Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Steep Ravine Marathon

This was another race I was really looking forward to, Coastal's Steep Ravine .  I signed up for this because 1) I wanted to run a race on these trails 2) I wanted a marathon distance race around this time 3) I wanted something more challenging, elevation wise.  This fit well, since the elevation profile looks something like this:

I.e. Run up Mt Tam.  Run Back Down.  Run Back Up Mt. Tam.  Run Back Down.  Repeat.  I think there's a singularity at the top of the fourth hill.  And most of us don't really run all the uphill parts.  Especially the stairs.

I was well rested for this race, since I had more-than-tapered due to a cold I had been fighting for the prior week, which was still lingering a bit.  I also ran a training run on some of these trails a couple weeks back to see how much climbing there really was, and there’s a lot of it.  The 25k/50k courses are actually on trails I’d rather run, but I stuck with the marathon distance to avoid pushing myself too hard, since this would still be both a new trail run distance and a new elevation climb for me.  

With a later start at 8:40, the marathon and half marathon runners started together along a road in Stinson Beach.  I started fast in the group, much more so than normal, but it didn’t feel hard, so I stuck with it.  I usually adjust my pace based on effort/heart rate or muscle fatigue.  The course quickly turned up the Dipsea Trail, crossed the Panorama Highway, and started climbing.  On stairs, of course.  After maybe 50 or 100 steps, I quickly decided to drop my pace, but being in a crowd, I stepped off trail and let a large group pass.  Fast uphills are not my strength.  Dropping back in a moment later I was able to keep a fast stair-walking pace, mixing running and fast hiking for the rest.  There’s a lot of stairs here.  You know there’s a lot of stairs when getting to a 20% uphill grade where you actually can run feels like a relief.  Getting to the aid station at the top of Cardiac Hill, I drank a LOT of water, and made myself eat something I didn't really want, since I was going to burn a lot of calories.  

The next part was a lot of fun.  The very long slow climb up the Coastal View/Heather Cutoff trails from my training run a couple weeks back was now a long slightly downhill stretch perfect for running fast.  I made up a lot of ground here, dropping below seven mins/mile a few times, which I surprised myself with, given that the trail gets quite rocky in places.  I passed a number of people here.  Getting to the Heather Switchbacks, I kept the speed up, just kind of dancing down the hill.  It was warm and sunny and I was having fun.  At the bottom of the hill, I crossed the horse field/bridge, and ran most of the Redwood Creek trail, a very gradual uphill section, to the next aid station.  Checked in here, had a lot more water, a quick chat, and a quick snack, and started the next climb.

I deliberately switched to mostly hiking fast uphill here, since this was a new distance, and there were three climbs left to go.  I started passing the back of the 50k runners here, who had started earlier, but had more distance in already.  The course followed the Dipsea Trail back up to Cardac Hill from the other direction.  The final stretch through an upper part of Muir woods got harder and quite tiring—many roots on a steep part of the slope.  I had another quick snack, a lot more water and took off downhill.

At this point, it was time to pay for climbing all the stairs.  I kept my speed up, but about halfway down, my quads were feeling it.  Getting back to the start, I had finished the first half in 2:52.  I was curious if I could do that again, since I still had a lot of energy, but the downhill stair run had beaten down leg strength a bit.  I climbed back up of the third time, repeating the first climb, but this time felt notably harder, in terms of just forcing myself though it.  At the top, I refilled my hydration pack, chatted a moment, and took off back down the Coastal view trail.  

Heading down the hill this time I felt the muscle fatigue, so I backed off the pace.  Sometime legs just don't listen when you tell them to go as fast as you want them too.  I only saw one other runner on this stretch, who I passed on the Heather Cutoff Switchbacks.  I gave myself a walking break across the horse field and bridge this time, and I ran intervals along the Redwood Creek Trail, since my legs and feet were getting quite tired at this point.  At the aid station, the two guys running it, who were rather friendly, were watching out for the runners quite well, asking lots of questions to make sure I had hydration/salt/etc. in check.    

