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My Day Running in Marin: MUC50 Recap

 

Thank you Myles for always somehow making me look decent while running! Photo Credit: Michigan Bluff Photography

Thank you Myles for always somehow making me look decent while running! Photo Credit: Michigan Bluff Photography

Two weeks ago today, I was on a 50-mile journey, running all around the headlands, climbing some pretty brutal trails giving witness to some of the most gorgeous views in that area.  I reflect back and I swear I feel something tingle inside me and I am overjoyed – not because I took home the W, but because I can’t believe how lucky I am to be a part of something so wonderful and fulfilling. I feel whole running my heart out and it’s easy for me to understand  that I need it. Anyway, back to the race…

This event, the Marin Ultra Challenge 50 was heavy on my mind as the race date drew near. There was never a part of me that didn’t want to race it, but like I had mentioned in previous post, I have been training, but only got bitten by the race bug recently, and I had a few personal things on my plate that took precedence.

As I confirmed my registration with Tim, the RD for Inside Trail, I suddenly remembered the brutal course and I was excited – it’s like the pain of getting your bare ass smacked and then the calming feeling of it being rubbed out. Except the ass smacking is the hill climbing and the  is the view(s). Weird? I can’t explain it, I guess.  Well, either way, I new it would be a tough race course since an extra 1,000 feet of elevation was added to bring the course near the original route it was two years ago.  I ran it last year, and it was stunning, but it looped several times through Tennessee Valley, and didn’t include the single-track Miwok trail, Dipsea stairs or the amazing view of Stinson Beach. Like I said earlier, this race felt like a journey, and an amazing one at that!

The morning of race day, I felt so fresh and rested and I was extremely happy about that since I had only three days before caught a cold, not to mention that I hadn’t run one single step in a whole week which happened to be the day of my last half marathon trail race. I did have one potentially big problem though: I had woken up with major cramps and that had me worried I’d start my period during the race. D and I left the hotel that was just a small ride away from the race start to see if I could buy tampons at the gas station and of course, it was too early to be open. Luckily once at the start line, an Inside Trail volunteer helped me out with this problem and I put them in my handheld in case of an emergency (Thank you!). Luckily, there was never an emergency so not much more drama to discuss in this dept. :)

D, Kristin and I as the start of the race.

D, Kristin and I as the start of the race.

As the race started D, Kristin and I started out together.  The plan, or lack of plan was to enjoy the day, not go out too fast and really power hike up and pound the downs and WIN. This was D’s suggestion to me (not the winning part), and he wasn’t there to ‘race’, he was there because it brought him back to his first-ever ultra marathon — one he says was brutal and maybe one he wasn’t ready for on his first go-round. Fast-forward to now and you’d be surprised to know that. He was also there to be my companion and keep me focused on the simple game-plan. Kristin, like me had also ran the race last year and she had been working her tail off to take some major time off last year (even with the additional elevation gain). I was stoked for her as I had been witnessing her long training sessions with Oswaldo and Armando weekend after weekend.

Since the race started an hour and a half before sunrise, we took it super easy up Coastal Trail for the first three miles, with Kristin generously lighting our way with her headlamp. Before I knew it, Ken Michel’s headlamp was guiding light and the three of us chatted for a short bit. Kristin had mentioned feeling a little uncomfortable with technical and downhill since she fell last year and got pretty banged up. I think it was this point that she decided to hang back a bit. I didn’t see her for the rest of the race, but she did end up lopping off a whole hour off her time and without one scrape! Way to go Kristin!

Last year I remember everyone trying to go out super fast on this first part of the course, I jumped out the way to let them by and before you know it, I had caught almost all of them by the time I finished. It’s getting easier to stay on a great pace early when you look at your pace per mile with 49 or so miles to go and realize that if ANY of us stay on that pace, we would be breaking course records by hours. LOL

As the sun started to rise, I felt that the race had finally begun, but not after our small group had accidentally stayed straight instead of turning right to get to Rodeo Beach. Luckily some car parked out that direction told us no racers had yet ran by and we quickly turned around and got back on track. Not a big deal…maybe 4 minutes lost and at least now we were awake.

