TALES FROM THE TRAIL (AND SOMETIMES THE ROAD TOO)

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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Beauty Vs. Brawn

Sunday, we got a good downpour here in the land that seldom sees rain.  I know that we need the rain, but rain spoils things for me, especially since Mondays are one of the few days that I can get out and run.  As expected, all my local tails were CLOSED “due to wet and muddy conditions.”

Well, I had me a full tank of gas, so I thought, “Hell with it,” and headed up Ortega Highway in my beloved truck.  I know that I would have been better off staying home and putting in miles right out my front door.  I would after all, have time to get in some good mileage if I had chosen that route.  But what I wanted was beauty, not brawn. 

I pulled into Blue Jay campground an hour later, and felt calm and joyful being back to this lovely location.  The ground was still muddy, a few campfires smoldered beneath overly cloudy, cold skies.  Gosh, it had to be 50 degrees F!  (I’m so sorry – I know that isn’t cold for the rest of the world, but it is cold here).  Branches were strewn about; no trees were down, though a few widow makers hung precariously from branches above.  I felt so at home that I could have pitched a tent and stayed a week.  

I cannot adequately relay just how happy and peaceful I felt.

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Since hubby had indicated that he would pick up the boys from school, I took off down San Juan Trail feeling like I had all the time in the world.  I did not see another soul on the trails as I made my way toward the San Juan / Old San Juan Trail junction.  But I was not alone.  The forest was alive with sound – critters scrambling through the brush, birds singing anonymously among the trees.  Listening to this music, I had no desire for man-made music, and kept my ear buds hanging over my shoulders. 

I spotted my destination, Sugarloaf Peak, a mile out.  It took some trial and error to find the path that leads to the entrance at the top.  Then it was climbing time, scooting over boulders, grabbing onto branches.  My legs were scuffed with scratches.  Oh the glory. Winking smile 

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0223151244-00I summited Sugarloaf Peak and took a seat on a large flat boulder. I could see Los Pinos Trail climbing up the mountain on my right.  I could see as far as the Pacific Ocean, with ridgeline overlapping more ridgelines reaching out to my left.  I had my beauty.  And it took some brawn to get it.  (The best of both worlds).

The wind picked up; the temperature dropped.  And I simply sat there on that rock and took it all in – the sights, the sounds, the chilling wind.  It was a little spooky, like the wind might swoop me off my rock.  I dug around in my pack and replaced my cap with a wool beanie, and I was good for the cold.  Then I sat some more.

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Eventually, I felt that I ought to get going – not that I wanted to go (I could have stayed all day).  I just needed to get back to reality because I do have a wonderful family back at home (young sons that I desire to see, since I miss out on so much with this crazy work schedule).  And I also had a meeting with my boss later in the afternoon.  

I finally glanced at my garmin when my feet hit Old San Juan Trail.  It read 1:10.  Flabbergasted, I thought to myself, “This must be time elapsed – it CANNOT be 1PM!”  But, alas it was after 1PM (time elapsed was much greater).  One might think that since it was so dang late, that I would have picked up my step a bit.  But I did not.  Instead, I lackadaisically ran back (because that is the way roll) toward my truck. 

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At the Old San Juan Trail / San Juan Trail junction, I decided to take a so-called short-cut by going straight up Old San Juan instead of meandering San Juan.  (Okay, we have two trails out here called “San Juan Trail”, not to mention an additional “San Juan Loop.”  We have an older, less travelled trail, the original San Juan Trail, that we call “Old San Juan Trail.”  And we have a new San Juan Trail that we call “San Juan Trail” or “New San Juan Trail”.  Just thought I’d straighten that out).  Now, speaking of so-called short-cuts, I know darn well that “short-cut” never really means that the trip is shorter in time.  In fact, short-cuts are usually much more difficult.  And that it was.  But it was a lovely struggle getting back to the truck.  All that beauty was well worth the brawn. 

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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Training for Sycamore

I’m trying to put in some last minute miles.  How it will help me for next week . . . well, I don’t think it will.  But I am going to show up at next week’s race anyhow.  Reason 1) because I am running a relay with my friend Hank which will be fun (and as such will only need to do half the course), and 2) the Sycamore 100k is Dirty Feet Productions’ new race – and I want to support Jessica Deline, the race director.

