Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Part 3 - Iron Horse Trail - Thorp to the Army East (Columbia River)

After the ride the day before, Lorrie B and I hopped in the van to help Coach T mark the course through Ellensburg since the Iron Horse Trail disappears for just a bit through town. We had spotted a bike shop in our wanderings and T is not one to turn down a bike shop and neither am I so we popped in to check it out.

T also wanted to ask about the trail we were going to ride the next day. He'd never been on it and after countless hours spent researching and googling kept getting mixed reports about trail conditions, permit restrictions and army exercises blocking the trail (!). Some reports said it wasn't passable even. Even the dude at ReCycle Shop couldn't give us a straight answer because he'd heard all sorts of conflicting reports as well.

So. The Iron Horse Trail was a big unknown for our third and final leg. We knew it would be flat and easy for the first 20 miles but then we may not be able to go further and conditions might be challenging. It was a good thing that the day's ride had been so easy as who knew what was coming the next day.

It was a gorgeous morning. Sunny and comfortable with a fairly stiff breeze which would be a tailwind the entire time we were riding. After the cooler temps and clouds of the day before, the sun was wonderful. Everybody was in a good mood and off we went. We'd spotted a farm growing pumpkins and I had to go check it out for a little detour at the beginning. To get back to the trail I had to go into the wind. Even for that quarter mile on the gravel road, I was very thankful we would have a tailwind.

The trail from Thorp to Kittitas was very uneventful 14 miles. Flat and pretty with nice famland vistas. There was really no one else out and about so I made sure to bark at the dogs and moo at the cows I saw. I called out "good morning!" to the horses in the fields too. My legs were feeling great and even my seat was fine which really surprised me.

From Kittitas, the trail has a super soft sandy/gravel surface which was really challenging to push through on bike. It was easy to bog down and have to walk. I kept looking longingly at the road which paralleled the trail. I was so tempted! But no, Coach T ever the joker had come up with the idea of completing this three day ride meant riding every inch of the trail (which is open) otherwise you wouldn't be "certified." We'd all had a good laugh at that and it was keeping me on the trail (the laugh is on me!).

The trail is actually closed in a short stretch along here because the Renslow Trestle Bridge is unrideable. We took a rolling road detour which was fun to ride after all the sand. I did manage to hit 32 mph going downhill on my knobby tires and I wasn't even pedaling! Up and down, up and down and you could see the trestle in the distance.

The road runs under the trestle and it's a quick turn to get to Army West Trailhead. I could see the support van parked here and I could see a bunch of Stryker army vehicles around. These are the huge armored transport vehicles! Uh. Ok. What are they doing? Well, it seems like they are conducting some sort of exercise as they are yelling at some people dressed in civilian clothes and firing at them. I ride up to T and start howling with laughter. We might be done for the day!

T has been talking with the men after initially being told to "Halt!" and "Stop right there!" They are contacting their command about the feasibility of a bunch of bicyclists riding on the trail. Eventually someone comes over and lets us know that the trail is open and points out exactly where to get to it. He does suggest that the army drivers are used to driving around like maniacs out there so you might want to be careful and do not get off the trail.

Ok then! Since the trail goes through this restricted area there is no support vehicle access for the next 20 miles. I fill up my water bottle, have a gel and prepare to ride on. The terrain has changed from valley farmland to dry scrubland. It really looks like Albuquerque much to my surprise and has the same vegetation.

After a short hill to reach the trail, I hop on my bike and start to ride and quickly bog down in even worse sand/gravel than the earlier section. And to make matters worse the trail is slightly uphill. I have to crank on the pedals to get going and keep going and I'm barely moving along at 7.5 mph. I can tell other cyclist have gone through this area by the tracks and I can see when they lost control of their bikes on the loose stuff. This is tough, tough riding when I'm even riding. It's even hard to walk through this stuff pushing the bike. 20 miles of this?

I do start to get better at riding this stuff though. It's almost like surfing on sand and I am getting a great core workout controlling the twitching, fishtailing bike. The tailwind has picked up and seems to help move me around on the trail when I don't want to be moved. It seems like forever but this section was only about 4 miles long and took me about 50 minutes to ride.

