Archive for May, 2010

Farewell to spring?

May 20, 2010

I’ve started missing spring. Already. For the past few months every time I went for a trail run I saw something new blooming. But since I came back from my marathon I’ve seen almost nothing new.

Last week I ran up the east fork of Cold Spring. It wasn’t as impressive as it had been a month before. Most things were still blooming, but most were past their peaks now. And there were no new flowers to notice.

On Tuesday I ran Jesusita. In the mist/mizzel/rain. Nothing new there either. The vast fields of arroyo lupine had turned to grass. The fiesta flowers were fading. The great-flowered phacelias looked lovely with the rain/dewdrops on them and the caterpillar phacelias were fun with the rain caught in their hairs… but…

Today I ran up Cold Spring, down to Forebush and on to Mono camp. The Fairwell to Spring flowers — an ominous name, that (or Clarkia bottea)— have finally opened up (they spend April curled into a cone). A little further on I saw the Chaparral pea (a woody scrub) was coming out. I hadn’t noticed it before. A new bloom! first in weeks.

At the pylons I checked the little cluster of teeny-tiny lupines; like their larger cousins on Jesusita trail they had finished blooming. The black sage seemed to be over, only seedpods left. And a bit further up the stinging lupine were also over.

Just beyond the trees I stopped. A plant was blooming on which I’d never noticed a bloom before. From the coiled flower heads it was probably a borage of some sort. A Phacelia perhaps? It turned out to be wooly yerba santa (I think).

Across the trail was an Indian paintbrush (of some nature). I’ve never noticed these blooming in the front country before. This genus is kind of fun because they are all root parasites (they latch on to another plant’s roots and suck nutrients from it).

Up beyond the turn-off for Montecito peak I saw the scarlet larkspurs were getting ready to bloom. Not there yet, but soon.

And I started to notice a few black sage blooms. It looked as though the higher I went the more blooms there were on the black sage. Interesting. It seemed completely finished at lower elevations…

And then up to Camino Cielo and down the other side. In the front country every single humbolt lily I have seen has had it leader chewed off by insects, or rotted. But just beyond Camino Cielo I saw a stand of several plants with buds! No blooms yet, but whole, healthy adult plants with buds.

A little further down I saw a grape soda lupine. I only seen one other of these (at the top of Romero between the trail and the road). It’s the only woody lupine I know of. It started blooming later than the other lupines and it seems to be blooming after they are done.

I rounded a corner and in front of me were a patch of larkspurs. Until now I had only known of one patch which started blooming back in February — I had thought it would be almost finished by now. But here was another. As far as I could tell the same species. Odd. (When I got to the original patch it seemed to be reinvigorated. Perhaps it had gotten confused and bloomed too early? And then when I got to Mono camp there were larkspurs all over the place. So it seemed as though this was the proper time for these guys to bloom).

Right beside the larkspurs was a patch of what looked like strawberry flowers? or blackberry? except the flower was cream coloured not white. And smaller. Same three-fold leaves. The wildflower book gives it the unappealing name of Sticky Potentilla and it is related to the strawberry/blackberry clad.

And beside that was a small cluster of — well, they looked like monkey flowers, but they were yellow and not orange. Common monkeyflower according to the book (except that in Santa B the bush monkeyflower is the common one).

A little further down was another member of the borage family (from the coiled flower spike). Again I guessed Phacelia and this time I was right. Phacelia imbricata.

I trotted on, and then stopped to admire some more larkspurs, when a lovely little bloom caught my eye. It turns out to be a clover, Tomcat clover (Trifolium willdenovii)

Down to forebush camp, and then up the other side toward mono camp. I passed a clump of stinging lupine, and they were in bloom. Rather bedraggled and run down, but still blooming. Further up was a patch of arroyo lupine, also with a few blooms left (while there are none on Jesusita trail). Things in the back-country seem a bit behind… or is it elevation more than location?

At the top of the hill that divides blue canyon from mono I met my first Yerba Santa bloom of the year. Yet another member of the borage family.

Just round the bend is a milkvetch, or locoweed. When I was last here it was in full bloom, but now the blooms are almost over and it is in full seed pod. These seed pods are like little rattles and whisper to me as I brush past them.

And here is the white fairy lantern. A beautiful little lily we don’t get in the front country — lovely globe shaped blooms.

I’m almost at mono camp now. There are lots of larkspurs (and lots of poison oak leaves too). And here, just as I’m about to turn around, is another Clarkia, not “Fairwell to spring” over on this side of the mountains, instead we get fourspot.



