Monday, March 26, 2018

4MPH Challenge

Just a short little race recap.  Kip and I have enjoyed running at Shasta Trail Run's 4MPH Challenge for several years now, always a great event.  It's a 6 mile-long trail that you have 90 minutes to complete.  Everyone who wants to continue starts again for another set, going back the other way for another 6 miles within 90 minutes.  Last man (and woman) standing wins.

Not only is this a format that I really like, it's also a great way to customize your race.  This year it needed to be a "training run" for me, as I've been gradually healing from a PF issue since last fall.  Recent 50K races have gone well and my foot rarely aches anymore, but I'm not prepared to run a big chunk of miles again (yet).  This would be a good test.

Along those lines, no ibuprofen for me - I needed to know if it ever came time to stop in the name of preventing a PF relapse.

The day went well and we enjoyed running and talking.  Despite a ton of recent rain, the trail was in superb condition.  Thank goodness for well-draining trails.  There was one large puddle to tiptoe around but that was it.  No mud or slippery-ness, even down the steep hill to the creek crossing.

The course was extended this year, presumably because it wasn't quite a full 6 miles in the past.  That put the far aid station up in the parking lot instead of on the sloping grass, a move I fully endorse despite the added running distance.  We had plenty of room and a really nice aid station setup.  The volunteers were still great - as always!

The recent 50K's seemed to help my leg pep, because my lap times were similar to last year even with the couple minute-longer course.  I was gentle and methodical up the hills, light and springy on the flats, and smooth and easy on the downhills.  It made running very pleasant for many hours.

Also pleasant was the weather.  Happily it didn't snow (as an early forecast predicted) nor hardly rain (we were really expecting some), it was just quite cold and mostly sunny.  I had to plan well with clothing choices since it's 3 hours between seeing the same bag twice.  It helped wearing my new running vest for some laps so I could stash clothes and not deal with a jacket around my waist, a nice improvement.

The nighttime was slower, as usual, always more of a challenge to watch your step.  There aren't tons of rocks and roots, but enough to cause an occasional stumble.  Or a flying leap, in Kip's case.  He was fine, only disappointed that no one had witnessed such a marvelous display.  Anyway, nighttime always adds a few minutes to every lap, along with the slowing from the added miles.

That's when the large crowd of runners started dwindling.  I actually expected to need quite a few more miles than maybe was smart in order to win the women's division.  My first goal was more than 36 miles (so I could say it was worth paying for the Unlimited category instead of the 36-mile version).  Then it was nice to get to the darkness for some nighttime running for the first time in a while.  My PR here is 96 miles, and it would be a huge stretch to get that far, but I at least was pondering the possibility.

So when the last couple women dropped well before that, and I was the only woman left running, with just 6 miles to go in order to win, well, I had to ponder that for a while.  I had 90 minutes to ponder as I was running to decide how much further to push.

I think my body took that as a cue to provide some input.  I will never doubt the idea of the mind-body connection.  As soon as I started contemplating whether to stop or keep running, all kinds of little aches and pains started popping up.  Happily none of them were in my right heel.  In addition, it suddenly became challenging to keep up the pace I needed to make it to the turnaround on time.

I ran pretty hard (or at least, the version that feels like that even though it probably didn't look anything of the sort).  I made it to the far aid station with less than 2 minutes to spare.  I could have turned it around, but I decided that 66 miles - and the win - was a dang fine effort for the day.  A good indicator of where I am and what I need to do in the coming months.

Funny enough, I finished 7th overall, same as last year.  The overall winner was the same guy, Saravanan Mylsamy, with the same number of miles (126) as last year.  A bit of deja vu.

They managed to grab a photo of me before we headed out (the cold night made it hard to hang around long) - hey, an actual prize this time (an Altra gift card), awesome!

We like that the race is evolving over time and making good improvements while keeping what works well.  Thank you Shasta Trail Runs for another fun Challenge!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Winter camping class

I discovered the Mountain Ascent Association when looking for ways to train for climbing mountains.  They have a bunch of resources and great classes in northern California.  This year seemed like the perfect time to sign up and take advantage of this opportunity.

So when "winter camping" came up as a possible class, it seemed like a good idea.  We camp occasionally, although John is the expert of the family and I tend to tag along and try to get comfortable with it.  I have a decent notion of how to move through the outdoors, much less of an idea how to stop and sleep in it.  I might be a bit of a Trail Diva.

Yeah, I'll get some training while John installs solar panels in San Jose for the weekend.  He tends to avoid "winter" whenever possible, while I at least have the experience of growing up in northern Vermont.  OK, I'm in.

And then... there was a snowstorm in the Sierras.  Snow, snow, more snow.  Cancel the class?  Heck no, apparently this was perfect (?).  I just have to get there.  I caught a ride up from Auburn with a super helpful fellow classmate whose truck has 4WD - thank you Brian!  It simply rained in Auburn, but it didn't take much ascending before the road was covered in snow.  Happily the roads were well-tended by the highway crew and we didn't have any trouble getting up to Truckee.

