Wednesday, October 10, 2012

4 Weeks to go: Napa Training Time!

5 Weeks to go:  No Go

** If you are one of the 3 people who follow my blog, you might have noticed (and were sitting by your computer waiting patiently) that there was no "5 Weeks to Go" Blog.  Good reason, I only ran 23 TOTAL miles that week:  Feet were so trashed from the 50 miler it was Wednesday before I could run 5 miles.  Scary to have such a low volume week this close to race day but I trust that everything is happening EXACTLY how God wants it to so I will just go with the flow.......***

 4 Weeks to go: Napa!

This week my wife and I got to take our first real vacation without the kids in 4 years: Praise God!  One of our good friends and clients has a house in Napa, CA that he let us use for 5 days and I was able to use frequent flyer miles to get us out there – so there we went!  Monday and Tuesday before we headed out of town were a blur, trying to get 5 days work done in 2, got in 3 runs but not much mileage.

We left Wednesday early AM – I managed to squeeze in a 5 mile “loop” run at 4:30am (10 ½ mile loops around our neighborhood) – actually not bad, kept my mind in the game as I was counting Hail Mary’s at the same time as counting laps;  multi-tasking, for sure!

We got to California and headed right to San Francisco: via a very nice ferry ride: it was nice to walk around the city that we love so much and where we spent 3 days on our honeymoon (we actually got to have drinks in the hotel where we stayed, nice memories).  Also got another 3 miles of very hilly walking in: add it to the training log!

Thursday I got up at 10:30am after the most amazing 10 hours sleep I have had in months (really 7:30am California time) and prepped for my first California trail run!

I was planning on doing the famous “Dipsea” trail:  a 7 mile trail that actually has the oldest trail race in the United States run on it each year.  If you ever want to look up a unique race, check it out.  They “handicap” the fast runners by making them start way back and thus giving everyone a chance to win the race (in fact one year the race battle for first was between a 9 year old girl and a 65 year old woman – the 9 year old won)!

Plans changed, as I didn’t look ahead and realized that it was over an hour drive each way.  With a 6 hour run planned I didn’t want Heather to have to wait 8+ hours to do something together.  I found a park about 20 minutes from my friends house and had Heather drop me off, looked like about 14 mile trail so figured I would do it twice for my long one this week.  Very interesting trail, first of all, there is a sign when you start: “beware of rattlesnakes, wild pigs and mountain lions” – nice!  Then it basically goes up hill, very steep (mostly un-runnable for this guy) for about 2 miles, right out of the parking lot. 

It has not rained here in a while so the trail was very dry and dusty (my poor new Cascadia’s!) which made it slippery on the corners.  This looked like more of a mountain bike trail than a running trail (there was a large group out there hiking but I was the only crazy one running this trail).  Went through some very cool areas, real wilderness feel – but most of the trail was exposed and kind of barren – not really my thing.  At one point you went through a gate onto private property – I was wondering why you had to keep the gate closed until I came around a corner and, BAM, there are 3 cows right in the middle of the trail!  They looked at me like I was crazy, I looked at them like “what are cows doing on the trail” and we both moved on.

Rest of this loop was pretty uneventful, the trail really didn’t appeal to me or bring me any spiritual insights, but it was definitely cool to be in a very, very different environment.  Also made me appreciate, again, the wonderful secluded trails we have in Georgia!

Got back to the parking lot at about 2.5 hours, fueled up and headed back out.  I had planned on 6 hours but it started to get really warm and I wasn’t digging the trail so I decided to take a different trail (this one said on the map “very steep and narrow trail) and see if I could make the run harder and shorter.  I did.

This part of the trail, the Rim Something trail, was BRUTAL.  It basically went straight up a mountain, at one point I had to rest leaning on a tree cause if I didn’t I would have fallen back down the mountain. The views were amazing, and sometimes scary and I had many connections to the lord on this climb!  At the top, I actually took my hydration pack off, sat down on a rock and had something to eat.  My legs were rubber and I was starving and, more importantly, I was not in any hurry to be anywhere – Praise God for vacations!

Down the mountain was tough, not as steep as the other side, but still very tough to let the legs go and really run.  Finished up on a road and ended up with 4.5 hours of running, probably about 20-22 miles.  Not bad.

Again today I was reminded that my connection with nature occurs mostly when I am surrounded by trees in a dark forest.  Being exposed, in a barren, sort of desert landscape is different – but doesn’t let my mind wander and hear the lord as much as secluded trails.

Later this week, I will attempt to make it to Dipsea – looking at pictures, this one looks much more to my liking.

Btw, day 3 in Napa was an 8 mile road run, beautiful road but absolutely no shoulder so pretty scary when trucks came by.  4 miles basically uphill out and turn around, took 45 minutes out and about 33 back.

Dipsea "++++"

Saturday on our Napa trip and it was time to travel a bit to experience some famous California trails!  I had planned on making the Dipsea trail (site of the oldest trail race in the US) my semi-long run for the week.  Woke up and decided not to run Dipsea, based on recommendations on the race website.  Most of the site described how hard the trail was to follow and that you should really run it the first time with someone who has run it before.  I really didn’t want to spend my morning looking for my way and feeling lost so we decided to go to the local Napa running store and ask for a good place to experience California trails. 

