Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Three Girls Exploring the Coast

Look what I found amongst the mossy giant trees of the Olympics...real, colorful fairies!
I had a pretty magical weekend. I experienced the gift of seeing an amazing place through the eyes of a 6 and 3 year old.  Everything was so raw, present, and new.  I spent the weekend on the Olympic peninsula with my girls.  We got an early start Saturday morning and caught the Port Townsend Ferry, stopping to do some food shopping for the trip.  We also stopped in Port Angeles to do some Rainshadow Running Propagandice: I dropped off fliers for the trail races at the two outdoor/running stores in town.  Then we hit the road and drove the 2 1/2 hours to Lake Ozette, which is about 3 miles from the coast. We checked in at the Lost Resort, where we had rented a one room cabin for the night, then I quickly organized our hiking backpacks and grabbed a few coats, as it was already 3:30pm and we still had 3.2 miles to hike to get to the ocean.  I wanted to get there with plenty of time to play on the beach and still make it back to the cabin before dark (7:30pm-ish).
It took us 1 hour 30 minutes to hike to the beach. About halfway there we could hear the crashing of the waves, the melodic sounds inspired us to continue onward and reminded us how close we were getting.  Keep in mind that 3 miles for a 3 and 6 year old is like, oh, a third of their lifetime!  Three miles to them is the equivalent of an ultra marathon to me.  Little Stella hiked all the way to the beach, despite my offerings of a ride in the backpack.  By the time she reached the beach, she was beyond excited, exclaiming over and over when she caught sight of the ocean, "We did it, we did it!"  She was so excited to see the water that she ran ahead eagerly and aggressively anytime the trail turned from wood planks to gravel or dirt.  Most of the trail was an elevated wood plank trail.  Nice kind of trail you'd think, except that we were hiking it in March and it was super slippery.  Stella fell innumerable times, despite my warnings: "Walk!  It's slippery!  If it looks wet you should be walking."  Marina fell, I fell.  Yes, it was very slippery.  One time was holding on to Stella's hand and I slipped.  Without thinking I used her as leverage to keep from falling on my face.  Luckily we all stayed upright.
Stella runs ahead as we near the beach
You can imagine that when the trail turned to nice, solid soil Stella was out of sight.  She was set on beating us to the ocean, little arms beating at her sides, legs circling the ground.  That girl is tough.  3 miles for a three year old is pretty darn good.  I captured a super cute video of her exclaiming, "We did it!  We did it!" over and over as she ran toward the ocean.  She was a good 50 feet ahead of me, so I couldn't see her, but I could hear her voice, unusually high pitched from the excitement. Here's the little video I took of the kids meeting the ocean:

From the beach trail head, we hiked to a grass covered rock that towered above the beach.  It had a steep, treacherous trail leading to the top and I had to all but hold Marina back to keep her from going up alone.  I ended up folllowing her, holding Stella on one arm and grasping the trail with the other arm to keep myself on the rock.  The views from the rock were incredible!  And I began to plan my return trip, where I would run the loop from Lake Ozette to Sand Point then North to Cape Alava and back to Lake Ozette (9miles) then add in a run around the lake, another 9 miles or so... for now walking would have to do.  Plus, we had more exploring on this beautiful sunny afternoon.
The thought passed through my mind that perhaps I was being a bit irresponsible as we three scaled down the rock to get back to the beach.  I was able to help one girl down at a time, safely.  We found a rope tied to an overhanging log that served as a great gymnastic toy until Marina smacked Stella in the face with it (by mistake of course).  By then we had discovered a teeter-totter log.  Marina was able to give me a pretty good shake while I sat on it.  We made it into a balance beam and I walked on it while Marina rocked it ferociously.  I'm definitely revisiting that log!  Super fun!
Marina Mermaid
On our way back to Lake Ozette, we spied a eagles' nest and two full grown eagles.  Unfortunately, it may be hard to see in this picture.
By this point it in the hike it was going on 6 PM and Stella's feet were cold so we headed back to our backpacks by the trail head, fueled up on snacks for the 90 minute hike back and set off.  I kept the girls entertained on the way home by telling outrageous stories of athletic adventures including the story of the man who cut off his own arm to get free from a tree, the ice climbers who went through unimaginable tribulations to get off the mountain, and stories from James' Hardrock 100 and Plain 100 mile races.  Marina's legs were aching and she really connected with the idea that "we can always do more and go farther than we think we can."
Fire makers, Stella gives the fire some air.
Welcome to our cabin
All in all, Marina hiked all 6.4 miles and Stella hiked 3 miles.  Interesting numbers considering their ages!  We returned to the cabin to make a fire outside and eat cold sandwiches, and for the adult, a few beers.  As the cabin had no TV, internet, or cell service, (I know what kind of uncivilized place were we staying?!?) we read some long stories and I tucked the girls in for bed.
Entering Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort
The girls after a lengthy soak in the hot pool
Sunday we made a stop at the newly reopened for the spring/summer season Sol Duc Hot Springs.  What a cool place!  I'm not sure what I liked more: the hot springs or the people watching.  There were a large number of foreign visitors speaking other languages.  Unfortunately, I was resigned to the kiddy pool with my 3 year old, who I was disheartened to learn, could only go in the small pool (99F) due to her age.  Apparently you have to be 4 years old and up to be in the 101F and 104F pools.  Surprisingly, we stayed plenty warm anyway and it probably wasn't too bad either considering that Marina was pretty intimidated by the people in the hotter pools.  For some reason, our little kiddy pool was populated by friendly and fat old ladies who were happily socializing and the warmer, deeper pool was populated almost exclusively by men.  So the girls were happy to stay in the kiddy pool with the friendly ladies.

