Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sean's Epic Ride and Tie

This past weekend while I was in Duluth tearing up the marathon course Sean trekked north to Humboldt, CA for the Ride and Tie World Championship. Two runners, one horse and 35 miles of hilly trails! Unfortunately for Sean and his partner, their horse Iron Wyll was pulled at the second vet check but Sean didn't find out until he was already on Mile 30 and so to get back to camp he finished running the last 5 miles. Apparently he only rode Wyll for a total of 1 minute and thus this qualifies as Sean's first Ultra run too. Here is his account of the race as told to fellow competitor and Ride & Tie legend Mark Richtman:

Sean riding Iron Wyll
Well, I had a lot of fun out there, horse or no horse.  Let's see -- we started together, and you led out the pack.  After what, half a mile, I took the lead.  The next thing I knew you were flying by on a fury rocket of a horse.  I saw you again one switchback ahead of me going down the first hill -- I passed Jim going down that hill but never caught you.  Wyll was waiting for me at the bottom there, and I trotted through camp and caught John on that single track just on the other side of camp.  I got to ride three more times after that: one short stint on the flat section between the two first hills, for a little bit going up that second hill, and finally for that last mile before the first vet check.  You passed me going the other way in the river, so you must have been 3 or 4 minutes ahead of me.  John passed me going the other way in the river too, so I think we timed that exchange pretty well.

Pre-race meeting and strategizing

Horse and people camp

Geared up and ready
That second loop was really beautiful and the running conditions were perfect.  I ran up the hill, passed first by Jim's daughter and then by Mary.  John never caught me, which certainly made me nervous.  I slowed down to an easy jog (on purpose, not from fatigue) through the last two miles of single track hoping he'd catch up, but he never did.  I ended up waiting at the entrance to the vet check for at least 10 minutes.  Just as we were about to send a rescue party, there he comes trotting slowly down the trail.  I take him and walk him into the vet check, then head out onto the third loop.  I was definitely tired going up that hill, and had to walk a few times.  I saw Mary trying to find the easy boot, but couldn't help her.  Up and up and up, then across the ridge, until the guy in the truck at mile 30 told me that Wyll had been pulled.  So, I just kept on chugging, and saw Mary one more time on the last two mile stretch again fiddling with the easy boot.  I'm really sorry that happened, what a bummer.  

A Team with great socks

Sean leading Wyll into the vet check

Mark and another runner
I had a wedding to go to which started at 3:30, so I couldn't stick around to chat as I was already obscenely late.  Anyway, I really had fun and next time I hope we have a more even race.  

Monday, June 20, 2011

Grandma's Marathon

The following is my story and I'm sticking to it! 

The Days Before:

I spent Wednesday traveling to Duluth. Thankfully, it went smoothly and there were no flight delays despite heavy fog at the tiny Duluth "International" Airport. I was picked up by the Hospitality committee and driven to my hotel. After checking in and decompressing a bit I went for a short jog along the waterfront. The weather was crisp, cloudy and breezy, a good sign for Saturday's race! I basically spent the next two days bumming around Duluth coffee shops, finishing a couple books, getting some good jogs and walks in and holing up in my hotel room watching movies on HBO. Friday I put Mary's rice cooker to work and ate lots of rice all day between picking up my race packet and sorting out transportation and clothing details. 

The Play by Play:

Saturday morning I woke up bright and early at 4:30am. I made myself coffee with the French press and grounds I had brought along and suited up in my new Asics Aggies uniform and (almost) brand new Asics shoes. I will admit I spent about 15 minutes switching pairs of shoes and taking little jogs around my hotel room trying to see which felt more "right". I finally decided to just go with the Asics and stop stressing about it. I caught our Elite Athlete bus at 5:30am and off we drove to the start! On the bus I sat next to a nice guy named Leo from Ohio who was going for the men's standard. On the bus ride there I felt the most relaxed I have ever been before any race. My stomach was quiet and my brain was surprisingly quiet. Usually some nerves right before a marathon are a good thing but this morning, nada. Cool as a cucumber.

When we got to the start we had a short walk to the "elite staging area" which was really just the stretch of road in front of the starting line with some special port-a-potties lined up. No heated tent this time around. I got in line for the bathroom, went, and then put my bag down on the side of the road, ate two packs of Gu Chomps and went for a short jog. The weather was shaping up to be perfect, cloudy and cool with a definite tail wind. I chatted briefly with a few other women and there was clearly a group there going for the B standard and also a small group going for the A standard. I did a couple short pickups and felt that my legs were there this morning, they felt springy, light and ready to roll. Before I knew it, it was time to strip the layers and line up! I kept on a fleece headband, arm warmers and gloves for the start, all of which I expected to gradually take off and throw away.

Hanging out at the start
Once the wheelchair racers went off, we pressed forward to the starting line and waited patiently for the starter to blow the horn. And then after 2 minutes of eternity we were off! The lead men took off FAST but the road was wide enough there was plenty of room to settle into a reasonable pace. I had my Garmin on and it was behaving surprisingly well! I wanted to start at 6:10-6:15 pace and that's exactly what I ran for the first 3 miles or so. I was definitely holding myself back to get really warmed up and all of a sudden the 2:46 group of women was on me. I could hear them talking a LOT about how FAST this pace was and how hard it was going to get because geez they went out way too FAST. I decided there was no way I was going to stay with them because they talked way too much. And all this talking about how hard the pace was was no good. 

I picked it up to under 6:10 pace mainly to get ahead of these Chatty Cathies and looked for another group to latch onto. I could see the 2:39 group waaay in front of me and it was going to take a big effort to catch up to them so I decided I would just be patient and not make any sudden moves. Somewhere before the 5 mile mark a guy in a red singlet started running close to me and our pace was syncing up as well as our strides. I decided I would run with him for a while to see what happens... maybe I could use him to catch up to the 2:39 group. I asked if he minded me running with him and he said of course not, so I just latched on! It was great, we started rolling off the miles and I felt so smooth and comfortable just chugging alongside. When we got to the 10 mile mark another guy caught up to us. We will call him Tall guy. Tall guy fell into pace with Red Singlet and me and the three of us stayed close together for the rest of the race. 

