Week 17: Everything Looks Perfect From Up Here

When I landed at SFO on Monday evening, flying back from Victoria, the sunset hit the bridge and the city just so everything looked exactly perfect out the window, as if the whole thing was simply a toy model of itself. In between the clear sky and the golden shadows, it looked like every picture you’ve ever seen of the landmarks, the hills popping up in miniature.

But all I could think was maybe that’s true of anything. From this height, if you get the lighting right, anything can look like a postcard.

Continue reading “Week 17: Everything Looks Perfect From Up Here”

Happy Anniversary to Me: A Double Race Weekend

It’s been a year since I started with Hillary. A year of training hard and getting faster, almost like that’s how it’s supposed to work. Naturally, it was fitting that I marked the anniversary with a double race weekend — not this past weekend but the one before that: Pacific Grove Triathlon on Saturday, Dipsea on Sunday.

Why am I writing about two weekends ago? Because it turns out when you do two races in 24 hours, the odds of you getting super sick are pretty high.

Here is the only tip I have about doing two races back to back: don’t think about it; also do the one you really care about first. There were a total of three times I thought about it the whole weekend:

  • when I needed to spin on my bike after PacGrove instead of laying on the ground
  • when I tried to warm-up the morning of the Dipsea and was like: oooooooooh, ouch
  • during the last 15 minutes of the Dipsea, when my brain was just way too tired to navigate the stairs and singletrack at any kind of speed; the expression on my face pretty much sums up my feelings at that point:

dipsea stairs

There are no pictures from Pacific Grove, which sort of sucks, so here is a story instead.

My secret goal was to break the course record. 2:14:36. It’s five minutes faster than I’ve ever gone here, and Pacific Grove is very dependent on conditions, but I still thought I could possibly do it. I ended up missing by 10 seconds, but, well, it’s a long story.

I won it in the swim. FYI. I buried myself in that swim. First time ever actually drafting off the front woman’s feet worked. And then suddenly I was in first and there was a kayak leading me. And when I hit the water for a second lap, everything hurt. Holy shit. But I managed to hang in and came out only 5 seconds back from first — who was a collegiate swimmer! This is basically insane.

The bike wasn’t awesome. Neither was the run. But both were good enough. I actually got very down on myself after the first bike lap because I wasn’t going as fast as I wanted. Or, rather, because I was “sucking.” But then I decided I was still opening up a slight gap on the women behind me, so I couldn’t be sucking too much. I ended up biking a tiny bit faster than the fastest I’ve ever gone here (which I’ve never even been close to since that one time) and I got the Strava QOM, so that’s how you know it really counts.

I glanced at my watch as I hit the run. All I needed to do was run a 42 to get the record. Easy. No problem. And I was pretty sure I was in first. But as I started, there was a girl running with me, from my age group. Which I thought was weird, because I hadn’t seen her, and I assumed she had skipped a lap on the bike. (It happens a lot here.) But then she was running the same speed as me, so she probably isn’t new? So she probably knows what she’s doing? So then I decided I’d just have to beat her. But I couldn’t. I’d gap her and think it was done and then she’d come back on me, and then I’d catch her and pass her again. And even though, when I glanced at my watch, I objectively knew I was capable of running faster, I just could not run faster. And she pulled away from me in that last lap and I couldn’t close. So many side stitches, so many cramps, oh well, I was just going to break the record, but end up losing by 8 seconds or whatever.

Then when I turned into the finish, she turned to start another lap of the run. I waved at her and pointed. I really felt bad. I thought she had beaten me, but I’d end up technically winning because she was confused. Somewhere there is a picture of me looking chagrined as I break the tape.

(Of course, it turned she was confused because she thought it was four laps on the run and she’d only done three on the bike. It’s really three on the run and four on the bike. So yeah.)

Now, I looked at the clock when I came around that last turn and I was pretty sure between that and my watch that I had gone 2:14:2x. I was sort of surprised, then, when the official results said my time was 2:14:46 — ten seconds off the course record. After a lot of time, here’s my theory on what happened: As I crossed the finish, I started to lay down, but somewhere in my head I thought, ‘no, you need to cross the timing mats.’ I sort of stumbled across one of them and then veered sideways and sat down against the barricade. After 15-20 seconds, I stood up to go talk to the girl who I’d been running with. And it seems likely my chip didn’t actually register on one of the timing mat until that point. Which is 1. obviously annoying and why wave starts are frustrating for overall places, and 2. a good reminder to STOP DOING THAT.

