Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Run For The Ages - Of Fawns, Bears and Picture Perfect Views

As a trailrunner, I have the great fortune on seeing parts of the wilderness most will never get to a quick manner. But absolutely none of my experiences could have prepared me for one epic run at Sequoia NP (I promise, I'll shut up about that place after this post).

The goal for the day was a place called Pear Lake. My run started at about 7,200 feet elevation at Wolverton parking lot. After I transferred all relevant items from my car to a bear locker, I was off. After about 20 mins, I happened on a few people taking pictures. A fawn and her mom were grazing right by the trail. The fawn couldn't have been more than a few weeks old. It was still struggling mightily with her balance. But it was mighty photogenic.

After this encounter, I made my way up a hill known simply as "The Hump". Except where I come from, we call those mountains and would give it a more appropriate name like Lungbuster Peak or Wtf-Was-I-Thinking?-Gap. After climbing about 2000 feet in about two miles, I was rewarded with absolutely breathtaking backcountry views. I topped out at around 9,800 that day...a new altitude record for me by over 2,000 feet.
After having just arrived atop The Hump. (Yes, I have some sexy shorts.)

From here, the trail became a little less challenging in terms of vertical, but more technical/rocky with some snow-covered sections. Pictures will have to speak a thousand words for me here:
I practice that pose in front of the mirror. Got it almost identical in the last two shots.

Pear Lake

My view during my lunch break. I do not miss my old cubicle.

During this run I discovered that Nuun works great as a taste and color neutralizer for iodine pills. One more reason to love that stuff.

After spending lunch at Pear Lake, which I had completely to myself for all but the first 10 mins, I was headed back down.

About a 1/2 mile from the parking lot it happened: I saw my first bear! As a matter of fact, there were two: a mother and her cub. The mother was trying to find food inside a tree while the cub was playing in the grass. A couple of hikers and I got to watch for about 5 or 6 minutes.
You may be able to make out mama bear leaning against the left side of middle tree in the back.

I had been pretty concerned about running into the big fur balls the whole week, but when it finally happened, I was thrilled. What a spectacle!!

All of the above is from one day, one run. There may never be a day for me on the trail quite like this. How could there be?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Running Among Giants

As mentioned before, I went camping in Sequoia National Park last week. After getting my bearings, I decided to head out for an easy 6 mile jaunt on the Trail of Sequoias. It was like running through a spread in TrailRunner Magazine, my buddy Greg would say. I had no problem breathing at the 6-7k altitude. My jaw was dropped the whole time. The Giant Forest at Sequoia may be the most magnificent forest in the world. Here are some pictures.

That's me and the bottom of a real life Sequoia.

Shadow and light.

A post about running in the High Country is next.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tough Decisions at the Pacifica 30k

Let's start with this right up front: I have never struggled during any physical activity as much as I did during the Pacifica 30k. Hands down. Here is my account of what happened.

The Day Before - Do You Have Soul(ja Boy)?
After having spent a magnificent week in Sequoia NP, which will be covered in my next post (it was unbelievable!), I was headed to the Bay Area to run my first race as a Californian. Two G.U.T.S.-ies, Jason and Steve, were going to be out there along with one of their friends. Quite frankly, that was the sole reason I went out there. It won't be often that my old running friends will out here competing on the West Coast.

As my overnight accommodations, Ichose Big Basin Redwoods Sate Park, which was unlike Google Map's prediction a two hour (not a one hour) drive from Pacifica. That meant I would have to rise pretty early. Of course, I got lucky and had 20 high school kids camping right next to me. Naturally, they would not go to bed early. At about 12.30, I got sick of hearing Soulja Boy (click here, if you don't know what I'm talking about) and got up to tell them to turn it off. To my surprise, it was the campers to the other side of me, two late thirty-somethings, who were blasting music that was cool in '07. Guilty as charged, for pre-maturely judging people.

Race Morning - An ATL Reunion
After about four hours of sleep, I broke down my campsite faster than lightning. My goal was to get to Pacifica as soon as possible and to hang out with the boys from the South. Sure enough, they were there early, too. It was great to reunite three time zones to the left.

G.U.T.S.ies representin' out West

At check-in, I found out about the option to change race distances. Everybody else in the group was running the 50k, and I quickly peer-pressured myself into running that distance as well. That was an easy decision. Reversing that decision and making the walk-of-shame back to the check-in table was a lot harder. But my feet were hurting from some serious blisters I had acquired in Sequoia and something was telling me to back off. To my surprise, everybody was real supportive and called that decision "mature" and "smart". I guess, that made my earlier decision "immature" and "stupid" :)

The Race - The First 12k
Promptly at 8:30, we were off with about 200 other people running in four different races: 9k, 21k, 30k and 50k. I was amazed at the flawless execution of four (!) consecutive race by the PCTR crew. Those guys are good.

