Monday, May 31, 2010

Western States Training Run

"I think I'm really feeling six weekends in the canyons," Jamie huffed, about halfway up from the swinging bridge.

"Well thank God!" I managed as I climbed steadily behind her. I was beginning to wonder if this woman ever got tired.

Jamie's affinity for the canyons had landed me here nearly half a dozen times this spring, and truthfully it was awesome running. Steep ups, steep downs, quiet trails, good company, and damn good training. Does it get much better?

The previous Sunday we'd run from Michigan Bluff to Dusty and back. As usual, it had been a wonderful day, but nonetheless at the end of the day I could only think that I was ready for a new trail. I've already shared how the fatigue has crept into my daily routine, and frankly it was a relief to hear that Jamie was feeling it, too.

I'd signed up for Saturday and Sunday of the Western States Training Camp - a Memorial Day tradition for ultrarunners. I wasn't surprised to learn that there was too much snow at Robinson Flat to begin Saturday's run there as planned. Runners would head out Mosquito Ridge Road for a few miles of snow running and pick up the trail at Dusty Corners, for 28 miles instead of 32.

I'll be honest, after spending most of the spring running these trails out-and-back for 30-40 miles, 28 miles one-way didn't sound like much of a workout, in spite of our current state of fatigue. As Jamie says, that's the point of running double canyons - it makes the one-way trip seem easy. So when she suggested that we combine Saturday and Sunday's runs together and go 46 miles on Saturday, I was all for it.

Heading out on the bus.

A few snowy miles on Mosquito Ridge Rd.

The weather turned out to be perfect. With such a cold, wet spring, we couldn't have asked for anything better than the sunny, mid-70's day.

It was a huge change running these trails with so many people around, but it was also fun to see so many friends and make new ones.

Pucker Point

Entering the canyons!

Crossing Volcano Creek

I thought passing through Foresthill would be tough because most other people were stopping here, while we still had 18 miles to go. Honestly though, it wasn't. We took care of business, said a few hellos, called the husbands to give updates, and we were out of there.

The trail now was quiet, and although I'd enjoyed the company, the peace was a nice change. The late afternoon stretched on into the evening, and the low light over the river was beautiful. I have to admit, I was feeling tired, my legs heavy. I felt soothed by the birdsong and the frogs and crickets chirping their melodies. I was grateful that this stretch of trail is mostly smooth, runnable downhill.

We were both struggling through a bit of a low spot when Jamie wondered aloud, "Who does this? I mean, really!"

I knew exactly what she meant. Still, my immediate response was matter-of-fact: "Um, 6 school busses full of people." Yes, there were a lot of us out here today.

"True. Although, most of them had the good sense to stop at Foresthill."

"Good point." I didn't have much of a comeback for this one.

As we neared the river we could feel darkness approaching. It was an incredible time of day to be out on the trail.

The long climb up from the river to Driver's Flat didn't hurt nearly as bad as I had feared it would. Back at the car, friends greeted us with hugs and beer. What wonderful folks, these runners!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How to Train Your Draggin'

“Quite a bit more, really, than the simple exhaustion of a single difficult workout, breaking down was a cumulative physical morbidity that usually built up over several weeks and left the runner struggling to recover from one session to the next.
The object, according to Denton, was to ‘run through’ the thing, just as he maintained one should attempt to ‘run through’ most of those other little hubcaps life rolls into your lane; everything from death in the family to cancer of the colon.”

-John L. Parker Jr.,
Once a Runner

A number of things have occurred to me recently. One, is that I am tired. Quite tired. While my weekend long runs have remained refreshingly fun for the most part, the only word I can come up with to describe my mid-week training is “lackluster.” The physical exhaustion breeds the emotional, and my motivation wanes. I know this is no time to slack, but it’s not easy.

I am draggin’.

Another thing that occurs to me: “not easy” is good. This brilliant epiphany came my way during the struggling middle miles of the Silver State 50, which fell just a week into this current episode of fatigue. (And yes, I realize that I am remiss in getting out a timely race report, but I’m getting to it. I promise. It’s just that … I’m tired. Remember?)

Struggling in training is not necessarily a bad thing. I was immediately reminded of what Quenton Cassidy knew as “breaking down.” (I do, of course, recognize the irony of being an ultrarunner who compares herself to a fictional miler. I can’t help it. This is just what I know.) In many ways, making it through this period of exhaustion is about conquering my mental and physical weaknesses. I don’t mean to sound all full of bravado in saying that, but I have a healthy amount of fear about running 100 miles. It’s not going to be easy, and in order to train for it, I need to experience plenty of “not easy.” I need to run through this period of breaking down.

