Monday, June 28, 2010

A Few of my Favorite Things

A menagerie of summertime play packed into a few short weeks means less time for silly pursuits like blogging. I'm completely okay with this situation.

In lieu of attempting the overwhelming task of blogging it all, here is a little photo-essay of the last few weeks. It's possible I'll get up a short report with a few details about Western States, but no promises.

My garden blooms!

Emerald Bay from the Rubicon Trail

Running the Rubicon

Running the Rubicon with Sarah!

Runner's barbecue, chez moi: Amber and me.

Pitch #2, Northwest Books, Lembert Dome, Tuolumne Meadows

Andrew on the sharp end.

Nevada Falls

The Panorama Trail

Yosemite Falls from the Four Mile Trail

Yosemite bike path fun

Andrew graduates from paramedic school. He worked hard for that diploma, and I am so proud!

Hangin' with Meghan at Michigan Bluff

With bad-ass runner Jamie heading into Foresthill

Jamie and I exit the rafts after crossing the river. Jamie looked great all day, and finished in 23:15!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Silver State 50M 2010

The summit of Peavine Mountain sits at 8,500 feet. Not high, really, by Tahoe standards, but it looms over the city of Reno like a sentry, guarding the edge of the Sierra Nevada from the reaches of the high desert. It draws a horizon line that dominates my twice-daily drive between Reno and Truckee, and thus often dominates my thoughts as well. Its treeless countenance takes on two shades: In the winter, it’s white—completely white. In the summer? Brown. And relentlessly hot.

But this is Peavine from afar, from the safe confines of the climate-controlled vehicle, speeding along at 70 miles-an-hour toward some other destination.

A deeper experience with the mountain illuminates an expanse of personalities. And few activities offer a more intimate experience with place than does running. This year’s Silver State 50/50 blessed us with the most winsome of Peavine’s temperaments.

On race morning, friends and I arrived at the start with just enough time to dash from the car to the bathroom to the starting line. No time for socializing—we were off! Across the wet grass of Rancho San Rafael Park, and towards the mountain, a hundred or so intrepid runners began the 50 mile journey.

The course doesn’t mess around, and we launched into the 12-mile climb to the summit almost immediately. After a wet and chilly spring, with snow falling just four days previously, the forecasted high for the day was in the upper seventies. It sounded hot to me, but I knew it was better than snow, wind and rain any day, so I was pleased.

I spent the first several miles climbing the singletrack with my friend John, whom I hadn’t seen in months. We shared training stories from the year and upcoming race plans and goals. The miles seemed to go by fast as I locked into my steady hill-climbing pace, alternating running with walking as dictated by the terrain. The early morning light cast a slightly golden glow, and the cool air felt hopeful.

I passed through the summit aid station at mile 12.5, and it was only after I had stopped climbing that I noticed how tight I felt. My hips and hamstrings felt sore, my legs heavy, and even my shoulders felt achy and tight. The climb had given me something to focus on, and distracted me from the fact that I was feeling decidedly less that spry.

Approaching the Summit aid station at the top of Peavine.

On the Western edge of the mountain, the trail heads off onto what’s known as the Long Valley Loop. This long loop is on a beautiful, lightly forested section of trail. With its pines and granite outcroppings, it feels distinctly more like the Sierra Nevada than does Peavine. You’ve made the transition out of the desert. I enjoyed this loop, but I was running alone and I had a hard time keeping any kind of a decent pace. The heavy training miles and total absence of any sort of taper were making themselves known. This is when I had the revelation: “Not easy is good.” The race was supposed to be training, after all, and I needed training done on tired legs.

I arrived at a Hawaiian-themed aid station just as they were taking breakfast burritos off the grill, and they looked so amazing that I had to try one. It was one of my training experiments this season to try a variety of foods at aid stations. I like to eat some real food throughout a race, and ideally I’d like my stomach to be able to handle whatever happens to be available. So far, this has been a pretty fun aspect of training. (I love eating!) That was one delicious burrito!

The Hawaiian aid station. What a spread! Will you look at that fruit platter. And, she's got hot breakfast burritos in her hand right there. Yum!

