Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Skate Ski

Today, I took the opportunity for some of my favorite winter cross-training: skate skiing! Skate-skiing could quite possibly be my perfect sport, if only I were more coordinated. (It seems to require something which we ultrarunners frequently know little about: grace.) Skate skiing combines my favorite part of telemark skiing (a little gravity-aided speed in an amazing setting) with a favorite part of running (a serious aerobic workout).

This morning's adventure suffered from a few false starts, the worst of which had me arriving at Royal Gorge XC resort only to discover that I'd left my boots at home. Doh! I wasn't about to make the 20 minute drive again, so I headed home, grabbed my boots (which were sitting out on the driveway!) and headed to Tahoe Donner--a smaller resort, but closer to home, and with plenty of trails to satisfy a slightly out-of-shape runner such as myself.

I decided to make the trek up to Hawk's Peak, the highest point at the resort. After about ten minutes, I had left all of the tourists in the flats, and settled into the long, steady climb. There is little more brutal than skiing uphill, and I was quickly stripped down to my t-shirt, huffing and puffing. Up, up and up, the trail went. The sun shone brilliantly, and the snow sparkled blindingly back at me.

Eventually I reached the summit, and, as with most of my day, there wasn't a soul around. The wind up there was brisk, and I quickly donned my jacket while I took in the view. All the morning's frustrations with just getting my skis on and starting my workout completely melted away. I slowly, deliciously absorbed all of the 360-degrees of beauty before me, grinning ear to ear. I found myself wondering about the fact that so many people spend this morning indoors, in a house of worship. I don't mean to judge those who make that choice. Certainly not! It's just that, for me, if there is a god, then this is surely where she and I converse.

The trail climbs steadily upward.

Someone left a message for me at the side of the trail! It was a peaceful day, indeed.

In the distant background, you can see my destination: Hawk's Peak.

View from the summit: Anderson Ridge.

View from the summit.

Red-faced, tired and happy at the summit.

View from the summit: Castle Peak

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Thou Mayest

As I sink back into the sofa, fire crackling in the woodstove and the Be Good Tanyas purring plaintively from the speakers, I watch through the window as the snow comes down relentlessly in fat, wet, El-Nino-variety flakes. I find there is finally room in my museum of thoughts to carve out a reflection of the past year. I’m sweeping aside a stack of other obligations in order to tackle this one, but I know my year will go forward with more clarity once I’ve exhumed these thoughts from the archives and made some sense out of them

The races of 2009 were planned largely in an answer to my reaction to ‘08’s TRT 100. I had a hard time bouncing back mentally from that one, so ’09 was put together largely with the intention of keeping things fun. And the irony of this year’s return to that race is not lost on me. It's a conscious choice. I have things I want so desperately for myself, but running sometimes seems the area where I can most easily channel my desires and excitement, my frustrations, my passions. I’ll be taking some of the lessons of 2009 to help me get through this year successfully. I chose a lot of new races last year, a variety of distances, and selected just a couple of goal races. I think it worked out well for me, and I would say “fun” is the best word I can choose to describe what turned out to be a successful season. This, too, was a conscious choice, and I had fun like you wouldn’t believe!

I made a deliberate effort to get back to some of the swifter running that training for a 100 had sapped from my regimen. Although I identify myself as primarily a trail runner, I chose some road races in order to find my speed again. I love running fast, and I definitely enjoyed some of my shorter, faster races this year. Surf City was a great start to the year, where I ran my 3rd fastest time ever in the marathon on some pretty soft training. It was a nice confidence-booster. I ran regular track workouts to increase my speed, and was thoroughly reminded of how much I love the track. (An ultra-runner who loves the track—what is up with that?) Come summer, I also joined some Truckee locals for weekly speed sessions on trail. These workouts were intense, and really pushed me. I loved them! All of these elements contributed to a speedier season at all distances for me.

As far as fun races go, it’s hard to say they weren’t all fun, but a few stand out for me. TRT 50M gets top honors for both fun and performance for me. Isn’t it nice when things work out that way? It was just a beautiful day, I paced things perfectly, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The Emerald Bay Trail Run was another standout. Short, fast and incredibly scenic: perfection in a one-hour run. Lastly, and somewhat surprisingly, Diablo also makes this "most fun" list. I’ll credit Sean for this one. Sharing such a huge challenge with someone makes for a bonding experience, and running all day with Sean in such a beautiful setting was pretty special.

