Saturday, April 30, 2011

Berry Creek Falls 50K

It was a reason to go there — Big Basin Redwoods State Park. It's California's oldest state park, established in 1902 and now teeming with coastal redwoods, old-growth conifers, chaparral and oak trees that have been largely left alone for more than a century. It's less than 30 miles from our house on a narrow, winding road, but through the occasional openings along the thickly forested ridgeline, all we could see were green mountains and trees — no buildings, no roads, no logging scars. "Might as well be in Montana," I said, just before we caught a glimpse of the Pacific, deep blue and sparkling in the morning sun.

After a month of recovering his Achilles inflammation, Beat got a go-ahead from his doctor on Friday to "tread slowly" toward running again. I had already expressed interest in running a 50K at a mellow pace as I start to increase my own running mileage. Saturday just happened to be the Berry Creek Falls 50K. We both signed up less than 24 hours before the race start. I used it as an excuse to dress up like a complete trail-running geek, with a GPS watch, Nathan hydration pack and ridiculous-looking but "hurty-foot"- preventing Hoka One One shoes. As the perfect finishing touch to my costume, I recently acquired a hot pink running skirt. Take note — I have never been a girly girl. I was the kind of kid who tried to get away with wearing jeans to church and once did wear jeans to a formal high school dance. I thought it would be fittingly ironic to grow into the kind of adult who wore pink skirts on 31-mile trail runs. Plus, it went so well with my purple shoes.

It was simply an awe-inspiring day; 75 degrees, sunny and not a particle in the sky. When the views did open up we could see clearly across many miles of mountains and ocean. Deep inside the forest, the water ran clear and needles and leaves took on a blazing green hue, sprinkled with flecks of sunlight. The race was small — a few dozen people for the shorter distances, and only seven for the 50K. I was the only woman, which meant I automatically won by default. Or, I remembered, I would still have to finish the race first.

I felt strong. Beat was moving conservatively to be kind to his Achilles. He agreed to drop at the first sign of pain, and I was torn about whether to really try to push my pace or hold back and run with Beat. The course quickly proved to be quite difficult, with incessant steep climbs and descents on root-clogged singletrack. It felt good to run hard up the hills, but I couldn't quite master the footing on the descents. After a few miles, it became apparent that my most comfortable pace essentially matched Beat's, so we ran and hiked together.

The course was hard — a 15K and 10K loop each completed twice, each almost entirely on singletrack (with the exception of about 2.5 miles of steep fireroad on the second loop), and each with 1,500 to 2,000 feet of elevation change apiece. I emphasize the word "change" over "gain" since the descents were often tougher for me than the climbs. It was still a lot of climbing, and I soon started to feel the 75-degree "heat."

In a good indication of overall fitness, I felt strong and had no foot or leg issues for the duration of the race. Beat and I moved steady at our conservative pace, but it was by no means easy. I think we were both holding back more than we wanted to, on some levels, but we were also enjoying the scenery and relishing a long day out in the Big Basin Redwoods. I've spent this past week stressing over my book project, and this long run provided much of what I needed to balance out my mindset. Many times during the run, I'd feel a wash of peace or euphoria and think, even believe, that "this is all I need to be happy." As always, the feeling fades as soon as the run is over, but a good run — or bike ride — really is a beautiful state of bliss where those feelings are emphatically — if temporarily — true. I like it when a run goes long.

I made one tactical error when I arrived at the 25-mile aid station about three minutes before Beat and lost self control on the delicious spread of race snacks. As a cyclist I have a "feast or famine" style of fuel intake, but I am learning during running I have to take my calories in smaller, more frequent doses. I made the mistake of eating three brownies and spent the final 10K wracked with stomach cramps. Although his Achilles wasn't bothering him, Beat was feeling fairly rough too — it has, after all, been nearly a month since he's done any significant running. We mostly hobbled through the last six miles, and it took us nearly two hours to wrap them up.