The trail started to become more packed and a little bit more rideable and then the final tunnel of the ride appeared unexpectedly at the end of a very narrow, dark chute which you couldn't see the end of. I knew this tunnel was not very long (1980 feet) but it curved because I couldn't see the end. The surface of the tunnel is super loose sand with huge boulders dotting the ground. Not too far into the tunnel I start to hear twitterings. Uh bats? No worse. Pigeons! My light and movement startle them and they keep flying around me and in front of me and probably above me. I'm yelling "crap, crap, crap!" and thinking that is exactly what they are probably doing. The surface of the trail gets worse the farther into the tunnel you go with big sections of large loose rocks. I am determined to ride through because there is no way I'm stopping. I think this tunnel is worse than the 2.4 miles Snoqualmie one!

The Boyleston Tunnel marks the elevation high point of this trail. From here the next 15 miles are all downhill to the Columbia River. The surface is a lot better but there are still sections of the loose sand. What becomes even more challenging is the cuts through the hillside that were made to keep the railroad grade constant. Those cuts are very narrow and the rock lining them is extremely friable. The ground of these cuts is littered with piles of sharp rocks some even bigger than a, as the term goes, baby head. Loose scree and big rocks and going downhill means this is a dangerous ride. Often you could hear the wind building behind you and whistling through the cuts and when that happened you knew it would push you around. This was challenging riding for me. I've never done anything like this before.

And of course, I did see the army boys driving their Strykers around. I'd wave and they waved back. I, of course, was carefully waiting for them to cross. And I had a laugh at some of the signs warning to stay on the trail. Army conducting exercises plus rattlesnakes and no roads or other trails in sight? Yep. I'm staying on the trail!

The wind started to get stronger and stronger. The final 5 miles are on curving trails with a mix of the loose stuff. The wind would push you over so much that I'd be afraid of falling off the high banked trail. Even so, it was exhilarating riding at such speeds and leaning into the wind and controlling the fish tailing. I was having a blast and there were sweeping views of the Columbia River.

Done! 41 miles later and my quads and hips were screaming about the abuse I'd put them through. Turns out that some of our riders didn't really have the strength and/or bike skills to do the final section and had to turn back. Others who could do it reported having some emotional breakdowns while in the midst of the challenge. And it was a huge challenge!

We drove back to Ellensburg to shuffle bikes, gear and riders between another vehicle and drove back happy and tired to Seattle. Iron Horse from Seattle to Columbia River for 155 miles? I'm certified and certifiable!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Part 2 - The Iron Horse Trail - Hyak to Thorp

After spending the night at the Summit Lodge at Snoqualmie Pass, we awoke to drizzle and cool temperatures. I'd heard from K that it was raining in Seattle. I fully expected to ride in cold and wet for the next section of the Iron Horse Trail. This section was going to be 47 miles from Hyak to Thorp (just east of Ellensberg). Oh joy.

I had felt completely done after the long and grueling bike ride from the day before. But after a huge, carb-laden dinner and a huge, carb-laden breakfast plus some decent sleep, I felt a whole heck of a lot better. We knew that this section of the trail was going to be easier and I planned on keeping it as easy as possible because I didn't think I'd make it a third day riding if I had another ride like the first one.

I'd had some problems with focus the day before probably because of fueling issues but also because I was by myself the entire ride. I planned on bringing along my ipod to help keep me focused. I'm normally anti-music when running or riding because of safety and rudeness issues. I was on a trail by myself with no traffic and nobody around so this seemed like a good time to break the music rules.

Miraculously, by the time I started riding most of the drizzle clouds had lifted and it wasn't raining. Almost immediately past the trail head, you ride along side Lake Keechelus. It was flat and easy for the first five miles and a complete relief after the uphill grind of the day before. I was totally enjoying the music and realizing that my legs felt great after warming up a bit. After that warm up, the trail took a steady drop all the way to where we would end. It was amazing to be out on the trail with a tail wind and downhill! I was having a blast.

I'd occasionally see a group of bicyclists coming towards me. They were battling uphill much like I'd been doing the day before but they were also slowed by a strong headwind. I cheerily said "Hello!" to everybody as I blasted by them.

