Big Basin 50K Week 12: Excuses, Excuses

Confession: I didn’t hit my mileage target last week, even though I’m no longer sick. I can’t say I’m back to being 100% healthy — my lung capacity still feels compromised — but I’m finally breathing out of both nostrils and my snot rocket blowing days are behind me. So why didn’t I run all 44 miles according to plan? Well, let’s see… on Tuesday, I only managed 1.3 miles around the block because of stomach problems/sleeping in/running late for work. On Wednesday, I skipped my run entirely so that I could prepare for a presentation on Thursday morning. Thursday came around and I finally got 5 miles in with a fun run with Kate and Jess on Wildcat Creek Trail.

I added a “bonus run” of 3.2 miles on Friday morning (usually my rest day) so that, even if I didn’t hit my planned weekly mileage, at least I’d be hitting the same number of runs for the week (5).  #runnerOCD

On Saturday, I went on a great but tough run up Mt. Tamalpais with Kate and Cathryn, which was definitely the highlight of the week. On Sunday, I slept in and went to dim sum instead of waking up early for a trail run, but I paid for it by running in the midday heat. Between Saturday and Sunday’s trail runs, I managed to log ~22+ miles with ~3500′ of elevation gain/loss. I’d say that’s quality over quantity right there.

Panorama taken about halfway up to Mt. Tam

Panorama taken about halfway up to Mt. Tam

We made it to the top! (Photo courtesy of Cathryn)

We made it to the top! (Photo courtesy of Cathryn)

We finally found the namesake plant for Fern Creek Trail. We later came upon the creek too. (Photo credit: Cathryn)

We finally found the namesake plant for Fern Creek Trail. We later came upon the creek too. (Photo credit: Cathryn)

As you might be able to tell, my energy and motivation levels are pretty low right now. I feel a big part of it is lingering laziness/fatigue from being sick, because I’m also feeling less motivated at work and at home. Another possible factor is that, by completing a trail marathon last week while I was sick (i.e., accomplishing a big task while feeling like absolute crap), I feel ready for Big Basin…to the extent that I no longer feel like training. While it’s technically true that I wouldn’t have to train very hard to *complete* Big Basin, I also don’t want to suffer very much, so I know I should try to adhere to my training schedule as much as possible.

Luckily, it’s less than 4 weeks until race day(!!), and only one week of “real” training before taper, so all of this hand-wringing is pretty much moot. 50k training will be over before I know it — and y’all are probably looking forward to that day as much as I am. Going forward with the remainder of training, I’ll continue to aim to run 5 times a week, but I won’t be a slave to mileage – with the exception of this weekend’s last 20-miler. ;) I might even throw in a few fartleks and fast finishes just to keep things interesting.
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Big Basin 50K Week 11: Canyon Meadows Trail Marathon Race Recap

I signed up for the Canyon Meadows Trail Marathon with these thoughts in mind:

  • I have to run long anyway, I might as well do a supported run.
  • 26.2 miles is just 5 miles shy of the full 50K, so it’s pretty much the equivalent of doing a 20-miler for a marathon.
  • Coastal Trail Races organizes both Canyon Meadows and Big Basin, so I can test out the various food offerings at the aid stations.
  • I was supposed to run my first trail marathon last year, but DNS’d due to a hip/glute injury. It felt right to reach this milestone before tackling my first 50K.
  • Being in Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, I was very familiar with the course. It’s also close to home and therefore logistically easy.

What I didn’t know at the time of registration is that I would come down with a terrible head cold. About 3 days before the race, I seriously considered downgrading to the 30K or half marathon. I didn’t want to stress my body too much while it was still getting over this cold. Fortunately, in the 2 days leading up to the race, I got dramatically better — my rate of Kleenex use dropped from about 10 per hour to 1 per hour. :) So, even though I hadn’t run more than 26 miles total in the 2 weeks leading up to the race, I decided to go for the full marathon. I had a good ~22 mile training run under my belt from 2 weeks ago, and it helped that the cut-off times were extremely generous: 8 hours 45 minutes for marathon runners and 9 hours for the 50K. I could briskly walk a good portion of the race and still finish in time. Adding to my confidence was that Jess agreed to join me from mile 3.5 to 16.5. Having her company would prove invaluable.

Other than the fact that parking at was a bit crazy in the morning, everything went relatively smoothly pre-race. The marathon course consisted of two 13.1 mile loops, each with about 1500′ elevation gain/loss. A majority of that elevation gain is in the first mile and continues to build until about mile 5.5. As the crowd of half marathoners, 30K runners, marathoners, and 50K runners worked its way up the first big incline, from Canyon Meadow up to East Ridge, I couldn’t help but notice that it was already very warm despite the relatively early hour of 8:00 a.m. I kept an eye on my heart rate (HR) to make sure I wasn’t overexerting myself; it was going to be a long day as it was, and if I went out too fast, it would be an even longer one. Looking around, I saw several runners wearing long sleeve shirts and full length capris and shook my head in judgement, wondering what the heck they were thinking as we hiked up the exposed trail.Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 8.08.46 PM

