Monday, July 31, 2006

Coming up 5's in Santa Cruz

I ran the Santa Cruz Mountains 50K this past weekend as my second race at that distance. Everything sorta came together: great course, inspiring trail companions and great weather. I actually went sub-6 hours and had a top-10 finish! OK, so there were only 33 people in the race including a number of first timers, but it still felt good to have a single digit result (7th place). Two of the first timers were a couple named Eric and April Lehman whom I had met earlier in the year at the Muir Woods Marathon. I was training for my first 50K there and they said they were considering doing one some time in the future. I guess they decided the future was upon them. Congrats to them both! Another first timer was Matt Baumgardner who was out there for a full 9+ hours. Congrats Matt! In an ultra, the real warriors are at the back. I wanted to stick around and cheer you in, but family duties and the Sunday night-Hwy17 traffic beckoned me home.

Oh yes, as for the fives. For the 50K my race number was 550 and my finish time was exactly 5:55:00. I wanted to try and finish on my race number, but just couldn't push it much more those last few miles. I swear the downhill came sooner during the first out-and-back section and what's with time moving faster in the final 3-4 miles?!? Oh well, I'm not about to complain. It was a great race and a great day.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Fast as road

...only softer on the knees, better scenery and with a nice cool bay breeze. What am I talking about? Running on the levees along the San Francisco Bay. The San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex includes a number of different refuges around the bay including the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge in the east and south bay. I have run numerous times in the east bay section starting from the visitor center and connecting with Coyote Hills near the Dumbarton Bridge. However, I have recently discovered another part of the same wildlife refuge that is down near my work in north San Jose. Actually, it is in Alviso just north of 237.

Yes, Alviso. Famous for great mexican food and the "great" smell from the nearby landfill. Well, it also includes a beautiful wildlife refuge that has an environmental education center. This section has a set of levees that connect up with the levees above the old Alviso Marina to make for a great dirt running path. It is flat, soft dirt, circling salt ponds and bay marshes. There are more species of birds in the area than I can count and (most importantly) it is upwind from the landfill. This is also a part of the Bay Trail that is a planned path around the entire bay. There are usually people riding bikes on the trails and a few walkers, but mostly it is pretty empty. The entire network perimeter is about the length of a half-marathon (hmmm...would be a good place for a race). The section near the marina is between 8.5 and 9 miles, but you can cross the railroad tracks to get over to the section near the environmental education center.

Truth be told it probably isn't quite as fast as running on the roads since you are almost guaranteed a headwind for part of the run. But, with recent weather here in California, that's a good thing!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Waddell-Beach-to-Big-Basin via Skyline-to-the-Sea

I decided to try to avoid running in the triple-digit heat today by driving up Route 1 and doing a run in the woods above the coast. If your not familiar with this trail, it is an absolutely gorgeous backpacking trail through the Big Basin Redwoods. The full trail covers about 33 miles one way, but I did just the last 11 out-and-back for a 22 miler. I didn't take a camera with me but this site has some very nice pictures.

I chose to do the trail starting from the normal end point at Waddell Beach and turning around at the Big Basin Park HQ. I did this so it would be mostly downhill on the way back and also so I would end my run at the beach allowing for the end of run, Pacific Ocean, ice bath. As I said, I picked this trail thinking that the shade of the woods would help avoid the heat. Well, what I discovered once I got into the dense cover was that I not only had not managed to avoid the heat, I had added a significant amount of humidity to my running weather. By the time I was half-way to the park I could already feel my shorts drenched. Luckily, I had my hydration pack (refilled before heading down) and my S!Caps to keep me from safe. On the way down the heat was getting to me and I ended up draining my pack. Luckily there is a nice cool creek that parallels this trail. I took a couple opportunities to dunk my head and even drink some of the water (I know, I know).