Still bundled together a little after leaving Rodeo, we found ourselves climbing Bunker Road, going under tunnels and meeting Bunker Road again, but noticing a whole lot of people instead went straight up Bunker Road (similar to the Headlands Hundred course). The lead lady Luanne made sure to let them know that they had cut a significant portion off the course by doing that. Of course it was accidental and we still had over 45 miles to concern ourselves with.

So I said that I woke up feeling great, well except the cramps…this changed a bit for me, partially physically and mostly mentally. The physical part was my left calf on the verge of cramping – this kept my mind going in circles about what to do. I definitely didn’t want to stretch it out or put anymore pressure on it, so I made sure to stay off my toes on the ups, took in lots of extra fluids and started taking salt tabs early. The calf would go on to bother me for about 25 miles until I got too distracted to notice it anymore. The mental part was dealing with a different race plan. I didn’t like how slow we were going (or how slow it felt) and I was worried about losing time on the back end. It was even harder seeing the lead woman (Louann) fluctuating between 100 yards to about a half mile in front of us. She obviously had a game plan of not hiking – ever. I kept telling myself that what we were doing was the right thing and the hardest part of the race had yet to come. I’d catch her eventually and hopefully have a strong second half of the race instead of trying to blast uphill early and suffer later.

Pretty much in D's shadow as he ran me through mile 34.

Pretty much in D’s shadow as he ran me through mile 34. Photo Credit: Michigan Bluff Photography

Not once did I look at my pace during the race, but I did keep an eye out for the 22-mile mark as that was where we would have to death march up Willow Camp Fire Rd for nearly two miles. D and I just caught the leader (Luanne) at Stinson Beach and I was now focused on staying up ahead. The climb though…it was ridiculously hard to even hike up. I kept telling myself that this is the hardest part of the race and once we were past this hill, I could focus on the second half of the race and look forward to the nearly 3-mile decline to the finish.

With nearly a 5.3 mile stretch between aid stations starting from the base of the climb, D and I had found ourselves low on water (one handheld) and as we headed into a public part of the park, we patiently waited in line at the public water fountain to fill our water bottles. We were getting a little impatient with a hiker, who saw that we were in a race and continued to fill his whole 2-Liter hydration pack before allowing us to get in there.  I remember turning around and seeing a different woman on my tail. This scared the crap out of me – she seemed to have come out of nowhere since  D and I had been pretty much alone from miles 5-20 until we caught Louann and then after Willow Camp, we caught up to Mark Tanaka and about two or three other guys. I filled up only half way and took off, it was time to GO and I would try my best to not look back for the rest of the race.

As I finally got to mile 27.7 mile aid station, I already had the lid off my bottle, as nicely as I could sound, yelled, “water!” and then I took off, screwing the cap back on while running.  D was behind me, he didn’t hurry through the aid station and I was able to run with Mark again.  For the next 6 miles or so, I ran crazy and quickly as I could down some gorgeous, yet extremely technical trails that consisted of big tree roots and some wood stairs. All I could hope for was to NOT fall or get passed. I also had to pee, which was very annoying. I had already peed twice during the race, one of them on a downhill, which in retrospect is not where you want to lose time — save it for an up when everyone else is slow too. Reluctantly I asked Mark, whom I have raced with at Javelina and this same race last year, if it would be OK if I just peed on myself because I didn’t want to get passed. He said ‘elite’ women do that all the time and I just laughed to myself because I am so not an elite. LOL. I ended up holding it for 20 miles until I finished the race.

The great thing about this ‘scare’ of getting caught was that before I knew it, I only had 10-miles to go once I found myself at Muir Beach. My Garmin Fenix was half dead since mile 29 and that is how it would read for the rest of the race.

