Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lake Sonoma 50 mile Race Report

Course Profile: 10,500 feet of ascent

After being very sick a few weeks ago and unable to race Napa Valley Marathon, Lake Sonoma 50 mile became my first race of the season. I have been training really hard and was excited about the race. I was also confused a bit. I had signed up for American River 50 miler, which is on April 10th long before I signed up for Lake Sonoma. Therefore, in my mind, AR50 was my focus of the two. 

A few weeks ago, I was really thinking about it and wondering why I was focusing on AR. My real goal of the first part of 2010 is Western States and trails. Thus, AR was losing its grip on my motivation. Lake Sonoma seemed to make more sense. It is brutal, rugged and hilly. 10,500 feet of ascent. On top of that, the entrant list was looking pretty stacked. I could feel myself being magnetically pulled towards Lake Sonoma over AR and no matter how many times I told myself that I would, could or might run controlled and easy in spite of competition, I really wanted to let it out a little bit more. American River has only 3,000 feet of climbing and is a good deal of road. While I feel that I could totally rock out on a course like that, right now that is not my focus.

The gangs all here (and goofy) ready to race. Photo by Kevin Luu

I made the decision that I would run comfortably and in control and if that put me in the hunt as the race unfolded that I would go after it, AR be damned. Part of me, okay most of me, decided along the way that I would rather kick ass and take names at Lake Sonoma than at AR. Why? I don't usually take much stock in what people say, but for some reason in the ultra-community I don't get much respect when it comes to really hilly races. Before TransRockies last year, one of my competitors was quoted as saying that she didn't know if I could handle the hills. During that race, I proved that I could run up well enough to keep up with my super uphilling teammate Caitlin and win. But it seems like my reputation is for fast and flat, not fast and trail and hill. Thus, it crossed my mind that racing LS as a trainer and AR as a goal (potentially placing lower at LS and winning AR) would simply bolster that appearance. 

Racers take your marks! Or kinda stand there-ish. Photo by Kevin Luu

Do I really care? No, in fact I find it awesome that after 3 years on the ultrarunning scene, I might be able to fly a bit under the radar (not off, but under just a bit). I find it even more hilarious since, when it comes to the 50 mile distance, almost all of my races have had more than 9,000 feet of climbing and some brutal terrain. Furthermore, when it comes to LS vs. AR, LS was looking to have a much more competitive field and I would rather test myself against some premier talent than have to test myself against myself and the course. And appearance aside, I have proven to myself that I can excel at the road 100k and other less technical "fast" races. Right now, what is the purpose of running another? 

All of that was pre-race theory. And then there is the reality...

I went back and forth about strategy all week before the race. But I never really felt pre-race nerves. Instead, I felt deadly calm. Much like before Vermont last year and even JFK, I felt more ready to be done tapering than being hyped to get racing. I guess I save my adrenaline for race day. I put together my plan, ate well and healthfully over the week and wrote down some splits for a goal time of 8:30. Nathan insisted I could run faster than 8:30 but the female course record was 8:43 and done by a runner, Suzanna Bon, that I respect as an intelligent, fast, strong runner. I don't balk at her course records, even when she admits them to be "soft".

Night before the race, we dug into steak, white rice with flax oil and some spinach. Got our stuff together and went to bed as early as possible. When the alarm went off at 3am I didn't have any trouble getting up and moving. I felt a bit better than I had the previous day. By Friday, I was fully feeling "taper-ish" i.e. sore, tired, fat and slow but thankfully by race morning at least I wasn't feeling tired and sore. Nathan made me a cup of coffee and we tucked into our respective toast (mine being gluten free english muffins, his being the superpowered bread he bakes) with peanut butter and a banana before jumping in my car and heading north. I actually didn't mind the 2hr drive up to the race start. It gave my body a chance to digest breakfast and get fully awake by the race start. We got to the start, chatted with friends, acted goofy, did our last minute preparations and lined up to start.

Lake Sonoma from Wulfow aid station miles 17.4/32.7. Photo by Stan Jensen

Much like I felt before Vermont 50 and JFK 50 last year, I didn't have any nerves before the race. That is not to say I was stepping confidently to the line, but I didn't have the sense of "I am racing NOW" internalized. My taper for this race amounted to really about a week, with the previous week being a bit of a cutback mileage wise (Salomon Advanced Week) but an increase in intensity. I felt rested enough, but not overly stir crazy from taper, as I mentioned above, it took me until Friday to really feel it. RD (and editor of Ultrarunning Magazine) gave us a quick debriefing and reminded us that at mile 4.5 we had to do a little out and back to the aid station even if we didn't want aid. Then we were off.

Photo by Kevin Luu

A few guys took off ahead, very quick off the mark, including Jady Palko and Hal Koerner. Jady is known for doing that and had said before the race that he wanted to run really hard for about an hour than cruise in. He did just that. I surprised myself by going out pretty fast. I felt really comfortable and just went with it. Nathan was right behind me as were my training partners Joel and Brett, along with Joe Palubeski and Jonathan Gunderson. I had written down Joe's splits for an 8:30 from the previous year as my guide and had to laugh when he told me what a poorly paced race he ran the year before. I kept asking the guys if anyone wanted by me, as I wasn't that comfortable being in front of all these fast guys. I just felt like I was slowing them down, even though I wasn't going slow.

After the first aid station at mile 4.7, Nathan took off ahead of me in hot pursuit. We all thought he was sprinting ahead to use the "bathroom", but we never saw him again. He told me after the race that he was trying to break up our small little train of people and wanted me to follow him, but he ran by me so dang quick I didn't even have time to think to try and hang on. Not that I could have.

