Monday, January 30, 2012

30K? What's that?

Coastal Trail Runs Steep Ravine 30K, complete! 

This was a difficult run. Like, super difficult. As difficult as it was, it was one of the most pretty runs ever. You run right along the coast for a good section of the course, and the other parts of the course you get to run through this awesome forest with streams and waterfalls.

Here are the course elevations for all the races that day:

And here's my course elevation map:

So essentially, you start out the course going straight uphill to one of the toughest hill climbs I've ever done, Cardiac. The forest is beautiful as you run through it, but it is really challenging. Lots of climbing, lots of slippery steps, and you can get distracted pretty easily by the gorgeous streams and waterfalls you are running by. The first few miles weren't too bad, mainly because I had a vague idea of what to expect. What I was NOT expecting was the Warrior Dash-esque ladder I had to climb up in order to continue along the trail. There were also lots and lots and lots of steps in the first 3 miles.

When you get to the top of Cardiac, you are awarded with an aid station. An aid station has never looked so glorious. (Well, maybe as glorious as that final aid station in Bear Creek last year...) I refilled my sprint bottles, and met up with a gal from my running group had driven up with me. We decided to continue on together. After you climb up and up and up through the forest area and reach the Cardiac aid station, you get to what you expect to be the "easier" portion of the trail. During this section, you get to leave the canopy forest and venture out into a more meadow type running trail area. This was awesome, because you got to see the entire coastline from on top of the mountain. Then you run along this for about 5 miles, enjoying the peaceful coast view the whole way.

Except for the rocks. And the mud. and the tricky terrain. This is one of the most technical trails I've seen! The trail in some portions was so ridden down by mountain bikers that it was a perfect V and you had to try and step through the grassy section next to the trail. Then there were tons of rocks you had to be super careful of not turning your ankle on. Plus, lots and lots of mud. I almost lost a shoe in the mud! Given all these factors, the "easier" part of the run was definitely not so easy. It took a lot of patience and attention to correctly place your feet and not get stuck in mud or turn your ankle. Too bad for me, I fell. Again. I shouldn't be so surprised by now. Totally wiped out right in front of my buddy who was running with me. She was super worried, but by now I'm used to falling down, scraping myself and getting all bloody, and carrying on. The sucky part about this fall, however, was that I still had 13 more miles and 1600 more feet of climbing to do. Oh well, time to carry on.

So after you manage to navigate through the rocks and mud (all while enjoying the view), you are rewarded once again with the second aid station. The run to this station was the toughest for me, because there was a long flat section that lead you through a meadow to a pasture with horses. It was a pretty boring part of the trail, and all I really wanted to do was get to the aid station at Muir Beach which signaled that I was more than halfway done with the race.

I finally got there, refilled again, and got back on the road. I ended up running with a small group of ladies who looked like pretty seasoned CTR runners. I got to talking with them, and it was a pretty cool experience. One of the interesting parts of this race is that you are running with lots of other runners, but they may not be running the same distance as you. One lady I ended up chatting with for a while was doing the 50K! I was totally blown away by this, I couldn't imagine doing that first climb to Cardiac all over again. She was a trooper!

So, after that second aid station you get to climb all the way back up Cardiac again. It was definitely painful the second time, but I had a better idea of what to expect and when it would end, so that made the climb a little more manageable. At the top of Cardiac when I got to the aid station for the second time there were all these hikers picnicking at the top, and they looked at us runners like we were crazy, which, we probably were.

I was so happy when I got to that final Cardiac aid station! There was only 2.9 miles left after that, and I was closing in on my goal of around 4 hours. I trooped on and got to the forest part again, which was actually pretty difficult to descend. All the steps that you didn't really take a huge notice of in the beginning were pretty hefty obstacles to deal with. The wood was a little slippery and it definitely took a toll on your knees. I ended up getting a rock in my shoe with about a mile and a half to go, but my knees and legs were so dead from all the climbing and stairs that I just left the rock in my shoe and ran with it the whole way back.

I ended up crossing the finish line at 4 hours and 10 minutes, and I was super happy with my time. For my first 30K, I'll take it! This was definitely a great first 30K, mainly because of how beautiful and diverse the run was. It was a tricky, tough, hill climbing run, but the views you got and the memories were worth the pain. 

Here is the course map of the run. The 30K runners followed the pink, orange, then pink routes:

Although I was pleased with my finishing time and proud of myself that I had completed the race, the whole second part of the course all I could really think about was how there was no way I was ready for a 50K. I could not imagine doing what those other ladies I was talking to were about to do. Finish the whole course, get to the finish line, and then turn right back around and do it all over again. No way. I expressed this thought to my running partner in crime at the end, and he said he had the same thought. I guess I'm really going to have to put in some heavy heavy training and give it a lot of thought as to whether or not I will be ready mentally and physically to run a 50K at the end of March. I guess only time and training will tell!