During Silver State, I battled a bit of both mental and physical fatigue through the middle of the race, and it felt weird. I realized that most of my races over the past year (Helen Klein being the notable exception) have been relatively easy. They follow a similar pattern: Start conservatively, stay relaxed, pick up the pace a bit, pass a lot of people in the second half of the race and maybe push things towards the end. To be honest, I love this pattern. I feel good, and I’m generally pretty satisfied with my races that go this way. But if I’m using my races to train for a 100 miler, it would make sense that I should mimic the race conditions as much as possible. The pattern I just described has me feeling good for most, if not all, of the race. That doesn’t exactly mimic the race conditions of a 100 miler. At least, not in my limited experience.

So, I’m okay with being tired. I’ve never been one to overtrain, and I can promise you that’s not what’s going on here. I’m still sticking with my 5-day-a-week training plan, even if my weekly mileage is high. (I like my days off!)

Training while tired, getting out the door when I don’t really feel like it, doing my best to maintain some amount of quality in those tempo runs, knowing what it feels like to race with heavy legs—these are the things that will help me (hopefully!) somewhere in those dark reaches beyond mile 70.

Memorial Day Weekend is coming up, and you know what that means. Big sale at the Patagonia Outlet! (Also, Western States Training Camp. I'll be there, running through. I hope to see many of you out doing the same.)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

To be in Point Reyes

I can’t recall if I’ve always been one of those people who enjoys doing things by herself. There may have been a time when showing up alone, with no friends for security, was a bit daunting, but if that was ever true, it’s a time that has long passed. So when a number of opportunities coalesced—a beautiful location, some favorite music, and a chance for a long trail run in new territory—I knew it was time for a little solo road trip to the coast.

Actually, if I’m being honest, this trip was anything but a solo venture. First off, I took the dogs with me. That may not sound like much, but there’s something very reassuring about having two adoring and sometimes even obedient companions with you. Secondly, there were friends with whom to meet up at every turn. But, the fact remains, I was under no obligations to anyone but myself. That’s the beauty of going it alone. The path was mine to choose.

So, Mother’s Day weekend, I packed a bag full of running gear, a cooler full of picnic fixings, and two crazy dogs into the car and drove out to Pt. Reyes. There, I would stay with my good friend Heidi (who was unfortunately working all weekend), go for a long run, and meet up with some friends for music and food.

Saturday morning I woke up early and hit the trails. My chosen route had me running 32 miles along the Bolinas Ridge trail from Sir Francis Drake Blvd., almost all the way to Bolinas Fairfax Rd., where I cut west along a series of trails to hook up with the Coastal Trail, and return to my start at the Bear Valley Visitor’s Center.

Along Bolinas Ridge, the fog gave way to an expanse of rolling green hillsides. Although devoid of people, I did share the trail with a number of other companions.

I think of cows as such peaceful creatures, happily munching away on grass here in this heavenly setting. But when you get right up close to them, they're rather ... well, large. Apparently mountain girl doesn't translate well to cowgirl because it made me distinctly nervous that I had to shoo them from the trail. They only put up a few moos of protest before moving along though.

Soon the open ridge gave way to forested trail with an iris-coated floor.

Connecting Bolinas Ridge to the Coastal Trail was a beautiful stretch of little-used corridors. Unfortunately, much of the overgrowth was poison oak and stinging nettle, but that just added to the adventure.

Eventually I found my way out to the coast, and breathlessly beautiful singletrack. I couldn't figure out where all the people were on this sunshine-y day in May, but it felt as though I had it all to myself. And people say California is crowded!

I don’t know when it happened, but sometime during this training season I became one of those people for whom anything less than 30 miles isn’t long enough to actually constitute a long run. It’s unfathomable, really. I always thought 24 was my limit for a solo venture of this sort. And in the past, it was; but no longer. This particular 32 was so beautiful, filled with both peace and sublime adventure. It was almost over too fast.

I made it back to Heidi’s early in the day, and spent the afternoon playing with the dogs and appreciating the utter absence of my To-Do List.

Then, I promise I iced my ankle. I was being good, right? But then I was bad. Remember that little girl? The one with the curl? Just think how horrid she would have been if she’d had not one little curl, but a whole mop full. Because that was me. Instead of doing something responsible after my long run like taking an ice bath, I got in the hot tub on Heidi’s back deck and had a glass of wine. I watched the chickens cluck in the garden, and the cows grazing on the hillside, and I felt quite guiltless about sipping my drink and slinking down into the steaming water.

To top the day off, I joined some friends, who’d made even longer journeys than I, to see some of our favorite musicians perform at the Pt. Reyes Community Center. My friend Chris once told me that the best recovery from an ultra was to dance late into the night, shaking the kinks out and preventing the soreness. I found out he was exactly right.