Sunday was capped off by a lovely visit to my sister and bro-in-law who live in Port Townsend.  They are expecting their second child in a few months.  Per their recommendation we tried out a really sweet Indian restaurant, Muskan Indian Restaurant, before we caught the ferry home.  I highly recommend it! 
Port Townsend ferry ride
I really want to go back and run the trails and areas I explored last weekend.  I think I could come up with a great 20-30 mile run there, then make my way to the hot springs.....and Indian food.....

Some more pics from the trip:
The grassy rock
Picture courtesy Marina, not bad huh?
Howdy down there!
Another picture courtesy Marina, atop the grassy rock

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Chuckanut 50k: The Internal Battle

In my head there's a greyhound station where I send my thoughts to far off destinations, so they may have a chance to find a place to where they are far more suited than here. ---Death Cab for Cutie
I had a lot of fun running at Chuckanut this year, and I ran a very mental race.  I battled with my body over my level of "fatigue" just about the whole way. 

My Body: You are so tired! 
Me: I just started, there's no way I'm really tired.
My Body: Really?  Look that person's passing you!  How about some more fatigue in those legs, how do you like that? 
Me: I don't like that, that's not cool.  Sweet, a downhill!  
My Body: Cleater Road is coming up you know...then there's all those rocky and short, but steeeep uphills on the ridge, and mud on Lost Lake area.  Oh, and uphills and Chinscraper, and, and, and, and!

Much to my surprise, I want to come back and run Chuckanut again.  I enjoy the 6 miles of paved interurban at the start of the race and the 6 paved interurban back at the end of the race.  It gives me a chance to stretch out my legs and speed up, unlike much of the technical 18 miles of trail on Chuckanut Mountain.  Another part of the course that I love is the Chuckanut ridge trail, the 3 mile section of trail about 13 miles into the race.  It's a narrow, scenic (mountains, city of Bellingham), boulder and tree strewn section.  It's this part of the race where runners begin to spread out and it feels like there's a new focus in the race.  I am almost halfway though the race and with that comes an understanding of how the race will likely play out.  How much motivation do I have at this point in the race?  Let's hope it's a lot because otherwise it's not looking good for me!  The second half of the course is just as hard as the first half with the never-ending Lost Lake section, the steep, leg burning chin scraper, and the tedious 6 miles to the finish.
Race Elevation Profile
I felt pretty good by the ridge trail except for one key thing: on every uphill, however slight, my legs felt extreme fatigue.  I have a few guesses as to why.  I was pretty sick, more sick than I've been since I was a kid, for two very long weeks about 2 weeks before Chuckanut, then with only two weeks before the race I was left with...what to do for training?  To taper or not to taper?  I ended up being pretty inconsistent for those two weeks before the race, some days putting in good mileage and others not doing anything.  It was pretty frustrating.  I was sick during a time when I had planned to be getting in 80-100 mile weeks, THEN taper for Chuckanut.

Who doesn't have a sob story to play out before a race?  Everyone has an amazingly pathetic and very real reason to suck at any given race.  Question then is, will you use that story or make up a new one?  I think my 2011 Chuckanut landed somewhere between the pathetic sob story and the breaking free performance of the year.  So I did okay.  I had a lot of fun and I PR'd by 27 minutes from my perfornmance at Chuckanut last year.  I finished in 5:47:??.  That's 11.19 minute miles, about 30-60 seconds slower than I'd hoped for.  Pretty significantly slower than my goal, but still a good PR.  Last year, Chuckanut was my second ultra marathon ever, and I struggled with very uncomfortable abdominal discomfort, and, um some lengthy pit stops.  Because of my lack of experience and unfortunate tummy, I figured a PR would be pretty easy to come by.

