I recently started training again after 6 months of burn-out. I haven't wanted to say anything for fear of jinxing myself. After all, I had several false starts. I would sporadically become active for 1 or 2 weeks before needing another week of hibernation. But then, slowly, steadily, the active weeks began to increase and the inactive weeks retreated. The tides were turning. Spring (which came early this year--March) was the final burst of fuel needed to jumpstart the engine. With daylight lasting late into the evening and group workouts resuming, I began daily workouts again with a fervor that had eluded me for months.
After 4 unfaltering weeks of training, and even racing, I can finally safely proclaim that I have returned. I recently realized that I'm doing the Rock 'n Roll Marathon in June. Counting on my fingers, I realized I didn't have that much time left to get my running miles up. To run a marathon, I need to be able to log two back-to-back long runs (1 week apart), an 18 and a 20. Sounds simple until I realized if I didn't do the training leading up to those 2 runs, I could get injured. After my 16 mile train run last weekend, I'm relieved to know I'll be able to do it.
With building confidence, I set out for a "mere" 14-mile trail run on Saturday. Unlike last weekend, I started late (noon), ran solo and hit the trails. Penasquitos Canyon, which can be unforgivably hot in the summer, was a rare, delightfully warm spring day, requiring nothing more than shorts, running shirt, shoes (and Fuelbelt). The rain the night before deterred many hikers and mountain bikers, and I set off, relishing the privacy. Normally, Penasquitos is littered with mountain bikers so thick, I often have to stop, pull off the single-track trail and let them by (only to pass them on the next hill). I kept my fingers crossed about the mud. I was betting that the heavy rainfall the night before (which had seemed torrential on my metal roof to my sensitive, dry San Diego ears) had not made the trails too muddy. Secretly, I was skeptical. The big sign on the trailhead that read "Park Closed During and 24 Hours After a Storm" didn't help.
As I jogged off to test the terrain, I was pleasantly surprised. Although there were some extremely sticky spots of clay and slippery patches of mud, most of the trail was composed of damp sand. It felt like running just past the water on a wet beach. My feet enjoyed the spongy traction.
I pulled off the trail about mile 3 to take care of business. Carefully watched for snakes and picked my way through the meadow to scope out a poison-oak free bush to hide behind (not an easy task). Even though I was embarrassingly close to the trail, I knew I didn't have to worry. I could see 1/4 mile down the trail in both directions, and the air was thick with a comforting blanket of silence. Courting birds' melodies and the steady humming of bees were the only sound to reach my ears. I took my time returning to the trail; I hadn't heard silence that peaceful in a long time, and I wanted to enjoy it. Small yellow, white and purple wildflowers burst through the lush, green meadow like fireworks. The hillsides were blanketed in a soft green velvet. I drank in the view, slowly turning my head to get the full panaromic view. I don't think I've seen this canyon so lush since I first moved here 5 years ago. It's been a wonderfullly wet winter.
As I continued onwards, I discovered a few more hikers, some dog walkers, and another 2 lone runners. Everyone smiled pleasantly and were unusually talkative. Mostly "Nice day!", "Muddy spot up ahead," and "Any snakes?" but still, everyone was an especially good mood, drunk on sunlight and the sweet smell of lilacs.
I turned off the north side to wind my way to the south side, knowing I'd have to eventually since the main trail to cut all the way west. The trail got muddier and muddier, and I slipped and slid my ways around the sides of the path, avoiding a creek that was getting fuller and fuller every footstep. I narrowly avoided plunging headfirst into a vibrantly full and not-quite-roaring creek by grabbing onto a dead tree root sticking up from the ground at the last second. Aha! There's last night's rain. The water was wide, reaching about 15 meters across and engulfing the trunks of several scrub oaks in its path. I scanned the banks of both sides of the trail, searching for a way across the "raging river". I found staring directly into 2 pairs of eyes on the other side, a father and son with their mountain bikes, also searching for a solution. I shrugged and began quickly untying my shoes. I was running and wanted the quickest way to get across and continue on my way before I lost too much time. Afterall, I still had a long way to go.
