Saturday, April 29, 2017

Palo Duro Canyon training weekend

Leslie had the awesome idea to set up a training weekend in Palo Duro Canyon; happily it worked out great, and Tom was able to drive down from Denver.  Our Primal Quest team was all together for the first time!  And we all got along great, had some fun, had some laughs, ate too much good food, and survived Leslie's challenging training plan.

Day 1 was a nice long trek with interesting nav (Leslie hid the trail map from us but we peeked at posted signs occasionally, and we always listened when she "suggested" something different from what we were discussing).  Starting with a fun trail run and a visit to the amphitheater where the "Texas" play will be held later this summer:

Up the CCC-created trail to the mesa above the stage:

And our first set of excellent views - I was very happy to be hanging out in a desert climate for a couple days, and the scenery made it all the better:

You'll have to forgive the multitude of team photos, we might not all be together as a group for another while yet.  (Also please forgive whatever the h**l pose I have going on here)

More desert scenery, with a couple guest stars...

Beautiful colors, and while I'm sure it looks better in sunlight, we were thrilled for the cloud cover to keep the temperature reasonable.  There shouldn't be much need to heat train for this race, we don't suspect.

We hiked most of the trails on the east side and up the Rock Garden trail to the rim.  I believe this is right before our second off-trail descent of the day.  It seems we have a system in the works where Dave and I discuss where we need to be, point at it, and Tom and Leslie figure out how to get there.  Good team effort.

The next day we biked a long time and I tried to keep up.  It started well, heading up the park road to the entrance station at the rim, and Dave and I got a bit of a head start which is the only reason I'm ahead of Leslie and Tom in this photo:

Making up the gap:

It was a good warmup ride, with a pause for breath at the top:

Someone had the good idea to ask a guy to snap our photo at the overlook - it's a keeper!

OK, time to stop messing around, let's do some singletrack.  The GSL trail had a few challenges, which was good for everyone to get a sense of what I might can ride, like, when my legs are fresh.  Little Fox Canyon trail was fast and fun.

Then up the easy track to the Lighthouse - wow cool!  Quite an impressive rock tower.  Between that and some rock mushrooms and all the pretty colors, the park seems like a little slice of Utah.  Good place for another group pose:

Even better was hiking up there, hard to believe you can walk between the two towers.  Thank you for this checkpoint, Leslie!

More singletrack, back to work.  We inadvertently took the inside loop of the Capitol Peak Trail (all of Leslie's hints weren't enough to clue us in, so we missed a virtual checkpoint).  It was a little shorter, but I suspect that is more than negated by the multiple wash crossings.  My legs were quite done by the end of that.  So the Juniper/Cliffside trail was more of an exercise in not dying completely.

Worth it for the cave at the end of the trail!

Checkpoint cave, verified:

Happily the trail back to the campground was not nearly as challenging.  And the next task was easier on the legs - setting up our ascending gear for a bit of ropes practice.

OK, well, there are still some challenges and things I need to work out this summer (luckily John is always ready to set up a rope):

Leslie has her setup pretty well dialed in:

Dave demonstrating an interesting belay system where the person on the rope can ascend, get lowered down, ascend, lower, etc. until either the climber or the belayer decides "enough of that!"

One more workout!  Somehow we didn't end up with any photos of this one, I think everyone was focused on getting done so we could shower and eat and drink a beer.  The workout turned out well though - I wasn't in any shape to ride more singletrack (much less up to the rim), so I rode down to the base of the Rock Garden trail and ran up while the rest of the team biked the east side trail to Rock Garden and we met up at the top.  Together we ran around to the Tub Springs Draw trail for one last look over the edge of the rim, then ran back to the bikes.  I ran down the trail, made it almost halfway down before they passed me :) and then we met up again at the bottom.

Then my team tried to kill me with a 2.5 mile paceline exercise, but really I think it was just the aforementioned post-workout lures that caused them to ride so fast.  I didn't actually collapse at the end but it took a couple minutes for me to recover!

Besides that last little bit, it was a great weekend and I super enjoyed spending the time with y'all!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Running from the Alamo to the Texas Capitol

So!  Lately I've been playing around with the concept of Fastest Known Times (FKT's), a way to go on new adventures and in some cases set an informal record.  Really just for fun and to get ideas for interesting places to do some training.  For lesser-known FKT's, there's a chance that I'd be the first female to complete and report it, so I just have to finish it to get on the board.  For example, my first FKT was last year on Maui, from sea to sky and back.

