Saturday, July 27, 2013

Slow Play at the Preserve

Today: 3
Present: 353
Count: 51

Being injured sucks! Any incline at all and my Achilles starts to hurt. And once it starts to hurt, that's it. It doesn't get better. I've been trying to rest, but it just takes a long time for this to heal and I guess I have to be patient.

But in the meantime I am getting antsy and really starting to miss running. With any luck it will make me that much more appreciative of the time I have on my feet when I am back. The good news is that the swelling does feel like its going down steadily, so I should be getting close to being back to full strength.

I finally started fundraising for the NYC Marathon. Very cool to see people support me, but I still feel weird about asking for money. And of course I feel like I am letting them down by not being able to run, but I'll be back soon enough.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Cloudy Mission Loop

Today: 3
Present: 350
Count: 50

Achilles feeling better, I set off this morning for a quick job before running down to Los Altos for a meeting. I wanted to take it easy, avoid hills and come back without any pain.

Success on all fronts for the first 20 minutes, then the tightness came back. Annoying, but I can handle it. And its getting better. The swelling is going down and I can feel the leg improving. It'll take some discipline not to run this weekend at the Preserve, or to take it easy anyway, but these two weeks of minimal running have been a reminder that you can't run if you can't run.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Limping Around Central Park

Today: 4
Present: 347
Count: 49

Maura left two days before I did, and I had the city to myself. My Achilles was feeling moderately better, and after four days of binging on booze, food and cross-city travel, I needed a run.

It’s been amazing these past couple weeks, where my runs have been few and far between, how agitated I can become. It’s the move, I know, and work, but normally the stress is counteracted by hours on my feet, drifting in and out of my head. It’s my therapy. And without it, I can start to come unraveled. Addicted is a strong word, but when you get used to something that feels that good, it's easy for want to turn into need.

For the first mile or so, my leg felt good. I bit tight, but good. I took it easy, wanting to make the six-mile loop in time to shower and get across town to meet my old boss for drinks on the east side. I settled in to a comfortable pace and began passing people – especially on Central Park’s gentle up hills. My ego inflated a bit, I picked up the pace. But as I rose towards the reservoir, that familiar twinge came back.

Crap. I hobbled around the water and decided to cut the run short, looping back to Columbus Circle rather than extending all the way to Harlem. I fell in behind a couple strong women runners, both gliding well.

Going at roughly the same pace, I examined their form. On the downs, I watched one loosen up and ease down, while the other kept tight and didn’t look like she was expending any less energy going down than flat or going up. I was reminded to almost flop going down, allowing the shoulders to rotate easily from side to side. Let gravity do its job.

I finished the run earlier than expected, not wanting to push the pain. Annoyed, I hobbled back to the hotel. Fortunately, a couple G&Ts then some ice later in the evening eased the swelling and set me up for what would end up being a truly epic urban hike the following day.

Friday, July 19, 2013

HOT in the Park

Today: 3
Present: 343
Count: 48

I’m not going to lie, it’s been rough running for the past few weeks.

Moving has thrown my schedule and my sense of home, as well as literally throwing my back. I tried my best to recover in the week leading up to the race in Pacifica, but wasn’t feeling my best on race day. Despite it though, I had a great day and ran well.

Then my Achilles started acting up. I had felt it after my long trailrun in Marin a few weeks prior, but brushed it off. My going theory is now that I’ve made the transition to a more minimalist shoe for roads, my thick trail running shoes are fighting against my new gate, aggravating my old ailment. Perhaps that’s true – or perhaps I ramped up to 150 miles a month too quickly.

Either way, a combination of the sore back, inflamed Achilles and a raw toe made me a mound of hurt the day after the race. And I usually brag about how after hard trail runs, I barely feel them.

So I had no choice but to take it easy in the week after Pacifica. Which was OK because I was still all over the place from the move and work was equally crazy. But I was heading to New York at the end of the week and had visions of epic city runs and gliding through Central Park in the sticky summer heat. I had even considered reaching out to an old high school friend and connecting with her Brooklyn-based running group to look for a bit of competitive camaraderie in the concrete jungle.

