Sunday, December 16, 2012

Adding power to the furnace — Woodside 50K

On the Skyline Trail, near mile 24 of the Woodside Ramble 50K. Photo by Sam Hsu.
Beat and I ran another 50K trail race on Saturday. A friend asked me what I was training for.

 "Beat is training to walk a thousand miles to Nome in February," I replied.

"Right. But what are you training for?"

"Well, I'm training to survive Beat's Iditarod training."

It's true. You have to be pretty fit just to stay warm and alive while exerting yourself all day in subzero temperatures. I was reminded of this last year during our New Year's trip to Shell Lake, when the simple act of walking 25 to 35 miles a day in temperatures down to 30 below left me feeling absolutely shattered at the end of every day. That kind cold-forged exhaustion makes any 50K I've run feel like an easy stroll in comparison. I keep reminding myself that Beat has to do just that and more every day for a thousand miles. I can't comprehend it, honestly, because the big picture isn't imaginable. I only know that it's possible when dissected into achievable goals, one mile at a time. I learned this back in 2008 when I (and thinking back to my endurance and experience level then, rather inexplicably) took a bicycle 350 miles to McGrath. But here, five years later, I still feel deeply intimidated at the prospect of going for long walks or rides in extreme cold. And this is exactly what we plan to do over the holidays in Fairbanks, Alaska, where we'll spend a week-plus testing Beat's Iditarod gear, hiking, and camping. Brrr. I need to make sure my inner furnace is well-powered.

The Woodside Ramble 50K in Huddart Park. As I mentioned last week, Beat and I really enjoy these organized trail runs. It's true we could go out and run thirty miles on our own, but the race structure always prompts me to push myself more than I would otherwise, whether I'm having a good day or a bad one. Plus, you can't beat the catering (Christmas Oreos and Clif Shot Bloks were my choice for this run) and the frequent friendly faces are also part of the fun (In this race, the volunteers dressed up like elves and hung Christmas lights around the aid station canopies.) We were able to meet up with our friend Steve before the race. Steve is also training for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, the 350-mile version. It was 37 degrees in town just before the start. Beat is making this face because it's "cold." (And note that most of the California runners in the background are still wearing shorts.)

Photo by Scott Dunlap
"Double self-portrait" with local runner/blogger extraordinaire, Scott Dunlap. Scott is well known for taking a ton of photos during his races, while still running fast and finishing near the top of the standings. The only reason he was behind us is because he was fifteen minutes late to the start. It took him about three miles to catch me. The simul-selfie was his idea. I posted his photo because my photo came out blurry. (My camera was stuck on a slow-shutter mode, and the wet air combined with a touch screen nearly prompted me to chuck it off a cliff while trying to change the settings. Touch screens on sport cameras are a terrible idea. Thanks, Sony.)

I had a good race. The one little issue was my right hip, where a persistent soreness lingers in my pelvis (it feels like a bruised bone. I'm not sure if that's the case, or if it's just a deeper tissue bruise.) I believed this injury was just "nagging" and thus easy to ignore, but by the first extended downhill, I was unhappy and running with a pronounced lope. So I slowed my pace and took a bunch of Advil (too many Advil. I need to pre-emptively limit my intake by only bringing two or three pills to these half-day races.) After that, strangely, walking uphill hurt the most. It all but forced me into a marginally faster running stride, and I eventually caught up to Beat and Steve during a long climb.

A rainstorm settled in after mile twenty. Temperatures were in the forties and there was a brisk wind up on Skyline Ridge, but running cranks out a surprising amount of heat. I put on a beanie and that was enough to feel toasty — definitely a different experience for me than being on a bike in those temperatures. The Advil overdose kicked in and I felt happy and strong through the rest of the race, and finished just a couple of minutes behind Beat and Steve in 6:08.

I've been analyzing the Woodside Ramble 50K as far as where I stand in regard to running fitness. For starters, I'm pleased that I can run 31 miles without feeling beat up  (as long as I don't fall on my face. I didn't in Woodside.) I'm becoming a little better at running downhill, although it's hard to gauge with a sore hip causing me to change my stride (soft-stepping with my right foot to minimize impact.) It's also interesting to gauge my perceived effort level. If you asked me about my effort level right after the race, I would have said "moderate." I mean, it's a six-hour 50K. I was just having fun out there. However, I recently started wearing a heart-rate monitor again, out of curiosity. In the Woodside Ramble I consistently ran between 160 and 180 beats per minute, with only a few dips below 160 and several spikes up to 180. Most calculation formulas put my maximum heart rate between 182 and 189, which means I was running at 80-90 percent of capacity for six hours. This isn't to say I don't think I could ever be faster, but apparently I work pretty damn hard for my 50K times. (And yes, I realize that a little upper-level training can go a long way.) GPS data and heart rate graph here.

But for now, faster is not the goal. Survival is. I'm feeling pretty good about our trip to Fairbanks next week, where it is currently 80 degrees colder than our fun run in 40-degree rain.

In other news, I did not get into Hardrock during Sunday's lottery (no surprises there.) I wrote a  column for Half Past Done a few days ago about the indignities of race lotteries. Truthfully I'd rather stay away from them, but so many intriguing events have lotteries in place (no surprises there.) Unless one more lottery somehow goes my way, 2013 might just be a summer of self-supported adventures. Yay!
Friday, December 14, 2012

On fear

It's December now, and Leah's and my evening rides no longer begin in the daylight. We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge as sunset's last gasp of crimson sank into the horizon. The low-angle light gave the ocean surface a startling depth of texture, with white caps and indigo shadows etched into every tiny wave. There was a clear frost to the air as we climbed over the Coastal Trail and dropped into the encompassing darkness of Rodeo Valley. The thousand-foot hills of the Headlands loomed overhead like black summits.