There were water stations every two miles or so and I was taking a cup of water at each station. I would drink a couple sips and then dump the rest over my head. The Grandma's course was pleasantly rolling with gentle uphills and downhills where we could really crank. Every downhill the guys would really pick up the pace and I just went with them. Occasionally I would glance at my Garmin and see that we were well under 6-minute pace and have a momentary attack of "What am I thinking??" But then I would remind myself that as long as I felt nice and relaxed I should stick with it. Whatever happened, I absolutely did not want to leave these guys and get left in no man's land. Go big or go home. 

We went through the half in 1:20 ish and this was when I first realized that I was having a banner day and would definitely get under 2:46 as long as I stayed smart and in control. Miles 14 through 20 flew by and I kept telling myself to think of it as a long tempo. I just had to make it until mile 20 and then push the last 10K hard. When we passed the 20 mile marker I started pushing the pace and the two guys responded. We started running 5:55s and I just kept telling myself it was a 10K race. And I can run a 10K at 5:55 pace any day of the week, with both eyes closed, with a bag around my head... 

With my impromptu pacers
The dreaded Lemon Drop Hill at mile 22 was a piece of cake. It certainly doesn't compare to anything we train on in Marin. Running up the fire road to Phoenix Lake is much much harder! We had started passing many many runners at this point and the more women we passed the more confident I became. At mile 23 I was starting to hurt but kept focused on catching and passing whoever was in front of me. When we hit the cobblestone section at mile 24 the change in surface made it a bit hard to keep my pace going and the two guys started pulling away. But Tall Guy kept waving for me to catch them and I tried so hard to not let them get away. I dug deeper than I ever thought I could dig and found a level of effort and grit that I never even knew I had to not let the gap get any bigger. I was slowly inching up on two women running together ahead of me and I wanted more than anything to catch them and pass them. We passed the 25 mile marker and I had gotten just a little bit closer. Suddenly, a few strides later I was right behind them! Then I let myself go into a sprint mode and flew by them, I swerved around the last couple turns before the finish and almost caught back up to Tall Guy. When I finally saw the finish line and the clock it read 2:38:10. I kept staring at it in disbelief watched it inching slowly up towards 2:39:00. I sprinted those last couple meters and crossed the line in 2:38:46!

I can only describe how I felt at the finish with the word Cathartic. I felt such a sense of release and relief compounded by disbelief in my own performance. It was  a perfect culmination of months of hard training and focus and I felt a huge flood of euphoria. Now I no longer had the nagging moniker of ALMOST getting the qualifying standard. I can proudly say I got the standard and the A Standard at that. Next up, Olympic Trials in Houston!


Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Chicks on the Block

After a full year of chicken ownership it is now time to expand our flock once more with new chicks. Over the course of the last year we've gone from 8 chickens to a high of 12 and now back down to just 7. When the chickens really hit their stride in egg production we had a few months of getting 8-10 eggs every single day. Alas the life of a laying hen can be short if egg production is what you're after. The first year is generally the most prolific in terms of number of eggs layed and production drops off after that. Chickens can also fall victim to a number of maladies. 

We've had to cull a few hens due to behavioral problems or sickness. Once was picking on the smaller chickens and drawing blood constantly. One had sour crop and we also lost a hen due to a stuck egg which broke inside her. Most recently we had to cull a chicken which had picked up the most dreaded of all bad habits: Egg Eating. She single handedly ate 3 eggs one morning before Sean caught her in the act! 

Due to these losses our flock was getting quite small for their space and so we decided to expand! We now have 8 adorable baby chicks living in a mini coop. They will need to be kept separate from the adult chickens until they are old enough to switch to adult chicken food and they are large enough to assert themselves in the flock. Meanwhile, the big chickens love to sit around under the mini coop and hide. 

They are too cute. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bay to Breakers

The Bay to Breakers 12K race took place on Sunday but for me the race seemed to go on all weekend long. Friday was the elite athlete press conference, my first ever! When my coach Mark told me I was to run Bay to Breakers two weeks ago I never expected to get treated as an elite athlete complete with all the bells and whistles. I arrived at the Hyatt on Friday not quite knowing what to expect. 

The press conference took place in a nice room off of the hotel lobby and consisted of an opening speech by the race director, introductions of the athletes and then an open question and answer session. Most of the questions were directed towards the defending women's champion Lineth and one of the top American male runners and a personal hero of mine Meb Keflezhigi. However towards the end of the session a reporter wanted to hear from us local first time runners and get our thoughts on the race. The press seemed to enjoy my response about the race being a party event for a number of my friends in the city, and after the formal session a couple reporters wanted little interviews with me! I tried to be charming, intelligent and not too self conscious. 

After the press conference was over we got treated to a delicious lunch. The food was really good and very runner friendly. I even got to sit next to Meb and gush at him all through the lunch. 

The next day, Saturday, we had a pre-race dinner meeting which I attended with Val. It was also at the Hyatt and during the dinner we filled out paperwork, signed posters and figured out race morning logistics. Val and I were checking our watches all night to see when we could get out of there and get into bed! It was going to be a very early morning, we were supposed to be gathered in the hospitality room at the hotel at 5:15am. 

I fell asleep pretty quickly Saturday night and felt like I slept deeply and well. I woke up feeling excited and refreshed but of course it was still dark out. Just to make sure, I checked the time on my watch. It read 1:59am! Oh boy, I was ready to go but I was supposed to sleep until 4am! So then I laid in bed and tried to go back to sleep but it didn't really happen. I snoozed on and off for the next couple hours and when the alarm finally sounded I was out of bed like a shot. First things first I trooped upstairs and turned on the coffee maker that I had pre-filled the night before. As the coffee got brewing I made sure my timing tag was on my shoes and also made a couple hard boiled eggs. Once the coffee was done I poured myself a cup and started drinking it. Even though I was pretty awake at that point I like my coffee too much to not have any! 

Then I went back downstairs and got suited up: compression socks, race shorts, sports bra and singlet with my number already attached. I put on a couple of layers over that including a rain jacket and hat and took my backpack upstairs. Sean had gotten up at this point and was wandering around with his coffee muttering about how early it was. My stomach was grumbling at this point so I ate one hard boiled egg with salt and finished up my coffee. After one last check of my stuff we left the house at 4:40 to pick up Val from the park and ride. 