I climbed alone through the sparse forest until I arrived at a small aid station with only 3 volunteers. They were cheering so wildly though, I felt like a rock star. I recognized one of them as Tom Wion, whom I’d met last year during TRT while he was on his way to his first 100-mile finish. I think they thought I was pretty funny because I was more interested in talking to Tom about his experience at TRT than I was in getting on with my own race. Well, I wasn’t feeling that great anyway, so why should I care about a few extra minutes at the aid station, right? I’m such a procrastinator. Eventually I got around to hitting the trail again.

Tom Wion shows off his well-earned belt buckle from TRT 100. Great job, Tom!

I was nearing the end of the Long Valley Loop when I hit my mental low. I was closing in on 30 miles, and I had spent the last 15 or so just feeling like lead. It felt like a stark contrast to Leona Divide, where I had felt relaxed and happy all day. I reminded myself that was because my injury had forced a lot of time off just before Leona. No such luxury in this race, and I would just have to push on through.

At Ranch Creek (mile 28) Michelline (another of the fabulous volunteers who also works the Tunnel Creek AS at TRT) was there to cheer me on. As usual, she gave me just the mental boost I needed. I told Michelline that I’d see her at Tunnel Creek, and started cruising the mellow downhill ahead.

I was back on the flanks of Peavine, and picking up the pace actually had me feeling better. I followed a dirt road that traversed the slope before turning sharply downhill for the 3-mile descent to River Bend. This is a fun, singletrack downhill, in spite of the knowledge that upon reaching the bottom, you will have to climb right back up it and then some.

On my way down I had a chance to see what was going on in the women’s race. Here’s what was going on: I was getting my ass handed to me by a talented field of ladies! It wasn’t really discouraging though because I knew I was running the right pace for myself, and trying to keep up with any of them early in the race would have certainly been a mistake.

Oddly, the return trip up from River Bend was one of the best parts of the day for me. I had this conversation with John after the race, and he and I were of the same mind so I know I’m not completely crazy. I just find something enjoyable in this climb. It was something tangible to set my mind on all day because I knew it was the hardest part of the course. It was also here that I realized the temperatures weren’t nearly as warm as predicted. I’d be surprised if it ever got above 68 degrees. Perfect running weather.

Part of the long climb up Peavine.

I focused on a solid hike, peppered with bits of running. As with most of the day, I was alone, and I was perfectly happy with it. Something about that climb made all my senses come alive. This is the slope of the mountain that I can see from my daily drive. I saw this hillside that I think of as so brown and dry, and here it was—green and alive. The rains had made everything unusually lush, and tiny flowers seemed to pop out everywhere. The sound of my breathing and my feet scuffing the dirt mixed with the birdsong, and I felt almost relaxed. The wind picked up and blew in clouds which formed occasional shadows across the open landscape.

Two years ago at this race, this climb had been the bane of the event. The temperatures soared to 98 degrees, and many runners ran out of water before reaching the aid station—a six-mile climb away. (To the great credit of the volunteers that year, they quickly set up an “emergency” water station a few miles early once they realized the problem.) This year’s conditions held the two experiences in stark contrast, and I was perfectly happy to have this mellower challenge for my day. There was also a new aid station halfway up—Sandy Hill—to ensure runners made it safely to the summit. This newer version of Silver State was much more to my liking.

Sandy Hill aid station, aptly re-named. It wasn't hellish at all this year though!

When I reached Peavine Summit for the last time, the woman checking in runners told me enthusiastically how much I had moved up in the race. She seemed pretty excited about it and I thought it was pretty sweet that she even paid attention. I noticed the other volunteers were layering up with jackets as the cloud cover thickened and the wind picked up. “Perfect weather for running!” I grinned at one of them. She merely smiled in agreement as she rubbed her arms and gave a little shiver.

The remaining 8 miles of downhill went pretty well. The beginning has some loose slippery stretches, but after I got past that, I found myself on beautiful singletrack. It was fairly fast running, and although I was quite ready to be done, I tried to hold a good pace. I could see that I wasn’t going to come anywhere close to my Leona Divide time of 8:45, but it was clear that I was in for a big PR for the course.

