Mountain Lions in the Santa Monica Mountains


This is the picture that’s been going around of a mountain lion in the Santa Monica mountains. Apparently, there are about 10-12 mountain lions in the mountains over there and researchers have been tracking them for a decade or so in an attempt to understand their habits and, ultimately, how humans are impacting those habits. (Spoiler alert: Badly.) Part of the research includes cameras set up in wildlife areas to try and catch pictures of them doing their mountain lion thing. Thus, this picture of the mountain lion near the L.A. county line.

Personally, though, I like this picture better:

Hi, who are you? Will you play with me?
Hi, who are you? Will you play with me?

Of course, that also happens to be where I went for a run the other day. In one of my less brilliant ideas—not because of the mountain lions—I decided to do my last long-ish run down the Santa Ynez trail in Topanga State Park. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but it went something like: ‘Oh, a canyon trail to a waterfall, that’ll be nice.’ I didn’t think about the fact that if I started at the top of a mountain and ran down to a waterfall, I’d have to run down for a long time. And then I’d have to come back up. I also thought, I dunno, that the trail would be maintained, and not that steep, and not rocky, and not heavily unpopulated.

Anyway. Only one of my miles was under 10 minutes. And it prompted this conversation with Justin this weekend:

Me: Well you know how I don’t like too much nature in my runs.
Him: Right, because of the mountain lions.
Me: Yes, see, everyone knows that.

Because everyone knows I don’t like too much nature with my nature. I prefer for it to stay over there and I’ll stay over here and then we can all get along.

Hello, I Am A Trail Snob

The trail above my house that connects to the other trail.
The trail above my house that connects to the other trail.

For all that I’ve written about how the biking in LA isn’t great, it’s not the main thing I miss about training down here. Yes, there’s some nice mountains to ride in (and I understand I still need to check out Palos Verdes and more of Pasadena as soon as I actually have some free time), but none of that is super time-efficient for everyday training. And, yes, I’m commute biking less than usual, because it’s just not as easy or safe as I’d like here.

That’s all true. And saying that it is true is a completely legitimate complaint. But, biking is not actually my favorite thing. Unless I can go somewhere cool, I don’t usually love it. I didn’t even ride for almost all of 2012 because I just didn’t feel like it.

What I really like is trail running — except not of the running-through-the-dark, total wilderness variety. Since I’m scared of mountain lions, bears, snakes, and pretty much all of nature, and since I hate hike-running straight uphill, and I don’t do well in extreme heat, I’m a little picky about my trails.

It turns out I am a huge trail snob.

  • If it is paved, it is not a trail.
  • If a truck can drive down it, it is a fire road, not a trail. (Fire roads can be fine, but not exactly something to brag about.)
  • If you can’t tell where the trail is, it’s not a trail.

This is a trail:

Shortly after I decided not to quit afterall.
This isn’t even my favorite trail.


It turns out, many of the trails in LA do not meet my standards. I have been to all the famous ones that people brag about. For the most part, they are exposed, hot, open fire roads that go up and up and up. This is not my thing. It is some people’s thing, but not mine. I generally avoided even running on the trail right outside my door in Marin, because it’s an exposed, hot, hilly fire road. It’s just not fun. I have been to the trails by the beach in LA, which are really just bike paths. I hate flat crowded bike paths. I generally avoid those too. I found one trail I liked a lot in the Santa Monica Mountains, but it’s far from my house.

Without nice wooded single- or double-track lake trails, it’s hard for me to get motivated to run. Logically, I remember a time when I used to run almost exclusively on boring roads around neighborhoods, stopping at lights, and dodging people on the sidewalk. I remember this, but it feels like another person. I can not fathom doing all my running like that now.

Of course, I’m about to sign up for the LA Marathon, so I’m going to have to either find some good trails, get better headphones to run with up and down the bike path, or re-learn how to run on sidewalks.


Inside Trail China Camp Half-Marathon: Race Report

Last night, I had a Bachelorette Party in the city, where we went to the most San Francisco hipster of San Francisco bars, unmarked door and no windows or lights (besides candles) and all. This is the picture from their website:

If you call one of your secret bars, that can only be gotten to behind a secret bookshelf/hidden door, The Library, well, then that's a little pretentious, no?
If you call one of your secret bars, that can only be gotten to behind a secret bookshelf/hidden door, The Library, well, then that’s a little pretentious, no?