I'm embarrassed to admit that even though I have lived in Seattle for over 10 years and consider it my home that I have never been to the eastern side of Washington. I have never been past Snoqualmie Pass. And on this ride, I was finally making it to the Eastern side and I was doing it first by bicycle.

The scenery from Hyak to Cle Elum was really gorgeous. We crossed the Yakima River numerous times and I liked seeing the forest as we rode along. Some early shrubs were just starting to change color. There was no denying that fall was in the air.

This is a former railroad track and there were some very evocative moments for me when I was riding along. We passed a few different former train stations in Easton and Cle Elum. There were four different tunnels along this section. I picture the men who toiled in latter part of the 19th Century to build these tunnels and I get chills. After crossing the river yet again, I came to a high sided rocky chute which was very narrow for a train. Honestly I could smell engine oil and I had to look around to make sure there wasn't a train coming behind me. I got chills again but decided to blame it on the wind this time.

It was just after this point that I started catching and passing other people on the ride. We all met up at Cle Elum around mile 30 to have lunch and take a group photo. After the bonk fest of the day before, I had decided I needed to find a better fuel for lunch on the bike. I had an extra pancake at breakfast and peanut butter and jelly in my room. Voila! PB & J pancakes are now my new food choice for this sort of thing. Bread gets all dry and gross but pancakes stay nice and moist. Try it! I think this would work for events like Ragnar too.

After Cle Elum the scenery changed. It became dryer and more desert-like. There were cool looking rock formations which looked like volcanic activity to my non-geologist eyes.

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful except for some heavy gravel/sand on the trail which made riding very hard. As I was coming in towards Thorp, the wind had really picked up and sometimes would come at you from the side. It's something else being pushing along sideways on your bike by the wind. Coach T was coming towards me on his bike the last mile and was cursing the wind for the short section he was riding. He gave me the keys to the van and I finished my ride. Truthfully, I was sorry to stop. I felt like I could've gone on forever. Shortly Coach T and LB arrived at the van. We loaded up and got a ride into Ellensberg to check into our hotel while Coach T went back to the Thorp trailhead to pick up the rest of the riders.

What a different feeling finishing this ride compared to the day before. It wasn't as far and was far easier and I was better fueled (PBJ Pancakes!).

Dinner was at The Ellensberg Pasta Company and it was quite tasty. Everybody was pretty cheerful after the easier ride and good food makes everybody happy too.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Iron Horse Trail - Seattle to Hyak - 67 Miles

I've suddenly become (relatively) bicycle fit and what should I do about it? Oh I know, I'll bike 150 miles over three days from Seattle to the Columbia River via the Iron Horse Trail. Coach T has been talking about this one for a couple of years and it finally happened this year.

I got dropped off at Myrtle Edwards park in Downtown Seattle and meandered my way through downtown (see rant from last weekend). Hooked up with the I-90 trail and instead of turning right after the Mercer Slough, I continued west on the I-90 trail. I'd never been this way before and was excited to try a new route. Newport Way was great fun on a bike. I was quite nervous about this ride as it was going to be the farthest I'd ever ridden and with a huge climb to Hyak and the Snoqualmie Pass so I made sure to keep it easy and try to fuel well.

After going through Issaquah I finally had the fun of riding on the Mountains to Sound regional trails which allow cyclist onto I-90 past Issaquah. I'd seen crazy people bicycling on the freeway before and swore I'd never do that! What can I say? People change and now I was one of those crazies. It was a good thing I didn't know that I'd be riding on this part until the last minute as I think it would've given me something else to stress about. And really, it wasn't bad at all. I even got a nice shout out of approval at one point from a car whizzing past. At least that's what it sounded like to me.

After a bit of road ups and downs, I came to the Preston Snoqualmie Trail which I didn't know existed. A short trail with a few bumps and there was no one on it at all. Very remote feeling and it had a screaming downhill to get to the Preston Fall City Road to go to Fall City. They were doing road paving on this stretch and had the road just to one lane and holding traffic. The flagger waved me up to the front and sent me on ahead to the next flagger where I waited and chatted with the lady. She was amazed I'd come from Seattle and then reported that she'd seen a bicyclist crash in front of her before. That's really what I want to hear at this point. She redeemed herself by letting me go first of all the cars on new pavement. Man, that was fun!

