Friday, July 28, 2006

Back to the trails

Last night Andrea and I hit Kincaid and did some running for the first time since Crow Pass. After a 1.5 hour mountain bike the previous night, my legs were sapped! I didn't realize how much that race had taken out of me but now I think my body is ready for a little more rest. We ran the Ridge Trail, which is a winding, technical, and fairly hilly trail - definitely not a first post-Crow Pass trail. Oh well, live and learn.

But more importantly, with all this running maddness out of the way, now is the time to mountain bike!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The value of experience

This year’s race was better for me for so many reasons. Chiefly, it was great to run the race with Andrea and experience it with her. It was great to feel as good as I did through the whole race - all the way until the end my body felt like it was well trained and fast. (This was a sharp contrast to the torture of 2001.) Having run this race before helped so much in knowing what to expect during the race, and what to focus on in training.

A fast start
The last time I ran this race in 2001, I started way too fast. Call it early race excitement but I think I paid for my fast time up the pass with a total crash later in the race (more on that later). This year, Andrea and I did a practice run up the pass and I was pretty happy with our steady pace. But when the gun went off on Saturday, whew, Andrea blew out of the gates fast. (I think she already had the best-amateur title in mind!) At least it was fast for me - I was working to keep up with her. At one point I thought I would ask her to slow down but the run up takes so much concentration I didn’t want to break hers and I just concentrated on keeping my own pace steady. I ran within my limits.

About half-way up the pass, as most people’s running turned to power hiking, I passed Andrea and set the pace the rest of the way, getting to the check-point about a minute in front of her. I felt better and was relieved I didn’t put myself into too much of a deficit too early in the race. As people have pointed out, you can’t win the race on the climb up the pass, but it’s a great place to lose it.

Cruising the middle miles
We kept a solid pace on the decent. I waited for Andrea a few times on some of the more technical scree sections (and snow). It was illuminating to take a step, literally, out of the race and just watch people go by. It put things in perspective and helped my get in better touch with how my body was feeling.

The section between the top of the pass and the river is one of the most beautiful and challenging of the whole course. It's a relief to have reached the top within the time limit (and in one piece) and you are so elated at the expanse of downhill in front of you, you just want to start eating up the miles. And we did just that, keeping a swift pace through the deep brush, and passing a few small groups along the way. The views of the Raven and Eagle Glacier

It was important to eat in this section. As Chester said, the calories consumed in the second hour would pay off "compound interest" later in the race. I was trying to keep to my schedule of 300 calories an hour but I kept losing track of how much I had eaten. (I solved this problem by erring on the side of eating too much.) Andrea's stomach cramp prevented her from eating at this point, which may have hurt her later on.

I had hoped to reach the river (the half-way mark) around 2 hours - putting us on pace for a 4 hour finish. We reached it at about 2:15 - I wasn’t too worried though, the second half of the race was flat and we could still finish it in 2 hours. But when we reached the other side of the river, I could see Andrea was losing it. I knew exactly what she was feeling as I had been there myself in 2001. For some reason, the river crossing can be so demoralizing. I don’t know if it’s the cold, the wetness, or just the realization that the big downhill is over and you still have 13 rolling miles to run. But I cracked big at the river in 2001 - watching my friends slowly run into the distance as I let at 20 minute gap open up.

Andrea told me to just go, not to worry about her. I knew this wouldn’t work though, she was feeling sorry for herself and needed some tough love! It took about 3 miles of hectoring and pushing to finally get her pace up, but passing a large group in a particularly technical section renewed her spirits and got her up to pace. Every once in awhile she would mention some kind of pain and my standard response was keep running:

"I have a stomach cramp," "Well, let’s just keep running and see how it feels;" "Ouch, leg cramp! How do I get rid of it?," The best thing is to keep running;" "Did you see I fell?," "Yeah, I saw the blood," "No, I fell AGAIN, on BOTH KNEES," "Keep running."

So not exactly compassionate but it got the job done and she finished great.

The finish
With about 1.5 miles to go, Andrea and I caught up with Chester (he had ran ahead somewhere around 3 miles to go). We ran together for a bit then split up for the finish. I had quite a bit left in the tank at the end and I tried to make it to the line in under 4:30 (I came close at 4:30:14). I finished really strong and passed 4 people in the last mile. That really feels good at the end of a race this long. This was a great learning experience. I learned how important it is to run a race like this multiple times to get a "feel" for the course before getting too upset about a bad finishing time. I beat my previous time by 26 minutes and felt really good at the end (as opposed to last time when I walked into the finish). Next year maybe we will finish closer to 4 flat? Who knows, but at least we will know what we are in for.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Crow Pass Victory!