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 8.09.21 PMThe first few miles were relatively uneventful. I looked forward to meeting Jess at Skyline Gate (mile 3.5). My HR had been climbing steadily and after 3-4 miles, it was nearly impossible to bring it back down, even with extended walk breaks. Despite taking a decongestant, my nose was running faster than I was (ha!), which made breathing pretty difficult. I kept asking for short walk breaks (which I started to refer to as red light/green light), to which Jess patiently obliged and insisted that I stop apologizing when asking to walk. Even though I knew I was out on the course with a cold, I couldn’t help but feel like I should be doing better — more like my healthy, normal self. I couldn’t believe that I was already walking so much and I was upset that my breathing and HR were seemingly out of control. In retrospect, I realized that my ego was wounded by my “lackluster” performance thus far, and instead of just coming to terms with it, I continued to fight these feelings for the next 10 miles or so.

Luckily, instead of taking a downward spiral into a self-defeating, self-destructive mode, I had Jess with me. We talked as we ran/walked, which kept me from my dark thoughts. I kept on top of my nutrition, eating 100 calories every 30 minutes. I drank regularly from my hydration vest, though I probably should’ve been drinking even more given how hot it was getting. We rounded West Ridge and took a detour on a couple of new-to-me trails, Graham and Dunn, that were gorgeous. Being shaded and downhill, this part of the course was definitely way nicer than the first few miles.

Beautiful views from Graham/Dunn trails.

Beautiful views from Graham/Dunn trails.

There was another extended downhill section of single track on Toyon, after which we climbed up Golden Spike and ran into A, a friend of Jess’s, who was feeling dehydrated. She hadn’t realized that there would be such a long stretch (6.2 miles) between the first and second aid stations… which brings me to this point: when running a trail race, ALWAYS check the elevation profile, weather, and aid station spacing. It’s not a bad idea to carry your own water either. Luckily for A, we were less than a mile from the next aid station and I believe that she finished her half marathon just fine.

The second toughest part of this course (the toughest being the first 2-3 miles) is the out and back on Bridle and Stream. First, it’s mentally defeating as you run away from the start/finish area. Second, Bridle is full of steep rollers and seems to go on forever, even though it’s just a mile. To add to the psychological pain, Bridle runs parallel to Stream, a flat, paved trail just below and within sight. As we made our way along Bridle, I confessed to Jess that I was feeling as fatigued as I usually do at mile 20, even though we were only at mile 11. She asked me if I wanted to stop after one loop. I seriously considered it, but reasoned that I could take it super easy and still finish the marathon.

Me and JT finishing up the first loop. (Photo courtesy of Coastal Trail Runs)

Jess and I finishing up the first loop. (Photo courtesy of Coastal Trail Runs)

At about the 3 hour mark, we ran past the start/finish, completing the first loop. I grabbed some watermelon and boiled potatoes from the aid station and Jess and I began the second loop. The next 3.5 miles were agonizing. I had a very difficult time getting up the hill, asking to stop on several occasions to catch my breath. I started to feel dizzy and everything seemed too bright, even with my sunglasses on. I had been on top of fueling, but perhaps I hadn’t drank enough water? I haven’t looked at my Garmin stats (which are messed up anyway, for various reasons), but I’m pretty sure that it took us ~25 minutes to cover that first mile. During this time, I reconsidered my decision to keep going. Am I pushing myself too hard? Should I stop? What am I doing? And as I mentioned above, my ego got involved in this conversation and had me wondering if I was really OK with walking the rest of the way. I decided that I would at least go with Jess back to Skyline Gate and then decide what to do from there.

Once we got up the first big hill, we continued to do a lot of walking interspersed with some very slow jogging. We eventually made it back to Skyline, where I crossed a mental hurdle to keep going. I “only” had 9.5 miles left, I couldn’t stop now. But part of me still felt ashamed for going so slowly…it was totally irrational. As I said goodbye to Jess, I started to tear up – making it the first time I’ve ever cried during a race or a run. I knew I was nearing my mental and physical limit, and it was scary. Seeing me in my off-kilter state, Jess decided to help me refill my hydration pack and walk with me for another half mile or so, probably just to make sure I was OK. As we walked along, I felt much better and thanked Jess as she turned around to head back to her car. I was gonna make it! Even if it took me another 3 hours…

There weren’t a lot of marathon and 50K runners on the course, so it was pretty lonely after Jess left. Despite that, I never needed to plug in a podcast or distract myself; I was able to focus on the mile at hand. My first goal was to make it to the next aid station, where I ate a couple more salted, boiled potatoes, drank a small cup of Coke, and took an electrolyte tab, just for good measure. The next 6 miles actually went by fairly smoothly. Yes, I was still moving along at a glacial pace (15:00-18:00/mile), but at least I wasn’t dizzy anymore. I also figured out how to blow snot rockets, which helped tremendously (and made me feel like a bad-ass). I was able to enter the happy head space, where I started feeling grateful instead of miserable and negative. In this section, I passed 4 other runners, which made me realize that despite the rough day I was having, there’s probably someone else having an even rougher day.

Views like this helped to keep my mind right.