I was expecting to climb the road to Snoqualmie Falls but I took a quick turn left before there and found an even worse hill to climb (Coach T is really good at this sort of thing). I didn't think I was going to make it up but I powered and grunted up the hill and was a quivery mass for a bit after that. Here I had lunch and traded my trusty road bike for my also trusty (but not as well loved) mountain bike. It's just not as comfy and I had changed tires to my monster grip ones so the mountain bike felt even stranger. I was now on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail and it would take me to Rattlesnake Lake.

I've been on the SVT countless times as a runner and racer and occasionally as a cyclist. It's rather dull in a leafy, calm sort of way. K has seen a bear before along this stretch of the trail and sure enough, there are signs posted about bear activity. This did keep me slightly more focused.

At Rattlesnake, I stretched a bit and started up the Iron Horse Trail. It was here that I realized with 20 miles still to go that I was really hungry. Not a good sign when it's literally all uphill from here.

I'd been riding all by my lonesome but I did start to pass other folks on the ride here. It was fun to chat and compare various aches. Everybody had a smile on their face however! See that smile of Laura E's face?

My back was aching, my hamstrings were hurting, the little area between shoulder blades was screaming protest and yet even though I was close to being done, there was still one very big hurdle left. Dunh, dunh, dunh. The Tunnel, my nemesis. Yes, i was going to be facing it again and truth be told, I was thinking about it for at least 60 miles.

I could try and go through by myself or wait for another person to come along. After 60 miles of mulling it over I wanted to go through by myself. I had brought K's fantastically bright light and hoped that would make a difference. And it did! It made a huge difference being able to truly see the ground in front of you. I had no troubles going through it at all. I was still tense at that moment when the light behind you vanishes and you can just barely see the pinprick of light ahead, but it was bearable.
Coming out of the tunnel is usually like coming out into a whole 'nother world and it was no different today. While it had been cloudy and sometimes drizzly on the other side, as soon as I cam out of the tunnel it was warmer and sunny in Hyak. You could look back and see the clouds retreating from the pass. It seemed like we were being welcomed after our long trek.

PP and I loaded our bikes on the van and went to the hotel to quickly unload stuff so she could go back to the trailhead for the next group of riders. We both realized on the drive to the hotel that we were fried. I was starving and not able to focus and barely able to even form complete sentences.

I chowed well at dinner and poured the liquids in. It was like I'd never eaten before! I kept thinking of Tour de France riders and how many calories they have to take in daily to sustain their exertions.

It was a pretty amazing day. 67 miles is definitely a new biking high for me for one day and the elevation chart just makes me laugh.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Adjustment Run

I have one of these runs every year at about this time when summer is transitioning to fall. I normally run before work and try to be out running by 5:30 am.

During the summer this is great at it is usually the perfect temperature, the sun is rising or already up, the birds are chirping and yeah it's just sickening how lovely it all is.

And then we hit that magic point of the year when it is dark at 5:30 and I realize I've lost the running in the dark skills I had acquired over the previous winter. The birds don't chirp and there are creatures (real and imaginary) out there.

Today was that adjustment run. I went and ran what's called "Campus Loop" which takes me strangely enough through the UW Campus and along the Burke-Gilman trail. Right away I notice that along Ravenna Blvd. that the sidewalks seem particularly dangerous as it is dark and they are cracked. I have a flashlight with me but I still have to be careful. This goes on for a mile or so and I'm getting annoyed at sidewalk maintenance programs in Seattle. Hint: there are no programs.

The campus is well lit at night so that's not a problem but I'm jumpy about trash cans which seem to be lurking in the corners. And that electrical box, that could be somebody waiting to jump out. This is when having a very active imagination is not so useful! The next time I do this run in the dark, I'll have a better sense of where these gremlins are hiding and I won't be so nervous.

One of the last miles is an uphill mile which goes through Cowan Park on a tree covered trail alongside Ravenna Creek. It's always very peaceful in this little treed oasis in the city. As I came along side an area along the creek, there is a huge rustling noise in the creek. I turn off my flashlight and speed up! what the heck was that? I'm calling it a raccoon at this point. At the time, I pictured boogey men, gremlins and bears. Oh my!

