Saturday, July 5, 2014

1st Annual Birthday Run for Birthday Fun.

It's summer, and I'm not injured. Finally, my dumb ankle isn't trying to ruin my life, so I ran the hell out of my birthday. 33 miles for 33 years.

From the City to the trails. 
Lucky for me, it was a cool foggy summer day in the city. I loaded my pack with Gu and Glo bars and took off from the Castro a little after 7am toward the Marina.

There's quite a bit of up and down between those two points...
I made my way past Crissy Field and on up to the bridge, which, at this early hour, was pretty much empty except for a few cyclists.

Karl the Fog out in full force
On the other side, I crossed underneath the bridge to pick up the Coastal Trail and start the one mile climb up into the Headlands. I was hoping once I got to the top and made my way to the other side of the hills the fog would clear, but....nope.

It was really quiet and a little bit spooky for most of the miles to the beach. I was prepared to round a corner and suprise a mountain lion or a bigfoot, but the only thing that ended up suprising me were a couple dozen bunnies that intermittently darted out on the trail. I figure, if the bunnies are around, the things that eat the bunnies must not be around, so everything's good. For example, if I round a corner and a couple dozen bunnies are running toward me, I probably would want to join them. Pretty sure I aquired that bit of fool proof logic from Jurassic Park...

The fog began to thin as I got closer to the beach, around 14 miles in.

The turnaround
 I made my way to the sand to sit and eat. Surfers were out bobbing in the water and I thought about how not that long ago I was out here for my first trail race, an 8k. I ran in road shoes and had never seen the Marin Headlands before. I was scared of getting lost and of not looking like a "real" trail runner. That race was what started the journey that led to me sitting at Rodeo Beach three years later on my birthday, in the middle of running an ultra, feeling grateful that my life was as good as I could have ever imagined it to be.

The realization that I wasn't even halfway done knocked me out of my reverie. Up and at 'em. The trip back would be quite a bit of uphill, so I tried to zone out with music and just keep a steady effort.

I was just about back to the bridge and civilization when a deer exploded out of the side of the trail scaring THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS OUT OF ME. I heard a scramble in the bushes and then it jumped straight up into the air. I froze. It continued to scramble up the hill, and then just stopped.


The moment I stopped the video is the moment I realized it was coming back toward me. Now, I realize that a deer attacking me is unlikely, but try watching one with horns walk toward you. And look at you. It's creepy. It stopped at the bush at the edge of the trail that I assume it was enjoying eating before I interrupted it. Ok, deer, go back to your thing, and I'll go back to mine. I walked a bit before running again. Then, BLAMMO, another deer gave me a heart attack. This one scrambled away up the hill.
Son of a...
I started running again, shaking my head. I got another ten yards down the trail and one leapt across the trail in front of me disappearing down the hill. I concluded I had entered some sort of deer congregation that I didn't need to be a part of. I ran on cautiously, then one last WHOOSH of a blur of fur and horns scrambled in front of me.


It watched me walk by. I walked a bit, looking behind me, and just as I was about to run again, I took one more glance back and saw...

When I stopped, the deer stopped. When I walked, the deer walked. What. THE.

This went on for twenty or thirty yards...eventually, I looked back and it had meandered up the hill. When I passed a couple of girls a minute later coming up the trail, I warned them about the deer ambush they were about to enter..."DEERS? YAY!!!" No, you guys, like the kind with horns, that follow you. They probably thought I was nuts, but I would've welcomed a little warning that I was running into a deer tornado.

I was pretty much relieved to drop back down to the bridge and cross back over to San Francisco.

I made it back to Crissy Field and had intended to meet up with GeNene for my final six miles around the lagoon. I got there early and had a few laps to do to add on some miles before picking her up. Having not really trained to run that far, I knew I could get through it, but the unknown factor was how much it was going to hurt to run that far. It was starting to hurt.
"Do you need water? Don't sit down"
She's a pacing pro. 

Celebrate being alive. Be grateful for the journey that has led to this moment. Appreciate and be thankful for everyone who offers their love and support. 

As my mom said to me, when she called to wish me Happy Birthday,
 "Keep running. Keep the fog out of your brain."

That's the plan...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Dipsea 2014: Mostly a race report, sort of a survival guide.

On the Sunday morning a week before the 104th annual Dipsea race, I went out for a final training run to attend the Church of the Dipsea Trail. It was a time to quiet the mind and focus on strategy, to run with and talk to veterans of the race, and to feel graced by the beauty all around...because race day would be total balls out insanity and there wouldn't be time for any of that.

I've run the race twice, both times in the Runner section (that's the way way back). I consider myself an expert on what it's like to run for the first time and think you've done enough research to know what you're doing (HA HA HA), but you don't. I also consider myself an expert on what it's like to run for a second time and think you know more than you did the first time, but you don't.