In the end, I crossed the line in 9:20, exactly ninety minutes faster than my time from 2008. My name never made it into the official results, despite some help on the matter from some kind race officials. I’m not complaining though; that’s just the paperwork. Plus, finishing 6th woman, nearly 2 hours behind badass Joelle Vaught, is only going to ruin my runner rank on Ultrasignup. We can’t have that!

Back towards Reno, and the finish line.

The finish line was rife with friends, and we sat around eating fresh burgers and exchanging notes on the day. I didn’t really have great things to say about my performance at the time, except for the sizable PR. I simply hadn’t felt that great for the most part. In retrospect though, it makes sense given my training at the time. I’m actually happier with it from a training standpoint, since it’s all done in the name of TRT 100 in July.

The overall quality of the field at this race was impressive this year. Both races (50M and 50K) had some very talented men and women, and that somehow felt like it brought up the quality of the entire event. I’m going to go ahead and give Sean Meissner’s car the award for fastest carpool. I believe they took 2 first places, a second place and a fourth. By comparison, my carpool only took a third, a fourth and a sixth. (I’m sort of the weak link in my carpool, apparently.) We’ll get you next year, Sean!

I should also mention that in my three years at this event, this year definitely seemed the most professional and well-done by the directors and volunteers. It’s always been a good event in my experience, but this year things were kicked up a notch. The course was extremely well-marked (which had been a minor issue on occasion in the past) and the aid stations were amazing. Everyone was all aflutter over the presence of GU Roctane. I was personally a fan of the breakfast burritos and the quesadillas that George Ruiz packed with avocados. Yum!

This is a challenging course with good competition and excellent support. If that sounds like your kind of race, then you couldn’t do much better than Silver State.

Thanks to the volunteers and everyone who put this race together. It was great seeing you guys out there and feeling the love!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Horizon Has Been Defeated

Saturday afternoon I set out on the Emigrant Trail in Truckee for a 20-mile run with my border collie, Cap. The dog’s presence notwithstanding, it was my first solo long-run (if 20 miles can be considered long) since Pt. Reyes, and only my third of the entire winter/spring training season. I had lightened up the mileage last week with the intent of upping the quality, and using the rest as a springboard to just a few more weeks of hard training before beginning a late-June taper. The plan unfolded beautifully, and I felt great all week, with some high-quality speed and hill workouts.

In addition to loving the warm weather, Saturday was spent with my eye on the watch. Given that I have spent both of my races this year without much heed for time, this kind of thing was unique to training, and unheard of on a long run. If I was going so short, I wanted it to be fast, and I ran a beautiful sub-9:30 pace for 15 miles on trail. If you’ll recall though, the run was supposed to be 20.

Mile 15 is where I embarked upon what I am now thinking of as my “June tradition.” I sprained my ankle. Yes, the same ankle. Yes, the same tendon. Frustration, anger, depression. These are my bedfellows.

Also, courage and perspective. Hope.

I spent 2 ½ miles hobbling, crying, dragging my crushed spirit to a road where I hitched a ride back to my car. To say I was feeling sorry for myself would be a ghastly understatement. I do self-pity so well. I think, in reality, it’s a good thing that I was alone. What could another person have done, really? And the presence of another would have required that I maintain some semblance of dignity. Some pretense that my world hadn’t just come crashing down on top of me.

And who can put forth the effort of pretense when the world has suddenly been flipped and everything is wrong? So wrong.

As I limped my way down the trail, every now and then a fresh wave of tears would come upon me. Now it wasn’t just this sudden inability to run; it was everything. I found myself dwelling on a hundred things completely out of my control, everything from oil-soaked pelicans on the Gulf Coast, to the potential death of loved ones. A bit melodramatic, I know. But I find that delving head-first into the depths of self-pity and despair makes for a quicker return trip to “perspective.” It took me nearly an hour to travel that 2 ½ miles, and it was a physical and emotional journey I hope not to repeat soon. Still, all such journeys are an adventure, and a learning experience, and if I wasn’t in a fairly positive emotional place at this point, I doubt I would even be writing this.

