whole way, but he did mention that there was a small detour at one point. He said they put up an excessive number of signs to mark the detour, and that there was “absolutely no way in hell anyone could get lost.” This statement was met with a roar of laughter from the crowd, and some smart remarks from a few folks seated near me.

Catherine and Me, waiting for the start

Everyone listens intently to Norm

Soon we headed out the door for the half mile walk to the start. Catherine and I caught up with Peter Lubbers and Scott Dunlap just outside the gym, and spent the walk sharing running stories from the summer. Peter had the foresight to bring a flashlight, which was helpful on the dark trail. By the time we reached the starting line there was just enough light to see by, and Scott and Peter moved up to the front. I looked around, but somehow I had lost Catherine already.

Bloggers, super speedsters, series champs and all-around nice guys, Scott and Peter

We set off into the rising sun, and I made a point to take in the scenery. Living in Tahoe, I am lucky to have breathtaking scenery on most of my runs, but I really appreciate running someplace different. I think every trail has something beautiful to offer, and this one was no exception. As we ran across a small dam, the sunrise reflecting on the water appeared as a pool of lava. It lent an eerie glow to the usual excitement in the early stages of a big race.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the first several miles are a gradual downhill. The running was blissful, and I chatted with another runner named Kenny. He was training to attempt a Boston qualifying time at CIM in December. I was a little puzzled until I found out he was running the 30K. “Oh my God, I’m running too fast!” I declared. I wished Kenny good luck as I watched him speed off into the distance.

I spent much of the first 15 miles with an internal monologue debating my pace. Am I going too fast? It feels fast, but it feels great. I didn’t really train hard enough to run fast. But I’m rested and it’s a flat course, so I can probably run well. I don’t want to go too fast too early though. Am I going too fast??

Soon Catherine came up behind me and saved me from this circular conversation with myself. We ran together for a while, and I told her my plan was to take a short walking break every 40 minutes. She was considering a similar plan, and I encouraged her not to skip the early breaks when we would still be feeling good. I feel that’s what saved me in my first 50 and allowed me to feel good at the end. I wished Catherine good luck as I made a quick detour into the bushes.

Running alone again, I plugged in my ipod and began chugging along at a steady pace. I’m pretty sure bluegrass music is the best thing to listen to during an ultra. It has a great, steady beat that is motivating, but not so crazy that you start running too fast. The sounds of South Austin Jug Band and Hot Buttered Rum kept me going for the entire first half of the race. You can have the whole “headphones vs. no headphones” debate if you want, and most of my races are run without headphones, but at this race I think the music was a godsend. While beautiful, the scenery was still rather homogenous. Running to my own soundtrack kept me smiling all day, in spite of the lack of significant landmarks.

As the morning grew to a more reasonable hour, the bike path came alive and the people watching was as much entertainment as anything. There were bikers, runners, families with strollers. On the river there were flyfishers, sail boats and kayakers. It was tuning out to be a beautiful day.

Catherine and I played leapfrog and ran together here and there. I was extremely glad that there were real bathrooms with toilet paper on this course, as I had to make use of several. Upon reaching my dropbag at the Sunrise aid station I shed my long sleeved shirt, but decided against picking up my second water bottle. It was supposed to reach 77 degrees, but the aid stations were so close together that I really didn’t think I’d need more than one bottle. Plus at the pace I was running, covering the 3 miles or so between aid stations didn’t take long at all. As it was, I still only topped off my bottle at about every other station. I realized that there were so many aid stations I would lose a lot of time if I stopped at every one, and it just wasn’t necessary. I was glad I had gone light, with my ipod and GU’s in my pockets, and my camera in the pocket on my water bottle.

I had given Kenny a high five on his way back to the 30K finish, and now seeing first Scott, then Peter heading back, I knew I was nearing the halfway point for my own race. I hit the turnaround at 4:12, well under 9 hour pace. I started to debate my pacing once again. If I didn’t slow down (highly unlikely!) I would run about 8:25. My PR for the distance was 9:28, run at AR50 in 2006. I had a pretty good cushion to slow down and still get a PR, and it was tempting. The day would be getting warmer, my hips were getting tight. Why push it? But then I wondered, when was the last time I’d had anything but the most modest goals for my races? It had been a while. I was in a position to run a decent time, why not go for it, instead of pretending that I didn’t really care. So my plan was to get as close to that 8:25 as possible. I knew some slowing was almost inevitable, but figured if I kept a goal oriented attitude, I could certainly break 9 hours.