 If nothing else, I can tell you a good story.

You get to see the start of the race you're running...again...and again...and again...

At 8:30 am the race began with group AAA of the Invitational section, meaning, they were among the first 750 finishers in last year's race, and they were also male age 6 or under, age 74 or over, or female age 7 or under, or age 66 or over. Every sixty seconds a new group would take off until the last Scratch group, the 19-39 year old men were released to run everyone down. Then the process starts all over again with the Runner section. My group, R, was 54-55 year old men and 19-39 year old women, all set to go at 9:14 am. That's 44 minutes of groups starting ahead of me and 8 minutes of groups starting behind me. It's a 7 mile race. I'm sure you can calculate my chances of cracking the top 750.

That being said, I was ready to WIN THIS THING.

You have to go into it believing you can run down a thousand people on single track and beat them to the beach whether you actually can or not. Gut it out. Leave everything on the trail.

My race starts. We bolted through town before cutting into Old Mill Park and heading for the first set of stairs. My strategy was to follow the advice of an eleven time finisher that I met on the trail the previous weekend: Don't go anaerobic on the stairs. The first time I raced, I charged the 671 steps, and my legs were left in lactic acid ruin by the time I got to the top. So, this time, I wanted to be smarter...keep it steady, don't blast it out.

The stairs. Mostly there are two lanes going up: A slow lane on the right, and a fast lane on the left. Sometimes there's a third lane straight up the middle, and sometimes there's even a fourth lane going rogue on the outside of the railing. Everyone is on top of each other, weaving in and out of lanes, breathing heavy. The goal was to not feel like my heart was going to explode five minutes into the race. After the first set, I took a right and ran up the road to the second set where the residents of a house I totally covet were blasting Radar Love and someone that looked like Stevie Nicks was dancing on the porch. It was crowded. I was bumping shoulders and accidentally holding hands with everyone around me. At the top of the second set, we went left down the road to the final set of stairs.

After the stairs. The absolute joy that comes with cresting the top of the third and final set of stairs is short lived because there is no downhill on the otherside, only more climbing.  I welcomed a little breathing room on the wide road before we hit the first short stretch of trail and the one mile mark, where you either want to laugh or cry because really? All of that was ONE mile? Dude. That is a TERRIBLE mile. Onward and upward, there's a little more road before reaching Windy Gap, and on that road was one of my favorite kind of people at a race...the kind you hear long before you see because he was screaming so enthusiastically and clapping his hands like he personally knew everyone running past him. He had a lot to yell about. A lot of it was telling us how many stairs we just climbed and how we were part of Dipsea History and how amazing we were. Thanks, Dipsea History Yelling Guy, you made me smile. I wonder if he knows Goat Hill You're Awesome Guy.

DOWNHILL! Time to let loose. Across Panoramic Highway is where the trail starts dropping down for the first time in the race. It's a little steep with random wooden stairs and plenty of worn trail off to the side of the stairs for passing. I took the fast lane on this section. The trail runs into Panoramic Highway once again, and for race day we hang a right and continue on the road for a long winding downhill. At this point you should be running as fast as you possibly can, passing as many people as you can. We cut back in to the trail at the mailboxes for another stretch of steep downhill stairs before arriving at an important decision: Suicide or Safer. I took Suicide. Balls out, right? It's a trail that doesn't really look like a trail, more like you're disappearing into a bush, and it's so steep that it's a good thing it's so enclosed with vegetation because you'll be grabbing it to slow you down the whole way. There was a new challenge, though, that I wasn't expecting. I couldn't see anything in front of me. The cloud of dust being kicked up by the stampede of runners in front of me was so thick I could barely see the guy in front of me let alone the trail underneath my feet. I was grabbing at branches, moving my feet as lightly and quickly as possible, slipping and sliding, and blinking about six times a second. It was like being in fog. With a strobelight. And suffocating. Then all of a sudden it was over and we rejoined the other runners on the trail just in time to hit the Muir Woods Parking lot.

Dynamite. Crap. I took about five seconds to celebrate the fact that I was still alive before getting refocused. Things were about to get serious for the next couple of miles. Dynamite is about where the fast guys start catching up, so not only are you suffering up a drastic climb, it's the stairs all over again. Get used to breathing other people's breath. Through Hogsback you have the option of the trail or the fireroad. I took the fireroad and oh my lord was it getting hot. I was running steady on the uphill even though the sun was hammering down on me knowing it was not too long before the trees again and the final push up Cardiac.

