Sunday, December 09, 2012

Coyote Ridge 55K

Today Beat and I headed out to Muir Beach for the Coyote Ridge 50K, to run for fun. Because this is what we like to do for fun — gather with a few hundred of our (maybe not quite) best friends and take a whole day to run in beautiful locales and savor endorphin buzzes and little paper cups of defizzed Coke. Fifty kilometers is a great distance — long enough to be a challenge, but short enough that I feel relatively strong the whole time and it never has to devolve into a slog.

The Coyote Ridge 50K was actually my tenth of 2012 (I am counting the Diablo Marathon in this list because that race was as hard as any 50K I've run this year, but technically only 28.5 miles.) Add the seven I ran from December 2010 to December 2011, and that's seventeen 50Ks in my ~two years of being a runner. You'd think I had this distance figured out by now, but it seems like there's always something to trip me up (usually literally; it is trail running after all.) Someday I'll fully race a 50K and perhaps everything will go perfectly. Until then, I do have fun.

Coyote Ridge is a tough one, with 7,200 feet of climbing racked up during hands-on-knees-worthy grades, with a few flat sections. My plan was to keep a moderate pace and just enjoy the day — not kill myself like I did at Mount Tam last month. As it turned out, this was not my day for luck, per say, but it was a fantastic day for taking photos:

Beat look uncharacteristically intense at the chilly starting line — with dabs of sunscreen on his face.

Over-the-shoulder candid shot of the excitement of mile one.

It seems you can't pull a camera out and spend thirty seconds shooting from the side of a trail without someone asking you if they can take your photo ... at least where I fall in the pack.

Ah, I do enjoy a good sun flare.

Descending into Tennessee Valley.

Climbing out of Tennessee Valley. There's actually a lot more singletrack on this course than these pictures make it appear. Whenever we were on singletrack, I was usually too busy negotiating rocks, mud, wet leaves, steps, or a combination of all four, to pull out my camera.

The mist on the ridge had an ethereal effect.

An enchanted eucalyptus forest.

View of the big city.

And then the ocean. This photo was taken a good ten miles after the last one. My camera didn't come out for a while again because, as I was descending the Coastal Trail into Rodeo Valley, I started chatting with a woman from Sacramento who was in the race, and two guys who probably weren't (in other words, just out for a run.) We crossed onto the pavement and kept running west on the road until we reached Rodeo Lagoon. At that point I knew we missed the turnoff and went too far, because the aid station was up on the ridge and the Lagoon was on the other side of a three-mile section we hadn't seen. I called out to the woman, who by that point was about thirty feet ahead, but I don't think she heard me (or perhaps pretended not to.) No matter. If I turned around and ran back the way we came, I'd eventually see the pink ribbons of the trail cut-off. I ran a mile and a half back up the road with no sign of ribbons, and started to feel deeply confused. I make the worse kind of lost person, because I tend to get slightly panicked and lose much of my capacity for sense and reason. I *should* have just backtracked to the point of the trail where I last saw ribbons, but instead I became convinced of a parallel reality where all the ribbons are gone and how will I ever find the right way that is the only way for me to make it back to Muir Beach alive? I wasn't really that panicked, but I definitely didn't want to log my first-ever 50K DNF on account of getting lost. So I turned around again and jogged back to the Coastal Trail, where I found a veritable Christmas tree of pink ribbons pointing to a turn up another trail that never even touched the road. Whoops.

The volunteers at the next aid station confirmed I had run three bonus miles. Oh well. That just meant I had longer to stay out enjoying this beautiful day. The next seven miles were rough as the course followed a steep series of rolling trails and I developed a harsh case of IT band tightness. I slowed my pace because I figured if I already added 35-45 minutes to my finishing time while running aimlessly back and forth across Rodeo Valley, there was no need to kill myself.