If it wasn’t for Jessica, I may not have put in ten miles along these awesome trails on Friday.  They were tough miles (because I am so DANG tired), but they were awesome and worthwhile.  Trail miles always are, and I might have never known that. 

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Before Jessica Deline, like Friday’s trail, I was mentally sensitive.  I was scared to death to venture out in the wilderness alone.  It all started like this (not Friday’s run, but my first trail run): In an effort to get trained on trails (because I had stubbornly decided that I HAD TO run the Calico Trail Run, as I had camped there when I was in the fifth grade, and it made a big impression on me), I sought out other runners for help.  I searched the internet until I stumbled upon a Yahoo group, called OCTR (Orange County Trail Runners), which was founded by Jessica.  The group was free, so I signed up right away, and some time in June 2008, I signed up for a group run in Peter’s Canyon. 

I got lost on the way to Peter’s Canyon, parked no where near where the group was supposed to meet, and anxiously looked about for any group of runners.  Feeling defeated, as I had missed my chance to hit the trails with a group, I stubbornly decided to run them nonetheless.  I. WAS. SCARED. TO. DEATH.  Seriously, I didn’t know what was going to get me – a rattle snake, a mountain lion, an axe-murderer?  I think that I may have even picked up a stick as I headed off down a trail that was surrounded by tall dry, brown grass.  I remember meeting two women coming up from the trail.  And I asked them if it was safe to venture there, to which they seemed hesitantly to agree that it was okay for a while if I was alone. (hehe!)

The first hill nearly knocked me to the ground, panting.  Those were the days that I thought I needed to run every inch (I have since wised-up Winking smile).  My confidence grew as I made my way around the lake.  Each step was exciting and offered something new – a strange plant, a lovely boulder.  I asked every group that I came up on, “Are you the Orange County Trail Runners.”  Finally, I came upon a group, and they answered “Yes!”  It was a small group, consisting of Jessica Deline, Tom Fangrow (the guy who since taught me almost everything I know on the trails), a swimmer named Laura (that I ran with one more time), and a couple more males.  I kept up with the group fairly well because I was a road runner back then with a much quicker pace.  They all carried jugs of water or packs on their backs.  And they ALL wore shorts.  I only wore pants back then – lesson learned on this day:  don’t wear pants running trails (not unless it’s snowing!).  Tom asked me on that first day, “Where’s your water?”  I laugh now at my answer:  “I don’t run with water.”  Little did I know that you can die trail running without water.  I went on to run some solo miles with Tom that day when the group ran back to their cars.  I put in 9 miles total (my long run on the road was 14 miles).  For several days afterwards, my glutes ached to lower myself into a chair.  I felt exhilarated.  I couldn’t wait to get back out on trails, which I did about a week later, at Aliso/Wood Canyons with Jessica, Tom and Laura.  This time, I wore shorts.  And I carried water. 

Oh my gosh, little did I know how that day in Peter’s Canyon would alter my existence.  I cannot imagine a life without wandering about trails all by my lonesome.  And I cannot help credit Jessica and Dirty Feet Productions for helping me find this part of myself.  And for that, I ran on Friday so that I could somehow go out and attempt the Sycamore 100k and be a part of Jessica’s new race.  Thankfully, I have an awesome partner in my relay who will probably make it possible for us to finish the race within the time requirements. (Yay Hank!) 

Friday’s run:

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Before trail running I was like this tiny caterpillar I came across on Meadows trail as I made my way along this oh-so-tiring 10+ mile trip in Aliso and Wood Canyons:

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Thursday, February 19, 2015

I am Fifty

Monday I completed my fiftieth revolution around the sun.  It was a good day. I felt fortunate to have made it 50 years.  So many people are not so fortunate.  The day came as a holiday (President’s Day), which was also a good thing, because I got out for a run with my friend Sheila, then spent the rest of the day with my family (pretty much just lounging).  Sheila and I ran ten miles along Arroyo Trabuco Trail out in Las Flores and Rancho Santa Margarita, a trail often travelled by myself.  We chatted during nearly all of it.  Arroyo Trabuco, unlike myself, was in full glory, abounding with spring.  The creeks were full, and the grass grew tall in the meadows.    A great place to complete my 50th trip around the sun. Red rose

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Lessons Learned

Can someone please remind me that I need to run every single day.  It screws my head on tight.  Otherwise, I go around with a loosely screwed on head, and I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.

