Sunday, April 29, 2012

Soaring Eagle Trail Half Marathon

Oh I'd been looking forward to this race!  

The pros:

Great weather for running!  It was low to mid 50s and cloudy with no wind.
Friends. A couple of friends were signed up to run either the half or the 10 miler.  I'd chatted with some volunteers/fellow runners at the last race I volunteered at and they were there again.  It was fun to see them out helping again as he recovers from his 50k finish. And a forumite from woman's runango forum board was out volunteering. It was lovely getting cheered for by name. 
Free entry! I'd volunteered at a couple races and gotten a free entry into this race.  Bonus! That also meant the race directors cheered for me by name which is kinda fun.
Favorite trails.  Soaring Eagle is a park which is a little remote for me to drive to for a regular training run but I just really love the trails.  They are not as steep up and down as most of the other trail systems around here and just really fun with single track, lots of turns and rocks/roots and very pretty forest.  It's an area popular with trail runners, mountain bikers, and dog walkers who live adjacent. It always seems quiet and peaceful because i think it mostly gets local use. 
New course. I guess some private landowner on one section has now refused access to one point of this trail system for events which meant the course had to be reworked. the section that was taken out was one favorite trail but they also took out the one big hill (with very rocky trail) plus a literal scramble up and down one section.  i really disliked the section the last time i ran a race here and I was happy to see it go and even though that meant i had to do two loops.  And it was easier access to aid stations.
Mud!  (see above) No really, very muddy conditions is pretty typical for this park.  As a true sign that everyone was used to it, there was not a peep out of people as we hit the first bogs almost immediately. Everyone just started charging on through because that's what you do!  Much better than when people are desperate to keep their shoes clean and you hear the groans of dismay/horror.  However I heard from a friend running a shorter race (and starting with people who are doing a first race even) that they were concerned about mud.

The cons:

I felt like crap after about a mile.  And realized I was stupid to be trying to race at a time of the month when i just feel so off.  Sigh. I sign up for these races even though I know I'm not going to be my best and then beat myself up for the entire race. I had many miles of "I suck" and close to tears even though I know why I'm running poorly and having to walk up short hills.  It's disappointing to say the least.  T
The mud was deep.  the new course had us on this mile long access road which is deeply mulched and has serious drainage issues. the mud is ankle deep for long sections and a tough, tough slog.  then i stepped into one area and sunk deep into the muck up to my mid-calf. And I have long legs!  i stumbled and almost fell face first into the muck.  I did manage to save myself by putting my hands down but then i had gross hands the latter half of the race. Dog and horse excrement and other water borne ick is certainly in the water and i was so grossed out!  I'd stop at some of the ferny plants and wipe my hands across them to get the dew onto them to sorta clean them. Next race like this, I am adding sani-wipes to my pack! 
So i try for my happy place.  Really, i love trail running and being able to get out for this type of thing is great fun for all the reasons listed above.  I'd just gotten to the point where I had a few more miles to go and I was happy about being able to be out there running at all and finishing such a fun event. Not everyone can run a half marathon on such crazy trails, right?  I got into the aid station and one of the leaders of the 50k (if she didn't just outright win it, she's placed first man or woman before at endurance events) comes in at the same time as she's just caught up to me.  The volunteer asks how she is doing and she says, "I think the 100 miler that I did last weekend is catching up to me."  BEE-YOTCH!

So this wasn't a goal race or anything.  I knew I'd be running between 2:15 to 2:30 and needed to train up for that sort of time on my feet so I did. I slightly regret not getting out to that park to do at least one training run on those trails.  I'm not sure it would've made a difference given the circumstances.  I've been running well in training and have gotten faster and feeling much stronger on my day to day runs. I know that's true.  I now deliberately time cut back weeks to coincide with when I know I'm going to feel blah and that has really, really worked well. 