And I nearly kept that promise. I took this self portrait at mile 29, I was the homestretch, IT bands unlocked, running fine, feeling strong, and then, less than two minutes later, this happened:

Full header. Yeah, maybe my feet were dragging a bit, and maybe I was looking around at the scenery rather than at the ground. I didn't even feel my foot catch that rock, and I was halfway to the dirt before I realized what was happening. Those few inches weren't enough to catch the fall, so the whole right side of my body hit the hard rocky trail, including my face. I jammed my right pinkie finger into a rock and thought I dislocated the middle knuckle (I didn't, but it hurts a lot.) Scraped and bruised my leg, hip, and shoulder, and ripped my shirt. Angry. I was also holding my camera in my right hand. That's probably why I jammed my finger so hard, because I was gripping the camera until the last millisecond and let go too late to save my hand. I didn't even realize the power was on, but it must have been, because it took this photo sometime during the tumble. I spent several minutes tonight trying to figure out what this could possibly be. I can't find these numbers on any of the clothing I was wearing. It's almost as though the camera took a picture of itself, in a fifth-dimensional Twilight Zone way, as I was falling to the ground. Although I wish I'd brought my good camera for this run, it's best I didn't. The Sony CyberShot DSC may have its (many) limitations, but it can take a beating.

A minute later, some of the blood trickling from my forehead was getting into my eye, so I decided to wipe my face with a Wet Wipe. Sting. I grabbed another photo where I stopped, and it turned out to be my favorite of the day, because the sky is so dramatic and the light is rich (it was, after all, sorta late in the afternoon by this point.) Also, the disheveled appearance and new dirt on my shoulder strap tell a story of a day well spent.

Alas, two miles later, all the endorphins wore off, and my punishment was to spend the "bonus" miles of 31 to 34 in pain, mostly in my hand, but also in my bruised leg whenever the trail trended downhill. Blah. But if you cut out the last 5K, and really I should to make it an even 50K, Coyote Ridge was great fun.

**I also wrote a new post for Half Past Done about the Bryce 100, a new 100-mile run near Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, slated for next May. 
Friday, December 07, 2012

Half Past Done

A snapshot of the brief sliver of sunlight that appeared over the Santa Clara Valley during my bike ride this afternoon, because that's the only way I've seen sunshine for better part of the past two weeks — brief slivers. I'm enjoying it, actually — the rain, the mud, the quiet fog, the deserted trails. But it means I've been doing a lot more trail running recently. Enough that I can actually monitor my daily progress and make little tweaks to my pace in an effort to learn the not-so-gentle art of increasing speed. Yesterday, I ran around a tight corner and directly into the obstacle of a massive fallen tree. My pace fell from 7:18 to 10:07 as I climbed through the maze of branches. An unwelcome side of my personality was actually annoyed that happened. Enough was enough. Today I got back on my bike.

Quick 18-mile pedal into the hills and back, and I felt like my strength was starting to come back on this route I pedal often enough to know what strong should feel like. I think the running, and perhaps even the "fast" running, is boosting my recovery from whatever it was I'm trying to recover from. (Oh yeah. The autumn full of endurance racing.) Fast trail running is full of conflicting emotions for someone like me — exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Although I've been pushing for speed on descents, just to see what it feels like, I've gleaned much more enjoyment from my uphill grunts — going as hard as my ragged lungs will let me and feeling proud of anything close to a 10:07-minute-mile average. I have no doubt I'll always be a much more enthusiastic climber, but I am feeling (tiny) sparks of new confidence on descents these days. And I realize downhill confidence will do more to improve my abilities as a runner, and, ahem, my times. So learning to actually *run* downhill is something I want to keep working on, even if it makes me feel like I'm one step away from a horrible fall.

I've been relatively quiet this week because 1.) I haven't been able to shoot anything remotely resembling a good photograph, and 2.) In addition to chugging forward on a book project, I decided to start a new blog.

Don't worry, I'm not going to kill "Jill Outside" after seven long years of virtual life. It's just that recently I've thought about all of these subjects I want to write about, these events I want to cover, that don't fit the scope of a blog called "Jill Outside." And as I thought more about it, I realized that a lot of these subjects are things that don't get a lot of coverage, period ... or at least, not much more than superficial blurbs from the media. Since I'm so passionate about esoteric endeavors such as snow biking, mountain running, bikepacking, fastpacking, and explorations of the cold and remote regions of the world, I'd like to do more to tell these stories to the world (wide web.)