Seriously!

Being a school holiday, I left the house with the boys still sleeping and hit the trails in Wood Canyon today at 9:30AM.  It felt like summer with a slight breeze.  (By the way winter – please do not skip us completely).  

Wood Canyon was crowded with hikers (twenty plus!) and mountain bikers as I headed up Cholla Trail on my way to the ridge (known as West Ridge).  As I suffered up that short trail, I passed two struggling mountain bikers – one guy laughed and said “Vamos!!”  He walked his bike up a super steep portion, while the other stood by his and rested a bit.  I thought to myself, I know that spot – don’t worry, there is someone you can pass.  There is always someone you can pass.  (Anyway, I had translated “Vamos” as the command, “Let’s Go,” however but wasn’t sure, because I had always thought “Vamonos,” was the word that meant “let’s go.”   At home, I researched the two words and found that Vamos is not so much “let’s go,” but instead, “we are going.” That’s the new thing I learned today, besides the new thing that I learn all the time, which is that I really should run every day. Smile)

Anyway, my run helped lift stress right off my shoulders.  Spring flowers littered the hillsides and the deep blue ocean stood out sharply against the pristine clear skies and the rocky outline of Catalina Island.  It felt like life was grand, and that all the things that weigh had vanished.

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I made my way to Top of the World, recalling once when the two guys I met earlier on mountain bikes passed me.  I paused here and there for a photo, and delighted in the fact that I had my legs moving beneath me up and down rolling hills once again. 

On my return, I passed my two mountain “Vamos” bikers – this time I headed down Cholla as they headed back up.  They stopped me and laughed, stating that every time they’d see me, I was up ahead of them and they would remark – “she passed us again!”  I had no recollection of passing them again, and remarked that it must have been during the times I took the side trails off of West Ridge.  These guys, by the way, were out for a tough route today with three (3!) trips to Top of the World. 

One of the side trails off of West Ridge on the way to Top of the World:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

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I ended this run with slightly over 6.5 miles completed and about 1,000 feet of elevation gain.  I ended today’s run with this:  toward the bottom of Cholla I spotted a robust young lad (very young, as in elementary school) making his way up Cholla.  A man, who was probably his father, followed closely behind.  And then a little ways down, I ran past another young lad (about the same age as the first).  Red faced, and appearing like he might burst into tears, he struggled, trying to push down on those pedals in an attempt to traverse up the hill.  Passing I said to him, “this might be a good place to get off the bike and walk – it will be more worth your effort.”  It seemed like relief set in when he realized this was an option.  His face relaxed, his shoulders lowered.  Very quickly, he hopped off his bike and strained to push it up the toughest portion of Cholla.  Remember those times when you thought you had to run every second (or ride, in this case)?  It took me a long time to realize that when running was going to lay me out on the trail, it was wiser to go ahead and hike so that I could run later.   I hope this boy learned that lesson today. 

Lessons learned.  Winking smile

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Green!

So busy lately I haven’t had much time to run.  I squeeze in trips to the gym here and there – but the trails are just a memory.  I wish that I could blog about my last run, which was last Saturday, but I don’t recall much (though my garmin says it was 11.13 miles).  I do vividly recall one thing.  There was so much green.  Finally, green is here! (I hope it’s still green by the time I finally hit the trails again Winking smile)

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Calico Trail Run 2015

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESI will  cut to the finish right away and end the suspense.  I completed my 7th consecutive Calico 30k trail race last Sunday.  I did worry about this one, that I might get pulled due to time requirements.  I tried not to think about that, but the fear lingered in the back of my mind.  At the rate I’d been going and due to the difficulty of this course, I figured I would be lucky if I “ran” this one in less than 6 hours.  I didn’t want to worry about this though – I’m not that kind of runner.  I have always been in it for the adventure. 

We arrived in Calico Ghost town the afternoon prior to the race.  By “we” I mean, my three sons, my husband, our nephew and middle son’s friend.  After taking in some sights – visited the old school house, rode the train, ate dinner – we headed back to the bunkhouse.  I was early to bed, and woke often, at least once an hour, maybe more.  I woke for good at 5:45 AM.