Cardiac. Crap. In my mind, I knew that the more I pushed up Cardiac, the sooner it would be over, and there was water at the top and downhill after that. In reality, I was cussing with every step up this damn hill, but all in my head, of course, because there are CHILDREN around. That's one of the most bizarre things about running Dipsea: The children. You'll be trudging up a hill and a seven year boy old will go bounding past you effortlessly like a baby deer. You'll be flying down a hill and zero in on the person in front of you that you want to eight year old girl.  On the way up Cardiac I glanced up to see a young girl that seemed to be struggling and an elderly man talking to her while hiking right next to her. As I got closer, I figured out that she was tanking and he was telling her a story of a past race that he tanked in the same place..."I was dizzy and tired and got to the top where the water was and I collapsed into a volunteer's arms, and then I emptied my stomach." From somewhere behind me, "Hey, how about a happy story!" Everyone chuckled, and he went on, "I know how you're feeling, so when you get to the top drink a lot of water and listen to the volunteers. They'll fix you up, so just rest for a second. You'll feel better." Without saying another word, he powered on ahead, and as we all passed the girl, everyone offered encouragement.

The Top. I took a cup of water and downed it before hearing someone yelling something about ice cold water for your head. YES PLEASE! I ran to the woman with the bucket and the sponge, bowed my head in front of her and she squeezed iced water on my head, just as was advertised. I was awake. I was present. I was ready for some downhill.

The Swoop. This shortcut was new to me this year, and it was a crazy steep, dusty, narrow, trail of chaos. The swoop is a trail of chaos. End of story.

Steep Ravine. We eventually rejoined the trail just at the top of the steep ravine stairs. These stairs take you down in another flurry of chaos. They are short and easily skippable, but they are unpredictable and in some spots mimic a spiral staircase...on a steep, straight trail. This is where a lot of people misjudge their steps and their momentum and get taken out. Actually, there was an EMT on the side of the trail.

Insult. The last climb. The final insult. More water at the top. Just. Get. There.

Run Fast. This is it. Downhill to the finish. The trail weaves through dense vegetation with tight turns and steep drops on and off the highway. At this point everyone was barrelling around blind corners and passing where there was totally no place to pass. Coming off the highway back onto the trail, a volunteer was warning us to take the narrow trail slowly, a runner was down up ahead. A little way further down, a volunteer was standing at a spot on the trail pointing to the ground, "watch out, it's steep right here, it's REALLY STEEP RIGHT HERE, watch it right here, WATCH OUT RIGHT HERE." I found it amusing on the approach, but actually, yeah, it was a pretty steep part. Thank you, Steep Part Warning Girl, you did good work that day.

The End. It's over before you know it. It's over too soon. Your last responsibility as a Dipsea runner is to not eat it at The Stile. You've been blasting down the trail, you know you're almost done, and now you have to jump a hurdle and get onto the highway without tripping over anything, especially your own feet. Once you get past that, JUST RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.

My calves are cramping, dear lord, hold out for fifty more yards. 

Scrub with Tecnu. Head for the sea. 

I may not make Invitational status. I may still be a newcomer comparatively, but I'll be back every year they'll have me. This is a race like no other. It's a whirlwind of pain and joy, confidence and terror. For an hour and change, you're part of the Dipsea family.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

American River 50 2014: There can be no other title except MY FIRST 50 MILE RACE REPORT

This is a big deal.

Without fail, there is somebody at every ultra I've run that I hear say, Oh, I'm not really trying for anything today, I'm just using this as a training run for my self supported run across the universe next month. I'll probably just cartwheel the whole thing.  

I heard this type of exchange on the bus on the way to the start. "It's only a 50 miler, so the heat shouldn't even be an issue."
It's a good thing it was dark...
The "it's only a 50 miler" comment snapped me out of the anxious mind chatter and got me refocused. The few weeks leading up to the race, any time it came up, GeNene would say to me, "This is a big deal." Then I started saying it, and understanding what it really meant. This is something that I used to talk about doing "someday". It seemed really far off. I believed I could do it, but it would happen to some distant future version of me. "This is a big deal" means, I am that new version of me. I've trained for and am ready to run 50 miles. 

There's not much I wouldn't do to stay warm. 

The bus ride to the start can be tricky for us introverted folk. I'm not really a make small talk with your neighbor at 4:30 in the morning before a big race kind of gal because, well, there's just so much I have to think about to drive myself insane. Did I drink enough water yesterday? Did I go to the bathroom enough this morning? Do I have to go now? Should I eat something? Why didn't I look up how long this bus ride would be? Did I remember my shoes in my drop bag? Both of them? This bus smells like peanut butter, should I have brought peanut butter? Both of my shoes are still on my feet, right? Garmin check. Bib check. Time check. Why didn't I bring any peanut butter????? And then, from somewhere in the back of the bus..."This race is so easy a baby could do it!" Barf.

We arrived at Brown's Ravine Marina, the new start of the race, and about 4 people stood up and got off the bus. The rest of us sat there looking around at each other with the same thought: It's warm in here, it's cold out there. We stayed until the bus driver uncomfortably told us, "So...I have to take the bus back now..."