Sunday, Mother’s Day, held a peaceful recovery run/walk with just me and the dogs on Limintour Beach. I haven’t seen Gus, the 9-year-old husky mix, act like such a puppy in years. The dogs’ sheer joy at chasing each other through the powdery-soft sand kept me smiling all morning.

A community picnic and kickball game is an excellent way to spend an afternoon at the coast. These friends have some kicks, and I got mine just being a part of it. Talk about good fun! When was the last time you walked up to home plate with your kickball shoes on?

And of course, the afternoon and evening met over another parade of songs. Live music soothes the soul. It reaches out with a caress and makes you feel like everything is as it should be. Like it’s going to be okay.

I got to chat with one of my favorite Bay Area musicians, Nicki Bluhm. It’s a bit thrilling to meet someone whom you’ve always seen as a rock star, and then somehow reassuring when she turns out to be kind, friendly and quite down to Earth.

A short nap on the lawn was in order before a final installment of music.

I made my departure early to tackle the long drive home before the drowsiness crept in. Cap and Gus curled up in the back, proving themselves once again to be perfect traveling companions.

Some days I find myself exhausted just trying to calm my restless heart. Running is many things to me, and among the most valued lately, it is something to gather and quiet the fragments of my mind. Weekends such as these—with their varying layers of movement and sound, peace and beauty, independence and community—do much to gladden the heart.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Vertical Athletics - Superstar Top Review

Author's Note: If you're looking for high-performance base layers, but you don't fall into the "tall" category (or even if you do!), you'll want to check out my Icebreaker review, recently posted over at the Wilderness Running Company. Check it out here!

The moment I saw the Vertical Athletics booth across the room at the Lake Tahoe Marathon Expo, I was drawn like a magnet towards the sign that read, “For Women 5’8” and Above, and Men 6’2” and Above.” Running clothes for tall people? I was in love before I even saw what they had to offer.

To be honest, I don’t consider my five feet, ten inches to be unusually tall. Yes, I’m tall, but I’m not that tall! Nonetheless, my biggest complaint about most clothes, and athletic clothes especially, is the length. I’m always sizing up to large tops when they are long-sleeved, and I am definitely not a size large. I just can’t stand sleeves that don’t come all the way down over my wrists, or shirts that allow cold air to tickle my belly while running.

So when I found myself fingering all the clothes at the Vertical Athletics booth, I was in heaven. Finally, someone made clothes to fit me!

Vertical Athletics was started by volleyball player and renaissance woman Renee Krieg, who found herself with my same fit challenges and decided to do something about it. She designed Vertical Athletics clothing specifically to meet the needs of tall athletes. The garments aren’t just longer, they are specifically designed for tall, athletic men and women with appropriate knee, elbow and waist placements.

When I spoke to Renee at the LTM Expo, she told me that she was 5’11” and she sized herself as a medium when designing the clothing line. I tried on both a small and a medium in the Superstar Top, and ended up going with the small. You will definitely have to reconsider your usual size when shopping at VA! Fortunately their website has a helpful size chart. The pictures with each product also tell you the height of the model and the size he or she is wearing, so you have some idea of what a size medium looks like on a woman who is 6’1” (or whatever the size-height combination is).

Before the Kokonee Salmon Trail Run in the Superstar Top. (Not the best shot to show the top, I know, but I hate the modeling poses!) I'm on the far left with the pigtails and the red top. See how it has plenty of length in the waist and the sleeve comes down over the top of my hand? I love that!

In addition to creating high performance clothing, one of VA’s goals is to have as little impact on the environment as possible. Many of their garments use Cocona fabrics, which are made from coconut shells and offer excellent moisture and odor management. (I have a number of shirts made with Cocona, and I really like them.) Other environmentally-friendly fabrics offered by VA include Eco-P.E.T. Tech Fleece and Organic co

The Superstar Top, which I happily purchased at the LTM, is your basic, high-performance, long-sleeved running top. I could have chosen a medium, but I prefer more of a slim-fit. Even in a size small, I had plenty of room in both the torso and sleeves. It’s made of Eco-Drytech with Cocona fibers, and it performed beautifully for me all winter, both as a stand-alone top, and as a base layer under a jacket. It dries quickly and resists odors. I made sure to keep it out of the dryer to avoid shrinking, and it has maintained its fit perfectly.

Currently, the Superstar Top is on sale at VA, but with limited sizes. The top has been redesigned as the Superstar Improved, with a lighter-weight fabric and slightly lower neckline, and you can find a full selection of size and color choices in this one. If you’re looking for a great, all-around workout top, I think this is the one to get! VA also offers a colorful array of popular headbands, as well as short and long-sleeved tops and pants for both men and women.