The stretch from aid #1 to aid #2 is 7.4 miles and I finally asked Joel who was right behind me if he was planning on staying right behind me the whole race. It made me nervous to feel so responsible for 5 peoples pace. He said because it was his first 50, he would love to just stay behind me and pace off me. I said, "but you are way faster than I am!!" (which is true) but that I also understood wanted to take it out conservatively. 

So the "D-train" rolled on. I paced us steadily through the rolling, unrelenting miles up to aid station #2. We went through deep creeks, nearly lost our way and clipped along. I was feeling good and things felt extremely comfortable. I was running well within a comfortable pace and the only annoyance I had was that the waterbottle I chose to use wasn't staying in the waistpack (fanny pack for those in my running crew)  I tried to put it in. Thus I had to carry my Gel-bot in my hand with no hostler until mile 12.1 where I had a drop bag with the holster, which actually had the waistpacks proper waterbottle in it. I had planned to pick up a second bottle for the last 12.1 as it would be the hottest part of the day. I kept the Salomon Whisper waistpack on sans waterbottle, as I had my gels and Vespa and salt in the pocket. It was extremely comfortable, so it wasn't a problem.

When we pulled into aid stations #2, I took the opportunity to step off the lead. I didn't want to jump back in front and then have to pull off the trail in a 1/2 mile to use the bathroom which was exactly what I needed to do. I hoped on the back of the guys and ran for a bit until I had a spot to stop. It was nice to finally be alone and running so I could concentrate on my pacing and my race. I figured I was a good 10 minutes up at this point and wanted to stay very controlled until the turn around. That said, we had arrived at the aid station more than 6 minutes ahead of Joe's split from last year.

Photo by Chihping Fu

The big climbs start after aid station #2 and I was eager to test my legs on them. I didn't want to hammer the climbs but I wanted to test out my hard-earned climbing legs, born out of trying to keep up with the likes of Nathan, Joel, Brett and Zach a few times a week. They felt good, I cruised up them, powered hiked when the grade became ridiculous and generally just worked my way up them. Before I could think about it, I was cruising into aid station #3 and saw Peter Defty of Vespa. He gave me a Vespa Jr and the aid station crew filled me bottles and I was happily on my way. I really was enjoying the beautiful rolling green hills around the lakes and even enjoyed the cold creeks we got to splash through. I could tell my Drymax Socks were working because my feet were repeatedly submerged and were having no problems what so ever! Thank goodness for that.

I kept on my nutrition plan, doubled up on my salts and drank water like crazy as it was starting to really get hot and after that aid station it was really exposed. Nearing mile 19ish, I saw Joe, Brett and Joel on the rigid above me, maybe 2-3 minutes up. I was satisfied with that and decided if I was feeling feisty after mile 25, I might go after them. Jonathan had disappeared ahead of them. I just cranked up the long gravel hill to the top of the first major climb and hit aid station #4 feeling good. I was stoked to be almost  to the turn around and I filled up my bottle and headed out of the aid station. I followed the flags down, and started weaving my way closer to the lake. I suddenly could hear guys voices and I wondered if someone was catching me from behind (I would later realize it was Joe, Joel and Brett). I went for a few minutes without seeing flags but then saw one and some chalk and started heading along the trail weaving back in the general direction I had just come. I figured it was just a windy road. Until I saw Bev running towards me. Bev wasn't racing due to her knee problem, but was running the 25 miles out to the aid station. She said, "you are the first one coming back...??" I responded that I shouldn't be and it began to sink in that I had gotten off course somewhere but ended up looping back on course. I could see 10 feet away where I had gone down a different trail and the pink flag hanging right at the junction. I cursed, freaked out and turned around. I asked Bev and another guy what mileage they had and it was just slightly over 20 miles. My watch showed over 22 and I had lost nearly 10-15 minutes. 

So much for a lead. Bev assured me that I had a huge lead but I wasn't quite as sure. We were only 20 miles into the race (well 22 to me) and I didn't think I had gotten much more than a 20 minute lead over 2nd place. I figured 2nd place was Caren Spore who is a very very good climber and we were about to go up the biggest climb of the day.

I got stressed and started hightailing it. I was mad. Mad at myself for getting lost and blowing it. I was just pissed and anxious. I tried to shake it off but couldn't. A million things flashed through my mind. Would she catch me? Would I lose? I have never lost a 50 miler, did I want it happen like this? Am I going to be pissed off all weekend if I blow this and ruin our fun in Sonoma? How can I find a way to get the hell over this? It took me a while, admittedly to not feel like I was about to be caught. I had thrown my nutrition and hydration plan out the window for a while in my freaked out panicky state. I had to choose to run harder or possibly surrender to my fate if I chose to stay at my same pace. 

Climbing up the big hill to the turn around I could see Caren along the lake a few minutes back. The first guys started flying back and I was stoked to see Nathan coming back running strong in 3rd place. We exchanged a few words as he flew downhill, most of which we complain on my part for getting lost. I pretty complain to everyone for the next however many miles. I saw Joel, Brett, Jady, Joe and Jonathan all coming back as well as a few others. I was still in the top 10, but could see how much time I'd lost on the guys I'd run so much with. 

Returning to Wulfow, mile 32.7.Photo By Sten Jensen

I wish I could have laughed it off, but when you've been running well and hard, it is hard to find a sense of humor. I got to mile 25, told them what had happened, filled my bottle quickly and took off. I was not excited to see how close behind Caren was. Close she was, about 3 minutes. I knew that I was the superior downhill runner and that there was only one large climb left back to the mile 20.2/29.8 aid station. I figured if I could hammer the downhills and stay strong on the uphills and arrive to that aid station first that the rest of the race could and would be mine. The last 20 miles are rolling and mostly runnable, even if it is very hilly. I told myself that and ran as hard as I could back down from mile 25. It was pretty brutal, as the descent is decently steep. I finally started to take in calories and hydration again as I could definitely feel the affects of being freaked out. I had expended so much energy being mad and was not staying on top of my plan. I knew that that would not help me stay in front. I had to get back on my plan and execute it. I had to make her run me down instead of just feeling resigned to being caught. My legs were feeling great and I felt really strong and I was running strong. 