After a trip to a porta potty where I congratulated myself for bringing my headlamp because porta potties don't have any lights inside them, my mission was to find warmth for the next hour. I found warmth inside a large white tent heated by hundreds of runners packed inside it. PACKED. Before I knew it, it was time...

Just follow the Morning Star

Don't think. Just run. 

We began on pavement and everything was wonderful. The only thing I was focused on was nutrition. Eat early, and eat often. We hit a little bit of single track and then it was right back to either gravel or pavement. At Folsom Point I dropped off my headlamp, and then, I'm going to be honest, the rest of the journey through mile 24 is kind of a blur. But that was the plan. It was a lot of pavement, so I wanted to relax through the first half of the race and get to Beal's Point feeling good.
The only time I have EVER welcomed a climb for a break from the pavement. Somewhere around mile 15. Nimbus Bluffs. 
Who was at the top of the hill with his megaphone? Goat Hill You're Awesome Guy! At Cool year before last this guy was the voice that carried runners up the worst climb of the race by basically standing at the top screaming YOU'RE AWESOME. This time, he was making sure we appreciated the motivational signs stuck in the ground on the way up. "DO YOU SEE THE SIGNS? I BUILT THESE SIGNS IN MY GARAGE YESTERDAY. YOU'RE AWESOME." Guy, whoever you are, you're awesome. 

More pavement.

Neverending pavement. 

This was painted on the path every hundred yards or so...I recently binge watched the last season of The Walking Dead so...
This was all I could think about...

We also got a first hand look at what the drought looks like as the day heated up.  

The next aid station a man announced my name (Lia Ku-eck) (for the record it's Keek, but I'm used to Kook, Kwek, etc. I answer to all of it.) as I ran in and another man was standing in front of me asking if I had a drop bag. I had stopped in front of piles of them and was just staring. I knew I had one, but I couldn't believe that 24 miles had gone by, so I didn't answer right away. I looked at him and said (like a moron), "Is this Beal's??" Who doesn't know where they are?!? When he said yes and my shock wore off, he directed me to my drop bag. I found a spot in the grass and got down to business.

This is the first race that I've ever had a drop bag and it was like magic to me. It's like a gift that you give to yourself in the future. My feet were feeling ok, but I had a couple of hotspots.  I went ahead and put on a fresh pair of Injinji socks and changed from my Brooks Cascadia 9s to my Montrail Bajadas.

Also in my drop bag:
  • A towel to soak in water to wipe my face and neck
  • 4 extra hair rubberbands in case the one in my hair and the other three spontaneously combust
  • chapstick! YES. 
  • Like 2 dozen Gu...uhhh...
  • half a dozen salt tabs. SMART because aid stations seem to run out of these first.
  • Ibuprofen in case something goes really all bad.
  • One safety pin because when I was packing my drop bag I found it in another bag and thought, I definitely might need this. 
  • Lady supplies, because surprise, yesterday was my special lady day. Awesome timing. Really. 
This is the part where the race actually begins.
Leaving Beal's. Where even is the water.
I took off with my feet feeling completely refreshed, turned the iPod on for the first time that day and queued up Meg's playlist followed by one of Eric's playlists from New Year's Eve followed by my playlist.

5 miles to Granite Bay, no problem. 5 miles to Buzzard's Cove, ok, yeah, ok. 3.5 to Horseshoe Bar...if I see one more Gu packet I swear to God I will ralph. I got to the aid station and just looked at everything on the table. Nothing looked like it wouldn't make me gag. My eyes landed on a volunteer holding a gigantic thing of Tums. "I can't do anymore Gu," I said to her. "Well, what can I get for you!!" she asked SUPER enthusiastically. I asked for one Tum and all of a sudden there was a line behind me...turns out Tums were the highlight at Horseshoe Bar. I also popped a Ginger chew and hoped my stomach would settle. I wouldn't make it the next 12 miles without eating.

Turns out, I barely made it the next 2.8 to Rattlesnake Bar. My energy was gone, and my body started to feel shaky since I had skipped a couple of feedings. I knew my blood sugar was dropping and I had barely consumed any calories in the last hour and a half. It was right at the point where I started to think, UH OH, that I turned a corner and saw that the trail was dropping us into an aid station.

I ate 7 orange slices, 2 potato slices dipped in salt, and half a banana. IT WAS THE BEST TASTING ORANGE THAT HAS EVER EXISTED IN THE HISTORY OF EVERYTHING. That orange saved me. I came back to life at mile 40.9.

This is the part where the race ACTUALLY actually begins.

With my stomach back in check, all I had left to do was battle the fatigue and push forward for the last 10 miles. I pushed. I battled. It was hard.

It was less than 3 miles to Dowdin's Post, and leaving there with 3.6 to go to Last Gasp was the first time I let myself feel how close the finish was. 6 miles and this will be over. Bad idea. I immediately got weepy, so I needed to refocus. No problem! A few more miles and all I was doing was rethinking my entire decision to participate in this race!
This is about a thousand foot climb in the last 3 miles. 
It was a lot of going up. There's not much else to say other than this is the portion when I did most of my cussing. 