May 9, 2010

After the race I was quite disappointed with myself. My time wasn’t embarrassing, but it wasn’t what I felt I should have been able to do. I was thinking I should just give up on the marathon — I seemed to do OK in the half marathon and the 50mile trail, but perhaps the intermediate distance just doesn’t work.

My mother looked at me and said “You are just like your grandmother, never satisfied.” Clearly she has forgotten that at the 50miler last year I was satisfied. When I protested that I was not satisfied because I hadn’t done what I should, she smiled in a superior way and replied “That’s just what your grandmother would say.”

Many people have said: “Well did you finish?” If you finished you should be proud. Others have said “I’d be ecstatic to run that fast.” Well, yes, but you aren’t me. I should be able to do better. (I realize that I’ve used that line myself. It doesn’t work.)

And “You came first in your age-group, you should be happy.” Well that just indicates how poorly most people run. “You got a PR, you should be happy.” And that says how poorly I run.

Rusty said “You didn’t carbo-load properly. Try again.”



May 3, 2010

After the race, after I saw the results, after I wandered through the park a bit, I turned and walked up the Bull Creek road. A pretty little pea was blooming in the fennel. I hadn’t noticed it before. A little further along there was a lupine in bloom — I hadn’t see it either.

On the left a little stream came down the hillside and was half hidden by redwood branches.

And then I dove into the redwoods themselves. It was very calm now, and peaceful. The road was still closed so there were no cars, and it was about 5 hours after the half had started so there were no walkers either. Just me and the trees.

I pass a pair of gloves, carefully placed on a tree. Someone had forgotten them. They looked rather mournful. A GU wrapper. Someone left that too. I picked it up. And several other bits of trash (though I left the used kleenex).

Up ahead a raven is picking up something too. I think it is a raven, it looks too big for a crow.

Lots of ferns grow on the forest floor. The Avenue is lined with wood sorrel, but there’s not much here. It looks much drier here than there.

There’s a path on the right which meanders down to the creek and then back up. A fisherman’s trail perhaps? On it I see a blooming Iris. And a little yellow violet.

But my legs are getting tired. It’s time to turn back.

Which is downhill, and a little harder on my poor quads. Cars are starting to come down the road now. It’s still a fairly untraveled road… but the peace is fading. Time to return to the real world.

Avenue of the Giants

May 2, 2010

Packet pickup was the day before the race, at the start (which was good as it made me find the start at a stress-free time). It’s at a place called the Dyerville bridge over the Eel river. Once upon a time there was a town call Dyerville, but in 1955 the river rose 19 feet in an hour, and after that very little was left of the town. At Dyerville three rivers join (two forks of the Eel and Bull creek).

Then I went to look at the course, to get a feel for it (and to take the pictures I would not take while racing).

Dyerville is on a scenic highway called “The Avenue of the Giants”, right at the intersection with another road called Bull Creek Road (and also US 101, but the freeway doesn’t interest me). Both roads go through stands of old-growth redwood forest. We start out by running 6.5 miles up the Bull Creek, then turn round and run down it again back to Dyerville, and then out on the Avenue for 6.5 miles and again back to the start. Somewhere there’s another .2 miles too.

About the first thing I saw as I drove up the Bull Creek Rd. was a view of the confluence where Bull Creek flows into the Eel. There was a large sand spit at the confluence and people were parking on it. In the middle of a river that rose 19 feet in an hour? That seemed, um, silly. Later that day at the talk given describing the course I was told that we would be parking there. That seemed, um, dangerous. (Remember, it takes more than an hour to run a marathon). So I asked the man giving the talk, and he replied “Oh, don’t worry that won’t happen today.” Since I was worrying about “tomorrow” this wasn’t as consoling as it might have been.

It started to sprinkle shortly after the talk…

I arrived for the race a hour and a half early and could not figure out how to get down into the river. But I did find a spot above it. So I decided to use that instead.

It was cold at 6:30am. Sunlight was striking the hills, but not the river valley, and the waning moon was visible. I wandered around a bit, and then decided to go sit in the car and stay warm.

I was cautiously optimistic about this race. It was the first time in more than 2 years that I’d been able to do a marathon. The first time ever that I’d been able to train properly for one. The first time I’d carbo-loaded. I was pretty sure I would break 3. I hoped for 2:56~7.