Returning to Wulfow, mile 32.7. Photo by Stan Jensen

I began to talk myself out of it. I went through mile 29.8 ahead but still not feeling confident. I cruised down to mile 32.7 where Caren's crew told me I was 6 minutes ahead. He told me I had nothing to worry about but I wasn't really ready to believe him. I was still trying to get my head back in the game. I had put my headphones on at the turn around and the music helped calm me down and put me back into a rhythm. Between the turn around and mile 37.9, much of the course is very exposed and I stayed pretty conservative on my pace as I was feeling the heat. I started changing my self-talk to more positive words and instead of thinking, "she's going to catch me" I started to think, "I am going to make her catch me and I am not going quietly". I pushed where I could and started to go outside of the comfort zone I was able to enjoy through the first 20 miles. And my legs responded brilliantly, "really?" they said, "we get to go faster? SWEEEETT!" 

Leaving Wulfow, mile 32.7.Photo by Stan Jensen

I survived the hottest portion of the race back to 37.9. I had been passed by David La Duc who had been ahead of me earlier in the race and had also gotten lost. I passed Jady Palko and Jonathan Gunderson. I hit the aid station at mile 37.9 grabbed my second bottle which I put in my waist pack, filled up my water and took a swig of coke. I felt like a million bucks. The last 12.1 are more shaded and very runnable if you have legs. We had made it 1:39 on the way back and I was hoping to be around 2 hrs for the way back or thereabouts.  I looked at Joe's splits and saw I was about 9 minutes back from him pace from last year and decided that I would run hard through the remaining miles. 

This was the moment of a bigger decision. I knew that running hard could brutalize my legs. I knew that it could mean a longer recovery. I knew it meant I was choosing Lake Sonoma over American River. At that moment, I decided that AR was out and I was going to use this experience, this race to its fullest. I just started going. I was giddy at how my legs responded. They churned and worked and didn't feel sore or tired. At 37.9 I was still 6 minutes up, but I knew as I hammered along, feeling like I was flying, that no one could catch me running like that. And no one would.

I arrived at the little out and back to the final aid station and returning to the main trail, I saw no sign of Caren. With only 4.7 miles to go and over a half mile (at least) lead, I knew (running the way I was) that she wouldn't catch me. I checked my time against Joe's splits. I was now 3 minutes UP on his spilts. I had run the previous 7.4 miles 12 minutes faster than he had last year. I realized that not only was the win mine to take, but I still had an excellent chance at the course record.

I bounded down the trail, giddy, playful, fast. I giggled as I was still able to run up the hills which were still constant and unrelenting. I danced to the music from my headphones. My nutrition, hydration and salts were on point and everything was firing. My legs didn't feel heavy or tired. I let out whoops of joy and laughed out loud thinking, "I am really glad I didn't blow this, I would have been a real pain in the arse for the rest of the weekend".

Photo by Brett Rivers

Finally I saw it: the 1 mile to go sign. I felt myself get choked up. I wanted to cry, but ran faster instead. I  pushed and pushed until I could see the cars on the rigid and the finish. The last mile is not a friendly one and I thrashed my way up the hill, crossed the road and emerged on the rigid less than a 1/4 mile from the finish line. I just wanted to cry and laugh and sigh with relief. It had been an emotional race. I ran across the grass and Suzanna and Lisa held up the pink finisher's tape for me. I crossed the line first woman, 10th overall in 8:26:53 with more than 2 miles bonus. A new course record.

 Calculating how many minutes I lost getting lost for RD John- 20minutes.
Photo by Brett Rivers

John congratulated me, it was nice to be done. But surprisingly I felt great! I could have just kept going! Nathan was waiting for me and I ran over to him and gave him a big kiss asking him how it went for him. He had ran amazing and came in second to Hal. He was well under the old course record and ran a blazing 7:24:15! What a stud. All of my crew: Joel, Brett and Joe had all already come in and posted fantastic times. Larissa would run a great race and it was awesome to see her finishing strong! Complete results HERE. What a day! I was so pleased in the end of how things worked out. And even more stoked that everyone had such a great day. I was awarded a huge bottle of wine as my trophy and we all tucked in to some fantastic fresh handmade tamales while we cheered our friends in to the finish. 

I experienced a lot during this race and I think it serves me well. Experiences like JFK taught me that I can run for 50 miles and feel great and never experience any adversity. This race threw a lot more at me. I had to battle my head and fear and emotion. While physically I was grand and probably would have made a go at a sub 8hr time, I realized how much it can take out of you to let your head get away from you. I am so glad that I decided to race this race and challenge myself.

Post-race was fantastic. We stayed at Boon Hotel and Spa and ate a fantastic dinner at Boon Eat+Drink. On Sunday, Brett, Larissa, Nathan and I met up for morning pastries at Downtown Bakery in Healdsburg (thanks for the recommendation Suzanna!) and then headed out to some great wineries and lunch in and around Sonoma! What a fun weekend. Great running, great race. Amazing friend, food and fun. I couldn't ask for more! I look forward to next year and the possibility of racing Lake Sonoma again!