Val was waiting for us by the time we got to the park and ride so it was a quick stop to let her hop in the car, and then we got on the freeway towards San Francisco. Traffic was minimal but still there were a lot of cars for 4am on a Sunday, clearly a lot of Marinites were heading towards Bay to Breakers! The night before Alexa Glencer had asked if we could pick her up in the Marina on our way to the Hyatt race morning so of course I said yes. We picked up Alexa on Lombard St. and Sean then took his super secret way to get to the front door of the Hyatt. We got to the hotel at about 5:20am and there were already lots of racers and runners milling around on the streets outside. 

When we got to the  hospitality room it was packed with the elite runners and all their gear. Everyone was wearing full rain gear and pants in anticipation of crummy weather. Val and I got to assure everyone that it had in fact stopped raining and was warming up to a perfect racing temperature. I drank some more water and sat in the chair reading the paper until about 5:40. Josh then came in and rounded us up for the walk to the start. It was quite a procession as all 30 or so of us trooped through the lobby of the Hyatt and through the revolving doors. We walked the 4 blocks or so to the start and were led to Howard street, just in front of the starting line. There were a ton of barriers up with lots of security checking our bibs. We did not have a tent but did have dedicated bathrooms that were a step up from just porta-potties. After putting our bags down, Val and I did a warmup. Howard street was completely closed for about 1.5 miles so we jogged to the end and back. 

By the time we got back from the jog it was 6:30 and time to put our bags on the sweat bus. I reluctantly gave up my jacket, long sleeve, pants and hat. It was a bit cold but once I was moving it was fine. I also ate a Gu and drank some water with it. Now that it was getting close to race time I started doing striders. The top seeded runners were able to use the warm up space with us so I saw a lot of area runners too. The centipedes were out warming up and practicing staying together! I also saw Andy Chan and Time Wallen and Dan Shore. I chatted with Magda a bit, and told her I was so nervous! She was so sweet, she told me not to worry and that I would do great. 

The announcer finally called us to the line and we lined up behind the starting mats. Us Elite Women were starting at 6:55:24am and the men would start at 7:00am along with the first wave of seeded runners. I lined up next to Magda and Kaitlin and we all stood with our timing watches ready. The gun went off and I flew out of the start. I made sure to definitely stay behind Magda and Annie! The Kenyan and Ethiopian women formed their own little pack and were gone like a shot. I would only be see them for the first mile or so of the race. Then they were completely gone! 

The first mile is very flat and on a very wide street so we all had a lot of room. I tucked in behind Michelle Frey and alongside Laura Bennett. The three of us were only a couple feet behind Annie and Magda. About two blocks in I heard Sean on the sidewalk cheering for me and yelling my name. The night before Mark and I had discussed strategy and he told me to tuck in with someone and get pulled along for as long as possible. We went through the first mile in 5:31, pretty quick! At this point Annie and Magda started to pull ahead. As we made the right hand turn onto.. 8th? and then crossed Market, Magda made a bit of a wrong turn. She made a sharp left instead of an easy left and had to backtrack back onto the course! It was a bit dicey in this intersection because of the tracks in the street and there were some big potholes. 

I stayed with Michelle and Laura to the bottom of the Hayes Street hill. Magda turned it on going up the hill and opened a big gap on us. She ended up catching Jane Kibii and running with her for the rest of the race. We saw all the Elvises at the bottom of the hill and they cheered quite loudly for us. There were tons of people lining the street at this point and it was very loud! That helped me go up the hill. Laura and I pushed together and dropped Michelle going up the hill and we also caught Annie on the way up. I felt strong climbing the hill. 

Once we reached the top of the hill Laura really bombed it down the other side. I couldn't stay with her and feel safe and comfortable to I let her get ahead. Annie also bombed it down the hill... I wonder how they could do that! At that point I was running alone but could see both Annie and Laura ahead of me. At the next little uphill I caught back up to Annie and stayed with her for the next mile or so. We got to Golden Gate Park and I saw Mary cheering for me. My legs at this point felt sooo good and hardly tired! The elite men started passing us and were just absolutely flying.

As we ran through the park I tried to really work the rolling terrain. Just before the 6 mile marker however I felt a stomach cramp coming on! Oh no, I had a moment of panic and had to ease up a bit to try and let it pass. It never really got too bad but I did feel a bit constricted in my breathing. At that point I had to let Annie go because I was afraid to make my cramp worse and be unable to breathe. I just wanted to keep my pace and run strong to the finish. Meb passed me and said "Good job! Way to go!" 

The last mile went by really fast and before I knew it I was making the turn on the Great Highway. As soon as I rounded the corner I hit a huge headwind! The wind was whipping south to north, making the finishing straightaway a battle. I tucked my head down and pushed as hard as I could into the wind and got passed by the Aggies centipede just before the finish. I saw my time, 42:35 and was really happy. At the finish I felt really great about how I ran the race, and how well I felt during it. Aside from the cramp in the later part of the race I felt so fit and so strong! I think next time I won't be eating any eggs before the race... too hard to digest. 

I then went into the elite athlete tent and started putting on my sweats since it was quite cold and windy at Ocean Beach. I talked to Laura Bennett and her husband Greg a lot at this point. They are both amazing triathletes, Olympians and national champs!! I finally found Sean at the finish area and we all went for a cool down run. As we entered Golden Gate Park, Meb joined us and chatted with Sean and Greg. We did a short cooldown, about 10 minutes out and 10 minutes back. 

I think Greg and Laura win for Fittest Couple
Meb, will you be my new BFF?
When we got back from the cool down, I saw Mark and we talked a bit about the race. He was so happy with my run! We then went to the VIP tent and had a nice hot breakfast with other racers and some press people. By the time 9am rolled around I was finally getting tired and ready to leave. Val, Sean and I said our good-byes to Josh and the other athletes and got on out of there. There were thousands of runners streaming through the finish line at this point, including some very naked ones and it was quite a battle to avert our eyes when one was approaching. Sean had park about 3/4 of a mile away so we walked to the car and then headed on home. 

After a short stop at home, Sean and I went to the Civic Center Famer's Market for second brunch. We love The Taco Guys and stopped at their tent first. The guy saw my pink B2B sweater and was so excited that I had run the race. Sean told him I finished in 9th place and he was so flabbergasted he said the tacos were on him. He gave us a free drink too. It was delicious and he kept gushing about my run to everyone else in line.