Have you ever had a conversation with a 10-year-old and felt more understood that you are by most adults? As I shuffled from my desk to the whiteboard this morning, I shared the weekend’s setback with one of my students. I knew what her reaction would be.

“Oh no!” she wailed, springing out of her desk. “What about Friday cross-country?”

“I know,” I nodded in sympathy. We were of the same mind.

She commenced with further whining and stomping of feet, displaying emotions as only a 10-year-old can, but which a grown woman can still feel. It was almost a relief to see someone act out my own feelings for public display.

It’s not that other runners weren’t sympathetic to my plight, but their own situations remain unaffected. The running experience of my cross-country kids is inevitably tied to mine. I don’t run—they don’t run. It’s deeper than empathy when we can all be selfish together.

On yesterday morning's dog-walk, I noticed Cap had a pronounced limp as well. Closer inspection revealed a torn pad on his right front paw. Another aftermath of Saturday's run. We must make a hilarious sight, the two of us gimping our way around the block at a snail's pace. We're damaged goods, my doggie and me.

I don’t know exactly how big of a setback this will be, but I do know my season isn’t ruined. I’ve been in this place before, (every June for three summers, in fact). I have confidence that a week off will allow me to jump back on the trail, even if this weekend’s TRT training camp is a bit in jeopardy.

Still, when things get bad, when life problems get complicated and lead to the next and bigger problem, I run. That’s what I do. I don’t mean that I run away necessarily, but I do use it to cope. I use it to maintain forward momentum. To stave off the semi-mid-life crisis of a 36-year-old’s mind.

I think tomorrow, if this weather holds, I'm going to dust off my road bike.

For your melancholy listening pleasure, here is my favorite version of The Horizon Has Been Defeated.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Girls on the Run - Sierras

I rose early this morning to discover that the weather gods had furnished the second day of a perfect weekend. It seems summer, at long last, has finally arrived.

I joined a good portion of the North Lake Tahoe community at Truckee River View Sports Park for the twice-yearly
Girls on the Run 5K. Today I played the role of volunteer rather than runner, and loved every minute of it.

Girls on the Run is an international non-profit running program for girls in 3rd-8th grades designed to promote healthy living. I first became involved with Girls on the Run back in 2008 when our Sierra chapter opened. I volunteered for a season as a “SoleMate,” which is basically a mentor for one of the girls in the program. I partnered up with an adorable 3rd-grader named Lucy. I attended practices where we had discussions, played games and ran. The girls learn to make healthy choices in life, how to pace themselves in a run, and how to believe in themselves and support each other no matter anyone’s abilities. (Check out this essay on fearlessness, written by 3rd-grader Hannah of the Chicago chapter.) They train for a season, and the program culminates in the big 5K race. The SoleMate runs with her girl throughout the entire 5K so no girl is left running alone, and Lucy and I had a blast together. (Is there anything cuter than a 3rd-grader out there going for it?)

This year my schedule didn’t allow me to attend weekly practices, so I couldn’t be a SoleMate, but I volunteered at today’s 5K so I could still be a part of the team. You’ll never guess what I did. I did hair!

Yes, Goody (you know, the company that makes all those hair bands and stuff?) sponsored a “Happy Hair Station.” I spent the morning brushing, braiding and spraying colored glitter. I have to confess, it was totally awesome. My inner-feminist kind of wants to rankle at the assumption that all little girls want their hair done, but I just couldn’t get irritated about it at all. Everyone was too busy having fun, and I sprayed color in the hair of a few boys and moms, too. (I couldn’t convince any dads, but I guess that’s their problem. They don't know how so many ultrarunning men like to paint their toenails.) Next time I do this event, I am absolutely requesting to work at the Happy Hair Station.

The day is definitely more celebration than race. There is also a bouncy castle (of course!) and face painting. The entire group gathers for a warm-up, and the girls, coaches and SoleMates do a hip-hop dance that they all learned in practices while the music thumps through the speakers.

After the race, there are more hairdo's, a picnic, and an excellent raffle.

If I ever get the chance, I’m definitely signing up as a SoleMate again. But until that time, spending the day at the 5K is a great way to be part of the action and support girls as runners. Congratulations to all the girls!