Sunday, June 27, 2010

Vashon Ultra Race Report!

Team REI takes on yet another island!

I can officially, legitimately call myself an ultramarathoner now! Yesterday, I ran 50 kilometers - which roughly translates to about 31.1 miles - nearly five miles longer than a standard marathon, and not without coincidence, five miles longer than I'd ever run in my life before. The moment in which my Garmin rolled over from 26.2 to 26.3, and I noticed that my legs were still moving along just fine, was pretty darn exhilarating.

I didn't make my Sun Mountain mistakes; I started toward the back of the pack, and used the first mile or two as a very slow, gentle warm-up, rather than trying to push hard right out of the gates. The course was a lollipop loop course, with 3 ten-mile loops, and a bonus 1.1ish-mile loop at the beginning for all the 50K runners (there was also a ten-mile event that took off at the same time as the 50K, but skipped the 1.1 bonus loop.) I started catching 10-miler runners about half an hour in. About halfway through that first loop, something scary happened: I passed a 10-miler who said, "Hey, I've been passed by about a dozen of the male 50K-ers, but as far as I can tell, you're the leading woman!"

I had NO idea that I was leading the women's race at that point. I still wasn't sure, but a family who'd set up a makeshift aid station at the foot of the gravel driveway of their tucked-away-in-the-woods home confirmed such on my second lap. They'd cut up a bunch of watermelon, which I gobbled down with the most profound sense of gratitude, but the mom was just like, "Go, go! You're the first woman...go win this race! You're an inspiration to my girls!" It's probably good she said something, because otherwise I might have stayed and eaten watermelon there forever.

Of the three laps, the first lap was, naturally, the best: the exciting exploration of a new course, my muscles fresh and energy levels high, the adrenaline of the race just getting started in my veins, plenty of other runners still around to keep me company...I felt fantastic. The single-track portions through dense forest were gorgeous and fun to run, and with some baby hills, but nothing too aggressive elevation-wise, at least not in comparison with what I usually train on. The weather was ideal: overcast and in the 50s.

The second lap was mentally, by far, the toughest. From 11-21 miles, my body started wearing down, so I couldn't cruise the course quite as easily as I had the first time around. The 10-mile runners were already done, and the 50K-ers more spread out than before, so I was mostly running alone by the second lap. I started psyching myself out with the unknown...what if I hit the wall the way I did at 18 miles on my road marathon? What if my stomach got upset? What if I developed blisters? What if I'd been horribly overambitious and would lose all momentum, and have to walk the last lap in the same cloud of defeated disappointment that I spent the last six miles of my marathon? I was the first woman then...but what if I got passed? What if I was stupid to go out as fast as I did, even taking it as slow as I thought I was? 31.1 miles is a hell of a long distance to run...

But once I made it to the third lap, I knew it was going to be okay. Elodie came out to pace me for the final ten miles, and knowing that I'd have her at my side made things a lot easier mentally. My body was certainly more tired than ever, but I never hit a wall. I remember moments in my road marathon when I thought I was running, and suddenly notice that I was actually just walking, and be unable to either remember when I'd stopped running, or muster up the energy in my leg muscles to run even more step. That never happened this time. My last lap was the slowest, but I held a steady pace, and didn't get passed by a single soul. I still even ran up the majority of the hills.

Me with my illustrious pacer!

I crossed the finish line in 5:34:34 - far from a truly spectacular time in the scheme of the ultrarunning world, but almost half an hour faster than my secret time goal I'd hardly even admitted out loud beforehand, and a first-place finish (14th overall) for my first 50K...can't complain there! The course was spectacular, and the support along the way - the volunteers, the aid stations, the families cheering along the way, the friendliness and encouragement of other runners (so many genuine "You go girl!"s from 10-miler women that I passed on my way out on my second loop as they were just approaching their finish line) - were downright amazing. I couldn't have asked for a better first ultra experience.

