Archive for August, 2008

Time to run!

August 31, 2008

The next afternoon I biked the course to take pictures

Wake! For the Sun, who scatter’d into flight,
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav’n, and strikes
The Sultan’s Turret with a Shaft of Light.

I dreamed last night that the race actually started on top of La Cumbra, and I didn’t have enough time to bike up before the start. Biking up Gibraltar in the morning dark did not appeal, but I had to do it. I was not halfway up when I met Aaron coming down, and then Shiggy.

That brought me awake at 3am, and I couldn’t get back to sleep. Too excited.

I get to the (real, sea-level) start at about 6. It is pitchy black with marine layer cloud cover. Do my warmup jog. I realize I’ve completely forgotten sun-block. It’s hard to believe that it will matter, here in the pitch dark fog, but the marine layer is supposed to reach only to 700 feet, about the level of the Mission, less than a quarter of the race. So I scrabble through the backpack for the sun-block which lives there. Dark glasses? Probably a good idea too.

We start to line up. I say “Hi” to Brian, and Carrie says “Hi” to me. I don’t see Shiggy. Hmm. Then Drea shows up. I’d hoped she would be here.

Jake announces that the course has changed slightly, they found it was a little short (after 12 years? they only noticed it now?), so they’ve added a new out and back section going the other way on Camino Cielo.

Ready? … … … Go!

With my dark glasses on I can’t see who is out in front of me. Perhaps the shades were a mistake. There are four shapes ahead, but in the dimness I can’t even guess who they might be. Under the freeway and up. I’m breathing too hard, but that’s just excitement, calm down. On Haley street I catch up with one of the four shapes and pass it. Now I seem to be leading a little pack of my own, many footsteps right behind me.

At mile 1 I click my watch, but I can’t read it. Dark glasses were definitely a mistake. Someone else says 6:21. First mile is always fast, because it is relatively flat. But I slow a tiny bit and four more shapes get ahead of me (including one woman). 6:47 for the next mile (I can’t read it at the time, but that’s what the watch says later). and 7:21 up to the Mission.

As we climb up from the Mission I pass my friend Kat who is walking the course this year. And then footsteps are behind me, and someone passes me. (ninth place now) And then more footsteps behind me but these don’t pass. They just stay a few feet back. I wonder who it is, but I never turn to look.

I miss mile 4, but when I reach the old reservoir I’m about where I was two years ago. Now the real climb begins. Surprisingly we have not climbed out of the fog yet, instead we have climbed into it, and now it is real fog, much denser than below, I can dimly see the lead woman and the guy who passed me a mile back, but I can’t really tell where we are on Gibraltar. Doesn’t really matter, there’s a long way yet to go.

The footsteps are still behind me. She clears her throat and it sounds like a woman. Drea?

At mile 5 my watch reads 16:04, (or it does now) which sounds about right. It also claims my max heartrate for that stretch was 220. Um. I’ve never seen my HR above 198 before. Is there something wrong with the watch? or wrong with me? I feel tired, but I rather expect to. My quads think I’m giving them a hard time, but that’s not surprising either.

Hmm. The watch claims that my average HR for the entire run was 149. And my max 220. I don’t believe either of those numbers. I would expect an average of ~180 or so and a max of — oh, 190? I think something is wrong with the watch.

It gets foggier.

Two years ago I was looking at the view. This year there is nothing to see.

Drea speaks. It is she. We say a few words.

There’s a slow moving bike here. We pass it. “On the left.” It’s not often a runner gets to pass a cyclist.

8:23 at mile 6. That’s about right. 8:30 at mile 7.

We start to come out of the fog. The sky seems lighter and there’s a bright patch where the sun might be. And then the fog closes in again– and then it’s pretty well gone and the sun is starting to shine. We’re almost at the switchback. And now the sun is shining right into my eyes. Someone calls out to Drea, cheering her on. This seems most unfair to me, I’m here too after all. So I complain, but it makes no difference, the voice in front of the sun keeps cheering for his wife alone.

Just beyond mile 8 the course climbs steeply as it switchbacks around a hill. In the far distance is the summit, the end of the race.