Soon it'll be cold again. Soon it'll be raining again. I'll have adjusted and running in the dark, wet and cold won't be such a big deal. Now, it's a very sad good-bye to summer.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bike Plan

Recognize the above image? If you've biked in Seattle, you've probably come across this free city map available online and in hard copy. This image is cropped to show the route through South of Downtown to get to the I-90 shared use trail which then goes to the Mount Baker Pedestrian Tunnel. It looks straight forward after you get through the mess which is Jackson St (blue horizontal line towards the left top of the image) and the International District. Go west on Dearborn which although busy does have a bike lane. Then you need to cross Rainier Ave S to get to Hiawatha Pl S, turn right and you'll end up on the path after a couple of blocks.

It's been some years since I've done this route through here on my bike. I was all ready to go last weekend as I wanted to join a couple of my typical bike courses to get some more miles in. No biggie. I checked the map as a refresher. What is that little purple jog which the route takes around Rainier/Dearborn? That intersection is busy so I figured it was just an easier little re-route to take you to a better way to cross that intersection. (Route based on Seattle bike map is here.)

Uh no. No! NO!

This route is even signed with helpful little images like the one below:

So as I was riding along Dearborn headed towards the intersection, I see the scene below. I'm standing on a sharrow sign with my bike and it looks very clear that I need to turn right at the next intersection (Poplar Ave S).

Great! This makes me feel a little more secure about where I'm going and it's pretty clear that I should turn. Immediately after I turn right there is another sign directing me to turn left (onto S Dean St) and matching the bike map. Here is the scene and notice the bike sign at the far right
directing a bicyclist to turn left.

And what do you get when you turn onto S. Dean St as directed by signs and map? Chewed up pavement, gravel and sheer bewilderment about what you are supposed to do next. I turned that corner and my jaw dropped in disbelief.

This is what the road surface looks like and yep, that's just chunks of pavement and piles of gravel arranged in a most artistic pot holed sort of way.

This is the broader scene.

And that's it. I didn't see any more signs and no obvious way to go through the intersection. I guess I was supposed to use the crosswalks with my bike (! No way!)but I ended up riding on the sidewalk (! No Way!) of Rainier for a block. the sidewalk was narrow, pitted and full of driveway cutouts like many sidewalks are in Seattle. I got to the next street down and waited for a bit for traffic to clear and bolted across.

What the hell?

By myself I'd just ride in the through lane and go through the intersection acting like a car. Keep in mind that when I was riding early on a weekend morning it wasn't that busy. Still when it is busy, it's almost easier to behave like a car as traffic isn't going as fast. I deliberately checked the bike map as a reference to see what was recommended through this area. I checked the Cascade's bike forums too trying to see what were the most recommend routes to get to the I-90 path.

This is what makes me crazy about biking. Yep, there are recommended routes and various ways to get places but looking at bike maps and checking online for bike routes doesn't give you the little details needed. And then you come across routing instructions which are plain dangerous. Hmmph.

Don't get me wrong. There are some really nice mapping features out there. I like bikely.com but any route is only as good and detail-oriented as the person who put the route into the system. It's the little details which are really valuable to a nervous cyclist like me. Maps put out by the city are instantly out of date or just plain nuts about routing. What about the efforts to get Google to add bike routing to their maps? This seems like both a good idea and a disaster waiting to happen. Where would Google get their bike routing information? From city maps which aren't up to date and often seem to deliberately pick the busiest street to ride?

After some googling about a bit. I did find this bike route planner for San Francisco. It has some mixed reviews but it is an interesting program. Is there anything like this for Seattle yet? Not that I can tell. And no, there isn't the detail needed especially for newbie cyclists.

Seattle did pass a "Seattle Bicycle Master Plan" recently and I know I have been seeing the sharrows painted in the most unlikeliest of places. Yesterday I biked to work and followed new bike signs which directed me from Downtown to the Interurban trail via Fremont. This time, the signs worked! It was a clear route with easy to navigate sharrows, bike lanes and good road conditions.

With gasoline prices not likely to go down anytime soon, I only see busing and biking rates increasing. I'm not sure Seattle is at all ready for this.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dinosaur Kale

Also known as Italian Heirloom Kale.