As I walked through the desert into Calico Ghost Town, I didn’t much feel like running.  Knowing that this course runs long, I was looking at close to 20 miles through the desert.  I’m talking uphill in sand, boulder hopping through canyons, kind of trails.  Tough stuff.  For a second, a milli-second, I considered walking back to the bunkhouse and skipping the race.  But then I faced the facts.  I would never be able to handle watching the runners come through the finish as we took in the town’s sights.  The self-bashing would be immense.  

At a complete disadvantage physical fitness-wise, I needed to come up with a plan – something to get me to the start line and through the next twentyish miles.  Pacing plans were out of the question – my pace was too slow for a “plan.” 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThis is what I came up with:  BE PRESENT.  I had to be there on the trails, not inside my head, not ahead of myself, or looking back.  It was essential that I focus on my step – my current step.  I had to be there.  And there I was – in the present, running down an asphalt road out of Calico.  I saw Steve Harvey, and a few other friends, including followers of this blog that I was so fortunate to meet for the first time.  It was a lovely beginning with a nice pace to start (can’t beat a downhill asphalt start Smile ).

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I stayed so focused in the present trekking through that soft sand, that I didn’t turn on the music until mile 8.  MILE EIGHT.  I didn’t even notice the music’s absence.  Instead, I looked for hard spots in the sand, which were mainly off trail.  Believe me, if they were easily accessible, I was off trail to run the hard stuff often (And I was not the only runner doing this).  I chatted some with other runners, and I focused on covering 4 miles in the first hour.  I did that, plus some, coming in at 4.5 miles after the first hour. 

I ran into the first aid station thirty minutes shy of the cutoff.  Stopping briefly, I headed out with a pocket-full of Jelly-Bellies and a handful of Party Mix (Pretzels, Cheeze-Its, etc).  I hit mile 8 within two hours.  That’s when the trail grew more and more technical with slants, uphills, fist-sized rocks and boulders.   

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I made the half-way point at 2:15.  A negative split was pretty much out of the question (as was an even split) with the trail gaining in difficulty.   So, I knew that a sub-five wasn’t going to happen.  That was a-okay – remember I was worried about a six hour finish. 

I lost my four-mile an hour goal at about mile 12.  This did not concern me.  I could actually see other runners, as opposed to being so far behind that I was out there in the desert by my lonesome.  Being out there by my lonesome wouldn’t have been that bad though.  I have run this course enough times that I know it by heart, and the trail’s rugged beauty is breathtaking.  Unfortunately though, the trail grew so difficult that I had to focus so hard on my step that I could not look up often and enjoy the beauty.  But I did catch glimpses.  Winking smile

I love this spot – it comes right after a particularly technical portion, followed by a good climb.  At this point, the colorful views greet you just before a nice mile-long downhill: 

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As I summited the last big hill of the race (there would be a couple little hills to come), I met up with and passed two runners I had been trailing the entire race.  They asked when the next aid was, and I gladly gave out that information as well as a whole lot more, especially about the two miles of extremely difficult trail that we would encounter soon.  (Though I passed these young ladies, they passed me after the last aid station, which I was glad to see – I know, weird – weird as in, who is happy about someone passing them?  I was happy for their success.  Funny.  One of these young ladies told me that they chose this race to train for the L.A. Marathon.  I thought to myself, having not ever run the LA Marathon, that the Calico Trail Run will make the LA race seem easy – he,he).

Onward into that last aid station, I still held firm in my attempt at four miles an hour, though I had lost it recently.  When I hiked, I hiked determined and quickly, moving at a 15 mile pace.  I told myself, “If you can’t hike a 15 minute mile, then run!”  Glancing at my Garmin more often than usual, I sped up when needed, but never told myself to slow down.  Fatigue was setting in.

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I never felt stressed, panicked or scared during this race.  Yes, I grew irritated at times, and frustrated when some runners passed.  And yes, I was extremely tired.  Cramps were right at the edge – I kept them at bay by sipping my electrolyte water (3 Nuun tablets to my 70 oz).  And though I was not a particularly quick trotter, landmarks continued to come in much sooner than I expected.  If you run trails, or if you run at all, you know the sheer delight of coming upon a landmark all of a sudden when you didn’t expect it.  It’s a lovely thing!

