An Inauspicious Beginning

Yesterday was the official start of Ironman training. Already, it is not going well.

Instead of riding my road bike, I decided it’d be more fun to mountain bike, because road biking is boring (which is not an encouraging attitude for the start of IM training). Mountain biking was more fun, right until I fell down some rocks.

The fall was actually really pathetic. It was somewhere between these two crashes:

I was on a fairly easy section of single-track and shifted gear as I started uphill, but the gears didn’t catch. Instead, my chain started jumping and I abruptly was spinning out. That meant I lost momentum all of a sudden and began to tip over. This really wouldn’t have been a problem, since mountain biking basically is a synonym for falling and I should have just gotten a little dirty. But, when this happened, I somehow managed to be biking right over a pile of rocks off the side of the hill. So, when I tipped over, I fell directly on top and then down these boulders. My bike went over my head, simply from the steepness of the drop-off. It landed at the bottom of the rocks and I landed upside down on top of them.

When I sat up and tried to gather myself, I also managed to sit directly on a thorn bush. That meant I also had little thorns stuck in my ass, which had to be picked out. Good times.

I was surprisingly fine. Just cut up on my back and my head hurt a little. But, for the first time in possibly ever, I crashed my bike hard and DID NOT pass out. That’s got to be some kind of improvement.

When I was sitting in this thorn bush and trying to gather myself to make sure I didn’t pass out — since I usually pass out after shit goes down — I decided I needed to tell someone I had crashed, since I was out in the middle of nowhere and there was no one around. So, I texted Steve, “I fell down some rocks.” Which was some of the key information, but it really wasn’t all of the key information.

Eventually, I made it home. And, I went to a weird Feldenkrais class and then to dinner at The Counter. The only problem with dinner was we sat at the bar next to this middle-aged guy who really was not picking up on the fact that I didn’t want to talk to him about his opinions on football, traffic, politics, current events, what I had ordered, what he does for a living, what I do for a living, the waiters, the food, the TV. It was basically my nightmare.

Then, I got sick. I had a sore throat by the time I went to bed last night and could barely swallow overnight, waking up every 30. And, now, my start to Ironman training is me sitting on the couch in sweats.

Apparently, today is also the year anniversary of Sunny Running. I started the blog on Dec. 24, 2012 with this story about trying to run in the Headlands in a goddamn hurricane. At least this year, I didn’t start Christmas Eve clinging to the side of a rock face. Take the victories where you can get them.

Visiting Kauai: Hiking, Biking, and Vacation-ing

OK, we’re back. Our flight landed at 6:30 a.m. this morning next to what’s left of the crashed plane that’s still on the SFO runway. Yes, it turns out a red-eye flight going from West to East does mean I slept for three hours in a plane seat — I didn’t quite do that math well before we took off.

The Super Big Vacation Week of Weddings started last Friday with a six-hour drive to Tahoe that was mostly us sitting in a non-moving car outside Vacaville for a few hours. Then, I got crazy sunburned, which led to dehydration right before Wedding #1 — a dangerous condition going into festivities. We got home from Tahoe at 4:30 p.m. Sunday and left at 11 a.m. Monday morning for Hawaii for Wedding #2.

I really just wanted to swim, finish my 1,000-page book, and see a waterfall. Kauai, though, is too active for that. Well, except the waterfall.

We hiked for five hours to a crazy hidden waterfall, which is pretty much five hours more than I’ve ever hiked, since the only thing I can tell that separates hiking from walking is how much supplies you bring with you. It was pretty. It was also evident that I am not so good at “hiking” when people barefoot and wearing only bikinis passed us. (I wore actual shorts and tanktop over my swimsuit on the trail.)

Yes, we swam in the waterfall pool.
Yes, we swam in the waterfall pool.
Rainbows, and rainforest, and stuff.
Rainbows, and rainforest, and stuff.

It was also hot and muddy. You’d think that if something was hot and sunny, it wouldn’t also be wet and muddy. Hah. You’ve never been to Kauai. The night before our hike we were at Pre-Wedding Dinner #3 or something and every adult there was planning on hiking this trail or had hiked it or regularly hiked it the multiple times a year they summered on the island. This led me to think it couldn’t be that challenging, since there were some, um, elderly individuals in the crowd. Clearly, it would be easy. Hah. You’ve never been to Kauai.

Almost back to the beach we started at.
Almost back to the beach we started at.