By the time we got home from the farmer's market I was read to drop. I wanted to take a shower but fell asleep on my bed for 2 hours instead :-)

All in all it was an unbelievable weekend, it was exhausting but so much fun. I got to meet such incredible people and run a great event. I am definitely eager for more high profile events like this but they are quite draining. It is another step in my journey as a runner and I am ready for my next great new experience! 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

An Unforeseen Adventure

Last weekend was sunny and warm. Perfect for two days of medium-long running on trails. Little did I know what I was getting myself into on Saturday when I asked Sean where he would like to run. Sean's achilles has been feeling quite a bit better and so he was itching to get out onto the trails. We chose a route that would take us from downtown Mill Valley to Alpine Lake and loop back. In hindsight, our original chose route was quite long and we would have never been able to run it in under 2 hours.

We climbed up Railroad Grade and headed over towards Marin Municipal Watershed area on a series of fire roads. A few stretches are quite steep but the surface is usually good and there's little chance of brushing up against poison oak. The views were amazing on this perfectly clear day. Despite Sean's many months of not running, he can still kick my ass up a steep hill. I suppose those extra pounds of muscle always come in handy.

This is one of my favorite long run routes because we get all the climbing over with in the first 2 miles. After a series of steep climbs, it's a long smooth gradual downhill to the MMWD reservoirs and I love doing a 20 miler this way. The first 10 miles heading out are on fire roads and then we drop down to Ross and take the roads and bike path home for a flat finish where we can work on hitting good paces. Having two different halves with varying scenery makes the 20 miles fly by!

On this day however Sean wanted to explore a trail we had never taken before. The Kent trail winds alongside the banks of Alpine Lake before turning south and heading uphill towards Potrero Meadows. I knew these trails would have difficult footing and be very slow but it was such a gorgeous day I didn't mind the thought of having to hike some portions. I also made sure we brought plenty of Gu so we wouldn't get stuck without any calories. This turned out to be a lifesaver. 

Once we got to the watershed and close to the "Lakes" I decided on a spur of the moment side trip to the top of Pilot's Knob. This little hill has my favorite view of Mt. Tam and is a fun little climb that also passes by what was once the largest Madrone on the mountain. Sadly the Madrone fell over last year but it is still amazing to see the colossal trunk and branches, now worn smooth by climbers. Little did I know that we would get another special surprise on this trail. 
Heading up Pilot's Knob trail
I was running in front of Sean on the single track trail when suddenly I saw a couple next to the base of a large tree just off the side of the trail. I was moving at a pretty good clip (and perhaps stealthily) so the poor woman was trying desperately to pull her underwear back on! We had run into an amorous couple trying to make the most of a seemingly deserted trail on a beautiful spring morning. Little did they know silent speeding runners were on the loose! It was the funniest thing I've seen on the trails. When Sean and I got to the top we cracked up laughing. My only fear is that since I did not get a good look at their faces, it may have been people we know! 
At the top of Pilot's Knob, sans amorous couple

We descended from Pilot's Knob and took one of my favorite trails, Shadyside to get around Bon Tempe Lake. Halfway around the lake, what I can only describe as an androgynous looking white Kenyan blows by us in the opposite direction. He was all legs and compression socks, pure effortless form and both Sean and I were in awe. I racked my brain trying to think of who this elite runner could possibly be... he looked so young but so pro at the same time. I finally thought of Eric Olson, Novato High standout and now a freshman at Stanford who had a stellar cross country season. Since I had never seen or met Eric I made a note to look him up on Google once we got him. After that humbling encounter with a true running phenom, we arrived at Alpine Lake and headed down Kent trail. 

It started innocently enough, a smooth wide gently downhill fire road for about a half mile which shrank to a single track through pine forest. This soon became a ROCKY single track through pine forest and then a WASHED OUT single track through pine forest. We followed the detour signs and took a left on a little tiny deer trail. Since it seemed about time to turn left and head back up the mountain, we assumed we should just follow this little trail uphill and climb up to Potrero Meadows. The trail peetered out in several spots but we always seemed to "find" it again. 
I'm not sure if there is actually a trail here
Sean was doing the trial blazing at this point and he led us farther and farther up the mountain until we came to a large swampy lake. And then... there was no more trail! 
Do you see a trail? I'm still looking.
We were now under the redwoods and everything under a redwood forest looks like a trail. There were lots of possibilities but none that seemed to lead anywhere. We wanted to continue uphill and get over the top of the ridge and we knew we were close but without a compass it is very difficult to know exactly which direction you're going. After exhausting the possibilities and considering some serious bushwhacking, we made the call to backtrack down the hill and hook up with Kent trail again. I am not comfortable being "lost" in the wild and I would rather trace our steps to get back to a known location and a legitimate trail. Luckily we were able to retrace our route and eventually did get back to Kent trail. It was then that we saw the correct detour around the washed out portion. We realized that it was still too early to make the turn uphill and we had just followed some deer trail up the mountain for over a mile. 

Once we found the correct turn, it had already been about two hours since we left downtown Mill Valley and this was getting to be a much longer run than I had anticipated. Thankfully we had been going slow and taking our time over the terrain so our mileage was not that high yet. At this point I thought about our way back and realized if we were to run all the way back to downtown Mill Valley it would be an incredibly long run. The climb up to Potrero Meadows was 2.5 miles and quite a leg burner. Once we got to the Meadows we started seeing a lot of other hikers so my fears of being lost forever on the north side of Mt. Tam were put to rest. However, we were still unfamiliar with the trails here and didn't know the fastest shortest way back to Mill Valley. 

We took a route we knew which got us to Laurel Dell but looking at the map later, it turned out heading to Laurel Dell added another loop when we should have gone the opposite direction to go straight to Rock Springs. We finally ended up taking Cataract trail to Rock Springs and found a ton of cars in the parking lot. Sean's achilles had started hurting and it was getting on 3.5 hours since we left. Our Gu was long gone and we had only had water once during the whole run. Sean started looking for likely candidates who would take two thirsty hitch hikers down the mountain. Luckily an Envirosports trail race had just taken place and there were tons of runners and families finishing up and heading down the mountain. A very nice runner from Reno and his parents drove us back to downtown Mill Valley and we were very thankful. 