For my best performances of the year, two races come to mind. I’ve already mentioned TRT 50. What else can I possibly say about this day? I’ve been lured back to the 100, so I guess that tells all. My other best performance, I think, was at the Tahoe Marathon. I guess the hometown races were good to me this year. It’s kind of surprising for the marathon, because it wasn’t a big goal race at all. I didn’t taper, and in fact, had been training quite hard during the preceding weeks. I was sick, and I had even spent time in the hospital the day before the race for tests regarding some mysterious pain which still plagued me on race morning. Nothing was setting the stage for a good day here, and I nearly didn’t show up at the starting line. Perhaps it was because of the complete lack of expectations on my part that I ran smart—easy in the early miles—enabling me to push things in the last ten miles and hold on to the win.

I managed wins at seven races, the vast majority of which came in the fall, when I was in peak condition. (Auburn Trails 50K, Burton Creek Marathon, Emerald Bay Trail Run, Tahoe Marathon, Jenkinson Lake Trail Run, Helen Klein 50M, and Donner Lake Turkey Trot all constituted wins.) I don’t necessarily hold that much value in winning because that kind of thing is frequently dependent on things outside of my control, (such as who shows up, and whether or not she has a good day). Nonetheless, to win this many races was a new thing for me, and an interesting one at that. Now, whenever my name appears in the local paper, it is followed by the words “winner of the 2009 Lake Tahoe Marathon,” which feels kind of funny to me. Not to mention the notoriety brought by appearing, arms raised, breaking the tape, on the front page of your local paper. It’s a collision of worlds wherein suddenly everyone in your non-running life is congratulating you, and you want to say “Um, that was just a marathon, and, seriously, no big deal.” But instead, you smile, with a sheepish nod, and say “Thanks,” because you don’t want to sound like an ungrateful snob. I’m not complaining. Not at all! But I’m also not sure it’s something that needs to continue. I’m not sure I’m interested in seeing myself as anything beyond your average runner.

Far and away, my most treasured days of the year were simply long days out on the trail. I created some adventures of my own when I discovered that I could connect the trail that leads from my backyard, through the Tahoe National Forest, to the Donner Lake Rim Trail, which in turn connects to both the Hole in the Ground Trail and the PCT, allowing for infinite possibilities. Cap and I had many a long day of fun and exploration together, reveling in the joys that are living in Tahoe. Other highlights in this arena were the Carson to Ebetts run on the PCT, and of course, Pure Zion. I learned that events don’t have to be races in order to be rewarding, adventurous days of running with friends. And with that knowledge, I’ve already got some similar plans, and ideas for plans, for 2010.

I attribute the success of the year to my big goal of keeping it fun. After TRT, I ran with no training plan at all, but somehow managed to get in not only plenty of miles, but plenty of high quality miles. I was simply in love with running, and the places and people it involved. I plan to continue that love affair in the months ahead.

It is true, also, that I have hopes and dreams for my future that deeply transcend running. They may even be in direct conflict with running. I do my best, but it is a difficult lesson for me that I cannot control all that unfolds in my life—one of those lessons learned again and again. It would be too easy, however, to say that things happen for a reason, and give up control. I won’t choose that path, either. Running feeds my soul, and feeding the soul of a life lived deliberately, with passion—that is my choice. I do believe, strongly, that my choices are my own. Mistakes and triumphs, dreams both noble and futile, are mine to pursue. “…the way is open.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Brain Sundries

The alarm went off at 4:15 yesterday morning. I had a stack of school work to get done, and I'm starting to think my hours of productivity are somehow tied to the sun. Perhaps I am solar-powered, but these short days seem to leave me with too much to do, and not enough time. By some miracle, I plowed through an enormous amount of work between 4:15 and 6:00 am, and I'm starting to think these may become the golden hours of my day. I've never, ever been a morning person, but I'm realizing that some things change with age.

Lately, I've been plagued with a million writing topics, and not enough time to write. And when I say "plagued," I do mean that my own medley of thoughts is keeping me up at night. You'd think an avalanche of inspiration would be a good thing. If you're a backcountry skier though, you know how deadly an avalanche can be. Yes, I'm feeling buried alive under the sundries of my own brain. Strange, no?

So, perhaps the early mornings will help me sort it out. Perhaps not. In the meantime, here's a small purging of thoughts from the frightening inner-workings.

I'm cooking up a series on the best trips of my life. Now that we're done with "The Aughts," and well into...what are we calling this decade? Someone get back to me on that one. Anyway, it's giving me pause to think about the last ten (or fifteen) years. My brain is definitely marinating something along the lines of "Five Epic Trips," only with a more creative title. (Hopefully.) As a little preview I can tell you that it involves crazy road-trips, the search for the Gobi Bear in Mongolia, and, of course, everything in between. I think it is these ghosts of adventures-past that are haunting me the most right now. Truthfully, I've done some pretty amazing shit in my life.