"You going to go across?" the dad asked with raised eyebrows.
"Yup. No other way!" I answered back.
"Is that the trail on the other side?" I nodded. They watched me skeptically as I felt my way barefooted through the water. The rocks were coated in a slippery coat of oily slime and moss, and my legs plunged into the water up to my hips. My shorts were soaked. The current tugged softly at my shorts as I waded across, seeking out branches of nearby trees to steady myself. A smile broke out all over my face. The cool water felt good on my hot sweaty skin. Once again, I was a kid riding my horse on the trails in the Santa Cruz Mountains. On hot summer days, we would wind our way to the creek that fed into the Stevens Creek Reservoir. I would dismount and wade in the creek to cool off while my mount, Topper, sank into the water, rolling over onto his back to cool off. I reached the other side, shook the water droplets off my feet, and quickly laced my shoes back up.
"How was it?" the father asked.
"Not bad. Actually, it was quite nice," I replied. Father and son nodded and smiled. The kid looked quite exuberant to be given permission to plunge into the creek. They both proceeded through the water in opposite directions. We nodded once more to each other before continuing on our paths. I kept on running.
I reached the turn-around by surprise and headed back. I hadn't expected to reach it so quickly. I was in the zone. I headed back on the south side to give my eyes and mind a new path to enjoy on the return. I had forgotten about the hills on the south side. Small, but steep, and one after the other, I was met with a roller coaster of sharp ascents and descents, one right after the other. There were four. I counted. Feeling zippy, I forced myself to maintain a running pace up each of them, even if it was a sluggish shuffle. I zigged and zagged between sharp rocks on the descents, focusing on my footwork.
Before I knew it, I was back in the lush, grassy valley, running between patches of mud again. I leaped up onto the banks along side the rocky creek bed. The narrow trail was obscured by arcing bowers of lush green grass, forcing me to high step to feel my way carefully on the path. I stumbled a few times as my foot found a ditch or rock. Once, I fell, headfirst into the grass, clutchig fistfuls of weeds in each hand. Only faltering a step or two, I quickly resumed my original running pace, glancing furtively in each direction, embarrassed that someone had seen me stumble. Luckily, I was alone.
Up around the bend, about a mile down the path, I came across two hikers with huge backpacks (unusual for Penasquitos--it's not that expensive that backpacks are required) bent over the path, stopped suddenly in their tracks. I immediately sensed what the problem was and stopped to peer at the object of their attention. It was a snake. However, upon closer inspection, I saw it was a pale green, either a gopher snake or someone's escaped pet python. Nonetheless, the absence of a rattle on its tail immediately assuaged my apprehensions.
"Not a rattler," I proclaimed. The hikers nodded, and I quickly stepped between them, leaped around and over the lethargic snake stretched across the path and continued on my way. April is snake season in San Diego; it's best to keep your eyes sharp; however, no need to go nuts. If it's not a rattler, there's no need for a detour. I kept on running. At this point, I had been running for over 2 hours. I was only 2 miles from the finish and ready for it to be over.
Before I knew it, I was running alongside soccer fields infested with families and kids in weekend Little Leagues. I picked up the pace; I was almost finished. Finally, I reached the finish: my truck, conveniently next to the drinking fountain. There was no crowd to cheer me on, no sympathetic support crew to blanket me in sympathy and congratulations. Nonetheless, I was victorious. I had run 14 miles. I headed over to the drinking fountain to slowly drink my fill of cool, fresh water. Heavenly. 14 miles. Not too shabby.
Sunday's ride was 60 miles of the Gran Fondo in San Diego. I'll have to save the ride report for a 2nd post (the run post ended up being WAAAY longer than I anticipated!) http://granfondousa.com/sandiego/