Friday, May 25, 2012

PCT 50 Mile Trail Race: Getting My Hike On

Total Distance: 50 miles
Course Description (from Out-and-back course mostly on single track trail along the Pacific Crest Trail in east San Diego County.  The trail features numerous climbs, particularly on the “out” portion, as well as some rocky sections.  It begins at an elevation of approximately 3,000 feet, reaching 6,000 feet in the Laguna Mountains.
Elevation Profile (from 7,500 feet of elevation gain, with about 2,500 gain within the first part of the run. 
Time: 13:45
Racers: 142 Starters/117 Finishers, 82.4%

Almost two weeks after running my first 50 mile trail race I am finally getting around to posting about it. Calling it a “run” is misleading seeing as how I ran no more than 40% of it. No matter what you call it though I still covered 50 miles of trail in one day on my own two feet. I have never gone that sort of distance unless on a bike. It was exhilarating, challenging, but most notably it was fun!

The race was only an hour away but we drove over the night before and stayed in a cabin at Lake Morena. . The cabin was an instant hit. My little girl loved the built-in bunk beds, and I loved the smell of lumber that engulfed you when you stepped in. We drove around the area a little bit, checked out the starting point, fueled up and then spent $30 on supplies to roast up some killer smores. Man, those little local shops sure can jack prices up, can’t they? We hiked a little bit around the lake which was downright lovely. I set up my racing mama flat, munched as much as my nerves would allow and tried to settle into a relaxing evening before my big day.

Milla fought sleep pretty hard and went to bed later than I preferred. We eventually all settled down to sleep only to wake up at about 1 in the morning to find out our air mattress had a leak. Milla was having problems getting comfy (who could blame her though) so slept on top of me most of the night. I woke up at 3 AM with a pain in my neck from the poor sleeping position I was in. I wasn’t planning on getting up for another half an hour but at least I didn’t oversleep. On the way to the way back from the bathroom I was already shivering. Good thing I packed several layers to wear. I was taking the early 5 AM start option and knew I would have a flare up of Raynaud’s phenomenon in the first hour of running. I grabbed some more snuggle time before waking Milla up and heading to the start.

Race start
I eagerly waited in line to collect my race number and shirt. After collecting and stating I was opting in for the early start I dashed back to the truck. I was a messy bunch of nerves as I finished getting dressed and then nursed Milla for the last time that morning making sure to drain both sides and not block feed like normal. Milla has always been good at helping me out with those kinds of things. Before I was up to the starting line (actually still sitting in the truck) the countdown started just like at Oriflamme. I had to go. Maybe next time I’ll be better prepared. Probably not though. I looked back at him and Milla one last time and was the last one in the early start option to hit the trail. It was very dark and using a light was a must. Love, love, LOVE my knuckle lights!

Sure enough before I even finished the first half mile my toes turned cold and stung. Damn Raynaud’s…I hate it. I walked with a purpose over the first climb trying to pump blood as I wiggled my toes with each step. My fingers were wiggling away without me thinking about it. When I get nervous I often find myself moving my fingers up and down the euphonium scale even though I haven’t touched the instrument in about 7 years. Sometimes when the cold sets in the only way to warm up is direct heat contact, but I didn’t really want to sit on the side of the PCT pressing my feet and hands against my belly to warm them up. I had a nice distraction from the stinging when I passed my ultra running guru, Vick (aka the old guy on the course). I had first met him during Oriflamme and here we were again. We chatted for a ways then parted.

The stinging went away though as soon as the sun came up and hit me. There is such a calm that comes about me when I run into a sunrise. Moments like these make dealing with the vasoconstriction of my digits much easier.

I might have shaved some minutes off my finishing time if I would stop taking pictures but I can’t help it! It’s so beautiful out there!

Electrolytes do the body good
The old saying “Walk the ups, run the flats and downs” or whatever version you come across is golden advice for an ultra virgin and exactly what I did for this race. I was not toying around with the possibility of muscle cramps again and knew the desert heat was yet to come. I also remembered I would not be drenched in sweat as the heat would wick it away. I also stuck to the often heard advice of “Drink early, drink often.” Since Oriflamme I have changed up my electrolyte intake. I still use Metasalt pills (I did have half a bottle left after all) but instead of three pills every hour I took two pills every 30-45 minutes and brought a watch with me so I could keep an eye on how much time has passed. I’m still learning to get a feel for times while running on trails. It’s not natural to me yet to know how much time has passed and how far I’ve run. In addition to using Metasalt while drinking water from my waterpack, I also brought along O.N.E. Coconut Water with a Splash of Mango and drank 4 of them over the course of 50 miles. If you don’t already know, coconut water is the trump card when it comes to consuming electrolytes. I’ve been experimenting for months with it and was having a hard time stomaching it. But with O.N.E.’s newest mango flavor I finally found coconut water that I not only could stand to stomach but that I really, truly enjoyed. This combination of electrolytes proved itself worthy and did not fail me. In fact, I did not have one muscle cramp the entire race. This was a huge change from the 50K.