It's been said that long distance races aren't even about running; they're simply eating and drinking contests. My stomach does not digest well on the run, so as much as I can, I avoid consuming more than water and the occasional GU, even on long training runs. But all the advice I got for this 50K was that fuel is more important than anything else, and I HAD to eat in order to survive that kind of distance. So I did. I stopped at nearly every aid station and ate fruit and energy chomps and the occasional handful of potato chips. I carried a 1.5-liter bladder of nuun-infused water on my back the whole race, and drank it all by the end, in addition to guzzling water and electrolytes at most of the aid stations, too. I bought squeezable packs of peanut butter and almond butter which I ate while running, in order to get some protein in my system, too. I took GU gels every hour. My stomach wasn't happy the whole time, but for the most part, it cooperated. No blisters, rolled ankles, sore knees, or serious chafing either. *Knock on wood.*

The ferry ride back to Seattle at the end of the day, post-run, post-BBQ, post awards-ceremony...

As for the aftermath? My right shin feels a little sore - but otherwise, I don't even feel like I did anything strenuous at all yesterday. I think I was more sore from my Mount Si run last week than I am now from yesterday's adventure. Such a sharp contrast, again, to the Seattle marathon last November, after which I hobbled and limped around for several days. The biggest post-run effect has just been my appetite: I can't stop eating. I had a giant breakfast this morning, and my stomach still rumbled all the way through my tutoring session. Second breakfast when I got home from that, which involved pizza and eggs and a giant bowl of granola and milk. It's been about forty minutes since I finished that, and I think I'm just about ready for first lunch now...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Yes, someday I do have to go to work again...

World Cup season: The only time you can see a Seattleite wearing an American flag shirt and downing a brewski at 7 a.m.

My blog entries may make it seem as though I no longer have a job. Of the last seven days, however, I've worked five of them...I'm just like a normal working person now, instead of a crazy working person. I still have to work today, for example. But first, I woke up at the crack of dawn to go pick up my friend James and drive to the relatively new soccer bar, the Market Arms, in Ballard to meet Greg for some early a.m. World Cuppin'.

The line just to get admitted was ridiculous by 6 a.m. The game didn't start until 7 a.m. Pacific time.

Happily, we all made it in before kickoff. Unhappily, DirecTV cut out for a few minutes shortly thereafter, which very nearly resulted in riots...but happily again, it returned, and a good 20 to 50 minutes after placing our order, we even got some drinkies (the 20) and breakfast sandwiches (the 50) to enjoy with the largely scoreless, albeit fast-paced, fraught-with-tension USA vs. Algeria game.

Bloody Mary, Guinness, or Coffee...take your pick.

All 90 minutes of regulation play passed without a goal; meanwhile, in the England-Slovenia game, England led 1-0. Either Slovenia needed to get a goal in their game, or the US needed a goal in theirs, for the US to advance. Although the US dominated the entire game by far - and had even scored once, earlier on, though the referee called a somewhat questionable off sides and threw the goal out - it took until the four minutes of stoppage time for the US to finally knock one in. It looked like this:

USA scores...finally! Screams, high fives, embraces with strangers all around!

The atmosphere inside was equally celebratory.

After the game, throngs of soccer fans poured out onto the sidewalks in Ballard. Every other car coming through the intersection blared its horn, and the fans erupted into another chorus of screams and cheers.

Long live soccer!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

More gazelle-ing

The obligatory shoe photo.

A perfect summer day, in absolutely every way. Let me count the ways.

Woke up to 73-degree blazing sunshine. Walked down to Belltown for a yummy brunch with Seyeon at Portage Bay Cafe. Walked back up the hill together for frozen custard. Sat in the sunshine for four hours to catch up. Walked home, hopped in my car (more optimistic impulse!) and drove out east to attempt to run up Mount Si.