For the return trip I indulged myself in 2 podcasts of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” Listening to the NPR show had been so much fun at my last race, and once again it had me laughing my way down the trail. I settled into a pace I felt I could hold, started skipping my walking breaks, and slowly, very slowly, began passing people.

The day grew warmer, and I noticed a few aid station volunteers sipping cold beer. Now that looked good! I opted for ice in my water bottle instead. I also forewent my usual barrage of PB&Js and other solid foods. I knew the increased pace would keep my stomach from happily accepting anything like it usually does. Instead I ate GU and salty potatoes. I had a few ginger candies in my pocket, and those also went down well. But as I started the last ten miles, I realized I was probably working with a serious calorie deficit. Uh oh. Would I bonk? I shoved down another GU. Ugh.

I realized that my arms were turning a nice shade of watermelon at this point. I had started the day with 45 spf sunblock, but now it looked like I should have reapplied long ago. I told myself I would ask for sunscreen at the next aid station, but inevitably at every aid station I forgot. I would just have to add sunburn to the list of post-race enjoyments like blisters, tight hips and serious chaffing. Whatever.

I didn’t really feel like I was struggling until the last few miles. The music of Michael Franti and Spearhead was pulling me along with such enthusiasm that when the album "Everyone Deserves Music" ended, I had to listen to it again. I could see that I was going to finish close to 8:40, but unfortunately this is when I realized that the first few miles had been downhill. Now I wouldn’t call any of this a serious uphill. It certainly wasn’t anything I was going to walk. But trying to maintain my same pace was not the easiest thing I ever did. I was glad Peter had pointed out the trail we were on that morning because it really didn’t look the same in the daylight, and there were no course markings for the last half mile. I made my way through the school grounds and to the finish line in 8:39 and was stoked.

Both Scott and Peter were in the gym when I finished, and my first thought was, wow, I really must have been fast if those guys are still here! Of course they were both showered, changed, fed, and ready to go home. They were also both loaded down with prizes from the race series. In a dramatic finish, Peter had beaten out Scott for the overall series win by less than 2 points. I’m pretty sure they planned it that way just to keep us all guessing. Scott had to feel pretty good though with his fast finish under 7 hours!

As I hobbled into the showers, I found myself wondering how fast I might have run if my training had consisted of an average weekly mileage that was more than 30 miles per week for the last 3 months. Although I generally prefer courses with dirt trail and more hills, I can really see the allure of this course for running a fast time. If I was ever going to run sub-8 it would be at Helen Klein.

After getting down a little food and a lot of water, I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Robert and Linda Mathis, who put on the race series and direct several of the races. They were busy calculating the results of the series, and loaded me down with prizes too. Going into HK I was in 2nd place in my age group and 5th overall. I knew I had a good shot at winning my age group, but as it turned out, a couple of the women ahead of me didn’t run this last race, so I won my age group and took 3rd woman overall. This garnered me 2 pairs of trail shoes, $150 in gift certificates to Fleet Feet, and a bunch of other cool schwag. How fun! Scott had given me one of his pair of trail shoes since he was already sponsored by Innov8 and had all the trail shoes he needed. Now I needed to pass this gift on since I had won shoes of my own. I thought I would give it to Catherine for finishing her first 50. Although I got anxious about the drive home and left before she finished, Catherine crossed the line in 9:51. Congratulations Catherine!

On my drive home I enjoyed a relaxed state of post-race bliss. I love running ultras! I love the people, I love the events. I actually love all the time spent alone in my own head, running down the trails. I had such a great summer and fall of running, even though at times I completely blew off my training. I ran more ultras this year than ever before, and came through it all uninjured. And to be honest, I am really ready to take some time off until the spring races start. If this weather holds, I’ll be rock climbing on Donner Summit, and when we get the huge storms that I am hoping for I’ll be skiing the sierra pow!