Our instructor Darren got us assembled, distributed winter tents and extra gear, did a short nav class while we were still indoors and waiting for our road to open, then we were off to brave the cold white wilderness.

Snowshoeing up the road - and it's snowing again.  Better get used to it!

At the start of the canyon where we were supposed to follow a "trail" for a couple miles... except the snow was already waist-deep and required shoveling and a lot of effort to get anywhere, especially uphill carrying heavy packs:

Darren made an excellent executive decision and decreed we would camp at the first flat spot we came to.  We would just have to ignore the occasional sound of a car going by on the nearby road and pretend we were deep in the backcountry.  I was thinking, "hey, if I get really cold tonight, I can trek back to the truck, so that works for me!"  Yes, for sure I was wondering how the sleeping would go.

We shoveled out flat areas and attempted to stake down the tents.  Occasionally a step near the willow plants resulted in a post-hole event.  For example, check out Robert on the left side of this photo:

We used trekking poles and snowshoes to help with the tie-downs.  It continued to snow (about a gazillion large fluffy flakes per minute), so you had to keep an eye on anything that you set down on the snow.  It would disappear within a few minutes and might be difficult to locate again until spring.

Darren brought a group shelter tent, and we set about to building a "kitchen" under it:

Complete with a table for the stoves and benches to sit on - snow can be pretty useful!

The group split up to melt snow for water and to build a quinzee.  I decided that learning how to do the snow melting would be more useful in the long run.  We got several stoves fired up, a bunch of snow gathered in a large trash bag, everyone's bottles collected, and it was time to work out a system of melting snow and scooping water:

View from inside the kitchen - yep, still snowing:

The group made a large pile of snow for the quinzee (snow hut) - lots of shoveling and packing it down.  I did some shoveling briefly and it always helped to shovel if I wanted to warm up.  It was pretty amazing watching the progress:

Photo from the inside as the quinzee is getting hollowed out - pretty neat concept!

The finished product.  Two guys slept in it overnight and reported that the roof slowly turned from concave to convex and got closer to their faces... but Darren had promised that it wouldn't collapse, and it didn't.

Huddling together over dinner as Darren explained the best ways to stay warm.  Change into dry clothes.  Keep your boots inside the tent.  Put any important clothes (that you don't have on) under you, either inside the sleeping bag or at least under the bag on top of the mat so it doesn't freeze overnight.

Snow kept piling up on the sides of the tents and I was a bit skeptical, but here we are so we just have to deal with it.

Nighttime went surprisingly OK.  Two sleeping mats, a good sleeping bag, an excellent tent, and a bunch of clothes kept me warm.  I thought I was the right amount of "slightly dehydrated" but I still really had to pee around midnight so there wasn't any choice but to get up and do it.  Boots on, plow through the path to the "pee tree" that was again a wade-fest through knee-deep snow, tramp down a spot, try not to get snow into everything (mostly succeeded), trudge on back.

Various people were clearing off the tents every couple hours to keep them from getting completely buried overnight, so I took a turn at that.  Then back into the sleeping bag, still mostly warm.  I slept on and off, I certainly wouldn't call it a good sleep, but it wasn't a sufferfest so I was quite happy about the whole thing.

First one out of the tent in the morning (I have to pee again??) and I managed to wake up enough to snap a photo of our home for the night.  This is after it had been cleared off multiple times overnight.  On the bright side - it's a beautiful morning!

The guys survived the night in the quinzee:

Time for the fun stuff, a bit of winter ropes work.  Darren originally had his eye on a rockface higher up, but digging out a trail up to it was going to take hours.  So we settled for a spot a bit closer.  Traversing on rope with our helmets and ice axes.  And crampons on - "we brought them, we're going to practice with them," said Darren, even though they weren't doing much for us.

Practicing passing anchors:

Woo hoo, it's a lovely day!

A fun little rappel down a rockface:

You didn't have to go far to lose sight of our tent village:

Testing the roof of the quinzee - hmm, maybe the inside was scraped a bit thin:

Well, there it is!  Good thing we were staying only one night:

Packing up to trek back before it started snowing again:

More rocks to play on - another time when they are easier to get to:

One more task!  This is how much snow fell in about 24 hours, wow:

Good thing we had plenty of shovels and lots of energy (and motivation) to do some more digging.  And 4WD vehicles to drive on out.

Well, that was quite the experience!  I can't say I'm a winter camping convert, but it does help me appreciate camping in nice weather.  Maybe we'll do some of that later this year.

Thanks MAA and Darren for an excellent class!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Escape from AT&T Park and some running

Catch up time!  A compilation of recent events and races in the Bay Area...

