Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Carlsbad Half Marathon Race Report, 2010


It was my first race of 2010. Even though it was really just a training run, one of many to help prepare me for Ironman Utah, I was excited. Yes, I'd run the Carlsbad Half Marathon in 2007 and in 2009. But it's such a fantastic race. Gorgeous ocean views, tons of friendly racers and spectators, lots of friends participating, relatively flat course, and just up the street from home! Who can resist? It's early in the season too so it's a great way to test my fitness and see where I'm at.

I was probably one of the only competitors whose pre-race meal the day before consisted of a McDonald's Happy Meal and a 6-Pc Chicken McNuggets (with BBQ sauce). And my pre-race ritual? A 2-hour nap at 4:30 pm to make sure I sabotaged any plans on going to bed early. Despite needlessly challenging myself, I woke up at 5:00 am on Sunday morning ready to run. As predicted, the rains had stopped, and the sun was bright and blinding against a naked blue sky but the temps were energetically chilly (low 50s). Perfect racing weather. However, I absolutely hate the half-hour pre-race full-body shiver that is required to enjoy the benefits of perfect race weather. Most of you who live in other parts of the country with normal seasons probably have a much thicker skin than I. But I have been removed from the wild and placed in captivity (San Diego), and I have lost the ability to survive anywhere else. When the temp drops below 60, I whimper.

After covertly snuggling up next to strangers in the chute to steal some of their body heat (Tip: if you snuggle up next to other men, they don't seem to mind as much as women; plus, they're warmer; Warning--May only work for women), the gun went off. Finally! I was so excited to be able to run, if only to fulfill the primal urge to generate heat. Only 1/4 mile down the road, the first hill appeared, and I attacked, eager to get warm. I had to be careful not to trip over the heels of the surrounding runners. The streets were packed with thousands of us; it was hard not to feel claustrophobic.

The first 2 miles flew by unnoticed. I was concentrating on trying to find some open space. Finally, at the coast, I hugged the curb and weaved in and out, eventually finding open road. I drank in the obscenely gorgeous views of the glittering Pacific as I flew down Hwy 101. My pace was absurd, especially considering my haphazard training as of late. I couldn't possibly keep this up! Or could I? I vaguely remember thinking that the last time I PR'ed (San Dieguito Half Marathon, 2008). Deciding I had nothing to lose, I went with it.

I skipped the aid stations, taking advantage of my FuelBelt and saving myself precious seconds. In addition, because the weather was cool, I didn't need to hydrate much. My feet flew up the mild hills leading up to the turn-around. I remember the hills being killer a few years ago. I remember having a hard time biking up the same hills on my bike ride just the day before. Now, running, I just flew up them. All the trail running was coming in handy. My technique had changed. My body remained upright and I took shorter strides, keeping my feet under me. I used more of my core and upper body, allowing my arms to help "pull" me along.

All of a sudden, the turn-around appeared. Halfway done already? It's amazing how fast 13.1 miles flies by in a race; in training, those miles crawl by at a snail's pace. I reached my favorite downhill on the course, and allowed my feet to dance down the hill. I flew by some vaguely familiar faces. "Go, Rachel!" I heard behind me. I couldn't turn to look for fear of tripping but it was wonderful to know my friends were all around me. Afterwards, my friend, Darrell, came up to claim the floating voice. I had joked I couldn't turn to acknowledge him because I didn't want to fall. The last time he called my name out on a run, I had tripped over a root in the pavement and fallen flat on my face.

Only a mile further, I looked to the right at another familiar face. We were both in the zone.
"Allen?" I said.
"Hey, Rachel!" he replied. It was so great to be able to chat with a friend. The miles continued to fly by. I did get some annoyed looks from the other runners. Mostly because I was chattering away a mile a minute (very out of character for me) as they huffed and puffed. Allen finally let me go ahead, and I quickly fell back into a zone.

I glanced at my watch at mile 12. I realized if I pushed it, I had a shot at PR'ing. I hadn't started planning on PRing. My first goal had been to have an enjoyable run and push the pace a little. My 2nd goal had been to break 2 hours. My secret 3rd goal was, of course, to PR but only if I felt good. I realized I had a shot. But I would have to push it. I gave it everything I got. My breathing intensified. I felt my cheeks become hot and red. Sweat dripped down my forehead and fogged up my sunglasses. I heard my name cheered by friends from the sidelines. I shot them a huge smile; their cheers fueled me on at an impossibly fast pace. I focused on taking short, quick strides and keeping my feet under me.