Unfortunately, the drinks were quite good and I found $20 on the ground, so that’s almost (but not quite) two extra hand-crafted time-intensive cocktails. It’s not that I’ve never raced after going out the night before — I DID do collegiate triathlon after all and it taught us nothing if not that — and around 10 p.m. last night I stopped drinking things called The Candy Cane and Cucumber Gimlets and started drinking water. So, I really didn’t think this trail half-marathon would be any more of a challenge than it was already going to be. But, still, when I got up my head hurt and I definitely felt dehydrated.

Pounded some oatmeal and Gatorade (and a lot of water) and it seems like it worked out more or less.

My goal for the trail half-marathon was to practice running fast on trails for the Dipsea, namely to work on my descending. I had roughly in mind that I wanted to do it in 1:45 because that was the course record and also is an 8:00 pace, which seemed reasonable for 13 miles with 1,850 ft of elevation gain. I was more or less on pace for about 30 minutes, but then, well, it turns out 1,850 ft of elevation is a lot. Ended up running a 1:50.

This is the elevation chart:


For about 30′ I went out hard at the back of a group of guys and pounded down the flat-ish trail and then walked/jogged/huffed straight up this steep climb (which, coincidentally, I crashed my mountain bike on once) and then tried to keep up on the downhills. But, running downhill really fast is hard. Incredibly hard. I find it’s easy to run comfortably or relatively fast downhill, because gravity is doing the work and you can kind of tune out and get in a lull of ‘hey, this is a quick pace’ – especially if you’re behind someone going that pace. But, to really push it downhill you have to constantly keep pushing the effort, keep consciously telling yourself to go faster, so it hurts aerobically and it hurts your legs with the pounding. And, when you’re pushing it that hard and just flying downhill, you’re also constantly on the verge of falling. It’s hard.

So, I got passed by a couple of guys and a girl at this point and, suddenly, I was all alone. And, then I threw a one-person pity party.

From mile 4.5 to the halfway point, where you loop back by the finish and go through an aid station, I ran slowly and thought about how out of shape I am and how unbelievably harder and more painful it is to run fast on trails. And, how I couldn’t keep up this pace, so I was just going to blow up on the second half even worse than I already was. I was thirsty (even though I’d drunk my 10oz water bottle) and hot and light-headed. The girl who passed me was long gone and I saw no one ahead of me, but on some switchbacks I could see people a bit behind me. Well, I figured, they’ll definitely catch me, because I suck and am slow. I decided when I got to the halfway point and aid station, I’d just drop out. I haven’t even been running that far lately anyway.

But, when I got to the halfway point, I had a gel and they refilled my water bottle (quickly, too!) and I started to feel better. I did the next few miles on the flat-ish rolling trail at a faster speed — not as fast as I’d gone out originally, but getting there. When we hit the long climb, I just kept chugging along and I could see the girl behind me but she hadn’t gained any time. Then, I caught a guy in front of me who was walking. For the first time, it occurred to me: MAYBE IT SUCKS FOR EVERYONE.

So, I kept going, hoping she wouldn’t catch me — but still figuring she would because I am slow and terrible. I imagined the girl ahead of me was probably long done and eating food. I pushed — meaning I probably ran like a 7:15 mile — the downhill (which was back down the nasty steep thing we’d gone up) and the last 1.5 miles to the finish. I crossed the line in second and felt pretty wrecked.

It was only after they posted results that I found out I was actually closer to the first place girl than third place had been to me. I was only 50″ or so out of first and just over a minute ahead of the girl behind me. But, I never knew. I just assumed I was doing terrible and slow and awful at the same time everyone else was also thinking the same things. If I hadn’t slowed down and had a whole fit about how much I suck, but had just kept running, I probably could have won (or at least been more neck-and-neck).

And, that is why you don’t throw pity parties until after the race.

What to Race This Weekend? Marin Memorial 10K v. Inside Trail’s Half-Marathon

Monday is the Marin Memorial Day 10K. I have raced this local 10K every year we’ve lived here (except last year when we were in Breckenridge) and if you really feel the need to get your ass kicked it’s the race to go to. I have nearly every year run a 40:xx and nearly every year I have been about 48th woman. The women’s course record is 33:26. So. Yeah.

