Sunday, December 2, 2012

FINALLY Running Well!

Today's TTR run was Douglas Spring Trail to Cowhead Saddle and back -- a run that I have done at least a dozen times. It is always slow and usually miserable. I wouldn't even have done it except that I have a ton of stress to burn off, and nothing does the job quite like physical exercise. Seriously! If you're a couch potato and you're depressed, you're not getting an ounce of sympathy from me until you try working out and see what it does for your depression.

The last few TTR runs have been either really really long or really really difficult, and because this one was neither one, at least by TTR standards of really really long and really really difficult, in my mind it was an easy run. Only 18 miles, and even though it was essentially all uphill on the way out, it was all downhill on the way back, and almost all runnable in both directions. Not only that, it's just so familiar. I have it broken down perfectly in my head. 2 miles of pretty steep uphill, another 4 1/2 (4.7, to be exact) miles of easier uphill, and then 2.4 miles of some more pretty steep uphill (but even that has plenty of little runnable stretches). Weather was supposed to be nice -- sunny and warm but not too warm. And we would be in shade for the whole first half of the morning, because we were running up the west side of the mountains.

My first couple miles -- always my least favorite part of this trail -- were slower than they should have been because I stopped to take pictures, and every time I stopped I had to undo my pack, get my phone out, take the picture, put the phone away, and refasten the pack. I was trying to catch Blacketts but could not do it. He's running well too. I kept seeing glimpses of him ahead of me and thinking, oh yeah, I got him, but... nope! Never did.

Once I got to the end of the first bad miles, I surprised myself by running most of the remaining 7 miles up. I didn't run fast by any means, but I ran nearly all of it and that is unusual for me. At 6.7 miles the trail goes through the Douglas Spring campground. There is a bathroom there. It's BYOTP but even so, at least it is a bathroom, for someone who just hates peeing in the woods and always will. I always stop at that bathroom and take a break to catch my breath, eat an orange, etc. Today I did not do any of that, just stashed a bottle of Nuun so I didn't have to drag it up the steep climb and then kept going. I knew Chia-Chi, Steve O, Joe P, and Michelle, who are all faster than me, were right behind me -- I'd been hearing them for miles and could always see them if I turned around and looked behind me -- and I thought it would be cool to stay in front of them for as long as possible. Usually whatever order people leave the campground in is the order they stay in up to the saddle, then the order shifts as the good downhill runners pass the so-so downhill runners on the return trip.

Even the climb up wasn't so bad. The last several times I've run this trail, I've made it a 20-miler and gone one steep, wind-sucking mile past the saddle before turning around. I was so grateful I did not have to do that today. I was also grateful we weren't doing the awful Tanque Verde Ridge run today -- a much harder and more miserable run than Cowhead. When I got to the saddle I slapped the sign and turned around and went right down.

I really wanted to keep going but now I really did have to pee and knew it would only get more uncomfortable with all the downhill pounding going back to the trailhead. So I stopped at the bathroom after all. When I came out Steve O passed me. He was running well too. I got into a funk leaving the campground because there was a tiny little bit of uphill. On this run I always feel that I deserve all downhill on the return trip and that all uphill, no matter how insignificant, should be walked. But the funk was nothing that couldn't be cured by a few margarita shot bloks. Pretty soon I was running again. Michelle passed me somewhere in there, and then the shot bloks kicked in and I realized I had a chance at being under 4 hours (unheard of for me on this trail) if I sped up, so I did and repassed Michelle.

My downhill running has gotten so much better! Last time I did this trail I just picked my way down it like a pack mule. This time I was actually running. It's not really easy downhill -- too many step-downs, and miles of those = pretty uncomfortable pounding on your feet, knees, and internal organs. But still, downhill was way better than up. I kept looking at my watch. Oh, man, it was going to be close. As soon as I hit the smooth dirt trail that led back to the parking lot I really cranked it up as much as I possibly could. I could see the seconds ticking by on the Garmin -- 3:58:00, 3:59:00, come on, where is that goddamn trailhead sign? I was at the trailhead and hit Stop on the Garmin at 3:59:57 -- the closest to my goal time I have ever been in my whole life. I almost didn't make it but managed to do my last mile at under 8:00 pace. This was my best time by 26 minutes, which is not insignificant! Maybe all these long runs I've been suffering through have actually done some good? Or maybe it was just my feeling, wrong or right, that this was a short run? Who knows, but I'm pretty happy with it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Deja Vu -- I Recognize This Yucky Feeling...

...from the last time I did the Redington 50k!

I can't remember that old song, or jingle, whatever it was, that had the line in it "second verse, same as the first", but wherever it came from, that phrase was stuck in my head because, really, yesterday on that route was eerily similar to the last time I was on that route. I had two goals going into this event. (This  was not a race, by the way; it was just a TTR training run. In other words, I did this for FUN, not for a T-shirt or a pint glass or a medal. It was just what was on the TTR schedule for this weekend, so that's what I did. I'm not even training for anything. Just burning calories. I have now reached trail runner insanity.) Anyway, my two goals were as follows:

1) Have a better experience than last year
2) Beat my last year's time

I accomplished one of those, I beat my time. As far as having a better experience... well, maybe I did. That mountain at the end was not quite as bad as it was last year. The rest of it pretty much was, though.

This is actually not that hard of a run, by TTR standards. It doesn't have the kind of climbing that our last couple of runs have had (Agua Caliente hill, Lemmon Ascent). I don't know what the total elevation gain was, maybe a couple-few thousand feet? Tame. And there were lots of places where it was almost flat, and it was runnable almost the whole way. It was obvious at the beginning that the sun was going to be the biggest factor (well, aside from the distance, of course). I know when I am only slightly chilly at the start in T-shirt and shorts that it's going to be really hot later. I was smart this year and had stashed a bottle of frozen Nuun at the place where the AZ Trail crosses Catalina Highway. That way I could pick it up when we got there and spare myself having to carry a frozen bottle down the 2.7 miles of trail between the start and the highway. I would then carry it up and over the hill coming out of Molino and stash it again at the bottom of the big hill. See? I'm not always stupid!

The first 2.7 miles is a big drop from the Prison Camp parking lot to Molino Basin. It's a nice way to get started, with a couple fast, easy miles. Once we cross the highway at Molino, there is a pretty short and not too difficult climb up to the saddle. From the saddle you can look out at an endless sea of mountains. I was trying to figure out whether they are the Catalinas, the Rincons, or a mix of both. Anyone? Yeah, I could look at a map but I am a little too lazy for that.

On the other side of that saddle is the drop of about 1000' if I remember correctly from last year. I didn't have elevation on my watch today so couldn't check that. That is so much fun to run down, unless you are thinking the whole time about how miserable it will be to climb back up a few hours later. At the bottom there is a stock tank and that's where I stashed my bottle, on the west side where hopefully it would stay in shadow all morning and still be cool when I got back to it.

From the stock tank the AZ Trail follows a jeep road for a while and then turns into trail again. I got a little disoriented there because there were a lot of little side trails, but I managed to stay on the right trail the whole time. After a couple miles on trail, the trail comes to a dirt road and picks up again on the other side a little ways to the left. This is well-marked and it would be hard to get lost here. From this point it's 4 miles, mostly a gradual climb ending in a drop down to another dirt road where our aid station was, at just over thirteen miles in.

I'd had a pretty good run up till now, even though the trail was very sunny and exposed. Deja vu officially kicked in at the aid station. It was just like last year. I scarfed down little triangles of PB&J, looked at the cooler full of soda, thought, "I want a Pepsi," told myself, "No, you'll make yourself sick and ruin your run," pulled out a Pepsi anyway, drank half of it, told myself to leave the other half for my return trip, and then chugged the other half too because it tasted so good. My stomach promptly blew up like a balloon and I regretted the Pepsi instantly. I sometimes wonder why I just cannot seem to learn some lessons. Is it stupidity or something else? Self-destructiveness maybe? Who knows. Anyway, from the aid station it was another 2+ miles to the turnaround. There was no reason for me to do those extra 2+ miles. I could have just turned around at the aid station and been satisfied with a marathon for the day. But nooooooo, I had committed to 50k so I was going to do 50k.

I walked out of the aid station, walking delicately because of my stomach. Not 100 yards up the trail I decided it was too hot and took my shirt off and threw it on a rock. I walked along thinking how unfair it is that I can't burp. If I could burp I could just drink soda like a normal person and not get the shaken-up soda can feeling that has ruined so many of my races. Eventually the caffeine kicked in and I wanted to run, but I could only run for short distances because of my stomach. I stopped and stuck my finger down my throat, thinking, fine! I'll just puke it up then! but my stomach clamped down stubbornly and refused to let me puke. See, stubbornness runs all through my whole body.

My GPS hit 15.5 and I was still not at the turnaround, which is marked by a big AZ Trail sign. I kept going because, you know, it does not count unless you hit the turnaround sign. I hit it at 15.7. Then I turned around and faced a long, miserable slog back up to the aid station. Just exactly like last year, this is where the wheels fell off the bus. I walked every bit of that stretch and even stopped to pee at the exact same spot as I did last year. Forgot that my TP was in the pocket in my water bottle... which was 10 miles away by the stock tank. Oh well. It's not like it matters when you're going that far. I grabbed my shirt on the way back to the aid station but decided I was not going to put it on; too hot for that.

At the aid station I drank a Gatorade and a water and then some more water. I refilled my water bag and strolled out of the aid station like I had all day to get where I was going. My now-heavy-again pack was bouncing around on my back and something at the bottom of it was digging into my skin since I had taken my shirt off. I stopped to fix the poky thing but found that it was the place where the hose attaches to the bag, can't do anything about that. Oh well! It would just have to rub, then, no way was I putting the shirt back on. By now it was close to noon, and there was nothing but sun. Thankfully there was also a good breeze that kept it from getting too hot. Still, though... all that sun. And do you think I wore sunscreen? No! Of course not!

