Saturday, February 21, 2009

Running On Fumes

Last week's theme song was Against The Wind by Bob Seger for my run at Montana de Oro 25K. More appropriate for this past Saturday was Jackson Browne's Running On Empty as I joined about 150 other runners to do the first WS100 training run that started at Green Gate and covered the last 20 miles of the Western States trail to Auburn.

We gathered at Placer High School where it was a bit chilly and some dark clouds were gathering. I met up with a new friend, Frankie, who I volunteered with at Rucky Chucky last year. At 8:00am we loaded up 3 buses and headed out for the curvy drive out past Cool. Soon we were unloading and starting the downhill run toward the Green Gate. I ran into my friend June and we were able to catch up a bit. Unlike Auburn, the start was clear and warming nicely.

There's a lot of singletrack and it's all new trails for me. Part of next month's Way Too Cool 50K will be run on these trails so I tried to really pay attention to certain landmarks. The views down canyon were incredible, especially knowing we were going to be running about 20 miles downstream.

Looking downstream at our destination
The singletrack led to a lot of "trains" of runners but everyone was polite and moved over when they could. I found myself at the "head" of one of these trains and it was stressful! I kept thinking I was going too slow but no one seemed to want to pass so I just found a good rhythm and enjoyed the beautiful day.
One of many stream crossings on the trail
At 14 miles we came to our first aid station. I had been able to keep up a pretty steady pace but I was definitely fading. After last Sunday's race and then training all week, my legs were tired. I grabbed a few snacks and some Pepsi and started the climb up to Hwy 49. Frankie and I had joined back up but I soon found she's a very strong hiker and it wasn't long before she had left me behind. I was able to catch her again on the descent to No Hands Bridge and the company gave me a boost because I was running on fumes.
Running through Cool
After another chance to refuel at No Hands Bridge at the second aid station, we started the last climb out of the canyon and into Auburn. It was hard enough to do after 20 miles, I can't even imagine doing it after 96. It seems like a cruel way to end a 100 miler but then again, 100 mile events are not for the faint of heart.
The infamous No Hands Bridge
I started getting twinges in my lower back at this point. I have a previous back injury but it usually never hurts me while running so this pain came as a surprise. Once I hit the pavement at Robie Point, every step sent pain from my lower back and down my leg. It was quite annoying. I decided to suck it up and continued my slow jog uphill until it finally turned downhill toward the stadium. As the track came into view I was excited to finally step foot on it but alas, it was not to be. All runners were stopped just short of the entrance to enjoy a great post-run buffet of pancakes, eggs, and bacon.
Frankie and I enjoying some post-run food
I was disappointed to not be able to run on the track but after thinking about it, I have to say I'm glad I didn't get to do it. That special moment should be saved only to be savored by those who have earned it by running from Squaw Valley.

As tired as I was last night, I was ready to rip up my confirmation card that I just received from Leadville Trail 100. But after spending a long night in bed and a long rainy day with my family recovering, I'm ready to hit the trails again on my long road to Leadville.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Blown Away

Against The Wind by Bob Seger greeted us in the car as we drove the 15 minutes to Los Osos for the start of the Montana de Oro 25K trail race. How appropriate. Leading up to race day the forecast was for gale force winds and 2-4 inches of rain. Luckily, by race day the rain decided to hold off and we only had the gale force winds.

To show my love and support for my crew (Pat, my husband) we made a stop at Starbucks so he could get something warm to drink. It was there that we ran into Catra Corbett and her friend Andy. Unfortunately, Catra was sick so she was going to volunteer but Andy mentioned he was doing the 50K. I enjoy following Catra's blog so it was a real pleasure meeting her in person. I also got to show her a new addition to my family that I'll mention another day.
We made our way to Spooner Cove and I picked up my number. It was definitely windy and I noticed a lot of people asking others what they were going to wear. The starting line saw a wide range of clothing options from shorts and t-shirt (brrrrr) to tights and windbreakers.
RD Wendell getting runners psyched to tackle the wind