At mile 12.5, I passed one of my arch rivals. I cheered her on as I passed; she's a super fast runner. However, internally, I was gloating. Of course, the final 0.5 mile was all downhill, playing to my advantage. I absolutely love downhills, and this was a perfect opportunity for me to showcase my skills. It felt like my feet didn't even touch the earth. I turned down the chute and put some extra mustard on my pace. I flew across the finish line victoriously. I had a fabulous run and had succeeded in PR'ing by 3 minutes. 1:48. Whoo hoo!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Running in the Rain

After thumbing my nose at the rain gods for the last 4 years, San Diego was due for a big storm. It rained, thundered, and even hailed all week long with gusty winds and green skies that reminisced of my days in the midwest when I would duck and cover upon hearing the city sirens blare. The ocean had 20-foot swells and frothy chop, keeping even the bravest and most experienced of surfers away.

My swimming was restricted to the pool (when there was no lightning) and my bike to the trainer. However, my running was only restricted to the roads (as opposed to trails). I love running in the rain. If I were a racehorse, I would be a "mudder." Something about the chill and the wind and the electricity in the air makes me pick my feet up higher and toe off a little faster. When I saw that a big thunderstorm was headed for my area last night at 7:15, I grabbed Travis, my headlamp, and my running shoes, and ran out the door. It was 6:50.

Travis felt the electricity in the air too. We both pranced down the road. At times, I allowed him to pull me like a sled dog, zipping along at 6:50 min/miles. Hmmm. Could I use Travis in a race? Of course, while I was frothing at the bit and kicking up my heels, one glance down at my poor dog told a different story as he darted along with wide eyes, flat ears, and a tucked tail. At mile 2, the lightning and thunder began. He looked at me questioningly. "C'mon, Boy! We better start heading home!" The skies opened up and fat drops began to fall on us. Travis just about leaped into my arms, nearly knocking me off the sidewalk. "HEY! Cut that out!" I yelled at him. Now the poor guy didn't know who to be more afraid of: me or the storm. I agree; that is a tough one. I convinced him the best thing to was to sprint for home. Sprint we did. I sprinted in excitement, while Travis sprinted in fear. Upon reaching the front door, I praised him lavishly. I was victorious. He got lots of treats and a good toweling off.

A few years ago, I remember 2 very memorable and epic runs in pouring rain and hurricane-like gales. One was a 16-mile run on the coast, right after my divorce. The wind was so strong, I was almost blown into oncoming traffic on Hwy 101. I had a lot to sort out in my head. I ran and ran and ran, oblivious to the cold, piercing wind or drenching rain. I felt completely purged and at peace when I returned to the Java Depot in Solana Beach, where my friends awaited afterwards.

The second run in pouring rain was a 14-miler along the 56-bike path. I went with a soon-to-be romantic partner, though I will keep names and dates anonymous. Even though the skies were cloudy and the forecast called for rain, we thought it would just be a light drizzle, if anything. Afterall, this is San Diego. It started out a light drizzle and became progressively more and more a torrential downpour. At the turn-around, my white shirt was completely soaked, and my shoes were making a squelch, squelch sound with each footstep. I wasn't cold or uncomfortable, though I should have been. My legs were delightfully numb and I was delightfully giddy. Maybe it was the excitment of the storm or the electricity in the air but it was a very erotic run. It's bad enough when you run next to someone you find yourself attracted to. I think it's all the heavy breathing, panting, and gasping for air, not to mention the elevated heart rates. Afterwards, you turn to look at each other with flushed cheeks, exhausted and ready for a nap. It's waaay too similar to another more intimate physical activity.