It was time to climb back up again.  This would be the last climb.  Somehow, it seemed easier this time.  I think my mind had just tuned out any body complaints and I kept climbing the hill.  I skipped out on running any parts of this climb, and I finally saw another runner as a 50k runner jogged past on a flatter stretch.  Reaching the Cardiac hill aid station for the fourth visit of the day, the volunteer and I said our farewells (you start to get to know the volunteers on these long loop courses), and I took off for the last downhill.

Mile 24ish
I thought I’d run it.  And I realized I just needed to walk a while.  That last climb took away a lot of flexibility.  One more 50k runner passed me, and that was the last runner I’d see.  I eventually started jogging and kept a steady pace going downhill, but when I got to the stairs, the stairs fought back.  I ended up massaging a pressure point on one leg on and off as I was running down the stairs, to keep the pace up.  Seeing tired hikers a mile into their walk quietly amuses me at this point, but they’re still doing the right thing.  After finishing the hardest part of the stairs, I stopped at a fence for a round of stretching, to make the last mile fun again.  That worked—I picked up the pace the rest of the way.  Unlike most recent races, I didn’t go all out the last stretch of the course, since this one was mostly about finishing and having fun.  I just ran back into town and through the finish.

I finished in 6:28:11, ~25% slower on the second half.  The stairs on the descent at the end of the first half definitely had their way.  I felt much better then expected, rested, stretched, ate, and stretched some more.  And out of nowhere GQ then walked through the finish area, a bit of a random surprise to both of us; he was out at the beach with his family.  We chatted for a bit; it’s always fun telling people that I’d been out running for that many hours.  Before heading out, I waded a bit in the great pacific ice bath.  It's nice to have the ice bath ready for you at the end of the course before driving.

With the small number of Marathon-distance registrants, I ended up first (out of two) in my age group.  9/18 overall, so just in the top half, which is typical lately.  I wasn’t solidly expecting that this time, with the combination of a much harder course then I've run in a race yet and a longer distance.  But I was overall pleasantly surprised.  Except for the traffic on the way home, it was a great day of running.  I find it ironic that, being being my third marathon distance race, the far more difficult course than the SF Marathon left me feeling a lot better.  These are also great training climbs; the two times I've been on these trails in the last few weeks have had a big effect on both my running and my cycling.  


Monday, January 20, 2014

21, 20: Adjustment

Mon Jan 6: 10.5 mile bike ride and 1400 yard swim.  I was up bright and early to get a pre-work ride in, and the sky looked awesome.  I rode up to Grizzly Peak and back, keeping an easy pace after the long Saturday run and fast Sunday ride.  After work, I got back in the pool, feeling clunky after two weeks off.  I mixed it up a lot, just letting it be a warm-up swim.

Tuesday Jan 7: rest.  I just wasn't feeling it in the morning.  Or at lunch.  These days are good for rest days.

Wednesday Jan 8, 2850 yard swim and 4.01 mile run.  I've been using the Swim Speed workout series since last summer, in part to improve form and in part to give some structure to my pool workouts.  An unintended side effect is that what I once considered rather long swims have become normal for me.  Kind of like running...  Anyway, I did workout 11-2, which focused on core form.  Following this I hit the treadmill for some mixed hill and speed intervals.  I kicked my speed intervals up a half minute per mile faster.  Looking at my race pace from the flatter parts of the Brazen New Year's races, I was often as fast and sometimes faster than what I've been using for speed intervals.  Hills I kicked up a decent notch too, to 12 degrees.  After the volume of holiday running on hills, 9 degrees didn't seem like much.  

Thursday Jan 9, 6.1 mile run.  I finally had the right combination of waking up early enough and no early meetings to get out for a morning trail run.  Not specifically planned, I went to Redwood and made a spontaneous turn out on the French trail to get some small hills in.  Heading down from the ridge, a dog started chasing me.  I gave it a friendly greeting, which usually placates them, and took off again.  Then the dog chased me again, getting more aggressive when I turned back toward him.  Finally the owner came down the path and I let them run ahead, since I was taking this run very slow after Wednesday evening's speed/hill intervals.  After that it was a calm, peaceful run, mostly through the fog, with the sun peeking through.  I turned uphill to loop back at the Fern trail, which I’ve somehow never been on.  It turns out it’s a pretty decent climb.  I was mentally naming trees as I headed up the Fern trail, since there were a few rather contorted trunks on the way uphill, and I was using them as landmarks for short intervals.  For as tired as my legs were, this was actually the best uphill running I’ve had in weeks.