Here's a fun one - SCRAP Entertainment's Escape from AT&T Park.  Kip and I had a blast at a previous version and this was John's first time.  What a fun concept!  A bunch of puzzle solvers running around in the baseball stadium, a giant version of an escape room.  We had a better idea what to expect this time so maybe that would help.

We opted for the evening time slot and it was neat to be there at night:

And then later we watched the finale of The Amazing Race - and they started the episode right here!  How cool is that??

Pretty lighting on the trees outside the park:

We got to go inside the park - take that, Amazing Racers  :)

Filing in as soon as the doors opened so we could start studying the handout and the park layout - the field was all lit up, time for a night game:

Hmm, what can we gather from these baseball-themed materials?

The outline of where we'd be going to find and solve clues.  #3 looked to be up in the stands, and it turned out we'd actually be spending more time up in the stands than in the prior game.  I love that AT&T Park welcomes this event.  Just stay off the pitcher's mound, we'd prefer not to get banned from doing another one here.

We're in the first inning, time to get started with the clues posted around the field:

A couple examples of what we were working with... I ended up backward solving this one to fit the rest of what we were coming up with:

A little cryptic crossword action:

Let me reflect on this a little...

Our organizational plan worked well and we were some of the first people up in the concourse for the next set of clues.  Hello panda!

Except I had accidentally missed some key info in one of my first clue photos so I had to run back down to the field to retake the picture while Kip and John did some solving.

Technically you weren't required to know anything about baseball, but recognizing some of the terminology turned out to help speed up the process.

On to the next part - over to another set of bleachers, cool!

Another trip up the stairs and through the concourse, another fun little puzzle, then we were back on the field with our final clue.  Time was ticking, we thought we had some leeway, but then it was the end of the ninth inning and we were still throwing around ideas.  Lots of great ideas!  But not the right ones.  Or at least, in the right sequence in our brains.

Staring up at the scoreboard trying to work out the last clue:

Then Kip figured out a key element and we thought we had it.  But no!  We just joined the ranks of those who ran up to the volunteers with a possible answer but were turned away.  Now what?

So close, but we ran out of the time.  Funny thing, as the answer walk-through was happening, it suddenly came to me what the words meant, the ones we had just figured out.  Ah ha!  Well, we didn't get to escape but at least we figured it out ourselves this time.

I'm pretty sure if Siobhan and Rodney were with us we would have collectively solved it in time  :)

A bit more of a traditional workout - a run to the top of Mount Um.  We got a kick out of listening to a little audio clip about the mountain on the drive over, with a guy pronouncing the full name "Umunhum" over and over.

Here's the tower you can see from many parts of the San Jose valley, finally we got to see it up close:

A nice day for a jaunt up into the hills:

On another weekend we ran a Terraloco race in San Francisco, always fun!  John walked the 5K version and Kip and I tackled the 10K, looking for Valentine-related checkpoints around the hilly city.

We're in here somewhere, before the start of the race:

Thankfully the race director included contour lines for our route planning - there are lots of steep hills, not too surprising I suppose.  Kip and I opted to skip the climb to Coit Tower, but I'm still not sure that it wouldn't have been better to skip C on the west side:

One of the many hearts on the course:

My favorite checkpoint was this giant bow and arrow sculpture, so cool:

Kip and I ran in opposite directions, greeted each other high up a hill in the middle, and converged at the finish line.  Amazingly, we saw each other just as we reached the line from different directions.  So close!  One traffic light probably made the difference, as I squeaked out the win (well, between the two of us) by 2 seconds:

Congrats to John for winning the 5K overall - while walking the course, impressive.

OK, now for something a little more calm.  I did a run around the bottom of the Bay, across the Dumbarton Bridge.  Kip introduced us to this loop route several years ago, and I like it for a good solid long run.

A few photos along the way - a hummingbird on a blue sky day:

One of many bridges along the Bay Area Loop Trail:

Canal paths into the bay, for a feeling of remoteness even though it's still close to lots of civilization:

A white pelican - I saw it swallow something, that was neat:

I believe this is a Golden Eagle, with a good vantage point:

Heading toward the Google campus:

I always enjoy running past the Bike Man sculpture:

Stairs up to the walkway on Dumbarton Bridge:

Finishing up on Coyote Creek Trail:

Kip ran out to find me for the last several miles, fun!  Apparently John was also tracking me, capturing a photo of us toward the end of the run (thanks John!):

Back to the trails near Mount Um (on another weekend) - this time for a race.  I ran the 52K, that was a doozy!  Lots of climbing, good practice for the Quicksilver 100K in May.  I may have to do some heat training for that one...

Thank you to the photographer for the mid-race photos:

Go Kip go:

He was happy he chose the 34K option:

Lots of fun "winter" activities and a good start to some longer training.