Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Almost like a comeback

 I was a bundle of nerves about this 50K on Sunday, which Beat found hilarious. "How many of these have you run now?" he asked. I've lost track of my official 50K number, but I guessed I could still count the number of times I've run a Woodside event. Three different race promoters offer two events here per year, so one rolls around seemingly once a month. It's gotten to the point where the question, "What do you want to do this weekend?" can be frequently answered by, "Let's run that 50K in Woodside."

I tallied each one I could remember. "Seven," I answered. "I think this will be my eighth Woodside."

Beat and I like to participate in these events for the same reasons people go to their favorite restaurants. They're fun social outings in a familiar and pleasant setting. We get to indulge in an activity that releases a surge of mood-elevating neurotransmitters like serotonin and endorphins, and drink ginger ale in a setting that elevates the taste to something like unicorn tears (Oatmeal reference.) There are friends to visit and fun people to meet. I always enjoy these events even through occasional discomfort and nagging pains, which are as natural to a trail race as indigestion at a French restaurant. But after a June bike tour across South Africa, a tight recovery period, a failed hiking race in the Alps, and a subsequent injury, it had been more than six months since my last long run, and there hadn't been all that many miles of actual "running in between. I didn't really care about going slow at Woodside, but I was scared of my LCL giving out, or buckling my knee, or IT band agony, or damn it, tripping and falling — because eating dirt is the source of nearly every running injury I acquire.

 To get my mind off pre-race jitters, Beat suggested we take the fat bikes out for a Saturday afternoon ride. He recently installed a 1x11 drivetrain on Snoots that I needed to test out, as well as contemplate gear distribution and handlebar position for the real adventures this winter — the 200K snow race in Idaho, which in itself is just a test ride for a 250-mile tour on Alaska's western coast in March. This plan is actually scary, as opposed to the Woodside Ramble 50K, which was only scary in the ephemeral sense of fleeting pains and ego-trouncing poor performances. I'm glad there's something to keep it all in perspective.

This was the Woodside Ramble 50K, somewhere around mile 15, where I was thinking, "I'm about ready to be done running now. Yup, just about ready to be done." The first ten miles actually were quite fun, and I was buzzing with happy hormones, but I admittedly started out too fast relative to my current running fitness. One problem with running a similar course eight times is knowing exactly how well I *should* be moving at any given point. There's also the fact that even with 5,000 or so feet of climbing and sections of roots and mud, Woodside is 100 percent runnable on fresh legs. So it's difficult not to berate myself for any walking, of which I did a fair amount.

Beat loves to stroll and chat during this race, and I caught up to him near mile 19, as he and his friend Tony were distracted by shared tales of past derring do. "It's all going okay," I told Beat. "But I'm working really hard for this. It feels a lot harder than usual. My hamstrings are super tight and I'm fading. I'll have to take the descents slow."

After some stalling at the aid station, Beat surged ahead and I loped along the Skyline Trail, which is my favorite part of this enjoyable course. The trail slices a narrow path along steep slope beneath towering redwood trees, winding in and out of drainages on a rolling traverse approximately a hundred feet below Skyline Ridge. Except for aforementioned sections of mud and roots, it's not all that technical, but steep drop-offs always keep me extra vigilant on this section. Despite this focus, around mile 21 I still managed to put my right foot down at a point where there was nothing beneath it. I actually ran right off the trail, in a spot where touching down on the 45-degree-plus slope could easily result in a tumble that wouldn't end until my ragdoll body slammed into the broad trunk of a coast redwood. Somehow, the side of my foot caught the edge of the hill a few inches below the trail. I instinctively rolled my ankle to dig in some toes before setting my left foot down on safety, then flailed dramatically to the left until I had both hands punched in the mulch on the steep uphill slope.

Damn, that was close. Here I am, scared of Alaska, when I'll be lucky to survive the Woodside Ramble.

And if you're wondering whether I'm still concerned about potentially worsening problems with coordination. Yes. Yes I am. I have no idea how I stepped off such a simple trail when I was deliberately focusing attention not to do so. It's still impossible to make any tangible connections to an ongoing tally of incidents. But this one left me rattled for the final ten miles, enough to not think too much about my searing hamstrings. Either way, the downhill miles were slow.

Still, the left knee and LCL performed perfectly, until that night when it was sore in the same spot that had been injured. There were a few disconcerting hours of "what have I done?," but it proved to only be superficial soreness and was gone the next day. I went out for a four-mile run Tuesday afternoon without incident, and despite 25-mph winds and rain, I managed to not stumble and fall, not even once.

It's continued to be rainy and gray all week — which I'm also enjoying as a welcome change — but the sun came out for the half day on Sunday and we enjoyed perfect weather for the Woodside Ramble. Afterward the race organizers put out a delicious spread of fresh fruit and other snacks. I was ready to sit down and stuff my face, but Beat finished ten minutes earlier and had become so chilled in the interim that we couldn't stay long — not even long enough to pick up my age group award (third! heehee.) I didn't tell Beat about my stumble because I was deeply embarrassed about it. It's kind of funny, actually, how I can be so embarrassed about something and yet feel no qualms about blurting it out to the whole world on my blog. Funny indeed. (Sorry Beat.)

Turns out anything can be treacherous, therefore every day is an adventure. I'm glad there's something to keep it all in perspective. 


  1. Wow...Snoots is truly outfitted for EPIC adventure! I doubt very much that I'll EVER have a fatbike, (the D-1 rule applies) but am quite jealous of that. It's one SWEET BIKE! I'll be curious to hear your thoughts about the 1x11 drivetrain...what is the large cog on the back? Considering Snoots is built to be LOADED with gear, wondering if it's a small-enough gear for big climbs.

    1. Yeah, as Beat mentioned Snoots is not a big-ring bike. I anticipate being very loaded down in Unalakleet with most of a week's worth of supplies and more than a few comfort items given I'm inexperienced with the constant harsh winds combined with subzero cold that are typical on the coast. But my short outings from Nome have left me enamored with the otherworldly beauty of this region, and I can't wait to experience it firsthand.

  2. Oh...and I was negligent in not mentioning how happy I am to hear you DIDN'T hurt yourself is just like tiny moment of inattention and BAM...your whole world can change THAT quick. Be safe out there Jill!

  3. We run the 1x11 with a 26t in front, the rear range is fixed for sram's cassette, 11-42. That gives you a very good granny indeed. You don't have a gear for going very fast, but I don't think on a fatbike we'll ever need it. I even have the same gearing on my bikepacking bike for the freedom challenge where I don't expect I'll be clocking 20mph for any substantial period of time unless I'm coasting ;)

  4. I have the same gearing on my fat bike and it works great (although I haven't tested it yet on any really long sustained uphills). By the way, the weather has been fantastic in Fairbanks and it looks to stay above zero while you guys are here so should be great for getting out! Although will Beat be disappointed if it's not -30F?

    1. I admit we'll be a little disappointed if there aren't one or two days of good gear-testing conditions. Tolovana is fairly reliable for wind, and Borealis often has the coldest temps in the region, so we're probably set. Wouldn't complain about nice days either. :) See you soon!


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