As I left Muir Beach, I had gotten ahead of Mark and his small group and caught one guy named Rich as we climbed up Green Gulch Trail. This was another bitch of a climb, but I was very familiar as we had to climb it twice last year and I knew exactly what to expect. As I passed him, he was beyond encouraging and I remembered that ultra runners are just so motivating and generous with encouragement. This climb kind of zigzagged and allowed me to see who was behind me without having to look back. Whenever he suspected I looked his direction, he would give me a thumbs up. This small gesture really made everything a lot easier.

Getting back on the Miwok Trail from there, I caught up to two guys who I thought were racing until I realized they didn’t seem to mind me passing them and kept up their loud and friendly conversation with each other.  And because they seemed to be taking it easy, I asked if they were in the race and they confirmed that they were.

As I got in to Tennessee Valley around mile 44, I asked the aid station how much farther we had – he said about 5.3 miles. I heard him and I know what 5.3 miles is, but since my watch wasn’t showing mileage anymore and because I was still kind of frazzled from running like a bat out of hell to get away from her and to the finish line, I thought I had 5.3 to the next aid station and needed to climb out of Tennessee Valley which does not make sense since I just left from there in  a different direction.

Sticking to the game plan as I did all day, I hiked up Marincello Trail, thinking I had farther to go than I actually did. When I realized my mistake, I only had a bit over 3 miles to go and I hauled in to the finish feeling so strong.  I had no idea what my time would be, but as I crossed the finish, I came in at 8:41:54 as the first female and 7th overall. Laura, who had caught me earlier came in around 9:12, and Luanne came in at 9:19. Both of these women ran very strong races and I was glad to be in their company.

Mark Tanaka and I post-race. We were both happy and he was teasing me that even though I beat him, he was 2-minutes closer to catching me than last year. He said that this means he will catch me in a few year. :)

Mark Tanaka and I post-race. We were both happy and he was teasing me that even though I beat him, he was 2-minutes closer to catching me than last year. He said that this means he will catch me in a few year. :)

I know I made this recap very long, but I don’t want to forget any of it. Huge thanks to D, for keeping me smart and focused when I doubted the race plan, to Mark for always motivating me along the course, listening to me talk about peeing my pants (or potentially peeing my pants) and for letting me sneak in ahead of him again this year, and also to Inside Trail — the race was flawless, the aid-stations were great, the volunteers, awesome. I apologize if in my worried frenzy, I came through the aid stations like a bull. :) And finally, thank you Tim for welcoming me back again for back-to-back wins. I will be back and this next time, I already have a game plan.

 

 

A Slow Start to the New Year

The trails that helped me get my mojo back!

The trails that helped me get my mojo back!

I know I have been really quiet here, but it wasn’t  until recently that I started racing again.  Don’t get me wrong, since the first of the year, I have been training, but I had to take some time to figure out exactly what I wanted to be doing and until I felt I got my motivation to put myself back out there on a a race course. Let’s not forget that I am just getting settled in my new life here in Central California, (which has been amazing BTW, and one of my best adult decisions to date) and I have had to prioritize a few things before I got carried away and over-committed to racing. 

After Javelina at the end of October, I decided to give myself plenty of time to recover and renew from all the racing and training that I had done for 10-months prior. This decision forced me to back out of The North Face Endurance Challenge held in December (SF) and I  pretty much didn’t do any type of exercise.  I look back and I am glad that I took a break, I am never one for quantity anyway; if I am going to race, I am there to run like it matters.

Almost all of my training so far has been solo and mostly on the trails of Auberry, near to where I now live. I have yet to do any speed work (well, I did do one) although I will be adding it to the mix very soon. Every run and every chance to get out there has been wonderful and luckily, I felt the break had actually done me good – I feel very strong!

Feeling like myself again!

Feeling like myself again!