Scenery like this helped to keep my mind right.

I made it to the 2nd to last aid station and was pumped to be only 2+ miles from the finish, which meant that I would finish in under 7 hours. (Yes, my pride was still rearing its annoying head even at this late stage of the race.) I didn’t start celebrating yet: I still had to battle with Bridle Trail for about a mile. I cursed my way up every hill that I encountered, which had the effect of making me laugh at myself. I ran/walked the final stretch on Stream and finally crossed the finish line at 6:48:20 (15:35/mile). It may have been a 48 minute positive split for the 2nd lap, but I was just so relieved to be done, splits be damned.

But wait, there’s more! As I was sipping on a post-race, ice cold can of Coke, I saw that I had been selected in the random drawing. Coastal always does a random drawing to reward a select number of runners for just showing up. This was the first Coastal race (out of many that I’ve done) that I’ve actually been chosen! Out of the numerous prizes, which included socks, hats, and t-shirts, I chose a Salomon bandana/headband because I can always use an extra headband. Thanks, Coastal! Then, this morning, I checked the official results and saw that I came in 2nd in my age group! Granted there were only 2 of us, but I’ll take it. :)

The Canyon Meadows Trail Marathon will definitely go down as one of the hardest, longest, and most productive training runs in my running history. Knowing that I pushed my limits and managed to complete the course gives me the mental fortitude to tackle my first 50K in just 5 weeks time. I can only hope that running a 50K healthy and with clear sinuses will be on par (or easier) than what I experienced at Canyon Meadows!

I did it! Post-race, delirious selfie.

I did it! Post-race, delirious selfie.

About the race:

  • Organizers: Coastal Trail Runs
  • Location: Redwood Regional Park, Oakland
  • Cost: $60 for the marathon up until 2 weeks before the race, $65 up to race day. There were 4 other distances: 5 mile, half marathon, 30K, and 50K.
  • Course: 3068′ elevation gain/loss on a mix of single track and fire roads, with exposed and shaded areas. Marathoners run the half marathon loop twice. Extremely well marked!
  • Parking: Parking is available inside the park for $5. Arriving at 7:30 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. start meant that I was one of the last people to actually park inside the gate. There is free parking out on the main road, which is about a half mile walk.
  • Aid stations: 3 for the 13.1 mile loop, spaced irregularly at mile 4.7, 10.9, and 13.1 (start/finish). Each was fully stocked with the usual trail racing goodies, everything from peanut M&Ms to PB&J sandwiches to potato chips. They also had water, sports drink, Coke, and Sprite.
  • Bathrooms: 3 flushing toilets at the start, and a few others within a short walking distance. There are outhouses at Skyline Gate (mile 3.5), at Redwood Bowl (mile 6-ish?), and along Stream Trail (mile 12).
  • Swag: Technical tee, which I skipped to save $5 on registration. All finishers received the same medal, while the 50K finishers received a special coaster.
  • Post-race food and drinks: In addition to the aid station fare, there were sodas and beer in the cooler, along with some hot dogs and hamburgers.
  • Advice for anyone considering this race: this course is tougher than it looks (i.e., as far as the elevation profile goes). Having to climb up from Canyon Meadows twice was a killer, and 50K runners have to ascend 3 times! I would definitely bring your own water as there’s a long stretch without aid.
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Big Basin 50K Week 10: Congestion Central

As you can probably tell by the title of this post, my cold did not go away quietly last week. I woke up last Monday feeling OK – not great, but not that bad either – so I went to work as usual. However, it became apparent (more to my boss than to me) that I was sicker than I realized. My boss sent me home after our midday meeting, assuring me that she’d cover my various tasks if I ended up staying home on Tuesday. Sure enough, my cold got worse, so I stayed home Tuesday, Wednesday, AND Thursday. I had already planned on taking Friday off so we could head up to Santa Rosa early for a wedding. So it was a week of almost no work and very little running. My sinus congestion was so bad midweek that I thought my head was going to explode. When I woke up on Sunday without a sinus headache for the first time in days, I was so grateful. Today I was finally able to start breathing through both nostrils (yay for the little things!), even if that meant blowing my nose so often that the skin is raw. It really hurts! I’m contemplating using Body Glide on my nose – does anyone have experience with this?

So, obviously, I didn’t run the 46 miles I had on the schedule last week. I took it very easy and heeded some of your advice (from last week’s post) to rest. On the 3 occasions I did run, I made sure to take it super slow. I wore my HRM and kept it way below my MAF max. On Friday and Sunday, I did jog-walk intervals (4 min 30 sec jog + 30 sec walk) to make sure I didn’t over do it. Altogether, I ran 16 miles last week. I’m not that bummed because my main goal is be as healthy as possible for this Saturday’s trail marathon. The good news is that I actually feel a lot better while I’m running. I don’t know why, but I do. Also, I haven’t been terribly exhausted afterwards, which I take as a good sign.

My plan for this week is to continue to be very conservative. I plan on running Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday as scheduled; however, I’ll probably run for time rather than distance, keeping an eye on my HR to make sure I’m running easy. Hopefully, this cold is on its way out and I’ll be snot-free soon!