Even though I had stuffed myself at the aid station, I still had a GU about a mile later. This is not just any GU... it is peppermint-flavored holiday GU! I bought it on impulse at the Running Shop on Saturday and I am so glad I did. It is smooth and not overly sweet and did not make me feel sick at all. Well, at least it didn't make me feel sick until I accidentally looked at it while I was squeezing the last bit out of the packet. In my head the GU was white with red stripes, like a candy cane, like the package it came in. In real life it is approximately the color (and close to the viscosity) of motor oil. Ick! It's surprising, the things that can turn your stomach on a long run!

I hate this run, of course, but one thing I do like about it is that it breaks up nicely into manageable segments. From the aid station, it's 4 miles of mostly-downhill to the dirt road. Then a couple miles of trail to where it turns into dirt road. Then a couple miles on that dirt road to the stock tank. Then the climb up the horrible mountain, then the drop into Molino Basin, then the climb out of Molino and back to Prison Camp. I continued to have pretty awful problems with nausea the whole way but luckily ran into Renee at about Mile 23. She kept me going till the climb started at about the point we finished the marathon distance.

Climbing that mountain was NOT as bad as last time. I never felt like I was going to die and I did not have to lie down on the trail and I did not spend time hanging out in the bathroom at Molino like I did last time. It was miserable but no more miserable than I ever am at that point in a long run. The more-miserable part came on that last 2.7 mile stretch of the AZ Trail back to Prison Camp. It is a long slog uphill, minimal shade. My Garmin (well, Kathy's Garmin) warned me about low battery a couple times and then shut off at Mile 29-something. I felt like it was saying, "Screw it, I quit." I know the feeling! The AZ Trail roughly parallels Catalina Highway here and I know I cannot be the only one who has looked over at the highway and thought about walking out there and thumbing a ride to the Prison Camp parking lot.

My stomach was so awful by now that even the tightness of my sports bra was uncomfortable. I pulled the bottom of it away from my skin and walked along like that, getting madder and madder that I even had to wear a bra. WHY do I have to wear one? What kind of society is this where men can run shirtless but women can't? I mean, I fully understand that if I had a chest I would need the bra for support, but since I don't, why do I have to wear one? I have run braless before though with a T-shirt on, and it was not uncomfortable in the least. So, seriously, how come I have to wear one while Joe Bob with a huge gut can walk around shirt-free and get away with it? As soon as I'm done writing this I'm going to google "right for women to go shirtless" and join the political activist group that I'm sure is out there somewhere. Or else I'll just take a nap, one or the other.

I finally finished and I think Ross said my time was 7:43, which is better than the 8-something I had last year. That should be a 7-hour run if I could just get my act together. The lying down in the Prison Camp parking lot, the wanting to eat but being way too nauseous, the thoughts of never wanting to trail run again, all those were familiar from last time. This time I actually sunburned bad enough that you can see the outline of my sunglasses on my face, something that's never happened before. Also, I stayed nauseous the whole evening last night and couldn't eat. So at least it was a good day calorie-wise if not in any other way.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I Really Should Change The Name Of This Blog...

... to "The Uninspired Trail Runner", since I don't do anything resembling triathlon anymore and haven't touched water in a swimming pool since... I don't know... maybe November? LAST November, that is. I have pretty much gone over to the dark side of trail running. Even though I claim to hate it, I am out there every weekend with TTR even when there is no race on my agenda till April at the earliest.

Anyway, shame on me for neglecting this blog. "The Uninspired Trail Runner" doesn't have the same ring to it as "The Uninspired Triathlete" so I guess I will just keep the name for now. I am really uninspired as far as writing goes because this blank blog entry has just been sitting here open on my computer since last Sunday, when I ran from Sabino Canyon to the tippy-top of Mt. Lemmon on trails. Well, okay, I did not actually RUN. I ran most of the first 10 miles and not much after that in a total of 18 miles. Hey! 10 miles of running out of 18 is good for me in a TTR run.

This one was one I did not want to miss. There's just something about running to the top of Mt. Lemmon on trails that is so badass-sounding I could not resist it. I mean, who does that? Outside of TTR runners, of course, most of whom do it faster than I do, but I mean of real world people. That's just a crazy thing to do, all right, maybe not as crazy as running to the top of Pikes Peak, but right up there. So of course I had to do it. I don't really worry anymore about whether I'm in shape to do these runs. I just fuel up and go for it and figure I'll be out there as long as it takes and finish when I finish. I guess my body is finally used to the fact that it just has to keep vertical and keep moving for long periods of time.

This run required some logistics. It is point-to-point, not a loop, and Sabino Canyon to the top of Mt. Lemmon by road is something like 35 miles. Luckily Tim, the best ex-boyfriend in the world, nicely volunteered to drive my car to the top of Mt. Lemmon (with his bike in the back) and then ride down, leaving my car up there for me to drive down. So I picked him up early Sunday morning and we drove to Sabino Canyon together and then he left me there.

The first six miles of this run were familiar to me -- 3.7 up the paved tram road, then a couple more on trail to Sabino Basin. After that the run followed the West Fork Trail, which was completely new to me. That trail goes to Hutch's Pool. Hutch's Pool is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Tucson, and I had never been there. It is a deep natural pool in the canyon. I was excited to see it for the first time but should've listened a little more carefully to the instructions about what to do when I got there. I did listen carefully to the instructions for the climb up to Romero Pass, which were: Don't Turn Left. Take the Right Trail. Somehow "turn right, not left" stuck in my mind. This was unfortunate. I was making pretty good time (for me) on the West Fork Trail as I got up to Hutch's Pool. But I must have either missed the trail turnoff to the left, or else just subconsciously followed the right fork of the trail. There are lots of well-used trails that lead down to the pool so it's easy to figure out what happened.

I was running by myself at that point, not too far behind one group and not too far ahead of another one. I still thought I was on trail as I ran past some guys camping by the pool. "Your friends just went that way," one of them said helpfully, pointing to the trail that ran to the right along the edge of the pool. "Thanks!" I said cheerfully, and kept going for another five minutes or so until the trail ended, or got so faint among the weeds and boulders that it might as well have ended. I poked around for a while but decided that could not possibly be right so went back to the campers. I was wondering why the group of runners behind me hadn't caught up to me yet since I knew they weren't that far behind me.

The camping guy said yup, the trail did go that way for sure. I decided forget it, I would just hike back the way I came until I ran into the group behind me. But then I couldn't find the trail out of there, either. I did stumble upon the other camping guy heading back to his campsite with a camp shovel in his hand.  I asked him about the trail too, and he confirmed it went along the side of the pool. But just then I saw a red-shirted runner flash by up above me on the side of the canyon. "That's the trail I want!" I said. "Oh no," the guy said, "that's the West Fork Trail up there." Yup, West Fork was the one I wanted all right. But I could not for the life of me find a clear path up there, so I bushwhacked up the side of the canyon, which involved wading through waist-deep weeds and hoping desperately that it was too cold for snakes to be out.

Okay! Now I was back on trail but way behind everyone. What a buzzkill. I still had not solved the mystery of what happened to the other runners that had gone down the trail alongside the pool but decided to forget about it. I knew this was the right trail and that I had about three more miles before the trail junction where I had to turn right and climb up Romero Pass. This part of West Fork was a nice, smooth, totally runnable trail. It was climbing, but very gradually. Every so often I would catch glimpses of other runners way ahead of me. It was very sunny out. I had worn tights and a long-sleeved shirt thinking about temps on top of Mt. Lemmon, but it was a lot warmer than I had anticipated down here.

A group of runners came up behind me. It was a bunch of faster people who had been in the group that had taken the detour at Hutch's Pool. They had gone farther down the wrong trail than I had, and they said some other people had kept going, not turned back when they did. I was glad I was not in that group. This really is not the kind of run you want to do any extra miles on. That group passed me but we stayed pretty close together till we got to the trail junction. A left turn would have taken us to Cathedral Rock and the right turn went up Romero Pass. The group that was ahead of my group had stopped there to refuel so it was like a giant TTR party. I had stripped off my long-sleeved shirt so I was in just a sports bra. The cool breeze felt amazingly good on my skin. I couldn't believe how warm it was. I contemplated taking off my tights too and running in sports bra and thong, but decided that was a little much. (NOTE: I have hiked on Mt. Lemmon in a thong before, but that was with Krissy when ordinary rules did not apply.)

By this point, ten miles in, I had really had quite enough of running. Blacketts was waiting with the group at the trail junction. I asked him how he was getting down and he said he didn't know. I suggested he take my keys and drive my car down and I would meet him at Sabino. I was having vague thoughts of taking the Cathedral Rock Trail and having that somehow be a shorter return to Sabino but he informed me that was not true and we were now past the point of no return. Sigh, okay. I headed up with everyone else.

The climb up Romero Pass was not bad but once we got to the junction with another trail (the Mt. Lemmon Trail? Never did get the name) it became terrible. Straight up, boulder-scrambling required, practically hand-over-hand in some places. Amazing views across the Catalinas in all directions. I had been scrambling along talking to Craig and Sarah but suddenly was slammed with nausea that practically knocked me to the ground. I had no idea where that had come from but I had to stop and lean against a tree until it went away as suddenly as it had come, leaving me weak-kneed and clammy with sweat but able to keep going.

This climb went up to the top of a 7500' knob (as described on the map) and continued to torture me the whole way up. Nausea came and went. I wondered if it was the altitude but doubted it since Pikes Peak was twice this high and I never got nauseous there. This was a different kind of nausea, not the kind I usually get from swallowing too much air. I wondered if maybe I was coming down with a stomach virus and thought this would be a very crappy place to have it hit.

