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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Best and Worst Run Ever

The first and last rays of an early morning touching the skirts of a pending storm.

My elevation chart for this run - totals 4300' in elevation gain.

The Alhambra Valley Rd. Train Trestle

The route started at Rankin Park in Martinez, and proceeded basically out and back through the Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline, Mt. Wanda, and Briones - summiting the high points of everything along the way.

The run was 23 miles long and took just under 4 hours and 30 minutes. Actual running time was closer to 4 hours with me stopping to refill bottles and spending a good deal of time standing in the handicapped porta potty at the Briones Bear Creek staging area, trying to wrap my phone in a piece of plastic trash bag to keep it away from the rain.

My last view of the sun near the top of Mt. Wanda - a stiff breeze is pushing the clouds east.

Yeah, it rained. Hard. Winds were 30+ Mph at the summits and the trails went from fair to very poor in under an hour.

When I left Rankin Park the stars were dimming and those that remained were being snuffed out by a bank of clouds racing the sun for the eastern horizon. For nearly an hour the clouds piled in dropping slowly. As I began the ascent of Mott Peak in Briones, the pregnant clouds gave birth.

To that point, the run was much like a dance; avoiding the muddy hollows left by a week of unsettled weather. Now the choreography was challenged and dancing gave way to sloshing. The storm hit with such intensity that I was soaked within minutes. No longer obligated to avoid the mud, I enjoyed a few moments of freedom running straight through the marshy areas. Unfortunately that could not last, as soon the soil, liquefied by the deluge, could no longer bear my weight. Imagine attempting to run up or down a bobsled track - and you have the basic idea of what my run was converting to. With a total of 4300' of elevation gain, there were very few miles that were not either steeply up or steeply down. Eventually I was forced to abandon the trails altogether and run along the sloping edges of the trail, and when possible, through the shin high grass in the meadows.

And then there was the wind. Cresting Mott Peak I was facing rain driven by winds in excess of 30 Mph. At times I was blown off (or onto, as often the case was) the trail. Fighting my way into the wind or staying upright against a cross wind was dicey, but running down the steep slopes with a tail wind was harrowing. Imagine strapping on a jet pack and jumping onto a frozen lake wearing tennis shoes. Yeah, exactly. What your mind's eye just saw - was exactly how my arms were flailing.

I managed to not fall. Not all the way anyhow. If this tells you that my running was not as intense as it could have been, then yes, you are correct. I managed a 3 point landing on the way down Mott. My feet conspired against me and each headed a different direction - in the general direction of the bottom of the hill. Remember that image you conjured up a moment ago with flailing hands and wild eyes? Replay that now, and add a power bar in my right hand which I desperately want to eat without mud icing. I was doing a sort of skiing, but lacked the ski tails to provide counter force and allow a "center of gravity" correction. The sacrifice was unavoidable - I firmly planted my left hand backward into the mud. Alas, my glove turned brown, but I had forestalled the shame of sitting in the mud for yet another run.

I truly had fun on this run. None of the cramping came along for the party this time. With the help of good planning and a little osmosis, I was thoroughly hydrated for the entire run. As I neared the final hill, it was great to feel that I had more in the tank.

This was by far the hardest run I've ever faced. Even my soggy Marin Headlands Marathon last year didn't measure up to this. In one sense it was the worst run I've ever had. In another sense it was by far the best. And either way I look at it - I'm glad it's over.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Some Days are Great

The Lafayette hills with a storm sweeping in from the west

Some days are great...
...And other days you get cramps.

And Friday was a little of both.

But first...
A week ago, I paced Tim S. on his first Half Marathon. Nothing official, but he had been working up his mileage toward a run that would take him from his high school in Brentwood to his house in Pittsburg. An off week in my training happened to coincide with his personal event, so I asked if I could come along. He blazed out of the school parking lot, to shouts of encouragement and others looking on - obviously tipped off as to his intentions.

