Sunday, November 14, 2010

Stinson Beach 50k

After last week's race at Lithia Loop, the first thing that came to mind after finishing was breakfast, then it was chocolate and a whole host of things other than racing again the following weekend. But after a good 14 mile recovery run on Sunday and a day off on Monday, the race warm-fuzzies were wearing off and I was back to my coach-prescribed ass kicking on the track and in workouts.

I knew that a bunch of my fellow Endurables, Ninjas and many friends were all going to be out racing either the 25k or 50k at PCTR's Stinson Beach Race. Nathan was going to run the 50k, so on a whim, I signed up for the 50k on Wednesday. After all, just like last week, my training schedule prescribed me a run that would be just about how much time it would take me to finish the race if I was running at a hard workout pace.

Stinson Beach is a two loop course for the 50k and has just over 7,000 feet of climbing in two epic climbs and descents on each loop. My greatest motivation for doing the race was to get some time running up Steep Ravine and down Matt Davis which are both a part of TNF50 course. I absolutely love bombing down Matt Davis. It is technical, steep and one wrong step could easily send you off a cliff or bust a knee or ankle in a season ending injury. I looked forward to that part.

I was feeling okay Saturday morning and my legs were not too bad after 55 miles of running in the week, but I was still not sure how much power and stamina I would have to make it up Steep Ravine and up Deer Park Fire Road, which are both very sturdy climbs.

When we got to the race, it seemed like a big running family reunion, complete with some of the missing characters running up to the start line to stay hi in the middle of their double dipsea run. It was a perfect morning, warm and clear as we lined up to head up the hill.

Off we went up Steep Ravine for the first time. I was by myself behind a decent sized group of fast guys and I didn't want to push too hard, too soon. The 50k started 20 minutes before the 25k which a bunch of the Thursday Ninjas. My motivation for the first loop was avoiding being caught by smack talking buddy Brett Rivers. He is a master smack talker and I knew there would be no end to it if he successfully chased any of us down with such a lead. Thankfully, he did not catch me.

Arriving at the top of Steep Ravine, I felt good and my pace felt solid. As I crested the top, I saw that fellow Endurables member Kristin was pretty close behind me and I decided to push a bit on the gradual and then steep downhill to Redwood Creek trail. I pressed and when I looked back I didn't see her, so I figured I had given myself a cushion for the next climb. I know from Endurables runs she is a great climber and I definitely did not have the energy to push the uphills, so I wanted to play to my strengths of flat and downs and just float the ups (and by float I mean trudge).

I made it most of the way up Deer Park the first time before being passed by Leor Pantilat passed me as the first runner in the 25k. Luckily, he would be the only 25k runner to pass me. Ha, Brett didn't get me (though he did come in 2nd, congrats buddy!). He told me that the next lady back was several minutes, but I couldn't be too confident in that. I was happy to be done with the first round of the hills and enjoyed the nearly 4 miles of descent to the end of the loop. Ok, honestly as I was descending down Matt Davis pretty hard, I was having a really hard time being motivated to go out for a second loop. I came into the aid station at the bottom with Mark Tanaka (after I helped him get back on course) and he urged me onwards and I started my second loop.

Since I was beginning to lag, I was worried I was going to get caught. Since I was not in super "crush the competition" mode, I didn't know if I would have the heart or energy to make a race out of it if I was challenged. I wanted to win, no doubt about it but my race tactical brain was no engaged. I was nearly to the top of Steep Ravine when I saw that I was in fact, not several minutes ahead and that Kristin had caught up to me on the climb. I took the last few minutes before the aid station deciding what I wanted to do. I knew I could try and hammer down Coastview and Heather cut off and push it on the flats of Redwood Creek to try bank some time for the Deer Park climb again, but that if I did that, I ran the risk of her coming with me and exhausting myself for the climb. So I decided on something else, I casually filled up my water bottles, let her leave the aid station first then caught up to her and matched her pace. We ran together, chatting, enjoying the company under the mid-day heat. It was her first ultra and it was great to see her doing so well. I told her that she could feel free to pass me anytime (as I lead us single file down Coastview), as I was not really feeling like hammering on my already tired legs. So we ran together. I knew she would be faster up Deer Park than I, but was hoping that I might be able to keep her within range and use my superior technical downhill running to catch her.

I huffed and puffed and scraped my way up Deer Park. I was moving decently well and caught glimpses of her a few times, but was definitely losing ground. I neared the top of the climb and caught a young guy who told me this was his first ultra and he hadn't trained for it. I told him he was doing great considering that!! I also told him I was trying to decide if I really wanted to hammer and chase her down. He told me I should, "she's right there", he said. And by right there, meant, I knew, not close enough I could see. But I was at the top, I had gotten through the tough climbs and got to celebrate the run with a nice downhill and then be done. That was what mattered.