I'm still pleased with how it went, even if it did take seven hours and 50 minutes. My GPS registered 32 miles and 7,900 feet of elevation change. The elevation reading may be too high by 1,000 feet or so due to thick tree cover, but the ruggedness of the course definitely added another layer of difficulty. It was certainly my most physically difficult 50K yet, of the four I've participated in. And yes, I did win. Since I signed up so late for the race and was the only woman, they didn't have a mug made up, but the friendly race director Wendell promised he'd send one my way.

Really, it was the ideal day out. Races are fun because you meet new people and challenge your limits in ways you likely otherwise wouldn't. But in the end it was just a fun eight-hour romp through the park, with soup and good conversation at the end.


  1. You totally look like an ultrarunner. I love the pink running skirt. Sounds like a lovely day out there.

  2. Looks like a LOT of fun. AND Beat is right, that is a cute pink skirt ;-)

  3. Love the pink skirt, Jill. You and Beat rock. I like your attitude on this course..go out and enjoy, have fun, meet new people. Good for you guys.

  4. Nice read. I love the pictures. That looks like a sweet course.

  5. The first thing I noticed was the cute pink skirt, I love it. Running a race without going all out is fun sometimes. I have to remember to do that more often. Hubby and I are running a few trail races in the Bay Area this summer, so we'll probably meet eventually.

  6. Jill,
    So nice that we finally got to meet you and see Beat again. Glad you had a great day out there. I realize now that we missed the "heat" because we only had to do ONE round of the 10K loop in your 50K. Let us know that the pics we sent you came through OK.
    Love the sunshine out here in CA :)). Have fun and ggod luck with your TRT training! Ann

  7. bummer you guys didn't make it down to SBER. it was a really cool weekend/race down here. sounds like you ended up with a great plan B though. I saw the picture at first and didn't even realize it was you. I hope Beat's achilles is well. i'm sure when the doctor gave the ok to ease back into running a 50k with 8k of vert. was exactly what he meant :)

  8. Love the skirt. I have a similar one for cycling. You make a cute running geek. That course looks beautiful (but hard!!).

  9. Okay so I just wrote a post about how I thought minamalist shoes prevent hurtyfoot. Which is right???Ugh. I do love the skirt.

  10. Mary, I am pretty opinionated about minimalist shoes, and not in a good way. I attached below what I wrote in some blog comment on one of my posts a while back. I would add that forefoot running may tend to invite stress fractures in the forefoot and isn't feasible at all over anything but short distances for normal humans. Anyone who believes that a top-marathon runner's techniques should be the same as a slower runners didn't think this quite through :) But the main point is - many roads lead to rome, and there may be many solutions to a problem, and many solutions don't work for everyone. I can tell you that in TDG - a 200 mile 80k ft climb mountain race about half the runners including the winner wore Hokas. But that doesn't mean they would work for you if you want to use them on a 10 mile training workout.

    --- previous comment abut barefoot running:

    I am not at all per see against judiciously applied training tools, but the craze and hype that goes along with this trend is annoying me a bit. There are a lot of pseudo-arguments being made that lack any substance (like: we were meant to run this way. We weren’t meant to run on pavement, and I grew up wearing shoes for 40 years – how could one compare my biomechanics with someone who grew up wearing no shoes? And it seems highly non-trivial that I even should change it, now that my growth phase is over. We were also meant to die at age 35). I know that a lot of people jump into this and get stress fractures and other problems because they overdo it … I am certain there are people who can use this very beneficially. But it is obvious that pretty much the industry is in it for a quick buck, and a lot of people don’t know what they’re talking about.

    The same can of course be said of super-duper stability shoes and so on. Healthy running requires a lot of discipline, experimentation and IMO staying away from pavement . Companies offering quick fixes just bug me. Then again, I don’t really care what people do. I am happy with my solid trainers and custom orthotics which I got from a doctor who knows what he’s doing (apparently). It undoubtedly works for my style of running, and I can run a LOT and be fairly happy. There are a lot of factors that contribute to that, and I believe one major reason this works for me is that I don’t intend to go faster, but longer – so I’m fine with low intensity, which in my experience reduces your chance of injuries drastically.

