Thursday, August 27, 2009

Channeling my Inner Gear Girl

For all of the reasons that I love running, there is one that stands out most prominently. Sure, running is good for me, it keeps me balanced and sane, it keeps me from getting fat, it connects me with other like-minded individuals, and it provides a forum for the goal-oriented part of my psyche to do its thing. But here it is: Mostly, running just feels right. It feels good, like something I was meant to do. 

I love the simplicity of the motion, and in fact, I love the simplicity of the entire sport. I don’t need spare tubes and tire irons, or a rack of cams and a rope, or skis, poles, bulky boots, and about 10 lbs of winter clothing. It’s just me and a pair of shoes, and I love that about running. Okay, shorts and a sports bra are kind of essential too, and I know some of you will argue against the shoes, but you get what I’m saying - Simplicity

So, when the awesome folks at The Wilderness Running Company asked me if I would like to do some product reviews for them, I was flattered, but a little unsure. I mean, I’m sort of anti-gear when it comes to running. 

Way back when I was 22, I spent five months backpacking on the Pacific Crest Trail. The biggest of many lessons I learned on trail: Less is more. And when you spend 2600 miles learning something, it’s not easily forgotten.

As an ultra runner, however, the truth is that some gear is important. The first thing that comes to mind is hydration. If you’re going to run solo for 20-30 miles (or more), you need an efficient way to carry food and water. You need to be comfortable for that kind of distance, so the right shorts/tights/shirt/sports bra/jacket become important. And, of course, those things we use to protect our precious feet: shoes. All are important. 

Knowing this, I was game to review some products for Wilderness Running. Then I looked at their website. Here are the first two sentences from the front page of their gear store:

“The simplicity of wilderness running is among its greatest charms. To scamper through the wilds unencumbered by a heavy pack is to tap into something uniquely pure and primal.”

Um, did they say simplicity? Did they say primal

And this, from the section of their website called The Trail Running Life, “Wilderness running is about feeling really alive. Awake.”

Okay, clearly these are people with whom I can see eye-to-eye. In fact, I’m pretty sure they have been reading my personal journals or something. I can definitely work with people who think like this.

I even saw fit to write up a report of my favorite Tahoe escape, The Flume Trail, for the Destination Trails section of their website. There are some pretty awesome trail reports there, so I feel honored to be included among such company.

The other true confession is this: In my past, I have frequently worked in gear stores. I worked at a high-end gear store in Minneapolis for two years, and upon moving to Tahoe, I spent a few years waxing skis and slinging gear right here in Truckee. In other words: I know how to speak the language. 

So the upshot is this: In the next couple of months, you’ll be seeing more gear reviews here at Daily Adventures. I’ll be tapping into my inner Gear Girl, and she’ll be bringing you all the latest and greatest. (And I swear that Gear Girl will not refer to herself in the third-person, because that is, like, SO annoying. Um, yeah, I promise.)

Big thanks to Wilderness Running for giving me this opportunity, and to you, reader, for reading my reviews. It’s been kind of challenging embarking on this new genre of writing, but it is through challenges that we learn. And I love learning! (So look forward to learning a lot more about gear here at DA!)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Frog Creek 10 Mile Trail Run

Next Saturday, August 29, The Frog Creek Lodge in Truckee will host a 10 Mile benefit trail run. The run benefits a local family who's children suffer from a rare disease called Hyperoxaluria. All proceeds go to the Oxalosis and Hyperoxaluria Foundation

The run starts at the Frog Creek Lodge, just off Old Hwy 40, near Donner Summit, and travels some beautiful terrain near the crest. You can register here, by midnight Tuesday for $40. You can also register on site on race day for $45.

It's sure to be a beautiful and challenging run for a great cause. If you'll be in the Tahoe area, please join us! If you know people who might be interested, please let them know about the event.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A "Run More, Think Less" Style Defines Marathon Contender Kara Goucher

An article in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal [The Africans are Hearing Footsteps] outlines the differences in training strategy between Kara Goucher, America's best hope in Sunday's marathon at the World Track & Field Championships, and the majority of American distance runners over the past 20 years. This quote from the article basically sums it up:

"In a bold move aimed at catching the Africans who have owned this event, Ms. Goucher has taken all the tactics generated by U.S. running experts in the last 20 years—the charts, the mileage recommendations and high-tech motion-sensing computer readouts—and stuffed them in a dumpster."

I was totally and utterly thrilled to hear this. You mean I don't have to track, record and analyze every mile? I don't have to worry about heartrates and lactate thresholds? YES!