So, yes, running in the rain is where it's at. I'm kinda hoping for rain this Sunday at the Carlsbad Half Marathon.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Stagecoach Century and Del Mar Mesa Trail Run

Stagecoach Century (1/16/10)
  • Perfect weather (low 70s) with mild wind (although the head wind was on the way back)
  • Great group of friends to ride with
  • 3 workouts in 1 ride--social hour, solo riding (great IM training), and paceline practice
  • First 50 miles false flat but very rewarding return
  • Significant climbs always appear worse than they reallly are
  • Love the impromptu pacelines with strangers; great way to make new friends
  • Gorgeous desert views, splattered with interesting cacti formations (that turn into creepy people after mile 90 of the bike)
  • Eerie historical landmarks ("The Well of Eight Echos")
  • Loved the nickname one of my friends dubbed me: "The Phoenix" after observing on several rides that I die about mile 60, only to blow by after mile 80. Very cool.
  • Great base mile building for Ironman Utah!

--gorgeous desert view from the top of first big climb and old Stagecoach road

--huffing and puffing up first big hill


14-Mile Del Mar Mesa Trail Run
I didn't plan on going 14. It just happened. I ran the first 6 with Travis. Well, Travis probably ran 7 or 8 with all his galavanting around and chasing helpless, innocent little animals, with me widly waving my arms to warn them whenever I saw them first. I dropped him back at the house where he immediately downed 2 large bowlfuls of water and then promptly vomited. Ugh.

I trotted back out to finish my run solo. I only planned on doing 4 more. Afterall, I had biked 100 miles the day before. But my legs felt soooo good. And it was overcast and drizzling. I LOVE running in the rain. Plus, I'm doing a 50K in March and have to get my miles up. I decided to try for 14.

I headed into Del Mar Mesa. Which was more like running straight up and then straight down and then straight up again, all the while navigating around and over millions and millions of rocks. Rocks everywhere. At mile 10, I finally relaxed and settled into a nice rhythm. If the temperature hadn't been dropping (and if the hills hadn't killed my glutes and quads), I think I could have kept going forever. I love how the mind softens, the eyes automatically scan the ground ahead, sending signals to the brain for processing. Where to put my feet, where the rocks and trenches are, how steep the grade is; all this information coming in constantly, milliseconds at a time, flooding the mind on a subconscious level. Meanwhile, the smell of sage and jasmine float through the air, and I sneak peaks at the gorgeous views of the valleys and ponds. But often, I don't need to look at anything or think about anything or do anything. My feet automatically carry me along, and I'm floating, somewhere above it all, in a meditative state. Time stops, and all that matters is this moment, now, from footstep to footstep. This is why I run. It's one of the few times I can effortlessly relax.

Random Objects I Saw on My Run:
Shopping cart
Overturned, red, abandoned Honda
rabbits (3)
ground squirrel
red tailed hawk
gray shirt with Jesus on it, stiff as cardboard
other runners with 3 dogs that rejected Travis when he tried to join in on their reindeer games
hoofprints from horses
pawprints from other dogs? coyotes?
lawn jockey (on the trail)
Giant fiscus planted in the ground and thriving
And my favorite: a shrine of Mary statues with a myriad of little animal statues (dogs, deer, etc) surrounding Mary as if they were listening to her give a speech. A bench was beside the shrine so you could sit and enjoy. It was creepy. In the middle of nowhere!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lunchtime Ride

I slam a small smoothie, and instead of lunch, sneak out for a quick 20-miles. Afterall, I'm sick of hour after hour on the trainer in the long winter months when the nights are long and the days are short (even in San Diego). After dropping the truck off for a tune-up (hey, multitasking--even better), I head down Genessee, a busy, dirty street. I focus on holding a straight line as semi after semi nearly clips me from the slow lane, shooting up a cloud of smoke in its wake.

By the Torrey Pines golf course, I tense up and ride extra defensively, avoiding swerving Jaguars and Cadillacs. Slouched in the front seat, I can barely spot a slumped gray head. I wave and yell but my shouts and gesticulations fall on deaf ears and near-sighted eyes, clouded by thick glasses with old prescriptions. I zip by some guy on his bike, feeling my ego swell, until I hear the creaking of his cleats and spot his unkempt, hairy legs. My ego deflates. I stop by my favorite bike shop in Solana Beach (B&L), and they assure me Torch is good to go for the Stagecoach Century on Saturday. I leave, having exchanged only pleasantries and no currency. Am I dreaming? Has hell frozen over?