I filled my bottle at Pantoll, ran out and contemplated my strategy. At moments like this I think about Gary Robbins and his words about "winning the battle, but losing the war" (at transrockies) and since this was suppose to be a training event for TNF 50 in 3 weeks, I really contemplated whether or not to go after her or just chill. Before my mind could make itself up, my body did it for me. I got a nice burst of energy and my legs started moving. I started working the last bit of rolling trail of Coastal before hitting Matt Davis and the steep technical downhill part. There were a ton of hikers on the trail and I felt like I was dodging and weaving and running through people like a crazy person (not through them literally, I didn't touch anyone though there were a few I wish I could have pushed out of the way).

I popped out into a clearly before the really steep part and spotted her. She was less than 1/4 mile ahead, running near Mark Tanaka. My mind got on the same page as my body and I went into hunting, racing mode which was completely different than my casual (but strong) mode from the rest of the race. While the first go down Matt Davis had made me laugh at how well I navigated, this time I felt like I was in the zone. My feet went between the roots and rocks and twists without having to think about it. I leaned into the curves and danced under the fallen branches and around the many hikers that were all over the narrow trail. I descended faster and faster and faster. I was 30 miles in and my legs were urging me onward instead of begging me to stop. Down, down, down. Then I spotted her, a switchback ahead, less than 50 meters. I dug my foot into a tight corner and gained. Closer, closer. 20-10-5. We hit a flat patch and I caught up to her. "How's it going?" I asked. "I am just ready to take my shoes off." She responded. I thought for a second about pulling up, ceasing my charge and running it in with her but I was feeling it too much. We were about to enter a curve and I told her I was going to pass. I dashed past her and figured she would come with me. I pressed on, faster and faster. Not because I wanted to beat her per se, but because my body was responding to the fight. It wanted to win, it wanted to go down swinging. I caught up to Mark again and he too sped up, we hit the road (I was about 5 meters back from him) and pushed to the finish line, not daring to look back until I was rounding the corner off the main road. I finished 10th overall, first woman in 5:05 and set a new course record. Kristin was just over a minute behind me, running a great first ultra!

Nathan finishing 3rd overall in a tough mens field in 4:49! 
Photo by Leor Pantilat

I was really happy with how the race played out. I ran hard all week, fought a cold and still put together a great race. I also realized how much fight I have in me when I think I am completely tapped out. I really dropped the hammer on that downhill and moved myself out of a place of relative indifference to complete focus and effortlessness. It was pretty cool to be able to make that switch.

Men's winner, Leigh Schmitt and I after the race.
Photo by Rick Gaston

Larissa and I hanging out after the racePhoto by Leor Pantilat

We hung out for a long time after the race. Cheering our friends in, just enjoying everyone being there together on a beautiful late fall day (75 and sunny, fall yeah haha). All in all, couldn't ask for a better day.

The coast and the city beyond from Highway 1.

Best part of winning? Coffee mug!!!

Thanks to Sarah, Michael and all of PCTR for putting on such a great event!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The PB&J of life and Pantry Granola Bars

This is not a post about the most epic peanut butter and jelly you've ever laid eyes on. If you want that, check out this recipe. It's about being in between two things, like (Justin's) peanut butter and jelly between (Udi's Gluten Free) slices of bread.

I am in between two races, recovering from Tussey, getting ready for TNF 50 in just three weeks. The amount of time between the two races is a strange amount and therefore makes me feel a little weird, a little off and a little bit like a slacker. I definitely wanted to recover throughly from Tussey. Even though I was feeling good after the race, I definitely didn't want to push it and get hurt. But in the back of my mind, I also knew that I wanted to keep working on my speed (for Houston in January) and maintain my fitness for TNF. The week after Tussey, I ran just over 50 miles for the week. The next week 85. Last week, I did a righteously hard week (but still lower mileage) and finished it off with doing Lithia Loop as a hard training run. I've been working out with my trainer Josh and am feeling strong and healthy and my running is going great. I can't complain, but I do feel a bit stuck in the middle. For most of the year, my peak training has included several double workouts a week and I've gone over 100 miles a lot this year. I like running over 100 miles per week. And I feel like I haven't done that forever. Woe is me right? No, that's not what this is about. That type of intense training helps you feel and stay sharp. I trained really hard and smart for Tussey and had a phenomenal race. So I feel stuck between trying to pursue that level of training with my physical limits (aka staying healthy and not overtraining). I definitely don't want the wheels to come off and crash and burn before I even get to the starting line at the beginning of December. Thankfully, I have been resolute about keeping my mileage moderate (80-90 miles), I have an amazing coach who challenges and pushes me and found other things to entertain and distract me (like my new obsession with True Blood).