I do have to give a big thanks to Norm and Helen and all the volunteers for putting on a great event, and to Robert and Linda for RD-ing and volunteering at so many races, as well as putting on the race series. That’s a lot of work! And to the rest of you, as Robert said to me as I walked out the door of the gym, “See you in March at Rucky Chucky!”

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Lake of the Sky 50K

It’s been two weeks since I ran the Lake of the Sky 50K in Tahoe City, and I finally have a minute to sit down and reflect on the day. Our wet fall weather took a break for the weekend, and the morning dawned cold amidst the clearing clouds. I walked up Fairway Drive towards the start and breathed in the sunrise before me. The early light reflected off a glassy Tahoe, while pink clouds still hugged the surrounding mountains.

I arrived with just enough time to check in and toss my extra clothing in to my car. I decided to start out in tights, a long-sleeved shirt and gloves. I ran with my hydration pack, not so much for water capacity, but in order to have a place to stow my extra clothes that I would undoubtedly shed as the day progressed and warmed. I knew we would spend the early miles climbing, but I just didn’t feel like shivering through them. As it turned out, I kept the tights and long sleeves on for most of the day.

We gathered at the start and I noticed a few familiar faces, including Scott Dunlap sporting some brightly patterned sleeves (very stylish Scott!) and Bev Abbs. I made the rare choice to position myself near the front of the start, as I knew the course went immediately onto singletrack. Although I didn’t exactly plan to sprint up the hill, I still didn’t want to get caught in the inevitable bottleneck. I planned on running much of the initial grind, and knew that many folks would not. It worked out well, and as the true racers sprinted ahead I found myself with a line of runners who held a steady jog on all but the steepest and more technical stretches.

Familiarity with the first half of the course helped the miles fly by initially. In no time I was at the first aid station where Jack Driver and friends were keeping us well stocked with goodies.

The cold weather had brought a hard frost to the ground. I knew the rocky technical trail was a challenging one, but I had no idea how bad it could really be. Uneven rocks covered with an icy frost do not make for an enjoyable running surface. We were slipping and sliding all over the place! Walking turned out to be the safest choice for this stretch.

I soon found myself running alone, and plugged in my headphones to keep myself company. I rarely run with music, but I knew this was not going to be a fast day for me, and thought a little extra entertainment was in order. With that in mind, I had downloaded a podcast of my favorite NPR show, a hilarious news quiz called “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” to listen to on the run. The moment Peter Sagel’s voice welcomed me to the show, I knew it was a great idea. My only concern was the strange looks other runners were surely giving me as I shouted out the answers to the show’s questions, my responses ringing across the forest floor. Fortunately no one was around when, at several points, I found myself laughing so hard at the show I nearly had to stop running. For my next race I’m going to have to download 3 or 4 shows, because I was so bummed when that one was over. I had also downloaded a podcast of “This American Life,” but decided the chances of it making me cry were too great, so I didn’t listen to it. Crying and running do not go nearly as well together as laughing and running.

At the Watson Lake aid station there was quite a Thanksgiving feast available. I had no trouble putting away a slice of pumpkin pie (with whipped cream!) and it carried me easily to the last aid station before the turn around.

At this point I started to feel the miles, and I knew I would get slower throughout the rest of the day. The course climbed uphill as the halfway point approached, and I chose to walk most of it. I began to see the race leaders heading back the other direction and I was grateful for this indictor that the turnaround was not far.

I spent the remainder of the day simply enjoying the scenery and trying to forget about how slow I was going. To be honest, I don’t really like to go slow, so it was a good exercise in patience and letting go of any time goals. It seemed to take me about an hour between each aid station, regardless of how far apart they were. I snarfed another slice of pie at Watson Lake, and pulled out my camera to get some scenery photos now that the clouds had really cleared. Unfortunately my camera battery was dead, so that didn’t work out too well.