Random photo of my cats, because CATS. #allthefurrr

Random photo of my cats, because CATS. #allthefurrr

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Big Basin 50K Week 9: 50-Mile Week & Lake Chabot Trail Challenge Mini-Recap

Week 9, TL; DR version: I came down with a cold and I completed a 50-mile week, culminating with a 21.6 mile run on Sunday.

Week 9, extended version:
I don’t mean to complain, because I know people get sick all the time, but I’d forgotten how much having a cold sucks. It’s been years since I’ve gotten truly ill, i.e., to the point of actually taking medication. I credit running with keeping my immunity strong, as well as avoiding small children (a.k.a. disease-carrying time bombs). The good news is that it seems to be progressing rather quickly through the various phases: sore throat, dry cough, congestion, and runny nose. I’m looking forward to the last and final phase of phlegm-y coughing so I can be done with it (if it comes at all – I’m trying to avoid it at all costs). The worst part so far has been not being able to sleep well, which, when mixed with a high mileage week, can be quite frustrating. So far, the cold hasn’t interrupted my training schedule, but if it gets into my chest, that might be problematic.

Anyway! Enough about my first world runner problems. Let’s get to the running, shall we? As I mentioned above, last week was my first 50-mile week of this training cycle. My runs on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were not particularly fast or notable, but I got them done, which is the important thing. My cold started on Thursday and by Saturday morning, I was congested enough to wonder whether I should run at all, let alone 6.5 miles on Saturday followed by 21.6 on Sunday. After breakfast on Saturday, I took some cold meds (thank goodness for Advil Cold & Sinus) and rinsed my sinuses with my trusty neti pot, then headed out for an easy jog around the neighborhood. I reasoned that staying close to home would allow me to stop at any point if running got too uncomfortable. More importantly, it would help me assess whether I would have to alter Sunday’s long run plans. I was happy and relieved to find that I felt just fine during my run; actually, I felt better after my run, though I don’t know if that was because of the exercise or because the meds kicked in. Either way, Sunday’s 21.6 miles was definitely on.

Mini-recap: Lake Chabot Trail Challenge (LCTC) Half Marathon
I’ll try to keep this recap brief since I ran this race 3 years ago, and also because the race was part of a long training run. Even though I run at Lake Chabot all the time, I was excited to do this race because LCTC was my very first trail half. It didn’t go exactly as I wanted, mostly because I had just started trail running that year and wasn’t prepared mentally to race a trail half marathon. I recall feeling extremely defeated by mile 5 and then fighting with myself for 8 long miles over whether to keep going or to quit. It wasn’t pretty.

I had a feeling that I would do better this year than in 2012, when I finished in 2:48:56 and 153rd out of 163 finishers – probably my worst placing to date. But my confidence was tempered by my head cold (see above) and by the fact that I’d have to run another 8.5 miles after the race. So, much like Wildcat, I couldn’t go all out. It would be a good way for me to practice patience as well as fueling — two things that are vital to the success of any ultramarathon endeavor.

My biggest advantage this time around was experience. I’ve become a seasoned trail runner in the past 3 years, and a lot of those miles were logged at Lake Chabot. Plus, having run this particular course previously gave me psychological and strategic insight into how to best tackle this race.

I did my usual pre-race routine (breakfast, etc.), picked up my bib at 7:30 a.m. for the 8:00 a.m. start (gotta love small races), and met up with LJ who was running the 5K. We chatted until 7:55 a.m., when it appeared that we were supposed to line up for our respective races. As in 2012, the announcements were made with a bullhorn that was completely indecipherable. The half marathoners lined up behind a long chain of cones – still the weirdest starting corral that I’ve been in, to date. At some point, the gun went off and we started running.

In the first mile, I made small talk with a local runner named Cyrus. After a while, I noticed we were moving along faster than I had wanted to (sub-10:00/mile pace), so I excused myself and wished him a good race. We hit the first big hill at ~1.5 miles, an extended but mostly runnable grade up Cameron. I decided to run/walk this and most of the other shallower ascents throughout the race and I think it worked really well for me. I was able to keep up with those around me who were jogging slowly and bomb past them on the downhills. As with Wildcat, I managed to take advantage of the descents and passed quite a few people along the way — I’m starting to really like running down hills! (Never thought I would say that…)

After crossing the footbridge around mile 3 is the start of the second and steepest ascent in the entire course, up Live Oak and Towhee trails. Having run/hiked up this trail more than a handful of times in the past 3 years, I’ve become familiar enough with it to know when to run and when to walk. I tried to encourage the runners around me, especially those poor souls who had never been up this trail and had no idea what to expect. I worked my way slowly but steadily up to the top, where my work was rewarded by a cold, refreshing cup of Gatorade.

