Monday, August 9, 2010

Unexpected 5K Race

I wasn't planning on racing a local 5K this last weekend but since my parents were in town I had childcare taken care of. That freed me up to race the Bear River Fun Run 5K just south of Grass Valley that supports the local high school cross country team.

I arrived just after 7am to do the race day registration thing and then get a nice warm up in by exploring the beginning and ending sections of the course. I studied the course map and there were tons of turns and arrows heading in all different directions. Looked like a real possibility of getting lost if there weren't good marshalls on the course.

I talked with a few friends and then lined up toward the front to avoid the bottleneck just after the start. I ran the first 3/4 mile fast and immediately had to dial it back a bit and recover. This course had it all: pavement, grass, gravel, dirt roads, and singletrack. A true cross country course.

My friend Kathleen was just ahead of me and I tried to keep her in sight. As we hit some dirt singletrack I immediately went into "ultrarunner" mode and slowed down. Nope, not this time and I kicked it back up. Kathleen and I are very similar runners and we have a friendly little rivalry going on and my competitive nature really wanted me to pass her but it just didn't seem like it was going to happen. I was really hurting after that first mile.

There were tons of chalk arrows on the ground and great course marshalls so I had no problem staying on course. Lots of criss-crossing and doubling back meant you got to see lots of other runners. I knew the last part of the course had a gradual downhill and I bided my time til we got close to it. As we hit the downhill stretch I kicked it up a notch and shot past Kathleen and was surprised when I was able to sustain the pace. I came up on another female and went to pass her but she sped up. I was pretty sure she couldn't sustain it so I just stayed right behind her. She finally slowed a tad and I passed. Unfortunately, the course didn't turn back on the track where I thought it was going to. We had to continue on a little further before finally making our way back to the track. I was concerned I had made my move too soon but when we hit the track I told myself it was just like running 400's and I dug deep.

I crossed the line about 23:30 but the general consensus is that the course was about 0.1 mi short so my time is a little fast. The girl I passed near the finish came up to me and said she tried to catch me and it was great having me there to push her. I smiled because I know I've said the same thing to other women. Turns out she was in my age group so it's a good thing I got around her so I ended up finishing first. I was very surprised because I sure didn't feel fast enough to win.

Kathleen agreed to pick up my medal so I could head back home right after the finish. With my mom in town we had to get the girls some new clothes for back to school. It was a beautiful morning and everything with the race seemed to run smooth. I had no trouble following the course even though it had the potential to be very confusing. I talked to someone who said a number of front-runners went off course so maybe it pays not to be a front-runner!

This race was part of the Gold Country Grand Prix race series and next up is the Race to End Hunger Aug. 21.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Reality Check at Tahoe Rim Trail 50K

Earlier this year when I was making up my race schedule, I put the TRT 50K down as my "A" race of the year. I had grand plans of training well all spring, doing the Rucky Chucky 50K and AR50M as solid prep runs and then crush the TRT. Anyway, that was my plan. Plans change.

After battling injury early in the year, I took my time building up my fitness again. However, that meant that my longest runs weren't all that long and I was afraid that would come back to haunt me.

The TRT is a special race to me, not just because of the beautiful venue but because it was my first ultra back in 2007. I ran it in 7:28 and the next morning I thought I had been run over by a truck. This year my secret "A" goal was to break 7 hours but I knew that would be difficult given my not-so-perfect build up and what turned out to be a very hot day.

I got to Spooner Lake early and was able to see the 100 milers start. I visited Gretchen and met her pacer Donald, whose blog I follow but had never met. After talking to him for a short time, I knew Gretchen would be in good hands. Turns out she was.

The 50K and 50M started together at 6am. I set a good pace and arrived at the singletrack early enough not to get caught up in a lot of traffic. That meant I ended up running more of it then in years past but it felt good. Soon I was granted the magical view of Marlette lake in the morning and made a quick descent to it. After a quick stop at Hobart it was on to Tunnel Creek. I really enjoy this 5 mile stretch on the way out, not so much on the return.

The late winter snows this year meant we were treated to a dazzling display of wildflowers. It was still spring in the Sierras. The large patches of snow I had encountered a couple weeks earlier on a training run were pretty much gone. The trail was in wonderful condition.

It was on the descent to Red House that I started seeing 100 milers heading up. I was happy to see Gretchen and she looked good. I didn't know she was actually going through a low point and I hope my cheers helped lift her up.

