Sunday, February 02, 2014

Training rewards

I got out for three, two-hour cart tows this week, and for that I'm proud of myself. The best way to describe these workouts is slow, flat, and tedious — or, more simply, actual workouts, as opposed to the outdoor playing I usually engage in. I don't look forward to them at all, but they have helped me iron out some physical issues — testing out different strides, working my hamstrings without straining them, putting my butt and shoulders into a hard uphill pull rather than my back, and practicing a more efficient shuffle. Last week I averaged 19:50-minute miles on the bike path tow, and this week I improved that to 15:55-minute-miles, simply by trying to work with the cart rather than fight it (also, I suspect the brake pads are getting worn down so perhaps the resistance isn't quite as strong.) Anyway, I despise these workouts, but I also wish I started them sooner.

As feared, run-walking with "Allen" is a rather conspicuous, ridiculous thing to be doing. This photo was taken by a runner who I do not know, but made its way back to me through the network of Google+. At Rancho, an older gentleman asked if there was a baby inside the closed compartment of the cart, and another runner with a thick Italian accent gave me a lecture on how to properly use trekking poles. He actually had very good advice — hook the straps around my wrists and use them at more of an angle, which did give me more of a power push and made it easier to climb steeper slopes. I'll have to remember that the next time I embark on a mountain race in Europe.

At Rancho, I got a little too ambitious on a steep trail on Friday, and came precariously close to overstraining my back. I felt a sharp pinch on the right side of my lower back and froze in my tracks, not sure how to proceed without tearing something. As it was, the grade of that particular spot was 21 percent, and Allen and his 60 pounds of kitty litter was tugging me backward like an angry pet. Finally, I decided to bend my knees more and walk with a hunched profile that helped shift most of the weight to my lower body. I turned around shortly after that. Even with brake resistance, trying to manage the cart down those grades was terrifying.

So it was a rather mundane week of training, and I felt justified rewarding the weekday work with a relaxed weekend outing on a series of trails I've been wanting to link up for some time. Amid all the local bike-splorations I've done in the three years I've lived in California, there's a blank spot on my personal map where bikes are strictly forbidden. I caught rumors of some delicious singletrack in this area, and in truth a lot of mountain bikers poach these trails. But it's not in my personality to break such laws, and honestly I'm just as happy running on bike-free trails. I went on Strava to map out a course and discovered I'd effectively re-created the Saratoga Fatass 50K course ("Fatass" is a nonsensical term for an unofficial, usually self-supported race gathering.) It makes sense that this route already has an official designation — it's a grand tour of everything the Santa Cruz Mountains have to offer — grassy hillsides with sweeping vistas framed by the Pacific, mossy redwood forests, sandstone-dotted ridges, and manzanita tunnels. This single loop on low-traffic trails, 95 percent singletrack, just happens to be exactly fifty kilometers in length (31.2 miles.)

Our friends Harry and Martina joined us for the run starting at Saratoga Gap and Long Ridge. They were going to keep it short and run and out and back, but enticing trails spurred them to stretch out their run all the way to Big Basin.

The Slate Creek Trail in Portola Redwoods State Park had a particularly loamy surface that made it feel like we were descending on foam cushions. I loved this.

The former site of Page Mill, next to one of the few old-growth redwoods they spared due to its spiraling grain.

Butano Ridge. For the entire beautiful Saturday morning and afternoon, we saw almost no one out on these trails — just a couple of hikers and one poaching mountain biker. They're a little off the beaten path, but not that much. If you visit Big Basin Headquarters on a Saturday afternoon, you will encounter many dozens of people on the most popular trails.

The sandstone-studded Basin Trail, with views of the Pacific.

Taking it all in. Our friends expressed some regret about committing to twenty-plus miles of a run they'd planned to keep significantly shorter, but only some.

We split off at Skyline to the Sea Trail, which Beat and I followed back up the ridge to Saratoga Gap. It was an eight-hour run with seven hours of moving time, about 7,000 feet of climbing, carrying all of our food and water for the day ... and it felt really relaxed and just enjoyable the entire time. There's something to be said about trying to get into race shape by building endurance — the challenge is in the training, the test is in the race, but the rewards are days like this — an adventure run with friends, covering a lot of ground and having fun on new trails.

And we caught a nice sunset on the way back to Big Basin to pick up Harry and Martina. The link to the Strava route is here. If you're a trail runner in the Bay Area, seriously, download this track and head out ... today if possible. It's a fantastic run. And what a way to spend Super Bowl Sunday!

I had a road century all mapped out for my Sunday outing — in my opinion, Super Bowl Sunday is the best day of the year to embark on a long road ride. However, the forecast now calls for 90 percent chance of rain all day — for which I am thrilled — but dusty pavement and new rain slick and road bikes on routes with 11,000 feet of descending just don't mix. So for now I'm postponing the ride and will hopefully embark on a muddy rain run instead. I hope it rains a lot. We need it. 


  1. Wish I could have joined you guys out there. It looks like much nicer wether than my recent 77 mile training run :-)

  2. Just can't imagine being in shorts this time of year or running on bare trails. skiing is great and all....but...

  3. I did a training run down there last summer. What a fantastic trail network! There's so much variety.

  4. I detect some kind of puritanical ethos goin' on - a work out has to be "slow, flat, and tedious" to be real. If you ever had any doubt endurance athletes are masochists......

    1. Well, I am training specifically for something slow and often tedious so ... fair enough.

      But I didn't mean to apply these terms in a general sense. I tend to think of "real" workouts as an goal-oriented exercise that you wouldn't otherwise do for enjoyment or recreation. Interval training comes to mind ... as do most speed- or strength-oriented workouts. It's all relative of course, since everyone has different activities they find fun, or beneficial, or both.


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