When I hit the halfway point I was feeling a bit tired but overall quite amazing. I needed some clarity so I threw my card in the bucket and had a Mayesa for a pick-me-up during the charge back to Penny Pines. Knowing my little girl was waiting for me this time made the trail zip by as I was super eager to see her. I needed her help to finish this one pain-free.

I had a lovely entourage waiting for me at Penny Pines. I probably would have cried if the massive task ahead of me wasn’t already weighing heavily on my mind. My bestie, Megan, had come with her family and were all standing there waiting with my daughter. I waved and said hi to the group and called Milla’s name but she was busy playing with her boys, Jack and Maddox. I wasn’t missed quite yet.

I was hungry and told them I would be right back after grabbing some food. Somewhere I saw the big grin of one of the Dirt Devils, David. It was kind of bewildering seeing him. Although he told me he and his family were going to be there I had forgotten. My brain felt out of focus again so I felt that meant I needed more calories. I can’t remember what all I ate throughout the day but oranges were my first grab followed by potatoes or potato chips if they had them.  There is such a wide assortment of food choices at these aid stations it’s overwhelming trying to choose. With two handfuls of potato chips I returned to my family and friends. Still slightly bewildered and with muscle soreness starting to creep up my legs I knew I better get a move on. I chatted between bites and then reached for Milla so she could help her mama out. Thank goodness Milla will still nurse even when I’m a sweaty monster. Megan captured the picture below of my nursing session at mile 27, and it is hands-down my favorite picture of Milla and I together. The lady has got a good eye for these sorts of things.

I was sad to leave them behind but, dang, there were still 23 miles to go. I wish I had changed socks. I was feeling hot spots all over my right foot but for some reason I had a silly fear that my foot would swell when I took my shoe off and I wouldn’t be able to put my shoe back on. I should have listened to the early warning signs and changed socks because those little hot spots turned into big problems later. Oh well!

Minor freak out
It was hot out. I could see heat radiating off the boulders. Yikes! I was getting familiar with the faces of the others who were holding my pace. One chick in particular with long braids made some wonderful conversation. Oh, here’s an interesting thing I never realized about, well, me…I think I have a fear of rattlesnakes, particularly when I’m alone. Snakes that are caged up in an aquarium or as a pet being held by their owner don't freak me out, but snakes out in nature apparently scare me. I will jump out of my skin if I see something slither away (big bugs also do this to me). I may even let out a yelp. Somewhere between mile 28 and mile 34 (like I said, I’m not good with knowing distances yet) I heard the familiar rattle. I immediately stopped in my tracks and saw the rattler slide under a bush. Okay not a problem, I was willing to wait for him to move on like every other time I’ve come across a rattler. Except, he didn’t move on. He just stayed nestled under the bush with his tail sticking out. No one was ahead and no one was behind me. I started breathing a little quicker and then before I knew it I was about to cry over this stupid snake. What if he never moves?! What if I try to pass him and he gets mad and strikes me? 

Thinking back on it I was being ridiculous. Clearly I had enough room to pass but on race day I was freaking out. Before I got too crazy in the head two other girls followed up on my trail. I looked behind me at them and immediately they slowed, eyes wide, and asked, “Snake?” "Yup," I said. The weird thing was as soon as there was someone else around I didn’t feel scared of this snake anymore. We start talking and the one girl asks if we can just walk around it. I told her she could try but I’m gonna wait until it moves. Neither of them couldn’t see it. One of the girls took a couple steps forward, saw it, then backtracked behind me. The girl with the braids was one of the two girls and  started commenting on my good observation skills just as the snake moved, very slowly, further into the bush. I bent over, drew the word SNAKE in the sand with my finger and with that we passed. I highly doubt anyone saw my scribble, but it made me feel better attempting to warn the next passerby.