After drinking a lot of water and inhaling lunch from Punjabi burrito, we decided that was one of the more fun and interesting runs we've done. However we were very lucky and it could have turned out much worse. Things I learned from Saturday's adventure:

1. If you're going on unknown trails, always bring a little map. Just because you grew up in the area or run a lot on the trails doesn't mean you can find your way home. 

2. Always bring some Gu or water if heading out on a new trail. 

3. Don't be afraid to hitch hike. Someone nice will help you out and it's way better than suffering another hour home. 

4. Never run on Kent Trail. 

5. A little adventure is nice now and then. But I'll be running on known routes for the next couple of months. Or at least running with someone who knows the trail. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

All Wet

It's been a cold, wet, stormy winter here in Mill Valley and this week has been no exception. Monday was supposedly the first day of spring but instead of sunshine and baby birds we're gifted with torrential rain, crazy wind and even a dose of thunder and lightning. This kind of weather makes for truly epic, adventurous trail running. However, if you're in a rebuilding phase like me it's a great excuse to stay dry and cross train. I feel for all those runners out there in heavy mileage weeks who face 20 milers in pouring rain.

Our backyard drainage can't keep up!

But the rain is not all bad. It's filling our reservoirs and saturating the ground, paving the way for a season of tree growth and good crops. The skies may be gray but our backyard is screaming GREEN. Every tree, shrub and vegetable is bursting with new leaves and the grass on the hillside has grown, gone to seed, and is now growing a second round. Our young fruit trees are exploding with new shoots and will have yet another winter with plenty of water to fuel strong growth.
The fig tree approves
It's a pity we don't have a couple of ducks. The wild ducks down at Bothin Marsh are happy as clams with the wet and muddy conditions. Our chickens, on the other hand, are less than pleased with the current conditions. They spend most of the day huddled inside the coop peering out from the door as if saying "What the heck is THIS?" They will occasionally rally and all run outside, look around for some forgotten treat and run back inside. 
Do you have food?
What do you mean you didn't bring any food!

It's wet. this sucks. Make it stop.
Sean's self constructed coop is staying nice and dry inside. Although the chickens would prefer to go be out in the run, they don't have too much to complain about. After all, it could be 30 degrees colder and we could be covered in snow! They are still laying 6 eggs a day and contributing immensely to our egg addiction.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


When it comes to rehabbing an injury, I am relentless. I am a relentless cross trainer and a relentless optimist. Once I realized I had a real injury and not just post marathon tweaks, I immediately cut out all the running and hopped into the pool and onto my stationary bike trainer. I did a couple days of just pool running, along with copious amounts of icing and self massage. When walking became a little easier I transitioned into cycling in addition to pool running. Although I like pool running, it's just not as aerobically challenging as real running and definitely does not work your leg muscles as much. I like to add cycling because it really works the legs and you can build up some lactic acid pain. However, neither of those activities can completely simulate running. Enter the Alter-G.

This amazing treadmill has been floating around elite training circles for a couple years now. You basically put on a pair of shorts and get zipped into a big air bag that happens to also contain a treadmill. The Alter-G weighs you and then will pump air into the bag to provide "lift" and reduce the weight and force on your legs and feet. This is perfect for someone coming back from a tendonitis problem. I believe in active recovery for soft tissue injuries and an important component of coming back from a tendon injury is strengthening. After a week and a half of no running and lots of icing, I felt ready to run easy and warm up my tendon and get it back to running strength. I started on Thursday at 90% body weight and slowly built up each day until today when I could run 6 miles at 100% body weight with no problems. Of course it can get quite boring running on a treadmill in a garage but I was so happy to be able to run again that the time flew by. Putting in a Metallica CD also helps.

And now, amazingly, I am ready to hit the trails again if only softly and slowly at first. Despite the two week layoff I did not get depressed about this injury. I willed myself to be as optimist and positive as humanly possible. After all the brain is incredibly powerful and placebo works 40% of the time. I believed that rolling a little plastic ball under my foot and rubbing my ankles with the back of a metal spoon would heal up my tendon and lo and behold it's healing.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Still Hurting Post Napa

Since the Napa Marathon, I've had a stubborn pain in my left foot that has not yet healed. I have run perhaps a total of 10 miles in the last 11 days and most of those were pretty uncomfortable. It's not yet driving me crazy but it is making me a little impatient. Right after I finished Napa, my left foot was so painful I could not walk a single step. I was afraid I had broken a bone or caused a serious fracture. However, there were no specific spots or points of pain just a general soreness and some swelling on the bottom of my foot. After a few days of NSAIDs, ice, compression and elevation, the swelling died down quite a lot and I was able to resume walking somewhat normally. Running however still caused pain on my heel and on the outer part of the ankle and twisting my foot in certain directions is uncomfortable. 

Thankfully, I can always ask my in-laws for expert medical advice and their opinion/unofficial diagnosis is just general inflammation of the muscles and tendons from running 26.2 miles downhill on a cambered road. I probably have a spot of tendonitis and irritation of the peroneal tendons. It seems to make sense because I only feel pain now when my foot is twisted and I am stretching the outside of my foot/ankle. The root cause of this injury is probably a combination of tight calf muscles and weakness caused by an ankle turn on a trail run a few months ago. It seems to be getting better each day so hopefully I will be hitting the trails and roads again soon. 

The most disappointing aspect of my prolonged layoff after Napa is having to pull out of a treadmill 100K relay race that takes place tomorrow. I was on a very strong team that probably could have pulled out the win and gotten a $10,000 prize. However I knew by Tuesday that there was no way I could run 20K strongly on Friday and it would be better to look for a replacement rather than wait to see if I could start on Friday. So I gave up my spot and thankfully found a great and enthusiastic substitute so that at least the rest of my team could still compete. I feel bad for letting down my teammates, plus the event sounded quite fun and interesting but I decided if I couldn't run one mile without discomfort there's no way I should do the race. 

So peroneal tendons, get better soon. I've got many more goals to accomplish and I can't do it without you! 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dusk Wind Farm

While perusing the internet last night, I came upon this wonderful website Over the course of a year, chef and filmmaker Daniel Klein made a series of videos about good and sustainable food.

The episode about Dusk Wind Farm was especially fascinating for me. Sean and I have a life goal of being farmers some day. It was interesting to see Joel Salatin's pastured poultry principles (which were outlined in The Omnivore's Dilemma) put into practice.