Miraculously, it went MUCH BETTER this time around than the last time. I actually ran up more than I hiked this time (probably 70% vs. 30%) and although it was still hard, especially the last mile, it didn't feel unreasonable to imagine that I might someday be able to run the entire thing...a feat I previously thought to be absolutely implausible.

A nice place to spend the evening

Mount Rainier in the distance

Puget Sound and Seattle skyline, as seen from the top of Mount Si

Panoramic video here:

Tomorrow's supposed to be rainy, but fortunately my plans for the day mostly involve indoor activities for once...glad I got my sunshine in today. We live in a beautiful world.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Moments of Optimistic Impulse, i.e. Sun Mountain Race Report

Photo Credits to Glenn Tachiyama, from the 2009 Sun Mountain Run

Oi vey...where to begin?! I'll start with the most recent, and work backwards. My trip to Oregon last week might require its own blog entry altogether...

So. I don't know that I've mentioned it on my blog yet, perhaps out of fear of jinxing myself into injury, but I am registered for a 50K trail race on Vashon Island this coming weekend. I've been lucky to get in two training runs a week for the past few months, given my crazy schedule - but fortunately, this is not the world of road marathons with hard and fast training plans etched in stone. No, in the trail running world, it's perfectly acceptable to train when you can, register for ridiculous distances in a moment of optimistic impulse, and come race day, show up with a tub of Vaseline and a backpack of gels and snacks, pin a number to your shorts, and see what miracles your body can pull off.

In yet another impulsive fit, I decided to also register for a 25K the weekend before - a decision made some 50 odd hours before the race began. I figured I'd take it easy as a pleasant training run; I've been doing almost exclusively 2+ hour runs lately anyway, so why not make my Sunday's training run one with the company of a hundred or so other runners, in a gorgeous part of Washington state to which I'd never been before? No matter that it would be a 415-mile drive roundtrip, or that I'd have to set my alarm for 4 a.m., and didn't get home from work until 10 p.m. the night before, or that none of the five people at various points who thought they might join me for the adventure actually wound up doing so; I love a good adventure all the same, especially when running is involved.

In my usual punctuality-obsessed ways, I got to the town of Winthrop about an hour and a half early. Pumped full of adrenaline, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, cheap gas station coffee, and useful Dutch phrases such as "De vrouwen proeven de rijst" ("The women taste the rice") from listening to my Rosetta Stone Audio Companion on the drive out, I arrived at the trailhead. I quickly found some interesting folks to chat it up with, including one guy who remembered having run with me for part of the Orcas course. It's always amazing how quick runners are to open up to each other...I walked up to this circle of people, and everyone greeted me with, "Hi! We're just talking about how we all got involved with running...divorce, Diabetes, mental instability...what's your story?!"

As for the race itself - I made my usual race mistakes and (1) accidentally started at the front of the pack, and (2) started off way too fast. It generally takes me a few miles to get into my running zone and feel good, so if I actually start off feeling good and strong, it's usually not a good sign. So this time around, while the first mile was full of happy race adrenaline, I felt trashed by the second...not a good sign when you're going 16.

After a few plodding, self-doubting miles of getting passed and being terrified I was going to epically fail to run even half the distance of what I'll be running next weekend, the course unmercifully turned into pretty relentless uphill until about mile 10.

Course profile.

Rough...though a bit of nuun at the aid station helped. Once the course dipped back into a pretty steep downhill, I got all my running zest back in an instant; I tore down the steeps and had a blast pretending to be a sprightly gazelle instead of a lethargic human who probably wound have been better off sleeping in after all.