The technical downhill as I neared the finish line was as treacherous as I knew it would be. It would have been a joy to run down those last 4 miles if the trail had been soft dirt. Unfortunately my legs were weak and the rocks were vicious, so I picked my way slowly and carefully. At the finish, I noticed that all of the runners who had run fast times also sported bloody wounds on their knees and shins. Coincidence? I think not!

I crossed the line in 7:42, not quite my slowest 50K ever. As Peter Lubbers later pointed out though, it’s really a 33 mile course. Well, okay, I guess that makes it a little better. (Can you tell I didn’t do a good job of letting go of my concerns about time?)

After the race I indulged in an incredible buffet of home cooked food and met a few new folks, including Catherine and Peter. So great to meet you guys! I’ll be looking for you all, and more familiar faces, at Helen Klein next weekend.

A few days after the race, I went down to Orange County to visit family and was able to hook up with Jessica and the OCTR crew. We went for a great 6 miler in Peter’s Canyon. I felt great, and I definitely noticed the advantages of training at altitude, as those uphills at sea level felt almost easy. Thanks so much for putting the run together Jessica!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Fall Comes to the Mountains

Although the miles have been few, they have certainly been sweet here on the trails of Tahoe. The change in seasons always leaves me with a sense of nostalgia, especially in fall. Perhaps it's because summer is my favorite season in the mountains and I'm sad to see it go. But it seems to be the combination of that sadness, coupled with the excitement of the coming snow and all the joys of the ski season, that leave me with the odd feelings that I identify with fall. When I lived in southern California, it was the way the Santa Ana winds blew the smog away, leaving a crystal clear view of the distant mountains that gave me this feeling. The difference is that down south, the onset of winter means that the best season for running is just beginning, whereas here I am doing my best to appreciate every last day of clear mountain trails.

Friday's run on my backyard trail

Saturday's run on the TRT

The aspens have begun to turn, and I have spent several days already running through snow dusted trails. It makes for heartbreakingly beautiful running. The crisp air also means I don't carry much water, even on a 20 mile run. Summer may be my favorite season, but I think fall provides the best running conditions.

Paige Meadows on the TRT

The TRT heading west from Tahoe City

The Truckee River

Last weekend I payed a visit to my old stomping grounds, the beautiful trails of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. This is where I ran my first marathon to qualify for Boston, and where I trained for Grandma's marathon, which still stands as my PR for the distance nearly a decade later. Needless to say I have a fondness for running in this town. Unfortunately I missed the peak of the fall colors, as the leaves were really just beginning to turn. If you ever have the opportunity to run the Twin Cities Marathon, I highly recommend it. It is flat, fast beautiful, and filled with cheering spectators for the entire distance. When I lived in both St. Paul, and south Minneapolis I trained on portions of the course which follow bike paths along the many rivers, creeks and lakes of the Cities. Last week I ran what felt like a blazing fast 7 miles along Minnehaha Creek, and recalled the joys of sharing urban running trails with all the other runners out there. It's a contrast to the solitude of running on mountain trails, and perhaps that's what gives me such an appreciation for it. I feel like I suddenly have a hundred running partners, even though I likely won't say more than "Hi" to any of them. That always contributes to the feeling of speed, oh, and the fact that I live at 6000 feet and ran on a flat paved trail at sea level!

The Mississippi River viewed fromthe Science Museum in St. Paul MN

While Andrew and I were in Minneapolis, the bears here in Truckee were up to some unusual antics. It's been a tough year for the bears up here, with more than 30 killed by cars in the Tahoe area this season. It's no wonder then that this bear decided it would be preferable to jump off a bridge than tangle with an oncoming vehicle.

The scared bear clings to the side of Rainbow Bridge on old highway 40 (photos courtesy of Tahoe Tribune)

You can read the entire story here, but the short version is that the Bear League set up a safety net, tranquilized the bear, and pushed it off the side into the net. The bear was fine.

This is the excitement of life in a small town. In truth though, the issue of how to leave peacefully in the natural envorinment is a serious one. Although this is a sensational story, it is only one of many cases where the bears (and other wildlife) are adversely affected by the presence of humans. I'm glad, this time, that the bear got out alive.