I was on target pace (5:30) through mile 16 (after the ridge trail) then I lost track of my pace, started feeling that deep fatigue in my legs and I let the excuses take over.  Chinscraper was harder than I'd hoped, and the next 3.5 miles down hill I held back a little so that I could kick some ass on the last 10K. My conservative downhill pace paid off and I was able to average just under 10 minute miles (I know, slow for interurban, but lots of room for improvement).  It was fast enough that I passed runners in the last 6 miles and didn't walk, except for a few hills.

Chuckanut, I'll be back.  I like you, I really do.  I know you well and I think I can conquer you another year.  Watch out!

I also wore my new Inov-8 315's.  Loved them.  The perfect combination of lightweight minimalism with supportive protection.  Lovely.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

You thought running an ultra was hard! Volunteering at Gorge Waterfalls 50K

Terry Sentinella enjoys a wet bridge crossing at Elowah Falls
 I have a lot of respect for good race directors. First of all, imagine the challenge of finding a trail worthy of an ultra, one that people would travel across the US to run, for example.  Then mapping it and coordinating all the logistics of parking, aid stations, start/finish, etc.  Also, consider what often goes into putting on an ultra marathon the week before the event:

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My next pair of shoes
Roclite™ 315 Slate/Orange                  Ultra distance and off road running shoe providing high levels of comfort, upper support and grip. Medium profile cushioned midsole provides excellent under foot comfort while the fascia-band aids propulsion efficiency of the running cycle. Ideal for training and long distance running.
Colour Slate/Orange
Weight 315gms (UK8)
Sizes US-M 4-13 (inc.1/2s) 14

I know, I'm shamelessly promoting Inov-8 every time I talk about running shoes.  But there's a reason why:  they offer more options in natural running shoes than any other company.  Additionally, the colors and styles of the shoes are pleasing to the eye.  When you spend enough time running per week to qualify it as a part time job, it is rather important that you enjoy your shoes, both in the way they feel and in the way they look.  With Inov-8, you don't have to compromise on feel, fit, or aesthetic appeal.

On the 315's I just got---These shoes are pretty natural and minimal compared to most trail shoes, but they'll last longer and protect my feet better than most minimal shoes.  I have been using the Inov8 230's since late November and have gone through two pairs already.  They are so minimal that there is no reinforcement on the sides so they always rip in one spot.  They really aren't meant for the kind of training that I do in them, they are racing flats and aren't expected to take that kind of mileage (70-100 mile weeks).  Thanks to my friend William, I got to try on the 315's (pictured above) and they felt surprisingly light and flexible.  Very close to as flexible and light feeling as the racing flats, just way, way more durable!  And durable is what I need with all the trail running in mud with rocks and for miles and miles day after day.  My 230's ripped the first week I had them!  They are pictured (new) below. I was also looking for a natural/minimal shoe that would protect my feet as I barrel down the mountainside.  I don't want to be super careful about every little rock when I am racing.  Downhills are my favorite and getting a more protective shoe will help me enjoy them that much more.
Inov-8 F-Lite™ 230, "Mountain Racing Flat",

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Unfinished Business

I guess you could say I have some unfinished business at Chuckanut this year. And that is the only reason I am doing it.  I know, it is a good race and it's more competitive than most 50k's in Washington, and it is relatively close to where I live....but... it is missing that je ne sais quoi.  I think I can put my finger on it: my favorite mountain races make it feel like you are running out in the middle of nowhere, challenge your endurance and mental focus while stunning you with the beauty of the surroundings.  Chucky has some sweet views from the ridge, but the first 6 and last 6 miles are on the interurban trail, a relatively flat and fast section (that's right it's not really flat, just a lot flatter than the rest of the race).

If I look at my overall place for Chuckanut last year, a relatively easy mountain race with little elevation change (I think it's in the 3500's), it it is my worst placement out of all my 9 ultra marathons last year.  In fact, although it is only 31 miles long, I ran faster per mile at my first 50 miler just one month after Chuckanut!  Ok, admittedly, Chucky was only my second ultra, and only my third long distance race ever (one marathon and one 50k previously).  In addition, I felt nauseous from about mile 10 to mile 22, and had to make a rather long pit stop (tmi, I know).
Last year's DSR representing from Whidbey Island
So this year, I hope to enjoy the ride a lot more!  Now that I have a few ultras under my belt, I can appreciate the flat and fast start and finish to Chucky.  At least it won't feel like the race is dragging on like some tough ultras.  See you in a few weeks!