I was a bit worried about the carbo-loading. Minor worry: I managed to do the final depletion work-out, and I got the impression from Rusty that if you deplete properly then you can’t finish it. But plenty of people just load and don’t deplete, so that didn’t worry me too much. What did worry me was that Rusty warned me that I’d probably loaded incorrectly. I hadn’t realized that it mattered what form the carbs came in and I just drank a bunch of HEED. Rusty said I should have eaten normal but high-carb food. I guess I’d assumed sugar water would be better because everything else is full of protein and fats and if you really want just carbs you stick with sugars… Oh well. Mike had me load for two days (dunno why) on the second day I contracted the dire rear.  And it had not gone away. It wasn’t really bad, but it did require a toilet every few hours. I wasn’t sure how the marathon would affect it either.

I got out of my car at about 7:15 and it seemed considerably warmer.

I changed into my running shoes, put on my plastic bag, gathered my GU, strapped on two watches (an HR monitor and a GPS), cap, etc. Stretched a bit. Then I went for a tiny warmup jog. Not far, because I didn’t want to waste my carefully loaded carbs.

If there were any. Advanced Marathoning says you should expect to feel stiff and out of shape from loading. I didn’t. I felt pretty good.

I get back to the start at about 7:45, consumed a GU and went to line up.

I wanted to start out relatively slowly, so I hung back in the second row.

No gun but a claxon. Startling.

After the initial confusion of the start I count 9 people ahead. That seems fine. Then four people pass me. I  look at one woman and just know “You’re going out too fast… you’ll never hold this pace.” I glance down at my GPS and it tells me 6:53. It often reads 5 seconds faster than it should, but I’d like about 7:10. So I slow.

Four more people pass me. Sigh.

Unfortunately the pictures were taken in the afternoon and miss the dark morning feeling

We’ve been running beside sort of scrubby brush next to the creek, but now we dive into the redwoods. They are huge. You can’t see the top of them. It’s all dark and cool under the trees.

I realize I’m not paying much attention to the scenery. I’m racing. I’m more concerned about not running too fast. I keep glancing at my watch and often slowing. (I notice a woman ahead of me is doing much the same.)

I pass the woman I thought went out too fast. She did.

The first mile was 7:00 exactly. Not quite as slow as I wanted, but not too fast. I had intended the first mile to be at 7:10 and the second at 7:00, but I guess I’ll try to reverse that order. So I slow a tiny bit.

Just before the two mile mark I see something so normal that I don’t even think about it. And then I do a double take.

Of course you see dogwoods blooming in the woods in the Spring. Normal. But that is east coast thinking. I have never seen a dogwood on the west coast before.

I look at it closely (not on the run, I must admit, but when I noticed it the day before. Looks like a dogwood. The flowers seem bigger than those I’m used to so perhaps a different species? Or a commercial hybrid? I know there are bunchberries on the west coast (herbaceous members of the dogwood family (or genus depending on your taxonomist)) but I didn’t know there were trees. I even ask at the Park Visitors’ Center and the guy there tells me that, yes there is a Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii), and yes it is  now in bloom and the best place to see one is about 2 miles out Bull Creek road. Um, yup. That’s just where I saw it.

But getting back to the run… Mile two is at 7:11 pace which is pretty much exactly what I wanted. So now I pick up the pace a bit. I want to run the next 4 or 5 at 6:50 pace and then speed up to 6:40s if I can. Or 6:45s. Even 6:50s would be OK, but I think I can do better than than.

I pass the woman who has been checking her watch. And then another guy.

We come to the first aid station, and I get a drink of water. The volunteers know what they are doing and run with us a bit to hand off the water. And they smush the cups properly so you can suck on them rather than splash water in your face. Excellent people!

Just before mile three I hear feet behind me. Two guys, running together. I’m impressed. They’ve gone out slowly, even more slowly than I, and are now picking it up, even faster than I. They might know what they are doing (One of them finished 5th (I think) and the other 7th). They pass me. I’m sort of losing track of who is ahead now, but I think there are about 16 or so.

Although they pass me, they slow a bit and run just ahead of me.

Here two streams cross the road (under it, I should add) one is called “Cow creek”, the other “Calf creek” and they flow into “Bull creek”. There seems a common theme in this.

Mile 3 is 6:54. That will do.

Mile 4 is also 6:54. I begin to notice that I’m warm. So I start to take off the plastic bag I put around me. I have to rip it off and it would rather stretch than rip, but eventually it comes off. One of the two guys in front hears me and turns back “You had that bag on for a long time!”. “I was cold.”

Now here’s a spot where water oozes over the road. Not deep, but it goes on for a long time and it is wet and gets kicked up by feet.

Mile 5 is 6:50. The second aid station is right round the corner. Another good choice. I have time to click my watch before I have to deal with getting water. Oops I forgot to take a GU — I intend to take one every 5 miles or so, and now my hands are full of plastic bag and I can’t. There’s a trash can before the aid station. They really have got this worked out. In goes the bag. Cup of water. Then a GU. Not my preferred order, but it will do.