This week is the Lake of the Sky trail run in Tahoe City. My training has been sorely inadequate, but I'm trying to think of it as a training week for the upcoming Helen Klein 50 Miler. Thus no tapering for me, although frankly I don't see how I could run any lower mileage than I already am. The weather looks questionable for the race at this point, so I am getting mentally prepared for a cold wet day.

For those of you with big races coming up, good luck! Addy is running her first 50 miler at Dick Collins Fire Trails 50 on the 13th, and Russ his first 100 miler at San Diego 100 on the 20th. I'll be sending good vibes your way!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

School Daze

With a last-minute-end-of-summer job change and the start of school this month, my world has completely changed. What happened to all that time for running?? Being a teacher, the flip side of having summers off is that you have no life at all during the school year. Suddenly I am teaching high school English (I've only taught middle school in the past) and find myself drowing in prep and grading already. Drowning as in, I don't yet know exactly what I'm teaching today for a class that starts in 4 hours.

But here I am. Blogging.

I just realized that, while doing a good job is really important to me, taking time for some personal pursuits is necessary to my sanity. No one wants an insane teacher, afterall. Although some might argue we are insane to be in the profession at all.

Anyhow, mid-week running has been hard to find these days, and it mostly consists of short runs with the dogs. The bulk of my mileage comes on the weekend, and still, my weekly mileage is quite low. I still plan to run my upcoming 50K and 50 miler, counting on the magic of that weekly long run.

It's clear that fall has come to the mountains, as we have had a fire in the woodstove (our only heater) for 3 nights in a row. The willows have turned a hazy orange and the morning dog walk requires a warm hat and jacket. (But I'll continue to wear flip flops until the snow flies, my feet need to breathe!)

I've checked out some new (to me) sections of the Tahoe Rim Trail the last few weekends, and enjoyed some mid-run swims in high mountain lakes. The real goal of all of it is to enjoy the last days of summer while exercising vain attempts at tiring out my crazy border collie. I wonder if there are any 100 mile races that will allow you to have a dog as your pacer? I know he could go the distance. Perhaps I could rent him out to other runners.

I hope everyone out there is having some great running adventures. One of these days I am going to catch up on all your blogs! Meanwhile, here are some images from my long runs the last few weeks.

Lake Tahoe viewed from the TRT above Tahoe City

Lava rock trail on the TRT

A rare cool rainy day in Tahoe. Perfect running conditions!

My awesome training partner, Cap the crazy boder collie!

Castle Peak, viewed from Andesite Peak on "The hole in the ground Trail." That open slope above the treeline is one of my favorite backcountry ski destinations.

Smoke from several distant wildfires made for a hazy day.

Lola Montez lake makes for a great swimming hole for humans and dogs on the Hole in the Ground Trail.

The Indigo Girls rock the Power to the Peaceful concert in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I went for a beautiful urban run in the park that morning.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A Starry Night in Cool

Cruising down I-80 at 5:30 pm, it seemed odd to be on my way to a race. For one thing, I still felt a few aches and pains from my last race, three weeks prior. And for another, the sun was going down.

I squinted into the sun, heading west from Truckee down into the Sierra foothills toward the town of Cool. I had signed up for the Cool 12 hour night run in order to experience some firsts. I had never done a timed run before nor done any night time running. I hope one day to run a 100 miler, and I thought a little experience running at night might be a good idea.

One odd thing about starting a race at 7:00 pm was how to handle what I ate during the day. A typical race morning diet for me includes a bagel, banana and a cup of coffee, but I had the full day stretching out before my race, holding the question of what to eat. By default, I simply ended up snacking on carbs all day.

Runners gather at the start

I arrived at the Cool fire station at 6:30 with plenty of time to check in, get my number and dial out my gear. I planned to carry both a headlamp and a hand held flashlight because I really didn’t know which would work better, and thought I may even want them both. The course followed a nine mile loop which runners would repeat for the 12 hour night, and I had one drop bag at the start/finish area. This allowed for some convenient options for gear, and I stuffed my bag with various methods of water carriage, items of food and clothing, spare batteries, blister cures, socks and the like.