We did it! Yesterday we successfully completed the 2006 Crow Pass Crossing! Here's my (Andrea's) account:

The start: the weather was perfect for a race of this length -- cloudy and cool, but no rain. I was a lot less nervous at the start than I had anticipated. I had a great start -- with a combination of running and power-hiking, I made it to the checkpoint (4 miles) at the top of the pass in 46 minutes -- well, within the 1 hour cut-off. Chester and Aaron got there about a minute ahead of me.

The middle miles: Aaron waited for me at the top of the pass and then we cruised on the steep downhill section. I slid on my butt down a long snow field at one point, not anticipating the snow and dirt that got lodged in my butt (yes, very cold)! The view of the valley was absolutely spectacular: the clouds were high, so I could see the surrounding peaks and the river below. But no time to check out the view: lots of rocks to avoid and jump over. We caught up with Chester on the downhill and then kept up a good pace through a long, rolling, heavily vegetated stretch. Cow parsnip, devils club, nettles, but lots of wildflowers, too. This part of the trail was tough: often the vegetation was so overgrown, it was difficult to see the trail (and the rocks and roots on the trail).

About 9 or 10 miles in, things started going downhill for me. I realized that I couldn't keep up the pace we had been maintaining. I develped a stomach cramp, and needed to slow down. By the time we hit the river (about 13-14 miles in), I was severely demoralized. I had a sharp pain in my side, which was only accentuated by the pounding on the downhills. Chester and Aaron and I linked hands and headed across the river together -- thank God for both of them -- I thought to myself on the way across that if I had been by myself, I wouldn't have been strong enough to make it across. The water was above our knees -- not too deep -- but cold and rushing and splashing to my waist. The bottoms of my feet stung as I got out and started running again. Emotionally, I was crushed. I was running slower and slower; I was giving up.

As Aaron and I started up the trail, he realized what was going on with me. It was time for his pep-talk. He gave me a hard time - told me that I needed to suck it up, deal, and start pushing harder. That I was a stronger runner than the folks who were passing us. That kind of tough love might not work for other people, but it sure works for me (thank you, my love!). From then on I kept telling myself that this is what we trained for -- that I needed to just keep pushing.

The next 5 or so miles were better. My stomach cramp subsided, although I developed a leg cramp in my left inner-thigh. I have never had a leg cramp before and twice I had to stop, my leg paralyzed by the cramp. (I screamed at one point in pain; maybe all the exertion made me a little dramatic?) Aaron told me to keep running, which actually did help. We passed a big group of folks while traversing by the river -- that felt good and got my spirits up. From there, it was just managing the roots and rocks. The trail is pretty flat until the last hill, but techincal. I fell quite a few times, but kept getting back up and pushing on.

A strong finish: For a few miles, Aaron and I hadn't seen Chester. But we caught up with him on the final hill (about 2 miles out). I was feeling good at this point, and we were able to keep up a strong pace through the final rocky section. Aaron caught Chester and took off - he had a great strong finish. I dragged myself up that final hill and reached the finish line in 4:32 (and some seconds), just a minute behind Chester. My time won me two awards I was not anticipating: top finisher in the female 20-29 category, and Female Rookie of the Year!

Reflections: This was a really challenging race, both physically and emotionally. I am really proud of myself for pulling out of my demoralized state and finishing strong. Thanks to Aaron for helping me do that. Thanks to my running partners -- Aaron and Chester -- for all the training and encouragement before and during the race. It's great to know I finished this race with a great time. Even more fulfilling knowing that we did it as a team.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The countdown

I admit the posts on this blog have gotten a little too Crow Pass intensive the last few days but it is the only thing on my mind (I mean, besides the TDF). But with two days to go, we have officially stopped running for the final taper - the cherry on the 15 week sundae of run/rest/run that will hopefully culminate in a good race day (and time).

So I'm anxious. I am thinking about water, I am thinking about what I am going to eat and when (currently - 0.6 L of Perpetuem an hour before the race, 1 shot of caffeinated Hammer Gel just after the pass - I don't want anything even remotely solid in my stomach for the climb, then non-caf Hammer Gels and Clif Shotbloks every half-hour or so), and how I am going to feel.

We did our last training run yesterday at Kincaid and it didn't feel as great as I had hoped. My right hip has been sore lately and it flared up a bit during the run. I also felt slightly drained but I think it has more to do with being absolutely sick of running at Kincaid than with how my body feels about running. The mid-week training runs for the last couple of weeks have alternated between Kincaid (dirt) and the Coastal Trail (pavement) to induce a training ennui that I hope a spirited race will erase.

