Monday, January 07, 2013

But it wasn't 65 and sunny

I said it more than once last week, when admitting how sad I'd be to leave Alaska, "Well, at least when I go back to California, it will be 65 degrees and sunny." And when I recorded our stay in the Colorado Creek Cabin log, I signed out, "Back to the land of bright sunshine and 65 degrees." I'm not really sure where I formed the opinion that Bay-area winters are just like its summers, without those pesky 90-degree days. But this view is seriously skewed toward warm-weather optimism, not usually in my nature. Reality has fallen closer to days in the 50s, nights in the 30s, and when it rains, it's 40-something. Weirdly, this sometimes feels colder than Fairbanks' dry frigidity.

I had a hard time getting back into the swing of things earlier this week. Alaska took a lot out of me, and readjusting to squinting at the sun whenever I went outside was strange. Many of my friends are declaring their 2013 goals and launching their new-year fitness routines. In a way, I'm doing the same, and after much consideration, I have but one goal — sustainable excess. You may ask, "Jill, how is this different than any other fitness goal you've ever had?" The answer is — not so much different as sharper. I want to continue to chip my way closer to the edge.

We all have to define what fitness means to each of us individually; for me, ideal fitness would be that of a through-hiker or distance bicycle tourist, putting in long day after long day and only becoming stronger as I went. Of course, infinite progress is impossible, and rest and recovery are crucial. But finding the last rung of balance before the tipping point is a wonderful challenge, and one I hope to take up whole-heartedly this year, both in my writing and my running. (Yes, running. A far-out hope tells me that this is the year to try the big distance thing with running.) There will be plenty of biking in 2013, of course, but mostly for fun and travel. I would go into my specific goals for 2013 but that will be a long-winded post. Soon.

For now, it's the first week of 2013-in-training. Fairbanks had me nicely wiped out and I had to ease into it slowly. I spent the early part of the week riding, because it was just so fun to use bikes that I could propel at speeds faster than six miles per hour, seemingly without effort. Leah came out on Friday and we rode the Steven's Creek Canyon loop, 25 miles with 3,300 feet of climbing. She rocked the mud and water crossings on her skinny cross tires, and I only froze my feet and fingers a little bit in the moist, 50-degree air.

Steve and Beat, both Iditarod hopefuls, at the start of the Crystal Springs 50K. 
Saturday was the Crystal Springs 50K in Woodside. There were going to be lots of friends there, including our mountain-biker friend Liehann (in for the 35K, his longest run to date), Michele the ultra-ironman woman (she once participated in an event that featured ten Ironmans in ten consecutive days), and Karen, a cool chick from northern Northern Cali. I felt a bit uncertain about this race because I hadn't run all that much since my last 50K trail run, which was three weeks earlier. Actually, after glancing through my blog, I should amend that to no running. Sled dragging doesn't exactly count. But, in the name of sustainable excess, I decided that my ideal fit self should be able to cover this distance on foot every day (my friend Leslie hiked an average of nearly fifty kilometers a day for three solid months on the Pacific Crest Trail earlier this year. It is doable.)

Ah, running. Sometimes I try to take quick impromptu selfies without posing or changing my expression beforehand to see if I look similar to the way I feel when I am running. This photo would seem to indicate ... yes. Sweat beads, slack jaw from mouth breathing, wayward Camelbak hose, wet wipes in easy reach, earbuds, and Oreo crumbs on my lips — yes, exactly. Is it any wonder why I want to figure out how I can do this all day, day after day?

Crystal Springs actually went well for me. I was running solid until mile 21, when my hips locked up and my IT band in my right leg tightened as well, forcing me to walk most of the small hills along Skyline Ridge. The hip pain was left over from sled dragging, as it was the same nagging pain that dogged me on the strenuous hike into Tolovana Hot Springs. Compensating for my hips is what likely led to the IT/knee issue. Anyway, typical boring runner complaints, but it was demoralizing to suddenly drag so much on the one thing I consider myself good at — climbing. It was also frustrating because I had been having a good day, and even though I didn't know my pace (GPS conked out) I thought I might be in range of a 50K PR. But instead of fighting it, I settled back and gratefully accepted what my body could do at that moment. Important lessons to remember in the long-distance game.

I was able to loosen up the hip joints a bit on the final three-mile descent, and finished in 5:53, still my second-fastest time in a 50K. I also finished ahead of Beat and Steve by a fair margin because they were too consumed with Iditarod fretting and scheming to run fast.

A bad photograph of Beat chasing some deer down the High Meadow Trail. 
On Sunday, I had grand schemes to attempt another long run, but it was 45 degrees, raining, a lazy Sunday morning, and admittedly easy to demotivate. We boosted ourselves out the door for an eight-mile run on the sometimes brutally steep PG&E climb. To up the ante, it was about 2 p.m. and we had only eaten a small breakfast so far, on a 50K recovery day. The "bonk run" part wasn't intended, but it did add to the overall effect I was going for in this particular training run. My hips were a bit angry on the climb, but once we started down I thought I was doing okay. That is, until Beat teased me about running slowly. I protested that "I'm running this as fast as I always do," then looked down at my watch and realized I was running an 11-minute-mile, down a smooth fireroad. Ah, well. It's a start ... start of a brand new year.