Trying to put together a strategic and successful racing schedule together, I registered and got into Way Too Cool 50K (WTC) on 3/8. At the time I put in for the lottery (December), I felt a little pressure because this race along with Miwok 100k and San Diego 100 all required early registration for the lottery process and I didn’t really want to fork out all the money in a week if I so happened to get into them all. I took the chance with WTC and I got in. Couple that with the fact that I had just announced that I would be a part of the 2014 Pearl Izumi Ultra Team, and I thought I was on cloud-9…until the motivated quickly went away.

After spending quite a bit of time thinking it over, I decided that I would not race WTC and that I would leave the team. I will say it again and again, “if I am not motivated to do something, I just can’t do it.” Weirdly after I made those decisions and focused on consistent training, all the racing excitement came back again. THANK GOD!

A last minute decision to race The San Joaquin River Trail Half Marathon (same day as WTC) — the same trails I run regularly, gave me something to focus on and enjoy. The minute I crossed the finish line, I was already planning my next race: Marin Ultra Challenge 50.  So far, so good. :)

Winning on my home turf felt good. Good race, great people.

Winning on my home turf felt good. Good race, great people.

First Day Back!

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I was so bummed when I got sick last week so early in the year. You know how it is, starting the new year fresh, excited to start logging miles consistently and then BOOM – lots of time off fighting some disgusting bug that wants to take over your body.  For the first few days I just laid in bed fighting fever and body aches and when that subsided, the phlegm and congestion took over. Inside I was furious and seriously worried about how this could affect my 50K in early March because it seemed like everyone who was getting over the flu (or whatever it is/was), had been fighting it for over a month.

Thank goodness I  started feeling better early this week – everyday I feel like I am improving. I am not all that furious after all – I guess it could have been worse getting sick closer to my race and that is what I keep telling myself.  After a week of no running, I finally was able to lace up and get back at it. Today I logged 13.1 miles in the Kaiser Wilderness.  It was supposed to be a 19-mile loop starting at Upper Creek (horse stables) through the peak and then around Billy Creek before heading back to the stables, but it didn’t quite work out that way. No big deal. About a mile or so after passing Kaiser Peak, it became impossible to recognize the trail that would take us to Billy Creek. It was nearly 2pm and falling in and out of knee deep snow (ouch) searching for it no longer seemed like a good plan, so we turned back around and finished the way we had hiked in. Really great day.

 

 

 

 

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Pic of the Day: Always Running

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MY RUNNING GEAR PICKS: 2013

My journey to trail running and ultra racing began around the middle of 2012 after a devastating foot injury that abruptly ended my track season (5K). I was absolutely devastated, taking tons of time off to really heal – road biking and aquajogging to maintain some kind of fitness.  My friend Ashley had already been putting the bug in my ear to start racing them with her every since she completed Avalon 50 in January that year. Finally, after being a part of her crew for San Diego 100, I finally saw the light. Total light-bulb-in-the-dark-kind-of-thing. I was amazed and impressed and I knew that is what I wanted to do. Before I knew it, it was July and I was registered for Cuyamaca 100K with her and we were going down for a 50K (!) course training run. This would be my longest run distance EVER, and it was the day I realized I knew NOTHING about trail running or ultras including all the things you actually need and not just because they look good. Read about this dreadful 50K training run here.
Although I still feel new to ultra running, I have trained, raced, crewed and paced enough to experiment with gear and nutrition to know what works for me and to know exactly what I like.
Here is a short list of items that I believe in — all of them carried me through 2013 and I feel confident in recommending them to anybody.

SHOES: PEARL IZUMI

Trail – E:Motion N1 – $125 (www.pearlizumi.com)

Love on the trail!

Love on the trail!