As I return south, a cacophony of pungent stenches of cigarettes, hamburgers drenched in catsup, enchiladas, pizza, and sushi intertwine. Some of these aromas alone make my mouth water (afterall, I only had a small smoothie for lunch) but as the smells swirl and percolate together, each contaminates the next, until it resembles fresh garbage, the odoriferous equivalent of mixing bright colors until you have a muddy gray, overpowering my delicate sense of smell. An older Italian guy screams, "Left," and zips by going uphill. I let him go wondering, Where's the fire?" After passing me with overzealous exuberance, he slows. Now I'm drafting. After being overtaken, I'm very careful before passing again. I figure, if he passed me, he must be an overall stronger rider. And since most people are (especially men with their bigger muscles, hearts, lung capacity and testosterone--unfair advantage; bah!), I just assume they should be in front. We ride through Del Mar together, my strategy being that 2 cyclists are less invisible than 1.

Now, I'm dodging mini-van after mini-van with soccer moms hurrying in and out of parking spaces, weaving this way and that with their perfectly coiffed hairstyles, Gucci sunglasses, and expressionless faces, skin pulled tight from their last appointment with Dr. Botox as they rush off to pick up little Timmy or Samantha. The road clears, and I sprint past Mr. Italian guy, trying to make the yellow light...and miss. If only I had made my move sooner! He pulls up next to me at the light and gives Torch a long, dark look. I don't nod, I don't say hi, I don't even look at him. Very unlike me but he seems cold and hard. I don't even feel guilty about not trying to be nice. The light turns green, and I draft behind him. Surely he's going to take off on the downhill? No. I can't take it anymore. I make my move and blow by him for the final time. Phew!

Now I'm by the beach at the bottom of Torrey Pines avoiding the tourists and surfers, zipping in and out of parking spaces. Each parked car is a potential weapon, cocked and ready to spring its loaded door open into my path. I reach the bottom of the inside of Torrey Pines hill. It feels so good to get up out of the saddle and climb! My lungs are heaving so hard, I taste blood in my throat by the time I reach the creast. I had figured the roads would be mostly empty during mid-day hours but you hadn't counted on who would dominate the roads: the geriatrics, delivery truck drivers, and soccer moms. Back at work, I breathe a sigh of relief. Another bike workout done, and I survived.

Key to Happiness?

Could it really be that simple? Happiness? A matter of simply waking up early? I think I'm onto something here! I've been a night owl all my life but, alas, I live in a world of run by early birds. Pretending to be a triathlete in my free time doesn't help. In my off season, I resorted to my old night owl ways. It's been a constant battle to wake up early ever since.

Shown below is the summar of my workout volumes for the past 9 weeks. I'm embarrassed to even put it up there. The ups and downs of my workouts are vagrant reflections of my fickle moods. Yes, these charts are basically a mood-a-meter (week 6 was when Taz died).

I've slowly but surely been climbing my way back onto the wagon. Prep phase is over, and I'm now into Base phase (take a look at the big jump in training last week!). I have to be careful not to bite off more than I can chew. My body has a dangerous muscle memory. Yes, I can bike 100 miles on Saturday and run 16 on Sunday without any prior training but I will pay the consequences for the next 3 days afterwards (read: too sore and tired to do anything but sleep). I like to think I'm SuperWoman but someone wants to prove to me that I'm not.

For now, I will try to practice some moderation. But specifically, I only have 1 New Year's Resolution: WAKE UP EARLY (I'll start with 6:30 am. Seems an achievable goal). If I can wake up early, I can fit in my workouts and have more control over my day. Accomplishing my to-do list = happiness.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I hurt myself today
to see if I still feel
I foucs on the pain
the only thing that's real
the needle tears a hole
the old familiar sting
try to kill it all away
but I remember everything
what have I become?
my sweetest friend
everyone I know
goes away in the end
you could have it all
my empire of dirt

I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
upon my liar's chair
full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
beneath the stains of time
the feelings disappear
you are someone else
I am still right here

what have I become?
my sweetest friend
everyone I know
goes away in the end
and you could have it all
my empire of dirt

I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I could start again
a million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

--Johnny Cash

Monday, January 04, 2010

Reflections on an Advenurous Off-Season

My off-season began in early September this year. I've never had an off-season last 3 months before. There were a lot of ups-and-downs but during this time, I had opportunities to try new things I never before had time. Here are some thoughts from these latest adventures:

Xtreme Trail Running with Travis:
Travis is my new favorite running buddy. He's the perfect size and conformation for running so I immediately put him on a training plan to build him up to 6-8 miles (we'll work on speed after we build distance first). Hmmm. Running coaches for dogs....new future career?