Those last 4 miles of the Calico 30k are the toughest of the entire race.  The rocky trail slants one way, then the other.  You must zig-zag through the terrain, else eat dirt (or rather, rock).  At times, I braced myself against the canyon walls, but I never needed to stoop down and butt-scoot down a boulder.  I noticed a runner scoot down a boulder ahead early on, which was the sign that I needed to tell me that I could pass her.  Difficult terrain is my strength among the back-of-the-packers.  I passed her easily and ended up passing three runners total during this difficult canyon.  I was thrilled.  But the pressure was on to keep moving quickly.  Last thing I wanted is for runners that I passed at the end of the race, to over-take me toward the finish. 

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This pink canyon was the final landmark I waited for – it meant the technical aspect was over – that I was entering the final stretch:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

With about two miles remaining, I worked hard at leaving behind the three runners that I had recently passed.  And I passed another runner as I made my way back into Calico.  It was a difficult, final stretch, with a killer (though very quick) climb.  By the time I made it to the Calico parking lot, I felt that I could not run another step.  Two of my sons and my nephew met me at the base of the utility road back into town.  They marched up it with me, and kept a lookout for the “orange guy” (the last guy I passed).  I didn’t need him passing me so close to the end. 

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My oldest son ran me through town to the finish line.  He urged me to sprint.  All I had in me was a trot.  I crossed the finish line at 5:15, with 12 runners (out of about 45) coming in behind me.  When I finished, I was spent.  I had no more gas in the tank.  But what did I need gas for?  The race was over, and hubby was going to drive us all home.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

New Shoes, New Camera, New Bladder

I don’t try on my running shoes before I buy them, because local stores don’t stock my size (US women’s size twelve!).  I’m used to this.  Stores haven’t carried my shoe size since I was in high school (hence my first reason to love the internet – shoes!).  Sadly, in my youth, I continuously shoved my foot into shoes that were too small.  I wonder if this has anything to do with my continuous feet problems (that I am in continual denial over). 

Now, I purchase the same type of running shoe pretty much every time I get shoes online.  I always buy New Balance running shoes, always a neutral shoe with an 8mm (or less) heal-to-toe drop (that is my heal rests 8mm higher than my toe).   This formula (NB, neutral, 8mm) works pretty well.  So, I was surprised with this last purchase (New Balance Gore-Tex trail running shoe) when I experienced so much shin and calve pain on my last run which entailed 6 miles along Quail Hill Loop. 

Determined to get to the bottom of this, I decided on one last run before Calico.  First things first, because I have much to do in preparation for this family trip, I filled my truck with gas this morning and headed off to purchase a new camera.  Yes, I broke another camera.  Imagine that.  I set my heart on the Canon Elph.  I’m a nostalgic lady (reason for running Calico #7 even though it will kick my butt).  The Elph was the first camera that I ever smashed down onto the rocks, way back when, during my first Calico trail race in 2009.  Alas, Walmart didn’t have an Elph in stock.  So, I settled for a Nikon.  Then as I drove off to purchase a new replacement bladder for my hydration pack, I noticed that my newly purchased Nikon had only an internal memory and no slot for an SD card.  No, no, no!  I could not deal with that. 

To my dismay, the running store didn’t sell bladders.  I drove back to Walmart, stood in a long-ass line to return the camera I had just purchased.  Then I went back to Electronics and bought another camera (a Samsung).  Finally, at 11:30 AM, I was able to hit the trails in Wood Canyon to try out my new shoes once more.

0123151144-010123151220-00My calves and shins felt fine.  Really fine.  I felt sluggish, but that’s pretty much because I am out of shape.  The shoes were also a little stiff (because they are waterproof – doh!  I didn’t realize that I had bought waterproof shoes).  Best of all though, these shoes have tremendous grip on the terrain.  To really test out the grip, I took them for a spin on Rock It trail.  If I were to slip, Rock It would be the place. 

Good news.  No slippage. 

After my 6+ mile run, I headed off to pick up my boys from school, ran off to the Laundromat (our washer AND dryer are broken).  While the clothes dried, I walked across the street to Big 5 and bought a new 70 ounce bladder just in time for Calico.  

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