My gear:
Shoes: Salomon S-Labs 2
Socks: Drymax Trail Running Socks
Apparel: Salomon Trail III Short Tight
               Salomon Impact II Twinskin Tank
               Salomon XA Cap
Waterbottles: Salomon Whisper Belt
                      Gel-bot handheld

My fuel:
Gels ( about total 700 calories, mixed brands, all but 1 non caffeinated)
FRS chews
Saltstick Salt Caps

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Practice in Patience

Patience and perseverance help lead you to the top of the mountain, if you let it.

Somethings change. Somethings stay the same. Deciding which one is which can be hard. When things look like they are heading in the right direction, it is easy to have faith that things change. When things test our patience and it looks like they will never change, never be solved, never work out like we have waited for, it is easier to believe that things will stay the same. If we accept that something is going to stay the same, then we must be the thing that changes. That is a hard thing for most people, it is a decision to turn in to the unknown, the frightening, and often the darkness.

The question I often ponder is: when do we jump? When is patience= patience and when is patience=being afraid of change/afraid of trying something different/afraid of accepting failure?

As a runner and also in my real life, I feel I am a patient person. I have waited for good things to come into my life, held out hope long past the point that anyone else would have and it has paid off. I didn't settle or succumb to fear. In a few cases, patience proved itself to be fruitful. But that hardly makes me an expert. I still doubt, look to the water coming on to the ship and think I should jump off. But I also have learned to have faith in my faith and in my patience. I know that the things I want cannot necessarily be rushed and will unfold in due time. I can do a certain amount of work to reach my goals, but also have to allow for them to be realized.

I have been feeling two things a lot lately and ironically, simultaneously: like momentum is building and like I am stagnating. Sometimes I simply feel like I spend my day waiting for SOMETHING to happen, but I don't know what. Inspiration? Direction? An answer? And to what? Other days, I rub my hands together and laugh maniacally as I watch things and opportunities unfold in front of me.  It's a balance and with that I have patience too.

They say good things come to those who wait and I've seen that happen. I've watched someone toil for 20 years towards their goal, towards their dream and never give up and finally have their dream realized, finally come to a point where patience isn't needed anymore. It is an amazing feeling, it is amazing to witness. This week alone I have watched multiple people close to me have life-changing, patience-proving things unfold in their lives. It reminds me that my patience, my hardwork, my seeking and passion will too be fruitful and we all need a renewal in faith sometimes.

The most wonderful time of the year

I posted recently on my running blog about realizing I need to eat more meat. That post was about a month ago and the truth of the matter is, I probably haven't been that much better about eating meat more. Maybe 1x per week more. That still means I am eating meat/fish only 3 days a week. Not so good. Even in France I was limited to little meat because often times the main offerings had gluten in them. I probably managed to eat meat 4 times while I was there, which by all accounts is comparatively pretty fantastic.

The problem is not that I don't like meat. I do. Just like the problem is not that I don't like cookies (gluten free of course). If you put them in front of me, I will eat it and probably a fair amount. Thus, meat or even cookies for that matter (speaking of which I have managed to eat 4 small teff peanut butter cookies today already, someone stop me!) don't tend to stay around very long. On top of that, my grocery of choice Rainbow grocery, does not sell meat. Thus, I usually don't want to make a second trip to another store to get meat. I shop at Rainbow because I am primarily a fruit and vegetable eater and Rainbow provides the most local organic produce you can find outside of a farmer's market. I love fruits and vegetables more than cookies and meat combine. But I also know I need to eat more meat. Thank goodness for St. Patty's Day.

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, I was making Gluten Free Irish Soda bread (and cookies magically got made as well) to compliment a slow-cooked corned beef brisket. I love corned beef brisket. My favorite time of year is around St. Patty's day because corned beef brisket is readily available, it is one of my more favorite cuts of meat. Plus, it is an excellent excuse to make my mom's horseradish sauce (1 part fresh prepared horseradish, 1 part dijon mustard, 2 parts sour cream).

The soda bread was a hit with my diners, sucked down as both appetizer and dessert (with a little left for breakfast). The brisket was outstanding though. Starting at 4pm, I turned the oven on to 300 degrees to preheat. Meanwhile, I put my large Dutch oven on the burner and put the brisket in with it's brine and spices. I added 2 fresh bay leaves. Then I covered it with enough water to have about 2 inches of water above it. I brought it to a boil, skimmed the gunk off the top and put the lid on, then straight into the oven. I let it cook for 3 1/2 hours.

Meanwhile, I did other things, got stuff done, wasted two hours, then went back into the kitchen to put together the mustard-roasted potatoes. I used the mix of ingredients from this recipe, but problem was, I was already using the oven and it was at 300 degrees not 400. Thus, I decided I would slow roast the potatoes on the very bottom rack and when I took out the corned beef, kick up the temperature to 425 to get some crisp on them.

The potatoes roasted for an hour and when the corned beef was tender, I pulled the Dutch oven out, put it back on the burner, removed the meat and covered it tightly with foil. Then I cranked up the heat on the stove and threw into the cooking liquid a half head of green cabbage cut into wedges. Cooked that for another 15-20 minutes while the potatoes, now at 425 and on the middle rack of the oven, crisped. Wham bam, done delicious.

It was all really good. To serve I put the cabbage on a serving plate with the meat sliced on top. I had people spoon cooking liquid from the meat over the top of their food for additional kick. While I tend to think that the horseradish sauce is what brings me to the table, everything was incredibly flavored, dang near perfectly cooked and awesome.

(P.S. sorry the pictures aren't as awesome as I would like, no natural lighting by dinnertime, even with daylight savings time!)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Race Week Nutrition

Tree Hugger in Provence. Photo by the GripMaster.