Dusk Wind Farm

Sunday, March 13, 2011

When Life Hands You Oranges... Make Marmalade!

This time of year in Marin the citrus trees are heavy with fruit and everywhere around town are many varietals of lemons and oranges. Unfortunately, a lot of this bounty is never eaten or used and instead ends up falling on the ground or being tossed in the compost heap. I am a keen fruit gleaner and all of our friends who have fruit trees are subject to my eager demands for unused fruit. Aside from being a champion fruit eater, I love putting up preserves like jam, marmalade and apple sauce. Home made preserves taste so much better than store bought and you know exactly what ingredients have gone into them. This has contributed extensively to my elitist attitudes towards store bought food.

Today, I made a batch of marmalade from some blood oranges we picked yesterday at a friend's house. Last year, we picked almost 100 pounds of fruit from our friend's tree and made over 100 jars of marmalade. Blood oranges from the farmer's market go for $2 a pound at least, so knowing friends with productive fruit trees is economically beneficial! Those jars of marmalade then became our wedding favors as well as our home marmalade supply. Just last week, we polished off the last jar so thank goodness the oranges are ready for the picking again.

The marmalade making process is quite simple, I think it is one of the easiest preserves to make. I had a great teacher in my mother in law Joan who is a master of horse riding, weaving, preserve making and all other peasant skills. First I take a couple of pounds of oranges, cut them in half and juice them with an antiquated juicer that any good mechanical engineer will tell you is very poorly designed. It's pretty, but the lever arm is terribly awkward plus it is way too top heavy and tips over if you press with too much force. I squeeze as many oranges as it takes to get 4 cups of juice and then scrape all the membrane away from the peel. The best tool for scraping is a grapefruit spoon. Be careful though, accidental hand gouging may occur.

Juice and peel
Then, I slice the peel into thin strips. The easiest and fastest way to do this is with a pair of scissors, just snip away as you turn the orange peel halves. The sliced peel goes into a large pot along with enough water to cover, the lid goes on and it's time to wait for the water to boil. While waiting for the water to boil, I grab some empty mason jars and give them a good wash with hot water and soap and then find the lids. Once the water has come to a boil, I pour the peels into a colander to drain, pour the peels back into the pot and add the sugar. The peels cook with sugar for about 20 minutes, until they are tasty and candied. Then the juice is added, and the whole thing cooks for another 40-50 minutes. 
sliced peels
Once the marmalade has achieved the right consistency, I spoon it into the mason jars, screw on the lids and place them on the counter to cool. Getting the right consistency is a matter of trial and error, experience and tasting. I don't mind the tasting part at all. My favorite marmalade making treat is warm marmalade over greek yogurt.

Enough jars for one day
Once the marmalade has cooled to room temperature, I put them into the fridge where they will last for many months. Yes, our garage refrigerator is filled only with jam, marmalade, chutney and champagne. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Napa Marathon Race Report

I have been thinking about this race report for a couple of days and it has been difficult to arrange my thoughts into a cohesive statement. This race was both a success and a failure. I achieved a big PR but just missed my goal of getting the Olympic Trials B standard.

Napa is the 9th marathon I have completed. It is still a bit surprising to me when I talk to people around Marin and they wonder if I have ever run a marathon before. Back on the East Coast I didn't call myself a runner but instead always referred to myself as a marathoner. The marathon is the reason I started running in the first place. Talk about setting lofty goals! Actually I started with the goal of doing an Ironman Triathlon but since I had never run before in my life, I figured the marathon part would be the most difficult part and thus, that is where I should start. My very first marathon was 3:33 in Cape Cod in 2005 on a very hilly course and there I met my goal of qualifying for Boston, and I ran it after starting from scratch less than a year before. For many years after that I purely focused on lowering my marathon time and building a lot of endurance. For the first couple years of my running life I probably ran more marathons than all other distances combined! I had a serious fear of anything short and the burning, lactic acid pain of intervals. I didn't even step onto a track until 2007. I never imagined that I would be able to continue taking down my marathon PR year after year until I had a chance of making the Olympic Trials.

The last couple of days before Napa I started being very careful with my diet. I have had gut issues in the past and recently discovered that cutting out gluten before races and hard workouts helped to minimize my digestion issues. In fact, I am now a firm believer in the boring but effective pre-race Chicken and Rice diet. The day before Napa I ate eggs for breakfast and then several small meals of plain roasted chicken with white rice and plenty of salt. This allowed me to fuel up and top off my glycogen stores without the bloating that used to accompany my epic pasta-fests. I did a short jog in the morning with Camille, a great marathoner who flew into town to run Napa, and afterwards drove to downtown Napa to pick up my number. I did not hang around the Expo for very long, just a quick in and out. Once I got home I relaxed on the couch and watched silly vampire slasher movies. I believe I experienced the entire Underworld series that evening while eating a light dinner and packing up my things.

I used to pack every single item imaginable for a marathon and would end up lugging around a giant heavy bag all morning. Now, I travel light. If I don't need it on a long run, I won't need it during the marathon. I went to bed around 9pm on Saturday and set my alarm for the painfully early time of 3:15am. A very short time later I was wide awake at 3:00am. Ready to go. I felt already awake, excited but not jittery. I drank my coffee leisurely while listening to the pouring rain and Sean and I were out the door by 4:10. We hydroplaned several times on the freeway while driving to San Rafael to pick up Liz and that certainly started my blood flowing. I just started hoping that the rain would let up. We grabbed Liz from the park and ride and drove onward to Vintage High School where we were to catch a school bus that would take us to the start in Calistoga.

When we got to the high school, the buses were there and ready to go. I gave Sean a hug and kiss and boarded the school bus for what turned out to be a pretty long drive to the start. For the whole drive, Liz and I got to listen to a man in the seat behind us give marathon running advice to the poor woman seated next to him. I couldn't believe how much he had to say! It was quite amusing and Liz and I had a lot of whispered commentary about his one-sided conversation.

The start of the race was pretty uneventful. I visited the porta-potty, stripped off my sweats and did a couple of strides in what was now a light drizzle. It was finally light out now and the road was crammed with excited, cold runners. When the gun went off, I told myself to just hold back and stay relaxed. I did not want to get sucked out too fast and pay for it later. I saw Camille take off at a blistering pace, and a group of 2 or 3 women took off behind her. I was running around 6:40 pace for this first mile and once we passed the first mile marker I started working on picking up the pace and reeling in the runners in front of me. I checked my Garmin quite often to keep an eye on my pace but the rolling terrain called for more of an effort based assessment of pace.