"It's pretty cool how you can ride bikes from the city, and twenty minutes later end up somewhere so dark and quiet," I said.

"The Marin Headlands are magical," Leah agreed.

We climbed over the ridge into the next valley, which was even frostier than Rodeo. I was trying to get the hang of my clipless pedals, which I put on my full-suspension Element precisely so I would get more used to clipless pedals. It felt awkward and uncomfortable as I navigated these now-unfamiliar trails, reduced to intimidating contours and shadows by the white beam of my headlight. I hesitated often and crept over tiny ruts as though I were maneuvering a steep rock garden. Mountain biking these days ... what's wrong with me?

The night was clear and stunning; every time we climbed over the ridge, we could see sparkling detail in the sea of city lights across the Bay. The the west, there was only the Pacific, black and infinite. I loved being out there, but continued to fight with my bike, wrenching it over rocks and once tipping over while I was still clipped in, unable to free my left foot from the pedal. Argh, clipless. But there was a deeper, more pervasive feeling than my clipless frustrations — something I've wrestled with every time I've ventured onto trails with my bike since late last year. Fear.

I caught up to Leah, who had unclipped at a tight turn where she crashed the last time we rode. "I can't believe I stopped here," she said. "Ever since I crashed ..."

"I'm the same way," I replied. "This is why I only get worse at mountain biking, not better."

It's difficult for me to deny anymore. I am afraid on a mountain bike, genuinely. And it's not that I believe this fear is something I can't or don't overcome, but I do need to acknowledge it's there. This fear rose to the surface after I crashed in Steven's Creek Canyon in August 2011. The resulting injuries were not serious, but thanks to exposed nerve endings deep in my elbow, did develop into the most physically painful experience I've been through yet. It left an impression. One I'm not proud of, but I have to be honest. Trail riding hasn't been the same since. And I find myself avoiding challenging terrain, becoming rustier and more timid by the week. Friends like Leah are encouraging, but I'm not sure what to tell her. Yes, I need to practice more. But what should I do about an activity that doesn't bring me the same level of joy that it used to, largely because I'm afraid? It a difficult, but genuine question.

I was going to write more about this today, my fear and how I can overcome it, but like most of the rest of the nation, I feel somber and sad after the Friday morning school shootings in Connecticut. It's not a day to dwell on bike fear. As we reflect on tragedy, there are a lot of voices demanding solutions, each one trying to be louder than the next. I suspect it's not a question that can be answered, but rather a symptom of an infected culture — one that's been fearful for far too long. 
Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Trail running as a contact sport

Ah, to be slightly injured. Most endurance athletes develop nagging muscle pains or tendon issues that slowly build into an overuse injury. I actually haven't had one of those in a while. But minor blunt force trauma, that's something I know all to well. I'm appalled by all of the scars I've accumulated since I moved to California — both elbows, both knees, upper right leg, left forearm. A woman in her thirties with no involvement in contact sports should not be wracking up this many scars. I was out of commission for several weeks last year after a mountain bike crash ripped open my right elbow, but most of the rest are from running crashes, simple tripping and falling. Just so horribly clumsy. I know what I'm doing wrong but still make mistakes, and sometimes these falls happen for no apparent reason at all. It's funny, and yet, I'm getting to the point where I'm not laughing about it anymore. My clumsiness wasn't nearly as visible when I lived in the land of moss and snow; everything was slow and soft. Year-round dirt is apparently a hazard for someone like me.

Leg bruising. I couldn't include
the bruise on my hip in a photo
without venturing outside
of PG-rated territory.
The day after the Coyote Ridge 50K, I had to miss out on a fun bike ride with friends, and I somehow woke up even more sore the next day. My right leg is bruised but the main concentration of pain was in my right pinkie finger and wrist, and my right hip. The specific pain is in the part of my pelvis that juts out. There's a cut that maybe I ignored after Neosporin application number one, that got infected. There's a bruise, and below that, pain that feels like it's in the bone somehow. It's not severe pain, but noticeable. Beat and I have another long run planned on Saturday, so today I set out on a trail run to test out the pain threshold. The uphill section didn't feel that bad, so I continued for four miles, but the subsequent four miles downhill were grating. Ah, injuries. The hand is feeling better, so that's encouraging.

I've received some great feedback about Half Past Done this week, and I appreciate everyone who weighed in. I've been working on fleshing out the site with more content so new readers have a sense of what it's all about, and then I'll delve deeper into the structure. There are also a couple of writers who have expressed interest in contributing, which is exciting. Here's the articles up since I posted here last:

Enduring gear: A column about the unique origins and lasting usefulness of our favorite pieces of gear. 

A look at some of the gear Eric Larsen is taking to Antarctica.

Going for broke: A spotlight on Nolan's 14 and the three mountain runners who conquered this Colorado mountain challenge this year, the first "finishes" in a decade. Nolan's 14 could be described as Hardrock on steroids, certainly the toughest established 100-mile run in the Rockies.

Again, feedback and suggestions are appreciated. For "Jill Outside," I've been working on some year-in-review stuff. Then, later this month, Beat and I have cold and dark trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, scheduled for Christmas break that should generate some funny frosty face pictures. Just in case you were worried I'm slowly abandoning this site with whining about bruises and link-backs to my other blog. Thanks for reading.