The second half of the course was a lot of mixed terrain - some uphills, some downhills, some rolling flats, and one particularly brutal scramble up what can only be described as a near-vertical wall of dirt. (Leave it to race director James to contrive of such a thing...) Nevertheless, I felt much stronger. All these long runs I've been doing have trained my body how to keep going, even when I've been running for two, three hours already. At some point, even though I was feeling vaguely nauseous and rather ready to stop, I just shut off the entire mental soundtrack and let my body do its thing. My pace picked up. I plowed right over all the hills, rather than walking them as I had earlier on in an attempt to conserve energy. By the last few miles, I caught up with many of the people who'd passed me in the early ones. I crossed the finish line (measured by several runners' Garmins to be at 16.7 miles) in 2:45:something...not too shabby for a "training" run! (Ha. I'm incapable of not "racing" a race, I've learned.)

Because I'm lame and failed to actually take pictures at the race, and because the usual race-photographer-extraordinaire Glenn was busy prepping to shoot Western States and couldn't make it, I have no imagery to show for the day except from the drive out there on Highway 20:

I hung out at the finish line for awhile, chatting with many of the runners whom I ran stretches of the course with at different times, and enjoying some of the post-race pizza and good ol' party cups of keg beer. (I'll chalk that up as yet another reason why trail runs beat the pants off road runs.) I thought the pizza would tide me over, but two hours into my drive back to Seattle, I found myself pulling into the parking lot of this palace: a restored 1944 caboose turned Southern-style barbecue joint, with grills smoking on the patio. I wolfed down half of the Big Daddy's Brisket Sandwich (appropriate, I thought, given the holiday yesterday) and thought I'd make it to Seattle with the other half such luck either. I don't think I'd even made it past the Marblemount town limits (population: 281) before I'd devoured the whole thing. Nothing like darn good food after running your butt off. I can only hope the lingering barbecue scent has overpowered the other, less favorable smells in my car, thanks to yesterday :)

With all that are a few other photos to make up for the lack thus far in this entry. They are of other various adventures in my life over the past week and a half. (And, indeed, the Oregon trip + accompanying photos will be a separate entry.)

Canoeing with Elodie!

'Twas a gorgeous day to paddle by the arboretum indeed.

We watched a few members of the Seattle Hash House Harriers play in the lake.

Sounders game! I've been lucky to get to a couple of them in the last few weeks. World Cup break now...which I've been woefully lacking in my observance of.

Hike with Wayne at Lake 22.

Mmm mountains...

Clearly, still doing too much, it seems...but at least doing most of "too much" in the great outdoors, which breathes life and energy into me :)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

6 Days Until My 50K...

Impulse race this morning! My post-25K legs.

Miles Driven This Week: 1,017
Miles Run This Week: 61
Miles Biked This Week: 35

Ha. Can we see which activity I'm still a beginner at?

There have been many great adventures of late, and my blog is behind on all of Happily, though, I should actually have some time in the next day or two to get it all up to date. Oh. And...

Wines Tasted This Week: 27

Yes indeed...much to catch up on...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Round on the ends and high in the middle

Watching the silent flashing yellow lights at 3 a.m. on the streets of Oberlin.

I haven't written yet about my Ohio trip, I know. As with all vacations, it came and went in a whirlwind of experiences, thoughts, conversations, moments...I feel that the trip initiated some movement and change within me, which is always productive - but writing about it in retrospect, it's difficult to capture it all. When I went to Seattle for the first time five years ago, my journal entry about it was just a mess of details. I wrote, Chai lattes, acoustic guitar on sidewalks, sketchbooks, flying fish, postmenopausal hippies, Thai food and mango bubble tea, walking everywhere, anarchy bookstores, no internet, browsing zines, pink hair, Ramen by coffeemaker, art and more art, running up 25 flights of stairs, falling asleep on windowsills, rain, thrift-store explorations, pigeons, local poets and magic tricks, the boy at Seattle's Best Coffee who thinks my name is Francesca, the drunken Scot with a lip ring who followed us around for a bit...

This trip to Ohio? Even though I saw a plethora of friends and had a zillion thoughts about myself, my past, my life path, necessary changes for the sake of my journal's seen little of it, my blog, obviously, has seen none at all so far, and my camera only has a few sparse pictures, mostly of silly things that have nothing to do with what this trip was really about for me.