Soon we were on our way along the Bluff Trail which provides superb scenery and a gentle warm up. I did this race 2 years ago where I did well on the first loop (Valencia Peak) but crashed and burned on the second loop (Hazard Peak). I wanted redemption. But it's early in the season and I'm still building my fitness so I really had no idea how my times would compare. I didn't feel particularly strong during the climb and it took awhile for my lower legs to get warmed up and all the aches and pains to go away.
Climbing toward the sun and Valencia Peak

The higher we climbed, the stronger the winds became, especially along the ridges. Some gusts were so strong runners were stopped in their tracks, sometimes even getting blown off the trail. They were definitely some of the strongest winds I've ever experienced. Later, some runners would tell me they were actually scared while trying to reach the peak.

Finally I found myself at the summit and I stayed low using my hands on the rocks to help me keep my balance against the wind. I was happy to get a little lower and out of the worst of the gusts. As usual, the ascending runners were very courteous to the descending runners as we passed on the narrow trail.

After 1:34 elapsed time I made it back to Spooner Cove to begin my second lap. My time was actually a couple minutes slower than last time which had me a bit concerned. I dropped off my jacket and picked up a second bottle from Pat and quickly started on the Hazard Peak loop.

It's a long, steady climb to the peak and I kept up a gentle shuffle all the way to the top. 3 mountains bikers fell in behind me and I wondered if they wanted to pass. They talked amongst themselves but never got so close to me that I felt "pushed". Having them behind me kept me motivated to keep jogging and keep my walking to a bare minimum. When we reached the top I thanked them for the "push" and they laughed, saying my pace was perfect for them and they enjoyed following me. One was kind enough to take my picture with Morro Rock in the background.

Looking down on Islay Creek Rd and Spooner cove, the finish
An advantage I had this time versus 2007 is that now I know the course. My dad and I rode our mountain bikes on this loop last fall so I knew exactly where the climbs were, and how long. Before I knew it, I was at the top of Barranca Trail and it was all downhill from there. Two years ago, the descent to Islay Creek Rd broke me. It was my first trail race and I had done no hill work and my quads were shot at this point. This time I felt great and flew down the switchbacks.

The final 3 miles on Islay Rd are LONG. 2007 found me walking/shuffling and almost in tears to not even be able to run this flat/downhill road. This time I found I had an extra gear and started pushing it. My heart rate was way too high to maintain for long so I dug deep and tried not to let anyone that I had passed pass me back. So much for this just being a training run.

Finally I found the last turn and cranked it into the finish. What a difference from last time. I managed to take almost 20 minutes off my time and it was all on that second loop. And I was all smiles.
3:16:10, A 17 minute PR

I figured a quick dip in the ocean would do wonders for my aching legs so I stripped off the tights and battled the waves. Pat asked me how it felt. I laughed because I felt nothing: my legs were numb. It was an interesting experience to have my body getting cold from the water but the hot post-race soup was keeping me warm.

After thanking RD Sarah for talking the weather gods into holding off the wind, we made our way back to Starbucks for a well-deserved hot chocolate for me. We met my parents and kids there (I didn't want to subject them to having to hang out all morning in that wind). All in all, it was a great run in some challenging conditions. I enjoy doing PCTR events for the laid back feeling but superb aid station support. My legs are sore today but not too bad. I'm happy with where I am in my training. Slow and steady gets it done. Just like a turtle.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Swimming Upstream

Today was hill work but my normal training hill was under snow. So I headed down the hill a little bit to do the "salmon ladder". It is named that after the now-defunct Salmon Run 10K race that was part of the Grand Prix race series here in Nevada County. The route consists of 2.5 miles of flat trail along a flume trail, a descent along a dirt road to the Yuba River then a nasty little climb back up to the trail.

I've started incorporating hill work into my routine once a week. This route provided a nice warmup before tackling the 0.3mi climb with 400ft of vertical gain. But I didn't do it just once. I did it 3 times with the goal being to climb it faster each time. Poor Yuba was starting to get a bit tired and worried about how many times we were going to do this crazy climb. My times for the climbs were 8:03, 7:43, and 7:33. I think I almost maxed out my heart rate that last time. I finished with a nice easy jaunt along the flume trail to cool down.