When I run on the trails behind my house (which go on for eons), we go exploring. I never knew there were so many trails where I live! I feel like a little kid again. Growing up in NorCal, I was always hiking in the redwoods, climbing tall trees, wading through full creeks covered in thorny vines, and getting poison oak. Now, Travis shows me new routes to forge, unexplored trails up craggy mountains, the best places to cross creeks, and the holes in fences just big enough to slip through or crawl under.

Our last adventure, we ended up in someone's private property, completely fenced in. I was able to pull up the fence for him to wriggle under but couldn't find a human-size hole to follow suit. I cavalierly decided, "Well if not under, then over," and began to scale the cyclone fence in my clumsy running shoes. Not an entirely horrible decision until my shorts got caught on the top and I proceeded to jump down anyway, shredding as I jumped down. At least it was just shorts and not flesh. My legs are perpetually covered in various scratches from bushwhacking nowadays. I'm proud of my scratches.

Winter Swimming in La Jolla Cove:
I hadn't been in a body of water for at least 2 weeks. That body of water had been a pool. Last time I had been in an open body of water had been...August? And that had been a lake. In other words, it had been awhile since I paid a visit to the Pac Ocean gods. Instead of 70-degree waters I had last enjoyed in August, the temp was now a balmy 57. This is my cutoff for swimming temperature. Below 57, I just don't go in; it's too miserable. I was on the fence. But it had been too long. I complained bitterly to my swimming buddies about how cold and awful this whole experience was going to be, all the while slipping into my wetsuit, booties, latex and neoprene caps until everyone looked at me with raised eyebrows, shaming me to silence.

We marched down the steps onto the sand of the Cove. I took 3 sharp, deep breaths, swung my arms back and forth twice, took one step forward, and dove into the water. I was never cold. The water was freezing. So cold, it burned my face. But I was not cold. I forced myself to keep my head down, focusing on swimming (and swimming quickly), knowing, promosing myself it would all go numb in 30 seconds.

Thirty seconds later, my face didn't hurt anymore. I felt warm, calm, and relaxed. The water was glassy, clear, and calm. It tasted fresher, cleaner, somehow, with less salinity, having had a few months to flush the bird shit, kid piss and sunscreen away. The water and beach was empty, in sharp contrast to the congested, flooded days between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The ocean was quiet, peaceful, and serene. Bright fluorescent orange Garibaldi flitted in and out between the green seaweed below, amongst a myriad of other fish of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Towards the horizon, the cresting fins of dolphins rhythmically broke the surface of the ocean as a pod fished for breakfast. Why on earth had I waited so long to swim in the ocean?
Postscript: The next day, I climbed Mt. Baldy. From ocean to mountains in 24 hours. 0 feet to 10,083 feet. Incredible.

Quixotic Mt. Laguna Hike:
Then, there was the incredible 7-mile hike around Mt. Laguna. I've never taken the time to hike as opposed to run before. Going more slowly, I learned and noticed things I've never appreciated before, thanks to my extremely knowledgeable trail guide. I saw shards of pottery and grinding holes used by Native Americans, acorn woodpeckers and their "silos" in trees, decorated with millions of tiny holes, each filled with a single acorn. Very shy ducks. Caves hidden beneath giant boulders. I stopped to listen, something I rarely do. Birds singing. In the distance, coyotes yipping. I heard the wind weaving through the tops of the pines. I thought the ocean was just on the other sound of the mountain, or perhaps an enormous river. The pines were speaking. I had to pinch myself; the ocean was at least 40 miles away.

Random rock arrangements formed faces and animals, reminding me of how I used to lay on my back and stare at the shapes and patterns of clouds meandering overhead, relaxed in timeless reverie. I heard a rhythmic pulse overhead like a softly purring engine and gazed up at the sky, surprised when instead of a plane, a pair of birds flew overhead, so far away, all I could see was their black silhouettes against the blue backdrop of the sky. The oscillating beating of their wings synchronized with the melodic whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. This was the most incredible noise I've ever heard. If only I'd stop to listen more.