His pace slowed as we put some miles behind us, and a cold rain, that had been threatening all day, took action against us. The route, an undulating though gradual descent, stayed exclusively to East Bay Regional Park bike trails which double as access roads to the monstrous utility pipes that paralleled our route. The rain came and went, but Tim's pace was unabated.

We were both surprised to see familiar territory sooner than expected, and I checked the GPS on my phone to realize we were indeed nearly 10 miles into the 11.5 miles he had planned.

After running and cycling for many years, I have become pretty accurate in judging distances and the amount of time it would take to cover them. Judging from our mileage and the distance we still had to run, I knew the route had been measured wrong and would be much closer to 12.5 miles. 12.5 miles is very close to 13.1 (a half marathon) and as we entered his neighborhood, I veered from the path and told him he was going to run a little further than planned. He did not agree. After a short explanation he was coaxed to abandon the home stretch and extend the suffering a few more minutes.

Tim's first Half Marathon. It was just plain fun for me to help him accomplish this. We took his longest run ever and turned it into an event with credibility - in 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Almost exactly to the hour a week later I'm near the end of another training run and I'm cramping like I've never cramped before - and I know why. I'm rapidly dehydrating. It's been a long time since the last water fountain and all my bottles have been dry for miles. I've stopped sweating, my mouth is dry and instead of feeling exhaustion as I climb the rolling hills my head swims and I fight bouts of nausea. I'm trying to figure out what whacked out reflex in my body would want me to vomit what little fluid I have left in my stomach.

The first wisps from the storm racing up behind me

I crest a hill and see 2 huge crows in a budding tree silhouetted jet black against a lowering sky. They are watching me, and I read their thoughts. "Dinner." In my determination I actually speak to them pointing my finger up at the tree - "you can't have me" I say. I don't even feel foolish for talking to them. As I begin my ascent up the next hill I glance back and they are flying away - disappointed.

Over 3 hours earlier I had left the house on a mapped route cresting as many hills as I could reasonably stuff into 22.5 miles - over 3400' in total. My pace had probably started out too quick, but I was feeling good. I had changed my route and printed maps of the more unfamiliar areas from the office earlier in the day. The new route is approx. 1/4 roads and 3/4 dirt trails traversing and connecting several East Bay regional parks. All but about 10% of the roads (and civilization) are at the very beginning. In changing the route I added about 4 miles of trails and eliminated a water stop - there is little enough water in the quasi wilderness of the parks as it is. This was hazardously poor planning.

The wind is now stiffly at my back driving dark gray clouds, latent and foreboding. I've run 20 miles, and all that's left is a handful of turns before I descend into downtown Lafayette where I can spend my emergency $5 bill on a fountain Coke. I really don't think I can make it that far without slowing to a walk. This is probably not true, but my mind is messing with me. I think of water and Coke. The cramps, mostly in my calves, come in waves forcing me to walk a few paces every quarter mile or so.

I crest the last hill before the long descent and spot a mountain biker just resting his bike against a tree. I'm saved. Having purposed to swallow my pride and beg water off the first person I see, I waste no time communicating my need. He claimed to be minutes from home and offered me his entire bottle. I jogged straight to his bike and lifted it out of the cage. It was full and I nearly drained it in seconds. Regaining some propriety as the fluid surged into my body, I left a few ounces for my new friend. I couldn't stop saying "thank you."

The recovery wasn't instant, but it came soon. Through Lafayette I dodged traffic and stretched while waiting at crosswalks. Once on the Lafayette Moraga Regional Trail and minutes from my finish, I was back up to pace and defying the cramps.

My girls were at the end waiting for me. They don't often get to see me coming down the final stretch but there they were watching for me and smiling. I didn't exactly rush into their arms, though my oldest daughter nearly hugged me before realizing the mistake that would have been. We were all happy to have me done since dinner at Sweet Tomatoes was next on the agenda.

The cramps never came back, and Sweet Tomatoes lost money on me Friday night.