The last mile.

I was cranking out a pretty triumphant shuffle-run along with an interesting laughing-crying combo. I had been out there eleven hours and it was finally, actually about to be over. Man, there's nothing like the feeling of the 50th mile. 

I hit the top of the last hill and turned a corner and saw all the people lined up along the sides. Clapping and smiling. I carried some people across the finish line with me, and I saw their faces in all of those strangers that were celebrating the end of my race with me. 

To the volunteer at the finish...thank you, and I apologize, although I'm pretty sure I wasn't the first or last person that day to sob in your face when you said congratulations and put the medal around my neck.

I locked eyes with GeNene immediately and tried to smile instead of cry and then a nice man asked me if I'd like to step over here and get my finisher's jacket. I said I would love to. He called out the size to a woman who handed me a deliciously beautiful Patagonia jacket and then marked my bib. I staggered in the direction they pointed me and took a bottle of water that someone wearing a cape handed to me.

I made my way to GeNene and halfway collapsed into a sobbing hug. That lasted about 3 seconds before all I wanted to do was sit down. First, though, I needed to pick up my drop bag and get my headlamp, THEN I can sit down. Found my bag and then I staggered over to a table full of headlamps. A man pointed and said, here's <some kind of brand> these are <another kind of brand> and these are "miscellaneous". All I could come up with was, "Mine's orange." I found my headlamp. I found some grass and just sat.
I'm sitting this is so great. SO GREAT. 
I'm still sitting and now I also can't talk. 
 Eleven Hours, nine minutes, fifty-three seconds is the amount of time it took me to run 50 miles to Auburn. It was the first time I crossed a finish line and thought, "I don't actually know if I ever really need to do this again." (That thought has since changed...kind of)

The Damage

I'm going to refrain from posting pictures, but I would love to share the fact that I had the most massive blood blister on my left foot. The kind that I never felt and can't understand how it didn't explode. Also, there was a toe that I honestly couldn't tell if the toenail was still there or not. My right foot was golden.  The 12 hours after the race were, well, horrible. All I wanted to do was eat and celebrate and be happy and have a beer and go to sleep. None of that really happened because my stomach hurt so bad. I didn't eat until the next day on the drive home. A week later, my legs and feet are fully recovered, but I still have a lingering hip/glute thing going on. Oh yeah, plus the poison oak. Legs. Arms. Everywhere. 


We got back to the Holiday Inn in Auburn after the race, where lots of other runners were also staying, and I continued to just sit for a while. I wasn't sure if I could make it down to the hotel restaurant to eat anything, but I was trying to will my body to feel stable and cooperate. About the time I realized I wasn't interested in leaving the room that night, from outside in the parking lot, we heard a low voice singing, "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen..."

50 miles. Everybody fought their own battle. Everyone saw their own trouble. Whether it was a first 50 miler, a tenth 50 miler, or just a training run, WE RAN 50 MILES THAT DAY AND THAT'S PRETTY DAMN AWESOME. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Montara Mountain Marathon: Getting The Hay In The Barn.

Advantage: I know this course backward and forward.

Disadvantage: Something's up with my knee, and something's up like I'm getting sick plus my head's not in the game because I'm worried about the first two things.

The few days prior to taking off for Pacifica, my plan was to just pretend everything was fine.  Even when we got there and my throat felt crummy, and I had no idea if my knee would hold up for one loop let alone 4...
Everything is so totally fine. 
I thought, I'll wake up and get ready and feel fine...I'll get to the park and warm up and feel fine...I'll start the race and feel fine. I woke up, and my throat still felt crummy. I warmed up, and my knee hurt. I started the race, and I wasn't sure how far I could make it.

GeNene had said to me, in my pre race pep talk, "You know your body, and if your knee is hurting or you're not feeling good, you know when to stop." I smiled. I nodded. She gets me, I thought.

She paused and then added, "BUT DON'T GIVE UP."

Soooo....looks like giving up is not an option 
The Marathon course goes like a little over three miles up to the North Peak of Montara Mountain (just under 2,000 ft)(grab a rubber band to prove you were there) (freaking best views you could ever imagine) then run back down. Head out on the Hazelnut loop on a one mile annoying climb then run back down. Then have fun on one more kick in the pants two-ish mile climb with mind numbing switchbacks. Then run back down to the start/finish.

Repeat. All of that.

On the first trip up the mountain I wasn't feeling it. My body was beat barely a mile in. I followed the others up the dark tree covered single track before the trail opened up to the sunshine and the amazing views.