    There’s another pet peeve of mine. Often people attribute success to one specific thing they try, neglecting the fact that there are so many factors in one’s success that one person can basically almost never for certain assess if something works or not. There’s a reason we require extensive double-blind studies for medications … It especially bugs me when top runners make such statements, presumably often to make their sponsors happy. It’s misleading.

    There’s lots more to be said, but I hope this illustrates my point of view a bit.

    Cheers, Beat

  11. Runner I'm not - but enjoyed the report and pictures.

  12. Beat--

    Well said. You brought some interesting specifics about the minimalist movement that is sweeping the nation. I admit that I use the Vibram shoes; but I can only use them for anything up to 18 miles before I start to feel any soreness in my ankles and knees. That said, I have also returned to shoes--granted light weight shoes--for the longer runs. Doing so has made such a difference and saves me a lot of time from soreness and potential injury. Thank you for your insights.

  13. You look like Catra Corbett! ;^)

  14. omg yasfaymbaddogyasp

  15. "But it is obvious that pretty much the industry is in it for a quick buck, and a lot of people don’t know what they’re talking about."

    I agree, and I think the first clue to someone's knowledge, or rather lack there of, is equating the use of minimalist shoes with barefoot running. Those two actions are NOT the same and the phrases should NOT be interchanged as if they are.

    I also agree with your point that many roads lead to Rome. Thus, I am reluctant to disparage those that are getting great results employing a technique that I am unable to do, or simply unwilling to try.

  16. I am not discouraging anyone from trying this - however, a lot of people have gotten injured by the use of minimalist shoes, because they ramp up too quickly and overdo it. The difference between this popular trend and others is that you may find yourself quickly in the doctor's office. There are a lot of good things about running with less or no support, I don't deny that - Incidentally many of those benefits are also to be had by running on technical trails to begin with. I personally think road running is the real problem :)

    I find the distinction between barefoot running and minimalist shoes a bit academic - minimalist shoes are designed to imitate the biomechanics of running barefoot by removing usual restrictions and padding that current running shoes impose - while protecting the skin from debris. Obviously there are varying levels of added stability and padding depending on the model, but clearly the aim would be to allow or even force you to run in a fashion that is more akin to how you would run barefoot. In popular language those two get associated, and I think it makes a lot of sense.

    Im not arguing with people who know what they're doing at all. Heck, I have run barefoot (really barefoot) myself. An experienced runner should do whatever they want (though they tend to overdo things). But there are running novices who are just starting out, and they have no idea what's going on. A friend of mine coaches a novice running team, and they are all into this stuff. And you can, very clearly, hurt yourself a lot more easily with those things. Barefoot running/minimalist shoes are advanced training tools and need to go hand in hand with a lot of training discipline - but that is not how they are marketed.


  17. For these reasons (and others that space will not allow), the distinction between wearing minimalist shoes and running barefoot is far from academic. If you need further evidence, do a simple survey. Find as many people as you can that have injured themselves going from running shoes to minimalist shoes, then find as many as you can that injured themselves transitioning straight to barefoot running; real barefoot running. I think you'll find a lot more of the former than the latter.

    As far as your claim that you can hurt yourself "a lot more easily with those things", I'm not really sure how to respond. If you are talking about jumping right into minimalist shoes, then I agree. Those 'things' should come with a surgeon general warning regarding stress fractures. If you are referring to barefoot running as a 'thing', I have a hard time believing the injury rate would come anywhere close to 60-65%, which is the injury rate for runners in running shoes. At least not when it comes to serious injuries. A cut on your foot takes a day or two to heal. Shin splints takes weeks to months, an Achilles heel can take a month if strained, or 7 months if ruptured. Knees can take years and never be the same. Runners have been conditioned to believe this stuff "just happens", but there is good evidence it happens a lot less to barefoot runners. I recommend reading a book or two on the subject (Born to Run does NOT count) and giving it a real chance. You don't have to be 'advanced' to try it, you just need to be informed.