I heard other hikers and mountain bikers. I've never realized how loud people are before (and I'm loud, even for a human). Whenever I stopped my incessant chattering, (which required an inordinate amount of personal effort, by the way) an eerie silence fell over the forest, and the birds stopped chirping. Why was it so quiet? Was there a nearby mountain lion or coyote? Oh, wait. It was me. I wonder if the forest creatures are more comfortable with careless human chatter than a silent, attentive human.

I just want to give special thanks to my trail guide for showing me how amazing things can be when I slow down, quietly observe, and just listen sometimes.


Epic 70 Mile Solo Ride

I've been unintentionally doing altitude training for the first time in my life. After climbing Mt. Baldy and spending a few days hiking on Mt. Laguna, I came back down to sea level to return to training. Apparently, this is exactly how you're supposed to altitude train (or so I've heard). That you go up high and take it easy (e.g. sleep in an altitude tent like M.J.) and then come back down to sea level to train, the idea being that it takes too much aerobic effort to train at altitude so you lose muscular endurance. I'll have to do a little research and post a more science-y blurb about this phenomenon later. I used to be a little bah-humbug about the whole altitude thing. But after only a smattering of accidental experimentation, I've been converted. It's the only way I can explain being able to ride 70 miles of hills yesterday, completely untrained, without it being a big deal. Effortless and dramatic improvements in aerobic capacity? I'll take it!

70 mile bike (with hills) yesterday--I rode 70 miles with a buddy about 10 days ago on the coast (mostly flat), and it almost killed me. Of course, I'm totally out of shape and really had no business riding 70 miles considering I haven't been riding at all. Anyway, at the end, we went up the inside of Torrey Pines, which is hard but I've never felt searing fire in my quads quite like that before. Almost total muscular exhaustion. To the point where I couldn't stand up out of the saddle. Quaking. It humbled me. Put the fear of the Triathlon Gods in me.

Not sure quite what came over me yesterday. I had just come back down from the mountains and felt sluggish and lethargic. After taking Travis for his mile jog and then to dog beach for some water sprint repeats for an hour of fetch, he was thoroughly pooped. (He's been intently focused on staring out the window to the backyard lately after spotting a coyote slinking along the top of the fence). I was just getting started. It was high noon when I hopped onto Torch and took off, not really knowing where I was going to go. I knew I wanted to go long and include hills. I normally never ride solo. I just don't get motivated. This day was different. I was free to ride at my own pace, go where I wanted to go, and take as much or as little time as I needed. Freedom, complete and total freedom. It was completely relaxing. Very therapeutic.

--going up Del Dios Hwy

I took off up Camino Del Sur, linked back into Rancho Santa Fe via San Dieguito Rd (for all you San Diegan natives), and then connected onto Del Dios Hwy (via El Apajo). I drooled over the well-groomed horses in Rancho Santa Fe, and was actually moved to tears as I watched a girl jumping her horse in a nearby outdoor, grassy arena as I pedaled by, wishing that Torch's wheel were hooves instead. I miss horses. The only problem with the horses in Rancho Santa Fe is the absence of smell. They pick up the manure as it falls from the horse. Also explains the lack of flies. But it's a bit unrealistic. Like something's missing. Personally, horse shit is one of my all-time favorite smells. Not to be disappointed, I was bestowed with amorous amounts of my favorite aroma as I rode by Clews Horse Ranch at the end of my ride along the 56 bike path. Other smells I encountered on my 70-mile ride were: eucalyptus and sage (mmmmm), skunk, rotting roadkill, cow shit, chicken shit, truck exhaust, fish tacos (Leucadia), and pot (Encinitas). With the exception of the first, I could have done without my experience being enriched by addition of those other powerful odors.