The 30k assignment

Competitors from the three longer distances started out together, immediately tackling the biggest hill of the day up Montara Mountain. Climbing is normally not my forte. The descends is where I excel using gravity to my full advantage (thanks, Newton!). However, I was feeling strong and cruised up the hill. We were treated to sweeping views of the Pacific (ocean) and Pacfica (town). Wildflowers were growing everywhere and the sweet scent of eucalyptus was engulfing the beautiful trail. Could I be running in heaven? (yup!)

At the start, looking up Montara Mountain, our first challenge of the day

Jason caught me at the top and I saw the rest of the gang soon after on the way down. Out and backs during races are always fun that way. But something was off. Isn't running downhill usually easy for me? Isn't that where I recover from going up and usually catch tons of people? Not this time. My stomach began turning and nausea set in quickly. What was going on?

Little white spots running up to take in some breathtaking views

I quickly realized that I had run out of water near the top and dehydration was setting in. Uh oh! The trail was exposed for the most part and we had about 3.5 miles until the bottom and the next aid station. Ok, relax, and just make it to Aid 1 in one piece. I joined a group of about eight runners and we descended steadily. Water couldn't come soon enough and going down seemed to take forever, but finally we made it down. A nice volunteer filled my bottle and with three orange slices I was off on the shorter 9k loop which only has two smallish hills. Perfect for recovery. Or so I thought.

The First 9k Loop
Jason and I were running together again, but soon enough he dusted me. No problem. This is just a long run for me, I thought, a social race more than a goal race. But I quickly ran out of water again and that was not good. Ok, 9k is not that far. However, it quickly became harder and harder to move. Even on the short flat section between the two hills.

My goal was quickly focused on just making it to Aid 2. But that got increasingly difficult. Steve passed me. He seemed to be flying by. A headache set in. Oh no! Then cotton mouth. I mean, serious cotton mouth. The kind where I thought the state of North Carolina was growing inside my mouth. And it got out of control quickly. Way too quick. I began to hit up other runners for water but everyone seemed to be out. Just make it to the crest of the hill, I thought. You can always run downhill. Where was the top? How far can 9k really be?

Far, let me tell you. Dizzy-spells started setting in. Not good. There was nothing left in my tank. I couldn't even shuffle. Things had deteriorated fast. Where was the aid station?

Some guy, whom I recognized as a front-runner guy from pictures on many West Coast blogs, came down the hill fast and yelled "Are you ok?" I couldn't have looked good. "Yeah, I'm fine", I lied. I was walking the downhill and just thinking about how I could recover and refuel at the next aid.

Aid 2 - The Toughest Call of All
Finally, there it was. The aid station. I inhaled 40 oz of water and sat down. Chills kept giving me continuous goose bumps. Wtf? It's 90+ degrees. Why am I cold? Am I really in that bad shape? I was. It took 25 minutes of back and forth in my head until I made the call to add the three ugliest latter to my running resume: DNF. I was shivering, dizzy and couldn't imagine running 9 yards, let alone 9k. Safely.

DNF - The Aftermath
Believe me, nothing is harder than to make the call to drop out of a race. Had my lady been there, she would have pulled me immediately, I'm sure, but in my delirious state it was hard to make a such a difficult decision. But my body clearly said "No, dude. Not today. You put us through a lot of crap, but it ain't happenin' today".
Off in the distance you can make out my future adversary: Mount Diablo

I love running, because it's an honest sport. You get out of it what you put in. What you did seven weeks ago (SweetH20, in my case) doesn't matter today.

And you can't really buy nicer equipment to speed up your times. You only do well if you train hard enough. I wasn't ready that day. I wasn't ready for the heat and, especially, the dehydration. I made many mistakes. Decisions I regret. Until the last one.

I'll be back, Pacifica. Look forward to squaring off again!

My thanks go out to the whole PCTR crew and all the volunteers for putting on a superbly organized race. I'll see you guys again soon!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Opportunity Of A Lifetime

For years, ever since my college days in fact, I have been working, working, working. Like a madman I would put in 70, 80, 90 up to 110 hours a week in pursuit of a career. With my social life and running thrown in, that didn't leave much time for reflection.

That time is now.

This summer I will be traveling the Western U.S. to not only see this wonderful country but to also spend some time on myself. Trails have been my way of escape the past few years and they shall be an important part of this summer. (At this point, I need to thank my lady who is making this sabbatical possible for me and who has been so very supportive).