I guess, in the end, stuck is the wrong word because I do not feel bad, I am just in between two things that precipitate and influence my behavior. I like to run and run and run and run some more. So sticking to a plan is definitely a good idea. There will be plenty of time for crazy high mileage, epic runs and training.

Speaking of things that stick together. I just threw together some amazing granola bars. I call them "pantry" granola bars because I went and scrounged around in our pantry, came up with a small bag of seedy trail mix and a large bag of standard trail mix and went to town making some seriously good granola bars. These can really accommodate any number of different combinations of trail mixes, though I highly recommend one nuttier version and one seedier version. And of course, chocolate never hurts either.

2 cups gluten free oats (or regular, if you are one of those people)
2 cups nutty (mine had date pieces and banana pieces along with nuts) trail mix
1/4 cup peanuts (or any nuts)
1/4 cup peanut flour (optional)
2 tbsp chia seeds
2 tbsp cacao nibs
1/2 cup seedy trail mix
1/2 cup dried fruit (mix or single variety, I used sour cherries)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup honey
4 tbsp butter (or coconut oil)
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. Toss together oats, nutty trail mix, peanut and peanut flour. Place on a baking sheet or in large baking dish. Toast in oven for 10 minutes or until starting to get a little golden (watch it, don't burn it!)

While the oat mix is toasting, in a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat and stir in the honey, dark brown sugar and salt. Heat until the mixture is fully incorporated and the brown sugar is melted (2-3 minutes), stir often. Combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl.

When the oat mixture is done toasting, remove from pan/sheet into a large mixing bowl. Mix together oat mixture, butter/sugar mixture and seedy/fruit mixture. Stir until completely incorporated.

Turn oven down to 300 degrees. In a large baking dish (can be the same one, just be careful not to burn yourself), place a piece of parchment paper that hangs over the ends (helps with getting it out of the pan later!). Pour the mixture into the baking pan and tamp down in a wooden spoon until even. Bake for 25-27 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and let cool completely in the pan before removing and cutting. The bars must set, so let them cool completely!! Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Lithia Loop Trail Marathon

Photo courtesy of Scott and Christi Dunlap

About 2 weeks ago, I got my first post-Tussey workouts from my coach to take me onwards towards TNF50, the first week in December. Tussey was definitely my big A race. I wanted to savor it, recover from it and generally not rush back in to training but with only a bit over a month between the two races, it also really wasn't an option. On the schedule from my coach, there was a listed a 3:20 long run for November 6th. I did a quick check and sure enough, as I thought, Lithia Loop Trail Marathon (the trail marathon national championship) was that day. And last year, I ran a 3:18. Sounds like the perfect workout to me.

If you were to do a quick search of all of the things you shouldn't do before a marathon, you would find lists and lists of things ranging from eat different things to do big workouts. Usually, we do a nice taper, watch over every last detail and generally wander around in a weird taper induced mental state. But not for me, not this time.

Instead, I kept on as usual. Well, slightly less than usual. Since Tussey, I haven't brought back my second workouts of the day and have tried to keep my mileage relatively moderate. Last week, however, was a pretty hard week. After taking my usual Monday off, I hammered out the hardest track workout I've done in a while on Tuesday and followed it up in the evening with a hard training session with my trainer that included plenty of squats and lunges. Wednesday was a recovery day and my legs were singing and I don't mean that is a good way. By Thursday, my hamstrings and glutes were super tight and sore, so much so that it took most of the day to get me out the door to run. I almost didn't run because I was worried that if I did I might really ruin my run at Lithia. Ultimately, I got out the door and did another hard workout, tempo this time in 14 miles total. On Friday, I drove up to Ashland by myself. By the time I got there, my legs felt horrible. They were seriously tight and sore from the drive and I was actually worried that I was going to do really horribly and not be able to get my legs moving. While Lithia Loop was going to be a training race, it is still a race (and a race with money due to being the USATF National Championship) and I wanted to at least run it as a hard workout.

I spent about an hour stretching in the room of my hotel (Peerless Hotel, super cute) and ate a hearty meal of baked potato with vegetables and a huge vegetable salad from Greenleaf. I was happy to see they had take away since I didn't much feel like eating in a restaurant all by myself. By the time I went to bed, my legs were feeling better but not great. I was feeling no pre-race nerves and fell asleep just fine.