I missed a week of baking, cooking, etc. I apologize. I was in France attending Salomon Advanced Week (which you can read about here). There was running, eating pretty decent French food and some good fun. But I am back now and doing a power taper for my race this Saturday, the Lake Sonoma 50 miler. Part of tapering is cutting back miles, resting a lot and letting the body get nice and rested for the long miles ahead. Additionally, I get massage, stretch a lot and if I am feeling sore, take an ice bath or two. The biggest part of taper is nutrition. Making sure you get the right combination of nutrients and the right amount of fuel is key.

I am not a carbo-loader. I don't eat pasta the night before a race. I would prefer steak and potatoes, or steak and rice and a seaweed salad. Tried and true, it is what works for me. When I eat pasta (gluten free of course), I just feel empty. Carbs alone just don't fuel me enough. I have to support them with something.

A well balanced plate.

Even though I am running a lot less than usual on this final taper week, my nutrition is at its best. Race week nutrition is tricky. You have to fuel up to support your upcoming effort, eat the right combination of things to make sure you are recovered from training, all while accounting for the lower calorie needs of a minimal training week. But like I said, during race week, I seem to be at my best. Maybe it is the lack of running that allows me to be more thoughtful about my meals (if that is possible!), or maybe it is just that I know from experience that it really makes a difference.

This week on my plate has been awesome. After spending a week in France, I was really looking forward to cooking at home. The food there was fresh and for the most part light, but I ate three meals a day at the resort where we were located. Not exactly exciting by day 6! On Sunday, the baker and I whipped up a huge pot of Rancho Gordo beans and roasted some chicken with a spicy chili sauce for tacos. I made a nice fresh slaw with pumpkin seeds, radishes, cabbage and lime. The tacos were a perfect way to start of the weeks eating (and nutrition). Well balanced, not too heavy and made for some great leftovers for Monday night's dinner. Lunch stayed the same, a huge salad each day which I really enjoyed.

Last night my sister and I had a movie night and I decided to cook up a recipe for Chana Masala,  I had read in A Homemade Life. I followed the recipe with one exception. I added cauliflower. A whole head of it after the tomatoes were added. I wanted, no needed more vegetables on my plate. And man was it delicious! I cooked everything until the cauliflower was tender and then served over coconut rice (rice cooked with 1 part light coconut milk, 1 part water: so if you use 1 cup of rice, use 1 cup of coconut milk and 1 cup water). On the side was something that made me want to cry because I couldn't have seconds. Garlic Lemon Spinach. There had been some great local fresh spinach at the shop and it definitely trumped the frozen spinach I had thought to use. I cooked up 2-3 cloves of garlic in 1 part butter, 1 part olive oil until they started to brown, then I tossed in the spinach and a tbsp of water, put the top on and gave it a shake. Once it was cooked, I added sea salt and a squeeze of lemon. I am telling you, I would have eaten just a huge plate of that. So good. Well, I take it back the Chana Masala was amazing. Spicy, complex, flavorful. I of course followed up this meal with ice cream. Some people religiously cut out things during taper week, I deliberately add them back in because I am trying to make sure I have no calorie deficit during the week. I like to train low, race high. That is not to say I go crazy during taper week, I am sensible, not overly restrictive.

To wit, I made cookies today! Teff Peanut Butter cookies. I didn't use oil, I used melted butter. And they were pretty dang good, though surprisingly less peanut buttery than I imagined. I made them quite small so that I could indulge guilt free. It's a fine line. I want to arrive at the start line with my body fueled correctly but physically feeling fit and light. For me, I know that too many grains cause me to retain water and retention of water does not lead to feeling fit and ready to fight. These little buggers were a good compromise of nutrition and indulgence.

I have been harboring a corned beef in my freezer while I was gone. A first cut, organic beautiful corned beef that I couldn't wait to cook. As I was out of town for St. Patty's day, I decided to cook it up this week to make sure I was getting in my protein. It's Wednesday and I haven't eaten meat yet this week. So tonight, I am going to whip it up along with some cabbage, mustard roasted potatoes and serve it all with some gluten free irish soda bread.

I don't believe I have ever had Irish Soda bread, let alone Gluten Free Irish Soda bread. So I consulted a few sources and went at it. In the end I combined two of my favorite gluten free bloggers recipes and created my own. The loaf came out nicely. Somewhat like a scone, fragrant of caraway seeds and dotted with soaked currants. Next time, I think I will soak the currants in something further infusing flavor. This adaptation is more of a half followed one recipe, half followed the other. I combined one's suggested dry ingredients with an adaptation of the other's wet. Seems to have worked out well. As I said, I have never had soda bread, so creating an idea from scratch was out of the question. But I improvised a great deal by doing this combination, so it would be interesting to compare. I am really looking forward to having a small slice of this bread tonight with a good balance of vegetables and meat (and mustard and horseradish!!!).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Salomon Advanced Week

Hiding out from the Gripmaster's camera before testing gear.

I have often wondered what professional athletes in other sports feel like. Wondered how they spent their days (training, duh!) and wondered how different my life would be if I only had to run to pay the bills. I also wonder what it would be like to own my own bakery/cafe or write a book, as I tend to be a day dreamer. While the latter may not be something I see come to fruition in the near future, last week I got to have a glimpse into the life as a runner. Just a runner.

Prototype shoe testing. Pictures of new shoes not allowed!