The people there were very nice but only one guy really seemed like he knew what he was talking about, and he was a fellow trail runner so I decided to listen to him!  After a few suggestions of going to the Marin Trail Head –  then he mentioned Dipsea as the BEST place to run.  I told him my concerns and he said “it is so easy, you really cannot get lost, whenever you get to a trail crossing, it will be obvious where to go or there will be someone there you can ask”. 

Can you tell where this is going?

So we drove over (said it was a one hour drive, took 1.5 hours – a sign for sure) and it took us a while just to find the trail head.  He told me that because land is so valuable in California, you won’t find a lot of parking lots or parks associated with trails.  Boy, he was right. 

Somehow we found a trail head (not the actual start) and parked.  Thank God Heather was with me cause I would have gone the wrong way right from the start (she has an amazing sense of direction, I get lost in my own driveway).  We walked together about 15 minutes and then my legs were itching to go and I took off.  Plan was she would meet me at the other end of the trail (Stinson Beach) in about 2 hours, allowing me to take my time and enjoy the journey!

The beginning of the trail was great, then I came out onto a road and had no idea where to go.

Note to self: next time you do this, BRING A TRAIL MAP! 

I wondered back and forth in this area, turns out I was near the Muir Forest park – finally I found a trail head that was marked “Dipsea” and showed I was on my way to Stinson beach. 

Ok, cool, about an extra ½ mile of running and I was back on track.

Then I hit another road.

Then I could not find the trail. 

I found the trailhead, but it was no longer the Dipsea trail.  I seemed to remember something from the website that said you went on different trail for a while so I decided to take a risk.  This trail was really cool, mostly in the woods, very flat and runnable and went on for about 2 miles before I hit another road!

Now I am about 60 minutes into the run and no where near the Dipsea trail (I think).  Again, I wonder around for a while and come across a guy running the other way.  I ask him how to get to Stinson Beach and he says I can go on some other trails (cannot remember name right now) that include a 4.5mile climb over the mountains that run along the beach – sounds awesome!

Now it gets really cool, and scary at the same time.  This trail was basically a series of switch-backs up a mountain, mostly exposed and I was able to run pretty much the whole way – being in great shape, awesome weather and no humidity really helped!  As I approached the top of the climb, it got even cooler (both figuratively and metaphorically).

You could feel a change in the temperature and see mist coming off the Pacific Ocean as you neared the top (or what I thought was the top). 

Got to a vista where you could see the climb I just did and the ocean on the other side. Amazing! 

I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I had any idea where I was.

God was with me because as I came back from the vista, I saw a sign that said 2.5 miles to Dipsea Trail!  I would not have seen this sign if I had not gone off trail to enjoy the great view – before that I was planning on following signs to Muir Beach, which looked like it was 1 mile on a busy road to get there --  Not really what I was looking for to end my run!

Anyway, I headed down the trail and….

It kept going up!

I should have realized it cause it definitely was not 4.5 miles of uphill running by the time I saw this sign.

I asked a couple of mountain bikers if I was on the right track to head to Stinson Beach and they had no idea.  They did say that in “about 3 miles” I would hit a dirt road that would take me back to civilization, and then I could go about 6 miles to Mill Valley.

Did I mention that Mill Valley was where I started?

I continued running and just tried to enjoy the trail and the moment.  I won’t lie, there were moments where I started to question whether this was a good idea to do alone. 

Especially with my sense of direction, and no trail map.

Finally I see the cross road and there are other people hiking there. Praise God!

I stop to check in with a couple and they have a map (what a novel idea).  They are also headed to Stinson Beach and we realize I am only about 50 feet from the Dipsea and then it is 3 miles of mostly downhill to the beach!

Praise God again!

I am about 2 hours into the run now and finally have a cell signal, send Heather a text that I am only 3 miles away.

The rest of the run was a complete joy.  A mix of very fast, non-technical downhills out in the open with beautiful, dark forest sections with Red Woods, dark green moss and huge ferns – absolutely amazing and what I pictured running in Northern California!

At this point I didn’t want the run to end. 

I was feeling as good as I have throughout this whole training program.   Legs felt strong, hardly sweating at all, Achilles felt good – couldn’t get much better!

I arrived into the town of Stinson Beach and went right to a beach side cafĂ©, called Heather and got a large ice cream cone – it was amazing!

This run ended up being 2.5 hours, about 11 miles by my estimate. 

The lesson here was to let go and let God.  When I was worried about where I was, I wasn’t enjoying the run or scenery as much.  I kept trying to “go with the flow” and realize that I was lost for a reason.  I was able to get in some amazing hill training, built a lot of confidence in my fitness level, and appreciate how well my body is functioning at this point in my training.

4 weeks to go, 2 tough, 2 taper……

Excited and nervous, in equal doses!

PS - Add one more 6 mile road run the morning we came home, total 66 miles with lots of hills this week:  strong week (for me)!