I woke up at 6am, gobbled up a small pb and banana sandwich, put on my race kit and got back into bed for another hour. I knew there was no reason to be super early to the race start (8am) and I also wanted to get a cup of coffee from Noble Coffee, which was recommended to me by Erik Skaggs, but didn't open until 7am. My legs felt okay and I was glad that at least they didn't feel like crap from the start.

I grabbed a coffee and headed off to the start. It was a really pleasant temperature at the start and I was excited that it seemed to be a lot warmer than the weather report had predicted. I was comfortable in a short sleeve shirt, but wore my 3/4 Salomon tights with compression to support my worked legs. The pre-race reports were that there were lots of speedy women in the field and the men's field was really stacked as well. Last year, I came in 3rd place and nearly caught 2nd place in a dash to the finish. My goal for this year was to run a hard workout and place in the top 5. I was hoping that my worn out legs would be able to muster at least that.

I did a quick warmup, chatted with friend Scott Dunlap and some others, then Hal gave a quick pre-race briefing and we were off. Up the big ass climb.

Pretty much the first 10.5 miles are uphill. Thankfully, I knew this and could pace accordingly. Hal sent us off and a huge group of men dashed out. Scott had told me he was going to aim for a sub-3 hr finish, so I knew that whatever speed he was going, I should NOT be going with him. I noticed two women go out ahead of me, right on Scott's heels and figured that things would shake out pretty quickly at that pace. Pretty soon, the two women ahead dropped behind me and I trucked along in the 8:30-9min/mile range. Slow and steady. I was running with Katie Caba and Melissa Shweisguth and just tried to be comfortable. They moved ahead of me, but I refused to change my strategy of going ultra speed up the hill. Last year, I survived the hill, the got to crank out tempo speed on the slightly downhill miles from 10.5-20 and then hammer the steep and technical (in places) final 6 miles. I was hoping that this strategy would again work and simply tried to suffer as little as possible up the climb. Katie moved ahead and Melissa dropped back and we chatted. She mentioned that "everyone has their strategy" for the race and I thought about it for a minute and considered if I did really have a strategy. At that point, Katie was in 1st and 2nd-5th place were all right there with me and I was kind of ready to be running by myself and according to how I felt. But alas, I had to make it to the top of the hill to shake out of a group of both men and woman. When we hit the aid station at mile 8, I passed off my gloves to Erik and dropped the pace a bit. I knew that the fire road continued to roll uphill, so I didn't push too hard. 

My legs were definitely not feeling as spry as I would have wanted, but I was not surprised at all. Considering the hard workouts and the hill we'd just climbed, I was at the very least, not worried. I dropped the pace to the low 7s and made some space for myself. I hit the distinct point on the course when it starts to lope downwards and I let my legs go a bit more. Or I tried. Last year, I was easily able to drop into the low to mid 6 minute per mile range. But my legs were not having it, I felt like a car stuck in 3rd gear, I could manage a decent and steady pace, but as soon as I tried to speed up, the engine (my legs) would strongly object and make a lot of noise. I was a bit bummed by this because I had been secretly hoping for some magic race adrenaline to kick in that would make all of the week's hard work wash away.  But it didn't. And that was ok. I just thought about Nathan telling me to run a hard workout and IF there was someone to chase that I could see (or someone chasing me), to push it and if not, just be steady. I decided to be steady. I managed a few high 6's and low 7's. And the miles ticked off quickly.

It is amazing how fast a marathon seems to go by when you are use to running 50 miles and beyond. Before I knew it, I was filling my bottle half way up and taking a swig of coke at the mile 20 aid station. From there, we dive down a steep hill and I cranked out a few sub 6 miles. I passed a handful of guys on the downhills. Thankfully the one part of my leg that wasn't really sore was my quads which allowed me to float down the hills. I worked my way through the very technical gnarly section from mile 24-25 (passing another guy) then hit the road, eager to be done. It was indeed a hard workout and I was ready for it to be over. 

Learning from last year (and how I nearly caught 2nd place in the last mile), I was slightly paranoid that another girl was going to do that to me. I kept checking over my shoulder, just in case. I didn't want to relinquish 2nd place at that point since I was pretty proud of that considering how messed up I felt coming into the race. I was able to cruise out the last mile pretty strong and finished in 3:28:36, a full 10 minutes slower than last year and in 2nd place. Katie had run a great race (her first marathon since Lithia Loop 2008!) and finished in 3:23:12. 