Then I spinned on my bike, drove home, ate a burrito, napped, packed up my stuff for the Dipsea, and was way too wired to fall asleep.

dipsea

The Dipsea was fine. At some point, it all starts to hurt anyway. And it’s not like I was going to win. I ran as hard as I could. I actually did the best I’ve ever done — 96th — and I was really excited when I was in 78th at the top of the hill. But then there’s maybe 20 minutes of running down stairs and singletrack that isn’t so much singletrack as it is running through bushes. And my brain was just not capable of dealing at that point. That was when I finally started to feel way too tired.

So I just ran as hard as I could when I could and then it was done. Which pretty much sums everything up for the last year anyway.

The Dipsea: Just Go Hard

dipsea

This is a picture of me looking weirdly cheerful at the Dipsea yesterday. I’m pretty sure it was just after this that I ran full-speed into a thorn bush. I’ve been pulling pieces of thorn out of my hand since then.

That’s actually sort of normal for the Dipsea. The part that wasn’t normal was that I was even on the “trail” that led me into the thorn bush. Since I was going faster than I have before, I ended up sort of ahead of the pack and all of a sudden I was on some “shortcut” through a bush down a mountainside. The other thing that wasn’t normal was how good I felt. I did the best I’ve ever done (108th), but I pretty much never had a “I just want to quit and cry” moment. I mostly felt really good. When we were climbing, I just kept climbing. When anything was close to flat, I ran hard. And when it was downhill, I — well, ok, I lost a lot of time running down stairs, but still, I tried hard.

Do you remember when every race report of mine was basically: “And then I felt terrible and I wanted to quit and I threw myself a pity party, but eventually I finished.” No? Well, I remember. (See: Dipsea 2014, 2013, 2012, or probably mostly anything here.)

Something has shifted recently, in just my last few races, and I don’t know if anyone else can tell but I can. The difference is that I’ve been mostly totally in it mentally. I thought that a shift had happened back in the fall. It seemed like I was toughing it out better than usual. But, since the disaster that was the LA Marathon, in which I learned that I can push it farther than I probably should, and the Cal Poly race a week later, in which I learned that I can do things even when I really really don’t want to, since then I’ve sort of been determined just to go as hard as I can and make it work.

So, yes, the Dipsea sort of sucks and is crazy. But mostly it was fun. I ran hard. I cracked into the top 100, but then I lost those spots on the downhill stairs. I didn’t fall (badly) and my legs hurt today. When you decided to just go hard and not stress about anything else, there isn’t much to say…

Dipsea Race 2014: Race Report

Oh, hey, I'm going to finish. From Andy J.
Oh, hey, I’m going to finish. From Andy J.

 

Before the start, when everyone’s wandering around downtown Mill Valley, people kept telling me I was going to kill it. And, I was like ‘I guess, if aiming for top 100 is killing it.‘ People are misled by the fact that I look sort of fit and don’t realize it’s different than running fast. One guy gave me a high-five and said, ‘Here’s one of the favorites!’

I told Steve this and he said, ‘Favorite for what??’

Another guy saw me active stretching and doing some strides and he started going on about how I was so fit that the race probably wouldn’t even hurt. I probably wouldn’t even feel it. No, no, that’s not actually how that works at all.

This girl who’s a 33-minute 10K runner was in my start group (19-39-year-old women and some 60-year-old guys I think). A number of people in our group didn’t know what they were getting into, so they tried to go with her at the start. It was a bad idea for them. And, pretty quickly I was near the back of the group. That’s when I decided my race strategy: make the hard parts easy and the easy parts hard. It was a strategy dictated by necessity. The heat was dripping and pushing the climbs too hard would have resulted in me being the girl who passed out while running and fell into a poison oak bush. (Fortunately for me, that was not me. Unfortunately for some other girl, it did happen to her.)

This plan, however, dictated that I smash the downhills. So, after sweating up the 670 stairs and then the rest of the first climb, we started the descent to Muir Woods. And, I had to crush it. The key to running fast downhill is to 1. stop caring about the possibility of falling and 2. don’t ever let it be easy, keep pushing it. I did the flinging yourself over steps and weaving through people and destroying my quads thing and passed dozens and dozens of people down to Muir. It’s a testament of how hard I ran the downhills that the only times I wanted to throw up were when I was running downhill.

The climb up out of Muir is a blur. A hot blur of sweat in my eyes. I power-hiked when it was steeped, jogged when it wasn’t too steep, and ran when it was flat enough. I had no idea if I was making it too easy and was going to come out in 500th place (ugh) or if I was still going too hard and was going to blow up. It wasn’t until halfway to the top that I suspected I was having a really, really good race based on who I was catching from the groups that started before me and who was catching me from the groups of fast guys that started after me. Near the top of the climb I saw a fast friend, who had started in my group, up ahead. I gained on her as we crested and was running behind her as we hit the singletrack flat section before you begin the long descent.