Trail demons aren't gonna stop this chick!
I kept up well with electrolytes and calories but those hot spots were hurting bad. I was feeling mad that something so little was slowing me down. Each step hurt. I must have been comprising my gait because my left fascia started cramping a little bit until I evened out my stride. Sometime after passing what would have been 50K I realized how good I felt. This was so unlike Oriflamme, and I was having fun testing out my legs knowing this was the furthest I’ve pushed them. I was also excited that after years of talking to other runners I had finally run around Penny Pines and been to Todd’s Cabin and run past Dale’s Kitchen. I had no trail demons to battle this race. I’ve accepted certain changes in my life so they left me alone today. Other than a 5 mile stretch of loneliness and pissiness while dealing with being bit repeatedly by flies, I was having an awesome time. I was more than happy to arrive at the last aid station and leave those damn flies behind. A kilted man claimed the title of my favorite trail aid of the day with his quirkiness. Actually, now that I think of it, he reminded me an awful lot of my friend, Charlie.

I had a painful time running the last section to the end. I knew there were blisters popping up on my foot and again I should have taken the opportunity to tend to them at the last aid station but forgot all about them until I started running again. They were hurting. But I did make it to the end. I was continuously being applauded for smiling. I didn’t really get why that was such an “amazing” thing until I saw some dehydrated guys at the last aid station. I got it then…they looked rough. And by the way, where did my love handles go? When I walk with a purpose on the trail but am getting tired I tend to ball my hands into fists and dig them comfortably into my squishy sides. I tried that during this race and it felt awkward. I just couldn't get my hands nestled. Then it dawned on me that I was digging my hands into hip bones. I couldn't help but get ecstatic over this. These love handles have been jiggling on my sides for years, and I was finally burning that fat away. Not only was I on cloud nine but the realization that my stride was longer from being forced to swing my arms at my sides just added to my good mood. I was getting my hike on and nothing was going to stop me! 

One thing I remember specifically about the end of Oriflamme was the blind finish. I couldn’t tell which bend was the last, and it was pissing me off (of course my attitude that race was rotten). The PCT50, however, had an amazing view of where the end is. It was exhilarating watching it get closer and closer as I made my tender-footed way down to the bottom. The sun was giving up for the day, and it was finally getting comfortable out. I was passed by a lot of runners near the end but I didn’t care. I was proud of myself and damn proud to be a back of the packer. At one point I heard, "Hey, weren't you pregnant?" I turned around and there was Trasie, a chick I ran with just a few times back when I was in my first trimester. What a blast chatting with her. After the last bend I saw my daughter who was helping pass out the medals to the runners at the end which I thought was pretty cool. I can say it now, I am an ultramarathoner!

Milla was begging for a booby snack, but I had to get those socks and shoes off first. Look at those feet, yuck! I often here women say “don’t bother with a pedicure before the race” but I say get some paint on those toenails anyways. The hot pink contrasted nicely to the plastered dirt on my feet. When I finally washed my feet the nail polish held up well anyways. So go for it if you want to. Oh! And the Dirty Girl Gaiters did their job and kept rocks and sand out. I can’t imagine running trails without them now.

After a well deserved shower I inspected the damage to my feet. Left foot: 0 blisters. Right foot: 5 blisters (2 tiny ones on my heel, 1 huge blister under my pinkie toe, a mess of rubbed off skin on my fourth toe, 1 on my second toe, and 2 nasty ones on my big toe). I am still not sure what happened with this foot. Neither my shoe nor sock was wet. I didn't notice any rocks stuck in my shoe. It was just a weird thing. I haven't had a blister in years. All I know is that it was painful enough to stop me from running when I could have. Two weeks later and the skin on my toes is still raw and tender to the touch. Don't ignore hotspots!

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Tour of San Diego Bay

As I mentioned in my last post, a night run in San Diego takes some consideration as does going for a long run. I no longer have the luxury of impromptu runs like I used to. After playing fetch with our dog on the beach at sunset I got bite by the run bug which drastically changed my plans for that evening. The night air was warm, there was barely a detectable breeze, and the moon was out. I asked my almost-ex-husband what he thought of me going for a long run that night. With three little words I had the green light to go for it. “I don’t care.” This was followed up shortly by, “You’re going to make dinner first though, right?”

The sunlight was losing its last grasp on the horizon as I fried up some lean hamburgers for dinner. I only ate half of one not sure how my stomach would like it on the run. I vividly remember a run some years back when I, on a similar whim, did a 10 or 12 mile night run after dinner on a Saturday night. The combination of hamburger, fries, and bubbly coke did not settle at all and made its return several times during the run. So after eating half a hamburger I decided to grab something else that might settle better and reached for some bread and peanut butter. I started slapping together a sandwich and my husband poked a little fun at me for having to use Skippy since I was out of natural peanut butter. I was desperate to get going on this run before anything made me back out. And I was really hungry.