Nancy explains the course

Race director Nancy Warren explained the course markings and the rules. The cut off at the start/finish area would be 5:00 am, so in reality most of us would be running for less than 12 hours. Almost everyone I spoke with before the start had very moderate ambitions for this race. The nice part about the loop course was that you could essentially stop whenever you felt like it. I personally planned to go very easy and do a lot of walking. My biggest goal was to remain uninjured, and my secondary goals were to have fun and get some experience running at night. I ran into Olga, who had flown down that day from Oregon and would be flying back in the morning. I couldn’t believe she was making such a whirlwind trip of it, and I was hoping that the drive back to the SF airport in the morning wouldn’t be too bad for her! She seemed to be carrying some new injuries and didn’t seem too excited about the race. Well, I don’t know Olga well, so maybe this is just pre-race mode for her. (I read her blog this week to learn that she was dealing with a lot of stuff that weekend!)

Soon we were off into the setting sun. Sticking with my plan, I started slow and steady. I started with taking walking breaks every 25 minutes, but soon decided that I would simply walk all the uphills. This made for more frequent walking breaks, but that was fine, and most of the hills were pretty mellow.

The dusty trail

I enjoyed the scenery, and made good use of my camera during the first loop, since it would be the only one with light. I got a little fanatic about the beauty of the sunlight streaming through the giant spreading oak trees(as you can tell from all the photos!) A local runner couldn’t believe I was taking pictures of this run, on a loop that he ran almost weekly and did not consider to be very scenic. I love the oak trees though. I grew up in southern California, and the scenery near my parents’ house is similar to that of the Sierra foothills. Maybe it’s just the sense of nostalgia it brings me, but I think it’s beautiful. It looks like a Steinbeck novel. There’s nothing like running through a novel at dusk.

The one other aid station besides the start/finish area was at mile 5.5 and was being run by Helen and Norm Klein. Food was plentiful, and with the temperature still in the low 80’s I needed a refill on water even though I was carrying my hydration pack.

Once the sun went down I put on my headlamp with a bandanna underneath to pad it, and ran with a water bottle in one hand and a flash light in the other. I quickly discovered the disadvantage of a headlamp when the dust from the trail rose up in clouds through the beam of light. When I turned my headlamp off, I realized that I could actually see better. Not only did it eliminate the dust from being visible in front of my face, but the angle of the beam coming from waist level allowed the contours of the trail to stand out against their own shadows, making them much more visible. The headlamp made everything look like a flat sidewalk, which it definitely was not! After the second loop, I put the headlamp back in my drop bag. It was uncomfortable anyway!

The race had a field limit of 75 runners, which is rather small. After the first loop we were fairly spread out, and I soon found myself running alone through the dark. It occurred to me that many people would not enjoy this. The night air was warm, and while my world consisted primarily of the circle of dirt at my feet illuminated by the beam of my flashlight, I did notice that a lack of vision made the other senses come alive. I could hear the slight rustle of the oak trees as the warm breeze blew through, and the night smelled vibrant and alive. I heard a coyote yipping in the distance, and he was quickly joined by a pack of friends. I stopped running for a moment, as the sound of my own footfalls impeded my hearing. With my light off, I looked up into the starry night sky. There was no moon, and distant oak trees stood out as dark spectral shadows against the starlight. Surrounded by coyote howls, I grinned madly, feeling like just another coyote running wild through the night.

Heading downhill toward the stream crossing, the terrain was heavily treed and thus one of the darkest sections of trail. Nancy hadn’t given us any warnings about wildlife, but I knew we were in mountain lion country, and I had a healthy sense of paranoia on the subject. So when I heard a rustling sound off in the bushes during this dark section of trail I stopped in my tracks and aimed my light at the bushes. It was hard to see, but I thought maybe it was a large bird on the ground. Then it started to move and I realized it was the white underside of a skunk tail! Oh God! I think I was still at a safe distance, but the skunk had its butt pointed at me and its tail raised, so I instinctively took a few steps backwards. Thank God for the mountain lion paranoia because if I had run up on it, I would have had a very bad night! I waved my flashlight at it and told it to shoo, and eventually it waddled off into the bushes. I cautiously waited until the rustling sounds were farther away before running down to the creek with relief. Disaster averted!