For some reason, this made me decide I needed a bigger adventure. Perhaps it was the rush I felt having succeeded at walking — I mean hiking. On 4th of July I got it into my head to rent a mountain bike and bike across the Powerline Trail, which runs from the middle of the island-ish (you can’t really get to the actual middle without a machete and/or a Jeep Wrangler or donkey) back to where we were staying. Rachel had suggested running it, but I’m trying to rest my foot since it’s been hurting again ANNOYINGLY.

A Google search will tell you that people are mixed on whether it is a super awesome hike/bike trail OR it is completely impassable and terrible. These are very different opinions, but again I figured it had to be somewhat do-able, probably the people who couldn’t do it just weren’t in shape enough.

Hah. You’ve never been to Kauai.

It was impassable.

This was quite a bit cleaner, after I'd gone through a stream a few tiems.
This was quite a bit cleaner, after I’d gone through a stream a few times.

A guy at the start of the trail told me he’d just come from the other way and I shouldn’t do it. I didn’t believe him. I started out. It was a few inches deep in slippery mud the whole way — the kind where you can’t get traction. The mud built up on the wheels, so the wheels were covered in a couple inches, and it built up in giant clumps where the wheels spun through the frame, making them stop spinning, so that you were just kind of dragging the bike along. Most of the trail was also rutted with giant holes and puddles. The ride went like this: slip, slide, bike really hard to make it about 50m, skid out, stop and pull giant clumps of mud out of the derailleur and cranks and wheel until it’ll spin again, push the bike out of whatever puddle/mudpit I had gotten mired in, pull the mud that has now built up during pushing it, get out, ride about 50m sliding all over the place.

About six or seven minutes in, I was trying to ride through a narrow patch of slippery mud, but it had eroded and the only patch of actual trail was giving way into this big puddle. I couldn’t maintain traction and slid down the slope, falling into this thick, deep puddle of mud and water that smelled like wild boar shit. I tried to put my foot down to push myself up, but it just sunk. There was no bottom to the boar shit puddle.

And, for some reason, I went on. I thought, well, that guy made it the whole way. After 30′, I stopped to check how far I’d gotten on my phone’s GPS. I figured if I had made it a couple miles, then I’d be able to do the whole 13-mile trail; it would just take awhile. I had made it just less than a mile in half-an-hour.

I turned around and took another half-an-hour to get back to the start.

By Friday, I had 65 mosquito bites and one crazy bite that spread in a giant rash across my side. I stopped sleeping because of the bites. I also spent over three hours trying to drive across the island in the heat. This was not very pleasant when everything itches and my spastic fit in my car as I sat in traffic might have freaked out some people. There was some discussion about whether or not there are ticks with Lyme disease in Kauai, since it looked sort of like a tick bite. It is still unclear. But, since I haven’t had exhaustion, joint aches, or a fever (more than would be expected given the situation), I don’t think I have Lyme disease?

After all that, it was time for the vacation part of vacation. We went to the wedding. We went to the beach. We walked to these kind of crazy tidal pools near our condo.

That's Steve way over there.
That’s Steve way over there.

We did another “hike,” since I’m basically a professional now. On that hike, we visited a swamp and a canyon.

It turns out it's hard to define a swamp. But, you know it when you see it.
It turns out it’s hard to define a swamp. But, you know it when you see it.
My anti-mosquito outfit.
My anti-mosquito outfit.
Ooh. Aah.
Ooh. Aah.

We went to some more beaches. I’m on page 720 in my book. I did no working out — but also not as much eating as I had intended, so I don’t know if that counts as going full-on in my break. Now, it’s back to work tomorrow (I mean, really, sort of today). And, then, back to being a serious athlete. Maybe.

OH, and I almost forget — so there’s no good transition, I can see why transitions are hard for Whoopi on The View — my favorite thing I learned from Hawaii. If you don’t know how to swim, don’t use the rescue device, just don’t go in the water:

Pearls of wisdom at Polihale.
Pearls of wisdom at Polihale.

What To Do If You Run Into a Bear

For the (maybe) last in our series on what to do if you run into wild animals, we’re tackling bears. Though don’t actually tackle bears, because my understanding is that would go badly.

You can also read what to do if you run into a rattlesnake or a mountain lion.

The thing about bears is it’s important to know your bears. There are three main types of bears in the U.S., except that you’re not going to run into that many polar bears around here, so really there are two main types of bears: black bears and brown bears (also known as grizzlies — technically brown bears and grizzlies are two different types of bear, but even bear experts have trouble telling brown bears and grizzlies apart, so for our purposes we’ll classify them together).

Brown bears are not just lighter than black bears. They tend to also be bigger and meaner. Here is a graphic to demonstrate the difference:

Bear v. bear.
Bear v. bear.