I frantically searched and wondered where the heck I stashed all of my gear. I nursed Milla one last time, cradling her in one arm while grabbing for gear with my free hand. It probably would have been more efficient to have nursed then went on my gear hunt but she wanted mama time and was making a fuss about it. Only 45 minutes later I gave one last hug to Milla who nibbled my nose in her cute attention-grabbing way and off I went. And then I returned—forgot my camera. Off again, this time making it out of the gate and to the path only to turn right around—forgot my knuckle light. Even though the Supermoon was practically upon us and blazing the trail I felt safer with a backup light source just in case.

One last hug
I finally started the run around 9:15 p.m. from Fiddler’s Cove off Highway 75 (Silver Strand Highway). I took a right onto Silver Strand Bikeway and headed to Coronado. It had been so long since I ran by moonlight. I knew I had missed night running but not this much. I was on a small time crunch for the ferry to get across San Diego Bay. The schedule said I had until 10:17 for the Convention Center ferry and 10:30 for the Broadway Pier ferry. I had never run past the fishing pier before so I wasn’t sure how much further the ferry pier was. But Coronado is a small island so I figured it couldn't be too much further. Still, I pushed myself slightly faster than preferred for the start of a long run to ensure I made the 10:17 ferry. I wasn’t particularly interested in running from Broadway to the Convention Center on a Friday night if I could help it.

I love going through Coronado at night. Hotel del Coronado is all lit up, and there is a casual ambiance on the island. I zipped down Pomona Avenue instead of skirting along the golf course. Once I got to 6th Street I ran to Glorietta Bay Boulevard and then crossed to the bike path. From there I ran the path around the golf course and proceeded under the curvy Coronado Bridge.

Under Coronado Bridge
I followed the nice wide path, laughed as I ducked under the water sprinklers that were misting the air and then made my way to the piers. There were a few fishermen out and I wished them lucked as I passed who flashed big grins in return. Apparently with the Supermoon approaching the fishing was going well. I came upon a large “THANK YOU FOR VISITING THE CORONADO FERRY LANDING” sign which made a clear impression that I found the right pier. I waited my turn at the automated ticket generator and paid $4.25 for my way across. I had 10 minutes to soak in the ocean air and gaze across the sparkling bay before stepping onto the ferry, which ended up being a water taxi and therefore made for a cold ride. It was cold enough to make me wish I had brought a light jacket but short enough to not need one.

As soon as they docked I wanted to bolt but couldn’t until the captain unlocked the gate. I waited impatiently wishing I could get going so I could get warmed up. I had a bit of fun playing on some lighted stairs, marveled at the Petco Stadium cheers then made my way to the sidewalk to get to Harbor Drive. The sidewalk did not last for very long, and I soon found myself running alongside the road. I used my knuckle light to hopefully bring attention to the drivers that I was running there.  At this point I got quite bored. Harbor Drive from here south is prime industrial territory and not much fun to run on. It got a little interesting between 28th street and 32nd street due to construction, but it was short-lived. Soon after running through the construction zone I became starved for conversation and really wished I had a partner to run with. I munched on some date nut raisin bread and kept at it.

At Civic Center Drive I turned right and the crooked Bay Shore Bikeway sign reassured me that I was on the right path. As soon as I rounded the corner onto Tidelands Avenue a stinkin’ cat crouched in the gutter scaring the crap out of me. I started feeling pretty silly to have gotten spooked over something so fluffy but soon was completely bored with the run again. There were lots of people in their rundown trailers and vans parked on both sides of the road and several had dogs with them inside. The dogs spoke up fiercely when I passed. A small gentleman stood next to a rather large gentleman who was sitting on his tailgate, and they were passing something back and forth. They spotted me so in a friendly tone I said, “Good evening!” Mr. Skinny said nothing and just let his jaw drop. Mr. Husky spoke robustly and said, “Good evening to you, I mean…good evening beautiful.” That was enough small talk for me and I strode past without another word. Shortly after that I spooked a man who was sorting something in the back of his cargo truck. I felt bad but didn’t see him at first until I was right there. I thought to myself what was he thinking being out and about so late at night.

A security patrol truck slowed as it passed me and turned at the next stop sign. At that same stop sign I turned left onto 32nd Street. This street was well lit I’m sure due to the marina and Pepper Park. At the end of the street I came to the next section of the bikeway which was not lit at all. This was the part I was most nervous about running at night. 

I passed three teenagers with skateboards. I was near the Gordy Shields Bridge and knew that was where they were heading. Last time I had come to this part of the bikeway I had come across at least a dozen skaters playing around. Other than the three there was no activity on the bikeway, unless you count the two dozen rabbits that skittered away from me. Although it was just as dull as running on Harbor Drive at least back there it was relatively calm and quite. Here the nearby freeway was deafening so I quickened my pace to hurry up with this parallel path. Once I passed the entrance to the Chula Vista Nature Center things immediately quieted as I started on Bay Boulevard. I thought back to the last time I had run on this stretch of the bikeway and remembered feeling a tad lost so I kept alert for any bikeway signs to keep up my reassurance. Thankfully there were a few around.