After finally reaching North Peak, I looked around at the other people I'd been running with who were standing on top of a mountain with me. Everyone was smiling, taking pictures, pointing at Mount Diablo or San Francisco off in the distance. Everyone around me was filled with joy. Time to stop thinking and just run. Quit feeling pitiful and just get the miles done.

So I got the miles done. It kind of just happened. Everything felt so off that day, but it made more sense when, by the next night, I was completely knocked out with a cold.
I got third in my age group don't ask me how. 
I spent most of the following week on the couch getting caught up on The Walking Dead. I also felt like The Walking Dead when I dragged myself to a meeting on Wednesday. It wasn't until the next weekend that I started to panic because,'s a week until Way Too Cool and I'm couging my guts out with sinus pressure like my face is going to explode. I asked friend-from-Twitter-Meg (@shatterday) for some guidance, and she delivered. That night I started on an Elderflower syrup regimine. I steamed with Eucalyptus oil. I ate spoonfuls of organic raw honey with lemon and cayenne, and I drank a tea of crushed anise seed and garlic (that stuff is no joke). GeNene made me a kick ass miso soup the next day with shiitake mushroom.

Here I sit on Thursday night, 36 hours before a 50k, feeling 100% back in action.

Stay tuned for tales from Cool.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Golden Gate 30k Race Report 2/8/14: It's fine, we really needed the rain.

The wind, though...

Especially when you also have to deal with all of *this*

A little drought relief finally came in the form of a few days of total downpour across Central California just in time for Coastal Trail Run's Golden Gate trail race in the Marin Headlands. Chance of rain on Saturday morning was Infinity%.

Traffic directing volunteers: much respect.  

The start had the group of us standing on the road under an angry sky, waves crashing next to us onto Rodeo Beach, listening to Wendell's ribbon instructions (polka dot means a turn is coming up, blue is bad). Some wore rain jackets. Some wore garbage bags, and some wore ponchos. I chose a light rain jacket and a hat to keep the rain out of my face (fat chance). The morning air was warm. The rain was light but steady, and the wind was threatening to make things interesting. We took off up the Coastal Trail on the first big climb.

A couple miles and 900 feet uphill later, I was welcoming the downhill toward Tennessee Valley. Just past the stables the aid station was set up under a canopy, and I stopped for just a minute before heading out on the orange loop. The next 5.6 miles would take us back up another climb of 900 feet or so and loop around the hills to bring us back along the coast. This would be the start of things getting interesting. For one thing, mud...for another thing, wind.

The good news was that when the wind wasn't blowing in a weird haphazard swirly pattern, it was blowing heavily inland, meaning, at least it wasn't trying to sweep me out to sea. The funny thing about that, though, was that as the wind was gusting, I was leaning into it pretty dramatically, so when it would abruptly stop or change direction, I had to fight the momentum and keep from immediately running sideways off the side of the hill. Action/Adventure became the theme of the run at that point. I plowed along repeating to myself, "don't go off the side...don't go off the side."

And let me tell you, by this point, the folks in garbage bags had pretty much nothing left of them, and a guy on the trail in a poncho can look like an angel or a demon depending on which way the wind is getting at him. At one point I raised my arm to take a drink out of my handheld bottle and almost punched myself in the face with it because the wind said no, I don't think so.

My only focus was on making it back to Tennessee Valley which was about the halfway mark. Also, I was banking on the fact that the wind would be calmer inland down on lower ground and maybe for the rest of the race!

Nope. Running the Tennessee Valley trail at sea level for a little over a mile back into the aid station was just as, if not more brutal. I didn't have the fear of flying off into oblivion, but now I was getting pushed around on flat ground and running underneath big trees that brought the wind to life...or the wind brought the trees to life. Either way, I was running like something was out to get me.

Finally, I approached the Tennessee Valley aid station! The plan was to refuel and in general, just regroup for the second half of the race. Except, the aid station looked different than when I saw it on my first pass...I heard another runner say what I was thinking...

"You had a canopy last time we were here, right?"
"Yeah, now it's in Oakland..."

There was a table and the skeleton of a tent above it. On the table was one bowl of something, maybe pretzels, soaked in water. They still had plenty of fluids, but for a split second I panicked...there's no food here, there's no aid, there's nothing here!

I was wrong, though. These people are here. 

One guy said to a volunteer, "Thanks for being out here!" The volunteer grinned and replied, "We wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you!"

Heh. Well played.

Another volunteer directing us out of the aid station was pretty enthusiastic in directing us up Marincello,  "Next aid is 4 point something's beautiful at the top of the hill!"

Seriously, who were you guys at the Tennessee Valley Aid Station. Heroes.

The climb up Marincello to Bobcat was something I was prepared for but definitely not looking forward to. It's another 900 ft climb in under 2 miles. Normally, there are beautiful sweeping views of Sausalito, Tiburon, and Mount Tam, but I saw nothing but a thick blanket of white.