I'd hoped to come in well under 11 minute miles which would be very good for these trails/conditions.  I came in under 12 minutes (2:35ish) and did at least run most of the last few miles (it was downhill) and feel fine. At least I think I'll recover quick from this effort since i was not running that hard.  I know the longer effort is a good training stimulus too. I guess I should've just started at the very back and ran easily from the beginning but there is something always fun about lining up for a RACE! And I know I'll never lose that excitement and pride in being able to take part in such fun and challenging events. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mid-week volunteer interlude..

Finally.  It's light for 14 hours a day here and sometimes I can run without tights and gloves.  For whatever reason, it is much harder to to go from tights to shorts in the Spring than it is to go from shorts to tights in the Fall for me.  In the Fall I delay wearing tights as long as possible fighting the inevitable coming of winter but in the Spring I hate being cold when running.  

One nice recent development are a few mid-week race offered in the evenings.  The Ravenna Weeknight Race series started at 6:30 and offered a 4k, 8k and 12k. And no, i didn't race this because I'm planning on racing a half marathon on trails in a week and a half. 

So I did the next best thing, I volunteered at the race.  I had to leave work just a bit early and showed up in time to chop watermelon and cart some things about.  Soon RPD and GVB showed up and picked up their bibs.  I'd never been in this part of Ravenna Park even though I run through the area frequently.  It had poured earlier in the morning and would pour the next day but for the evening, it was ever so pleasant and so were everyone's attitudes.  Relaxed and happy.  

After the race started, I moved to finish line bib monitor.  That meant I wrote everyone's bib number and time as they came through the lap/finish line chutes.  This is back up for the chip recording system.  Easy enough but standing around for a couple hours is harder on my back then running hard!  I was really stiff the next day.  I'd hoped to run one of these races but we are out of town for one and then it's the week of another half marathon I'm planning.  Oh well.  volunteering is fun too especially when you take home a pizza extra from the race. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012


We call the above, The Absurd.   Do you like how the tips of his fangs stick out?  And yes, you can actually go and pet that belly.  Keswick the Absurd will start purring and probably then drool on you.  

Gardening is going full tilt here in weed central.  But we've pulled out the first harvest of rhubarb and tried a galette.  Easy peasy and it looks and smells delicious.  Something is eating the newly planted peas but the raspberries and blueberries are going gangbuster! And finally, I am putting something into the ground in the backyard.  It's the first time i've planted anything back there since we moved into the house in 1997.  It's been a staging area since forever for various house projects and those are done and the area is cleaned out and I've been trying to keep it cleared.  

I found a new pair of running shoes to try.  I've been running in Nike Pegasus since 2008 when i switched from a stability shoe to a neutral shoe.  I'm always on the lookout for another shoe to switch between and really haven't been happy.  the Asics Gel Excel 33 is what I'm looking for in an alternate shoe.  Still a cushioned neutral trainer but with a lower heel to toe drop than my trusty pegasus.  Minimalist shoes aren't for me (hello huge arch and I already land on my forefoot...) but I'd like to drop the heel height a bit.  We shall see.  As an added bonus the Asics Excel runs narrower which is good because I finally gave up and got a pair of the Pegasus in a narrow width.  

And that running thing?  I'm two weeks out from the trail half marathon and excited.  11 miles and 2:15 on trails (mostly all uphill) and then a speedy hilly 6 miles feeling great? Well, i think I'm ready.  And as an added bonus, we had a workout this weekend which was new for me.  

I realized after the Lord Hill 10 miler that I needed some work on running hard on trails.  I used to do that and then got out of the habit for various reasons.  I love track and running tempo miles on the roads but running hard on trails is it's own challenge. The steep ups makes your legs burn and then you have to be able to navigate the downs on those rubbery legs.  We did mile repeats on a cross country loop within Woodland Park.  These weren't true technical trails but the hills would keep you honest.  