Friday Jan 10.  12.4 miles on the bike and 4000 yard swim.  Slowly getting into a better sleep schedule, I managed to get out about 7:45 for an easy paced ride along Skyline.  I rode north and tuned back before the Grizzly Peak climb.  Then I turned back and rode to the Chabot Science center, turning back again for a faster finish.  I ended the day with a late long swim.  It was workout 10-3 of the swim speed series.  This one built up to a fast paced fin/paddle set, which I haven't tried before.  That, along with a long kick set, had me feeling a little sore and tired for a while, but each ended in a place where the soreness and tiredness faded away and I just kept going.  This turned out to be by far my fastest 4000 yard workout, around 1:45, even with the long kick set.

Saturday Jan 11.  16 mile run.  I started at Inspiration Point, with the goal of exploring Wildcat Canyon Park, which I've never been in.  It was very foggy and, at the ridge top, very windy.  I headed out on the Nimitz trail and turned uphill at the Conlon Trail.  Everything started getting out-of-this-world mystical at this point, with 7m-9m winds blowing fog across the hilltops.  And visibility was close to nada.

Out of nowhere came a bunch of cows; they apparently graze here all year.  Not the smartest of animals, this group was standing around alone in the windiest, coldest place they could find.  I walked though, not wanting to startle them, especially since there were a few calfs in the group.  Most just kept eating, while a couple stared me down intensely.

The trail went downhill from here, and I then headed north on the Wildcat Creek trail, which changed to pavement.  It runs right next to the creek, which is the lone stretch of dense trees and scrub in a park mostly filled with open grassy hills.  Lots of people here.  I turned uphill on the Belgum trail, coming across a few oddly placed, well groomed palm trees.  There used to be a sanitarium here.  Continuing uphill, but under the fog, I noticed a great view of Richmond and the north bay.  Continuing further uphill on the San Pablo Ridge trail, it got steeper, foggier, and windier.  The GPS data says it was a 38% grade on one hill, which I really trudged though, since my legs were well pre-exhausted on this run.  The only people I saw up here were a slowly hiking older couple--kudos to them for getting out in this weather.

I turned downhill on the Mezue trail, a respite from all the climbing, and refilled my water.  Rounding one corner on this downhill, I startled a couple calfs, who took off running.  I've never seen a cow run.  At this point, I had a lot of energy, but my legs were beat.  I kept going south along a different stretch of the Wildcat Creek trail, and turned uphill at Jewel Lake.  This part, in Tilden Nature area, climbs through Eucalyptus forest, eventually coming to the open top of Wildcat Peak.  It had an awesome, astounding view of nothing but fog in all directions.  Which is perfect for me; these are some of my favorite running conditions.  I ran back to the Nimitz trail, exploring a bit before heading back to Inspiration Point.  A few hours later, I completely crashed; the lack of sleep from readjusting my schedule this week finally caught up with me.    

Sun Jan 12.  2.7 mile hike.  What hit me like a hammer a few hours after Saturday's run turned out to be a cold.  After crashing, I decided to back off for a few days to let it burn itself out.  PL and I went for a hike around Sibley, looking for cows.  I tried out the five fingers shoes I bought, since I want to ease into using them occasionally to help with foot strength.  They were surprisingly comfortable for being minimal.  Then again, the Xero sandals I've been wearing on and off during the day since early fall have made a huge difference in foot strength already.  After buying the same two models of running shoes repeatedly for a few years, I recently picked up a number of different kinds.  In part to experiment, and in part to mix things up in hope up avoiding the muscle tightness I wrestled with early last summer.  Anyway, I also bailed on a planned bike ride to let the immune system work.

Tuesday Jan 13.  13.1 mile bike ride.  After a day off, I rode another double out and back to Fish Ranch Road and the Chabot Science center.  This stretch avoids the biggest hills in my neighborhood, and I'll probably use it more to get in fun training rides when I don't want to beat myself up, since it still has hills, but I can ride most of it at a controllable effort.  The cold was in full swing, but not yet at its worst, so I started easy.  I felt better as I rode, so I picked up the pace and finished quite fast.