What I did get to do: Truly sleep in, on more than one occasion! See a ton of friends and acquaintances alike - Oberlin kids, Elyria kids, old professors and bosses... Have a silly night out at the Joyful Mug, and in celebration of the good ol' Midwestern cost of living, buy a round of drinks for my old co-workers. Run 13 miles at French Creek. Eat at all my old favorite Oberlin restaurants (including the Feve twice in one day...yesss.) Hang out on a lot of Oberlin porches. See the new Creative Writing House, the stunning new jazz studies building, the new bagel place in town, the new green East College developments and Oberlin's first true coffeeshop, Slow Train. Listen to Julie Taymor's commencement speech (On a scale of 10, I'd give it a 6.5, but it sure beat the heck out of Richard Haass' speech at my graduation.) Stand on a folding chair and scream my head off as graduating friends' names were called. Enjoy Giovanni's pizza and watch a stunning sunset over the lake with Alan at my side. Sit out a lovely afternoon thunderstorm underneath the Mudd library ramp. Nap in the sunshine in Tappan. Drop by the Dick's store in Elyria and have lunch with Quinn. Spend a lazy afternoon in the backyard shade with (some of) Alan's family. Walk down the middle of the road at night by myself under a full (ish) moon and listen to the crickets.

What I didn't get to do: Go to Cedar Point. Have a beer at Stubby's. Belt out a duet at Loco karaoke with Aseem. Splash around in the Arb lakes. Spend any time in Cleveland whatsoever. See Quinn perform. Ride bikes on the old rail trail. Read in any of the three books I hauled with me.

But that's all right. There will always be next time. Until then... photo album!

Iconic Oberlin photo.

Ruth*, with our delightful $4.50 plate of nachos on Agave's new sidewalk terrace.
*who will be moving to Seattle in September!

Feve burger and tots. Mmm...indeed, most of the pictures I took on this trip involved food one way or another.

The ridiculously slick new jazz studies building.

Hint hint, Seattle. See? The Midwest knows how to a Happy Hour right.

CLE Airport. Oh Cleveland...

Mini Cup o' Joe report!

Cappucino, Slow Train Coffee. This place, though not perfect, beats the pants off of JavaZone.

Slow Train Coffee interior.

The strange thing about returning to any place that was once home is that it's generally about as you left it...yet you no longer occupy the same role there. You don't have a place to call your own, nor a routine to claim - but rather, you piece together an itinerary for yourself out of familiar elements in hopes of reliving a glimpse of your past, but inevitably probably falling a bit short. The one day I made it to Black River for brunch, the coffee they gave me was bitter and lukewarm, and the sausage overcooked and hard as a rock. Go figure. The new coffeeshop, Slow Train, is awesome, but aptly named; it took nearly 15 minutes for them to handle a line of four people wanting espresso drinks. The day I ran at French Creek, it was hot as hell, with 90% humidity and mosquitoes everywhere, so it hardly felt like this blissful running spot I remembered it as...and I realize that Seattle's taught me to love running hills, of which, of course, Ohio has none.

But I suppose that the big guy in the sky is just looking out for me: if, this time around, Ohio felt like the cozy blanket it once did, it would have been hard to leave. And it wasn't. I felt I got what I needed out of it - seeing the important people, being nudged to reconnect with my biggest, original passion in this life (i.e. writing), having the time to breathe for what felt like the first time in months - and it's clear to me that since returning to Seattle, I've been in a much better, calmer, Zen-like state of mind than I have been in awhile. I was definitely in need of a vacation - but, I'm also happy to be back in my new home, where things are familiar and cozy and full of friends, decent coffee, spectacular baristas, hills aplenty, and fresh, cool mountain air.

I love checking out the patchwork farms from the plane window as much as the next person, but mountain peaks are cool, too.

Sigh. Isn't she lovely? I'm still in the honeymoon phase.