First up, Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks. I'll spend the week there and then head over to Pacifica to meet up with some GUTS people for a little trail race on Saturday.

I didn't take this one, but you bet that I'll have some good pictures for my next few posts

Thursday, June 12, 2008

California, Here I Am!

After driving over 2,800 miles in a Penske truck complete with a trailer for my car, I have finally arrived in California! It's been almost a week since we got on the road and it was HOT! I drove without a/c the whole way to preserve gas. Now, that's what I call heat training.

That's not my actual truck and car, but my set up was the same.

My running has been limited (non-existent to be exact), but that will all change now. I'll likely run pretty much every day this summer.

The big news is that we have already found a place in Berkeley. We'll be living in an area adjacent to campus affectionately known as the "Gourmet Ghetto". It's also within walking/running distance of many, many miles of trails. Not driving to go running on dirt - what a concept!

P.s. Really cool interview is coming up. Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Auf Wiedersehen, Atlanta!

So, it's time for me to say good-bye to this city, but be sure to know: this blog WILL LIVE ON! (I'm having too much fun with it not to).

This summer should be filled with lots of fun and interesting adventures. I'm taking a sabbatical until around August 1. Once I have dropped all my stuff off in storage in a few days, I will be traveling all over the Western U.S. My destinations will include: the Sierra Nevada, Colorado, Utah and South Dakota just to name a few (these are the ones that are for sure). I have already signed up for a stupid, stupid race: the incredibly difficult but beautiful Speedgoat 50k. (I may bring an oxygen mask for that one).

While I'm really excited about joining the SF Bay Area ultra community, I will miss the one I had here in Atlanta. To commemorate my time here as a trail runner, I put together a little video. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

My Favorite Trails in Atlanta

Before I leave town, I wanted to share with you which trails I will miss the most in Atlanta. There are many places to run in this wonderful city (as the Atlanta Trails Map project showed, more than you probably think!). But there are four that I trained on the most and that stick out from the rest.

East Palisades: This is my personal favorite for two reasons. (1) It packs in all types of running terrain (steep, flat, single track, double track, fire road, technical and smooth) into five challenging miles of trail that are exceptionally scenic to boot. Make sure to visit the overlook as well as the bamboo forest. (2) These trails are relatively obscure and used mainly by neighborhood walkers as well as anglers trying to get to remote spots of the Chattahoochee. You'll be running mainly by yourself here.
The start of the East Palisades trail.

Cochran Shoals ("The River")/Sope Creek: One of the most popular trails in the city also has lots of hidden trails that not a lot of people go on. Have you ever been to the graveyard? Or run the powerline hills? Make sure to run by the pond (near Sope Creek parking lot) at sunrise or sunset. It is remarkably beautiful.

SweetH2O State Park: You can find the most technical terrain as well as the steepest hills here. A perfect playground for all trail runners in the city!

During the SweetH2O 50k.

Kennesaw Mountain
: This is the perfect place to get your long runs in (as many people do). The trails aren't too challenging until you try to run up the two miles to the top of the mountain. You will run into lots of deer, turkeys, G.U.T.S. members and other wildlife around here.

If you're going to run any of these for the first time some time soon, make sure to let me know how you liked it!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Karl Meltzer's AT Record Attempt

Starting this August, ultra-runner Karl Meltzer is taking on America's most famous footpath: the Appalachian Trail. Spanning a cool 2174 miles from Maine all the way down here to Spring Mountain, GA, the AT might not cover 10k+ ft mountains, but anyone who has been on it knows that it's rugged, tough, and at times downright nasty.

Karl's goal will be to beat the speed record, which currently stands at a little over 47 days. That's over 46 miles/day on average. Yikes! That's very tough to run on easy terrain let alone the rugged AT.

Check out Karl's itinerary. Maybe you want to go out and support him. (I'm sure some GUTS folks will be there). Also, will be the official website of the event. There are already some very cool videos on there. Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Badges of Honor

Let's face it: I have ugly feet. Always have. And this ultra-running thing is not exactly helping. The spring season has left my feet battered, especially the steep hills at SweetH2O, which were brutal on the toes.

Now that it's summer, I like to wear my flip-flops everywhere. Well, three of my toes are especially bruised displaying all kinds of nasty colors. Black, blue, purple, white (?), brown....just nasty. It's not exactly easy on the eyes.

So, I took the plunge: I painted my those very toe nails. Now, I have ugly feet with "Times Square Tangerine Creme"-colored nails. :)