As I reached Escondido, pick-up trucks honked and swerved towards me, despite the fact I was riding well in the center of the bike lane. Ah, good 'ole Escondido. The water level at Lake Hodges was alarmingly low. A lot more traffic than I was accustomed to as well. Oh, right. I'm out on the roads in the afternoon (normally I ride early morning). And it's a holiday weekend. Shoot. The skies were a brilliant blue and the temps were in the low 70s. I was drinking a ton of fluid. I downed 3.5 large water bottles. I ate a lot too (total calories 750). I casually rode up Del Dios, drinking in the obscenely ostentatious views of the rocky mountains in the backdrop. The crest came so suddenly. Hadn't Del Dios been challenging in a past life? Yes, I had been cruising but, still, even cruise used to be hard up that hill.

I turned into Harmony Grove/Elfin Forest. Snaking my way back west towards the coast, I enjoyed soaring up and down the countless hills like a roller coaster. Elfin Forest is insanely green. The narrow streets are lined with dense eucalyptus trees, and the rolling hills are shrouded in a fluorescent green carpet of velvet grass. Small farms are nestled in the hills (hence the chicken shit and cow shit aromas). A wooden sign read "Goats for Sale" in black paint. I paused to momentarily consider the addition of a pet goat to my animal family. A creek bubbles serenely at the bottom of various giant green hills. It's a different universe, tucked into San Diego's north county.

--Elfin Forest

As I reached eastern Carlsbad, the roads widened, traffic thickened, and strip malls became the new backdrop. An area best biked through as quickly as possible to avoid an accidental collision by an unobservant motorist. I reached the coast and pedaled north. Could I make it home before sunset and still get in 70 miles? I was certainly going to try. Ah, racing the sunset; my favorite workout. From Carmel Valley, Rancho Santa Fe, to Escondido, and now the ocean. I love how far you can go on a bike in just a few hours. Now, I was drinking in ocean views that people fly from all over the world to see. I am definitely spoiled. I passed by another cyclist as I headed north and we chatted for a bit. I love how easy it is to spontaneously meet other people on a bike. The miles always fly by in good company. All too soon it was time for me to turn around and try to make it home before dark. Could I do it? Was I up to the challenge?
--from Escondido to the ocean in one loop

I felt amazing. I had done 50 miles and included hills at a higher-than-average speed and I felt amazing. But I am untrained. Only 10 days ago a flat 70-miler killed me. How was this possible? Who cares! I'll take feeling like Super Woman without question any day. I hunkered down in my aero bars and pedaled on. As I passed through Encinitas, I became extra wary of the slinking cars, lurking for a place to park. Backing up, turning, pulling in, every parked vehicle, a potential fatal crash by sudden car door ready to strike at a moment's notice. I was blind to the gleeful surfers toting their boards (another possible hazard; swung too suddenly, and it becomes a cyclist's worst nightmare) and bobbing in the glassy ocean water. Blind to the pink horizon as the setting sun bejeweled the ocean's surface with glittering amber. Every muscle in my face was taut, my eyes scanned the road, as if heading into battle; everyone was an enemy, potentially waiting to spring out and try to dismount me from my bike. Is this how prey animals (rabbits) live? Awful. I felt like I was invisible; no one could see me. Ah, the glories of holiday traffic on the coast.

I made it to the final turn east back towards home. Torrey Pines beckoned me. "C'mon. Just one time. You can make it up and down and still be home before dark." I couldn't resist. I soared into the park to tackle the inside. Would my legs feel better this time? I needed redemption after last ride's pathetic climb. Aha! Better, indeed! I attacked the inside of TPs like it was no one's business. Out of the saddle, I climbed and climbed and climbed. I felt fresh and eager. Nothing could stop me! I reached the top and smiled victoriously. It was going to be the perfect ride.

I soared down the hill and back home along the bike path as the sun made it's final descent into the Pacific, melting into the cool water. The sky was lined with puffy, neon pink, cotton candy clouds, like something out of the Beatles' Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. But I wasn't on anything except exercise-induced endorphins. Some days, that's more than enough.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Bagging Mt. Baldy

I've decided to branch out and try some new outdoor adventures. When my friend said he was hiking up Mt. Baldy and invited me, I thought, "Sure. Why not?" After a trip to REI, I had the equipment but absolutely no idea what to expect. Mt. Baldy, also known as Mt. San Antonio, sits at 10,068 feet, the highest peak in Los Angeles County and the San Gabriel Mountains. This time of year, the top was covered in a solid, 2-feet of snow. Snow? I hadn't seen snow for 4 years!