There aren't a lot of opportunities in Texas to do something quite so epic.  I decided to try creating one of my own, and maybe it will be interesting enough that someday someone else will follow in my footsteps.  Or not, no matter!

I happened to see an Amtrak train pulling into Austin one day, and that got me thinking, I wonder if it's possible to run from San Antonio to Austin?  What about from the Alamo to the Capitol?  That makes it sort of an interesting story.  Let's do that.

So I set it up the FKT board and set about to planning.  Here's the route I took (with a couple very minor changes):

Some things to know:

1. At ~80 miles, this is not a long road run by any means.  It's a beginner cross-country trek, dwarfed by things like running across entire states, the Last Annual Vol State run, and of course anyone crazy enough to run across the US.  And road running isn't something I intend to do a lot of; this was just a starter test to see how I liked it.  Result = it's doable but at this point I really prefer trails.

2. This was not Primal Quest training.  I'm supposed to be biking and paddling and going up/down steep mountains with a weighted pack to get ready for September.  I'd also like to keep some running fitness in between all that, so this was kind of a "fun interlude," or as John put it, procrastination from PQ training  :)  And after all, miles on my legs can't hurt!

Brief pre-run adventure:
I had planned to take the train from Austin to San Antonio (after all, Amtrak was the inspiration).  Some brief flooding in San Marcos negated the train option on the exact day I intended to start, so there was a delay in the plans.  Instead of waiting to see if the tracks would reopen the next day, I switched to MegaBus to get to the starting spot, and that worked out great.  The trip down was quick and the timing for running overnight worked out better anyway.

Plus the Alamo was open when I got there so I could wander around a little before hightailing it outta town.

A little souvenir from the gift shop that seemed appropriate:

Giant flowering cactus in the yard:

A bit of Texas history:

Lunch had settled, everything in place, time to get trucking.  Before starting the chrono on my watch:

Start time of 4:15 pm on April 12 2017:

One last selfie at the Alamo on the way out:

Thoughts of my husband...

Check out the dino butt:

In the front lobby of the museum, not sure this came out very well but it looks cool in person:

Lovely "trees" and gate:

Step one - leaving San Antonio, check!

I originally was going to start several hours further into the evening, but instead I had some sunshine and warmth for the first section.  Which meant I needed to eat my chocolate before it melted.  Ah well, the sacrifice must be made.  I found a "Marcia" street sign and figured it was appropriate enough for a selfie:

Almost presidential!

Lovely but really large houses in the neighborhood heading out of town:

Solar for John!

Thinking of my friend Kathy:

Probably the most interesting mural of the journey, at Planet K on Austin Highway:

Happy not to be in a car today!  Just missed a photo of a train, looks like the tracks are back open so that's good.

Heading for my first pit stop at the Valero, bathroom break plus water resupply.  I also checked the blinking lights on the Spot tracker and they seemed to indicate that everything was working.

I was playing with a loose goal of 4 mph average, including breaks, and this section was certainly a good start.  Closer to 5 mph but also a good motivator to limit the rest stop time.

Go bear go!

Awesome mailbox design along Randolph Boulevard, very Texas:

Another sign of making progress:

This was sort of a view?  One of the few places I could see very far ahead.  Also a look at the mowed grass where I ran near the highway access road for a few miles.  It was great having a safe place to run that was nowhere near the cars, but it made for some extra work and slower going.

I'm at Crestview already??  Oh wait, not the same Crestview:

Valero #2 (happy to support Valeros as many of them are open 24 hours).  Not sure why I look surprised that I'm getting my picture taken.

Not quite 20 miles in, and the effects of running on the road are starting to be noticeable.  It's never really fun for the feet, especially since I'm not acclimated to my Hokas so I didn't want to risk wearing them.  The feet were happier when I was running instead of walking, so that was a good reason to keep up the pace.  My knees would ache now and then, and a good walk break would help with that.  Switching back and forth was definitely key.  I was glad that nothing ever really got worse, just there for the duration.

The best part was that I had reached an excellent section of the access road - plenty of shoulder, very few cars, gentle hills, and a beautiful time of night to be running.  The hum of the highway nearby kept me company but otherwise it was very peaceful and I was happy to still be making good time.

One place that saw a bit of traffic - want to bowl a few frames, anyone?

In New Braunfels I veered off the access road and got some change of scenery through the streets of town.  There were a few people out and about, not too busy.  Crossing the river I ran through a cloud of smoke, what was that about?

The best sign!

This next photo didn't turn out great (and this is after several tries to light it up), but it says Austin 45 miles to the left, San Antonio 35 miles to the right.  Almost halfway!  Still keeping ahead of the 4 mph pace, not sure I can maintain it but so far so good.