After passing Red House I hit the flume trail and was determined to run the whole thing. Soon I had a train of guys behind me who didn't seem to want to pass so I pressed on despite wanting to stop and walk for a bit. I arrived back at Tunnel Creek ready to spend a few minutes refueling. I was running a little low. I was right at the 4 hour mark and 3 hours seemed like enough to get me to the finish in 7 hours. The long uphill switchbacks after leaving TC seem to go on forever but I ran as much of it as I could. I arrived back at Hobart tired but still confident.

Usually I enjoy the climb up to Snow Valley Peak but this year the climb just seemed extra long. I kept checking my watch and realized my time goal was slowly slipping away. Instead of enjoying where I was and what I was doing, I became obsessed with time. I arrived at the aid station and my Garmin said 27 miles. Technically, that should mean I only have 4 more miles to go to run a 50K. But this race is longer and it was demoralizing to hear the volunteer say I only had 7 miles to go. And I had been running for 6 hours. No way I could run 7 mph even if it is mostly downhill.

I downed some coke and hit the trail. I struggled. I suffered. I started getting chills in the heat and started worrying that my core was getting too warm. But I didn't care. I just wanted it over. I knew I had let my time goal over-rule my enjoyment of the experience of the day and I wasn't happy about that. As I passed the 31 mile mark I grinned. 6:54. At least I had accomplished my goal of running 31 miles under 7 hours. Too bad it wasn't the finish line :) I started thinking about my family waiting near the finish and my daughter waiting anxiously to run the last bit with me.

My new goal became to finish faster than I did in 2007 and to stay strong despite being very tired. I kept having to walk the little uphills but continued to run as much as possible. I passed the last aid station and I started rounding the lake and could hear the cheers of the finish line. I was almost there. I kept imagining my family watching for me and how it would feel to finally see them. It was a gorgeous but hot day, and I had just run 34 miles through some beautiful, tough terrain and my oldest daughter was going to take me to the finish line. What could be better?

The girls waiting patiently

Looking and feeling pretty ragged

Finally I crossed the last meadow and Caitlyn was quickly by my side to take me in. As I crossed the finish line and looked at the clock I had to laugh: 7:28. The exact same time I ran in 2007. Now how's that for consistency. Now, I just hoped I wouldn't feel like I had been hit by a truck in the morning.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Training on the TRT

Last Friday I wanted to get in a 20 mile long run on the trails used for the Tahoe Rim Trail 50K race I'm doing in about 2 weeks. We've had an incredibly long and snowy winter with the high trails snowed in much later than usual years and I wanted to see what was open.

By 7am I was on Tunnel Creek Rd working my way up towards the Flume Trail and then a little further to the spot used for the Tunnel Creek aid station. Climbing strong and feeling good, so far so good. Next up I tackled the Red House Loop. After a long descent I made my way up to the source of the loop's name and continued straight up to the flume which I followed until the final climb back to TC aid station. I was pleasantly surprised when the climb ended sooner than I expected. 10 miles down, 10 to go.

Red House

Now I faced a dilemma. If I followed the TRT south to Hobart aid station and ultimately Marlette Lake and follow the Flume trail back to Tunnel Creek rd, I knew I'd be over my 20 mile goal but I wasn't positive by how much. So far in my build up my longest run was about 9 days ago and it was only 16 miles. I certainly didn't want to hurt myself just 2 weeks before my goal race but I also needed to build my confidence by going long. So I headed south.
This is a section of the trail that is always harder then I want it to be. Not incredibly steep, just long and lots of switchbacks. By now I started to feel a little tired. None too soon I finally found myself overlooking Marlette and Tahoe in a spectacular view. I had also come across only a few small patches of snow that didn't impede progress a bit.

Overlooking Marlette and Lake Tahoe

As I worked my way along the east side of the hill on my way to Marlette Peak I finally found a couple of large snow fields that obscured the trail. However, I knew the general direction the trail followed and it wasn't difficult to get back on track. The 50K racers won't have any problem with route finding on race day but since I didn't go north from Tunnel Creek, I can't speak for what the 50/100 milers might find.

Trail disappears

I made my way down to beautiful Marlette lake after sucking down more gels and a bar to flag my waning energy stores and I realized I was going to run out of water. I was 4 hours and 18 miles into my run and still had 8 more miles to go. I figured the outlet from Marlette would be flowing fast so decided to chance it and refill there.