At the top of the knob the trail dropped down to the junction with the Wilderness of Rocks Trail. I had always hit this trail junction coming the other way on the Lemmon Trail and had always turned on WOR and wondered what would happen if I just kept going straight. Well, now I knew! From here to the end I was familiar with the trail, no surprises.

I was plain out of energy here. I managed to do some running but not much. With about three miles left to go I was feeling sick again and had to lie down on a rock. It was much cooler up here but that cold rock still felt so good against my bare skin! I stayed there until I started to feel cold and then ordered myself to get up and get moving for the last haul to the top.

The last part of the trail switchbacked up the mountainside to an old jeep road. When we hit the jeep road we still had a mile and a half to go, nearly all of it still uphill. I got my second wind when I hit the road and managed to run nearly all of it to where it spit us out up near Radio Ridge (9300'? 9100'? I didn't have my GPS but think it was one of those two). I wanted to take a nap up there but couldn't since I had someone coming over later and really had to get down off the mountain. Somehow I neglected to eat anything besides a Mountain Dew, even though there was lots of awesome food. The Mountain Dew finally settled my stomach and I felt fine again.

This was a good day's run and I finished in 5:47, which I think isn't horrible time for this run, but I haven't seen the other times so have no idea what they were like. It was awesome to explore a new trail and to get to the top of Mt. Lemmon on foot. Also, the one nice thing about lots of uphill? No new black toenails.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Toenails (With Pictures!)

I know, I know, you're sick of hearing about my toenails. Well, too bad. This is my blog and I can write about whatever I want, and I feel like writing about toenails today. I also feel like putting in pictures. However, I did do you the courtesy of putting the pictures waaaaaaaay down at the bottom, so they won't jump right out and scare you. I must warn you that they are extremely disgusting. Extremely! So don't look if you have a weak stomach or if you think that you might not be able to look at me without the sight of me triggering a gag reflex after you see them.

Some people (non-runners, obviously) don't get why things like this happen to toenails. Here is why. When you run long distances, especially down hills, your toes bang against the toebox of your shoes. Times a million in a long distance race. I am pretty sure this is inevitable. It's happened in many different brands of shoe. I don't think it has anything to do with the shoe being the wrong size. These shoes feel like they're exactly the right size. If I went up a half a size, my foot would be sliding around and would hit the toebox with even more force; if I went down half a size my toes would be squished in the front of the shoe and would start their blistering even before I hit the hills.

Multiply the impact of the toe hitting the toebox times... some really high number, and eventually you get a blister under the nail from the friction. If the blister is bad enough (and here's where my science gets murky and I'm too lazy to google, so I'm basically making this up), it somehow causes the nail to disconnect from the nail bed. Or maybe it happens because the nail sits and marinates in the liquid from the blister all day. I don't really know. But eventually the whole nail will just lift off, and you are left with smooth, shiny pink toe skin just like the day you were born.

Not! More likely you're left with (see below) an oozing crater with shards of nail clinging to the edges of the nail bed because the nail wasn't quite ready to be detached but you got impatient and numbed it up with ice and yanked it off because you got tired of it flapping like a saloon door in an old Western movie and catching on your blankets in bed and making you wake up screaming every time you turned over. Yeah, I know I'm not the only one who's done that.

Okay, I've made you wait long enough, scroll down past the pretty picture of pretty Chloe (you'll need this cuteness to inoculate yourself against the grossness that's coming next) if you reeeeaaaalllly want to see...

The first picture below is of my right big toenail... or, more accurately, the place where my right big toenail used to be. It turned black after Pikes Peak but hung around until after the 50, when it pretty much gave up the ghost. I went ahead and pulled it off, and it came off except for in the right corner, where it was still attached firmly. That hurt. Like pulling off a hangnail. And the fact that I left a tiny speck of toenail there means it will grow back in all uneven and double-thick and disgusting. Like a little horn.

The next one is of my left big toe. I call this one my zombie toenail because it turned fish-white instead of the usual black. (Though today it's looking yellow, maybe due to the hydrogen peroxide soaks?) Anyway, the blister under this one popped and drained and I should have just left it alone, but noooooo. I can't leave scabs or dead toenails alone; I just can't. So I picked at it and picked at it and eventually got it at least halfway off -- but it stopped there and wouldn't go any further. Now what? It hurts too much if I try to pull it all the way off. But if I leave it on it catches on everything. Solution: leave it on, soak it often, hope that the soaking softens it up enough to pull it all the way off eventually. And bandage it during the day so that my sweaty feet don't make it stick to my sock and create a nasty mess when I take my sock off at the end of the day.

You know, the sad thing is that my feet are structurally perfect. Really, they are. I don't have a foot fetish but the shape of my feet makes me want to get one just so I could worship my own feet. Then THIS shit goes and happens to my nails, making me want to throw up. I have heard it said that no matter how gross something is, someone, somewhere, has fetishized it, but I am pretty willing to bet that no one has ever fetishized ultrarunners' feet. And if someone has, that someone is a sick, sick individual.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Looking Into the Abyss

From the perspective of (almost) one week post-race, I can see that the whole thing was vastly different than the OP-50. I'm not talking about the difficulty of the course, I'm talking about the way I felt about it.

When I reached the finish line at the OP-50, I was filled with horror and was truly appalled that such an event existed and that I had voluntarily participated in it. I remembered the dread I felt out there on the course at Mile 33 and the sheer misery and the knowledge that the misery was going to last for hours and hours and hours yet. When I said at the finish line, "Never again", I meant it with all my heart.

After the OP-50 I couldn't even think about trails for months without that feeling of dread settling over me. I didn't get back on them until Pikes Peak forced me to get serious about them. And somewhere in the process of training for Pikes Peak, I remembered the neat part about doing stuff that is really challenging. That is that looking into the abyss -- i.e., facing something that is so scary and impossible-seeming that you just want to lie down and quit -- gives you a new perspective that you can't just go out and get in run-of-the-mill daily life. It took me a couple months to figure it out, but I finally did, to the point that when I signed up for Flagstaff on a whim I really didn't worry about it at all or spend much time analyzing whether it was a mistake or not. I was excited about it. Really excited! I wanted to see what horrible things would happen to me out there and what I would think about them. I could care less about my time other than wanting to finish within the time cutoff.

I got this strange energy in the days leading up to the race. It's like the things in my everyday life got smaller and race day got bigger and brighter. My feeling on the start line was a mix of a wild, giddy kind of happiness and plain curiosity -- what the heck was going to happen?

It was surprisingly, disappointingly unremarkable for the first 35 miles. I felt pretty good, no hallucinating, no stomach problems, no body parts threatening to fall off, no shitting myself, these were all good things! In fact when I left the Schultz aid station at, I don't know, Mile 31 or 32, I was feeling almost disappointed because I felt so normal. I was slow-running just like I would any trail, any day. Then, suddenly, around Mile 35, in the middle of a steep, nasty climb, ultra brain took over and the feelings of weirdness started.

I stand by my statement that ultra brain is a lot like LSD brain. Hikers walking by look really funny, like they have their heads on sideways or something. I noticed the quality of the afternoon sunlight and think about how, yup, time is passing and I've been out here in the forest the whole damn day. I see things like trees breathing. I start to cry and plead with the trail to please get easier. Then I come around a corner and see it goes up even steeper and start swearing at it.

Then I finally drag myself into an aid station and fall on the ground with no energy left at all and it is incomprehensible that I can walk ten more steps, let alone 13 more miles. But after enough food and soda I start to come alive again, sort of. But I still don't want to leave the aid station. I start thinking about dropping. Who cares anyway. I made almost 40 miles, isn't that enough? Then I picture writing my blog explaining why I dropped -- wasn't trained, shouldn't have attempted it -- and know that my only real excuse for dropping is "I don't feel like continuing" and that is unacceptable. So I get up and trudge out. I keep stopping and looking over my shoulder at the ever-more-distant aid station, waiting for someone to come along and tell me to quit, I guess, but no one does. It's just me and the sunset and the rocks and the aspens.

After Mile 40 is when the serious weirdness starts. This is the good part. It was scary in OP-50 because I didn't know what to expect. Now I do. I start to look forward to it, like, what will I see next that is weird? All the Japanese hikers, that giant gnarly tree down at the bottom (can I just say, Whomping Willow?), the endless stream of conversation coming out of my mouth directed at my invisible hiking partner, all that. Then comes the part that's just lame. The 2000' climb up the mountain, feet dragging like I'm pulling them out of quicksand with every step. Then the beauty of the sleeping bag and the heater. Eyes closed, asleep in five seconds or less. Volunteers won't let me sleep. Get up! You've got five more miles, all downhill. I make half-hearted noises about not wanting to finish but I know I am going to.

So grateful for company on those last five miles through the Blair Witch-y looking forest. The finish line is almost deserted. A couple race people in hoodies and jeans looking frozen. No fire, no hot soup, no cheering crowds. Who cares. It was awesome. I looked into the abyss and did not become paralyzed with dread. I made myself keep moving when everything in me wanted to stop. What a thrill that is! Someone tell me where you can get that kind of thrill in daily life. I'll sign up, no doubt.

The only scary thing is wondering whether I'll need a bigger high some day. A marathon is not really a challenge anymore. Even Pikes Peak. Even the Pikes Peak Double. What happens if you just keep raising the bar? Is this how people end up doing 100's? Running Badwater? Help!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Redefining Brutal: Flagstaff Endurance Run Race Report

Where to start with this? Maybe with a link to the website:

(I wanted to copy and paste the elevation profile and map, but couldn't figure out how. So if you want to see a visual of the torture, go to the website and look at the elevation profile for the 50-mile race. Especially look at the really thick band of red right before Mile 40. I should have looked at it more closely when I was telling myself that even though I wasn't really in shape for this, if nothing else it would just be a nice day spent hiking around the forest in Flagstaff. Mmmm hmmm.)