So, it was a great (and challenging) weekend! The run served as a great mental and physical fitness check, and although I don't think I passed the test, I know where I have to go if I really want to perform well in my 50K. Overall, it was a great course that was really clearly marked (even though I got a little turned around) and that had great support at the aid stations. I would definitely run a Coastal Trail Run again, it was a great experience! All photos in this blog are courtesy of Coastal Trail Runs at their website

Thanks for reading, and keep running!

What a great (and challenging) weekend! The run served as a great mental and physical fitness check, and although I don't think I passed the test, I know where I have to go if I really want to perform well in my 50K.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ramping Up

BEWARE! Long post!!

Today while I was out on a long run with a couple of friends, they asked me a question that really got me thinking.

How long have you been running for?

This is a pretty standard question you ask most other running friends during your training runs together. When I have asked others about it, most of the time my fellow runner can remember pretty close to exactly when they started running.

A year ago when I decided I needed to lose weight. 5 years ago after I got married. Last month when I wanted to change the way I was living my life.

Then the question always turns around, and I get asked, when did you start running? This is a really difficult question to answer. In one way or another, I have been running since high school. I ran indoor and outdoor track and field for a couple years after I made the decision that I needed to find friends (I was a pretty lonely, dorky kid in high school).

After high school, however, I was lost. There was no track at my college (we didn't even have a football field), and it was either cold and snowy or hot and humid. Running was something I knew I had to do to stay in shape and keep that freshman 15 off (that failed!), but it became really hard in college to run by myself after the past few years of high school where I was able to run not only for myself, but also to be a part of a team and feel close to my friends.

I ended up falling to a lot of things that were bad for me. Drinking, smoking, fighting with my boyfriend, (usually a combination of all three of these), laying in bed playing WoW for hours on end, eating horribly, and overall feeling pretty down on myself. This lasted for a couple years. Running was lost to me, and I had no desire to try and find it again.

Then things changed. My relationships became a lot more healthy (not only with my boyfriend, but also with my family), I quit smoking, I started eating better, and finally I made the decision to start running again. At first it was just in the school gym on the treadmill, but eventually I found my way outside again. I ran on and off for the last two years of college. I was not running a steady schedule, but hey I was getting myself out there.

Then grad school hit. For those of you who haven't attended grad school, grad school is like a train hitting you and throwing everything else that might have ever mattered to you off the tracks. Especially running. The first year of grad school I worked, and I worked, and I worked. I put off getting married. I worked on the nights and weekends when my fiancee was there, even though he took the time out of his life to drive 2 hours to come visit me. I was incredibly unhappy.

I think my mind was made up about grad school before I started my second year, but I wasn't ready to admit it. As I started my second year, I was ready to get back at work, but in a healthier work-life balance. That didn't work out as well as I hoped it to, but I had at least started running again. And as my miles increased, my desire to stay in grad school decreased. I loved how running made me feel, and it made me want even less to do the work I was doing in grad school.

Then I ran my first half marathon in May of 2010 with my fiancee. It was amazing. It was hard work, and the hard work I put into training paid off in the completion of my first half marathon. It was a reward I never experienced in grad school. At this point I had already decided not to continue in grad school, but the feeling I felt after completing my half validated my decision.

After a few unforeseen situations, I ended up in the Bay Area, working at a running store.

Running in the Bay Area has been a journey I have enjoyed more than anything else in my life. When I moved here, I made the decision to start running more seriously. I found a great group of folks already organized to run with, and also organized my own group of people I have grown to love like a family. My self esteem again has skyrocketed. I have found friends who are some of the best people I could have ever asked to share my running adventures with. I completed my first marathon with one of my running friends helping me along in my last 9 miles. I am running half marathons every week or at least every other week. I am training for my first 50K. My marriage is happy, I feel healthy. And after I realized that for me, having a "work-life balance" is completely impossible, I have at least found something I am happy to consider both my work and my life.

So when I get asked the question, how long have you been running? The easiest answer I can think of is 10 years. I started running track and field in the spring of 2002, and running has been with me ever since. But there have been so many times in my life where I gave up on running when I shouldn't have, I don't know if it is fair to consider myself a 10 year runner.

So, I guess the answer I should come up with is that I am a 10 and 2 year runner. Running has been a part of my life for the majority of the past 10 years of my life, but I have only started seriously training in the past 2 years. But now it has become so ingrained into who I am, I don't think I could ever not run.

This was a long and complicated answer to a seemingly simple question. It makes me wonder, what is really behind the short and sweet answers I get when I usually ask that question? I love that I will have miles and hours ahead to ponder this with the people I am lucky enough to be striding next to.

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, New Battle Scars.

Happy New Year! This year, I have a ton of resolutions. I want to start my own business (race directing with a friend), start my own non profit (to provide gently used athletic gear to those in need), run a 50K, and to become more involved in the Bay Area running community. I'm ready to have a great 2012!