The first 10 miles of the race flew by. I was constantly passing people and since it was raining, I was distracted from the distance. It was a beautiful morning to run through the vineyards. The course took a twisting path through the valley so there were many portions where I couldn't see that far in front. Nearing the halfway point, I caught sight of a tight group running in front of me. There were at least 2 women in this group along with a couple of guys and they looked like they were working pretty well together. I pushed it a little harder and slowly but surely began closing on them. Around mile 14.5 I made contact with this group just as we were heading up a big uphill. The head wind had picked up at this point and I desperately wanted to do a little drafting. I tagged on to the back of the group and found a little relief from the wind but then discovered they were starting to slow waaaay down. They were hitting 7 minute pace and that just wouldn't do. I reluctantly moved to the front of the pack and picked up the pace up the hill. The two women hung on to me and got right on my heels and followed me. I just pushed on at the pace I need to hit and waited to see if anyone would come share the work of pace making. Alas it was not to be and they could only draft off of me. I lost them around mile 18 and from that point I was pretty much all alone.

Through mile 20 I passed one more guy and then I saw no one. I hit the long straightaway stretch and really started to feel the head wind. My only company at this point was a race official on a bike. I could see no one ahead of me and I didn't turn around because I never look back in a race. It was time to suffer. I tried really hard and dug down to find enough energy to keep the pace but slowly and surely I was losing time. The last 3 miles were so brutally lonely and I started feeling the fear of losing the chance for the B standard. After mile 25, I knew it would be very very close, painfully achingly close whether I would slip in under 2:46. When I reached the neighborhood just before the finish I knew I had lost too much time and I wouldn't make it. I saw the clock, saw it tick over 2:46 and just wanted to scream but I was too intent on just crossing that line. 2:46:45. A lady immediately at the finish said "How does it feel to miss by 45 seconds?" I thought "Well, it feels awful but awesome at the same time".

I beat my PR by 8 minutes, but missed the standard by the smallest of margins. Only 2 seconds per mile. Just 45 seconds. Hey, maybe the course was long! I did finish in second place and was escorted to the media room for an interview, and I expressed my disappointment in not making the standard, but I was also elated to run so fast. To me, it still seems astounding that I can run such a time.

I gained a lot of confidence from this race. My diet before the race was perfect, my taper was perfect, my training went well, I went in healthy and I busted out a solo effort in less than perfect conditions. Better yet, I know I can continue to run big PRs.

I will take a week or so off, with some pool time and spinning time. I need to eat some ice cream and steak, get a little fat, sleep a lot and recover recover recover. And then, sign up for another marathon and go for it again!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

1,096 Eggs

Whenever we tell people we have chickens, the first question is always "How many eggs do you get every day?" The number varies according to the time of year and temperature but aside from a couple dark freezing cold winter weeks, we get 6-8 eggs every day. This inevitably triggers the next question "What do you do with all those eggs?" Well, for the most part, we eat them! Since our chickens started laying last October I have been keeping track in a spreadsheet their egg production and the latest grand total is 1,096 eggs. We have given away a couple dozen here and there but for the most part we have consumed them all. 

Sean and I typically eat a breakfast of two eggs each cooked over easy with duck fat rendered and saved from a roast duck we made a while ago. After two eggs, I'm fueled up and ready to go for a two hour long run (or more). The eggs help me stay much fuller than a carb meal and also sit quite easy in my stomach even if I am doing speed work. 

When the eggs start piling up in the fridge, I whip up some sort of a citrus souffle. I've gotten the method down to a total prep time of 15 minutes followed by 20 minutes of baking. 7 eggs and 35 minutes later a delicious, steaming fluffly tart and beautiful souffle is ready to eat. Once out of the oven, a souffle has never survived more than 5 minutes. We attack with soup spoons and the souffle never stands a chance. 

Some times when I am feeling peckish before dinner, I cook up a couple eggs and it holds me through until it's dinner time. If I am planning ahead, I will make some hard boiled eggs. Those don't usually last long though... I have superb hard boiled egg eating powers. I could give Cool Hand Luke a run for his money! 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Confidence Booster

For most of the past 3 years I have been fortunate enough to have a perfect training partner. My husband Sean is a Mill Valley native, the love of my life and just fast enough to challenge me. We have logged thousands of miles together on trails and roads. As any runner knows, the biggest challenge can be the boredom of logging miles alone. Being married to your training partner is the perfect situation: you eat the same things, go to the same events and can prevent each other from hitting the bars until 2 am the night before a big race. Alas for the past couple months Sean has been side lined by a stubborn achilles injury that is healing ever so slowly. This might be a bit selfish, but I want him to heal quickly so I can have my training partner back! Aside from keeping each other in great shape, a good run together is over an hour of quality time spent talking about everything and nothing, bouncing ideas off each other and seeing gorgeous vistas.

Sean and I after the 2010 Napa Marathon
Luckily I have quite a few fast and friendly running buddies who are always ready to hit the trails with me. When my training hits 80-90 miles a week it's wonderful to have talkative company for as many miles as possible. My great coach Mark has also been a tremendous help for many long hard tempo runs and interval workouts. When we're on mile 9 of a tempo run at 6 minute pace and I am huffing and puffing, he's giving me pointers on my form and telling me to draft behind him because we're about to turn into a headwind. And did I mention the detailed splits every quarter mile? I know we've done a big workout when he finally admits to being just a little bit tired at the end.
A fun group run to the top of Big Rock Ridge
However some times schedules don't align, events intervene, the stars aren't crossed and I just have to hit the run alone. Yesterday, I had a long workout on the schedule and no training partners lined up. I was nervous about it because I some times have a hard time keeping a good pace when I'm running by myself. I spent the whole night before worrying about the weather, the light, the wind, the rain... I was almost wishing I would wake up to a hurricane so I could have some sort of excuse. When the day dawned bright and clear I knew there was nothing to do except get out the door and bang out the run. I took my running buddy for the day, my Garmin 410 and hit the bike path. The Garmin and I have a love/hate relationship. Some times he refuses to work and freezes just as I am getting out of the car at the trailhead. Some times all he wants to do is display my pace when I want to see what mile I am on. And some times he's just plain out of batteries. Talk about high maintenance! But when he's working perfectly, he's almost as good as a real life training partner.