Last week, my amazing sponsor Salomon flew me out to France to be a part of their Advanced Week. There I joined over 30 other Salomon trail running elites from around the world, including 3 other Americans, for a week of product testing, running, interviews, photo shoots and video shoots. I left San Francisco on Saturday the 13th and flew to Marseilles, France by way of Paris. Then I was scooped up and driven to a small town called Bedoin which is less than 30km from the top of Mont Ventoux.  We spent the first few days trying out shoes, clothing and gear. I am "blessed" to have a sample size foot and got to spend a morning doing 10 minute repeats in prototype shoes. You get to know the feel of a shoe very quickly when you are sprinting to keep up with some of the fastest men on trail in the world.

Fast guys. Blinding speed, blinding white clothing.
I tried to keep up.

Our days were spent running multiple times, eating at the hotel restaurant and getting to know our worldwide Salomon teammates. After the first three days of testing, running, photo shoots, etc we were all looking forward to a big group run up to the top of Mont Ventoux. The top of Mont Ventoux, AKA bald mountain AKA the hardest stage in the Tour De France is still covered in snow and apparently has wind speeds of at least 56mph 240 days out of the year. Sounds about right having experienced it.

 Salomon Crew before heading up Mont Ventoux

One of the things I had to be really good about during Salomon Advanced Week was monitoring myself and keeping myself reined in. I am in taper for Lake Sonoma 50 miler this Saturday and American River soon thereafter. I couldn't afford to let my ego take hold and try to keep up. I could have but it wasn't the right decision. I had to eat a good portion of humble pie over the week and watch everyone hammer out their runs and get pretty competitive with one another, in a good way of course. I felt good about my paces for the week and successfully navigated the situation. Our run up Mont Ventoux was an absolute blast. Especially considering the distance we were doing to go so close to Lake Sonoma (10 days out), I went really conservative up the mountain, took lots of pictures and think I managed to be one of the few people without sore legs the next day. After hanging with the main group for the first few miles, Jen Segger, Caitlin Smith and I went the rest of the way up and back together and it truly was an adventure navigating up the mountain. We hit scree, huge steep snow fields and some crazy, crazy wind at the top.

Seriously steep snowy climb
Coats on! The wind made it frigid up there!

The run was a blast. We covered about 40k and did about 6,000 feet of climbing. All in all, Salomon Advanced Week was a true taste of living the life. We ran, we ate, we rested, we talked about products and how to make them better, we tested, we did photoshoots. Sometimes it felt like work, sometimes it felt like play. I was happy to get home, I was happy to have the experience. I think the coolest thing is knowing that Salomon is working really hard to create products that are beneficial for us and meet our needs. They are listening, developing and working on doing great things in the sport and it was really cool to be a part of that.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Simple Pleasure

 My sister, the ninja.

This morning, I woke up with the sun and jumped out of bed, refreshed, enthusiastic, alive, long before my alarm was set for. It was such a nice feeling, I just wanted to jump up and down (like my sister up there) and dance around the room. It is a relief to feel this way. I can't say I've felt that way in a long time. Especially not in the last 4-5 days. I have been struggling with energy for a while and been sick for the last few days.

Last week, I did a mini taper for the Napa Valley Marathon. I didn't feel great all week, but I figured it was my body doing recovery work while I allowed it good rest. I never feel great during a light taper week, so I figured it was just that. But by Thursday, I knew it was not just that. My energy which has been lack luster for a while (due mostly to low iron and hard training) was even more tanked than usual, I was so thirsty it felt like I had crawled across a desert. By the time we got back from my one good run of the week on Friday, I felt so bad that I spent the majority of the day curled up in bed, without appetite, fighting with a fever. At that point, I knew that the marathon on Sunday was unlikely and I resigned myself to nothing but healing.

I didn't run all weekend. I didn't even consider it. Your priorities change very quickly when all you want to do is be able to sit up for more than 5 minutes without a pounding headache or eat solid food and not feel instantly sick to your stomach. Forget running, I just wanted to feel like being alive again. 

Yesterday, I was feeling much better but not all the way. I considered running but since I was balancing on the edge of recovery, I didn't think it was smart. I didn't want to push myself backwards over the edge. I thought about one thing yesterday a great deal: not running. Not "not running" for one day, but never being able to run again. Most people have the ability to run, if they choose to cultivate it. A vast majority of people let this ability go unused. And then there are people who want NOTHING more in the world than to be able to run again. I know a few. I know people who would give anything to be able to run again. But for some, there are health reasons that simply cannot be run past. I can't even imagine. Taking a few days taper and a few days off was nothing. I knew I would eventually get better, get back to running. I looked forward to that time, but also didn't rush it.

When I woke up this morning, I knew I was back. And likely better than I have been in a while. Afterall, the rest my body needed to combat sickness is also additional and highly beneficial rest time for my muscles and body. I sprang from bed, excited. When I laced up my shoes and darted out into the crisp, cold morning air I felt ALIVE in a way that we forget and ignore so easily.

I ran like a child. Pushing hard up the hills, striding in time with the music in my headphones. It wasn't a workout. Forget a workout, this was living. This was feeling. This is why I do what I do. If I could do nothing but run with the joy, passion and pureness I did this morning and never race again, I would do it in a heartbeat. Running is one of my life's greatest and most simple pleasure. This morning, the sun rising over the city, the crisp air against my checks, my lungs and legs working hard, but effortless at the same time I was in heaven, I was following my bliss, I was loving every step and completely soaking in life, the world. That is why I do it. Simple pleasure, passion, joy.

Restaurant Review: Anchor & Hope

I try to do my restaurant reviewing in an organic way.  I mean, I experience the restaurant and food and experience as a regular customer (which I am) and don't go in with a hyper-analytical, hair-splitting eye. I let the experience come to me. I have eaten enough good food around the world and have developed my palate enough to be able to have a good gauge of quality. I don't have to ruin my meal by only examining the quality of every better by everyone at the table. I take the feedback that naturally arises in conversation, couple it with my opinion and if there is enough information gathered, review!