We like the stuff. It is really a beautiful and striking plant in our garden. Tall and spiky with dark blue-green pebbly (dinosaur skin like?) leaves. When it gets wet, the water has an iridescent quality on the leaves. The neighbor E who has an amazing flower cutting garden and way too many tomatoes commented on what a beautiful plant it was and what was it again?

Dinosaur Kale. You can eat it. Would you like some?

K and I picture dinosaurs munching on it when we aren't looking. When K goes out in the dark to get the am newspaper, I fully expect him to report back startling a dinosaur out of the garden enjoying it's greens.

And they are enjoyable. Easiest (and laziest) way to prepare is just snip off some leaves, wash and chop. This variety's stems are more tender than others I believe so the stems require no special handling. Mince and then saute some garlic in olive oil. Throw in the chopped greens, stir and watch them turn a beautiful deep green. Add a bit of water until they are tender which just takes a few minutes for me. Splash some balsamic vinegar on them and you are ready to eat like a dinosaur. And oh yes, these greens are nutritious enough to feed a big ol' dinosaur.

And dang these plants are easy to grow here in the Northwest. We bought 4 plants for cheap through the Olympic View Elementary School plant sale. It's a worthy cause and now our few bucks are paying us back. 3-4$ a bunch in the store. Organic? Yes. Way to lazy to do anything about the moths and/or slugs which are munching on the leaves (with the dinosaurs). I prefer to pick it from the garden.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Responsible Runner

So amidst all this running angst, I did run in a 5k this past Sunday. I waited until I had the appointment with the doc to register for it however. I thought I just better play it safe as there have been a fair number of race fees paid which have not been used over the years.

My running group was doing the Iron Girl 5k/10k as a group run and I knew it was going to be fun since the 5k course goes right around the place I run most of my weekly runs by myself. There is something to be said for a race experience jazzing up the mundane. Friday night, I had gotten an email saying over 2000 people had signed up for this event!

I knew I should not race this but knowing myself I cannot be trusted to hold back the pace by myself in a race situation. I'd be good the first mile, but then I'd start to loosen up and speed up and pass lots of people and that would fuel the competitive juices. And I'd end the last half mile in an all out sprint. This is NOT what my just back to running legs need right now so what to do?

Fortunately, I was able to hook up with a gal who was aiming for a PR (personal record) pace for her which is about my very easy pace. JS was aiming for a 9:30 pace over the 3.1 miles. Perfect! the goal for me then was to keep this pace fairly even for all three miles. I told her not to look at the watch during the race as the pace was my responsibility and she agreed.

With 2000 people, I thought it would be a mess lining up for the start but this was a well organized event. They did have pace signs and we lined up towards the front of the 9:00s. The event started on time and we were off.

Right away, we were on the heels of SJ (who sped along to a great PR as well!) but I knew SJ was going to be fast for us so I deliberately slowed us down after a first quarter mile pace at sub-9. It's pretty typical to go out too fast but you almost have to be prepared for that to clear out the crowds a bit. We really didn't weave through the crowds either so that saved some energy. After a half mile, we were pretty well settled into a 9:20 pace and I was content. JS was able to respond to my chatting but she was working. First mile: 9:20 (this is auto lap from my garmin watch) A bit fast but not unexpected considering the crowded start.

Mile 2 is where 5k's are pretty challenging for me at least. It's easy to start realizing that this pace which felt doable in mile one is starting to feel hard and yet you still have another painful mile to go. The trick is to stay with it. JS did great. At times I could hear her footfalls become heavier so this is where I started reminding her about form checks. Keep your arms moving. Try changing up your stride a bit by picking your legs up a bit more or pushing off a bit more with your toes. Always keep the arms moving and keep the shoulders relaxed. Remember the core you've been working on? Here is where it's going to work for you. Mile 2: 9:28 - perfect.

The challenge as a pacer is to keep an even pace here. I'm warmed up after a mile and will tend to speed up with the crowds and energy and just feeling good. This is where I have to be careful as a pacer to stay focused pacing responsibilities.

Mile 3 is where I start questioning whether that fast start is going to hurt us. JS started breathing much harder in here and it was very obvious how hard she was working. Her footstrike became much heavier and her arm swing lessoned. She stayed right with it as I continued the form check reminders as well as trying to give her a heads up as to what this course was going to do. It's really easy to talk too much because the natural human response to chatting is to respond verbally. When you are racing a 5k, it's hard to respond! Your breathe is needed elsewhere so I sushed her to remind her that there was no need to respond.