Somewhere out on Bobcat was where I saw a guy in front of me with a video camera or maybe it was just his phone or whatever. Anyway, he definitely was documenting what we were up against out there...blowing fog, gusting winds, and noises that sounded like Jurassic Park or the Smoke Monster from Lost. I have never been so sure in my life that a T-Rex was about to appear out of the fog in front of me. The wind blowing through the valley was making noises that were bizarre enough to really sound terrifying.

There's a short stretch on Alta trail that runs through a grove of Eucalyptus trees (also scary in the wind) before putting you on a residential road that leads to SCA trail. SCA trail is the very definition of single track. It's a one foot in front of the other kind of trail with the hill on your left and a drop off to your right. Actually it starts off by running you directly behind a house on the side of the hill with giant windows that have sweeping views of the Marin Headlands, so you start on the trail feeling jealous of whoever lives in there.

I ventured out on the trail just behind another guy. He started getting blown around a little and slowed way down, so I backed off. I got caught in the wind almost immediately and got my breath taken away. My hat ended up being a face mask to block the wind so I could breathe. That wasn't even the worst of it.

A gust came up. The guy in front of me completely stopped and threw his arms around a medium sized boulder on the side of the trail. I pressed on until a similar gust reduced me to the exact same maneuver. I stopped to grab a boulder so I wouldn't get blown off the trail. The guy eventually let me go around him, and I kind of charged on.

There's that moment in every race where you haven't seen a person for a half hour or so, you haven't seen a ribbon marking the course in what feels like a half hour or so, and you start to question whether or not you are actually the last person on Earth. Add to that the fact that you've just experienced the most dramatic weather conditions in a trail race that actually had you questioning whether or not the race was cancelled and everybody went home except for you.

I looked out and expected to see the Golden Gate Bridge. It's my favorite stretch of trail...but everything was fog. I knew it was right in front of me...but I couldn't see it. It was some kind of reverse Planet of the Apes type of thing.

The last part of the course followed the road for a while before dropping down back to Rodeo Beach.

I loved this race.

I never would've experienced these conditions, as insane as everything was, if I hadn't run this race. I feel a little tougher, a little stronger after braving that weather on my favorite trails.

Thanks, Coastal, for putting on a great race. Thank you, volunteers for being out there.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

New Year's One Day Race Report: Saw The Golden Gate Bridge Roughly 41 Times.

The Course: Just keep turning right until 2014. 

I ran 41 laps for 43.7 miles in 12 hours. I made 164 right turns. I saw at least twice that many people taking selfies with the Golden Gate Bridge. 

I made two mistakes. 

The recap:

Lap 1. Hour Zero - High Noon - The Start - Current Mood On Top Of The World -
The grin spread across my face as the group of us, everyone with their hands on their watches, waited for Wendell to count us down to the start. "Norphel came out yesterday and ran the course, so he knows where he's going...follow him." And then we were off, "Have fun out there".
I had never faced a start line like this one. There was no finish line in front of me, only time. Lots and lots of time. 

I didn't realize it was possible for Runner's High to kick in three seconds into a run but WOOOO-WEEE! The earbuds went in, the music went on, and everything was beautiful...the air, the sun, the bay, the bridge...I wanted to high five EVERYTHING. 

Lap 2. How do I already have to pee, and these shorts were clearly a bad choice...first pit stop was lap 3 and I was good to go. The plan was to get in the zone, just run, and not think about time. 

All of a sudden 20 miles went by. That's a weird thing to say. 

Somewhere around 22 laps in. Photo by Jim

I was having some blister issues, so I changed shoes and put on compression socks around lap 27 or 28.

GeNene did lap 30 with me which is when I discovered a hill at the second turn that I swore hadn't been there before. Also, it continued to get bigger each lap. Very strange. 

As it got darker, looking across the lagoon or up ahead at a turn, a line of bouncing headlamps lit the way. Night time transformed everything. The Bridge glowed, and the city sparkled. 

Hour 8 is when I made my first mistake. I thought about time. My Garmin called it a day right around 8 hours, and it was the first time I'd thought about how long rather than how many laps or how many miles. Everything hit me. This was the longest amount of time I'd ever spent running. It was the most amount of miles I'd ever run at once. I'd been looking forward to this for months and now I'm here! I'm doing it! I'M ALMOST.....DONE....!!!

I rode that wave of weepy bliss for all of about thirty seconds before the 4 hours I still had in front of me slapped me across the face and brought me back to Earth. So that's how it went. 8 hours in, and my race was just beginning. 

I tried to find the zone, but the zone had left me. My body was giving up. The hill on the second turn had become a mountain. My brain had begun to bargain, and it didn't help hearing other people deciding to call their races content with their number of laps. GeNene walked with me and let me moan and groan for a couple of laps before I decided to make a pit stop at our camp for who even knows what. I'm not sure what genius thing I came up with that I thought I needed at that point. "I'd like to take a look at the blister that I've been running on for the past 10 hours, or, I don't know, tape something." 