Just beyond mile 8 the course climbs steeply as it switchbacks around a hill. In the far distance is the summit, the end of the race.

And then… and then… Drea starts to pull away from me. Drea who two weeks ago injured her calf and could barely run, Drea who last week did the long course triathlon, Drea pulls away. Maybe having a husband cheer you on helps? Oh well, I can’t keep up and have to let her go. 8:53 at mile 8 (ug).

I see Dennis out taking pictures and he cheers me on. I’m in tenth place. Yeah, I know, but for how long?

I miss seeing mile 9. I reach Flores Flat. I can’t help but think it’s a silly name. The steepest section of the course is right here. How dare they call it “flat”? 20:33 to mile 10. Ug. 10 minute miles? that’s really bad. But I don’t have any energy. I keep thinking “the road goes ever on and on” — a kind of mantra to keep me going.

More footsteps behind me. I keep expecting them to pass me, but they don’t. The road keeps twisting, but finally we come to Camino Cielo, and I see the first woman come running out of the out and back section. Hmm, maybe I’m not as far behind as I thought. Jake didn’t say how long the section was, but I’m assuming it can’t be very long. I turn on to it. Then Drea comes flying down it, good for her, she seems to be catching up with the lead. The road twists, and there is no end in sight. How much did they add to the course? And it’s steeply up hill too. It just keeps going and going. Finally I see the cone, turn around it and head down. And I feel like I’m flying as well. It feels amazing to go downhill! I can’t hear the footsteps behind me. And then someone else flies past me.

Back onto the traditional course. It’s still a bit of downhill but not so steep. Around the area the off-roaders like to destroy, and there’s mile 12: 18:29. And I thought I was going fast on the downhill:-) Oh well.

Final stretch

Final stretch

Up. “creeping like snail”, “the road goes ever on and on”, depressing quotes circulate through my head. There are footsteps behind me again. Again they seem to stay behind. I forget about them. On. I try to pick up the pace a bit, (surely it’s almost over), but after 10 seconds my legs can’t take it and I have to slow again. My fingers tingle. My scalp tingles. On. I’m sort of at the peak now, but I have to run all the way round it and come up the other side, and it’s surprising how long that takes. And the footsteps behind me pass me. I can’t race them. On. Here’s the final turn (it says “60” in chalk. What on earth does that mean?) Up. Oh so steep. Tamy cheers me on. Doesn’t help. Head down staring at the ground, I’m exhausted. I can see the line, the clock reads 1:52. I’m too tired to be disappointed.

The climb to the finish (at the top)

The climb to the finish (at the top)

On. And on. These last 50 feet are terrible. Finally I’m over the line. I head straight for the water and the food (I saw one woman who crossed the line and then collapsed in a little heap on the ground — I knew just how she felt).

After 2 bananas, 2 oranges and lots of water I feel almost human again. I congratulate Drea. Aaron congratulates me. 1:53:13 is the official time, 12th over all, and — good heavens — 1st in my age group. But then Eric Forte didn’t run and Shiggy didn’t run and Ted didn’t run. It sort of feels as though I cheated.

I’m a little disappointed, but I did OK, I guess. And everyone around is so excited and cheerful.

But when I leave the mountain, the high goes quickly. I generally get depressed after a race. All that effort, and no one cares but me — and then if I disappoint myself there isn’t even a “me” to care.

The addition to the course was (according to Jake’s measurements) .4 miles. At a nine minute mile pace (ug) that’s a bit more than three and a half minutes. So to compare that to past years I’d subtract ~3:30 from this year’s time. 1:49:40. Still not what I did two years ago.

What went wrong? I don’t know. Conditions were perfect. Great weather. A running partner who wanted to run with me and actually ran at the pace I wanted to run at. Dunno. Maybe I should have trained on Gibraltar rather than excusively on trails? Maybe I should have eaten more? Maybe I was just off.

Two weeks later. Hmm. Two years ago I had not be training to run fast — but I had been training for two 200 mile bike races. I bet that helped.

And I remind myself: it was OK — there’s always next year.