I bet you saw this coming, especially after my announcement about joining Team Pearl Izumi -Ultra a week or so ago.  Well let me tell you – I don’t promote stuff I don’t believe in, and, I won’t be on just any team for the shoes. My love for the brand happened after I received my first new pair of TN1′s for my birthday in March. Until that moment, I was having problems finding the right trail shoe. I just couldn’t find anything that I liked, I was experiencing nagging injuries and I was discouraged. At first I was nervous to train and race in a light and neutral shoe because I thought I needed more support and cushion for steep descents and rough terrain, but they actually worked out great…AND looked sexy! The rock plate saved my toe nails more times than I can count after accidentally “kicking rocks” and the traction was enough to keep me upright (most of the time – I have a tendency to fall — A LOT, out of clumsiness).  I tried and tested these shoes climbing to Mt. Baldy, raced Leona Divide 50 (dnf), took them to the Sierras, to Bishop, paced at San Diego 100 and finally trained and raced in them at Los Pinos 50k. I just love these shoes! After logging in more miles than I should have, I finally, and reluctantly tossed them – but not before receiving a pair of shoes for winning Los Pinos 50K. Guess what shoe I chose? Yep, N1s but in a different color (thank you Steve, Carlos and Run With Us). Note: The N1 has a 1MM drop. And for distances longer than 50K, I prefer to run/race in the N2 for extra protection from long hours of pounding and more technical terrain.

Road – E:Motion M3 – $125 (www.pearlizumi.com)

A few months after getting my N1s, I decided to give the road shoes a try. Although I wear a neutral shoe without any issues, I slightly pronate on the right side. The Pearl Izumi M3 seemed like the best fit as I wanted a shoe with  light stability and decent cushion for loading on my weekday miles on the road in preparation for my marathon. I was extremely pleased when I opened the shoe box – they looked amazing, and the colors were so bright and bold. After logging nearly 100 miles,  I had became a full-fledged Pearl Izumi fan.  I ended up racing in them for my marathon to as I had only trained on the road in this model.  Typically I would have chosen a lighter racing shoe (Road M1), but since I didn’t train in them, I didn’t race in them.  I prefer wearing a more cushioned road shoe when I log in higher mileage on the road – kinda makes me feel safe (from injuries), my legs and feet feel less fatigued the following day, and when I switch to a lighter road shoe for speed work and tempos, I really feel like I am flying! Note: This shoe has a 4mm drop.

SOCKS

Injinji – $12-$15 (www.injinji.com)

RUN 2.0 Original Weight Mini-Crew

RUN 2.0 Original Weight Mini-Crew

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I swear by these socks and until someone tries them, they are a little weird-ed out by the toe sock theme. I wear injinjis during all my runs – to help keep a lot of the dirt out between my toes that would otherwise rub and cause blisters. I also like my feet to feel dry and since my toes don’t touch skin to skin, I never have to think about it and get grossed out again! After long trail runs it’s funny to compare my feet to someone who is wearing regular socks – mine come out dirty, but WAY more clean. Admittedly, they do feel weird until you put your shoes on then you don’t think about it again.

There are three thicknesses – Lightweight, Original Weight and Midweight. I only run in Original and Midweight and I wear Lightweight to work or whenever I wear regular shoes that require socks.  I prefer running with the No-Show on the road and Mini-Crew on the trail to keep debris out.  Not much else to say here except to TRY THEM! Oh yeah, I saw on FB that they were going to be coming out with some crew length styles in 2014 – YES!

HYDRATION  PACK

UltrAspire – ~$55 (www.ultraspirestore.com)

UltrAspire Spry Racing Vest

UltrAspire Spry Racing Vest

When I first started trail running, I took  my pink 1.5 L Camelback everywhere until I started having a few issues: back chafing on my spine and pilling on the front of my favorite running tops from the straps rubbing. Because I didn’t just have the money to simply replace it, I started using handhelds. One morning LeftLane sports  had a special on UltrAspire packs for 50% off and I jumped on it immediately and bought the Spry (1L) pack without the bladder.  Like I said, I really started to like carrying handhelds – and, if I really needed a bladder, I could purchase on separately.  I used this pack for a while and really, really liked  (liked as in past tense because I no longer have it – another story I will have to tell later) for several reasons:

Color – I am not the biggest fan of primary colors and I especially don’t want a pack that is solid red or blue (too plain, boring and unisex looking) – I want something bright and pretty. This lavender-like color coupled with the slate grey was definitely a keeper.