On Tuesday I launched a site called "Half Past Done." There's more about the focus of this new blog and its name on the About Page. I'm going to work on updating it regularly with news items, book reviews, commentary, profiles, and interviews. It will give me an opportunity to do more of that everyday journalism thing that I've been missing since I left the newspaper industry. And I do hope it will eventually catch on and become a successful site, but for now it's a "for fun" type of project.

So far I've added a post introducing Eric Larsen's upcoming fat-bike expedition to the South Pole (planning to follow up on this trip regularly), an awesome new bikepacking event in Scotland, an introduction to expedition racing, and a synopsis of the major bikepacking races of 2012. The site is in its early development phase, so I'd appreciate any feedback or suggestions about coverage, design, readability, etc. I'm definitely not sold on the layout, but I actually do like the way the rotating window allows me to display up to five posts with photos "above the fold." But I might rework it if too many readers find it irritating. I'll be grateful for any feedback about things like that. 
Sunday, December 02, 2012

Fun mud run

Photo by Monika Arnold
I had a great day watching trail-running "superstars" and hanging out with friends at the North Face Endurance Challenge Championship. But I will say this — sitting outside all day in damp and windy weather is exhausting, and running a non-serious 10.5K during what for most runners was a grueling endurance test is a bit guilt-inducing. My leg came late in the day, long after the wet trail had been trampled into slippery mud puree — and a river ran through it. I ran hard because for the first time all day my body temperature was back to normal, and I didn't want to lose that warm feeling. Each time I passed a fifty-miler, I gave them a sincere (and hopefully not too gratingly enthusiastic) "nice work." If they responded with something like "killing it," I pointed to my bib and said, "Marathon relay. I'm just here to get in your way" ... which usually sparked a little smile.

Photo by Monika Arnold
As a late joiner I didn't find out until race day that I was part of team "Do the Bachmann," to which I immediately balked, "You mean that crazy-eyed Congresswoman Michele Bachmann?" No, as it turns out the bachmann is a friction knot that's useful for getting climbers out of binds. The four-person marathon relay started at the civilized hour of 11 a.m., so we had the opportunity to watch the first finishers of the fifty-mile race, which started at 5 a.m. After that excitement, we set up shop on a wet tarp under a tree, and let the drizzly hours roll by as we cheered for our own team — Jenn, Julie, Jill and Monika (or, as she rewrote on her bib, "Jonika.") I was slated to run last and didn't feel comfortable partaking in the pasta lunch or other after-race indulgences. So instead I sat on the wet tarp, becoming progressively more chilled and hungry. Weirdly, I paid $39.50 for that privilege, still felt stoked about it, and would likely do it again. The group was fun, the sloppy mud got into everything, and the jokes flowed freely.

When it was my turn to run, though, I was like a sled dog finally released from its kennel. I ran uphill until my lungs burned and then launched into the mud-river descent with a kind of reckless abandon I almost never indulge in, even when trail conditions are dry and manageable. Flawed thinking convinced me that it would be a spectacular finish for Team Do the Bachmann if I arrived at the arch covered in mud and blood, and thus gave myself permission to fall. And of course, because I effectively wanted to fall, I didn't fall. I lurched and skidded and once took a single-foot "ski" that lasted for two flailing seconds, but I didn't fall. When I finally returned to the flat section around mile five, whatever glycogen reserve I had left over from breakfast finally tapped out, and I sputtered through the last 1.5 miles in a bonked haze. I was still pushing to make it in under an hour, but just missed it. 1:00:45. Our team's finishing time was 5:01:32.

I stayed with Monika in San Francisco the night before the race, and we arranged a big group for dinner in the city after the race, so all told it was a 24-hour adventure with an hour of running, full and exhausting. But the best part? I think I convinced Jenn and Monika to sign up for the 50K version of the NFEC next year. There's nothing like a good mud run to coax friends into the murky world of ultrarunning.