Montage of three photographs, photos (c) 2008 by Dennis Mihora
Me in foreground, Drea up near the pylons, around mile 8



August 29, 2008

“You are old, father William,” the young man said,
And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head —
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

“In my youth,” father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again, and again.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll

Instead of running … Years ago, before I could do a handstand, I would dream of setting the world record in the mile — on my hands. I don’t think that will happen. I can do a handstand now but I don’t think I’m any closer to moving while upside-down than I was five years ago.

Today my yoga class was devoted to handstands. That is to say, we spent almost an hour limbering up the shoulders and such, and then spent 10 minutes or so doing handstands.

Our teacher wanted us to pay attention to how we breathed as we went into handstand. Did we jump up on an inhale, an exhale, or did we hold our breath. Now I’d never paid much attention to breathing when I was entering handstand. It’s hard enough (for me) to get there without thinking of something else. But I can recall that once the initial jump was done, but I was still moving up, I would occasionally notice I was holding my breath.

I tend to hold my breath when doing fiddly things. When I’m doing a delicate pull in pottery I will hold my breath, because breathing causes a slight shake and I don’t want that shake to end up in the clay (I have read of people who do really precise work and who time their movements so their heartbeat doesn’t cause a shake). It occurred to me that the slight perturbation caused by breathing might add an extra wobble to my balance, so it would be easier to go up when the lungs were still.

She had us kick up into handstand first on the left foot and an inhale, then on the right foot and an inhale, then on the left foot and an exhale, then the right foot and an exhale, the left foot holding the breath, then right. Then we got to rest.

Kicking up into handstand off the left foot

Kicking up into handstand off the left foot

As we rested she asked us what we’d noticed, which was easier. Well it was really hard to even get into handstand when concentrating on my breathing, and it got progressively harder as I got more tired. That sort of masked any differences in the breath patterns as far as I could tell.

Then she told us to try kicking off with both legs (which is harder). Inhale up (or half up, handstand from the waist down, but with knees flexed), then exhale to extend the legs, inhale hold, exhale down, and repeat for a total of three handstands. Then pause and rest. Then 3 more times going up with both legs but on the exhale.

My hands were getting sweaty and I started to worry that they’d slide out from under me and I’d crash down on my nose. They didn’t, of course, but I still worried.

As I think of it now, in the calm as I write this, what makes sense to me is that I should exhale before going up — this firms up the core muscles and provides stability — and then hold my breath as I work to find my balance.

But I’ve discovered that I’d rather do forearm balance

Kicking up into forearm balance off the left foot.

Kicking up into forearm balance off the left foot.

Sigh. But with the forearms flat on the ground, it’s even harder to run a mile up-side-down.


August 29, 2008

Rusty asked me if I were excited about the race yet, and when I said no he gently chid me.

“I don’t see why not, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were in fourth place.”

Rusty says things like that.

He’s been right when he tells me times, but no one can guess who is going to choose to run the race.

I’d be surprised if I were in fourth. Last time I ran I was tenth. I’d like to think I’m in better shape, but it’s hard to believe that much better.

No, for me to come in fourth I’d have to hope than lots of people won’t do the race, I’d much rather have them there because that way I’ll run better.

Hmm. Drea says Eric Forte isn’t going to run. Well that’s ok, I guess. Eric is too fast to be any inspiration for me. Drea sounds as though she is going to run, and that’s great, I think she’ll push me.

Maybe I can hope for third place in my age-group if Eric isn’t there. Now that seems a feasible goal!

Just for the joy of running

August 25, 2008

Generally, I get excited about times before a race I like.

I start thinking about what I’ve done in the past.

I set goals for myself. I look up the age-graded tables.

Pier to Peak is different. Who is going to be impressed if I brag “I ran a half marathon in an hour and forty seven minutes.”? It’s hard to get excited (“Maybe I can break 1:45 this time!”). It all sounds so silly.

So I think I shall just run it. Hard. And do the best I can.

Watching the Olympics

August 17, 2008

I’m trying not to be interested.

I’d much rather run than watch someone else run.

They may be better athletes than I, but so are Rusty, or Aaron or Micah. I can watch them running most weeks.