Someone on the side said I was in 127th place. Yes! I passed another 5-10 people and was ready to run up next to my friend and say ‘let’s go, we can get this, top 100!’ I had it. That was the only time I looked at my watch. There was only 10-15 minutes left. All I had to do was smash the descent.

Ah, don't fall again! From Andy J.
Ah, don’t fall again! From Andy J.

 

And, then I wiped out. I had landed hard on my right foot at some point earlier and felt it roll slightly — but didn’t care. When I hit something (no idea what) while running hard downhill this time and smashed into the side of the trail, I didn’t care either. I jumped back up, ready to chase down the guy who had passed me when I fell. I made it a few steps and the ankle rolled and I fell to the other side of the trail. This time I stood up and couldn’t put weight on the right ankle. Shit.

I stood to the side of the trail — as best as possible on a singletrack — and tried to shake the ankle out, test it. A large group went by me and I almost immediately went into shut-down mode. No top 100. Don’t hurt yourself worse. Get to the finish. I hobbled down the trail after the group, but kept stumbling on the stupid fucked up ankle. Someone fell as they tried to pass me; someone else crashed into us; the whole thing caused a pile-up. One of the women in the group I was stumbling after was worried I was dizzy and going to be a Dipsea casualty.

Slowly, the ankle went a bit numb. The stumbling turned into a jog. Eventually, I was able to kind of run the parts on the road or the smooth trails, where I didn’t need my ankle to be too stable. But, there were a lot of parts down stairs and down rutted singletrack and straight through brush. I couldn’t get out of people’s way fast enough as they passed me. I tried to not care. I wasn’t going to be top 100. This wasn’t going to be my best Dipsea ever. So, why did I care if I was 130th or 150th or 170th. But, not caring is hard when you’ve been working so hard to care. When we came out on the final quarter-mile stretch on the road to the finish, I ran as hard as I could and I still couldn’t catch the old people in front of me.

I ended up 153rd — which is more or less what I was last year — after running a 1:10:30 (subtract from that my 8 minute head start for being a woman). The heat was brutal and everyone was slow. Last year, I was 150-something and ran 1:08. Yesterday, 99th place was almost exactly 3 minutes faster than me. Was I on pace to run 3 minutes faster before wiping out? Maybe. I’ll think about that as I continue to ice my ankle — which is mostly walkable today. I’ll probably think about it especially as I plot eventually training seriously and exclusively for this race. Someday!!

After the Technu shower with a water bottle. From Brian.
After the Technu shower with a water bottle. From Brian.

 

Running the Dipsea

Yesterday was my birthday. People keep asking what I’m doing. Running the Dipsea on Sunday!

This is an actual video of what it’s like to run if you want to see the whole course. Funny story: like 4 years ago I wanted to wear a GoPro and do this, but was discouraged from it because it’d ‘be dangerous.’

Reasons I Was Pretty Sure I Was Going to Suck at the Dipsea

There were a lot of reasons I thought the Dipsea was going to go poorly.

  • I didn’t sleep more than an hour or two overnight because I got a sore throat and came down with a cold. I got up with a sore throat in the morning.
  • I didn’t sleep much the whole week before because of work and people visiting, etc.
  • We had a big birthday party for me on Friday night that was, let’s just say, not optimal for race performance.
  • That was preceded by lots of crazy eating and cheese tasting.
  • I trained three hours last week.
  • I trained like seven or so hours each of the weeks before that with very little running.
  • Oh, and also, I didn’t run at all for a few weeks after Boston. Because I was hurt and bummed out.
  • I’ve still been sort of hurt and bummed out.

I’m not saying this to make excuses or to prove that since I still did well I’m super awesome. I’m not. Super awesome would have been actually training really hard and getting top 100. A guy I know last year told me he sprinted to just take the last “black shirt” spot (35th) and then passed out. That’s awesome.

My point here is that for all the shit we worry about, all the recovery concerns and nutrition and sleep, it’s still just about bringing it on race day.

On a related note, Runner’s World made this video of the Dipsea Trail a couple years ago. I think it doesn’t really do it justice, because you can’t see how much it just keeps going up and up and up and down, down, down. For some reason, they opted to emphasize the scenic aspects instead of the crazy aspects. I’m guessing because that’s easier to film. Also, just imagine the whole video as being filled with a solid line of people.