Everyone knows I didn't really train for this and thought I could sort of wing it on 40 miles of running in the past month (very little of it on trails) and lots of biking. Plus, I did have a good Pikes Peak Double, so I had that in the bag going in. Well, compared to this... event (I can't call it a race; it was an endurance event), Pikes Peak was a walk in the park. Or a stroll on the beach. Or some other really nice, easy activity that did not at all compare to this. I cannot compare this to anything I've done, not even the OP-50, which was, up until today, the hardest thing I ever did and the worst I've ever felt in an event.

If you didn't look at the website, let me summarize: the course starts at about 7200' or so, and meanders around the forest with 5 significant climbs that go up to right around 9000' each. There's a total elevation gain of around 8000', which is the same as two Mt. Wrightsons (which I have never done, by the way -- perhaps I should have) or one Pikes Peak. My mindset going into this race was that I would plan to spend all day out there in the forest, walk any time I wanted, and just enjoy the hike. There were 29 people doing the 50-mile and I'm not sure how many doing the 50-k.

We started at 6:00 a.m. with perfect temperatures -- just slightly chilly in a long-sleeved shirt and shorts.  The first climb, up to the Sunset aid station, was not too bad. I walked it and so did most of the other runners. It would have been runnable if I had been in shape. The Sunset aid station was on top of a ridge line at almost 9000'. Immediately after leaving it the trail dropped down the side of the mountain. The ridge was lined with aspens, and their leaves were all blazing yellow for the fall. They were stunning. The view down into the valley below was also stunning. I did hear a couple of other runners say something unpleasant about how we would be climbing back up the mountainside at the end of the day, but I tried to ignore it. The trail dropped for about two miles and then came out to a dirt road that climbed for about four miles and then came to the Shultz aid station. Tom caught up to me right before the road. (I had to stop to pee and to retie my shoes since my feet were slipping all around in them. By the way, unlike the last 50-mile race I did, I did not emerge with a single gross or interesting shit story. I didn't even pee on my shoes. Boring!) Anyway, Tom and I were not in a hurry. He trained about as well as I did, and we strolled up the road chatting and not doing anything resembling racing. We were only at about Mile 11 and I felt like we were being a little too casual. I mean, neither one of us cared about time but there was a 16-hour limit for the course which I really thought I might end up coming pretty close to.

After the Shultz aid station, the course left the road and climbed a couple miles on trail before coming out to another road. This one went down. It was about three miles of beautiful downhill. I caught up to a guy named Mike, who was also a Tucson runner. I had never met him before. We ran together down the road into the Kachina aid station. They told us at this aid station that it was 3.3 miles to the next aid station, which was a turnaround. I didn't think there was an aid station -- I thought there were only three, Sunset, Schultz, and Kachina. But since they told me there was, I believed them and drank all my water before I got there. It turned out that the "aid station" wasn't. It was just a couple people sitting there checking numbers. They gave me a tiny bit of water from their personal stash, which I felt bad about but I didn't want to go the 3.3 miles back to Kachina without any water.

Mike and I were going to try to stay together but he started having trouble and eventually I just left him. I mean, I am all for staying together if you're doing the same pace but everyone should really run their own race unless it's pre-established that you're going to do it together. (Like escorting a friend through a first marathon, or something.) I never saw Mike after the turnaround and later found out he dropped though I don't know why.

The out-and-back also let me see exactly how far ahead of me everyone else was. I was keeping a loose count of the people who passed me and who I passed and the numbers didn't seem right. There were only about fifteen runners ahead of me and I knew there should be more than that. And there were I think six behind me, including Mike and Tom. I had the vague thought that there must be quite a few people dropping. I myself felt pretty good at this point. I was going slow but I was at the halfway point right around six hours, which really wasn't that bad considering the difficulty of the course.

I went through the Kachina aid station for the second time and then had six miles till I got back to the Shultz aid station for the second time. (For people who do not do ultras, you never EVER think of the whole distance. You would sit down and cry at the start line if you did. You have to go aid station to aid station, and those are manageable distances, about five to eight mile stretches.) Anyway, there was a three-something-mile climb back up the road and then a two-something-mile drop on the trail. I caught up to and passed three of the six other women in the race. (The other three were so far ahead of me I never saw them once they passed me on the Kachina out-and-back.) I beat everyone to the top of the climb and, even with stopping to pee again, also beat them down into the Schultz aid station. The one who came in right behind me  had introduced herself as T. She said she had a long, complicated first name so always went by T. She was nice. We grazed at the aid station and then left together to do the 5.6 miles to the Sunset aid station, but I was feeling much better than her so I took off and left her.

It was another big climb back up to Sunset. I felt good for the first two miles and then felt BAD. I walked the rest of it, slowly. When I finally dragged myself into Sunset (at Mile 37), I was completely on empty. They asked me what I needed and I told them I needed to lie down. They showed me to a sleeping bag and I crashed there. My legs and feet were shaking and I was starving but also nauseous. Finally I managed to get down a peanut butter sandwich or at least most of one. (One complaint about this race -- why no jelly in the peanut butter sandwiches? Seriously, do you know how hard it is to choke down peanut butter and dry bread? I ended up dipping my sandwich in my cup of Mountain Dew just to make it go down easier. Yes, looking back that sounds disgusting. However, food takes on an entirely different quality in ultras, and you do things you would never do in real life.)

I felt awful leaving Sunset. Rock-bottom. All three of the ladies I had passed after Kachina -- T, Stephanie, and one other whose name I didn't get -- came into Sunset and then out. Well, T was still there when I left but the other two took off looking great. I didn't understand that. The trail out of Sunset continued up the ridge line and then dropped down. Almost two thousand feet down, straight down. And we then had to climb back up the same two thousand foot drop. I thought of how I was basically a walking corpse dragging into Sunset, and the thought of doing that climb again with eight more miles in my legs was appalling. I was really ready to admit defeat and DNF right there. Korey, one of the fast Tucson runners, was dropping and I saw him sitting in the chair waiting for a ride down and was SO envious. My thinking went along the lines of, OK, I gave it a good try and a great effort, and I still got almost 40 miles in, so is it really worth it to keep going? What if I get to the bottom and physically can't make the climb back up? Will I just sit at the bottom while it gets dark and cold? All these things were running through my head, but yet I found myself standing up and allowing the aid station volunteers to shove me out on the trail again (after warning me that it was a really tough eight miles and was I sure I had enough fluids? No, I did not, only one bottle, but the thought of opening up my bag and getting the water bag out of there and filling it and readjusting everything was way too complicated.).

I wanted to cry walking out of that aid station. I pulled out my phone and texted Rob telling him I wanted to drop. I knew he would say if I felt that bad I should just drop. I waited for him to text me back saying that, and kept walking in the meantime. I wanted to hit 40 miles on my GPS before quitting. I got further and further from the aid station, still no text from Rob. The trail was beautiful here -- right through the aspens, yellow leaves all fiery from the start of the sunset -- but I could care less. All I could think about was my own suffering. Finally I got to the point where the trail started to drop again. It was either turn around here or keep going. Rob still hadn't texted me back giving me permission to drop. Also, I knew Tom was still behind me and knew he wouldn't drop no matter how bad he was suffering. Also, I've done 50+ races and never DNF'd, and always said as long as I could still move I would never DNF. ALSO, I wanted that pint glass finishers got. All right. Decision made, I would keep going.

Almost immediately I regretted that decision. The trail was basically straight down, and it was a mix of giant step-downs and loose slippery gravel-type under footing. The kind where if you step down too fast your feet will fly right out from under you. Every step down jolted my whole body, from the soles of my feet up to my shoulders. Every slippery gravel spot forced me to practically sit down and go down on my butt because I was so afraid of falling. I was wearing my Newtons and wished I had changed into my Hokas at the aid station. (I had them there, in my drop bag, but it seemed like too much trouble to put them on. Ultra-brain at work again. Any time you have a vague feeling that you "should" do something -- eat more, get your gloves out and put them on, change shoes -- and don't do it because it's too much trouble, you should take that as a sign that you are making a mistake.)

As I was going down, and down, and down, I kept passing hikers. They were all Japanese. Seriously, like 20 or more of them, all spread apart. My ultra brain seized on that -- why so many Japanese? (Ultra brain also does that -- picks out things that aren't really that weird and starts perseverating on them. Ultra brain actually bears a surprising resemblance to LSD brain, come to think of it.) One of the little Japanese kids said to me, "Everyone else is ahead of you. well, not everyone, but 15 or 16 people at least." His mom tried to shush him but I just cracked up laughing hysterically. Of course everyone else was ahead of me! I couldn't stop laughing. The first time anything had seemed funny in many, many miles. Thank God for that punk little kid.

I finally reached the bottom of the trail. 6900'. I could not think about the fact that I had to climb back up to 9000'. Impossible. I worked on my game plan instead. I would walk the rest of the way, of course. Take one gel (my last remaining gel) at the bottom of the climb and drink half my water, eat a pack of Clif Bloks and drink the other half of my water when I hit 8000'. That was my plan and I stuck to it.

I was on probably a couple dozen trails and I only remember the name of one -- the Heart Trail, the one that led back up to the Sunset aid station. At the bottom was a sign saying, "Not advised for horses." Why? Because it was too steep and narrow. Ultra brain thought it was very funny that it was too steep for horses but not for runners with 43 miles in their legs. I started up, one slow, plodding step at a time. There was one guy visible ahead of me. His name was Mike and he was from Prescott. I'd met him somewhere else on the trail but couldn't remember where. I kept him in sight but then had to pee again. I started thinking about just peeing in my pants. I could totally understand why people do that in this kind of event -- it's not because you're in such a hurry and can't take the time to stop; it's because squatting down to pee is so painful and getting back up is difficult. I really considered it for a while but then decided I wasn't that bad off quite yet, and managed to pee the normal way without falling over. (I did tuck my shirt into my thong by accident but luckily discovered and fixed it before I caught up to Mike.)