As we came close to mile 3, I prepped her for a faster finish. We'd been right on target for 9:30 but I knew she'd be able to sprint it out at the end. I should've looked at the course map a little better however as I wasn't expecting the little out and back and hairpin turn we did. JS had a mean ol' sprint however and I was worried I'd be able to keep up with her! the last little finish over grass was pretty difficult and she was feeling it but it didn't matter because then we were done! Mile 3: 9:11

Time: 28:55 for a 9:18 pace! Woohoo! That's a PR for JS and a very satisfying run for yours truly.

It has been quite a while since I last paced someone in a race (RPD first sub-8 5k in Dec 2006 as a matter of fact) and that is really too bad. I really find it takes discipline and confidence to pace someone successfully and I enjoy the challenge. I find it harder than going out and racing for yourself. It is more stressful setting the pace and knowing that if you are stupid, someone else will pay greatly for your mistake and it'll be your fault. The happy grin with a PR is a fantastic reward.

The other reward? After we finished, we waited at the finish line to cheer fellow running group members to their finish in particular but everybody in general. I was reminded how far I have come since I did my first 5k so many years ago. It was inspring yet again to see the huge range of people working so hard for their 3.1 miles of glory. It really did help put into perspective my running woes of late. I'm frustrated right now with how things are going but it doesn't make me any less of a runner.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I'm not one of you!

The running angst continues of course. I had started back to running but after a nice 4 mile run one morning almost three weeks ago, I ended the day at work limping around. Limping at work is not an option. I took two weeks off and scheduled a doctor's appointment bowing to the inevitable. Sigh.

I got horrendously sick last weekend but could not resist going out for that test run on Tuesday. Two wee little miles was all. A safe and short amount and about all my lungs could take to tell you the truth. the doc appointment was the next day. I fully expected to be sent off for further testing to rule out a stress fracture but after much poking and prodding, it seems that I have resistant shin splints. yeah. No kidding. I've been well aware of them for what seems like forever now.

After discussing options, I decided on a cortisone shot in the tendon to help heel the irritable thing and go from there. I'll probably need another one in a few weeks. Doc suggests that surface hardness could also be an issue here. I'm on my feet a lot during the day and really notice how tired my feet get as the day progresses. My company moved buildings almost two years ago and just 5 months after that move, I first report shin splints in my running log. I can't change jobs just because it is interfering with my running (!) so we'll have to see about that one.

Meanwhile, I'm cleared to run a few miles every other day and I'm biking to maintain fitness. I went out for a long bike ride on Saturday not in the best mood. It was a gorgeous day for a ride but an even better day for a run. Biking is fun but it takes so dang long to get a good workout. I don't always have time to go driving somewhere to have a more enjoyable ride either. So I did my usual loop where I climb the bluffs up Magnolia. I geared it poorly and totally had to mash the pedals to get up the hill by Discovery Park. That set off some mild lung hacking up but it settled down as did I while I enjoyed the views off of the Magnolia bluff. Mount Rainier had just put on her pink bathrobe for the sunrise.

Then where to go? The hacking lungs should've been a clue to scale back the ride a bit but I really wanted a longer effort this weekend. So I cut through the south part of downtown to get over to the Mount Baker Pedestrian Tunnel and do my favorite South Lake Washington Loop.

Going through Downtown got me all riled however. Poorly signed across dangerous asphalt and busy roads. (I must get to that spot and take a picture of the craziness!) Why the heck is there a sharrow on Jackson St? Yikes. This was fine to ride early on a Saturday morning but during rush hour traffic there is no way I'd do that route.

I made it across the bone jarring Mercer Slough trail to my favorite part of the South Lake Washington Loop just south of Newcastle Beach Park on Lake Washington Blvd SE. I enjoyed myself here even though some sections of the trail are so rooty/speed bumpy as to be dangerous. The road part is smooth and fast. There are always a lot of people out walking and running as you get closer to Gene Coulon Park and I like to see people out and about. Went by Boeing and nodded at the strikers/picketers and marveled that maybe all that construction in that area may mostly be finished at least along the road I typically travel on my bike.