I limped my way through New York. Maura and I dropped our bags in the city after our redeye and immediately hit the park. I wanted my leg to feel OK. I willed it to stop complaining. But even the sweltering heat and humidity couldn’t shake it out. We were only going for three miles, but I cut it off right at three because the pain pushed past where I know it to be OK.

I know you’re not supposed to run through Achilles problems, but I also have enough experience with them to know that 100% rest won’t solve it either. You need to ease back into it, pushing through just enough pain to relieve whatever the problem is, without aggravating it (or so my crackpot theory goes).

Three miles haven’t been that sweaty (the head index topped 100) and painful in a long, long time.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Race Report: PCTR Pacifica 21k - 7/14/2013

Today: 13
Present: 340
Count: 47

Based my pre-race, the day could have gone a lot worse.

Maura and I have been packing, painting and moving all week. I've barely run, barely slept and eaten like crap. I skimped on pre-race eating and visited the bathroom more often than usual.

It wasn't looking good - and for the first time in my running career, I stuffed some TP into my pocket, hoping it wouldn't prove to be a prescient decision. And to top it all off, I had tweaked my back earlier in the week and this was the first morning I could stand up straight.

Which all could have been quite disappointing, since I had pegged this race as a possible winner. I know these trails, love these trails, and can grind up Mt. Montara in my sleep. But life is good -- my wife and I just bought a house, ducks are settling into a row at work and I really have nothing to complain about.

So despite all possible negatives going into the race, I had a great attitude and no expectations. And to top it all off, not only was Maura running with me, but so was my dad. His first trail race in recent memory, 64-years old and ready to tackle the hills. I was a proud son.

As we crowded around the starting line, I glanced around and picked out the competition. At a small race like this, it's not hard. Only seeing a couple strong looking runners, my confidence grew.

When the pack set off, a few over-eager runners hopped out into the front and set an unsustainable pace. I settled back in the middle of the pack, waiting for them to drop off. And they did.

For most of the single track section of the climb, a young guy set a brisk pace and I followed at his heels (although not too close, having learned my lesson last year in Woodside). I liked the pace, so decided to keep up. About a half mile in, a tall guy blew past us all and disappeared up the mountain. Really strong, impressive climber, but we caught him on the downs.

The Mt. Montara climb is runnable almost the entire way. Invariably, about a half mile in my legs begin to burn and my breathing labors. I wonder how I'll make it all the way up. But there is a flattish section about a mile in where your legs get to rest a bit, and for whatever reason from there on my legs stop complaining.

When we hit the fire road, there were three of us in the pack. I was in the middle and feeling good, so I backed way off the pace to catch my breath and see how the guy behind me reacted. He immediately jumped in front of me. After 30 yards or so of jogging, I picked it up again and settled in behind him.

Shortly into the fire road, you hit the steepest part of the course. In a longer run, I'd certainly walk this. But I know its runnable despite the pitch, and when the guy in front of me began to labor, I made my move. In hindsight this was perhaps a stupid place to pass, on the steepest part of the course. But I wanted to set the tone -- I had sized this guy up and knew I was a stronger runner, and wanted to make sure he knew as well.

Trail racing is in some ways more mental than road racing. There is so much pace variability, speeding up and slowing down, jockeying for position along the single track, passing and getting passed, and as you tire its easy to convince yourself that you're not as fast as the guy in front of you, so you can ease off your pace without feeling guilty. So I figure why not use it to my advantage. As KJ would say, crush his spirit.

I also passed the guy leading our pack on this steep section, wanting to test him a bit. My legs felt strong and I knew I could run well to the peak. While he seemed strong, I wanted to know. He kept with me stride for stride all the way to the top.