On a more moderate day, this trail would be an absolute pleasure. It is very moderately graded. It starts on fireroad that is shared with bikes and horses, but after 5 miles it is all hikers and it narrows down and becomes much more interesting. I ran part of this a number of years ago in the Big Basin Half Marathon. I am considering doing the Big Basin 50K in August which also includes this trail We'll see. I have to get through the Santa Cruz Mountains 50K (my 2nd) next weekend first!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Fear and tranquility in the dead of night

Inspired by resent blog postings from Catra and Miki, I decided that I wanted to do a night run up Mission Peak. Besides, I hadn't been sleeping well lately with the heat and too many thoughts roaming around in my head. I was a little worried about how my legs would feel given that I had done a longer-than-planned run in the heat the day before while undernourished and carrying too little fluid. I decided I would head out from my house and run the 3.6 miles to the start to see how I felt and decide how far I would plan to go.

I headed out around 9:30pm and couldn't help but keep glancing up towards the peak; my excitement growing the closer I got. By the time I arrived at the Stanford Avenue parking lot there was little question in my mind. I would do my normal route up the main trail (Hidden Valley) then around the back side along Eagle Trail to connect with the Peak Trail going up and over the top then connecting back to Hidden Valley. I find this route is the most runnable and easy to follow path to the peak. It measures just over 7 miles making the total round trip around 14 1/4 miles door-to-door.

I brought a headlamp along, but the first part of the trail was fairly well lit from the glow of city lights and I decided not to use it. This running in the dark on a lonely trail was a wonderful sensation. I expected to have a little fear being out on the trail at night by myself, but really what I felt was a sense of tranquility and being at peace. It reminded me of the times when I was growing up living on Mt. Diablo and decided to wander around in the woods at night. I thought I would scare myself, but what I found was more a feeling of wonder and fascination. I had no problem with footing and was able to keep a fairly good pace thanks to the cool night air. Going up and over "the saddle" it became significantly darker and I knew I would need the headlamp with some slightly rockier trail up ahead.

It took a little while to get used to the headlamp. I've only run with one once before during The Relay but that was on roads. Ive also mountain biked and climbed with lamps, but it is very different. On the bike the light is pretty well fixed on the bike and climbing is such a slower paced activity. It took a bit to get the angle right and I found myself much more likely to look around at the random noises along the trail. I think this caused me to experience a little more fear than when I didn't have the light on. Of course, I was also on the slightly more remote section of trail and there was definitely something moving around in the trees near Laurel Loop :-). At any rate, I reached the peak in a little under 1:05 and stopped to take in the scene. And what a scene it was! The view up there is always good, but this was something else. Like sitting alone in an empty theatre watching your favorite movie, but it seems completely new because of the unique perspective. The air was probably in the mid-70s and clear as can be. I really wanted to stay up there, just sit and hang out, but it was now after 11pm and I thought I should head home. A brief snack and then down the mountain we go.

Running downhill in the dark definitely slowed my normal tendency to charge down with reckless abandon. You can't look very far ahead and plan your flight path. I noticed that I tend to lift my feet a lot more while running in the dark. Perhaps this is good training for me as I tend to sort of scuttle sometimes, especially on the flat parts. After arriving back on the front portion of the trail down, I decided that I was tired of the little circle of light again. I turned it off and headed down the fireroad. It probably wasn't the safest way to go, but it is pretty smooth trail and I know it like the back of my hand. I think I was even able to move a little better with it off, cruising down at an enjoyable pace with a big smile. It startled me when an owl took off from a nearby tree with a screetch, but then I told myself that we were both just two creatures of the night enjoying a beautiful summer evening. There really is something magical about running in the dark like that. I definitely want to return and do a run up here without any lights during a full moon.

Running the road home was obviously not nearly as satisfying, but it did give me an opportunity to let my thoughts wander a bit more. I planned a track workout for my son's basketball team, talked with my wife in my head telling her how much I love her and miss her and promised myself that the two of us would do a night hike together when she returns from NY. Once home, I decided to cap off this near perfect evening with a midnight dip in the pool.

I definitely enjoyed the night running, the solitude, the sense of adventure and the feeling of newness that it adds to a familiar trail.