Turned north then on the west side of the lake and I started to see groups of like-kitted bicyclists out for their group rides. And I couldn't help it. I just started to get riled again. They would all nod and smile at me the way bicylists will do with each other. Usually that makes me smile as I like the comraderie of bicyclists and the shared acknowledgement of being out there doing something you enjoy.

This time? Everytime I saw another cyclists I just wanted to shout "I'm not one of you! I'm a runner."

Silly. I know. As just a runner, I couldn't have done this just over 50 mile bike ride. I've had to work to develop my biking skills and endurance and I'm really pleased with how that has gone this summer. But summer is waning and the outside bike riding days are numbered for me. It's time to be a runner again. I hope.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Another Challenge

I contemplated various titles for this post.

Freak Out at 2600 Feet
Panic in the Tunnel
Panic at 2.6K (This one makes me laugh.)

Finally, I just decided to keep it simple and to the point.

It's not too often you have an experience where you feel out of control. I can now guarantee a place which will give me that feeling every single time. It's not really a feeling of dread or so bad that it is unbearable. But I know it'll be there. I also know I can usually figure out some way of overcoming it.

Since both RPD and I have not been running lately, we thought to go do some easy mountain biking from Rattlesnake Lake to Hyak via the Iron Horse Trail. Technically, I believe the old railroad trail is called the John Wayne Pioneer Trail but Iron Horse is what I hear everybody call it.

Both of us have done portions of this trail as a run and to tell you the truth, old railroad grades are not my favorite. The Iron Horse to Hyak is a very steady uphill and can get rather grueling when running. The scenery is pretty but not necessarily spectacular. I always enjoy being out of the city however.

Biking this is much better. Rattlesnake Lake is a gorgeous starting point. There is no traffic on the trail except for friendly folks out riding, walking or running. Even going uphill doesn't feel all that hard on a bike and riding the downhill portion is fun. It is infinitely better than my least favorite former railroad trail, the Burke-Gilman.

The one challenge? The Snoqualmie Tunnel right before Hyak is 2.4 miles long and pitch black and cold inside. I have run this tunnel a couple of times and struggled with it. It's a very spooky experience being inside a cold and completely dark tunnel. For some reason, I thought being on a bike would be a bit easier.

I was wrong.

We stopped at the picnic tables right before the tunnel to get lights out and have a bit of a snack. I had my usual lights I use on my bike and ones I have used to run through the tunnel before. The light I have attached to my bike is really only to let cars see me. It is not bright enough to illuminate the ground very much. I have a headlamp which is brighter but neither was enough to see with.

We start to ride with me leading and as soon as we got into where the light disappeared, I immediately knew I'd not be able to ride any farther. I felt like I was going to fall off my bike and hit the wall. I was feeling disoriented and not in control. In a probably panicky voice, I called to RPD that I was stopping and turning around and back out we went.

Yikes. I really wasn't expecting that.

RPD seemed rather surprised but calm like he usually is and was all prepared just to turn around and ride back to Rattlesnake. Considering we'd already ridden over 18 miles, this was a decent ride. But, I really wanted to make it through the tunnel. I hate being limited by my own fears. So after a bit of a think, I suggested that I could follow him on the bike if he had a rear light I could see and if he felt comfortable with fewer lights in front. He also suggested placing my headlamp at an angle so it would reflect light onto the tunnel wall.

And we set off again. I can't say it was easy but it was doable. After making it through, we went a ways out just to warm up from the chilly tunnel and then headed back through. Even expecting the moment of panic, it was still hard to continue the second time. But, the realization that you have no choice because that is where the car is works very well! It got colder this way because of a headwind and towards the end I was starting to shiver both from cold and I think effort of holding my handlebars so tightly! I also felt worn with the effort of holding my concentration so hard to a little red light ahead of me.

I'm not sure I could ride through this tunnel by myself. I'd certainly need much brighter lights and many more of them! Once it got so dark, the tendency to slow down is great. But my balance on my mountain bike isn't good since I've been riding my road bike much more lately. I really noticed following RPD that he was rock steady straight while I was continually checking and twitching my handlebars.

I am very glad we did it.