The low water creek crossing

One of my favorite parts about the race was the stars. With no moon, and a very open trail most of the time, the sky was huge and filled with stars. There was a meteor shower going on, and this was such a great way to view it. Although I tried not to spend too much time looking up for fear of tripping, I also realized that my running style was naturally more cautious in the dark, and looking at the trail every second wasn’t really necessary. I saw some brilliant shooting stars, and not for the first time wished that I didn’t have to run with a light, the better to see the night around me. We’ll file that one under “careful what you wish for!”

Nearing the end of my fourth lap on the course, it must have been around 3 or 4 in the morning. A few of the faster runners lapped me now and then, and as they came by I was surprised that each of them had such bright lights. Well, these were obviously the experienced runners, and they clearly knew what light to bring on a night run. One woman passed me, and afterwards I thought, gosh maybe my flashlight is dying. My light was so dim compared to hers! Nonsense, I told myself, she just had a very bright light. About 5 minutes later reality set in when my light went out. But of course I had brought spare batteries! Unfortunately they were still in my drop bag, over a mile away. I laughed out loud. Time to run in the dark!

Running with no light was not nearly as difficult as I would have thought. I was very lucky that the section of trail I was on had good footing, and only a few stretches of tree coverage. I slowed to a walk out of caution, but soon came upon a stretch of trees that made discerning the direction of the trail nearly impossible. Out of desperation I tried turning on my light. It worked! It was a miracle! Had I only imagined it going out? A minute later it went out again. Darn! I walked on with a new system: When it was pitch dark I would turn on the light for the few seconds of light it would give me, but I was required to run when the light was on. Through the open sections I walked by the light of the stars. It was great fun!

When I came through the start/finish area, fellow runner Jack Driver lent me his flashlight so I wouldn’t have to deal with changing my batteries. His light was much better too, so I was happy to take it! I swilled some coffee and headed out for one last lap.

I can’t remember the last time I have seen the sun rise from a star-filled sky, to the first beam of light, to full sun. It was absolutely breathtaking! A lot of runners did not run for the whole night, which is one of the beautiful things about a race like this: you have options. I must say however, running 45 miles for that sunrise was worth every step, and I feel sad for those who missed it.

In the last mile of the run I saw one last, strange bit of wildlife. I heard a rustle of an oak branch and stopped to look. The black lower body of what looked like a small bear was protruding from the bottom branch of a large oak tree. Are there bears down here? I realized the legs were too skinny. Maybe it was a dog trying to climb a tree? I was still just standing there with my jaw hanging open when the front legs and head of a billy goat came down from the tree to complete the picture. The goat was stout, all black, and had huge horns. I was baffled. Do they have wild goats in Cool? I figured they must be domesticated, but it was very strange. I wished I still had my camera with me! Anyway, I had a race to finish.

Coming in at about 11:40 I was almost the last person out on the course. It was a bit odd, I felt like I came in last, but it was just that so many people didn’t stick it out for the full 12 hours or missed the 5am cut off for another lap. I saw Olga, and it turned out that she won! Yeah Olga, way to represent for the women! I think I finished 5th, but since there is no gender column on the posted results,I'm not totally sure. Doesn't matter much either way.

I didn’t mess around too much at the finish since most people were gone anyway. I was worried about staying awake on the hour drive back to Truckee, so I high tailed it home. After a shower and a 3 hour nap, I spent the day with my husband and some friends at the Truckee rodeo. What a great weekend!

This event turned out to be a very solitary adventure for me. I loved that aspect of it! Running in the dark puts me in somewhat of an introspective mindset, and I enjoyed a relaxing, meditative night. It was just me, the stars, and the rest of the coyotes.

I accomplished all my goals, modest though they may have been, and didn’t fall asleep on the drive home! I wasn’t very sore the next day either, so I feel pretty good about my decision to run easy. Thanks to Nancy, Norm and Helen, and everyone who was out there all night for the runners.