Hey, it's another Planet K, and a duck!

The all-important "checkpoint beaver"

It was worth walking the length of the place for the excellent bathrooms and the stop at the food counter.  They didn't have breakfast sandwiches though, so I settled for a croissant.

Trying unsuccessfully to get a photo of the beaver statue:

Well, that was a long-ish stop, back on the road to try to make up a little time.

We should see about getting a Subway at our adventure racing TA's:

A bit more access road, then over to Hunter Road for some quieter running.  The Happy Cow bar and grill was all lit up but didn't seem to be open.  I passed Centerpoint Road, which is sort of the halfway point between Austin and San Antonio, although I had reached my halfway mileage a little back from there.  Cool!

Somewhere along here I changed counties again:

Hey, an open gas station!  I didn't find this in my pre-run sleuthing; it had seemed like most places in San Marcos closed overnight so I'd been planning a detour to HEB.  Instead I ran in here to use the bathroom and get more water.

The guy behind the counter asked where I was walking tonight.  Well, since you asked... I told him I was running from the Alamo to the Capitol.

He paused and looked at me - "What does that mean?"

And then clarified - are you saying you are going from San Antonio to Austin on foot?  Why yes I am!  He seemed suitably impressed while seeing the ridiculousness of it at the same time.  I thanked him for being open in the middle of the night, very helpful.

Just down the street - the Candy Wraptor, not a great photo but I had to try:

San Marcos was the quietest I've ever seen.  Although there were a couple women walking and talking on the sidewalk and a runner with some interesting lights on his ankles and wrists.  Almost, but not completely deserted.  Then there was someone on a bike - who rides their bike at 3 in the morning?  Hey, it's Sheila!!!

I apparently had a couple Spot-stalkers, including my friend Sheila who lives in San Marcos.  Amazingly, she got up in the middle of the night to come see how I was doing.  Wow, thank you!  We had a fun little chat, then I was on my way out of town and she was on her way back to bed.  Very cool.

I was somewhere around 50 miles in.  My legs had reached sort of a steady state of mild discomfort, but the bigger topic was finding something I thought I could eat.  I was feeling a bit "low energy" but not really wanting to chew on anything and it had been awhile since the Buc-ees croissant.  If I remember right, I might have tried one of the chia bars I was carrying, something to get me to the next convenience store a few miles away.  I've always been able to eat whatever I want during a training run, but this was probably the longest training run I've ever done?  So it wasn't too surprising to have my stomach start to rebel a little.

Post Road was a wonderful, quiet place to run and think.  I enjoyed those miles, especially crossing the little bridge over the Blanco River.  It seemed like a good time to get out my iPod to listen to a podcast, which was great until I returned to the access road and the highway noise.  Ah well, fun while it lasted.

A short while later I was in Kyle, crossing over to the 7-11 that was open all night (thank you!).  I decided on a yogurt, thinking I could probably handle a few bites anyway.  A short break and one selfie later, and the yogurt was gone.  Nice, that should help!

I peeled myself up off the sidewalk and crossed back to continue up the access road.  I started seeing more waypoints that I had made notes about, and there was more to look at through here, more civilization as it were.  Kyle Crossing, Windy Hill Road, then I decided on another quick stop at a Valero for a water resupply.

Overnight I had carried a second water bottle in my pack for some of the longer sections, but I was ready to ditch that in favor of quick stops more often.  My pack was feeling heavier by the hour, even removing the extra water.  I would do a mental inventory of what I was carrying, and did I really need the extra clothes?  Not likely.  Maybe I could find a post office along the way and mail myself back some extraneous items so I didn't have to carry them anymore... at least it was a funny idea, but no, by the time anything opened I was already close enough to the end that it made even less sense.

Morning time, lighter skies but lots of fog.  Hey, now that little sunscreen tube is extraneous too.  I was not complaining about the lack of sunshine!  Happy for the cool weather, wow, it really was the perfect temperature the whole time.  Besides being soaking wet from the humidity, I hardly ever thought about being hot or cold.

There it is, where we met our home (Howie, for "house on wheels-ie") for the first time at Crestview RV in Buda:

Traffic picked up so I kept my headlamp on, plus the reflective strip I had attached to my pack shoulder seemed to give me some visibility.  I stayed far from the driving lanes, stepping off the pavement as needed, and most cars had already changed lanes upon seeing me from far away.  Most helpful.

Not so helpful was spotting some poison ivy here and there along the roadside.  Something else to dodge.  Maybe after all the pretty springtime flowers are done blooming they will mow the roadside.  It wasn't super prevalent but did keep me on my toes.