From there on out, it was smooth sailing. I ran when I could (downhills and flats) and ran/walked when it got hilly. I made friends around mile 6 with a couple visiting from out-of-town and chatted with them for about half a mile. I was surprised that despite keeping my effort relatively easy, I was still occasionally catching up to runners and passing them. I never sprung into full-on race mode, but when the Lake Chabot Marina came into view, I decided to ramp up my effort a bit and ended up passing a few more runners in the last mile. I crossed the finish line in 2:30:52, 18 minutes faster than in 2012! I was thrilled. My placing had significantly improved as well: 7th out of 14 in my age group (women 35-39); 49th out of 94 females; and 142nd out of 226 overall. It was a great feeling to know – concretely and quantitatively – how much stronger I’ve gotten in the past 3 years as a runner.

I took an extended, 15-minute break to use the restroom, wash my face, take in some fuel, and load a podcast before commencing the rest of my long run. Despite my intention to run the half marathon easy, I did push it a little bit harder especially towards the end. As a result of that, and due to rising temps and full sun, my 8.5-mile loop around Lake Chabot was somewhat of a slog-fest. I didn’t get frustrated though — I knew it was important to just get time on my feet, and tired ones at that. I didn’t think much about how many miles I had already run, or how many I still had left. I think getting to that kind of mental space (i.e., being present) will be key for Big Basin.

The one thing that I did continuously focus on was fueling. Ingesting a combination of Gu gels, Clif Bloks, Honey Stingers Waffles, a Picky Bar, Kettle chips, and Gatorade, I made sure to get at least 200 calories per hour. Considering that I was out there for almost 4.5 hours, this was a big task! It was fun to experiment with new foods – especially the solid ones – while running. However, not being able to breathe in and out of my nose (due to the cold) posed a serious problem while chewing and running at the same time. I learned to take smaller bites and to wash it down with water. I love Picky Bars, but I will probably save that for the midway “lunch” aid station at Big Basin, when I plan to stop for a few minutes to eat.

I finished my run in 4 hours and 23 minutes, ~2700′ of elevation gain/loss under my belt. I felt tired, but not completely destroyed. All things considered, I think that the 21.6-miler went very well. 24 hours later, I don’t feel nearly as sore as I was last week after Pleasanton Ridge, or after Wildcat. The next big challenge is in 2 weeks, when I’ll run my first trail marathon at Canyon Meadows. It will be my longest training run of the training cycle and with an estimated finish time of 5.5 hours, it will also the longest run (time-wise) I’ve ever done!

And because this has been such a wordy post, I leave you with this somewhat random, not-running-related photo:

Our friend CA is taking a series of portraits, and this was one of them. This is probably one of my favorite photos of me and the Gypsy Runner.

Our friend CA is taking a series of portraits, and this was one of them. This is probably one of my favorite photos of me and the Gypsy Runner.

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Big Basin 50K Week 8: Over the Hump!

This past Sunday marked the end of Week 8 (out of 16) of Big Basin 50K training – which means less than 8 weeks left until race day! It’s hard to believe I’ll be running my first ultramarathon in less than 2 months. These past 8 weeks of training have been really challenging so far, especially because I’ve had to balance work and social obligations on top of all of the running and recovery (#ALLTHEZZZS).

Before I recap the week, I want to thank all of the people who have donated to my Running for a Better Oakland fundraiser! I’ve been so touched by contributions from friends, family, and even strangers from the internet. Thanks to their generosity, I’ve surpassed my original goal of $1000, but I hope the donations don’t stop there! There’s still plenty of time to make a contribution to an extremely worthy cause.

This past week was full of high points and one very low point. The one “low light” happened during Tuesday’s 6-miler. I finally got around to doing hill repeats and I was (smugly) running back to work when a passing cyclist groped my left butt cheek as he rode by. My first thought was, “Wait, is one of my friends playing a joke on me?” But as the man rode past me, I realized too late that I had been assaulted. I had no recourse but to yell, “Hey!” I was running on what is usually a well-traveled greenway, but unfortunately there was no one on that particular stretch at that time – something that the cyclist probably considered before groping me. It made me so mad, but there was very little I could’ve done. Even running with a body alarm or pepper spray wouldn’t have helped – he rode away so quickly, I hardly had time to react before he was already 10-20 feet ahead of me. Since the incident, I’ve been trying to be more aware of my surroundings while running and only wearing one earbud. Hopefully something like this (or worse) won’t happen to me again.

Moving on- there were some highlights last week too! I finished the week with 42.6 miles, my highest weekly mileage so far. About half of those miles were on trails and included over 3000′ of elevation gain and loss. Also, as I mentioned above, I finally did some hill repeats – yay! On Wednesday, I had one of the fastest midweek runs of this cycle. Maybe it was leftover adrenaline from Tuesday’s incident, but it was one of those runs where I found it very hard to run easy. (Or rather, running faster felt easier than slogging along.) I usually run that particular route at about 10:30/mile pace. On Wednesday, I averaged about 10:00/mile for 8 miles. Even though the pace wasn’t particularly brisk, this was as close to speedwork as I’ve gotten all training cycle, and it felt great.