This year I couldn’t decide if I should race it. On the reasons not to:

  • I’m not in shape.
  • I ran a 21:13 5K, so that doesn’t bode well.
  • It won’t be fun to go out there and be the 100th woman and get it handed to me by not just the usual Olympic hopefuls but also everyone else I normally can run with.
  • It won’t be fun to run slower than ever. For no new purpose or goal or experience.
  • There is absolutely nothing appealing about this.

But, still, I almost signed up, because it’s my local race, I’ve always done it, it’s usually a good time, and I’m currently ‘racing myself into shape.’ And, I needed to do something this weekend to keep myself motivated — but I didn’t want to have to drive anywhere.

So, instead, I have signed up for Inside Trail Racing’s Half-Marathon in China Camp tomorrow morning. I got the last open spot in the half-marathon. It has like 1,000 feet of elevation gain and loss twice, so it’ll be good practice for the Dipsea. My goals are 1. run fast and 2. try not to get as dehydrated as I felt running on Monday with Courtenay.

Things I Do After a Hot Run

Courtenay’s been in town, so this morning (which starts at 9 a.m., not 6:30, Courtenay!) we did my favorite trail run loop. She kept saying that if we were going so late, it was going to be hot. I said, “It’s Marin,” ie. it doesn’t get that hot here. Then, she said the same thing to Steve later and he said, “It’s Marin.”

But, it was hot.

I haven’t run that far in over two months. It was fun, since we gossiped and took staged “running” photos. By the end, though, my legs were dead and I was making us stop at every water fountain because I couldn’t swallow — which was still not enough water fountains. Then, we went to Swirl and got frozen yogurt.

These are the things I usually do after a super hot/long run:

  • Stop at the Quick N’ Easy and get an ice cream sandwich
  • Stop at the Quick N’ Easy and just stand in the air conditioning
  • Guzzle a water bottle and then feel slightly sick
  • Lay on the road in the shade
  • Lay on the floor of our condo
  • Eat frozen fruit
  • Stand in the water play structure at the playground and scare all the small children
  • Become incomprehensible for the rest of the day and incapable of work, because my brain has become fried in the sun

The last one is the only guarantee.

What do you do after a hot run?

Awesome Marin Run: Mt. Baldy (Bald Hill)

Yesterday, I did an actual trail run, like a hard(ish) one, and my leg didn’t give out. Crazy.

For some reason, I decided it was a good day to run up Mt. Baldy in San Anselmo/Ross, which isn’t actually a mountain at all, but a large hill with odd prominence because there’s nothing else around it. Technically, it’s called Bald Hill, but if you say you went for a run up Bald Hill no one in Marin will respect you — or know what you’re talking about.

Historic photos of Mt. Baldy from back in the day when San Anselmo was just the seminary at the base of the hill.
Historic photos of Mt. Baldy from back in the day when San Anselmo consisted of just the seminary at the base of the hill.


The second week we moved to Marin, back in 2008, I went to a group run with Tamalpa and we did this loop run up Mt. Baldy and then down the other side. That time I didn’t walk at all, because I was terrified of getting lost and wanted to keep the front people in my sight. (Fear is my most powerful athletic motivator.) But, the two or three times I’ve done it since then, I almost always end up walking a little bit because it’s just so damn steep.

The Phoenix Lake trail.
The Phoenix Lake trail. From Marin Mommies.

Start out parking by the Lagunitas Tennis Club in Ross and run into Natalie Coffin Greene Park and up the main trail to Phoenix Lake. (You can also park next to the Ross Commons – necessary on weekends – or at the parking lot at the Phoenix Lake trailhead, but there’s usually a line of cars waiting for one of the 10 parking spots in that lot to open up.)

At the top of the main trail, as you come up on Phoenix (pictured at left), you could turn left and go across the dam and run around the lake.  Also a good time. But, don’t. Stay on the big trail to the right as it weaves around the lake. There’ll be lots of people on this trail and other trails leading off it, etc.