Also not helpful - some sections of mud that stuck all to my shoes and made it harder to detour onto offroad tracks.  Arrgh.  Scrape off the shoes, back to the road, step off and avoid the poison ivy and the mud, back on the road, run now that the road is empty!, pause, run!, pause.  Interval training and also gratitude that this was only a small portion of the trip.

This sign is only notable because it's facing backwards on the access road - who exactly are they trying to reach here?  If you see this, you're going the wrong way!  It just struck me as funny:

I ran in at HEB for a quick bathroom stop and to buy one banana.  14 cents!  And it was delicious, I finished it before leaving the parking lot.  My stomach was working better and all systems were go for more interval training.

The one section I would definitely change about my route would be to take Old San Antonio Road from the HEB to Puryear Road.  It's a bit narrow, but it has to be better than the access road between those two points.  When they build highway 45 they apparently decided that a shoulder is completely unnecessary (really?), so I spent a lot of time waiting in between cars.  It was a short distance but the least pleasant of the journey.

Finally past 45 and back to an excellent shoulder and many fewer cars, yay!  It was also the beginning of some big hills, quite noticeable after being on my feet that many hours.  Long run down to Onion Creek, at least I'm moving faster again!  And Onion Creek is quite pretty from the bridge:

Up the hill... hey, there's another Planet K, well I certainly can't pass up a chance to get a photo trifecta:

I started thinking more specifically about finish times.  20 hours would be great, that was always a nice goal to aspire to.  That would be 12:15 pm.  Another target would be finishing before noon.  Then the "4 mph" goal would be sometime around 11:45 am just to be sure, having not figured the precise number of miles yet.

Then my left ankle started giving me a little trouble, twisted ever so slightly from all the times I stepped off the roadway and found angled ground off to the side.  It tweaked occasionally, causing me to revert to speed-walking, then focusing on running straight and with good posture.  Hmm, that could keep me from running it in, but at least walking was still fine.  So I'll focus on walking quickly.

Finally to Southpark Meadows, sweet!  I had been looking forward to leaving the highway for good, plus there was a Starbucks right along the route.  Overnight I was idly dreaming about stopping somewhere for decaf coffee, and this seemed liked a good place for that, but then I decided I really didn't want to wait nor take the time to drink it.  I had an ankle that might give me trouble, I had just over 8 miles to go, and I wasn't sure how long this last part might take.

I did run in and order a croissant to go plus they helped refill my water bottle (one less disposable plastic bottle, thank goodness).  Starting up Congress Avenue, eating my croissant bite by bite, a nice speedy walk up the little hill.  Wow, I'm finally on Congress Avenue, kind of hard to believe.

Another big dip, way down and way back up... I wonder how many more of these there are?  Kip had noted that the route had an overall elevation loss, but it certainly wasn't all downhill, especially right at the end.

Hey, I used to live at these apartments way back when I first moved to Austin!  That's pretty cool:

Little ankle twinges but nothing too problematic, just keep focusing and keep moving.  Another down-and-up, yep.  Crossing Ben White, another accomplishment.  Somewhere around St Ed's it started raining, well then!  I bagged up the camera and figured everything else was already waterproofed or could just get wet.

I noticed that cars going by were splashing up all kinds of water from the puddles, happily I was running on the sidewalk.  But it made me realize that I'd gotten really lucky - if it had rained not long earlier, I might have been soaked from car splashes on the access road - phew, nice to avoid that!

One last big downhill to the river before one last climb to the Capitol, almost there!  Hey, there's Leslie!  She rode downtown on her bike to see me finish, and happily she also documented it for me, very cool!  Hi Leslie!

About one mile from the building in the background:

Selfie from the bridge, with the hat looking a little soggy:

Quick stop to get a photo for a certain race director who also does cross-country treks:

Leslie captured my entrance onto the Capitol grounds on video:

There it is!

Last few steps to the stairs...oh right, stairs!... but my legs managed it OK:

And done!  Well, I beat those time goals pretty good.

Final tally on my watch chrono = 18:46:20.  Calculated at 79.4 miles including the walk over to Buc-ees, etc.

Woohoo, glad to be done!  Thank you Leslie for the photos and video!

That was actually sort of epic  :)

Thank you everyone who tracked the Spot dot and kept a virtual eye on me, and for all the fun comments on email and Facebook.  I had no idea this would be any kind of "big deal", it was just a training run, but I ended up feeling connected to a lot of people and that was really special.  Thanks again!