I'm also cooking up my race schedule for 2010. At the moment I've committed (as in - put my money where my mouth is) to only two races: AR50 in April, and TRT 100 in July. The biggest constraint I've put on myself this year is to cut the cash I'm spending on races. I loved my '09 race schedule, but those entry fees really add up. Here's a possible/probable schedule:

Tahoe Rim Tour 13 mile Snowshoe Race - January
The Great Ski Race - March
AR 50 - April
Diablo Marathon - April
Silver State 50M - May
TRT 100M - July
Where's Waldo 100K - August
Tahoe Marathon - September

I'm a little bummed because I really loved all the shorter races I ran last year. I'll probably throw in a few of those, depending on my personal schedule at the time, but they'll have to be limited. I also don't have any new races except Waldo, which may or may not happen - again, depending on other life plans. I've been wanting to do this race for a few years now though, and I'm really looking forward to it.

I can't seem to wrap my brain around a reflection post on my 2009 season. I promise you that one is coming. It's just that...there's so much. Personal reflection is possibly my favorite kind of writing to do, (narcissism, anyone?) so I can't figure out why this one is coming so tough for me.

I have at least three more gear reviews on deck. These do come tough for me, even when I love the gear. Actually, I think that's why I do them. Personal challenge. (Seriously!)

And speaking of gear, you should be reminded of the upcoming deadline of January 15. This will mark the end of Wilderness Running Company's Nathan sale. If you want to take advantage of the sale, use coupon code nathan20 at checkout on the WRC site to get 20% off. You can read someone's sweet review of the Nathan Intensity and HPL here. The 15th is also the date by which you need to subscribe to the WRC blog in order to get in the drawing for a free Garmin 405. Even if you don't need a Garmin, Stacy writes a very compelling blog. Subscribe already! And, as if you needed any more incentive to roll with the WRC posse, you can also follow them on Twitter. Doing so will get you into another drawing, this time for a Garmin 405 with heart rate monitor. Sweet! (This is like, the second chance drawing for all the losers! I mean, not that you're a loser or anything...)

And in the tradition of saving the best (and/or worst, depending on your perspective) for last, there are the thoughts of the upcoming TRT 100 miler keeping me up at night. Is it really possible to be this preoccupied by something that is still over six months away? I did see, just today, the current list of entrants. I have to confess, I was completely thrilled at the number of familiar names on the list, at all distances. There were a few notably absent names as well (you know who you are), but the race isn't full quite yet, and I have my fingers crossed for you guys. I am so excited to see everyone, I almost wish I could be present for the 50M/50K start just to see you all off! But looking at my own name on the 100 miler list, well, it evokes a feeling that can only be described as nausea.

And it occurs to me that now might be a good time to start running again.

Fun times with friends at Tahoe Rim Trail!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

TRT Endurance Runs Open for Registration

A few quick notes for those of you considering the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs on your calendar:

Registration for the event, which includes distances of 50K, 50M, and 100M, opened on January 1st. The event has a registration limit of 400 total participants, regardless of distance. According to race director Dave Cotter, there were already 150 entrants registered as of noon on January 2nd. At that rate...well, they could fill by tomorrow. The rate of entries will likely taper off, but who knows. Dave estimated race entries may fill by the end of the month, but I'd bet sooner.

So this is my shout out to everyone who has mentioned to me that they are thinking about this race. Sign up now!

Also of interest is the fact that the course will be slightly re-routed this year due to permit problems for the Mt. Rose aid station. I find this to be a little disappointing simply because I love this race so much. I have trouble with change sometimes. But, perhaps the new section will prove to be even better.

It's not a certainty yet, but they're hoping to use the Diamond Peak Lodge as an aid station instead. This would likely mean losing the 8 miles or so between the current Diamond Peak aid station and Mt. Rose, and substituting a re-route that would certainly add to the overall elevation gain and loss. So, while I'm certain that the new section of the course will be well chosen, it will also add to the challenge of the event.

In any case, head to the event website here for more information, or directly to registration here. If you're wondering how I'm so well informed, well, like many modern miracles, I have only Facebook to thank. You can join their FB group here.

As for me? Well, I think, for several logistical reasons, that I've decided I'm going to publish this blog post, and then go sign up for the 100 mile distance at TRT.

See you on the trail!