Thursday January 15.  5.3 mile run.  After the worst day of the cold on Wednesday, it was finally starting to ease off, so I used the chance to get a final training run in before Saturday's race.  Running Sibley at sunrise is really pretty; the light and shadows make it look a bit like a real volcano.  I explored a bit on a trail I haven't been on that heads out to a pond.  In the continuing shoe experiment, I tried the Altra superiors on this run.  I really like the feel of them, but I'll need some adjustment time for the lack of heel drop.  Otherwise, my sinuses protested quite a but, despite my having better energy than the last four days.

Saturday January 18.  Steep Ravine Trail Marathon.  26.89 miles.  I took another rest day before this, and it turned out to be a great race, despite the lingering cold.  More on this run elsewhere.

Sunday January 19.  Rest/David Hockney exhibit  I planned a ride, but it was a busy day, and the amount of walking and standing brought my legs back to a tired place by the end of the day.  The David Hockney exhibit was amazing, especially the blown up iPad paintings.

I'm calling this two week stretch "Adjustment," since the combination of returning to a regular schedule from the holidays and fighting a cold put a bit of an upheaval on everything.  Lots of lost sleep the first week probably helped cause the cold.  This flipped things upside down the second week, in which I skipped a lot of workouts to get extra rest. But it all ended well, taking on a hard race course at a new trail distance with a consistently string effort.  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

23, 22: The Holidays

I had these two weeks off and used the time flexibility to explore new places.

Monday Dec 23.  12.5 mile bike ride up to grizzly peak and back.  Just getting some cycling time in.  I switched to using Strava here, mostly as an experiment.  I’m finding it much more interesting to use than RunKeeper, mostly because of all the segment data for comparing yourself to others, and especially to yourself.  I like some of RunKeepers reports better.

Tuesday Dec 24.  I woke up early and ran 10.7 miles in Redwood, following the French Trail and East Ridge Trails, one of my common long run routes.  It was quiet and peaceful, I was listening to the 1493 audiobook by Charles Mann.  He has an interesting story about how Columbus’s arrival in the Americas started a dramatic planet-wide ecological shift toward homogeneity.  After this, lots of holiday busyness.

Wednesday Dec 25.  3.5 mile Christmas run.  Family had departed, so I drove up the hill, and ran the Huckleberry loop.  Feeling strong, I added the steep hill climb into Sibley, to a place I know in my head as the "picnic spot."  Because it would be perfect for a picnic, if you were willing to carry the food out there.  This was a good burn-off of holiday stress.

Thursday Dec 26.  5.6 mile run in Sibley.  I ran counterclockwise around Round Top.  After passing the southern ridge, I took off on the fastest stretch of running I’ve done since the Woodside Ramble.  Maybe faster, I was just feeling in the zone, whatever that zone is.  I followed the Volcano trail out to the end and headed down Old Tunnel Road, deciding it was time to invest in some less technical shoes for these odd stretches of pavement I come across.  I ran the Bay Area Ridge trail south to Fish Ranch Road, a new stretch of trail for me (it’s amazing how many there still are close to home).  I turned back and ran/walked back uphill to the end.

Friday Dec 27.  Fast 12.5 mile bike ride up to Grizzly Peak and back.  It was quite the hazy day.   

Saturday Dec 28.  Brazen New Year’s Eve half marathon.  It was cold.  It was fun.  I as feeling slow though, having had a fast bike ride on Friday.  

Sunday Dec 29.  21.1 miles cycling.  This was a big loop.  I rode up grizzly peak, and then down El Toyonal into Orinda.  I think I’m going to skip riding down El Toyonal again for a while.  Like for another year.  Or three.  My hands were sore when I got to the bottom of the hill from riding the breaks too hard; it’s just well past my skill level to take this at any decent speed safely.  But if I’m having a masochistic day, I might ride ride up the hill.  Oh yeah, after this I rode south through Orinda, Moraga, and Canyon, and then climbed Pinehurst to get back home.  It was amazing clear out, I could see the Farallon islands from the hills.