Working my way to Marlette dam

Water source

It was along the Flume trail that my energy really started to fade. This was turning into a trail marathon, literally. I have to laugh at being an ultrarunner. Runners spend months training to run a marathon and yet we run marathons to train for our 50's and 100's. But the truth is, I was running 10 miles further than I've run all year and I really didn't want to get hurt. So I walked when I had to and ran when I could. And enjoyed the views on this absolutely gorgeous day.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Zero For Three (But things are looking up)

Yesterday I spent 13 hours in Michigan Bluff volunteering at the aid station with my running club, the Sierra Trailblazers for the Western States 100. By the time I got home my back and feet hurt and I was tired. But as I crawled into my wonderful, comfortable bed, my thoughts were with those runners still out running the American River canyon trails under a full moon as they worked to arrive in Auburn before 11am Sunday.

It was an incredible experience working with other wonderful volunteers and I can't wait til registration opens for next year's run. I also discovered that there are a couple of people who actually know me from reading my blog. I guess I had convinced myself that no one read it so it was no big deal that I haven't updated it.

2010 has been a tough year. My folks have been having some medical problems which has led to a lot of plans changing. Just when you think things are going smoothly, life ups and throws you a curve ball. It's tough to want to update a blog when things aren't very positive.

So here are a few things that have been happening, in a nutshell. I couldn't run Rucky Chucky since I was injured and thought I could recover enough to do AR50. Unfortunately, my dad broke his leg mountain biking so they couldn't watch my kids (for AR 50). I'm not sure how to feel about that, it's a bummer my dad broke his leg but it's also pretty cool that I have a 65 year old father who goes out and rips up the singletrack. So lack of childcare kept me from running but I also believe it's a blessing in disguise. I was in no shape to be running 50 miles and it would have set me way back. Since then I've been able to continue my training in a smart, productive way. As a consolation prize, I WAS able to race our local Daffodil 5K the day after AR50 and I had a great race finishing 2nd in my age group in 23:37. And it was the EXACT SAME TIME I ran it in last year! How do you do that?

And since I still need a 50 mile qualifier for WS100, I've been eyeing Dick Collins Firetrails which I've heard is a wonderful race.

Next up was the Sharkfest Alcatraz 1.5 mile swim. As I've mentioned before, I don't particularly enjoy swimming and therefore, didn't train as much as I should have. Plus with it being such an incredibly cold, wet spring, the 50 degree water in our Fastlane pool wasn't very inviting, even with a wetsuit. The only good thing is that the water of the San Francisco bay felt WARM compared to what I'd been training in.

We met my folks in SF the first weekend of June for the swim. Saturday was absolutely gorgeous and we spent it in Golden Gate park enjoying the warmth and sun. Unfortunately, Sunday didn't dawn as clear. As Pat and I got into our wetsuits and prepared for the walk to the ferry, we couldn't see the island because of the fog. Word spread that if it didn't lift, we may not be able to swim. The ferries loaded and we headed out to the island. I was shocked when I saw the lighthouse on the island but couldn't see the island and we were right next to it! The boats and kayaks were all bobbing around as we waited tensely to find out whether we would swim or not. There is only a short window of slack tide and it was closing fast. My emotions were on a roller coaster. The thought of swimming in that dense fog had me scared shitless. I didn't even know which way was land. After about 15 minutes, word came that due to safety issues, the swim was canceled. We were taken back to shore and it turned out to be just an expensive boat ride. First time in 18 years they've had to cancel the event. Sharkfest offered a consolation "race" within aquatic park but Pat and I decided it was time for breakfast with my family who had shown up and were huddled under blankets being good sports.

So once again I didn't get to do Rucky Chucky. I paid for a bus ride and a finishers jacket at AR50 that I didn't get to use/receive. And now I have unfinished business in SF regarding a certain swim from Alcatraz that I'm not even sure I want to finish. However, the medical issues my family has been dealing with these past few months are getting better and will soon be nothing but a distant memory, when they easily could have gone a more horrible direction. I would happily sacrifice every race entry fee to have my family healthy. There will always be events to do but family is so much more important.