The best part of Week 8 wasn’t directly related to running at all: I had my last big work/personal deadline for a while. One of the hardest parts about this training cycle (compared to previous marathons) has been juggling more obligations – both work-wise and socially – with running 5 times a week. I’m grateful that at least my boss has been extremely supportive and understanding about my training. Anyway, we had a big event at work on Thursday, and afterwards, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Looking ahead, I’ve got 5 big weeks of peak training, including three 50+ mile weeks and my first trail marathon. Then, it’s 3 weeks of sweet taper before the big day! I’ll leave you with some photos from Saturday’s scenic but tough trail run at Pleasanton Ridge with a great group of ladies.

Group photo before the run (credit: Cathryn)

Group photo before the run. Love these ladies! (photo credit: Cathryn)

There was a lot of hiking for the first 2 miles or so...

There was a lot of hiking for the first 2 miles or so…

Panoramic from the Ridgeline Trail. Not too shabby!

Panoramic from the Ridgeline Trail. Not too shabby!

JT powerhiking up a particularly grueling hill.

JT powerhiking up a particularly grueling hill.

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Race Recap: Wildcat Half Marathon

Why I wanted to run this race:
I had a Brazen race credit after volunteering their Bay Breeze event in February, and I’ve always wanted to run the Brazen Wildcat race. Despite the fact that Wildcat Canyon Park is just north and adjacent to Tilden in Berkeley, I had never run there, so it’s been on my “parks to explore” for a while.  I’ve also heard great things about the course — and read a few raves about them as well — which piqued my interest.  Finally, I really enjoy running races as part of training, as it (usually) introduces me to new trails, helps me practice my race day routine, and provides instant running buddies and aid stations. Moreover, I’d heard that this a super tough course, and since I would be in NY for the first 3 weeks of Big Basin 50K training, I knew I’d need a kick in the pants to get my trail legs back. What better way than to run 13.1 miles with over 2400 feet of elevation gain? Sign me up!

Goals & Strategy:
Like I mentioned above, this was more of a training run than a race, so I intended to take it a bit easier than I would normally. I didn’t think it would be hard to hold back, considering the elevation gain, but my goal was to finish the race strong — i.e., I could run another few miles if I had to. I planned to walk the extended climbs and attack the descents to practice my downhill running, as Big Basin is a net downhill course. I also wanted to try out fueling – my plan was to take a Gu every 45 minutes, in addition to whatever struck my fancy at the aid stations. Since this was a training run, I intended to take a lot of photos – something I never do during a more serious race. I didn’t have a time goal, but I still wanted a ballpark figure of what to expect/aim for.  In light of other trail half marathons with similar elevation profiles, I decided that finishing around 2:50 would be OK, and that 2:40-2:45 would be great.

The Course:
Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 8.44.25 AMThe course resembled a figure 8, with a short out and back section. The official elevation gain/loss is listed at 2,204′, but my Garmin had something more like 2480′. There were 3 extended, big climbs that I was prepared to hike/jog.  Most of the course was exposed except for a short shaded section on Mezue. Luckily, it was overcast and cool for the entirety of the race.

Race Morning
I’m not sure if it was because it was my first early morning race since Kaiser in February, or if it was because I knew it was a training run and not a “race-race”, but I was a little more lax about race morning prep than usual. En route to the race, I got lost and drove 10 minutes out of my way. Due to my late arrival (7:40 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. start), I had to park about a quarter mile from the start. I jogged over and up a short but steep hill to the start area and picked up my bib, then ran down the hill to the school to use the bathrooms. Fortunately, the line moved quickly and I was back in the starting corral around 7:55.  Whew! The race hadn’t even started yet, and I was already winded.

The Race
I knew the beginning of the race was going to be slow due to 2 things: there was a cattle gate in the first tenth of a mile that required us to go through single file, followed shortly by a steady climb of over 500′ in the first mile.  After passing the gate, I jogged for a while up the hill until I sensed that hiking might be more efficient.  When I got to the top, I decided to stop and take a photo, the first of many as you’ll see — this was a training run, after all.  Also, it was beautiful!

Finally made it to the top of the hill!

Finally made it to the top of the hill!

Nice downhill and views as reward for the torturous climb.

Nice downhill and views as reward for the torturous climb.

The descent was fun and I even managed to overtake a few people, which made me feel more confident in my downhill game.  I don’t remember much between the first and second aid stations; according to the elevation profile and to my Garmin splits, it was pretty runnable section.  I got to the second aid station, hoping to see KP, who I knew was volunteering at the race. When I didn’t see her, I was confused, but as I approached the short out-and-back section and saw her directing traffic, I realized that she had relocated.  I waved hello as she cheered me on, saying that she would see me again soon.

Hey, it's KP!

Hey, it’s KP!

The out-and-back section was about a mile long, and also not that memorable.  Upon seeing KP again, she pointed me up the hill, where the race’s second big climb awaited me.  I took my time going up this one, being careful not to agitate the cows grazing nearby. I eventually struck up a conversation with a woman near me, also named Jen. She was from Fresno and this was only her 4th trail race. We talked as we hiked, which made the time go by quickly, and before I knew it, we had reached the top at Nimitz Way. After taking a few photos, I decided to make a run for it and parted ways with Fresno Jen.

Making our way up the 2nd big climb of the day while the cows look on.

Making our way up the 2nd big climb of the day while the cows look on.