Mike and I dragged ourselves up the mountain together but then he stopped. He said he had to sit for a while. On the one hand, that looked really tempting. On the other hand, I knew I didn't have to stop and that made me feel good because at least I was stronger than someone even though I was barely moving.

After another agonizing mile, I dragged into the Sunset aid station for the third time just as it was getting dark. I immediately headed for the sleeping bag, which was now in front of a portable heater. Lying down there was pure bliss. I closed my eyes and knew I could easily sleep for 12 hours right there. The volunteers were so great. One of them made me the peanut butter-banana sandwich I requested (which took me almost 20 minutes to get down); another brought me my drop bag and helped me put on long pants and another shirt since I was now shaking uncontrollably; another brought me a cup of hot chicken noodle soup; another hung out with me and cracked me up telling stories about stuff that happened to her in ultras and using the "F" word liberally. Lindsey from Sedona Running Company, you are the best! Eventually T and Mike dragged into the aid station behind me and we decided to head down together. Still no sign of Tom. I wondered if maybe he DNF'd but decided superstitiously that I didn't want to know because if he did then I would want to too.

The last five miles were almost all downhill, but very rocky. None of us were interested in running. T and I chattered the whole way; Mike stayed behind us and was silent, lost in his own suffering I guess. That trail became elastic at the end. (Elastic trail = a trail that stretches out at the end for way longer than its actual distance.) Worse, my GPS had measured long (probably due to all the stopping/starting and extremely slow pace) and I was at 51.8 miles when we finally crossed the finish line. Interestingly, I knew the exact mileage but not the exact time, and forgot to push "Stop" on my GPS. I know it was almost 9:00, so it took us almost 15 hours.

The finish line was nearly deserted. There was nothing hot and no one offering anything. In fact we wouldn't even have gotten our pint glasses except that I saw them sitting there and asked if I could have mine, and someone said "Sure" so I got it myself. I sat at the finish line and waited for Tom and found out that out of 29 starters, 7 had dropped. That was almost a 25% drop rate. I was extremely proud of myself for finishing with any time. I firmly believe that getting to the point where quitting seems like the most appealing thing in the world, and then pushing through and not quitting, is a lesson that can be applied to life too.

So would I do this race again? Hell no! Not even properly trained I wouldn't do it. That drop and climb at the end was a clear sign of sadism on the part of the guy who designed the course. And whose idea was it to put the longest stretch between aid stations -- eight miles -- there at the end? The course was well-marked and the aid stations were great (except for the lack of jelly in the peanut butter sandwiches), but... no. Never again. But will I do a 50 again? Sigh, probably. The feeling of accomplishment is just too precious, and can't be gotten any other way that I know of.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Flagstaff in 3...2...1...

No word on the job. I don't think they're going to offer it to me, which means I can't use that as an excuse to get out of the 50. Damnit! I am not ready for this race.

I've only run maybe 40 miles, total, since Pikes Peak. And I've gained, oh, three pounds or so. Three pounds if I weigh myself after I work out and I'm dehydrated. Six pounds if I weigh myself when I first wake up or many hours after a workout. So I am fat and out of shape. At least I've been biking a lot. I hope that is going to save me up there in Flagstaff. I think it will at least help. Since long trail races are much more about strength than about speed, and biking does work the quads pretty good (especially if you ride hills, which I've been pretty good about doing), I'm hoping it carries over. As for the rest of my race plan? Cross my fingers and hope for the best.

I'm not really nervous, believe it or not. I'm curious. I mean, seriously, what does happen when you do a 50-mile race -- oh yeah, a really tough 50-mile race, with altitude and elevation changes -- without training for it? We'll find out! It's hard to imagine how I could do worse than I did at the OP-50. Well, no, I guess it isn't that hard. At OP-50 I walked the last 20 miles; I guess it would be possible to have to walk all 50 miles of this one. Though that probably wouldn't get me in under the 16-hour cutoff. 16-hour cutoff -- that's 3 mph. Surely I can do that, right? Well, I decided I don't care. I used to say I would never DNF. I would crawl if I had to. Somewhere my mindset changed. If I really feel like crap on this course, I will DNF and not worry about it. (Boy, do I want that finisher's pint glass, though, and I am pretty sure I have to finish to get it.)

I am so excited to see Flagstaff, though! I am convinced every Tucsonan fantasizes about Flagstaff all summer long. The temps here in town have cooperated to feed that Flagstaff lust by shooting back up to almost 100 this week. That cool mountain air is going to feel pretty damn good. And I am telling myself that the total climb looks to be around 8000', which is exactly what I climbed at Pikes Peak. (Although that wasn't up, then down, then up, then down, repeat, repeat, repeat. But Flagstaff only goes up to 9000', which is nothing compared to 14000' at Pikes, right? Right. Plus I did have a pretty good Sabino Basin run the other day. I felt great until the last mile, when I died from the heat. At least heat won't be a problem up there.

So overall, I am excited first, then curious, then scared, and that about covers it. In just a little over 24 hours from now, it'll be on! Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Up In The Air

...about whether I should do this 50-mile race in Flagstaff or not.

It's not that I don't know whether I'm in shape to do it. There's a simple answer to that question -- I'm not in shape to do it. No way. Not even close. I've been lazy ever since Pikes, and have gained a couple pounds, and am not eating right, and am barely running at all. But I'm not all that worried about that. I am pretty sure I'm fit enough to make it through the 50 miles even if I have to walk/jog the whole way. And I love Flag, and I love walk/jogging. So I want to do it, for all of those reasons.

I'm actually worried about money.

Here's the deal: I applied for a job at ASDB, and if I get it, it comes with a whopping pay cut -- at least 1/3 less than what I'm making now. Why would I do such a thing? Isn't it stupid to not make the most money possible, and get ahead as far as possible in life? Well, no. I have thought about this for a long time, and the conclusion I've come to is that I value time much more than I value money. If I work at ASDB, as a teacher I will get huge chunks of time off. A week in October for no reason, a few days at Thanksgiving, a whopping 2 weeks at Christmas/New Year's, and then there is the Holy Grail of summers off. Not that I will be able to afford to do much. It's not like I'll be traveling the world on my vacations. But the things I like to do the most, and have the least time to do properly right now, are the following:

1) write -- I really am supposed to be a published author by now, and I'm not
2) train my dogs
3) work out

I could fill a day with those things so easily. It would be so much nicer than cramming them in at the end of the day, when I'm tired and don't feel like doing anything except reading. And most of those things have minimal cost associated with them. I already have computers. Dog training takes treats, those are cheap. New running shoes occasionally, gas to get to trailheads, what else do I need?

Not that that's the only reason I want to switch jobs. It's not even the main one. The main reason is that I want to do something different. When I switched from training guide dogs to teaching cane skills, I gained a bigger, better understanding of my field. For the first time I understood that blind rehabilitation was more than just guide dogs. I got to understand the foundational skills people have to acquire in order to be able to use guide dogs safely. If I switch to kids I feel like that will give me a better understanding of how people form concepts that are essentially visual in nature (cardinal directions, the layout of a city block, etc) when they've never had vision. Plus, I love working with kids. Don't get me wrong, I love working with veterans too. But I sometimes (usually) feel like I have too much energy for the V.A. The pace there is leisurely. Most of my clients have the same eye condition and don't have much real need for mobility training. With kids there is a much greater variety. There is also a lot more challenge associated with working in a school environment, simply because I don't know the first thing about how it is structured or anything like that. It would be a whole new world to master. I do love the V.A. And I have no complaints about it, or about the way it's run. Everyone there does a great job. I like management, I like my coworkers (95% of them, anyway), and I love my clients. But I just can't see myself spending another 20 years there just so I can have a great retirement.

I look at it this way: when the economy tanked, a bunch of people lost big chunks of their savings. Some people lost $50k, maybe even more. You can work at a job that isn't challenging for your whole career and then what? You retire and look back and think about how you could have been challenging yourself with new things this whole time and weren't? THAT'S what I find hard to live with. I swear when I retire I will be happy with a tiny studio apartment in a blue-collar part of some city. I don't need a giant house, a cleaning service, and trips around the world. In my whole life I've never cared much about material things, so I don't think that would change when I retire.

This post got away from the subject. So, the race. I'm paranoid. If I get this job, I want to cut all unnecessary expenses until I see exactly what the difference in paychecks is. Travel to Flagstaff is definitely an unnecessary expense. And by the time I pay $50 for the dog sitter, probably close to $100 for gas round trip, at least $50 for a motel, that's $200 right there. Wouldn't it be better to save that for, say, the phone bill? I think maybe so.

Of course, the big question is whether I will get this job or not. I interviewed on Wednesday. The interview went great. It was a panel interview, seven people, 20 questions. I believe I answered all of them well. The people liked me. I liked them. I'm quite sure my enthusiasm for the job was evident. BUT I don't have any experience teaching kids in a school environment. So if anyone else interviewed who did have that kind of experience, they might very well get the job over me. On the other hand, I'm pretty well-qualified AND I know I nailed the interview. Also, this position was open last month, and then closed, and then reopened. So that leads me to believe they had trouble filling it the first time and didn't have a suitable candidate in mind. Also, since the school year has already started, I think (hope) that most O&M'ers who work with kids probably already have jobs. I put my chances at getting this job maybe a little above 50/50. I just wish they would let me know one way or the other. If I get it, great; if not, I will just look at it as, oh well, now I get to earn the bigger salary for a while longer. It's not like I hate my current job, not at all. I like it. I just want a bigger challenge.

I guess I will go ahead and make the travel arrangements on the assumption that I won't get the job, and then if I end up getting it I will just cancel them. Surely I will hear next week, right?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

D-D-D-Double D-D-D-Done!

I can now say, for sure, that the Double is one of those things that sounds way harder and more impressive than it is.