I also object to the nationalism I am subjected to. If the point is to watch good atheletes, what does it matter what country they come from. A friend asked me “Aren’t you proud of your country?” After some thought, I must confess I am not. I am ashamed. Quite deeply ashamed now I think of it. I think my country has behaved atrociously in the last decade. We are like a big bully in external affairs, internally we have elevated supidity to an art form. (As Walt Kelly put it “We can out stupidify the Russians!”). We seem unwilling to take any responsibility for our actions. Why should pride in my country mean I want to watch athletics anyway? Doubtless the New York Stock Exchange is a marvel in its way, but I have no desire to watch it either.

I like to do things. Watching other people do things is either boring or jealousy-making.

Anyway, I don’t own a television. (And I still have dial up).

So I can’t.


August 11, 2008

I started reading Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” the other day — and put it down almost immediately.

I felt guilty.

She had decided she wanted to produce the bulk of the food her family consumed. A worthy goal, and one I wished I could also achieve. So I felt badly that I had not, and it took me time to get over that to the point where I could enjoy her wit and achievement.

She had left Tuscon and moved to the Appalachians in part because you can’t farm in the desert. Or not ethically if there are millions of other humans all around and you need to import water.

My family used to own a farm in the Appalachians. But we didn’t work it, oh no, not us. We had people to do that for us. We sat on the porch and watched others. And we sold the farmland in the depression. We still own half a mountain, beautifully wooded, but steep, and well drained. Our water comes from a spring behind the house. I have tried to dam some of the overflow of the spring, but the soil is too sandy, the water just vanishes.

I have my doubts that any of the hillside could be cleared and farmed; too dry I suspect. Nor do I think I should destroy the forest.

And we have sold off all the bottom land.

My great-grandfather did have his minions clear the hillside below the house, and we have tried planting fruit trees there. They tend to die. Our one success has been the blueberry bushes, which are currently producing a gallon of berries a day (so my mother tells me).

Here in Santa Barbara I feel as Kingsolver did in Tuscon. SB can probably support a few thousand people with the local water. But for me to steal water from over the mountains so I can grow my own melons seems wrong.

No, I would have to move too.

I did once try to “farm” one of those little public garden thingies, and made a total mess of it. About the only success I had was growing sorrel. Now sorrel is a splendid herb, but there is a limit to the amount of it that a single person can eat (and that was before I was worried about what oxalic acid could do to my bones), and I had 6 magnificent sorrel plants producing and producing and producing.

Next time I need to think more carefully before I plant. I might have done better to plant chard.

Or perhaps I should have thought of it as an escargot farm — the snails certainly seemed to enjoy my plantings more than I did.

I’m not yet ready to leave SB to go somewhere that rain happens at any time of year. But I think I should. Soon. Oil prices will only get higher in the long run, growing my own food will become more important as time goes on…

Tunnel to Cielo

August 10, 2008

It struck me, about a month ago, that here it was, half past July, and I had done nothing about Pier to Peak.

(Pier to Peak starts at 6:30 this year, not 7)

Time for some trail runs. Time to run in the heat of the day.

But in the back of my mind I am actually thinking about running a 50 miler next year. And Mike has been telling me that I need to work on my downhill running, saying that I can already go uphill just fine.

Downhill is DANGEROUS! Uphill is so much safer — if I slip and fall going up the ground is closer, I’m almost falling against gravity, I won’t end up sliding off a cliff.

But the ultrarunners all say “walk the uphills, run the downhills”. Ug. Mike ran with me on some hilly terrain out near Elwood. Down a slope, then around and up back to the start. Mike flew down the hills. I didn’t. “You’re working too hard,” he says, “just lean forward and fall.” I try to lean forward, but I’m still kalumphing down. (I take secret pleasure in the uphill, though I know I shouldn’t).

I don’t get it.

So Thursday I’m out on the trails, and I’m just going up. Up Tunnel and up and up. Up to Camino Cielo. A stairway to paradise.

And then I have to turn round. But before I go down. I can look round. The tops of the Islands are clear, but the bottom fades into misty haze. It looks as though there is no ocean, just another mountain range behind the Riviera.

I go down about as fast as I went up. There are flies. It’s hot. Mike will be disappointed.