Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Shore, the Beach, La Playa or the edge of the Continent

We've lived in Seattle now for about 12 years. We've been to the rugged coast close to Forks and Neah Bay but have never made it to the beach. We finally crossed that off the list in a nice way.

First, did you know that correct Washingtonian usage is to call the beach "the shore?" I found that out this week at work when I mentioned we were going to Ocean Shores and "the beach." Anyone have any dirt (or sand :-p) on this one because I can't figure it out. all I can assume is that as a gal growing up on the beaches of Southern California, that the beaches of Washington in NO WAY compare so you better call it something different.


It was a planned running weekend. I ran 10 miles Saturday on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail uphill to Rattlesnake lake. I was supposed to have some pick up miles in there but that didn't work at all so easy miles were just fine. I admired all the bear scat and enjoyed the drippy rain. Rain? it's been so dry this spring and summer that really this was novel. The fall rains are going to hurt this year.

I quickly came home and we went to the Sounders FC game (a rather frustrating game 0-0 but the games themselves are always fun) and then we were off for the 2-3 hour drive to Ocean Shores, WA.

Ocean Shores is a rather strange and remote beach tourist town. Obviously the town lives and dies by tourism but it is so remote feeling and closed that I was a bit taken back. No, there isn't a lot out there.

I compare it to the beaches I grew up near in Southern California. Seal Beach definitely had that same beach town feel but since it was part of the larger metropolis of So Cal, there wasn't that desolate feel. I went to college in the coastal town of Santa Cruz which is a retirement and family vacation destination on the California coast. With a big University of California campus sprawled on the hillsides, the town had a strange but vibrant mix of tourism, retirees and campus. At least they did when I was there last years ago.

Ocean Shores has beach and lots of it. And because we were there with a group, with no vehicle of our own and with a tight schedule, I saw no other part of the area besides the drive in and out. The beach itself was quite spectacular in it's own subtle gray and misty way.

On a quiet and still Sunday morning, we got driven to a street just south of Copalis Beach and made our way to the beach adn started running south. It's nearly 13 miles of flat, packed sand with the ocean and sea birds as company.

And I loved it. It was a cloudy day and soon I was all by myself and just moving along and enjoying the novel sensation of running on packed sand. the sound of the waves is deeply comforting to me. I kept my eyes open for an intact sand dollar (found one eventually!) and sometimes went sprinting after the flocks of seagulls to make them fly. I left the brown pelicans alone. They are huge and aren't they on an endangered list somewhere? The flocks of wee sandpipers were adorable and moved along the sand with the waves so quickly that I wish I had half their sprinting ability. ;-)

I debated running 10 or 13 (the options for distances for this run) and eventually decided that even though I was tired I needed to do the whole distance. How often would I be on this beach? the last few miles became a trudge through soft sand (similar to slushy snow but without the cold) as the tide came in but that was ok. I knew I could do it.

When finished, Coach T pointed me over to climb the rocks at Point Brown Jetty to see Westport across the entrance to Grays Harbor. It was nearly impossible to walk on the sand with my running shoes. I'd spent years of my life barefoot on the sand. I had to take my shoes off and dig my toes in and walk. Ahhh. That felt great!

Back to the room to shower in water that smelled like broccoli water (don't ask) and then to breakfast at a fabulous little diner. Pancakes, bacon and eggs are the best after a run! Within half a day we were back in Seattle and getting ready to reset for the upcoming week at work. We'd only been gone 24 hours but took a little vacation in that time which was really appreciated.

Ok. I'm sold on the shore!

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Busy week and weekend here at the PuddleThumper homestead. We are desperately trying to get exterior window trim scraped and cleared of paint and old glazing. This requires working around 85 year old leaded single-pane windows. Fun stuff! Gotta love lead dust.

It's been a busy running week too. I finally hit 40 miles per week again after a long absence (May). I've been keeping mileage around 30-35 per week in deference to The Foot. The Foot has been behaving itself since I am consistent about daily self-care (calf/hamstring stretching, foot massage and ice). Dare I say it? It actually does feel better now. And this past week has been all about recovery from both Spider Meadow run and the cold I got. It was Thursday until my quads felt normal and I'm still hacking and snotty. I hate summer colds.