One of the reasons I have always loved running above and beyond all my other sports is its simplicity. Running just feels good. It feels natural, and it doesn't require all the gear of sports like skiing and rock climbing. Just lace up a pair of shoes and head out the door.

But sometimes I feel lazy for not having a more serious training plan and committing to learning all of the latest research on training techniques. I don't have a subscription to Runner's World, or Trailrunner, or even Ultrarunning. I just want to run.

It's not that my workouts have no structure. They definitely do. It's just that, these days, that structure doesn't completely define my running.

The article quotes Deena Kastor:

"'For so long, people here were focused on figuring out the exact science behind setting records,' Ms. Kastor says. 'But there is no exact science.'"

And that is where things stand for me right now. While I do think it's important to learn, understand and apply training and racing techniques, I think it can be equally important to feel comfortable letting it all go. Running, at its most basic level, is more art than science.

I can't wait to see how Kara does this Sunday!

I'll leave you with a Pre quote (not from the article):

"Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, 'I've never seen anyone run like that before.' It's more than just a race, it's a style. It's doing something better than anyone else. It's being creative."

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Pacific Crest Trail: Carson Pass to Ebbetts Pass

The fog rested heavy on Lake Tahoe, as we cruised along its west shore heading south. Having lost the who’s-driving ro-sham-bo, I was now steering my Subaru through the early morning chill, one hand on the wheel, the other wrapped tightly around an insulated Tahoe Rim Trail coffee mug. Sarah and Camille warmed their hands on identical mugs, while Sarah browsed through several notebooks of CD’s for some tunes.

“So, how far will this be?” I glanced at Sarah in the rearview mirror.

“Um, I’m not really sure. I found a site on the internet that said it was 23 miles.”

The day’s plan consisted of running the Pacific Crest Trail between Carson Pass, on Highway 88, and Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4. Although I had hiked it once many years ago, as part of the entire PCT, I had no recollection of what it was like. Sarah and Camille had never been there, so all three of us felt like we were setting off on an adventure.

Sarah leaned up from the backseat and slipped a CD into the player.

“We have all these maps of the Sierra,” Camille explained to me, “but this area sort of falls into a black hole. None of our maps cover it.”

I apologized for not even thinking to look at my well-worn guidebook. So much for advance planning!

The growing tones of the music elicited a smile when I recognized the beginning of Where the Streets Have no Name.

Joshua Tree,” I nodded in approval. “Nice choice.” Quite possibly the best album of all time, and I hadn’t listened to it in years.

“It’s a classic,” Camille agreed.

And we let the music, and the joy of impending adventure, carry us the remaining 90 minutes to the trailhead.

The small visitor’s center at the trailhead supplied us with a map for $10, and some vague information that it might actually be more like 28 miles to Highway 4. Although it was already 9:00 am, a small cold front had hit the area recently, and we stood shivering beside the car while we packed and sorted gear. We started out with long sleeves, hydration packs full of water, food, map, extra clothes, purifier—everything we might need for a day in the Sierra high country.

Almost from the very beginning we were stunned by the views. We spent the day with our mouths hanging open, for around every corner and over each peak there was something newly spectacular to see. I, of course, took a ridiculous amount of pictures.

Conversation oscillated between plans for Camille’s upcoming wedding, and the standard runner discussions of bodily functions. It’s pretty awesome to have girlfriends with whom you can discuss both frilly dresses and poop. Seriously, these things should not be underrated.

The peaks were mostly volcanic, and as such often loomed rather surreal. Once in a while we whipped out the map to try to identify some of the surrounding peaks by name. We had a recurring and ardent debate over which landscape feature could be the one designated as “The Nipple” by the map. It seemed a rather obnoxious name, until we looked around in utter amusement and realized that at least a dozen peaks could qualify for that description.

There were plenty of lakes and spring-fed creeks, so even in August finding water was no problem. Wildflowers were abundant, and as we neared Ebbetts pass, the surroundings took on an almost other-worldly quality. Certainly there must have been some Sci-Fi movies filmed there, because it felt like another planet.

We reached Highway 4 exhausted and happy, still unsure of our total distance for the day. (The PCT guidebook later confirmed it as 28.8.)

The drive back to Carson Pass only took two highways, so we had planned to hitchhike rather than drive an extra vehicle to set up a lengthy car shuttle. It turned out to be even easier than expected, when Neil, a footloose Aussie on vacation, pulled over with an empty car and an uncertain destination.

Three stinky, dirty women piled into his clean rental car, and he drove us all the way back to my car, even though half of it was the wrong direction. Thanks Neil!