Here is an actual picture of a grizzly/brown bear:


Though, I’m pretty sure this one is way cuter:


And, here is a picture of a black bear:


And, this is a black bear who is tired of this shit:


The thing is if you accidentally run into a black bear, you’re probably ok. If you accidentally run into a brown bear, well that probably sucks for you.

1. First, avoid running into bears. Bears are pretty used to people at this point and don’t like us unless we have food. I get that. That’s why you’re supposed to lock up food and not leave garbage out. Bears are smart. One pushed open a window on Steve’s dad’s truck, sliced the screen, and grabbed a cooler.

2. If you do run into a bear, don’t surprise the bear. If you see it, but it hasn’t seen you (because it’s far away), just back away slowly — which is pretty much always the case with wild animals. If it sees you, but is still pretty far away, let it know you’re a human. This apparently involves things like saying, “I’m a human.” Actually, you can say whatever you want, but talking in a low voice and waving your arms let’s it know that you’re a human — and potentially have a gun. Chances are if it’s a black bear, it’ll want to avoid you as much as you avoid it. Back away.

3. Running downhill is a stupid idea. Running in general is sort of not brilliant.

4. If the whole letting it know you’re a human thing doesn’t work and it actually does start to charge you, then it’s time to use all that bear knowledge we just discussed. An exploratory charge may just be feeling you out, to see what you are and scare you off. Get scared off. If it’s hunting you, prowling, then that’s bad.

5. Do different things for different types of attacks. If the attack is a predatory attack — fancy science-y words for it wants to eat you — then you need to fight it off. Playing dead doesn’t work if the bear’s goal is to make you dead. Predatory attacks are most common from black bears, who are hungry or sick or desperate. But, you should fight off any bear that is hunting you and attacks you to eat you, so make sure to ask the bear about its motivations. If the attack is defensive, meaning it feels like you’re on its territory or threatening it or its cubs, then you should play dead. Convince it you don’t need to be defended against. This is more common from grizzly/brown bears, presumably because black bears are sort of cowards and don’t want to defend shit. Laying flat on your stomach to play dead is out. What’s in is playing dead by curling up on your side in the fetal position, using a hand to protect your neck, and not moving.

Caveat: I’ve never had to do it, but I would imagine pretending to be dead while a bear paws you up is quite challenging.

6. Only climb a tree if you’re a super good tree climber. Actually, you should probably start practicing right now. Black bears are very good at climbing trees. Brown bears slightly less so, but still. Really you’re climbing into the tree to convince it you are 1. no longer a threat and 2. not worth eating.

7. Don’t feed the bears. Seriously. While bear attacks are incredibly low (like less than snakes), they have been getting more common in recent years, mostly because now when people say, “I’m a human,” the bear thinks, “Awesome.”

Have you ever been attacked by a bear? Seen a bear in the woods?

What To Do If You ‘Run’ Into a Mountain Lion

This is a specifically requested follow-up to ‘What To Do If You ‘Run’ Into a Rattlesnake.’

Mountain lions are also quite common around here. People are always seeing them wandering down from the hills — even all the way into the Gourmet Ghetto in Berkeley. Steve swears he saw one at the top of Fairfax-Bolinas Road, by the golf course. He also says he wasn’t worried about it because the lion was eating a deer, so something in that story doesn’t sound totally right.

Whenever anyone says they saw a mountain lion, the police always assume it was really a bobcat (which are, evidently, less dangerous), because they’re easy to confuse. You’re supposed to look at the tail to tell the difference. So, if a large cat is running at you, remember to have it turn around.


On the prowl. With a shorter tail.
On the prowl. With a shorter tail. From Tory Kallman

Mountain Lion:

With a long tail.
With a long tail.

With a rattlesnake, the main things you need to know are about what to do after you’re bitten while running on trails. With a mountain lion, the main things you need to know are about not getting bitten. Once you’ve been attacked, there’s really only one thing to do: call 9-1-1.

1. Not that many people get killed by mountain lions — just 20 in the last 100 years. So, you know, not a huge problem. Mostly, it’s small children that get attacked, suggesting that the best way to not be attacked is to not be small. In recent years, more adults running, hiking, biking, skiing in lion territory have been attacked, suggesting that the second best way to not be attacked is not to wander into their territory.