So now that I've got that out of the way, on to happier things. (Actually, one more sad thing). Due to budget cuts, my daughter's elementary school closed for good this year. It's the same school I went to in the 1970's. She will be going to another school next year that I'm sure will be fine but it's hard to lose our historic, small town elementary school. In order to temper the sadness, right after we picked up my (now) first grader on the last day of school, we headed up to Donner Lake to camp for the weekend. It was a fabulous weekend with perfect weather and Caitlyn really improved her skills on her new bike without training wheels.

During the camping weekend, I was able to get up to Diamond Peak ski resort for the first day of the TRT training camp weekend. It was an abbreviated course due to the large amounts of snow up high and I chose the "snow free" route along the Incline flume trail. It was a 6 mile loop that I did twice and it was really enjoyable and still left a good part of the day to get back to my family and enjoy the afternoon at the lake. And to top it off, that evening we got to drive a few miles to fellow ultrarunner Gretchen's house for a great bbq and get-together with other runners.

My running is going well and I've still got a few big runs to get in before TRT 50K mid-July. Things are definitely looking up in all aspects of my life. As things got really rough there for awhile, at least my running started improving which provided a nice way to keep my focus and keep things in perspective.

So back to yesterday. My day started early and ended late but nothing compared to the runners. It was so much fun seeing the front runners streak through and yet remain so polite. So many of them looked like they were just out for an easy stroll instead of being at mile 55 of a 100 miler. I was charged with refilling water bottles/packs and handing out as much ice as possible. It's certainly got me psyched for next year. Hope the lottery gods are good to me :)

Front runners Anton Krupicka and Kilian Jornet weighing in

Eventual winner in 15:07, Geoff Roes

Hal Koerner getting some TV time

How close is that next runner? AJW looks back anxiously while his family crews him

(I love this picture)

Lead woman (and eventual winner) Tracy Garneau gets a refill. She never lost that smile

Catra Corbett shares a quick smile. She unfortunately dropped at ALT

Amy Palmiero-Winters looking strong at MB. She went on to become first amputee runner to finish WS.

Fellow Sierra Trailblazer runner Peggy Davidson gets a hero's welcome at MB. She finished in 29:45.

Congratulations to all the runners in this year's Western States 100. It was a pleasure serving you :)

Now, onward and upward to the next adventure!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Set Backs

Wow, I just checked my blog and realized my last entry was back in December! I know it's been a while but that's pretty sad. But then, what is really sad, is that I'm not even running right now.

I guess now is as good a time as any to start my excuses about why I'm going to perform so poorly at American River 50M coming up in (gasp!) 19 days. Actually, that's a pretty poor attitude so let me rephrase that. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I will not be going for a PR at AR50, but I will enjoy a leisurely jaunt through the beautiful countryside (and bike trails) along the American River.

January and February were going great with my running preparations for the spring and summer races I have planned. Then I got a nagging pain in my right shin that I immediately figured was a stress fracture developing. I backed off and did some cross training which made the pain move to my calf. I guess that was good news but it still caused me to have to stop running due to the pain. I'm trying to be smart and let it heal early before it gets too bad and will be better for the TRT50K in July.

I had planned on running Rucky Chucky 50K last weekend but I opted out. I swear, I've been trying to run this race for 4 years and for one reason or another, I've never done it. I don't mean to be so negative but my running injuries are really starting to get on my nerves. I was trying to do everything right but I still got hurt. Did I add too much mileage? Add in speed work too soon? Part of me wants to just say to heck with running but then I think about all the pleasure I get from a good run and I just don't want to stop.

So the bottom line is I'm buddies again with Tony Horton from P90X (my savior the last time I was hurt) and I'm trying to get on my bike but my calf hurts anytime I ride uphill or stand on the pedals. I'm also training for the Alcatraz 1.5 mile open water swim so I've been getting in our Fast Lane pool a bit. Unfortunately, swimming is my least favorite thing to do so it's easy to shove that exercise aside.

It's probably silly to still want to do AR50 but it's my qualifier for next year's WS100 (hopefully). Plus, I absolutely LOVE this race. I've done it the last 2 years and really enjoy it. I'm sorry this entry is such a downer but I'm just really frustrated right now. My motivation is low, I'm injured, and can't do what I want to do most. But like most things, this is temporary and I know things will get better. They always do. I believe life is full of peaks and valley's and I just happen to be going through a valley right now. I look forward to when things start looking brighter and I can write a more uplifting entry.