Friday, May 24, 2019

4MPH Challenge - The Art of Racing in the Rain (and Snow)

Kip was actually the one to say "hey I want to do this race" and I was like "cool, I'll come with you."  The 4MPH Challenge was previously run at Whiskeytown near Redding on a 6 mile out-and-back trail around the lake and over a hill.  Unfortunately the wildfires last year hit that area hard and the race needed to find a different location.

So they moved to a rails-to-trails course near Mount Shasta, an excellent choice.  We found it to be easier running and easier logistics, and the location is beautiful (we hear there are even views of the mountain sometimes).  It's slightly higher in elevation and there are a few cinder rocks, but that's about it for "difficulties".

Well, unless Mother Nature decides to dump cold precipitation on you for most of the weekend.  The forecast looked pretty dismal.  But hey, it wasn't raining during pre-race setup, what more could we really ask for?

And John came with us for the first time!  Of all the years to have John's help at the 4MPH Challenge, this was definitely the one we would have picked.  We came with an easy-up shelter for the first time as well, and that was another big help.

Set up and ready to run - the start of the Unlimited and "Up to 100 miles" groups:


Race briefing with course instructions - we were to stay left at the only intersection (it was well marked), turn around at the orange construction object (it could have used a "turn around here" sign on it), and come back.


And we're off, stampeding down the road like a herd of cows... that weren't in that much of a hurry...


We like the new course a lot.  It has gentle grades, slightly downhill, flat for a bit, then a long climb to the turnaround.  Total elevation per lap is somewhere over 200 feet.  Enough to mix up the walking/running in a natural way.  Doubletrack makes it mostly easy to have out-and-back traffic, although the area around the turn-around is the rockiest and not everyone was real excited to share the best lines with runners going the other direction.

John climbed up the railroad structure near the start/finish to capture some photos during the second lap:


Some of the faster guys:


Kip and I chatted away, oblivious of John watching from above:



We spotted him on the way back - hi John!


A little video showing how Kip was doing at the time:


Starting at lap 3 we were joined by the "up to 36 miles" and "up to 12 miles" divisions, quite an addition to the numbers but the course could handle the crowd just fine.  It was fun to meet some people and cheer on the folks who were going for distance PR's.


Still no rain, a pleasant surprise, and we enjoyed the cool temperatures.


Kip and I spent the daytime hours clearing rocks off the trail.  The running tracks weren't too bad, but there were a few red stones lying around that we wanted to get out of the way.  It helped that they were volcanic cinders and mostly lighter than other rocks.  We both improved our rock-kicking abilities with all that practice.

New rocks kept appearing in the trail as people unearthed and knocked them around, but we kept up the diligent work (and we suspect other people were helping clear the trail as well).

Kip noticed a pile of railroad spikes and decided to carry two back to the finish - if I hadn't been totally distracted by the kid wearing a horse head (somehow John didn't think to get a photo of that, or maybe I hallucinated it...), I would have thought this was funnier:


Our lovely rest spot:


And... it's raining (at least I assume that's why the guy is wearing the garbage bag):


We were ready for the rain, with plenty of clothes.  It never poured, just a nice smattering that continued for hours.  And the trail stayed in great condition, that was so nice.  There was one little puddle in the whole 2 miles, pretty amazing.

Coming back from another hour of easy running:


I did it, woo hoo!  :)


I played with my heart rate monitor and decided to try to keep my HR in a fairly narrow range, keeping me from running too fast downhill and also pushing me a bit more on the uphill instead of just walking the whole thing.  That seemed to be quite sustainable, and my average heart rate leveled out after 6 hours and stayed that way the rest of the day.  Some data collection to entertain me.

The 12-mile group finished after 5 of our laps.  Eventually the 36-mile group (and some people from the 8 am start) also cleared out.  It was fun cheering on the runners who were obviously working hard to complete their personal goals.

Darkness approaching...


Nighttime made the running a bit slower... the good news was that with all our rock removal work during the day and the reduction in runner numbers at night (to limit the new rocks that appeared), the trail was in great condition.  A couple spots up by the turnaround were still rocky, couldn't be helped, but otherwise we could run smoothly without worrying too much about obstacles.

The temperature slowly dropped.  I was really glad of my clothing choices - light wool top and bottom, good rain jacket, buff, and wool gloves.  Eventually I changed out the light wool top for a heavier one and added a fluffy hat.  I also tested out my new Blegg mitts (over the woolies) and they worked great.

Which is good, because way sooner than expected, the rain turned into snow!


The group was pretty small by this point, making for easy conversation with other runners.  Kip was still running well and a couple ladies were hanging in there.  The fire was still going strong!


Accumulation... oddly there was more of it at the start/finish and turn-around, but much less at the low spot in the middle of the 2-mile route.  Apparently we were right at the snow line that evening.


John did a nice job documenting the precipitation that night!


The group numbers held strong around 12-14 at the start of the evening, then after a few laps they suddenly started dropping off fast.  I believe we went from 12 runners to 7 (I think the last 2 women stopped here), then the next lap we lost 4 more including Kip.  He almost got back up to run one more lap to move up a couple spots but wasn't sure he could make it.  He was very happy with 64 miles, in any case.  Well done, Kip!

Here is where I made a couple tactical mistakes.  I always prefer a handheld light at night to more easily see the bumps in the trail, but on this night I was running it too bright.  Adding in the cold temperature, my flashlight didn't last the whole night like it normally does.  My headlamp was apparently slowly dying as well, so I spent half a lap trying to coax something, anything, out of them.  Luckily the trail was smooth because I couldn't see much of it for the 2-mile return trip!