Don’t get me wrong, it was hard. The hardest part, though, was mental. Getting out of bed this morning and looking up at Pikes Peak looming and remembering every bit of how hard it was yesterday and knowing that I had to do it again, every inch of it, today. The thought made me cranky. Yesterday it was exciting, today it was not. My legs actually felt fine, but I was tired. I didn’t sleep that well last night because I was tossing and turning thinking about the mountain. Really I just wanted to get it over with and then get to my reward, the food. I decided I would follow the same strategy as yesterday – grim resolve, one foot in front of the other, relentless forward progress, et cetera. 

I started out feeling fine running out of town. The weather was perfect, clear skies and sunny with a nice cool breeze. It is so beautiful up there it’s hard to think about anything except the beauty. I was definitely more tired today, though. Not my legs, they felt fine, I was just tired. Even sleepy. When we passed through the Rock Arch it was so nice and shady up there that I began to fantasize about lying down and taking a nap. Okay, I knew a nap was unrealistic but maybe, you know, just sit down for a minute. NO! That’s where you lose big chunks of time. You can walk the entire ascent and still come out with a decent finish time as long as you don’t waste time sitting down on rocks holding your head in your hands. So I just kept going. I felt like I was going much slower than yesterday but decided I didn’t care.

I talked to more people today than yesterday, including every other Doubler I passed. The only thing we talked about was how we were feeling today. Most people agreed with me that physically they felt just fine but mentally it was a bit more of a struggle to keep going. I also talked to this woman named Joyce who is something of a legend on this course. She’s run it a billion times (OK, maybe 20 or so) and has set some age group records, and she’s almost 70. I had read about her somewhere and recognized her when she passed me, yes, passed me at Mile 8 or so. We were stuck walking up one of the steep sections together so I introduced myself and told her what an inspiration she was and how exciting it was to get to meet her. She was very nice and modest about her accomplishments, and acted like it was no big deal that she was out there kicking the ass of people half her age. She then proceeded to drop me like a rock although she assured me I would pass her on the descent because everyone did. (I didn’t believe her, but it turned out that that is exactly what happened, she beat me by about ten minutes to the top but then I passed her and she came in an hour behind me.) Anyway, she looked fantastic and her legs were nothing but muscle. Amazing!

The first downhill runner, NOT Matt Carpenter, passed us at about Mile 10, flying. It was great to see the first few downhill runners, but it got tiresome after that as the trickle of downhill runners turned into a steady stream once we got above treeline. My irritability from the start line came back. The trail isn’t really wide enough for two people in most places, and uphill “runners” (although we’re all plodding and dragging at that point) have to yield to downhill runners. That’s how it is and there is no other fair way to do it. Nevertheless, I was grumpy about having to stop moving every few seconds and step to the side of the trail. Then I started getting annoyed with other people. Like the ones who would yell, “Runner up!” when the oncoming runner was still two switchbacks above us. I understand that the air is thin up there and some people aren’t thinking clearly, but, really, I saw every single oncoming runner and stepped aside for him or her without needing to be told there was someone coming, so then I started getting annoyed with people for saying anything at all.

I saw the first fall up there too. This guy had been ahead of me for a while and I had noticed that he had the weirdest gait, sort of bouncing from one foot to the other and listing in the wind. He stepped to the side of the trail to let a runner by and toppled right over, backwards, and landed on his back and head on a pile of rocks. He got up and told everyone that his legs felt fine but he couldn’t seem to think straight. I passed him and the crowd of people that stopped to try to convince him to sit down for a minute.

I felt like that last three miles lasted an eternity, so I was surprised when I got to the summit and saw that the race clock said 4:29. That was a lousy time compared to my 4:15 yesterday, but only three minutes slower than my ascent last year. And last year I wasted five minutes hanging out at the summit aid station. So I actually got a head start down compared to last year by about a minute. I passed Kathy coming up right below the summit. Thankfully she looked (and said she felt) great. She had been worried about the altitude but it didn’t really affect her much at all. That was a relief because I would’ve felt guilty for influencing her to do Pikes Peak if she had had a bad time.

I was feeling pretty good myself now that I was going down. And now I was the one who got right-of-way on the trail, and that felt quite good. The only problem was that now I had to pee. I had this same problem last year at this point in the race. I was running with two guys – John from Pennsylvania and some guy from Phoenix whose name I don’t think I ever got. We all started talking about how we had to pee. Then somehow we started talking about farts. It was all extremely funny at 13,000 feet, let me tell you. John said he was going to wait till down by Barr Camp aid station to pee, and I said I would try to do the same, but then Phoenix said he was just going to do it right there and instantly I decided I did not want to wait. We were right at the edge of treeline where the short, scrubby pine trees start to grow. I ducked behind a couple of them and peed and… this is why I don’t like peeing in the woods, people. I peed all over my shoe. Like, all over the top of it, so my sock too. Oops. Oh well. Nothing I can do about it up there. At least I felt better, MUCH better, when I was done. I got up and started racing down the trail. I caught up with the two guys, then passed them. Phoenix yelled at me, “Geez, Tucson, you look like a gazelle there!” and I must admit, I owned the descent from then on down. I didn’t put a single foot wrong and had a fantastic run down. I don’t think a single person passed me but I passed loads of people like they were standing still. I walked the aid stations but that was it.

There was another bad fall on the way down. A guy tripped on a root and went down very hard. His run was done – his ankle was swelling up like a softball as we watched. I’m sure that guy was packed out of there by SAR but I didn’t stick around to find out. I was too busy enjoying my run down the beautiful shady trail. Everything smelled like pine and the light breeze was still blowing and the downhill was smooth, not punishing at all. This had to be one of my most enjoyable runs ever. I mean ever in my whole running life. I was a tiny bit nauseous due to my usual problem of having swallowed too much air and being unable to burp, but I was able to hold that at bay by taking little sips of water about every half mile and chewing on Tums.

I got to Mile 23 feeling awesome. Then suddenly I jammed my toe somehow – I don’t know how, there were no rocks, roots, or anything else – but I felt that sickening bend in my big toenail and knew I was going to lose another one. “Fuck!” I said out loud.

The girl running in front of me asked if I was okay. I said yes, that I was going to lose a nail but I guessed I could put up with anything for three miles. She said, “I’ll just be happy if I get to the finish line stand-” and before she could get the word “standing”  out of her mouth, she tripped on a giant root and went down hard. It was a bad fall. Her water bottle busted open and everything. I stopped, of course. I asked her if she was okay and she didn’t answer me for a second and then said she couldn’t breathe. There were some other runners around by now and we figured she had just had the wind knocked out of her. After a minute she was able to breathe okay again and started telling us to leave her, she was fine. We helped her to move into the shade and then she stood up and started brushing herself off and I saw she was okay, so I took off, being extra careful not to trip and do what she did.

It is such a shock to the body when you hit the asphalt in Manitou Springs after all those miles of beautiful soft dirt. Just like last year, I wanted to stop running there but couldn’t; there were too many cheering spectators. So instead I ran harder and finished up with an 8:00 mile just like last year. When I got to the finish line the clock said 7:06. Damnit! I should have looked at my watch at some point; I had no idea I was so close to being under seven hours. I should have just left that girl who fell… No, no, I can’t think like that. (Besides, I don’t think I spent six minutes with her. Maybe four at the most.) I still beat my marathon time from last year by six minutes, and that was even after doing the Ascent the day before. I even felt good after crossing the finish line. I had run pretty hard for the last ten miles or so and fully expected to be sick, but I wasn’t at all. (Now, hours later, is a different story. I’m horribly sunburned, totally nauseous after refueling on candy and cookies, and my legs are so sore that getting out of bed is a real chore – but that didn’t happen till hours after the race ended.)

There are so many cool races to do. Colorado is chock full of awesome races. Repeating races is a waste of money and time. But I just can’t see my running life without the PPM. This city and that mountain have a special place in my heart. And besides, I still have to break seven hours. So will I come back next year? I think I just might have to! 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

"Just A Glorified Hike" -- Pikes Peak Ascent Race Report

For months now, practically ever since I registered for the Double, I've been calming myself by reminding myself that the Pikes Peak Ascent is "just a glorified hike". Well, after completing it today, I must say that... I'm right! It IS just a glorified hike! God, I love being right. What an awesome feeling.

The Ascent has a wave start with the first wave starting at 7:00 and the second wave starting at 7:30. I was in the second wave due to my mediocre performance at last year's PPM. That was actually fine with me; I was thrilled to have the extra half hour of sleep I won't get tomorrow morning. (The marathon doesn't do a wave start, even though they have two waves for registration purposes.) My mom and sister are here in town to watch me race, so we drove in to the start line area together after getting my requisite McDonalds for breakfast. We're staying in the basement of a very nice house pretty close to the burned area. The burn scars on the hills are visible and some of the burned houses are too. There are houses that burned to the ground right next to houses that weren't touched at all. It's very sad to see the burned houses but encouraging to see how quickly they're cleaning up and starting the rebuilding process. But I digress.

Unlike every other race I've ever been at, there was only one line for the 30 or so Porta-Potties. There was something else I've never seen before -- an event staff person managing the Porta-Potties and pointing people to whichever one was open as soon as it opened up. The volunteer had rolls of toilet paper under both of her arms and was very enthusiastic and loud. She was doing a great job and the line moved extremely fast. Leave it to this race, with its superb organization, to have a Director of Porta-Potties too! God, I love this race, in case I have not mentioned it before.

Weather was beautiful, sunny and clear. I wore tights and a long-sleeved shirt (my OP-50 shirt, for the first time ever) because it was chilly for me at 64 degrees. Brrrrr. Actually I wore the tights because I didn't know how cold it would be at the top and I remembered being freezing in shorts at the top last year when it started raining. Well, I admit I was hot in the tights this year and I should have worn shorts. I was pouring sweat by the time I was a mile into the race. The start line is at 6400' and being that much closer to the sun makes you feel like an ant under a magnifying glass.