Monday Dec 30:  6.6 miles running in Tilden.  Only my second time running in Tilden, this was more deliberate exploration to expand my close-to-home running routes.  I followed part of the course of the Grizzly Peak race I ran last spring, which seems significantly less difficult now.  I started from Grizzly peak, ran over to Volmer Peak, and south along the Bay Area Ridge Trail/Seaview Trail.  Unlike when I ran the race in a lot of fog, this run had great views of both the East bay hills and the bay.  It’s nice seeing such a large span of my riding/running/swimming/kiting spots from one place.   

Tuesday Dec 31:  13.1 miles cycling.  I rode the Pinehurst loop clockwise, which has a fun fast downhill at the start.  I ride this route a lot to get downhill training in; this was probably my fastest time at 1:13, even though I was taking the climbs easy on account of the next-day race.

Wednesday Jan 1:  13.1ish mile run, Brazen New Year’s day half.  I was really happy with this race, being able to push myself well during the last few miles.  It’s the first race I’ve run with my garmin, which is a great tool for pushing yourself harder than you normally would, since you can chastise yourself for being lazy when you realize how slow you’re inadvertently running.  

Thursday Jan 2: 3.5 mile run.  This was intended to be a rest day, but I felt really restless.  I went to run the Huckleberry loop, and I added in the steep climb in Sibley.  This really did the job-by the end I was as tired as I should have felt for running two races in five days.  Friday became the well-needed rest day.

Saturday Jan 4: 22.1 miles running around Mt Tam and the Headlands.  Maps say closer to 24/25 miles.  This was one of those epic go-out-and-take-my-time-exploring days.  One of my goals for this year is to use long runs to explore new trails.  I used to do this a lot when we lived in the Peninsula, but it completely fell off a couple years ago.  So it was overdue, and I wanted a ~22 mile run this weekend.  I planned a course here that would take me along some trails on a couple upcoming race courses, as well as some that I just wanted to run.  I also made sure there would be lots of climbing to train for a couple climbing-heavy races in the next couple months.  

I started in Stinson Beach off the Panoramic highway, and headed uphill along the Dipsea trail, which I’ve never run on before.  The sun was peaking through the early morning fog on the long climb, which I was taking slowly after running two the half marathons in the prior week.  Very slowly.    As the trail moved from open space into the trees, I followed the Steep Ravine trail, where things become almost magical.  It was early enough that I saw no one, and I had a lot of fun running and climbing the stairs quickly.  The ferns, redwoods, and stone stairs along the creek were gorgeous and peaceful.  The notorious ladder came and went easily, and the trail eventually made its way to the Pantoll station parking lot.  Here, I got confused.  After looking around for a while, I found the Old Mine trail and took it south, passing an old attempt at a gold mine and ending up with a large view at Cardiac hill.

I ran back into the woods and headed down to Muir woods.  I haven’t been here in about nine years.  At that time, walking outside on mild hills made me feel tired, to put into perspective how much has changed in my life since then.  It was fun seeing the early-morning slowly moseying tourists and just running right through.  I ran a side trail out, eventually climbing a LOT of stairs to get up to the panoramic highway, and following a trail south along it.  Somewhere here I slowed down for a snack and passed a large group of ~70 year old men who were powering up hill.

Then it was back to the Dipsea trail for a run west, back through Muir woods, and then south on another trail up to Dias Ridge.  Here’s where my feet started to feel sore, but I was having fun.  Slowing down, I followed this west, ending with a fun downhill run toward Muir Beach.  The west part of this hill has awesome views of the valleys and coast.  And many mountain bikers.

After searching around a bit, I found the Heather cutoff trail and started climbing.  And climbed and climbed some more.  Seriously, you could climb this trail like it's your job if it paid anything.  After lots more climbing and many switchbacks later, I made it to the Coastal view trail.  It was time to climb some more.  I ran and walked slow intervals to pass the time here, rationing water, since it was an open trail and quite warm at this point.  And my feet were tired.  I managed to set the slowest ascent on this trail yet recorded on strava; that’s how much I was taking my time, stopping to stretch and look around, and taking photos.  But that's part of the fun of these solo long runs, you don't feel any pressure to avoid hanging out, just enjoying a stretch of coastline.  After climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing some more, I made it to the desolate water fountain on Cardiac hill and stopped for another snack, just watching the ocean for a while longer.  