The race start should be interesting to get the juices flowing - the official start time is 7 am on Saturday morning with a mandatory pre-race meeting at 6 am. The trailhead is a little over an hour from our house so we will probably leave sometime between 4:30 and 4:45 (yes AM). Meaning we have to get up around 4! So bad? Not per se. After all, it is the night BEFORE the night before the race when sleep is the most important (that's tonight - I am sleeping in tomorrow) so even if I sleep only 4-5 hours on Friday night, it should be fine. And I work best in the morning.

So some pre-race visualization, lots of carbo loading (including beer), and last minute stretching and we are off! (And I need to remember to set the alarm!)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Panic averted?

Ok, so it turns out there is only one route up the pass in the race - the way we didn't go. It's steeper but shorter so hopefully our time will still be around 48 minutes - leaving us a good buffer just in case things don't work out according to plan in those first 4 miles. At least we won't have to be too concerned at the start about which route we are taking - that is already decided.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Four miles an hour

Last Saturday, Andrea and I ran up to the top of Crow Pass - the first four miles of the 26 mile race that is quickly approaching. The race rules require you to reach the top of Crow Pass within an hour - the top being a mile past the forest service cabin, an often cloudy point at the apex of the pass with stunning views of the Raven Glacier on a clear day. Runners who don't make it to the check point within an hour are told they can continue the race but they will no longer be racing - they will be disqualified. We were there to test our legs and see how long it would take us to get to the top in a non-race setting.

We made it to the top in 48 minutes, leaving us a comfortable 12 minute window for mistakes, slower pace, or whatever the 7 am start time may serve up on race day. But we took the seemingly longer more gradual route to the top, rather than the steeper more direct climb. This makes me wonder if perhaps we should have tested ourselves on the steeper climb? Perhaps it is faster? Is 12 minutes enough of a buffer? These are the thoughts that fill my head now as my body starts to spaz out from too much built up energy - the progressing taper is putting my well worn muscles in a state of panic (why are we not running more? they seem to scream out).

In reality, I think it is probably irrelevant which route we take, we will make in under an hour. (anti-jinx, anti-jinx) But the multiple-possible-route scenario is another example of why this race is unlike so many others.

Friday, July 07, 2006

More pictures from Katchemak Bay

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Independence Weekend in Kachemak Bay

We spent a sunny and warm 4th of July weekend with our friends Liza and Debbie in Kachemak Bay State Park. We accessed the park from Homer -- took a water taxi from Homer to the "Saddle Trail" trailhead, just south of Glacier Spit. From there it was an easy hike in (about 1.5 miles) to Grewingk Glacier Lake. Great camping all along the lake with stunning views of the Grewingk Glacier. We could hear the glacier calving, and there were plenty of little iceburgs for Emerson to float on.

On Sunday we hiked to the glacier via a rather circuitous and long (roughly 15 miles RT) route. To cross the Grewingk river, we used the hand tram, which is a very cool contraption, just tough on the arm muscles. Most of the trail was below treeline, but the payoff was awesome -- Debbie and I ventured down and touched the glacier, saw the water rushing through the ice itself, carving it into little cubes, and saw little pools of water forming below the glacier. On the way back, we took a rather adventurous route (we naively thought we could cross the river w/o the help of the hand tram) and ended up bushwacking about a mile through solid bear habitat. Singing every campy, folksy song we could think of, we safely made it back to the trail and to camp.

The taper begins

Long distance athletes, whether cyclists, runners, swimmers, or triathletes, all share a special moment in their training when the rigors of mind-numbing distances, loose joints, sore muscles, and aching bodies have taken their toll and the athlete is ready to quit the training full stop. The taper. The theory behind the taper is simple - after pummeling your body with long runs and vigorous interval sessions for weeks on end, you slow your training significantly and let your body heal and rebuild such that, if you time it right, on the day of your event, you will be at the zenith of a recovery from ten to twelve weeks of physical hardship, the strongest your body can be.

Andrea and I did our final long run yesterday in preparation for Crow Pass and now our three week taper begins. We ran along the Anchorage hillside, linking together some classic trail runs (Homestead Hill, the Middle Fork, Williwaw Lake, Spencer Loop) for a 20-plus mile, 4:20 run. At the end, we felt better than we did at the end of some of the two hour runs we did earlier in the season - we know our bodies are getting better.

And now the relaxation starts. Granted, next weekend's combined running total is almost 20 miles but that's over two days and just feels easier than this weekend's long haul. Come race day, all things will go to parity and we will see where we stand at the end of all these training miles.