After 1-2 miles of running, depending on where you parked, you’ll be at an intersection. You could take one of the two steep trails (Fish Grade or Eldridge) to your left to go to the upper lakes or you could take the small single-track and continue around Phoenix Lake. Instead, if you just keep going more or less straight, the trail turns into Shaver Grade, a gentle 1.5 mile climb up from the lake.

At the top of Shaver is an intersection where five trails meet, creatively named Five Corners. It also, most importantly, has a bathroom. (And a permanent sign warning of mountain lions.) Most of these trails lead you to the other lakes or down to Deer Park. Take the really stupid steep looking trail to your immediate right, before the bathroom. It’s only steep for 100m or so and then opens up onto a nice single-track trail that weaves along the edge of the hills.

That single-track eventually dumps you out at another intersection where five trails connect, oddly called Six Points. The immediate right trail takes you down to Hidden Valley and then connects back to Shaver Grade, which you just ran up. (One time, I ran this because it was getting dark and I thought it would be shorter. It might have been, but I was too terrified by the coyotes in the dusk to notice.) Trail to your immediate left goes down to Deer Park. The other two are branches of the Yolanda Trail. My all-time favorite run is to follow Yolanda on the right back down to the lake. But, I didn’t do that yesterday because the bottom of it is super overgrown and running through tall grasses freaks me out.

Follow Yolanda. And, no, I don't know what Yolanda means.
Follow Yolanda. And, no, I don’t know what Yolanda means.

Take the left-hand Yolanda Trail, with the arrow saying To Worn Springs Road. (You’ll know it’s the correct trail on your left because it’s the one going up and Mt. Baldy is up.)

This trail is also super nice single-track, weaving up and down, though gradually up, and along the back side of the hill. It’s also relatively un-trafficked, by which I mean I didn’t see anyone from when I left Phoenix Lake to when I was close to back to it. The single-track dead-ends into a fire road that is Worn Springs Road. At this point, it gets nasty and steep. When it drops you out on Worn Springs Road, there’s a gate in front of you that would lead you down to fancy houses in Ross, where Sean Penn lives, but you turn right onto the fire road and start the climb up to Baldy.

The climb goes up in spurts, steep and then gradual and then steep. I walked twice for 45″ or so, just because it was so steep my shuffle wasn’t moving me very quickly. You’re going around the back side of Baldy and eventually (after 10′ or so), you’ll crest the trail and it’ll start to head back down on the other side, with Mt. Tam in front of you. Before going down, though, there’s a short (50m) detour to your left that takes you right out onto the top of Mt. Baldy.

At the top, this is what it looks like:

The fact that the hill is bald means you can see all around.
The fact that the hill is bald means there aren’t any trees blocking your views. From Pelican Studios.

The top is actually really cool — in an area inundated with cool views. Because there’s nothing around it, you get a 360 degree look at everything, and the wind is usually blowing (sometimes hard), which makes it almost impossible not to throw your arms out and yell at the tiny people below.

When you’re done with that, head back down the detour to the Worn Springs Road trail and continue on it, down the other side of the hill now. That trail is very steep, so unless I’m training for some downhill race I take it easy. It’s not technical, though, and is wide and sweeping (often filled with eagles floating on the wind currents). If you wanted to bomb the descent, you could. Worn Springs Road eventually drops back down to Phoenix Lake, turn left at the lake trail (shake your legs out from the trashing they just took), and head back to the trailhead and back to your car.

Wide open spaces.
Wide open spaces. The Worn Springs Trail from Mt. Baldy.

Most people actually go up this trail (Worn Springs Road), because it’s the most direct route from Phoenix, and then they come back down it the same way. I like the loop because it makes it an actual run, about 8 miles, around 1700′ of elevation or so, and about 1:15 run time. Steve says I should do the loop the opposite direction, because going up the steep part and down the gentler side would be better for my legs and a better workout. But, that sounds shittier.

Steve also swears that when he used to do running time trials up Worn Springs to Mt. Baldy in high school, he could do it in 14′.  It took me 14′ to go down it, but I kind of want to run up it at full speed now to see what I could do.

Whenever I do trail runs I don’t know (which wasn’t this, but other times) I use detailed Marin County Trail Maps (PDF at that link), but trail maps never quite seem to show how things actually look once you’re out there, so I tend to combine it with directions like these from someone who’s done it before.