The amount of actual running I did in this race was minimal. I ran the first mile out of town. As soon as I started the steep climb at about Mile 1.2 (16% grade), I stopped running like I'd hit a brick wall. So did everyone else. That is actually the steepest climb in the whole ascent until you get to the very last 1/2 mile. It's exhausting and my least favorite part of the course. You have to just hold your nose and get it done, and look forward to the better parts later.

Fortunately everything is better. Even when you can't breathe. The next part of the course is the W's, a series of switchbacks about a mile and a half long. It is possible to do some running on these, though most of the people who were running weren't going much faster than the people who were walking, which was just about everyone. Barr Trail through the W's is narrow, really only wide enough for one person but with room on the side for a second person to squeeze by if they're really in a hurry. Conventional wisdom says Walk the W's, and save energy for later. I will add to that conventional wisdom that I, personally, think it's a good idea to go out fairly hard in the first mile and a half getting out of town. I look at it as, every single person I pass will be a person I don't get stuck behind at the W's. Besides, we will all be walking the W's anyway except for the elite runners, so there's plenty of time to get your energy back from the run uphill out of town.

The next landmark after the W's is the Rock Arch, this cool rock formation that you have to climb through. After that, the first nicely runnable parts of the trail appear. There are even a few (brief) downhill sections. I still haven't ever heard any better trail running advice than "Walk when running's too hard, run when walking's too easy." That's what I do, and even if I can only jog a short distance before slowing to a walk again, it makes a difference in my time.

I think it's Mile 6-7 that is the most runnable. It's a nice long downhill (which becomes a shitty, miserable uphill in the marathon on quads that have by then forgotten how to do uphills, but I didn't have to worry about that today). I passed lots of people on that downhill, including some of the slow people from the first wave. (They had blue bracelets, second wave had purple, so they were easy to identify.) I loved picking off blue bracelets! It was as much fun as picking off fast swimmers on the run part of the aquathlons when I used to do them. Take THAT, "fast runner". Ha.

I don't look at my watch during this particular race. I don't like seeing the elevation numbers and knowing how high I am. It's one thing to know I'm gaining 7800' in elevation; it's another thing to see 13000 on my Garmin. I wasn't going for any particular time so had no idea how I was doing, other than a general awareness that I was doing a little better than I had been last year. I really did not have a problem with the elevation at any point. Oh, sure, it was a little harder to breathe but I sound exactly the same gasping for breath whether I'm climbing up Douglas Spring or Old Baldy or, apparently, Barr Trail. I never got light-headed or headachy or nauseous or anything. The one thing that happened was that my hands swelled up. They looked like what happens if you take a rubber glove and inflate it like a balloon. (I KNOW I'm not the only one who's done that.) I guess it's my bad circulation. All I had to do was raise my hands up in the air for a while and they went back down to normal.

Once I got above treeline, it was exhausting, of course, going through those never-ending switchbacks through the boulder fields. But I was still doing better than most other people. I was still able to walk-jog and even talk to people occasionally. Even though every time I had to lift my foot up I felt like I was pulling it up out of glue, I was moving at a decent pace. Finally when I got past the Cirque aid station I looked at my watch for the first time. Time was 3:55. I was only about 6/10 of a mile from the finish and realized it was totally possible to get in under 4:15, which is the qualifying time for Wave One registration. So I picked up my pace as much as I could and got more assertive about passing people rather than just latching on to the back of the guy with the nicest calves and letting my eyes lock on those calves and going whatever speed he's going for a while.

Unfortunately the last part of the course is the hardest. That section is a bunch of switchbacks called the 16 Golden Stairs. I don't know why they're called that because 1) there are not 16, there are way more, and 2) they are not golden. They stink. It's a section of big busted-up boulders where you have to step up, a lot. I hate step-ups and I especially hate them at 14,000'. I did them, though, and passed loads of suffering people on the way. There were more people sitting on boulders with their heads in their hands than I saw last year. Of course there are twice as many people in the Ascent as in the Marathon, so maybe that's why.

I was looking at the finish line so close above me and looking at my watch and saw that it said 4:14 on it. Crap, I wasn't going to make the 4:15. I did as much of a "sprint" to the top as I could, but it was not fast enough and my Garmin said 4:15:10 when I stopped it. Oh well, I hadn't been trying to make the Wave One qualifying time anyway until I knew I was so close to it, at which point I wanted it insanely badly and didn't get it. I still beat my time from the ascent portion of the marathon last year by eleven minutes. (I am fiercely trying, with limited success, to tell myself that that was because I was faster this year and it was NOT because I didn't have to yield to downhill runners like I did in the marathon. Ha ha, sure that wasn't the reason. Anyway, I can lie to myself if I want because if I'm slower tomorrow I can just say well of course I am, I just ran up this mountain yesterday.)

I feel pretty good actually! I want a nap, but my legs don't feel tired, and when I got to the summit, a part of me wished I was running back down. I don't care much about my ascent time tomorrow but I would like to improve my descent by at least ten minutes over last year's time. This should be possible if I don't waste five minutes hanging out at the summit aid station, and if it doesn't rain and force me to slow down, and if I don't have to stop to pee. Those three things wasted some time on last year's descent.

Surprise happy ending: I checked my chip time online, and it was 4:14:56. YES! Such a stupid little thing to be excited about, but yet here I am, excited.

PPM report tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

It Finally Happened...

...I finally got hit by a car on my bike.

Even though I love to tell people that riding a bike on city streets is not that dangerous if you obey the laws, I also readily admit that if I ride long enough, I'm going to get hit. I ride between 5000 and 6000 miles a year, nearly all of them on city streets, and of course I see inattentive drivers every single day. Hell, I myself am an inattentive driver much of the time. Up until this point, I've had four encounters on my bike with cars that almost hit me. I only avoided getting hit by those four cars because I am hyper vigilant on the bike. I always assume that drivers coming out of driveways and turning drivers don't see me, and I slow down accordingly.

I was off at noon today and was riding up 6th Avenue, and a car passed me and then turned into a driveway right in front of me. So technically I hit the car, but there was literally nowhere else I could go and no time to stop. In the millisecond before it happened, I realized I was about to get hit and even had time to identify my feeling about it -- fascination with an undertone of annoyance at the inconvenience that was sure to follow. It's the same feeling I remember one time when I lost control of my car driving on Highway 12 in California going around a corner too fast and knew I was going to roll it and die. (I didn't; I regained control of it and it was like nothing ever happened.) I knew in that split second that I wasn't going fast enough to really do any damage, so there wasn't any reason to be terrified.

The crash happened and my bike and I ended up on the ground in a patch of gravel and bushes. I shook myself off and didn't feel anything at all. I looked at my bike and it looked fine too. The crash happened right by a shady bus stop so there was a big crowd of South Tucson street people for whom this was big excitement. They all came rushing over and started asking if I was okay. I said, "I'm fine, but I'm going to kick that driver's ass," and they cheered at that and followed me over to the car, like they were ready to help me if help was needed in the promised ass-kicking. I checked out the car -- piece of shit Toyota with Sonoran plates. The driver was a really young Hispanic woman -- really a girl -- and she had tears running down her face and looked completely terrified as I came up to her window. I knew I wasn't going to kick her ass or even do anything at all about it since my bike and I were fine. But I put on my best mean face, knowing I had an audience, and told her, "You're lucky I'm not hurt. I'm not going to call the police, but you need to watch where you're going. You have to yield to a cyclist in the bike lane. This town is full of cyclists and you need to pay attention!" I wasn't even mad, really, but I did want to at least scare her and make her a little more careful in future. (Yeah, like I am when I'm messing with my stereo and playing Words With Friends and reading books and trying to keep dogs in the back of the car while I'm driving. But in my defense I have never even come close to hitting a cyclist.) Meanwhile she was crying and saying, "Sorry, sorry" but I don't know if she even understood English or not.

I picked up my bike and put the chain on (and got grease on my fingers doing so, which did piss me off  and made me briefly reconsider the ass-kicking -- she was so meek and scared and small I could probably drag her out by the hair through the window with no problem). The street people were disappointed that I wasn't doing anything. "You gotta call the cops, man!" one of them said. "You might have a hurt neck or something! You should sue that bitch!" I was thinking of the crappy car and the Sonoran plates and knew I wouldn't get anything out of her. Besides, in all honesty I wasn't hurt, and she was freaked out and she knew she was in the wrong and I like to think she did learn a lesson -- I know I would have in her situation. Also, what I really wanted was to be sitting in Epic Cafe with my laptop and a coffee and writing, not standing around talking to South Tucson cops. So I got out of there and now here I am, sitting in Epic Cafe with my laptop and a coffee and writing and realizing that I did, after all, sprain my pinkie and get some (unimpressive) road rash.

I have to say that the biggest feeling I got out of this was excitement. I felt more alive and vigorous than usual riding away from there. Not relief, not leftover fear, nothing but excitement. I sort of think that is an inappropriate reaction to a right hook, but there it is. I was briefly afraid that this experience would make me paranoid, but I felt completely fine riding the rest of the way to Epic. I'm not going to do anything different since there was nothing at all I could have done to prevent this from happening in the first place aside from not riding my bike. And then, hell, this could have happened to me and my student on a mobility lesson if there was a driver not paying attention. You can't make drivers pay attention, and every time you venture out in places where cars can drive, you have to accept the risk of inattentive drivers (the rationale I use to justify my own bad driving habits). All I can do is continue to observe the safety measures I always do when riding. At least this justifies my habit of not riding that fast in town. If I was going 20 mph, I could have been flying up and over the car on impact instead of just falling down. So, if you see me in town only riding 13 mph, that is the reason, not because I'm fat and lazy and dead-legged. Sure it is! I promise!