Burgers in South Lake Tahoe capped a perfect day. We parted ways with Neil, and drove through the night in opposite directions. Tired limbs and light hearts filled our car with a sense of serenity and satisfaction. Bono still crooned, “I have climbed highest mountains, I have run through the fields…and yes I’m still running

Monday, August 10, 2009

Squaw Valley Mountain Run

The first day of August this summer marked a traditional running event here in Tahoe: The Squaw Valley Mountain Run. Runners begin at 6,200’ at the base of the mountain, and climb 2,000’ over the 3.6 mile course to finish at High Camp. I had never participated before, having always been out of shape, or out of town, or maybe just out of sorts. But this year, it finally sounded like the perfect way to begin a long run in the backcountry.

I found my friend Betsy in among the 500 or so starters, and we stood comfortably back from the starting line. I didn’t know what to expect of myself from a 3.6 mile race. It just seemed so…what’s the word I’m looking for here? Short.

We headed off up the hill, and I quickly settled into what seemed like a sustainable pace. I’m so used to walking the uphills in a race; it seemed weird to plan on running the entire distance.

I spotted Caitlin Smith leading the women’s race, but there were so many people between us at that point, that I had no way of judging what place I was in.

The course heads up a ski run called The Mountain Run. (I know. Weird, right?) It’s the exact same course I ran this winter at the Billy Dutton Uphill, except without all that cold, white stuff. More famously, it also shares its first three miles with the Western States course. It’s the easiest ski down from the top, and in the summer it’s a maintenance road. It doesn’t feel like the most scenic route for a run, considering the possibilities in this setting, but with so many runners out there it was a good thing we didn’t have to crowd onto a singletrack trail.

I could see two women not far ahead, and I had a vague inclination to try catching them over the next two miles. I worked my way up slowly through the crowd, but somehow neither of the women seemed to get any closer.

Before long, I hit the three mile mark and could see the finish at High Camp. I had been playing leap frog with a local woman named Julie, and I figured if I couldn’t catch the two women who still seemed so tangibly close, I could at least make sure I finished in front of Julie. I was happy to see that I crossed the line in just under 40 minutes.

Finishline area at High Camp

Post race activities included comparing notes with a crowd of local friends.

“That was hard!” Betsy declared.

We all agreed.

“I mean, that was harder than running 100 miles, that’s for sure!”

No one agreed. (This, from a woman whose favorite races are Hardrock and Wasatch!)

I had a chance to briefly meet women’s winner Caitlin Smith. Not surprisingly, she is as kind and friendly as she is talented. I was surprised to learn that I had finished 4th among women. Races this short are not exactly my specialty, but I had forgotten one other important aspect of the SVMR: It’s all uphill, and I am definitely a hill climber. I’m thinking I may have to seek out more of these one-way, uphill races in the future.

I had planned on finishing the day off with a longish run. I figured since I was already most of the way up to the crest, I may as well reap the benefits of all the hard work. I tried to rally some companions but couldn’t get any takers. Betsy and Paul were running repeats up the Mountain Run, which sounded decidedly “yuck!” to me. (I guess those kinds of workouts are what separate the truly hardcore from the rest of us.) The other ultrarunners in the crowd had work or family obligations. Everyone else didn’t even bother with a verbal response to my suggestion of another 17 miles; they just rolled their eyes with that familiar look that clearly says, “You’re crazy.”

I wasn’t disappointed though. It had been a long time since I’d spent a day on the trails by myself. I strapped on my hydration pack, and set off on the Western States trail with no real plan for the rest of the day.

Looking down on High Camp from the top

If I’d been thinking ahead, I realized that I could run north on the PCT, drop off Anderson Ridge at Tinkers Knob, run down through Coldstream Canyon, and get to within a mile of my own front door on dirt trail. Unfortunately, my car would still be parked at Squaw. I could have easily carpooled to the race with people from my own neighborhood, but I hadn’t even thought about it. Next year!

Marking the summit of Emigrant Pass, the Watson Monument was built in 1931.

Down the Western States Trail

Squaw Peak

After a couple miles, I hit the junction with the PCT. I considered continuing down the WS trail, but the PCT is always so alluring to me. We have a long and storied history together, and when I’m on it, I somehow feel connected to every thru-hiker strung out along its 2,600 mile expanse. I couldn’t resist its siren song, and I quickly hung a left and high-tailed it towards Mexico.

Wildflowers along the PCT

It was a beautiful run, in spite of the heat. The flowers were still in full swing on that side of the ridge. Eventually the thunderheads rolled in to cool things off and create beautiful shadows across the landscape. After enough relaxing miles to make it 20 for the day, I turned around and headed back to the mountain.