Have you run Mt. Baldy? What’s the best trail run?

Making Workouts a Priority: The Best Run Route in Marin

Yesterday, I had a long easy, hilly run on my schedule. Pretty much as soon as I saw that I got inexplicably excited and started daydreaming about what big trail loop I was going to do. Big easy loops on the watershed trails are my favorite and I haven’t got to do any this year.

Wouldn't you be excited if this was where you got to run?
Wouldn’t you be excited if this was where you got to run? From Fishing in Bon Tempe Lake.

That excitement was somewhat tempered after the race directing on Sunday was followed up by the fact that I have seven assignments due in the next few days, two other writing projects I need to finish, three other things due next week and various meetings/appointments/calls. There was no way to fit it all in.

It would be really easy, given the absurd number of things I have to do right now (and should be doing right now), to cut the workouts short or skip them. And, I may end up cutting short the hour easy bike ride later today. I despise hour easy bike rides unless they get me somewhere at the end.

But, there’s always a pretty good reason to skip workouts — family is in town, you have a lot of work, it’s a friend’s birthday, you don’t feel great, the cat needed to go to the vet. All of that would be totally understandable. No one would blame you. But, I decided, making your workout a priority, including it in the list of things that has to get done instead of just something you hope will get done, is what separates training from exercising. I suppose the degree of prioritization is what separates athletes from normal people who happen to like working out.

(That’s why when I said I couldn’t make a meeting and you saw me running instead, I wasn’t blowing you off. I was busy. I was busy running.)

So, instead, I just did the two-hour run yesterday even though I didn’t really have the time to. Actually, I was supposed to only run 1:40, but I added wrong when I was trying to decide on my route and only realized after I was an hour into it. Oops. And, you know what? I got everything done that I needed to get done yesterday anyway, even though there was no way that was possible.

Edit: Right after I wrote this I read that NYT article about how relaxing more and taking time off actually makes you more productive. Prioritizing my run might have actually made me able to get everything else done. So there.

This trail is actually called Shady Side. The other side of the lake is called Sunny Side. Clever.
This trail is actually called Shady Side. The other side of the lake is called Sunny Side. Clever. From Western Wildflower.

I ended up running one of my all-time favorite loops at the watershed, which if you’re ever in Marin you should definitely run. (Since I never take a camera with me, I’ve stolen some of these photos from other people, but that’s pretty much what it looks like. All the time.)

To do the best locals-only run in Marin, follow these instructions:

  • Park in Ross by the elementary school and run down the road to Natalie Coffin Green Park and Phoenix Lake.
  • Take the fire road along the north side of Phoenix to Eldridge Grade.
  • Run up Eldridge. Turn right at the fork, go past the water tower along the cement road for a half mile or so, it’ll spit you out on the paved road above Lake Lagunitas. Turn left and you’ll be in the picnic area soon.
  • Get water/go to the bathroom if you need to.
  • Run around Lake Lagunitas. This is fairly self-explanatory, though you have to turn right off the main trail at one point. If you don’t turn right, you will keep going all the way to the top of Mt. Tam.
  • Get water/go to the bathroom if you need to.
  • At the far west (?) end of the picnic area, across a little bridge, is the trail to Shady Side of Bon Tempe Lake. Run Shady Side, run across the dam, turn left at the bottom of the dam in the gravel parking lot and it connects to a fire road.
  • Run the fire road behind the golf course until you get to the Marin Municipal Water District watershed entrance.
  • Just past the kiosk/entrance on the right is a stable. There’s a water fountain there too. Behind the water fountain is a sketchy-looking, single-track, downhill trail. Take it. It’ll spit you out on the Flat Road, which is actually a trail.
  • Turn right on the Flat Road and run to Five Corners.
  • At Five Corners, take Shaver Grade down to Phoenix Lake.
  • Run back to your car in Ross.
  • Thank me.

The GPS says it’s 12.9 miles, but the GPS lies to you on the winding, wooded trails. It’s closer to 14 miles than 13. There’s also about 1,135 ft of elevation gain. Oddly, there was only 1,125 ft of elevation loss, though. So, I am evidently still 10 feet higher than I started.

And, I don’t regret having made that run a priority.