Yesterday was an eye opening run. It was the Rattlesnake Ledge run. It's a 10 mile jaunt straight up for 4 miles and then straight down for 6. It's a nice trail and it has some really nice views of Mount Si and the Snoqualmie Valley. It's a run I first did in 2005 and have not been back since because of injury or vacation.

In my mind, I was really building it up because it is a tough run. What did I do with it? I hiked. :-p Ok, I'm a fast hiker and run when I can but for some reason this summer I tend to hike much faster than ever. I don't even pretend to run. Some of this yesterday may have been a result of still recovering from last week. And the downhill wasn't as bad as I was expecting. I did take a tumble yesterday and I"m pleased to report I did NOT break my wrist. Phew! The way I fell, I could have done that pretty easily. I only got a few scrapes, bruises and some mildly sore muscles from the fall. It's a 10 mile run and compared to some of the runs I now have done, it's well...mundane as RPD described it. And it just wasn't a big deal. I kept it easy but didn't at all feel stressed or worked from the run. This is a big change from when I did it last.

So, what did I do today? I had come across the inaugural Lake Union 10k and was intrigued. It's a nice course, mostly flat and i know it well because I bike it quite often. Could I run this? YES!

It was a really nice morning and I got out to south Lake Union early enough to get a good parking spot and a leisurely 2.5 mile warm up. Considering the 40 miles this week, the cold, the fall and the run yesterday and general fitness (little speedwork), I know I'm not in PR shape but I want to run well and work on the mental aspects of a hard run. I figure a 7:50 pace would be good to achieve this and I'd feel pleased about the hard workout.

The race was close to sell out (750) and I am always surprised to see the number of people who turn out for these things. I got a good spot pretty close to the front and we were off!

Mile 1: 7:39
I did a pretty good job on controlling speed on this mile. It's completely flat heading north along the west side of Lake Union. I'm amused by all the people who seem to be going out way too fast and are already breathing too hard at half a mile.

Mile 2: 7:36
I did deliberately speed up here. It's the only other completely flat mile besides the last one. I was feeling quite good here. Only had to blow my nose once!

Mile 3: 8:01
This has the climb toward Fremont Bridge. I did not want to go too hard here so deliberately kept effort the same. My brain helpfully lets me know that if I was doing a 5k, I'd almost be done.

Mile 4: 7:47
Keep in the game. My fear was that I'd settle here and really slow as there is a steady climb along the Burke-Gilman towards the University Bridge plus the short climb to the bridge itself. In fact, I started to see the people who'd gone out too fast walking in here. I'm pleased with this mile. A friend around Gasworks happened to spot me here and shouted encouragement. That was nice. :-)

Mile 5: 8:14
This was the mile I was worried about. The route along the east side of the lake has a section where you have to climb a very short but steep hill and then back down. I was dreading this as I've been a fairly sucky steep hill climber. I get totally bogged down. Today, I managed to keep it a good pace. I didn't blow a gasket yet I certainly didn't set a record. The downhill is too steep to use unfortunately. And more importantly, my mind was still in the game. I was really having to battle the demons but I didn't really slow and kept at it.

Mile 6: 7:47
This was getting tough and where I was feeling both the remnants of my cold (SNOT!) and the miles. I didn't have any extra here but I am very happy about keeping the pace. I really felt like I was slowing but I think others were picking up the pace the last half mile and I didn't have any extra gas.

.2 (.3 according to garmin): 2:03

Watch/chip time: 49:10 for 7:55 pace.

I immediately went to get water. I had skipped both water stations and was really thirsty. I picked up my race shirt and went off for a short jog to loosen everything up after the run. The race had a very nice post-event spread although it was a tight area with a lot of people.

I realize then that they have posted the first batch of times on five sheets of paper. I look for my name on the third sheet. Hunh. Nothing. Oh wait, I'm on the second sheet. Ha ha! I'm 110th overall (men and women), 49:10 chip time and there is a 3 next to the F 40-44 by my name. Does this mean I've placed in my age group? Yes it does! I start laughing! I cannot believe it.