During my 2 mile warmup I kept sneaking glances at the Garmin. I always get nervous during the warmup; when I'm all stiff and feel heavy and the adrenalin hasn't hit my muscles yet and the pace reads something closer to 8 minutes than 6 minutes. But after a couple of miles and a couple of strides things shake into place and I know I'm ready to go. I love to run mile repeats, tempos and long intervals on the Mill Valley - Sausalito bike path. It's a couple of miles long with no cars, great views and you can see pretty far ahead and get a nice gauge on how far you have to go. The wind can be challenging and yesterday morning it was swirling around in all directions. During my first 3 mile segment I was supposed to run it at 5:45 pace but the headwind kept changing and while it was not unbearable it threw my pacing off a little and I could see that my Garmin was all over the place: anywhere from 5:35 to 6:00 pace. But once I finished the three miles my average pace turned out to be 5:50. Close enough.

I then did my classic Cascade Park loop through Downtown Mill Valley for the next 6 miles. I love to run through the downtown area just to see what is going on, who's out and about and whether any cute new stores have opened. I don't think I've actually ever shopped at those little boutiques downtown but it's always nice to dream. Once I got back to the bike path, I'd already put 11 miles under my belt and felt ready to tackle the last part of the workout: three mile repeats with 1 minute rest. I downed a Gu Roctane and turned out 3 miles at 5:35 pace with nary a sore muscle. Hmm it turns out tapering and recovering actually works! I feel so ready for Napa, ready to run faster and harder than I've ever run before.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Wether the Weather

Dear Climate Change,

I humbly request that you take us runners into consideration when altering the weather patterns of Marin County, California. I have noticed you experimenting the past couple of months and would like to offer some suggestions:

1. Winter temps between 50 and 60 degrees. It has been scientifically proven somewhere at some time by a couple of somewhat qualified exercise physiologists that optimal running performances occur at 55 degrees. For the sake of variety, give us a ten degree window.

2. Wind speed below 8mph. Anything above 8 and we are expending too much energy!

3. Foggy and cloudy in the morning, sunny after 10am. I like it not too sunny for my workouts, wouldn't want to overheat after all. But we do need our vitamin D and nothing beats a sunny run around the lakes.

4. Summer temps below 80. I like a hot summer day as much as any other person but there's hot and then there's TOO hot.

Some things I wouldn't mind never seeing again:

1. Snow. I have experienced enough snow for a lifetime after 6 years of living in Boston. Keep it in the Sierras, please!

2. Pouring rain when it's under 40 degrees. I believe in the necessity of rain. As a gardener, I welcome it. But could you keep it to a light drizzle?

3. Gale force winds. It is very difficult to move forward into a 30mph headwind. However, if suddenly there were a 30mph south blowing wind on the morning of March 6th, 2011 I won't complain about it too much.

Thank you for your time and consideration. If ever you need an extra dose of carbon dioxide, don't hesitate to ask.

Very sincerely yours,


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Long Delayed Chores

My winter garden has been suffering from the effects of heavy marathon training. A long list of tasks piled up while I was throwing myself into the cycle of long tempo runs, tune-up races and interval workouts. But what are taper weeks for? Catching up on those neglected tasks of course! Since the Napa Valley Marathon is a week and a half away, I have been incrementally cutting back to let my body recover and absorb the hard training from the last few months. And cutting back on running means more energy and time to devote to my garden. But I have to not go overboard on the shoveling, digging and bending; otherwise I will be toeing the line at Napa with the back of a 90 year old arthritic.

First up on the list of garden tasks was to mulch the new blueberry and kiwi plants. They arrived a few weeks ago as spindly little bare root twigs from Bay Laurel Nursery. Sean and I planted them in the garden and the weather obliging dumped inches and inches of rain. I am eagerly awaiting the day when I can go into the backyard and pick a basket of fruit. However given my skill at blueberry consumption we should have ordered 400 bushes instead of 4. Apparently blueberry bushes take up to 5 years to mature but once they do, one plant will produce many pints of fruit. I selected a variety of kiwi called "Issai" which is supposedly self fertile and will produce fruit without a male plant. (Kiwis come in female and male plants and usually a male plant is required for pollination in order for fruit to form). I am hoping the vines will like having the wooden backyard staircase for a trellis.

Young kiwi vine next to the stairs
My shallot bed was also suffering from a lack of weeding and it was getting difficult to distinguish the shallot plants from the intruders. I could have saved myself much labor by being more proactive and pulling the weeds when they were tiny but weeding is probably the farthest thing from my mind after a hard run. A particularly stubborn plant had decided to call my raised beds home and it was quite satisfying to grab hold of the stem and pull 8 inches of tap root out of the ground! Now the shallots have plenty of room to grow and no rivals sucking up water and nutrients.

Shallots are happy!
Mulching and weeding are both quite pleasant tasks but the final item on my pre-marathon garden chore list was MUCKING OUT THE CHICKEN RUN. Shoveling out 3 month's worth of leaves, wood shavings and 9 chickens' worth of poop is tiring and, to put it politely, really freaking gross. I suited up: tall rubber boots, work gloves, hat and weather resistant jacket with old fleece underneath. Armed with a big shovel and a bucket, I entered the chicken run and was instantly mobbed by 9 hens expecting food. I threw a handful of sunflower seeds into their coop and they all ran inside to stuff their faces. I shut the chicken door behind them to keep them out of the way while I got to work on the run. After a couple of bouts of rain, the floor of the run had turned into a thick layer of half-composted leaves and droppings. It was a bit smelly because of all the moisture and was definitely ready to be removed to the compost bin and replaced with a fresh layer of leaves. It took me quite a few trips with a 5 gallon bucket to clear out most of the run. I left the last corner for Sean, it was so thick and compacted I couldn't make a dent into it without throwing out my back. I hope the chickens appreciate my efforts and respond with lots of eggs! If not, off with their heads! Even though it's dirty work, I love having our chickens and even their poop. It is so wonderful to get a half dozen fresh eggs every day and all that chicken manure has made my vegetables very very happy.
That's right chickens, you better appreciate it your clean run.