One more good thing -- this experience inspired me to write in my blog for the first time in seven weeks! I've been writing plenty -- just not in this blog and not for public consumption. I will try to be more diligent in future though. I can sum up the last seven weeks briefly: lots of running, even more cycling, pretty much ready for Pikes Peak in 2 weeks.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

What If...

What if I just didn't work out anymore? I mean ever?

What if I didn't have to get out of bed on weekends even earlier than on week days? I can imagine: my internal alarm clock would go off before the real one, and that dread feeling that comes as soon as I open my eyes every morning because I know I have to go to work would start, but then I would realize, with a huge wash of relief, that it's a WEEKEND and I don't have to go anywhere except back into the blankets and back into sleep. Sleep, sleep, sleep, as in actually get enough sleep and be well-rested, and not have to choose between sleeping and going out and being social like I do now. I don't know if it's because I'm getting old or what, but I am getting to love my bed more and more all the time.

What if I had time to write? I've been writing my whole life. I was supposed to have books published by now! I have tons of half-written books that I don't finish because I just don't have the time to write or the energy after two hours on the bike and one hour of running and one hour of P90X. Oh, I know it is hard to get published at first but I am persistent when I want to be and I know I could find a publisher if I wasn't spending all this time exercising.

What if I had time to spend with my dogs? I mean quality time, not just 20 minutes at lunch and maybe a half-hour after work and the night time, where they're stuck lying at my feet while I pay bills and catch up on email and otherwise unwind by wasting time on the Internet. Then maybe Frieda wouldn't be growing up totally undersocialized and unfriendly to all other people and dogs. Or maybe she would grow up that way anyway because that is just her temperament but at least then she would be unfriendly and well-trained. And then I could spend my free time taking the dogs for long walks in that giant open patch of desert right across the road from me like I did this morning. The desert is heart-stoppingly beautiful when you move through it at a leisurely pace and have time to watch things like birds picking at saguaro fruits and road runners hiding under palo verdes and (OK, this is South Tucson after all) stray pit bulls watching you from on top of ripped-up couches that people have dumped in the wash. When I run on trails I miss all of that, plus Frieda can't come because she's too young to run without worrying about it wrecking her bones. I could also have foster dogs that actually need exercise and training, not just the boring lumps on a log I have now. (No offense, Coco; you're a nice little lump, really.)

What if I could read as much as I want? I've always said, if there was one single activity I would spend the entire day doing if I could, it would be reading. The thought of all the great books I haven't read... well, it doesn't exactly keep me up at night, but it does bother me. How nice would it be to finish reading the New York Times of the hundred best books of the 19th century? Plus all the wild, interesting contemporary fiction? Plus the hundreds of blogs that I'd love to follow but don't have time to.

What if I get fat? I'm starting to think, so what. America is fat. Who cares. Haven't I had enough of being fit, enjoying bathing suit shopping, intimidating people by telling them the kind of races I do for fun? When do I just get to settle down and be lazy and fat? Of course I have no intention of changing my eating habits, so I would get fat in a hurry, but doesn't hiking with dogs burn calories too? And, okay, I will probably still bike commute, just because I'm cheap about gas. Those two things would probably be enough, combined, to keep me from getting horribly fat, right?

I am seriously tired of spending so much time doing something I hate, and I have no one to blame for it but myself. No one is making me do any of this; no one cares if I get fat and lazy, and even I barely care anymore. I'm two weeks behind on P90X and today will be the day when I officially decide to resume it or give it up. What happened is, after two months of doing it, I realized my body already looks exactly like the bodies of the women in the P90X videos, so what exactly am I doing it for? The ability to do 15 pull-ups instead of 12? Who gives a shit, really? Is that worth dreading doing it every day? I don't think so!

And running -- if I hadn't already signed up for Pikes Peak, I would not be running at all either. I can safely say that after Pikes Peak there will be NO more races for me, for a long time. I don't want the pressure on myself of having to do reasonably well, and also I'm trying to save money and figure out whether I could live on the salary of a teacher if I change jobs and go work in the schools. (So far, the answer is a big, resounding NO, but eliminating travel expenses for out of town marathons would definitely be a first and completely necessary step.)

Really, the obvious thing I want is not just to replace workouts with more fun activities, but to replace everything in my life that I don't enjoy with things that I do enjoy. Truthfully, what I would really like to do is get rid of work. Work is the obvious thing to hate, and it takes up way more time than workouts. OK, work pays the bills, i know that, but I am starting to think that being middle-class and comfortable is overrated. (Let me point out that I do not just hate MY job, which is okay as jobs go -- helping people, not too difficult, etc --I hate the very idea of work, of having to be somewhere at a certain time and having to do something other than exactly what I want to do.) I accept the fact that I can't just not work, but switching to being a teacher would at least give me big chunks of time when I don't have to be at work, and that is looking like the biggest and best prize of all.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

On Feet and Shoes

I have the most disgusting toenails ever! Or, rather, I should say I have the most disgusting TOES ever because not all of them even have toenails. On some of them, the nails fell off and never came back. So. I work with mostly old guys at the V.A. (average age I think 82), so I know something about disgusting toenails. It seems like as you get older 1) your toenails get thick and yellow, like little horns, and 2) you stop giving a crap if anyone sees them. Well, I can say with authority that I am advanced in the area of feet, because both of those things have happened to me already at the tender age of really-really-close-to-36. I'm going to put a picture of my gross toes at the bottom of this post -- so if you have a sensitive stomach, or think there's a chance that you and I might ever intentionally be naked together for some other purpose, for the love of God STOP before you get to the bottom! On that note, if anyone knows what I can do to fix these hideous things, please tell me. But don't tell me to go get a pedicure. There's not enough nail for them to fix and I don't want to scare the poor nail tech with these things unnecessarily.

Moving along! Everyone knows how excited I was about the Hokas. Hokas seemed to be the answer to my problem with wimpy feet on the trail. They have a ridiculously padded midsole that promises to cushion wimpy feet like mine from big, mean, pointy rocks and other stuff on the trail. They are prohibitively expensive -- $175 -- but I finally sucked it up and bought them because I had to know if I was ever going to find trail running anything more than pure and total misery or if I should just put the idea of another 50-mile race out of my head completely. I had to go all the way to Phoenix to get them since no one carries them locally, When I tried them on, they felt all wrong. My feet slipped and slid around in them, which jammed my toes into the toebox painfully. And this was just running outside the store! We went down a half a size and this worked better, although they still didn't feel great. Let me amend that -- the cushioning part DID feel great, just as advertised. I decided I had to have these shoes and would get used to the toe thing or wear thicker socks or just tape my stupid toes together or maybe cut them off or something.

My first couple of runs with them -- 4 and 6 miles -- were disastrous. My toes did slide around just as much as they had in the store, even with a half size smaller. The tips of my toes were all red and shiny and ready to blister. After the first run I was ready to return them, but as soon as I walked in the door Dylan stepped on them with muddy feet from his brand-new separation anxiety drooling and they looked used. I decided to keep going with them since it was either that or accept the fact that I had just thrown $170 in the garbage. Besides, aside from the toe slippage problem I did like them -- a lot. They had traction like no other shoe I'd ever had, letting me run down even the nastiest slopes where the trail was nothing but rocks, and they cushioned my feet from all impact, making the trail feel like the road. (And making the road feel like hell, incidentally. On the road they feel like giant, awkward boats strapped to my feet, and I just can't get my footstrike right.)

On that third run, magic happened! The toe problem just disappeared. I can't explain it. Maybe the super-expensive shoe material just melded to the shape of my foot? Who knows. Who cares! I ran 10 miles on the Starr Pass trails with one of my fastest times ever. Then, that weekend, I really put them to the test with 18 miles on the Bear Canyon Loop with a Phoneline return. I also managed one of my best times on that route, with no problems except that the side of my right pinkie toe rubbed up against the side of the shoe in the last 5 miles when my feet swelled up a little. But that can be easily fixed with a little bit of tape next time, or, who knows, maybe it won't happen next time. (Next time will be Mt. Wrightson next weekend.)

The pictures below are from the Hoka website and are of the exact shoe I got, so you can see how geeky-looking it is (and so we can all enjoy the sight of that ripped leg -- yeah, I had to get men's shoes;  actually I think the salesguy told me the Hokas were all unisex, but according to the website they're not -- who knows).


Having taken a chance on the Hokas and liked them, I decided to do the same with some new road shoes, Newtons. I have always been favorably disposed towards Newtons because of their extremely flamboyant colors -- neon blues, greens, oranges, etc. I looked them up online and found that they were designed with minimal heel-toe drop -- which as I understand it means that, as opposed to regular running shoes, the heel is not significantly higher than the toe, which is supposed to promote forefoot striking. I trained myself to be a forefoot striker when training for my BQ Marathon, but I have gotten so sloppy with it following a year of trail running that I was really excited about the possibility of anything that would help me improve. So I tried on a pair and loved them immediately, after a couple steps on the treadmill.

Here's why I love them: they have a little springy padding right in the forefoot, but nowhere else. If you forefoot strike, and land on that padding, it feels like a little boost straight up into the air. I swear I hear the sound "booooiiiing" in my head with every footstep. If you DON'T forefoot strike, though, it is extremely uncomfortable, like the whole sole of your foot is getting whacked with a board with a big bump in the middle. So if you can't be honest and stay on your forefeet while running, get some Newtons and they will do it for you. The only downside: if you haven't been forefoot striking, as I haven't (consistently), your calf muscles will have something to say about it. After 9 miles between my house and the Cinco course, where I foolishly attempted to keep up with people I used to be able to keep up with but can't anymore, my calf muscles were in such agony I had to walk the mile and a half home, and even walking it was painful. But that's just a matter of toughening them up. My body's not the boss of me!

I'm done here, except for the promised picture of my toes... scroll down, but, please, only if you really want to.