We (the two guys in front and me) have been slowly gaining on a large clump of people ahead, now we join them and all run together for a time. This clump includes both lead women (both now, and at the finish) and about 4 males. Slowly we pass through them.

Mile 6 is 6:55. There’s another aid station right after the mile, but it’s so close to the last that I don’t bother with it.

We start to see runners coming back now. So the leader is about a mile ahead of us. I count them as they go by.

And suddenly I’m in the lead of this clump. Not sure how that happened. We approach the turn-around. I’m looking for a large chip mat like the ones we use; I don’t realize that theirs is actually rather small and I miss it and have to, awkwardly, swing back over it.

The guy behind laughs and says “You don’t want to miss that!”. I laugh too.

The turn around is at 6.5 miles (exactly — or as exact as we get), which means all the mile markers are in the same spots going back. Coming out here we climbed roughly 200 ft. Now we descend the same amount.

My counting tells me that I am now 9th. Right where I was at the beginning. 🙂 This seems good.

I glance at my GPS and it tells me that my pace since mile 6 is 6:12 (OK that’s probably 6:17, but even so it is far too fast). I slow a bit and get to mile 7 in 6:36. Still fast, but not by much.

The two guys pass me again. Sigh. 11th. It looks as though they are alternately drafting off each other.

Around mile 8 one of them slows and I catch up with him. We end up running together for most of the rest of the race. I (eventually) learn that his name is Steve. He asks me how many times I have run Boston.

Now I still feel a bit guilty about Boston. I ran it without qualifying. But then many years later I qualified (with the time I needed when I was in my thirties) and registered but got injured and failed to run it. So it’s sort of ok… Anyway I tell Steve “Once.” which is true. And then say that at my age qualifying is too easy. I hope he’ll drop the subject of my running it. He does. He is hoping to qualify. Since he is now running at a pace which will bring him in at about 3 hours I assume he’s ~30 and will have no difficulty qualifying.

Oh yes, mile 8 was 6:41. Which is just about what I want it to be.

Steve and I sort of leapfrog each other for a bit. First he’s in front, then I am. He says I run faster downhill than he does. Interesting.

Mile 9 is 6:44. That’s a bit slower than I’d like. If I can’t manage 6:40s now, on a downhill stretch, I’m not going to do very well on the flat. My quads are beginning to hurt too. Sigh.

One nice thing: I have not been bothered by my shin splints. Two nice things: I have not been bothered by the dire rear. Yay.

There’s a fallen tree off on the right. Someone has sawn out a round and there is a path that leads right through the tree. I took it the day before the race. The trunk is much taller than I am. Not quite twice my height, but close.

I take a GU. Mile 10 is 6:54. That’s worrying. 6:51 is my limit if I want to break 3 hours. I’m starting to realize that I’m not going to hit a 6:40 pace, but I do hope to maintain 6:50.

The half marathoners were released an hour after we were (on the same course) and the first of them (going out, of course) meet us (coming back, of course). We cheer each other on.

And then more of them.

Soon they seem to be taking up the entire road and forcing us off into the mud. They are very enthusiastically cheering, but I’m much rather be able to run than  be cheered at.

Mile 11 is 6:59. Ug. That’s really sad. Maybe it’s from dodging half marathoners? (The funny thing is that although I am slowing down I continue to run with Steve. He seems to be slowing at almost exactly the same rate).

Just before mile 12 we come into a big-leaved maple thicket. The light has a much different quality here, instead of the dark from the tall redwoods there is a golden glow as the sun shines through the new leaves.

Mile 12 is 6:52. Whew. That’s close enough that I don’t worry.

We’re coming back to Dyerville. I can hear traffic on 101, I can hear the announcer at the start line (I can’t hear what is said, just that something is). Mile 13 is 6:50. Good.

And we pass under the freeway bridge, and suddenly there’s a count down and a claxon and I’m confused and then there are people running all around me. Now we cross over the Eel and in the middle of this bridge is someone saying “Left, left” so I go left. And I realize that I have missed the chip mat at the half marathon point— the someone was actually saying “10K left, left”. So the claxon and all the people are the 10K that has just started. That’s what all the fuss was about.

And I missed the mat. Oh well. Tough. But that means I hit the halfway point just a few seconds after 1:30 (assuming the 10K started on schedule) and that is comforting. I still have a chance for a 3 hour marathon.

We’re now on the Avenue itself. Back into huge redwoods.

10Kers continue to pass me. And then we reach a stasis point and we’re all running together, and then Steve and I start to pass them. (some of them anyway). They went out too fast.