We hit the turnaround and I flew downhill. I opened up a lead as I leaped down the fire road I knew so well. It's craggy, steep and slippery -- not an easy descent. But I knew I had a technical advantage and wanted to give myself some breathing room. The single track is a great grade for descending fast, but with the rocks and switchbacks, its not rest. Even if he caught me on the way down, I wanted to be fresh for the next two climbs.

And catch me he did, almost immediately onto the single track. Which was OK. He was a polite runner, passing with respect, encouraging other runners. And while we didn't exactly chat, it felt like a hard training run with a solid running partner. Midway through we caught first place and opened up a gap. Another friendly guy, an excellent little lead crew. Overall, a really enjoyable 3.5 mile descent.

We hit the parking lot, almost took a wrong turn and pulled into the aid station. With my lack of pre-race eating, I wanted to make sure I took in enough food to push me through the climbs ahead. In hindsight, I took too long here. I should have been carrying more food if I had wanted the calories, but more importantly first place spent almost no time in the aid station. By the time I left, he was a good 50 yards ahead of me.

In a road race this is no big deal, it's easy to keep contact. But 50 yards may as well be 50 miles in a trail run. I lost contact, and when my legs screamed out at the incline, I couldn't use him as motivation to push harder. Every time I didn't seem him on a switchback ahead I kept convincing myself that I could let him go, he was a strong runner and I'd be happy with second place. Definitely a loser's mindset.

I really labored up Valley View Trail. It ground on longer than I had expected and my legs felt like they weighed a thousand pounds. I glanced back and could see third place, the strong climber, gaining on me. It spurred me on, but my legs didn't respond.

I hit the top and tried to push it downhill, but even that was a struggle. I landed at the bottom and turned left up the fire road to Horseshoe Trail. I tried to push it up the gradual incline, but wasn't moving fast. A few minutes after turning right onto Horseshoe Trail, the climber passed me. "Don't worry, you'll pass me on the way down." He said. "We'll see," I replied.

The rest of that climb is a blur. It's a narrow, overgrown single track with no vistas. It's repetitive and long, but not that steep. It's totally runnable, and on a good day I could run it quite fast. But today was not that day. I struggled up each switchback, continually hearing someone on the trail behind me. I try to never look back (shows weakness), but on this climb I must have looked back 20 times. I literally kept hearing footsteps. But there was no one there.

I finally hit the top and as the slope turned, gravity took over and my leaden legs were dragged downhill. I tried to turn it on, but had nothing. Midway down I was able to pick up the pace, but my stabilizers were shot. I kept overshooting turns and dancing along the shrubs. Lets' not get hurt.

Around every turn I hoped to see the climber, but unsurprisingly I never did. I just didn't have enough to catch him.

I hit the bottom and turned for home. Results aren't posted yet, but I think I missed the top spot by a few minutes and second by one or two. But I felt good about the run. I lost to a guy who was stronger than me on the ups, and just as strong on the downs. The guy in second crushed me on the climbs and I didn't have enough to catch him on the last down.

So it goes. I finished third in 1:52, a positively respectable time.

I grabbed some water and a beer and waited for Maura, my dad and Maura's friend Nicole to finish. I chatted to a few runners, including the two guys who beat me. We all complained about different parts of the course -- especially the endless switchbacks up Horseshoe.

Maura and my dad came in almost together at 2:40. My dad looked like he had barely broken a sweat. Not bad for the oldest guy in the race and winner of the 60+ division.

Maura had a good race too, and also came in third for the women! Two white ribbons and a blue -- not a bad day for the Jeffery family.

Lessons learned: Keep contact -- mind is more important than body. There is no training for hills other than running hills (or leg strengthening exercises). Even on a short race, have an eating plan.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Loosen the Back

Today: 2
Present: 327
Count: 46

Ugh, getting old sucks. I tweaked my back moving a couch yesterday and can barely stand up. With Pacifica coming up this weekend, I certainly hope it loosens up by then. Hope this little jog around the Mission helps.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Last Morning in Bernal

Today: 3
Present: 325
Count: 45

A morning surprise. I went off on a leisurely morning jog with Maura around Bernal, and on my third loop decided to charge up the backside of the hill. I usually don't go this way, but felt strong so pushed it up the hill. When I uploaded the run, turns out I got KOM for that climb -- which started well before I started charging.