I waited around for the awards then and actually end up with 2nd in my age group because of medalling up. I get my ribbon and my photo taken and can help but giggle to myself. 2nd in my AG! Me? :-D

I've reached a point of fitness that I have a hard time comprehending. I can go for a strenuous run/hike, get a cold, recover, be on my feet all day and still come out with a good 10k workout and a ribbon and feel good. Mentally this day was even more valuable to me. I was tired and battled back even when I wanted to stop and walk and go directly to my car.

And I've found the perfect 10k course if I ever want to test myself. It really is a nice course and follows the named Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop. If you ever visit Seattle and need a nice run, come here first.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

No service!

Spider Meadow

I did a long and challenging trail run/scramble yesterday out in the cascades with my running group. Evidently this trail has been on the wish list for one of the ladies for quite a while and with good reason.

the Phelps Trail head is far out there (a three hour drive) and deep enough in the mountains that the first realization from most of us that was that we had no cell phone service. It's always a good reminder for me when I'm out on a trail run that I need to pay attention to fueling and water and be careful with footing. No falling allowed. Based on the diverse abilities of the group doing the trail, it would not do to end up with an tripping injury. There would be no calling a cell to get some help. I knew this run would be at the limit for some people's abilities and there is always the possibility that I may be needed to run extra miles to support the group.

I got started just after 9 am and planned on taking it really easy as we were at altitude (trail head is at 3500 feet) and I just didn't know what to expect once we made the climb towards Spider Gap. It's a really pleasant old road, overgrown and wide for the first few miles. It gradually climbs the whole time but there is some up and down and little stream crossings. It was a bit chilly and I was regretting my shorts. My hamstring and hips were cold and I wasn't generating enough heat to keep those muscles warm.

I made sure to have some water and a snack at 3 miles and kept chugging on upwards. The first hints of Spider Meadow are so pretty but coming out of the forest trail to the lower end of Spider meadow at 5.2 miles is stunning. It's the perfect glacier carved valley filled with lush meadow of all sorts of blooming flowers. I started speeding up taking in the energy of the place and I had a huge grin on my face. Every few moments I'd have to stop to look at some interesting plant or I'd track a new bird.

The trail is deeply rutted through the meadow and makes running a bit challenging as you can't quite see where you are putting your feet. At 6.5, the trail can either take you straight ahead to the Phelps basin or you can start a heart pounding ascent up towards Spider Gap. This was where we were headed and I was glad to see the signs as I thought I might have been off trail. I'd seen no signs of anyone else in my group besides Coach T passing me as expected around 2.5 miles.

the ascent to climb towards the glacier was something else. It was extremely steep with very sharp switchbacks and over large areas of scree. I was starting to have moments of vertigo when climbing. I could not at all look down and if I did, it would prompt a moment of dizziness and a grab at any shrubs or rocks around to steady myself. I just tried not to think about it and kept climbing being careful to place my feet well and staying to the inside edge. When the trail leveled out there were stunning views out towards the valley floor. it does not bother me looking out over things but looking down was not an option!

With the close attention to the ground and the plants along the trail, i noticed bright purple bird droppings. Sure enough, there were wild blueberries along the trail. Of course, I stopped to sample. Up and up. Eventually I spotted a couple of running mates far ahead and up on the trail and shouted hello to them. They waved back and I marveled at how far both had come in the past year. This was an extremely challenging trek and both of them had been very new runners just last year.

I caught up to them right at the base of the snow field called Spider Glacier. All of a sudden, we were above the tree line and on the surface of the moon. Rocks, scree and snow and we were going to climb the glacier to Spider Gap. Traversing over snow is a new skill I've learned how to do over the past few years. it's slick and slushy and you have to dig your feet in. Slow, hard work. It took me a while to remember how to do this actually. Climb and climb. It was tough and I questioned whether I'd make it to the top. I was having flashbacks to other challenging physical exertions but knew if I just kept at it, I'd get there.