A cop car drove past me only slowing for a second. I took a right onto F Street and saw two figures walking on the path up ahead. They started flashing their light at me. I gripped my knuckle light tighter and said, “Good evening.” They were pretty stunned to see me run past and flashed one another a bewildered WTF look. One of them turned around and gingerly said, “Be careful.” Well crap…that did nothing to reassure me. A million thoughts raced through my head. What am I suppose to be careful of? Was it genuine concern? Wouldn’t the cop or security patrol stop as they passed to offer a warning if this area was sketchy? I left the thoughts alone so I could focus on my surroundings and pushed my pace over Marina Parkway until I got to the next lighted section of street.

After taking a right on G Street another security patrol vehicle drove past me. I carried on to the park up ahead without any more nonsense thoughts but held a solid focus on my surroundings. I slowed down as I entered Bayside Park so I could grab another light snack and enjoyed the stillness around me. The park was empty! I had only been to this park a handful of times during the day and once or twice at night, and it was always packed with people. It felt so peaceful that I didn’t want to rush through it and miss it so I walked the rest of the way through the park. I saw a pull-up bar and just had to crank out a couple pull-ups. Shortly after I saw a young couple snuggling together on a park bench. Although I couldn’t hear their words I thought it was pretty cute to come to a park late on a Friday night just to hang out with your sweetie.

One night shy of the Supermoon
The bikeway picked up again paralleling Bay Boulevard. I absolutely love the street tags along the wall in this part of town. The run quickly became dull again but didn’t stay that way for long as someone was attempting to follow me with their floodlight. I’ll be honest, that freaked me out a bit so I sprinted as fast as I could up the hill to Frontage Road and made my way to the path again. Now the run would be a little entertaining. No more streets! All that lay ahead was the Silver Strand Bikeway! It felt a little claustrophobic running with fences taller than my head on each side, but it was much better than running through town.

My feet finally started aching once I left Imperial Beach. I prefer running on trails so my feet were not used to running on hard surfaces. The moon became covered by a marine layer. I knew I wouldn’t regret turning around at the start to grab my knuckle light. I ran on the dashed median line and got into a groove: 2 steps yellow, 2 steps off, 2 steps yellow, 2 steps off. I was attempting to make this entire run under 4 hours but didn’t quite make it. After about 4 hours 15 minutes I came across the familiar sail boat marking the entrance to Fiddler’s Cove. I was done! I grabbed a coke from the vending machine and finished the run with a short run on the beach to our place.

Finally at home and off my feet every bone in them cursed at me. Since my daughter has mostly night weaned and I was still amped from the run I decided I should pump. It actually seemed weird pumping again after a month long pumping vacation. I sat in my kitchen and pumped away. All I collected from both breasts were a measly 2 ounces. As I tried to squeeze out a few drops more hoping for a magical letdown that I knew wasn’t coming I thought about my pumping glory days. I pumped daily for over 6 months and donated hundreds of ounces to a milk bank and through HM4HB. Then I picked up work again for awhile and pumped to keep fresh stock in the refrigerator while I was gone at work. Then I decided to donate again and became way too stressed trying to keep up demand. Now my pump sits on my kitchen shelf going unused for weeks at a time. You know what? That is quite fine by me. If by this weekend (which is the PCT50) I haven’t pumped enough for a day on the trails, I do have a small stash in the freezer. Recently though we have given Milla coconut milk and almond milk, both of which she finds enjoyable to drink. It feels so good knowing I don't have to keep up my supply if I don't want to, but I will continue until she weans on her own if I am able.

A funny thing happens when I go night running…it almost feels like it didn’t happen when I wake up in the morning. I had major guilt about lazing the rest of the weekend, but I ended up having an incredibly fun time with my family. The PCT50 is upon me, and I am so eager for the weekend to come! This was my last long run before the big five-oh, and it felt great!

Final note: If you are in San Diego, I highly recommend running (or biking) Bayshore Bikeway. If I would do it again, I would start from downtown San Diego a few hours before sunset, head south around the bay, come back up via Silver Strand (timing the start of this section, by the Dinosaur Cage, for sunset) then ending the run at Coronado’s piers so you can take the ferry across when it’s dark out and get a nice view of downtown San Diego at night. There are a lot of unique things to see on the Tour of San Diego Bay that you may miss if you run at night. Here are some things to spot while out there!

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