2. Avoid mountain lions in the first place. Which sounds stupid, but, well, apparently needs to be said. If you’re on a trail in the hills where there is nature and shit, you really shouldn’t be wearing headphones. Mountain lions are more active at dusk and dawn. They also like to go after small things — children, dogs, people by themselves. Don’t run on trails at night. Run in groups at those times — large cats are less likely to attack herds. Stick to trails, especially frequently used trails, instead of wandering into undergrowth. If I do end up stuck on a trail at night (thank YOU Steve and Justin), then it’s always helpful to yell or talk loudly while you go, so as not to surprise any animals out. This led to one instance where I was running full speed, sprinting to get back to my car as dusk fell, and yelling at the top of my lungs, “DON’T EAT ME,” the entire time.

3. If you happen upon a mountain lion, back away. Be large. As is always the advice with these kinds of things: stay calm.  You’re supposed to essentially convince it that you’re the scariest thing out there, which means raise your arms, talk loudly but calmly, pick up any kids or dogs with you so they don’t run. If it starts to behave aggressively, you should throw things and yell –while backing away. But, don’t bend over or crouch to pick up things to throw, because then you’ll look small and it’ll attack. (How you’re supposed to throw things without picking them up is a mystery to me. Presumably, you carry rocks for just such an occasion.)

4. Don’t run, but don’t stand. Traditional logic has always said that if you turn and start to run, then the lion will instinctively chase, which has caused me to be afraid that a lion in the brush will mistake me running on the trail for me running away and try to chase me. New research is suggesting that ‘Don’t Run’ may not be the best advice. If you can run quickly on relatively even ground, you have a decent chase of escaping, but if it catches you then you’re more likely to be killed. If you run on uneven ground, it may mistake you for limping or being weak, which encourages it to attack. If you turn your back, it may go for your spinal cord. But, if you stand totally still, you are almost definitely going to be attacked. Make sense? Good.

5. Fight back. Again, this also sounds stupid, but some animals, supposedly, are less likely to kill you if you play dead. That is NOT the case with mountain lions. You need to convince it that you are too much trouble to eat. If a lion attacks you, hit it. People have been successful in getting away after hitting it with sticks, rocks, gardening tools, etc. This is partially why many people carry a walking stick.

Really, when I think too hard about all the things that can attack me, I start to lose my shit. I generally just take comfort in the fact that if I get attacked by a mountain lion, I will be the first in Marin County and it will definitely be big news.

How Long Should You Take Off After a Race?

My plan after Boston was that I was going to so thoroughly cripple myself by finishing, and I had so thoroughly crippled my will to workout through hours of water running and Alter-Ging, that I would do nothing but lay on the couch for at least two weeks. I had/have no plans for the rest of the year and a good rule of thumb is to not make any in the immediate aftermath of a race (even if you don’t finish said race).

That’s more or less worked.

I had no desire to do anything while we were still in Boston. Once I got back, I managed a 30′ swim on Friday and went to a Crossfit class on Saturday (which yes, I do think is stupid, but also sort of funny) and then yesterday I had plans to go for a longer run. But, newsflash: I still don’t know what to do about my foot. It hurts but it doesn’t hurt. I may need to take time off or I may need to get surgery to shave down a bone spur. I don’t know. I would venture to guess that the doctors don’t either.

So, instead, after watching like three hours of Gilmore Girls and putting away all the clean dishes and laundry, I went for a mountain bike ride. That turned out to be a terrible idea. Because it turned out to be crazy hot yesterday and it turned out I was pretty tired still and it turned out my mind was in a lot of other places and it turned out my new contacts were going all blurry in my eyes and it may have turned out I got back on the horse too quickly, so to speak. And, when all that comes together, you know what you really shouldn’t do? SOMETHING THAT REQUIRES TECHNICAL SKILL AND FOCUS.

After the fifth time running straight into something that I really shouldn’t have run into — like a post on the side of a footbridge — I realized I needed to get off the trail. I was totally a hazard to myself and others.

I’m a big believer in taking serious time off after burning all your matches and not making plans or getting back into training until you really want to again, until you’re so antsy that you can’t not. At the end of 2011, that took like three or four months for me and then it was a whole lower level of “training” I came back to. If you have a full season of races and are a super-serious athlete, obviously that usually just means a couple days off after the big ones and active recovery and staying focused on the long-term. But, when that seasons over, it’s really over.

This time, though, I figured I only ran 10.5 miles and I figured I didn’t need to recover that much from that and I figured I wanted to capitalize on my fitness before my foot started hurting. So, Friday, I made a whole list of all the races coming up and possible plans and marathons I could run in late June or late — but not when we’re in Hawaii. (Because of the stupid America’s Cup, there’s not many in the San Francisco area.) I got all geared back up to go.

But, it may have been too soon, because man, I am not going anywhere quickly.