It's just 700 feet up towards Spider Gap at 7100 feet but that last not quite a mile takes a long, long time to an incredible view. Peek over Spider Gap on the other side looking towards upper Lyman Basin and a hint of Lyman Lake lying in the lower basin. I realized after the snow scramble, that I was starving. I sat down on all the rocks and quickly pulled on some more clothes (nice cold breeze on top of a gap!) and had my pancakes and peanut butter. Good stuff!

I knew we'd be hanging out here waiting for everyone to make it to the top of the gap. I had this great desire to go farther on the trail to see what it looked like so checked to see how much time I had to explore before needing to turn around. Coach T well aware of my desire to roam gave me (and RPD who had caught up) 20 minutes. then obviously, Coach T also needed to see where we were going because he came out too. I'm glad we went a little farther as there was a great view of Lyman Glacier. I heard and spotted a whistling marmot and heard the disconcerting sound of rocks pinging down the mountains.

Coach T had not been sure that LE would make it to the top but by the time we turned around to go back to the gap, she was there. I was so proud of her. That was a tough, tough climb and she has come so far. She tends to be a bit scattered so Coach T started her on the road to fueling up and getting what she needed to get going back down. Meanwhile, RPD prudently asked how we get back down the snowfield. Dig those heels in deep and if you start to slide, turn over and dig the hands in and more importantly, work very hard that it doesn't happen.

It was easier than I expected. I could feel that it really worked my total core and hip muscles but I didn't have much trouble. I passed another hiker out with his 40 pound pack (I asked) and was very thankful that wasn't me. Everyone I passed had a grin on their face though. We were all so pleased to have made it up.

Since I'd scooted out ahead of everyone, I did take a moment to climb up on a knob with campers and take in the view down towards the valley. I tried not to think about the descent down. I was tired after the exertions but ready for the challenge and I started down. At this point, a lot of day hikers were making it up the switchbacks and they all tended to marvel at me with my running gear. I made sure to tell everyone that it was totally worth the trek to the top. I hope they all made it!

And the descent wasn't so bad. Really, I was too busy watching foot placement as I hiked down (to steep and slippery on scree to run). I was completely startled by a pika which was sitting on a rock in a scree area and made a sound like a toy car beep. I did shriek as it was loud and completely unexpected. :-D

Once down to a runnable section, I realized how quickly we had climbed. My quads were toasted and there was still miles of downhill. I stopped to have another gel and started to realized I was pretty hungry and out of water. Right about then (with another 5 miles to go), speedy Dave caught up to me and ran with me the rest of the way in to the trail head. he had extra water and I shared my margarita clif bloks plus my homemade energy bars with him as he was out of food. He's a fun guy to chat with but towards the end I was getting really tired and starting to not think all that clearly.

He is one fast dude and it was really instructive to watch him run over the rocks and roots. He really picks up his feet a lot more than I do and kept his feet on the ground such a short time. I'd try it and it works even though it was getting harder to pick my feet up because I was tired. I know I ran a lot faster because I was with him than if I'd been by myself so that was a good pick me up. 16 miles is the farthest I've gone in quite some time and my legs were feeling it. I was past the point of wanting any more trail food because I was so hungry. I know that makes no sense but that is what happens.

It is a great feeling coming to the car and knowing you are done! I'd done pretty well to bring a range of food for after the run so Dave and I snacked while we waited for everyone to come in. I knew it was going to be a while. After a while, one runner after the other came in with that particular happy, satisfied and tired grin.

The elevation:
The stats:
I started running at 9:05 am and was back at the car at 2:40 pm with 4 hours and 24 minutes of running/hiking.

The pack:
1 long sleeved shirt, 1 lightweight shell, 1 pair mittens, 24 oz of water, 2 pancakes, 2 packets of cinamon pb, 3 gels, 2 squares of my energy bar, 1 packet clif blocks, electrolyte tablets, hat, sunglasses, headband, first aid kit, inhaler, emergency blanket, chemical hand warmers, camera + extra battery.