Once again I forgot my camera so here are some pictures from the same trail when my family and I hiked it last week. The only difference is last week it was warm and dry, today it was wet, with puddles, and in the high 30's.

Sara and Pat walking along the wheelchair friendly trail

Enjoying the view of the Yuba River

Caitlyn crossing Rush Creek with the footbridge just behind her.

Caitlyn tackling the nasty little climb, the "salmon ladder". She did great.

Goofing off

Montana de Oro trail run kicked my butt 2 years ago because I hadn't trained properly. I still haven't trained enough this year but it's my first event of the year and I'm treating it as a training run. I hope the little bit of hill work I've been doing will allow me to do a little better this time. I'm really looking forward to getting down there and finding out where I'm at, training wise.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Good Samaritans

Trail runners are great. Last week I was able to experience some nice trail "magic" after my short 6 mile run turned into a more interesting 11 mile adventure.

I decided to run a short loop portion of the Way Too Cool course and as I checked the trail maps, it seemed pretty straight-forward. But as you know, it's seldom that simple. I started up the Quarry Rd and quickly came to Brown's Bar which I've never climbed. I headed up this 0.8mi climb until I came across the Western States trail heading east toward Maine Bar. I knew I needed to continue a little farther to get to a trail that would take me west toward the Quarry trail and ultimately back down to the Quarry Rd.

Up until now, all the trails had been really well marked so when I passed two steep, unmarked trails that went off to the right, I didn't think they were what I was looking for. Soon I found myself much farther up the canyon facing a decision. There were 3 trails all coming together, they all had names, but none of them was what I was looking for. I took the trail that headed west thinking at least I would eventually come across Hwy 49 and could make my way back down into the canyon.

After continuing to climb and climb and climb some more, I found myself among houses and paved streets which I knew was wrong. I came across a lady who was able to direct me onto some more trails that would eventually lead me to where I wanted to go. She also informed me I was in Cool, which is NOT where I was suppose to be. I headed off onto more trails through pastures and over hills and soon I was lost again. That's when I came across the trail angels, AKA, Good Samaritans.

Two guys, both with dogs, were just beginning their trail run. When I described my predicament, they quickly invited me to join them and they would lead me to where I needed to go. I was a little concerned that I wouldn't be able to keep up, they looked fast. We set off and I was quickly enjoying myself immensely. These were some great guys, showing me some great trails that rolled along the hillsides. Only occasionally did the speed increase enough that I was trying hard to control my breathing enough so that they didn't realize how hard I was working. We talked about some of the trails in the area and it turns out I think I was suppose to take one of those unmarked trails I had seen earlier that headed off to the west. Next time I'll try it.

Soon we came to a trail junction where our paths would go separate ways. I thought about all the things that had happened during my run and the luck involved in the timing of meeting these two guys as they started their run. If I hadn't met up with Jim and Adam, I'd probably still be wandering aimlessly around the hills of the American River canyon. Thanks guys.

On another note, this has been a rest week so I've been taking it easy. It's amazing how skipping just one day of running feels like 4 or 5. I had a good tempo run over the weekend before watching the Super Bowl commercials, I mean, the football game. Today was a long, slow, trail run from the Auburn Overlook where I covered the last 5-6 miles of the American River 50 with some new running friends. Since I normally run alone, it's tough sometimes to adjust my pace to something that I don't dictate. Deep down I wanted to run faster but I soon found that enjoying the company of new running friends is more important. The day was beautiful and it was a pleasure to be running along rolling trails as they meandered along the river canyon.

I've been lazy lately about taking my camera on my runs so I'm sorry I don't have any pictures. I really regret not taking it this morning. I'll try to do better. Good luck to all those racing this weekend at Jed Smith and other races. The season is starting to get going with my own first race of the season coming up on the 15th. Can't wait.