This is when I made mistake number 2: I sat down. Not only did I sit down, I got under a blanket. So long everybody, wake me up next year! That lasted long enough for GeNene to tell me I wasn't done and she'd walk with me the last two hours if I needed her to. That made me happy. It also got me out of the chair because the thought of walking the last two hours was not how I wanted the rest of the story to go. I got moving again, not very fast or in a straight line, but I was moving. It was very quiet out there the last hour, everyone fighting their own fights, focused on the five or six feet of ground ahead of them. Time was winding down, and Poss joined me for a lap before I decided to call it. I had time to get one more lap completed. 

On that last lap, on the third turn, I walked over to the fence to look at the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge one last time. I had my moment to be grateful and breathe the ocean air and drink a toast to the New Year.
The final lap toast.
"The picture's not going to come out, your headlamp is on."
"Just take the picture. I'm going to fall over."

Thank you to everybody who helped me by being there, sending messages, adding to my playlist, or being there in spirit, and thank you to GeNene for getting me out of the chair. 

It was the most fun. I will be back next year...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rewind, Recap, Remix.

It has been 5 months since my last blog post. Let's get caught up.

September...Vermont 50k!

More to come...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Race Report: Living the Dream, or, Running in the Santa Cruz Mountains Same Difference.

Valparaiso, Indiana somewhere around 1996 or 97...could be 98, probably not 99:
I'm in the car with Laur, maybe Trish, and Josh and his friend Valerie. We are probably on our way to Night Owl because our friends have a Ska band. Valerie is in the back, and I'm turned around to look at her while she starts talking about how she's been to California and all she wants to do is go back because it's the best place she's ever been. This is the first time I've ever heard of Santa Cruz, the first time I've heard someone talk about having been to California, and I'm trying to imagine everything she's describing while at the same time secretly wishing that someday I'll get to see the Pacific Ocean, too. 
Clockwise from the top left in Indiana: Trish, me, Valerie, and Laur. In Indiana.

I think about that moment in the car all those years ago and a bunch others like it when I'm experiencing something beautiful and amazing that I could never have ever imagined would be a normal part of my life. Running in the Santa Cruz Mountains is one of those things. Living in California, in general, is one of those things.

Inside Trail Santa Cruz Mountains Half Marathon. I've done this run once
before, kind of, well, you just have to read about it...HERE
I took off steady and conservatively. This is a key week in my training for the Vermont 50k next month, and the whole time I was overly focused on getting through it without hurting myself (ankle(s)).
The first couple of miles of climbing were all sand. SAND.
I channeled my inner NWI Ridge Runner and powered up. 

At the first river crossing, I stopped to take off my shoes. I lost a lot of time getting across the slippery rocky bottom barefoot and then having to stop on the other side to clean the sand off my feet and put my shoes back on. We were only a few miles in at this point, but I knew I'd made the right choice to have dry feet for the majority of the miles. I felt good. I felt strong.

This really nice guy on the right was guiding runners across and
telling them to take their time and where to go to
take the easiest pass. Our races would become
inevitably intertwined....

Runners were really supportive of each other at this race. There was a loop, so I got to see some of the lead runners who gave a smile or a good job to me, and I got to cheer on those behind me as well. I met a really nice guy named Alvin running in a stylish button down shirt. Style points go to Alvin.
It's not a trail race if I don't see Allen.
He snapped this picture of me. 

And this one, too. I'm pretty sure he could
convince people he had an alien encounter or
unicorn sighting. 
Back to Nice Guy in the Black Shirt. We spent a lot of time passing each other back and forth until we ran side by side heading back to the river. I heard him stumble and go down pretty hard right behind me, so I stopped and went back. He was down, like, really down, having hit a rock and falling down hitting his leg on another rock. I asked are you ok, and he said nothing was broken. I offered my hand to help him up, and I fully expected for him to say, um, no thanks, I'm fine, I can get up...because I'm a smallish sized woman and he's a normal sized guy and you know, what can I really do, right?...but he accepted with no hesitation. He grabbed my hand, and I pulled him up on his feet and I felt validated as a human being. I'm a person. I can help. I'm not less than because I'm female. He didn't see me as less than, that's what I felt. We're all the same out here. We're all strong and capable.

I plowed through the second river crossing and ended up with soggy wet shoes on the other side for a giant climb. Black Shirt Nice Guy and I traded places through the last few miles. We got to about a half mile to the finish, and I was fading...he said, come on, I know you can make it through this last part. We finished together with a high five at the end. I never got his name, but he was, by far, the epitome of the spirit of trail running.

The race was fantastic. Great shirt, great coffee mug, and we found a great cottage to stay in about ten miles north of Santa Cruz.
Ocean Cottage.
Living the dream, basically.