Monday, January 23, 2012

Weekend at the races

Four more weeks until Susitna, five until Iditarod. Beat has been busy with work and also inventing gadgets that will be useful or at least interesting during his big Alaska race, such as a thermometer that logs constant temperature readings on an SD card, customized maps for his GPS, and even his own primaloft skirt (this skirt is actually coming together quite well. Although he could find a women's skirt in his size, I think maybe he believes it will be more manly of he sews it himself. Oh, wait.) Actually, sewing does allow him to customize the skirt around the manly regions he wants to protect in the cold. But, either way, his work projects have already necessitated sticking closer to home on weekends. I doubt I'll see any more snow or cold temperatures before I return to Alaska, not that I believe this really matters. In a way, running on snow is like always running uphill, so what better way to train than on steep dirt trails in California? Yeah, still a stretch. But the "training" continues to be enjoyable, all the same.

On Saturday, Beat and I drove up to Walnut Creek for the Coastal Trail Runs Blazer Awards luncheon, so I could bask in the distinction of being the top point-earner in the women's 50K division in 2011. Coastal Trail Runs awards competitors points based on where they place in the race. In a tradition I can get behind, the Blazer Awards reward volume over speed. I ran four Coastal races last year and won three, for a total of 87 points. (This is also the luck of the draw. Some of Coastal's races are stacked with faster women, while I was the *only* woman running the 50K distance in one of the races that I "won.") No matter, I will accept my reward mug, medal and performance T-shirt gratefully. Thank you, Coastal organizers and volunteers, for a great year of racing.

I enjoy taking starting-line self-portraits, because the other runners in the photo always look so serious.
On Sunday, Beat and I headed out bright and early for our long "training" run at a fifty-kilometer race in Pacifica. The Brooks Falls 50K was the inaugural race of a new trail-running organization, Inside Trail Racing. This now makes three full-time trail-racing organizations that host ultra-distance races in the San Francisco Bay area. This means there's at least one local 50K race most weekends of the year. It's really quite remarkable, even considering the population of this region, that the trail-running community can support so many different events. I am well aware of the drama that some of these businesses are embroiled in, and don't feel the need to comment on it on my blog. But I for one support higher volumes of trail running; organizations and races are always great for getting people excited and involved. I wish Inside Trail Racing the best of success in their new venture. They did a great job with the Brooks Falls 50K. A large number of volunteers, photographers and cheerleaders showed up to work for eight hours in the 55-degree, rainy, windy weather.

The course was well-marked, although I made a few early mistakes. Amid the sometimes drenching rain and mud-slicked trails, I was so nervous about falling on my bad arm (and face) that I spent a lot of time looking at my feet and missing the ribbon markers. I overshot one turn on the descent from Montara Mountain by nearly a half mile, and probably would have run all the way to the ocean if a Good Samaritan non-race runner didn't chase me and another guy down and turn us around. I made up for my extra bonus mile by misreading another marker and accidentally cutting the course. We ran two loops on Montara and I came up with nearly equal distance readings on both routes. I did disclose my mistakes to the volunteers, and I know I wasn't the only one (from what I saw and heard, there were several creative variations of the Montara Mountain loop.) ITR was nice enough to still list me with the finishers, and I did finish with 31.2 miles on the GPS.
But amid my wrong-way course-cutting, I passed Beat without either of us knowing it, and was surprised to see him behind me when he caught up to me near the end of the second loop. We ended up mostly sticking together for the rest of the race, which was was uneventful but fun. The wind and rain added a touch of drama to the day, with cold blasts of air on the ridge, dynamic noises in the trees, and a steady drenching of rain at times. But for the most part I kept a steady "Susitna" pace (only in terms of exertion, certainly not speed. I can only dream of "running" as fast at Susitna as I can run up a 15-percent grade.) I had no issues save for mild side stitches and a slight straining of a calf muscle when I tried too hard to run uphill (even though I know, by now, that I can pretty much speed-hike at nearly the same pace.) I clocked 7,700 feet of climbing on my GPS. This was a dangerous course in that there's a lot of climbing but nearly all of these trails are runnable, both up and downhill, and I was full of energy and feeling good. My hips, which are needed for sled-dragging, really hurt after the last 50K I participated in, in which I at least jogged nearly all of it. This time, I was smart and dialed it back when I needed to. I have a bigger fish to fry next month.

It was a fun weekend with the trail-running community.