I miss the 14 mile mark.

My gut starts to feel mildly uncomfortable. Oh dear. This could be really bad. I slow a bit, hoping that will calm it, and I don’t take a GU, hoping that will calm it.

The Avenue makes a short steep climb as it bridges over the 101. Nasty.

I mention to Steve that it doesn’t look as if we will break three. He is surprised. He hadn’t intended to. (Then why was he running a a 3 hour pace for the first half?). He just hopes he can hold the current pace and qualify.

Miles 14&15 13:47.

The forest floor is covered with this lovely little plant called Wood Sorrel. It’s an Oxalis (probably O. oregona, but I need to look it up when I get home). And unlike the Oxalis in SB (which is non-native) this one belongs under the redwoods. So I can enjoy it without guilt.

Mile 16 is 7:00. This is not looking good. At least at Cal International collapse didn’t happen until I got to mile 20. And then things just got really bad quickly and I ended up running 9 minute miles. Please, please don’t do that to me again….

Mile 17 is again 7:00. Small favours.

My tummy is feeling better, so I try a GU now.

I perk up a bit, and manage to catch up with Steve. And we chat and (finally) exchange names.

Mile 18 is 7:08. Well. I thought I had perked up. I guess I just perked relative to Steve. Steve appears to be running easily, but he is slowing just as I am.

I wonder what I look like.

We start seeing runners coming the other way. Steve thinks we’re in 10&11th place, I think 11/12. We see Steve’s friend, who is now in 5th place.

Mile 19 is 7:07. So the collapse really is more gradual than two years ago. I start trying to figure in my head what a 7:10 pace will mean, but I haven’t been keeping track of the sum of time, only noticing the splits.

We reach the turn around. And this time I run right over the chip mat with absolutely no problems. I’ve learned something! Steve was right. We are in 10&11th place. I’m currently about 3 feet ahead, but that’s not going to last. We are 3/4 done. I joke to Steve that I’ll race him to the finish. Of course that’s what we’ve been doing all along…

Mile 20 is 7:12. I have to drop back from Steve again.

As we head back we run into the wind. When we’re under redwoods, the wind can’t get to us, but every now and then we come out into a relatively open spot where we can see the Eel, and the wind strikes. This slows me even more.

Mile 21 is 7:20.

I’m going to try one more GU. I haven’t had any more intestinal distress, so maybe things have calmed down. Of course I’m running more slowly, that’s probably helped.

Mile 22 is 7:15. Nice. And I catch up with Steve again. There seems a definite pattern here. I guess I’ve sort of hit the wall and but can burn fat better than I could 2 years ago? All that trail running may be helping. That might explain why I seem to manage only an 85% heart rate now.

Steve and I see a guy ahead of us. We’re catching him! He slows to a walk. And we pass. Steve offers him some jelly beans. I’m too tired to think of this. He says he’s OK, just has cramps. We’re now in 9&10th place. Steve has plans. He wants to catch more people. I have my doubts…

Mile 23 is 7:36. And now the collapse seems to be accelerating.

Just before mile 24 I start passing 5K walkers. I’m feeling unusually annoyed by them. Maybe because I’m doing so badly. Here I have run 11 miles in the time they have walked 4. That’s pathetic. I’m not running fast. They are doing less than 3 miles an hour.

Mile 24 is 7:47. Mile 25 is 7:56. Then the bridge over the freeway. Mile 26 is again 7:56. Wow. This is so much better than Cal International. Even though collapse started earlier it has been much more gradual.

I can hear the announcer calling out finishers. And then up the bridge over the Eel, and I can see the half marathoners streaming in. These are 2:10 (=~10 min/mile) half marathoners, so even in my depleted state, running 8 minute miles, I have no problems running faster than they do. Indeed their presence gives me a (small) sense of encouragement. I’m not so bad after all.

I cross the line. I see 3:06:10 at some point. So it’s a technically a “PR”.  A whole minute and a bit faster than my last collapse.

I see Steve and I congratulate him. He is really happy. He wanted to break 3:21 (it turns out he’s 40) and instead he did 3:05 something. His wife isn’t here yet. She wasn’t expecting him to finish so soon.

It takes a while for results to appear. Quite a long while. Several hours. But appear they do eventually. Steve was 7th. But to his annoyance he is fourth in his age-group (so he gets no award). I was 8th. 3:06:19. And was first in mine.

It was a PR. But a downright depressing one. Maybe I should give up on marathons. I can’t seem to store the fuel I need for them.

(On a happy note: The river did not flood, and all the cars were safe)