I started the year off right by doing double half marathons, one on New Years Eve, and one on New Years Day. It was tough, but I had a great group of friends to run it with. The courses were on Lake Chabot, and the race was put on by Brazen Racing. I can't say enough about Brazen. They are one of the best race directing companies I have come across. I have not met one runner who hasn't had positive things to say about them, and they deserve it. The courses were perfectly marked, aid stations were filled to the brim with anything you could ever dream of, and of course, ITS ITS at the end! Love it!

So, the races! Lake Chabot is awesome to run at. You get to experience all terrains of trail running. There is steep incline, steep decline, flat spots, single track, switch backs, forest running, meadow running, heat, and coldness. Day 1 was challenging, but rewarding. There is about 1800 feet of elevation gain in this run, and most of it comes at the mile 3-4 incline. I struggled up the behemoth hill, but the reward of the view was absolutely amazing at the top. A friend and I leap frogged the whole way, which was fun because I was able to commiserate with someone about the pain I was in!

This picture is of me right at the beginning of the race! Smiley, happy, not feeling the steep hills yet!

This is me, coming into the finish. I may be smiling here, but it is mainly because I was almost done and was about to go eat some delicious yumminess at brunch! After the race, myself and two of the run groups I am part of went to Elio's (delicious breakfast) and celebrated a friend's birthday and our collective awesomeness at finishing day 1 of our back to back half marathons.

Fast forward to day 2! I woke up feeling tired, cranky, and not at all like I wanted to run. Running 13.1 miles two days in a row was not something I was looking forward to. It was going to be warmer that day, so I decided to wear shorts (a mistake, the consequences of which I will discuss later). When I got to the race, I wasn't feeling any happier about being there. But, I put my game face on and decided that I would just take it easy, take pictures of the beautiful sights, and just enjoy it. There were definitely fewer people there on Day 2, which was fine with me because I got to use the "real" bathrooms and not the PortoPotty! 

Day 2's half marathon was run in the opposite direction we ran previously. That ended up being awesome, because you got to appreciate all the downhills that you struggled up as hills the day before, and gained respect for the hills you didn't even notice as downhills. Here are some of the pictures I took of the course:

This was right at the beginning of the race. Beautiful Lake Chabot with the early morning sun rolling in.

Part of the forest-y paths. These trees were awesome and I couldn't stop looking at them and feeling so lucky that I got to run through a piece of nature as beautiful as this. 

The top of one of the final climbs at mile 10. You could see the entire bay area from this viewpoint, and the picture doesn't even begin to do this scene justice.

It was all incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring. However, my legs felt like jello by the time I hit mile 8 or so. There were some killer downhills on this course that I didn't really take into account from the day beforehand. My knees were torn up and my hip was angry at me. Even with all my stopping to take pictures, my legs just felt absolutely exhausted. 

This leads up to mile 11. Meghan, meet ground. Ground, meet Meghan! You two have met before, right? I KNEW I was tempting fate by running the same trail 2 days in a row. Totally wiped out, tripping over a rock. Tore up my knee, destroyed my sprint bottle, and my camera was definitely worse for wear. If only I had worn capri's, I might have had a little protection! But NO! I had to wear shorts! OY!

The race was finally over a bit after that, and I had the honor of being run in by one of the best runners I know. He ran me in through the last .75 miles, and even though I was hurting and not wanting to run in at all, I had to do my best in front of him!! So, I sucked it up, and ran my best through that last piece of trail. He really gave me the pick me up I needed to finish that race strong! 

Running back to back half marathons was difficult, and my legs felt rubbery afterwards, but I think running a full marathon was still tougher than the back to back halves. I was cranky on Day 2, but the miles seemed to fly by during the half. Before I knew it, I was halfway done, and the miles just kept flying. During my full marathon, I was counting every minute, trying to brave through every mile, and feeling like I was about to fall apart mentally and physically from mile 18 on. My ankles hurt, my knees hurt, my mind hurt during the full. During the back to back halves, I experienced moments of "WHY am I DOING this?" But that was mainly on the most difficult hills and overall I thought it was a lot of fun! I would definitely recommend to anyone who is looking for a challenge to do back to back halves. It doesn't require nearly as much training and preparation, and you don't want to give up on life by the end of it :)

Anyways, now that day 2 was over, I earned the best medal of all, the BRAZEN RACING NEW YEARS EVE/NEW YEARS DAY MEGA MEDAL!!!

How cool is that thing? Definitely worth the the 2 day! In the end, I had a blast over the two days. I wouldn't have been able to do it without amazing friends to support me, a great RD company in Brazen, and my own stubbornness not to give up. I am going to have to get used to this though! If I want to get my training right for the 50K, I need to start doing back to back tough trail runs like these every weekend! I guess I'll just have to get used it :)

That's all for now! Thanks for reading, and keep running!