So while I only clipped it by one second, its a KOM nonetheless and I know I could lower the time even more if I were to start in the right place.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Twin Peaks Midday Loop

Today: 8
Present: 322
Count: 44

With a little arm-twisting, I convinced Maura it was a good idea to go all the way up Twin Peaks. And while she did complain a little coming back up over the Dolores hills, we had a great run. We had to add some looping around in La Leunga to hit her eight miles that the paper asked for, but I won't complain about that.

That loop is going to take on new meaning when we move to Potrero, not to mention my 11-mile out and back to the beach which will become a 15-miler with a not insignificant hill in the middle.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Shakeout on the Ups and Downs

Today: 5
Present: 314
Count: 43

Mini back-to-back today with Maura, halfway to Twin Peaks and back along my five-mile loop. This was just what I needed after my long run yesterday, a gentle shakeout with some ups and downs, something to stretch out my tight right calf.

And with that I hit 46 miles this week, not a bad way to start the month.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Fourth Figure Eighteen (Nineteen)

Today: 19
Present: 309
Count: 42

My first run at the Headlands in months as expected: long, steep and fantastic. I just love these trails, and know them better than anywhere else. Its as close to a home course as I have, but each time I find a new adventure waiting for me in the craggy hills and rocky slopes. It is indeed, as good as trail running gets.

But it ain't easy: 19.5 miles, 4,000 feet of vertical climbing and little support.

I used my new Ultimate Direction hydration vest for the first time, filling up both water bottles and stuffing food into the rear pouch (an orange, half a sweet potato and gels). When I set off up the first climb from Rodeo Beach to the gun turret, the bottles bounced around on my chest and I chuckled that I was about to find out how women feel running with breasts.

Halfway up the climb I knew my legs didn't have it, but I resolved to finish the 30k course that I planned on running since apparently training is all about learning to run on tired legs. I was expecting sun and relative heat, but Mother Nature provided fog instead. All the better, I'll take running in cool humidity over heat any day.

When I realized my legs were pretty shot, I resigned myself to just go out and enjoy the day. I wasn't setting any course records, I was out by myself and I loved these trails. It was like coming home. I would focus on technique, nutrition and disappearing into the hills. Running in the moment.

I hit the Tennessee Valley trail head still without much spring in my legs, and I knew I had a hard climb ahead to Coyote Ridge. That is one steep, grinding climb, but I ran the whole thing. About halfway up my legs loosened up and I actually started to feel better. Sometimes it takes an hour for your body to wake up.

Down to Muir Beach then back up, where I passed a few other walkers and runners. But despite it being Fourth of July, the trails were quiet. I basically had them to myself.

The short stretch down from Muir Beach along the Pacific Coast Trail is one of the most fun segments to run in the entire Bay Area. Sharp turns, quick ups and downs and when the sun is out, you feel like you're levitating above the crashing waves. But even in the fog the trail is amazing, and I lost myself in a mellow pace, barely realizing I had been running when I hit the railroad tie stairs and trudged back out. It's a steep, but short climb and one I always think is going to be over sooner than it actually is.

I rolled back down to Tennessee Valley where I took my time to walk and eat. I knew Bonk Hill was coming and I wanted to be fresh. No matter how many times I run here, I always manage to forget that once you crest Bonk Hill it's still a long way home.

I put my head down and started the long, winding climb 1.4 miles to the top. Which of course isn't really the top, but its the top of Bonk Hill. I managed to keep a good pace, doing my best not to look at the trail ahead. It's a sweeping, gradual turn where you can never see more than a quarter mile ahead. And you always think you're closer to the end than you actually are.