Having done mile repeats on the track a couple weeks ago at 7:30, I figured I should be able to hit about 20 seconds over that on the hills.  I went out and pushed it and didn't look at my watch for pace.  And?  7:45 & 7:53 for two with a 5 minute break between.  Amazing!  Honestly I do believe that this is the first time I've had what my idea of what I should be able to hit for pace on a hilly run match what I actually hit.  This is huge!  and the difference?  My glutes were burning that second mile and I realized that I really have to remind myself to run with those glutes engaged and doing what they are supposed to be doing. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Again with the Downhill

Good summary of uphill and downhill running!

I'm just sort of befuddled now. Seattle has wonderful hills to run on and I know there are some great hill runners out there. Why are so many very good hill runners missing out on the other half of the hill?

That's right. Downhill! It's the other hill.

Last week this came up as I took trail newbie JCB out for a spin.  She's great at powering up those hills but was hesitant on those downhills for no good reason I could see except she wasn't all that experienced at trails.  But what about all those downhills on roads we'd run if we go uphill?

Yesterday I had a fantastic hilly 11 miler.  It's one of my favorite in-city road courses through the L'Alps de Laurelhurst (see course profile to the left).  yes this is the neighborhood to the west of the UW campus.  MA showed up slightly late to the group run and much to my delight he took it as a challenge to keep up with me. He's a bit slower than I am but is tenacious if he gets it in his mind to do something.

I was just happy to have someone to run with and was looking forward to the hills.  "What hills?" asks MA?  Heh.  And I was feeling great. The weather was fantastically beautiful which only added to the enjoyment and MA is fun to chat with when he wasn't breathing really, really hard.

But what did I notice?  He powers up the hills just fine but then once to the top, I'd see that he got all floppy and really slow down on the crest.  And forget the downhills. I generally would surge past him even though I was just keeping it easy and recovering.  What gives?

I asked MA about those downhills.   "I lean back and end up landing more on my heels.  That bothers the little foot problem I have and then I brake more because I'm worried about it."  This is a similar story that JCB told last week.  "I'm worried about twisting an ankle and so I stay really cautious." 

Wow.  This really surprises me because done right, a downhill is a great place to use your momentum and recover and get ready for the next uphill or flat.  It gives me a chance to stretch out a bit after the tight, controlled technique needed to get up a hill.  So, how do you run downhill then?

I've been telling people to make sure to NOT lean back.  If you lean back you will automatically put more force onto your feet, legs, knees and back.  It's jarring!  If you walk downhill easily do you do this, I hope not. Lean a bit forward and that automatically keeps your stride a bit shorter and your feet neatly centered under your body.  I tend to use my arms more for balance so you'll sometimes see my elbows swinging out a bit. 

Runners going up Lord Hill - photo by Glenn Tachiyama
Very happy that we only went up this and not down!
This article summarized neatly the benefits of downhill running techniques and what you stand to gain (and lose) by not practicing your downhill running.

Happily, core/strength class started up again this week.  I was a bit sore post-workout but pleased that overall I felt strong as I've been consistent about maintaining my own strength and core workouts at home.  And since the weather is finally better, I've spent the weekend in the yard.  Sometimes that work feels much harder than running 11 hilly miles, but it doesn't if I've kept up my strength and core work.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Trail Newbie and those cut back weeks

I was looking for a photograph of storm clouds and rain and dreariness but figured why go there? We've had a solid week of awful stormy weather.  Windy, cold, rainy and rainy as in record breaking rain for both the day and nearly for the month made it a tough week.  After a fantastic weekend of running last week, this week has been tough.  My legs have felt stiff and it was a planned cut back week.  that was good considering the miserable weather but I have been finding that these planned cut back weeks (where mileage is reduced from my typical running mileage) are harder than running more.  

That was definitely the case this week so much so that I questioned such a severe cut back that i have been taking.  Coach has been wanting a 50% cut back of mileage and I tried it a couple times and found that not only was the cut back week tough but part of the next week was also really tough.  I felt like such a severe cutback was disruptive rather than restorative and even asked this question on a running forum for opinions. I do feel like I need the cutback week as I get tired.  but even now, it has felt better hitting those 40 mpw than in previous weeks.  I call that progress. 