    I think the greatest irony is that at least some of the shoe companies that are making a killing off of marketing minimalist shoes as 'barefoot' running are the same ones that made a killing by marketing cushioned soles as the key to preventing injuries, and they clearly aren't. Running injuries have not decreased as running shoes have become more cushioned and more supportive. Twenty years ago, there was evidence that using less cushioned shoes prevented injuries, but marketing just kept on with the mantra; "More padding is better". No one, (except for maybe Ken Bob Saxton), is 'marketing' true barefoot running because there is no money to be had, save the few dollars from book sales. No, real money is to be made convincing people that they can buy a pair of minimalist shoes and all of sudden run like the Tarahumara, and that simply isn't true. I agree with you that running barefoot takes training discipline, but it certainly isn't an advanced technique. It just requires some common sense. And for those of us that are sure there is simply no difference between minimalist shoes and running barefoot, we have to ask ourselves, are we just drinking the Nike kool-aid all over again?

    Good runnin' to all,

  18. Beat,
    I agree with your point that a lot of people injure themselves in minimalist shoes because they ramp up too quickly. However, that's only part of the story. Another reason for injury is that minimalist shoes allow the runner to continue with all of the "bad" habits we have developed with the modern running shoe yet provide no cushioning whatsoever. Running barefoot on the roughest surface you can stand provides feedback that changes the way you run. This includes head, back and hip position, as well as knee, calf and foot motion. Running barefoot is about a lot more then just landing on your forefoot. To be clear, using a minimalist shoe (or Vibram Five Fingers, Teva Zilch, etc) allows a runner that has learned to run long distances barefoot without injury to protect their skin from broken glass or other debris. However, these minimalist shoes DO NOT encourage proper barefoot running form. They provide way too much protection for that. I doubt anyone who goes straight from running shoes to minimalist shoes is incorporating much if any of the aforementioned changes to their gait. Your claim that minimalist shoes force you into running a style that is the same as barefoot is simply not true. I've run in Five Fingers and experimented with my gait and found I could run as if I were wearing running shoes. If I were silly enough to do that for long periods, I no doubt would injure myself.

    Another reason for running barefoot instead of minimalist addresses your point that people ramp up too fast. It is nearly impossible (or maybe I should say difficult)to increase your mileage very quickly when running true barefoot. It simply takes time for the bottom of your feet to adapt. This slow buildup in distance allows foot muscles that you haven't used in awhile to strengthen. Also, spending years in running shoes leads to lower bone density and less foot padding, or so the theory goes. By slowly increasing barefoot mileage, a runner can build both of these back up as well without causing injury.

  19. Jerry, I really did wear that skirt. They're actually quite comfortable — allowing for cooling air flow as well as a fair amount of skin coverage, and they have inset shorts for modesty (especially on vertical scrambles wear your boyfriend happens to be below you with a camera.)

    Corle — yeah, it's a bummer we didn't make it down to Santa Barbara to participate in the fun this past weekend. Perhaps soon.

    This barefoot/minimalist shoe argument is interesting. I have nothing to add personally, given my limited experience, but I appreciate hearing new viewpoints.

  20. It's really hard to believe that you've run four 50 k's, a 50 Miler and one kick-ass 100 Miler since I saw you in November. NOVEMBER!! Go, you! I'm big on the "less is more" theory. For me, post 50k - my body needs and appreciates a few days off. Don't forget to Recover, young lady! Your body will thank-you. BTW, I've got the same Hoka's. I'm loving the clown shoes. I had an excellent run with them on a frozen snowmobile trail, with my Kahtoola's. If I didn't look ridiculous enough. Cruising the big descents, I felt like I was on fat skis with the giant platform gripping on every stride. Yooopee! See you next week.


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