I needed more water and more food. I need to figure out something salty to have on the trail adn please no trail mix :-p. And I need to figure out how to set watch to beep to eat every 45 minutes or so. Out of the food, I did not eat one gel, half packet of clif blocks, one bar and one packet of pb. I would've eaten more pancakes had I brought more. I ate well for breakfast: two eggs, english muffin w/ cheese, oj and then once on the road oatmeal with nuts and more coffee.

All in all an amazing experience only slightly ruined by realizing as i was having dinner that the sore throat I had was not from trail dust but from a developing cold. At least it waited until I was off the trail!

Full set of photos: click here

Saturday, August 8, 2009

It has been a great summer!

As we were driving back from the Cougar Mountain Trail Series Race #4, RPD said I'd had a great summer. Surely he is right.

It was the final event of the series. 13.4 miles by my garmin with 6700 feet of climbing although RPD evidently found some shortcuts because he only climbed 6100 feet.

I was rather nervous about this event. That is a long way to go on tough, technical trails. The night before I suddenly realized that I'd not had a long run in a rather long time as my focus had switched to shorter, faster stuff with Ragnar. I'd not run over two hours in months. Oh well! My main goals were 1) finish, 2) not fall and 3) not get stung again by wasps. Well, two out of three ain't bad.

Fortunately, our ridiculously hot weather left and it was replaced with ridiculously cool weather for August. Cloudy and 60 degrees is perfect for a long run however. There seemed to me many more people gathered for this race. That is a good thing for me because I like the camaraderie which develops out on the trails.

We took off for the loop around the grassy meadow to spread the field out before the first turn onto trail. And before I knew it we were climbing Lost Beagle. Having no shame, I quickly started walking up this hill. All I could think about was the next 12 miles to come. My legs had felt very stiff during warm up and this week I've been tired. Once I was settled into that first hill, I started to feel better.

the course had changed from last year's 13 miler but I had not realized that until late the night before and had not had a chance to study the maps all that much. I was happy to see we took a right onto Cougar Bypass to go downhill. Nice. I had been right behind a guy setting a very steady pace for the past miles. He asked if I wanted to pass but nope, I was happy to hang out. The first water stop came quick at 3. I did stop and had water and a gu and watched about 10 people pass me. No biggie. I passed most of them back eventually.

The climb towards Wilderness Peak was the usual. I start walking soon. I was right behind a young gal and her dad who were obviously going to be sticking together for the race. They chatted with me a bit as I heard them huffing about the uphill. The climb towards Wilderness goes on for a while but compared to the climb up Wilderness Creek, it's not bad and I knew the end of this race would feature the climb up Quarry and I warned them about it. I noticed the dad was starting to trip a bit on the uphill and I was concerned he was going out too hard. At the finish of the race, the young gal came up to me and thanked me for warning them. :-D They did finish together.

Soon the bombing downhill on Wilderness Cliffs Trail began. I slowly began catching people here. It's a mile long downhill and pretty steep in places. I passed one gal I've seen at the series and we ruefully laughed at how challenging it is. She said she was really having to talk herself through some negative thoughts. What a surprise and a revelation that was to me. I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

It was right around here that I caught up to flapping arm guy from last race. We had traded back and forth the last miles as I passed him on downhill and he passed me on uphill countless times during that race. He runs with his hands down by his sides and his hands flap as he runs. This totally puzzles me how he can even move forward without falling over. Eventually I worked up the courage to ask if his name was "Proper First Name" as I'd heard him cheered for at the last race. It was! So we chatted some more. Yep. Camaraderie is fun on the trails.

In a feat of dedication, the water stop was at the high point on a remote trail at mile 7 and staffed by a local high school xc team (supplies were pushed in by wheelbarrow). I chugged some nuun, some water and grabbed another gu. My legs had been aching on the uphill which I recognized as fuel depletion and I took my second gu earlier than expected shortly after taking an electrolyte tablet. I thought I might need more calories than I had expected.

At 7, the fun downhill began. It was pretty quiet out there and I could hear some voices ahead of me of a couple guys chatting. I passed them fairly quickly. I was more than halfway done and feeling good. Last race, I had seen a couple of people take falls in front of me in this area so I was careful. I knew I was getting tired and it wouldn't do to trip here.