Pleasantly surprised that I hadn't timed out, and actually had about 3 minutes to spare, I grabbed a new set of batteries and got the headlamp going again (with help from Ryan the race director - thank you Ryan! - as Kip and John were napping in the car).  The flashlight is rechargeable so it was done, and I foolishly hadn't brought a backup.  My bad all-around on the lighting issues.

Well, at least I had a bright headlamp.  I carried in my hand for a while but it required more dexterity/grip than the flashlight so I couldn't put my hand back in the Blegg mitt.  My fingers eventually started freezing up.  OK, I'll just put the light back on my head.  No problem seeing the trail, with as few rocks as there were, but the snow gave me major issues.  Constant bright flakes in my eyes, not so easy to deal with.

I was counting down the laps until daylight, and I thought I might actually make it.  But I was running short on time now, slowing down just enough (and losing time with headlamp fiddling) to start running up against the 1-hour cutoff time per lap.  I made a quick turnaround in between laps and went out again.  The 2 guys remaining, David and Tom, both looked great, but I figured I should stay in it as long as I could just to see what would happen.

The final straw was when my stomach started rebelling ever-so-slightly with the uphill exertion.  Uh oh, that's not easy to fix on the fly.  I pushed my speed right to the edge during lap 20, running as much of it as I could, wanting to reach 80 miles... as I approached the finish line I could hear the countdown for the start of the next lap.  8..7..6..5..4..3..2.. and I made it, yay!

That seemed like a good time to call it a night!

I found out the next day that David outlasted Tom for 30 hours and eventually won with 120 miles in the books.  Awesome!

We were never so glad to have John along to help crew during the race, and most especially to help us take down the easy-up and stash the gear in the car afterward as it continued to snow.  And drive us home.  Huge gratitude to John!

Fun race, thanks for suggesting it, Kip!

Adding a link to a video a fellow runner created from the race - nice camera work:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RtpVag2kXRg

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Yosemite - big waterfalls and big trees

Ah, Yosemite!  A magical place.  We've been only once before but I feel like I know it much better than that.  And yet I believe every time we go we'll find new and wonderful things we hadn't noticed before.

Last time was in the fall, and every spring since then we've been like "now would surely be a great time to visit Yosemite!"  With all the snowfall in the Sierras last winter, we knew we really needed to make an effort to get there.  It was a bit of a drive for a weekday overnight excursion, but it was worth it.

Yep, I can confirm that the waterfalls are running full blast - woo hoo!


There was really only one choice for us, the trail to Upper Falls.  Yes, it would also be amazing to see Nevada/Vernal Falls in the spring - one of many reasons to go back again someday.  Last time I believe the Upper Falls trail was closed because of wildfires.  Not today!

Enjoying the views on the way up, amid a bunch of granite droppings:


Waterfalls everywhere, big and small, we had no idea how many places water would drop off into the valley in the spring:


Such a beautiful day for a hike:


Upper Falls was fan-tas-tic... the booming noise, hearing rocks churning at the bottom, trying to envision just how much water was falling, and feeling mist from quite some distance (and even rain when the trail went through the trees) - wow!


John spotted a couple climbers across the way, well, that gave some sense of scale.  They look so tiny, and this is a zoomed in (and cropped) photo:


Fun trail up through the drainage to the side of the falls, I'm super impressed with how they built it, even if the short little steps aren't the easiest things to navigate when going back down.

Approaching the overlook to the falls at the top:


Well now, this view is right up John's alley:


Holy cannoli, the little trail goes to a viewing spot right next to the top of Upper Falls!  With a glimpse straight down to the canyon that is the middle section of the falls:


An attempt to capture a tiny bit of the experience:


The noise and volume of water were stunning.


Not to mention the views:


We had no idea it would be this good!


The river as it barreled toward the edge of the cliff:


John in his element:


I just love this area!


On Yosemite Point with an excellent view of Half Dome:


Hello Mr Raven!  We watched a raven soar and then turn upside-down, I kid you not, glide that way a short distance with its feet up in the air, then turn back right side up.  Always keep an eye on gliding ravens, especially right after they "squawk!"


Yep, pretty spectacular:


After the long hike back down to the valley floor, we took a slight detour to the bottom of Lower Falls.  Another fun experience - this one involving fast-moving wet wind!  Bring a rain jacket, it's loud and moist.


We camped at Wawona at a very nice site along a creek, quite pleasant.  That put us close to Mariposa Grove for a morning of big tree exploration.  Carrying weighted packs for training:


The paths around the grove and through the giant sequoias are so inviting:


Such beautiful trees!  Not as tall as redwoods but very wide:


Hello trees!


Even the dead ones are impressive (and it takes many years for them to decompose):


Now THAT'S a rootstock!


So beautiful:


Infinite diversity...


I love how some of the trees have names:


Not so much loving that someone once thought it was a good idea to do this, but glad we have stopped that practice:


Hey, here's where John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt sat around a campfire and discussed conservation!


This was the spot - thank you both!


There's a little "200 feet" sign on the left fence marking the approximate outer boundary of the root system of the Grizzly Giant in the background:


I've been watching too much Star Trek and Stranger Things, because this is a bit creepy...


With John for scale:


The Faithful Couple:


John was happy to have his saw along...   :)


With Marcy for scale:


Tree hugger:


Probably shouldn't pet the fisher... unless it's a statue:


Wonderful trip - thank you Yo!