Having fun with Fresno Jen. We started running as soon as we saw a photographer.

Having fun with Fresno Jen. We started running as soon as we saw a photographer. (Photo courtesy of Brazen)

The San Pablo Reservoir from Nimitz Way.

The San Pablo Reservoir from Nimitz Way.

Somewhere near the 3rd aid station. I think this might be the most unflattering race photo I've ever taken. LOL

Somewhere near the 3rd aid station. I think this might be my most unflattering race photo. LOL. (Photo credit: Brazen)

Even though I had run on Nimitz Way many times previously, I had never really enjoyed it – until this race. I think it was mostly due to the fact that I could finally run after a tough climb – I felt like I was flying, even though I was running 9:30-10:00/mile pace.  Then, I got to glide down Mezue, which was so much fun. I passed a few more people on the downhill stretch — maybe there’s a downhill runner in me after all. ;) While running through a shaded section of trail on Mezue, I came upon 3 runners stopped on the side of the trail. One of them had fallen and scraped up his arm pretty badly. I stopped to offer aid, but they seemed to have the situation under control, so I resumed running. It was definitely a good reminder to watch my footing.

All good things must come to an end, and so did the super fun, runnable downhill section. I came out of the woods and saw a steep ascent before me. This was the third and final climb, though I hadn’t looked at the elevation profile closely enough to realize that there was the initial ascent, and then a bunch of very steep rollers for another 1.5 miles after reaching the summit. Every time I thought I was done climbing, another hill would confront me and force me to a slow hike.

So. Much. Climbing. At least it was pretty though!

So. Much. Climbing. At least it was pretty though!

More hills!

Just when you think you’re done…

I distracted myself with the beautiful scenery.

I distracted myself with the beautiful scenery.

While traversing this never-ending series of hills, I went from whining, “Are you kidding me? When is this going to end??” to eventually making peace with whole thing, realizing that this was something I opted to do. Plus, wasn’t I lucky to running and hiking, without pain or injury, and to be surrounded by beautiful views of the Bay Area? Not to mention the fact that I was only a little over a mile away from the finish. What was I going to, quit 12 miles into a half marathon? A smile spread across my face as I made these realizations; I must’ve looked more than a little crazy as I ran along, smiling to myself.

As I made my way up yet another hill, I mentioned to the man running near me, “I keep thinking this [hill] is going to be the last one.” He replied, “This *is* the last hill.” I suddenly became really excited because I realized that the last mile was the same as the first (crazy uphill) mile.  What I hadn’t realized though, was how utterly un-runnable the first section was. It was so steep and the footing was so treacherous that I was pretty much braking for about a quarter-mile down the hill. Eventually, it flattened out some, which allowed me to go full blast down the hill to the finish line at 8:00/mile pace. I crossed the finish line in 2:46:23.

My 14th half marathon (and 6th trail half) in the books!

My 14th half marathon (and 6th trail half) in the books! (Photo credit: Brazen)

Post-race & reflections:
I couldn’t stay long after the race, as I had to hurry home to get ready for a baby shower, but I made sure to grab a full plate of food for my drive home. All in all, I really liked this course. It was extremely challenging, but also contained some very runnable sections. The views can’t be beat; I think this was one of the most scenic trail races I’ve done. As always, Brazen does a top-notch job with organization, trail marking, food and drink, and making each runner feel great. The one complaint I had about the race was the surprisingly awful race shirt. Brazen’s t-shirts are known for being fun and well-designed. I don’t know if they decided to go more kitsch/hipster with the Wildcat shirt, but it’s immediately going into the PJ or donation pile.

What's up with this??

What’s up with this??

Personally, I felt like I attained my goals of finishing strong and practicing fueling. While I was satisfied by my finish time, I can’t help but feel like I could’ve done better. (It’s sometimes really hard for me to not be in race mode.) However, trying my best and going full throttle might have sidelined me with significant soreness for days afterward. As it was, my quads were tender for about 2-3 days post-race, but it didn’t interfere with my training. One positive thing I took away from the race was feeling much stronger about my downhill running. That, along with conservative pacing, allowed me to finish more than 15 minutes ahead of Fresno Jen — we split at about mile 6-7, I think? So while my finish time and placing weren’t representative of how I felt I should’ve done, I think it was a strong training run and definitely a step in the right direction in terms of 50K training.

Official results:
time: 2:46:23 (12:41/mile)
10/18 AG, 44/71 F, 134/186 overall

About the race:

  • Organizers: Brazen Racing
  • Distances: 5K, 10K, and half marathon.
  • Cost: Tiered pricing, depending on distance and registration date.
  • Course: Very tough, almost 2500′ elevation gain.  Mostly fire roads, with a few paved sections (Nimitz Way). Most of the course is exposed, which would be brutal if the sun was out.
  • Course marking: Fairly straightforward. A course marshall (KP) was there to direct people at the out-and-back section.
  • Parking: The start/finish is at a school, which charges $5 for parking as a fundraiser. Because I got there late, I assumed that the lot was full, so I parked in the nearby neighborhood.
  • Aid stations: 4 for the half marathon, offering water, Ultima sports drink, fruit, and a large variety of salty and sweet snacks.
  • Bathrooms:  Brick-and-mortar flushing toilets at the school (start/finish), along with a few porta potties. I didn’t see any bathrooms or outhouses along the course.
  • Swag: Finisher’s medals and t-shirts. Free photos available from Brazen’s Picasa site.
  • Post race food and drinks: A wide selection of savory snacks (chips, pretzels, bagels with cream cheese) and sweets (cookies, cake, donuts, etc.). There were probably It’s Its ice cream sandwiches, even though it was overcast at the finish.
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Big Basin 50K Weeks 6-7: Rest & Reset