Dipsea 2013: Race Report

The Dipsea is a crazy race. It’s handicapped by age and gender, run on not-really-trails and shortcuts and trails and stairs and down the middle of the highway, and is (in theory) an any-route-counts race. It’s the oldest trail race in the country and they still operate via mail-in paper form registration. It’s also a stupid amount of climbing and crazy steep descending. Here’s my report from last year and from my first year, 2011.

elevation

My goals this year were outside chance at top 100, re-qualify (top 450), and try to run faster than my shitty race last year. It was rainy and foggy this morning running from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach, so that was better than the hot hot it’s been the last few days, but it also meant it was slippery and muddy and dangerous. I started with the last women’s group — 17′ behind the first group of very old and very young and 8′ ahead of the fastest guys — and as we headed up the 600-whatever number of stairs, the girl who ran the fastest time last year was right ahead of me walking up the stairs. So, I decided walking was good enough for me too.

At the top of the first climb, I knew I needed to push as hard as I could on the downhills, since it takes less fitness to run downhill hard, so I flung myself. But, when we got to the intersection that says “Suicide” one way and “Safer” the other, I took Safer. I lost maybe 10-15″, though it was hard to tell going back and forth with people, but I didn’t freak myself out or die, so that was a plus.

Pounding across the log bridge in Muir Woods, Steve was there cheering. And, then, I climbed and climbed and climbed. Walk, shuffle, jog, walk. There’s lots of shortcuts in the race, but I don’t know any of them, so I just follow the people ahead of me. We got to a point near the top of the climb out of Muir Woods where the fire trail separates from the single-track. The fastest guys passed me then and took the fire trail. OK, good enough for me!

On the fire trail, a girl ahead of me stopped to check on a guy walking and holding his head. When I passed him, it was someone I know from Tamalpa and he was bleeding so very much.But, he was also talking and walking. He told me to just tell officials that he was back here. When we finally got close to the top and passed the medical patrol, I thought the girl in front of me would tell them, but either they didn’t hear her or she didn’t. So, I yelled: “George is back there. He hit his head and is bleeding a lot. He’s on the fire trail. He’s waiting for you.”

They sprang into action. I crested the hill and kept running. The next section is my favorite part: the long false flat trail on the side of the hills above the ocean. I started pushing again. Passed some people, got passed by others. Re-passed someone I had already passed who somehow ended up ahead of me again.

When we hit the long, steep downhill it got insane. The section isn’t even really a trail. You’re going straight through a bush, where the trail is only a trail because people have trod on it before. Trees, grasses, bushes are hitting you on both sides. There’s nowhere to go, so you’re more or less stuck behind whoever is in front of you. That works fine usually — I tend to run the same speed as whoever is in front of me anyway — but I got stuck in a huge group there. We were basically jogging, even walking down some of the stairs, because there was no way to get around. The faster men catching us at that point were getting angry and aggressive. They started yelling “Come on, go faster.” So, I started yelling back at them. Then, one guy pushed ahead of me and then just got stuck right in front of me, because I WASN’T THE ONE HOLDING THINGS UP — which I let him know. Loudly.

Then, there were parts where it opened up again and you could get past people and fling yourself down some more stairs, but in the mud and rain I basically just started slipping and sliding. At one point, someone stopped suddenly, so I had to pull up and run into a tree and the guy behind me ran into me. The hold-up seemed to be that there was a 7-year-old girl trying to get down the stairs safely, but people were still pushing. So, I started letting them know my thoughts: “Look, you’re not going to get a black shirt [aside: top 35 across the finish, no matter the handicap, get black shirts; it’s a big deal]. We’re in 140th. Chill out.”

I also chatted with another girl along this point. ‘Hey, how’s it going? Kinda crazy.’ ‘Yeah, I have your prize from the Human Race. Email me.’ ‘Sure, cool, I’ll get it from you later.’

Then, we finally got on the road again. I put my head down and pounded as hard as I could the last 600-800m. Ended up 147th and ran the whole thing in 1:08:30, which is almost exactly what I ran it in two years ago — when I was training significantly more. I think we’ll call that a victory.

After the finish, Steve pointed out that I had blood on my arm. I looked down and wiped it off and told him: “I don’t think it’s mine.”

And, that pretty much sums up the Dipsea.

Winner of the Spartan Race Giveaway

Jennifer, according to the random number generator: you’re the winner of the free entry to a Spartan Race. Email me. (In a coincidence of the random number generator, her story about her crazy race experience was pretty good too! Go read it in the comments.)

But, if you didn’t win, don’t forget to use the 15% off code for any Spartan Race.

Tomorrow’s the Dipsea Race, so busy getting ready for that — by which I mean I’m about to go to the movies and currently am laying on the couch watching Pineapple Express. In classic fashion, I am well-prepared after my birthday celebration last night, which turned quite epic. It is also a million degrees (or 100) today and my 20′ shakeout run was disgusting. Really hoping that comes down or the med tent is going to be the place to be tomorrow.