This hill has crushed me more than once, but I'm slowly gaining mastery of it. The trick is to just get it over with. Settle into a quick turnover grind and move. It's not so steep you can't run, but just steep enough to be a tough climb. You have to meet it in the middle.

The trail breached the clouds and I popped into sunlight for the first time, a mist-shrouded view of Sausalito below. I hit the top and almost laughed. Bonk Hill. Whatever. That arrogance would turn out to be misplaced.

In hindsight, as soon as I finished Bonk Hill I should have put some food in me. 1.4 miles is a lot to climb, especially when its two hours into your run. You don't have a ton of energy reserves left at that point. But I reveled in my dominance and didn't eat. As I started the final mini-climb to the actual top, I realized my mistake as I started to feel a bit bonky. But I pushed on and when I hit the top stopped walk and refill my water bottle from my auxiliaries.

When I crossed the road and started along the most breathtaking part of the run (without the clouds that is), I really started to feel bad. Ironically, when Bonk Hill won its name when KJ and I ran the 30k here back before we knew what we were doing, it was on this stretch that I actually bonked. So I was in familiar territory.

But I'm smarter now, and was prepared. I dug into my bag and pulled out the rest of the potato. Hitting the spot is an understatement. It was exactly what I needed and almost immediately kicked that bonky feeling. So mental note, sweet potatoes defeat the bonk.

At this point I just wanted to be done. I still had more than four miles left, one final tiny climb left and from there it was all down hill. I descended Slacker Ridge at a good clip and promptly got lost looking for the Rodeo Valley Trail back home. I was gassed, about out of water and generally over the run, but I remembered back to something Leigh says about getting lost: bonus miles. Some attitude.

I sauntered into the parking lot at just under 3:30. Not fast by any stretch, but a really solid training run and a reminder why I love running these trails.

Epilogue: I left my sandals in the Rodeo Beach parking lot on my way to meet some friends in Marin for a BBQ. Five hours later, I convinced Maura to go back to the beach on the off chance my sandals, which I've had for over a decade, were still around. And, they were. Karma!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Fog is a Harsh Mistress

Today: 8
Present: 290
Count: 41

Driving wind. Thick fog. Can't imagine better conditions to go after my first KOM (King of the Mountain, on Strava).

The climb from Elk to Portola along O'Shaughnessy is a 1.2 mile, 318ft slog. Just steep enough to be a real climb, just long enough to be a grind, but still totally runnable. You wind up the hill with Glen Park Canyon to your right with Diamond Heights above. As you reach the top, a football and track drag you forward, all the way to the light at the top and Portola Ave. Twin Peaks, another 400 feet above, looms on the horizon.

As I started my run this evening, I wasn't sure I'd actually go after the KOM. It was windy, chilly and my legs felt heavy. But I knew they'd shake out on the way over, a 1.5 mile warm up. But as I kept running, I was reminded of a conversation with KJ I had, wherein we discussed that training isn't just for your body. If you never suffer during training runs, you won't be used to it come race day.

Don't scrap your run because of wind and driving rain, but cut it down and go out anyway.

So I settled into the knowledge that I'd give the climb my best, if for no other reason than to set a benchmark for future ascents.

I hit Elk at 14:00 and was off, 8:22 my target time. The climb starts off flat enough, but I took it easy to stay out of the orange early on. Once you hit the orange, it's not only hard to bring it back down, but for some physiological reason I don't understand, you're more susceptible to hitting it again.

There's an early steep section, which I blew through feeling good. My legs began to complain, but I reminded them that I had only just begun. Running fast uphill is a funny thing. If you're smart about it, you can convince your body that you aren't actually climbing. That it's actually flat, and there is no reason you should be going this slow. Because your body knows the incline, and pushes you to ease off. Strong mind, weak body.

At the 4-minute mark, I realized I still had a long way to go. The middle section of the climb is a consistent, gradual grade. I pushed it and was happy to feel good, able to stay in the yellow. At the 6-minute mark, I knew 8:22 was out of reach, but I pushed on anyway.