Comfort: With this pack, or racing pack as it is referred to on their site, is really small and lightweight.  It scored huge points since I could run in a sports bra without chafing and scabbing my spine (or anywhere else). I did also test this pack with a shirt and didn’t have any issues with pilling.  Another thing I liked was the breathability – the mesh all around pack didn’t have me over heating.
Versatility:  Since I didn’t use this pack with a bladder, it instead became very useful for carrying all the other stuff I “must-have” with me when I am running or racing and can’t fit it all in my handheld pockets or fanny pack.  I utilized the bladder section to hold my jacket or any peeled layers. I could store my empty or full Amphipod bottle there too – these bottles have a flat back to them that sit comfortably against my back instead of a typical cylinder-like bottle.
There are three front pockets – two large and one small magnetic closing pocket. I always regretted having a pack with pockets located on the back because I’d have to take it off just to access something I needed — not very convenient nor efficient. The left-side pocket has a zipper closure and I liked to stow my cell phone or camera (I am sure you can relate to this challenge). The right-side pocket has an elastic drawstring type closure that was big enough to put a bottle of water (my least favorite use) – I preferred to store my gels, RunGaurd, small first-aid kit and whatever else I thought I needed that day. BTW, there is a small mesh storage space on the outside of the zippered pocket that is great for storing gel wrappers.  Finally, the Magnon Electrolyte Pocket™ – a very small convenient pocket that is closed by the force of a small magnet — brilliant. This water-proof (well, it seemed like it was water-proof) pocket held my ibuprofen and salt pills naked – I didn’t have to store them in a baggy to keep them dry there. Very convenient to access when running and moving. I like to keep a few bobby pins in there too since they don’t get lost and are typically stuck to the magnet.
I mentioned earlier that this pack can utilize a 1L bladder that is sold on their site. This pack wasn’t really made for long treks, it’s more of a lightweight racing pack, but there are several other models available (including a 2L option).  This pack holds a little more than 1-1/2 standard handhelds out there. It is much smaller than my 1.5 liter Camelbak (about the same as 2-1/2 handhelds).

RUNNING BELT

Fitletic Ultimate Running Belt – $27.95 (www.fitletic.com)

www.fitletic.com $27.95

I posted about this belt in February 2011 and I still use same belt and still highly refer it (they last a long time and are very durable)! When I bought it, it was called an ifitness belt while now, the company seems to have re-branded and is now calling it Fitletic.  I use this belt when I carry handhelds so I can have a safe (and dry) place to store my phone and more room to place my gels. I have copied and pasted what I had previously said about it below (changing the name to Fitletic to be more current):
With all the stuff I carry with me, I need somewhere to put it. I started with the Spibelt but everything was flopping around all over the place and I ended up getting bruises from it. I didn’t like the fact that I had to carefully pack the items inside to keep it from flopping. During a run or race, you have you need out of it without even looking down at it. The iFitness belt is really comfortable, doesn’t budge and it is also made of a neoprene fabric that protects the stuff inside from getting wet: cell phone, salt pills, etc.   As a side note, I use the Ultimate Running Belt Style since it has particular places to hold the gels and I can also attach my racing bib to it.

HYDRATION BOTTLE

Hydraform Handheld Pocket™ – 20oz. – $19.50 (www.amphipod.com)

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I have tried so many other branded water bottles, but this is the one for me. I avoided buying this one for the longest time because of the color. Yes, I said that. After trying it out, I try to only use this one. The design is ergonomic and hit fits comfortably in your hand. It’s easy to pull the top open and it’s easy to close. I remember after breaking my finger that I quickly grabbed a different water bottle before my run and I had problems squeezing the water out because my finger was absolutely useless – it was this run that confirmed why I like it. I don’t want to struggle or have my hand in a position that is uncomfortable for hours on end. It’s just really a no-fuss, easy-to-use type of bottle. Several other styles available.

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