Such was the case last Thursday when I met up with my friend M & S for dinner. Whenever I get the opportunity or make the opportunity to go out to dinner, I try to go someplace I have never been. I snag a lot of items off the 7X7 list of 100 places you need to eat before you die or off our own list of places we want to go or have heard buzz about. For dinner with M&S I suggested a few spots, but could get reservations for none of them, so I suggested Anchor & Hope. Their "Angels on Horseback" were on the 7x7 list and since I haven't eaten a lot of oysters in my life, I figured it would be a fun try!

I made the reservations more than a week in advance and so I felt I had a reasonable expectation of a decent table. Assumption wrong. We were in the worst possible location. A four top at the corner where the walkway from the front door turns to go to the restroom. The same path goes along the bar, so we had bar traffic. And the same path goes to the kitchen, to which we were the most closely seated. There was no safe seat at the table except mine which I procured only because I was the first to arrive. My seat was securely tucked back amongst the other tables. M's seat was on the main walkway, S's seat on the restroom side walkway. The other chair was not safe to inhabit. Both of them got bumped into numerous times. About halfway through the dinner, the hostess came and asked us if she could take the fourth chair from our table to be used elsewhere. M was not impressed by this since there were several empty tables around. Those tables would be occupied by the time we left, but initially, it seemed like an odd move. The restaurant space is beautiful, old warehouse, rustic styling.

But we didn't come to admire architecture (and it was not that admirable anyways), we came to drink wine and eat. The wine list is very extensive and written in the smallest most painful to read type ever. I finally understood how my mom feels when she reads things. It was downright impossible. So I made M decide. He got a crisp, clean, light white. Of a variety I cannot really recall. It was good, but our waiter was never present enough to keep our glasses full. M ended up having to do the majority of the pouring. Which inherently is not bad, but it just furthered the sense of us being in the worst seat in the house. We got paid attention to like second class citizens (until the bill that is).

I insisted we get the "Angels on Horseback", even though none of us was particularly an oyster person. When they came, none of us were impressed. I thought maybe because I can't eat the remoulade sauce that I somehow missed an element, but M insisted the sauce added nothing, having tasted a bit with and without. The bacon was only luke warm, but crisp, and not exactly flavorful. The oysters were fine but not profound either. They were so average that it made me really skeptical about how it ended up on the 7x7 list in the first place.

M ordered the Asparagus salad which were arranged like Lincoln Logs with a Soft-Boiled Egg pearched on the top. Since I am allergic to eggs, we played a game of pick up sticks to see if I could get an asparagus out without breaking the egg. Success. It was a good asparagus. The full salad combination went over with the others and was dubbed successful.

Our main dishes were as varied as we are. M go the spice seared ahi tuna, S got the fish and chips and I got the local sole with nettle puree, parsnips and spring garlic (I think, I can't actually remember anything but the nettle puree and sole). M said his meal was good. S liked her fish and very thick cut chips, which I tasted and agreed were quite delicious. My sole was excellent. It reminded me why I like sole so much. The nettle puree was complex, spicy, a rollercoaster of good flavor. Not nearly enough for for me though. It was a very small portion, which of course I expect at fine-dining restaurants. But usually I don't have to go home after I eat at a restaurant and eat again. And it wasn't even a hard training day and so my appetite was considerably light.

For dessert M&S each got a glass of wine and we tried to enjoy the evening but it just continued to feel like a place we didn't want to linger. Our table, the ambiance, our service did not lend itself to feeling welcome or relaxed. We asked the server for the bill and M and I tried to do math to work out the bill. He put his card on the table and the server swooped in to get it, but we weren't ready as we were still calculating how much cash I was putting down. The only time our server was attentive was with the bill. The bill was not a welcome sight either, $198 for 3 people for what we got seemed a bit steep for what we got. It definitely was not worth that price.

The food was average in general and well below average for that price point. The service was uninspired and the whole experience ended up feeling like, "why did we even bother?" I didn't hate it, no the food was fine. But it was appallingly average.

Anchor & Hope on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 5, 2010

Racing and Expectations

Back in 2007, I won the Napa Valley Marathon. Going into that race, I had no expectations. I had moved the weekend before, I had gone on two long-ish runs (one was unplanned) in freezing cold weather. I didn't really taper and came in with the idea that I was merely tuning up for Mad City 100k, my first 100k a month later. I was pleasantly surprised by my performance.

Then, I was a much lower mileage runner and had just begun to scratch the surface of running. I enjoyed a very anonymous status. I could have run fast or slow, race or not and no one would have noticed. After a few years on the scene and some success, that is no longer the case. I am not complaining, heaven's no.

Now, when I come to a race, I can't fly under the radar. And it has changed my mind-set about planning my racing schedule. Last year, I didn't race a ton, much less in fact than the previous two years. When I went to set up my schedule this year, I wanted to tailor everything towards Western States. I selected American River 50 miler (April 10) and Ice Age 50 miler as my tune up races for States and then decided to add Napa Valley Marathon (March 7) as an early season "speed workout". I figured it would be fun to start the season out by racing a marathon, albeit without fully focusing on it. I wanted to keep my schedule light, so I could race well at each race without robbing myself of recovery or peak training for States.

But then I decided to run Lake Sonoma 50 miler (March 27) and Miwok 100k (May 1-instead of Ice Age 50) and that changed things. Suddenly I went from having a very light racing schedule to one in which I was wondering how the heck I was going to get any training in there at all. While some people can be very successful at racing quite often, I know for me that I cannot go into each race trying to red-line.

