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"