Before I start recapping these last couple of weeks of training, I wanted to thank those of you who left thoughtful comments and responses to my Week 5 recap about motivation. In hindsight, I realized that the post made it sound like I was struggling with running motivation in general, which isn’t the case; instead, I meant to say that I’m having trouble getting out the door for ultramarathon training. I still love running, I just wish I didn’t have to do so much of it. The good news is that I’m already 7 weeks through a 16-week training cycle that has 3 weeks of taper at the end… so, I’m already halfway done with “real” training.  Hooray!

A quick recap of the first 5 weeks of 50K training:

  • Weeks 1-3: In NYC for work (and a little play), I fell short of my mileage goals, but still managed to do most of my runs.
  • Week 4: Back home and back to training. 5 runs for a total of 36 miles.
  • Week 5: Struggling with motivation, but I still grind away.  5 runs for a total of 41 miles.

I should note that I jumped up from averaging 21-27 miles per week (mpw) in the first 3 weeks to 36 mpw in week 4 — which is a big red flag according to running conventional wisdom, which states that one shouldn’t increase by more than 10% of weekly mileage from week to week. Then, when I added a 41-mile week to the mix in week 5, well, no wonder I was feeling low on motivation. Adding a few stressful non-running things to the mix only made things worse.

I started Week 6 of training just fine, getting up very early on Tuesday morning to get my 6 miler in. I felt like I was sleep jogging, with my eyes closed, for the whole run. When I continued to feel tired the rest of the day, I chalked it up to waking up early. However, when I was still feeling really run down on Wednesday, I knew this wasn’t just normal fatigue. I ended up skipping Wednesday afternoon’s 8-miler in favor of happy hour with coworkers, reasoning that I needed to balance my life out a little bit… plus, one skipped run wouldn’t hurt, right? I went home, ate dinner with the Gypsy Runner, and promptly fell asleep at 7:45 p.m. I slept until almost 7 a.m. and still felt exhausted. That’s when I decided to take a sick day. I stayed in bed and rested/napped almost all day. I very briefly considered going for an easy jog around the block, but then thought better of it. I knew that rest was the most important thing, but I also felt incredibly guilty about skipping another run and falling 14 miles short of my weekly goal. However, looking back, I realized that rest is exactly what I needed, and forcing myself to go on those 2 runs might have dug a deeper hole that would’ve required even more rest in the long run.

By Saturday, I was feeling a lot better, so I went out for 7 miles at Lake Chabot. Then on Sunday, JT and I both had to fit in a long run, so we ran Bay to Breakers (12K or 7.4 miles) followed by another ~10.5 to make it 18 for the day. (Race recap coming soon!) Last Sunday’s 18 was my longest run of the training cycle so far. Even though I felt tired by the end, my cardiovascular system and legs were still going strong and we managed to do the last mile (flat along the Embarcadero) at ~9:50-10:00/mile pace. (Our average pace for the whole run was 11:24/mile — B2B was our slowest section, actually!) So, despite 2 days of rest and skipped runs, I finished Week 6 with a solid 31 miles for the week.

We had a lot of energy before Bay to Breakers, as you can see.

We had a lot of energy before Bay to Breakers, as you can see.

On to Week 7!  Because the GR and I had plans to go away for the weekend, I rearranged my schedule that resulted in running 5 days in a row. I don’t usually like to run so many days in a row, but desperate times call for desperate measures! Going into the week, I was a little skeptical about that plan, especially since I had to run 10 miles on Wednesday and 14 trail miles early Friday morning. To my surprise, everything went smoothly – even the midweek 10-miler was better than expected. I think my body is finally adjusting to the training load. I was also really careful this week about going to bed early and getting enough sleep. On Saturday, I had 6 miles on the training schedule, but because we were away on vacation, I didn’t want my running to get in the way of our plans — even if that plan was just to sleep in and relax. When the GR suggested going on a short run together, which we haven’t done in ages, I thought that was a perfect compromise. I’d still get a few miles in while spending time with the GR and we could explore Sebastopol together. We decided to do a quick out and back on the Joe Rodata Trail, which is a multi-use greenway that connects Sebastopol, Santa Rosa, Graton, and Forestville.  The section we ran was very flat and went through a mix of woods and rural land, so it was quite pleasant, though I wish there were water fountains as it was pretty warm out there!  With that run, I finished Week 7 with a total of 39 miles.

Embarking on the Joe Rodata Trail

Embarking on the Joe Rodata Trail

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Posted in Big Basin 50K
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