Most runs early in the week I just felt really blah.  Not only was I recovering from the weekend but I can tell allergies were bugging me.  Twice this week I took an allergy medication and felt much better.  Something has been feeling off in my low back which affects my glute/hip movement.  It doesn't hurt but it just feels like i have no power when i run and i start getting little tweaky feelings in my foot and upper back.  Now I recognize what this is and can do little things to help settle the issue plus make a (frantic!) call to my physical therapist. Whine, whine, whine.

And then yesterday, I just wanted a nice 9 mile easy run in-city. We were then planning on going to a local nursery to scout out some plants for the garden (see above photo).  It was pouring and the temps were maybe 40 degrees.  M I S E R A B L E.  Why am I runner again? Is there anything worse than running in cold rain?  No.  Snow is better!  I debated bumping the run to the next day or running later but that just wasn't going to work.  After watching the local weather radar, I scooted out for a run in between heavier waves of rain.  Everything started hurting around mile 3.  I finally realized my bad attitude and tension because of it wasn't helping.  I relaxed and pretended to smile and felt better. It was a tough week of running.

I needed one more run this week of 4 - 5 miles and I really wanted those miles on trails.  Trails are the perfect anecdote to blah road runs where I'm annoyed at how slow I am because I'm being good and keeping my pace easy as my body dictates.  After all the rain though, my usual favorite trails would be a bog and I really wanted trails that would be more runnable without such hills.  Oh yes, Hamlin Park in Shoreline is the perfect answer.  

And I had a friend and runner who has been making hints that she might be interested in trail running as long as it wasn't too technical or muddy or rooty or rocky.  JCB kept putting in the qualifiers.  JCB is a really good runner and has been surprisingly resistant to trail running and I was curious about that. I invited her along for an easy recovery run and she said yes (with all the qualifiers)!

When we were driving over there, i finally just had to ask if the bias against trail running is because your pace is not what you want to see on your garmin watch?  And yes, she did frankly admit that that was true.   She's also had problems tripping and rolling an ankle and i had to confirm that if you go too hard on trails (which she'd probably do since she's concerned about what pace says) that you will pay for it with tired/beat up legs and are more likely to go down if you are going than just a couple of miles.  And yes, trails are also learned and you need to develop the strength and skill for it.  After doing crossfit like she's been doing for over a year, I knew her strength would be better so there should be no reason not to start adding trail running into her repertoire if she can hang up her misplaced pride and realize trail running is different and your effort does not match what time you see on the watch. 

Eventually she said that she needed to start thinking of trail running like hiking.  Thinking about this more, I think she still needs a bit of experience to see trail running for what it is.  it's not road running. It's not hiking. You have to work to pick your feet up and since the ground is softer, you are working harder.  You have to keep concentration strictly on the trail ahead of you to plan for your foot placement. With twisty and turny trails, it helps to use your arms to help your balance which also engages your core.  I didn't do Cross Country running as  kid in high school which uses similar trails but I've worked hard to develop my trail running skills and still see lots of areas to improve even though I run on trails regularly. 

I think she was a bit dismayed that I didn't consider the groomed and single track trails of Hamlin Park technical at all.  And those trails also aren't all that hilly as in no hill lasts longer than a quarter of a mile maybe.  But that's why I like going to Hamlin because I can run all those hills and trails. I do walk down the slippery stairs they have in some places.  One hour of running equaled about 5 miles of running which is a lot slower than I normally run and that is ok.  My heart rate for the pace is right where I'd expect it to be for an easy run.  And as an added bonus, my legs always feel great after such a restorative romp.  Green Lake can be insanely busy but most trail systems (Hamlin included) are not.  It's peaceful and running at the easy pace encourages a nice chattyrun.  Yep, cut week is done and I'm feeling a lot better and ready for the week ahead. And you'll be happy to hear JCB survived her trail running experience