This past Saturday, after a great 33 mile run on the Miwok course, we were eating Papalote burritos and discussing racing, expectations and prioritizing races. What it comes down to is that I have to make sure that I maintain my focus for each race and race according to MY plan. Not according to the hype, expectations of others or even ego. While it may not be easy to listen to people tell me I am sand-bagging or hear after a race (like last year at Way too Cool), "what happened?" when I ran a smart, not "A" race pace, I continually remind myself: what are my goals for this race? Why am I here?

When looking at all the upcoming races, I remember something Gary Robbins told me last year at TransRockies. He said (regarding the six stages of TR), "you don't want to win 5 days and end up in second on the last day". I take that sentiment and apply it to my racing schedule this year. I have to remember what my ultimate goal is. I want to win the war, the battles are inconsequential. While expectations may exist externally, I will try my best from putting them on myself.

Sunday's Napa Valley Marathon will be a test of that. I have not tapered, I am battling a cold and I haven't done a single long run on the road. I have no expectations for my performance. I don't even have a goal time. I don't think that I will be making an effort to hang with the 6-7 women who are all going for their Olympic Trials qualifier. This is their "A" race, not mine. Doesn't mean I won't put in a good effort but I have reasonable, forgiving expectations of myself. I am mostly just looking forward to enjoying the race, the race weekend, hanging out with friends, eating good food and drinking wine. I love the adventures, the challenge, I love just running and carry that with me as I toe the line and see what the day has for me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ready for take off

This morning when I woke up, it felt like it was going to be a good day. I was ready for lift off for a good productive day, I would be on track checking things off my list, accomplishing things, building my plans, cultivating my future. But when you work from home like I do,  sometimes it takes a Herculean effort to keep up the momentum day in and day out. Today was one of those days. 

Practically by the time I had finished baking up some Berry Oat Wondies a la Flying Apron, I was just over the day and ready to curl up in bed and go back to sleep.  Or do nothing. Maybe it's the slightly sick feeling I have, or maybe it's the mini taper I am forcing upon myself for this Sunday's Napa Marathon (even though its a training race). I am sure not too much analysis is needed since there are just days like this for everyone. I am sure there are people out there who feel this way all the time. But for some reason, it's just not sitting right. I just wanted to feel otherwise today, I wanted to NOT try and just do. I wanted to be able to choose not to fail

But instead I took a nap. And when I woke up, it was raining outside and I looked at my clock and said, hmmm well maybe I could just sleep for the rest of the day. Every time I sat down at the computer I wasn't even motivated to waste time on social media or mindless internet surfing. I was looking for another link from another of my favorite "illuminated minds" and came across a tweet for a blog that has completely changed my entire thought process of this blog mid-sentence. The author is talking about Time-jacking. You'll have to read their blog to get the whole gist, but I read this:

11. Only work when you want to.
A Timejacker doesn’t work for the sake of working. They focus their attention on activities that are incredibly important. If you find yourself sitting at your computer, and no ideas are coming to you, stop sitting at your computer! Go read a book. Go outside and sit in the park. Go to a yoga class or to the gym and exercise your body. Cook yourself a healthy lunch.
There are a million things you could be doing besides sitting in front of your computer with a glazed over look on your face waiting for ideas to come. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that the ideas won’t come in when you’re in front of the computer.
I wrote this entire article in my brain yesterday as I walked down west side of Prospect Park. I stopped at the bookstore and pursued the stacks. I got a cup of coffee and watched people do what people do.
I decided that Timejacking was the most important element of success as I was NOT sitting in front of a computer. The next day, I simply sat down and wrote a nearly 3500 word article in an hour. Because this article is so valuable, it will no doubt return an incredibly high value to my business.
If I had spent yesterday staring blankly at a computer screen, I never would have written this article. Take this to your own life though; how often do you sit at a computer screen just waiting for ideas to come?

I spend way too much time at my computer waiting for my ideas to come. I haven't written any of my book(s) because I spend way too much time thinking that I should be able to find motivation to start on page one and just start going. I find my inspiration on the run, in the kitchen, when I am doing the things that I love in life. Too often I derail myself because I try to do things in a way that doesn't actually work with my process. Every morning I sit down at my desk open up my internet browser and in my head say "ok go!"and instantly get distracted by unimportant things (email, facebook, blah, blah, blah). Distracted, derailed and then demoralized. My problem isn't that I am failing to chose not to fail, it is that I am expending my energy trying to work in a way that doesn't maximize or even create results.

I fall prey to the idea of "what I should be doing", feel guilty (oh Catholic guilt) that I operate in a non-linear or traditional manner. Fact of the matter is, I am a project based person. Put a task in front of me (especially one I am passionate about) and I can work away at it with a feverish passion. I can do an immense amount of work in a small amount of time. I can do one person's month worth of work, in the course of a few days. Over the time I have worked at home, I have trained myself to sit down every day for 7-8 hours and "work". Even if there is no work to be done, no task to complete or even better no inspiration to fuel the fire. When I worked in previous office jobs, I would get all my work done in the first 2 hours and then be miserable for the rest of my time.

I confound myself. It is quite humorous actually. When I work less, I am way more productive. And when I force myself to work more, I am way less. I don't embrace my own process and end up stressing myself out. I do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. That is the definition of insanity, yes I know!

So today, I have to come to realize I didn't fail. Today, despite spending my morning baking, grocery shopping, napping and eating, I actually accomplished a very huge thing: I understood my own process AND I took action creating something to reflect it. How long did it take? 45 minutes of good hard work. How much time could I have spent not being worried about finding that 45 minutes of inspiration? 8 hours. Guess I didn't need a Herculean effort after all. The momentum continues to build and day after day, it's pretty cool to watch the journey unfold.

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