Post-LTM in the Superstar Top

Renee’s own story is enough to make the company intriguing. A competitive volleyball player, she was also a platoon Sargent in the Army, as well as a top sales consultant for both Mary Kay Cosmetics, and Pre-Paid Legal Services. She then studied Apparel Manufacturing at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in LA. From there, she designed and launched her own clothing company, Vertical Athletics. I can only imagine that with such a diverse array of experience, talent and hard work behind it, Vertical Athletics is destined for success. I hope so, because I can’t wait to see what new, beautiful clothes they come out with!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Spring Tease

Some people say that in springtime, Mother Nature is a fickle friend. Sunshine one day, snow the next. Her manic-depressive tendencies drive some people nuts. Is it ski season, or should we be going mountain biking? The answer to both of those, of course, is "yes."

I love spring for these reasons. Whatever your pleasure, it's there: backcountry skiing, trail running, mountain biking, boating.

Nothing brings appreciation of the outdoors like a change in seasons. You need the "bad" days in order to truly feel the love on the good ones.

For instance, after a beautiful, sunshiny weekend on the coast last week, Monday afternoon elicited this view from my kitchen window:

While four days later, on Friday morning's dog walk, I found this in my yard:

Beautiful little grape hyacinths poking up through the pine needles.

Mother nature isn't fickle. She's just a tease. And when she brings that summer sunshine to stay, it will be good. So good.

Author's note: I'd also like to take this moment to give a huge shout out of congratulations to my friend and training partner Jamie Frink for winning the Bishop High Sierra 100K with a new women's course record of 13:02. This is especially impressive given the course conditions which reportedly had several miles of snow. Awesome job, Jamie!!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Endurance and Enlightenment

This morning's NPR show, my standard entertainment on the daily Truckee-to-Reno adventure, acquainted me with a Japanese Buddhist monk named Endo Mitsunaga. It turns out that I have more in common with Buddhist monks than I would have ever thought, (especially considering my recent post on indulgence).

Mitsunaga completed the Sennichi Kaihogyo, 1,000 days of walking meditation, by walking 26 miles each day. He insists that it's "really not that hard."

One thing he learned during his experience: "'Everybody thinks they're living on their own without help from others,' Mitsunaga says. 'This is not possible. I really think that others have done something for me, and I have a feeling of gratefulness for other people.'"

You can read (or hear) the complete story here.

In other news, today on her advice column, fabulous author/editor/blogger Victoria Mixon responded to my question. If you read my post on discipline, you won't be too surprised to hear what I asked. I love what this woman has to say about writing, and today's post is no exception.

Additionally, if I can manage to edit and respond to a stack of reports on the Scientific Revolution and a stack of short stories in the next day and a half (I've really got to start assigning less homework!) then I also have a few upcoming posts. One is a gear review on a company I love. And my weekend! Oh, you have to hear about my amazing weekend in Marin: running, dancing, live music, kickball, picnicking, and a long beach walk with the dogs. Hmmm. I love California.

Sunday, May 02, 2010


There are infinite reasons for being a runner. I would never say that indulging oneself is at the top of that list.


Indulgences are sinful acts, and running long distances certainly helps neutralize some of the guilt they would otherwise induce.

For instance, I am, at this very moment, indulging in a glass of red wine. After 38 miles of trail-running awesomeness today, it feels more earned than excessive.

I love red wine. I also love running.

Here are some other things that I love. Things that being a runner allows me to love even more because I can indulge guilt-free.

Banana-Stuffed Wontons from the Dragonfly in Truckee. They have amazing sushi, and desserts to match. They also have brilliant local's specials.

Sorry, the picture was taken after we'd already begun eating, (We couldn't wait!), but the plate consists of banana stuffed wontons, coconut ice cream, and chocolate for dipping. Can you say "yum!"?

Post-scarfing. It's all I can do to refrain from picking up the little thing of chocolate syrup and drinking it.

Belt-Room Bloody. This is a brilliant spring-skiing treat. I don't even like Bloody Mary's, but one of these from the bar at Sugar Bowl will make you an amazing skier. Two will put an end to your ski day. (But you won't mind.)

Starbucks Strawberries 'n Cream. Say what you want to about Starbucks, but they have excellent coffee, and these sweet babies have become my favorite recovery drink on a hot day. Gu Brew? Forget it! I'll take artificially-flavored strawberry syrup, milk and ice, blended together and topped with whipped cream, thank you very much.

The list could go on. (And on, and on, and on ...)

What about you? What's your favorite indulgence that's made even sweeter by the guilt-eraser of long distance running?