Katie and I after the finish.
Photo courtesy of Scott and Christi Dunlap

3rd-6th place women all came in pretty close to one another about 5 minutes after I did. I hung out at the finish and chatted with Katie, Max King, Jeff Browning, Richard Bolt and Yassine Diboun. I changed my clothes, as it was getting chilly, collected my USATF 2nd place medal and headed out to make the long drive back to San Francisco. 

But not before a stop at Morning Glory for coffee and an egg scramble. Which, let's be frank, was the real reason I drove all the way up to Ashland. So delicious. 

I got in the car, drove the 5.5 hours home to SF and by the time I got home, my legs were so sore, I walked like a cowboy. But after a nice long walk to and from dinner, the soreness disappeared, the tiredness subsided and I was left with nothing but warm fuzzy feelings for following up my National Championship in the 50 miler with a 2nd place finish just a few short weeks later. A satisfying workout indeed.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rise to the Occasion: Gluten Free Carrot Oat Muffins

Those who know me, know that I associate myself with closely with turtles. I like to say it is because I am slow, but most people don't buy that. Whatever my reasoning may be, I do love turtles. However, carrots, mainly carrot muffins make me strongly consider changing teams and becoming more of a rabbit (or some might suggest a donkey), just to justify copious quantities of my newly revised carrot oat muffins.

I love carrot muffins. Possibly more than pumpkin muffins. Perhaps I should just generalize and say I love orange foods: carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, persimmons. Mmmm, I just got hungry again. I have a muffin obsession as I mention repeatedly, but carrots muffins have previously taken me above and beyond obsession to addiction. When I was living in Seattle, there was a period of time where every day I would be unable to resist the siren's call of the gluten free vegan carrot walnut muffins at Flying Apron. I was powerless against it, they were delicious. 

A few years ago, to combat the problem, I decided to make my own homemade version. They were good but decidedly gluten free and vegan tasting. That is, no one would be fooled. I moved away from Seattle and sort of forgot about the carrot muffin addiction for a while. Until recently that is. In my quest to build a better gluten free muffin, I stumbled upon my own old recipe and decided to breathe new life into it. I have been working on this one for a while and yesterday, I triumphed, BIG TIME.

Yesterday, I carefully measured and mixed, folded and baked. Waited patiently for 25 minutes. And when I opened the oven to remove them, I was shocked. The muffins, they had muffin tops! I tell you in gluten free baking, it is not a common sight! I was amazed. I was delighted. These muffins had truly risen to the occasion.

I waited for them to cool. Hoping in the process they didn't fall (they didn't). Hoping that the flavor would match their appearance. I took a tentative bite. Wow. Hands down, best muffin I've made yet. I am on a roll. Last week best scones, this week best muffins. 

My other muffin recipes have tended toward the moist almost cupcake like texture, which is fine. But these carrot oat wonders were more muffin-y-er, a bit more dry (without being dry), laced with strands of carrots, flecks of oats and hunks of walnuts. The only thing I could see adding would be golden raisins. They were so tasty. And the best part is, they kept well overnight. They didn't collapse or get sticky or more moist. In fact, they were such a triumph that, over breakfast this morning, the baker inquired "you sure there's not any gluten in here?"

Gluten Free Carrot Oat Muffins (revised)

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 1/2 cup gluten free oats
  • 1 cup carrot, coarsely grated
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp molasses
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 egg (yolks and whites separated)
  • 1/4 cup Buckwheat flour
  • 1/4 cup sweet sorghum flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/4 cup tapioca starch
  • 1/4 cup potato starch
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • dash nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice 
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • optional, 1/4 cup golden raisins


1. In large bowl, pour almond milk over oats; stir to mix.

2. Cream together brown sugars, molasses, butter, coconut oil, vanilla extract and egg yolks in a mixer on medium.

3. Sift together flour, spices, baking powder, salt and baking soda together. Stir into oat mixture and add carrots and walnuts.

4. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients gently until combine. Do not overmix.
5. In a mixer in a very clean bowl, using the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites with the white sugar into a meringue. Start whipping the eggs first then gently add the sugar a few tbsps at a time. Beat until soft peaks form. (Note, sometimes meringues just don't behave, if you don't get good peaks or it doesn't work, don't fret, just add the egg white/sugar combination into the muffin mix and it'll be fine!)

6. Very gently fold the meringue into the muffins so as to keep it nice and fluffy.

7.Spoon into muffin cups in a muffin pan, filling almost to the top. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 24-26 minutes.

5. Let stand 2 minutes before removing from pan. Cool on a wire rack. Enjoy with butter and jam. Store in a tupperware container (do not refrigerate).

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