Suddenly I felt a sharp stinging at my ankle. I thought I had kicked up a blackberry branch and ignored it. The pain started to get worse and worse and I stopped to look in horror at the angry wasp which was on my sock and stinging me. I flung it off and started running again slightly concerned about allergic reaction. I'd been stung last time and had an annoying reaction. I know reactions can build with repeated exposure and I was about as far away from any trail head at that point as you can be.

My ankle felt like fire and I was starting to change my stride a bit because of it. Just run. Just run and then I felt a sharp stinging on my hip. F@#$%! I'd had another hitchhiker which finally got pissed enough to sting me. That one hurt even more and made me concerned that I still had more of the freaking things on my clothing. Oh well. Just run. I'd not been stung anywhere near my face so the liklihood of a big reaction was slim and either way, I needed to keep moving.

I made the turn to Shy Bear Trail and contemplated the fact that a bear and cubs had been seen on this trail a couple weeks ago. At this point, if I saw a bear I was turning around and calling myself done! No bear showed up, just a long steady downhill and then the turn onto De Leo Wall Trail. It has been years since I've been on this trail. It was mostly uphill and I slowly passed a couple people walking. One was an older woman who had come up from Portland to run this. She'd never run at Cougar before and was impressed with these trails.

During this section, I emptied my water bottle and was getting thirsty and hungry. I had taken a gel around mile 8 and knew I'd need another with more water. at 10, I came to the last water stop and the guy kindly half filled my small handheld. I had more nuun and hoped that would be enough. I took the last gel as I was leaving. marshall Trail was suprisingly flat and easy to run. I chatted with arm flapping guy for a while. Portland Lady showed up again and we chatted once again as I passed her on the uphill. She was very good on the downhill however.

Quarry was coming. Even Arm Flapping Guy was expecting it now. it was in here where I figured out how much stronger I was. Even two years ago, I'd have had a hard time with this run mentally if not physically. I was in a good spirits, working towards reaching the final downhill and looking forward to being done. Yes, my legs were aching adn the stings were still burning and I was starting to tire but there was no question I would finish.

I know I need to work a bit harder on developing my uphill skills. My calves and hamstrings fizzle out and I'm afraid to push it too much. A more even effort on the uphill and downhill will probably serve me well. yep. There's a lot of time out on trails to consider things.

Finally I hit Fred's Railroad and was a mile from teh finish. Yeehah! I felt good and just kept it steady as there was no way my aching legs were going to push that hard. The XC team was cheering at 12.8 as I made teh turn onto bypass and the downhill that I know very well. This was the fun part I thought. Then my left hamstring started this odd quivering. WTF? I guess this was the beginning of a cramp. I've not had this before and wasn't sure what to do. I tried changing up my stride a bit but then my right hamstring started the same thing.

So it wasn't quite the strong finish I had hoped for. I had to walk a bit the last half mile and got passed by three people. The little uphill on Old Man Trail was better for my hamstrings and I was happy to see the finish line. No sprint left, but I ran it in with a big smile on my face.

I immediately went to get some electrolyte drink and watermelon. Ahhh. I figured RPD would be in shortly and sure enough he was. I chatted with the various people who I'd developed trail camaraderie over the past miles. I even asked Arm Flapping guy what was up with his lack of arms when running. He knows! I told him flat out that he would be a lot faster if he worked on his form. :-)

what was up with the hamstring? I'm guessing that the lack of long runs hurt me on this. And, I was totally craving salt after I was done and even my foot threatened to cramp as we were getting ready to go to the coffee reward place. So that may have been part of it too.

It's been a great summer (and not just for running). The inaugural Seattle Rock n Roll half, Ragnar and now the completion of the Cougar Mountain Trail Series. I'm 8 out of 23 in the females of the series runners and pleased about that. My fitness has been building this summer and that shows in my ranking which moved up as the races have gotten longer. I'm not sure I'll maintain that placement with my slow finish but we shall see.

the summer isn't over yet. :-)