Then I ran back down the Dipsea trail.  This was a fun stretch, still with a lot of stairs, but it passed back under a lot of tree cover that made for soft downhill-friendly single track.  Making it back to the car was anticlimactic, but I managed to spend over six hours moving through some awesome trails I’ve mostly never been on.  These long solo runs really make the world seem smaller and more real, I’ve planned a couple more already.  I sort of stole this route from pieces of existing race courses; I realized it's lot easier to use these than to plan a route that hits a distance goals on my own.

Sunday Jan 5: 25.7 miles cycling.  Feeling strong after the very easy, but very long run on Saturday, I went out for a fast afternoon ride, aiming to get 25 miles in before dark.  I rode quickly out to Inspiration Point, with an aggressively paced climb up Grizzly Peak.  It was warm and sunny, followed by a great sunset.  I then rode back on Wildcat Canyon Rd and down into Berkeley a bit to add a hill, finally riding back home.  It felt good to get a strong ride in, since the last few weeks have been easier effort workouts.  PL and I later wen out for a .6 mile night hike in Redwood, watching stars.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Brazen New Year’s Day Half Marathon, Lake Chabot

It seems like I just ran a race here.  It seems like I just wrote that too.  For the third time in three months, I ran at Lake Chabot, for Brazen’s New Year’s Day Half Marathon.  It’s the same as the New Year’s Eve course, but in reverse, which is a great idea.  I occasionally reverse my usual running routes close to home; these routes become  very different stories in reverse.

I’m not sure I slept better hn last Saturday, with the neighbor’s reveling well into the morning, but I was better rested.  I arrived earlier, and discovered why there was an oddly linear line of people waiting together last Saturday—with the very cold morning, everyone stands in a line of sunlight that comes in through the trees and hills.  After standing there and taking in solar radiation for warmth for a while, I ran a quick warm-up, and it was time to start.

I ran fast along the West Shore trail, averaging my fastest race pace, despite the small hills.  Then I came to the first significant hill, and my calves protested again.  So I speed-hiked up it.  This would prove to be the theme for the day—speed hiking most uphills and running flats and downhills very fast, often faster than my current speed intervals.  After a decent climb and a visit to the aid station at the top of the ridge, we ran downhill, crossed the stone bridge, and into the long section of hills and switchbacks.  It got warm in here, and I was having a blast with the much better speed his time around.  

After a lot of small hills that gradually climbed up the back of Mt. Doom, and a visit to the third aid station, it was time of the rather steep downhill, formerly known as the rather steep uphill.  I’ve run down this on training runs before, but this was the first time during a race, and I was much more aware of being limited by the incline.  Views here when running downhill are great.  I wanted to hit my time goal this time, so I didn’t stop to shoot photos, but maybe that’ll come later.

Hitting the bottom of the hill, I crossed the oddly bouncy bridge, on my own this time.  Then the course went around the last loop/hill, and back along the East Shore Trail.  I pushed the pace hard here, and came in sx seconds over my time goal at 2:28:06.  I’m amused that this is the second race in a month where I’m within seconds of my target time.  175/362.  I set my target time lower than Saturday.  Again, I stuck around for a while, thoroughly enjoying post race snacks, while welcoming other finishers.  Brazen has a nice series of connecting medals if you run both races.

This was a really fun, but decently challenging pair of races.  And a much more upbeat way to bring in the new year than the usual watch-the-clock-and-drink-sparkling-wine thing.  This also capped off a personal challenge (that came from a website I read) to run 50 miles during the holidays, which I’m feeling surprisingly good after.  I’m still learning to recognize when/how to pace & schedule training runs in different ways, but this week beat a few things home in which I responded to my body telling me one thing, when I should have academically known better.  

Finally, an unintended GPS experiment on tho course, having used my iPhone on Saturday and my new Garmin for this race:  the iPhone significantly overestimated the distance, by a couple miles.  Most of this seems to be due to drop-outs of the signal.  It also think I have the ability to teleport.   The Garmin underestimated distance by about a half mile, but it was more of a steady drift that accumulated over distance instead of large teleportations.  The Garmin path is far cleaner too, which I expected.  I'm very happy with it so far.