I sped up, wanting to set a high benchmark for myself. I hit the final turn and could see the stoplight dead ahead. I put my head down, leaned into the wind and turned it on. My breathing labored, but I kept it up. I breached the crest just past 23 minutes on my watch, so a little over 9-minutes for the climb. Damn, 8:22 is fast.

My lungs ached and I recovered down Portola, giving up on going to the top of Twin Peaks. But 100 yards on my legs felt much better. I flipped around and kept rising. Up, always up.

Into the fog, periodic wind whipping through the canyons. I paused to give two lost tourists directions down, and pressed against the gusts at the peak. Around the vista point and down the other side.

The way down is long. Seemingly endless descents pounding the quads. But great downhill running practice, since you can basically run as fast as your body can handle. Down, off Twin Peaks and through the Castro. Weaving in and out of traffic, running past cars creeping through stop signs is a great feeling.

I hit Dolores Park and turned right to home. A final two bumps which now barely feel like climbs, even to my aching legs.

What a run. While disappointed that I still have 40+ seconds to shave off my climb, I also finished the run as envisioned and felt great at the end. Tired, but strong. My legs had it, but my lungs didn't. Time to hit the track!

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Misguided Attempt to Not Get Lost in Lindenwood at Night

Today: 5
Present: 282
Count: 40

For the first time since the marathon, I felt like I was running again. Not struggling against gravity, not jogging, but running. Too bad the rest of the run was pretty much a disaster.

Maura and I set off from my parents house in Menlo Park at around 9:30pm, a quick evening jaunt before waking up in the morning to sign loan docs to buy our first house! (well, second house, but first house we'd actually be living in). Maura was tired, having already run that morning, and still kind of recovering from her run (and fall) at Huddart the morning before.

After initially requesting a 3-mile run, she agreed to go 5. I had originally envisioned a long, rambling run through Menlo Park that ended at a yet undetermined time, but as in life, sometimes your running plans change. And it was OK, I enjoy running with Maura and am thrilled she is back from the abyss of CPA studying and doing double days.

It was dark, but the weather was running-perfect. Cool, a bit humid, not a breath of wind.

Lindenwood is as dark as dark gets in suburbia, a maze of wide streets lined by mansions and high fences, acre-lots protecting the wealthy from their wealthier neighbors. It's easy to get lost, but I ran these streets throughout high school and had my route in mind.

We started off pleasant enough, an easy pace through the quiet night. But as we wound on, and the roads became less familiar, I began to worry we were not where I thought we were. We passed Oak Grove and I looked out for that right turn I knew was coming. I missed it, and we kept winding.

When I saw the Valero sign floating in the trees to the right and out of the neighborhood, I should have turned back. Or at least stopped to figure out where we were.

Our watches clicked 3.5 miles and I knew we were lost. This was just too far. Maura wasn't happy. She was tired, ready to be home and no longer enjoying heavy oaks and huge ranchers dotting the view.

We turned around. Almost missed our turn (which in hindsight would have taken us directly home), and finally found Oak Grove again. By this time, she was barely speaking to me. Not exactly the run I had in mind.

At mile 5 she stopped, walking the rest of the way. It's not the safest place on earth to walk, no sidewalks, sharp curves and no streetlights. But by the time we schlepped into Felton Gables at almost 11pm, the fight was over, and so was the run.

I had this sinking feeling that by missing the turn we had actually looped all the way around the neighborhood to where we started. And that if we just kept going, we'd eventually get home -- and a lot quicker than turning around. But sometimes the prudent move is cutting your losses.

The lines between risk and reward get blurred, and if the situation doesn't warrant the push, discretion can indeed be the better part of valor.

And as fate would have it, I was exactly right. We turned around about 200 yards from where we started. One final stubborn push would have yielded a far happier wife. But now we have this great, hilarious (in hindsight) story of the night before we signed our lives away to a mountain of debt.