Decked head to toe in a smurfy blue outfit (no one said I looked like a freakin' smurf!) with brand-spankin'-new, never-before-worn, hiking boots, we set out, trekking poles, crampons, and snowshoes in tow. We started up a fire road. Okay, I can handle that. The guys started talking about making sure not to "miss the trail". All of a sudden, they said, "There it is!" They were pointing to a tiny deer trail to the left, narrow, rocky, cliff on one side, that snaked up into the trees and disappeared. We were only 1/4 mile of the way in. The group headed up the trail like it was normal. I saw 2 guys coming down. Do these people think they're deer? I followed meekly, like a lamb.

Matt and Marie on the way up

Then, patches of ice and snow appeared, like random blobs, threatening to make me slip and tumble down the mountain to my death. Apparently, I was the only one bothered by this as I penguin-baby-stepped-waddled across the icy spots. Each step was very tedious, as I stabbed the trekking pole into the ground and leaned on it to make sure I wouldn't fall. I noticed I was the only one using this strategy to manuever across the trail. Everyone else was simply walking. Hmmm. My method was using an incredible amount of energy and required inordinate upper body strength. Mark suggested I put the crampons on. Huh? What are those? I borrowed a spare pair of semi-crampons (not the full spikes; more like toothpicks) and was instantly a much happier sailor.

--The group at the start (Mark, me, Marie, & Matt; Leonard, not shown)

We reached the Sierra Club lodge where I took a much-needed bathroom break. It had only been 3 miles, and we were just getting started. I was hydrating A LOT, encouraged by my more-experienced friends, who knew drinking lots of water was key to adjusting to the altitude. Of course, my period decided to start that very day, and I don't know if it was the altitude or what, but it was like the Red Sea. I had brought the necessary supplies but used them all up pretty quickly. Argh! Are you kidding me? If you're squeamish, I'm not apologizing. I have to live it! I was just glad I wasn't swimming in the Cove that day; can we say "Shark Bait"? One of the guys had napkins. I thanked him for the MacGyver-style diaper. Who would have thought I would need Crampons and Tampons at the same time?

We continued our hike upwards; our goal was to reach the summit, if possible. The snow pack was continuous now, and we were all donning extra layers, crampons, trekking poles, and ice axes. I was slipping quite a bit in my "toothpick" crampons but making good progress going up. We had only made it about 1/4 mile when we hear, "Help! Help!" We spotted 2 agitated dogs, circling their troubled owner. The more experienced mountaineers in our party carefully made their way over to the fallen victim, who had slipped, twisted an ankle, and was precariously stuck in a steep part of the snow bowl on an ice pack, ready to fall down the mountain if he breathed too hard. His friend was too inebriated to be anything but a hindrance. Both of them were wearing nothing but running shoes. The rescuers hacked a trail for the victim(s) laboriously with the ice axe. Meanwhile, as Marie and I waited, I had the overwhelming urge to pee..again. I had been hydrating very, very well. I did my business by the tree, and felt much better (and warmer) afterwards. Anyone know why you feel warmer after you pee? Doesn't make sense to me. Good use of the time while we waited, I thought. The inebriated victim was uninjured but very unsteady and kept slipping and falling (the running shoes didn't help). As he came closer, he slipped and skidded across the snow pack, aiming (seemingly) right for me. Ummm, big drunk guy rolling like an avalanche right for me? I wasn't about to go down with him! I did a quick side-step, dropped a knee to the ground, and reached for him with my arms to try to grab him, succeeding in at the very least, slowing his momentum. I smiled internally, realizing he had skidded right over the middle of my freshly-made, pee-covered snow. He collided gently with a rock and skidded to a halt, completely unharmed. He fell and slipped and skidded several more times before making it back to the hut.

--Mark and Marie on the way to the summit.

After a looong time, we got the pair situated and continued on our way. We had been delayed by quite a bit. Reaching the summit now would be questionable. But we would try. Maybe mountaineering with a bunch of type-A, goal-oriented triathletes isn't such a good idea? Since I was the newbie in the group, they asked how I felt and how far I wanted to go. I felt great! Wonderful! I had never been this high, altitude-wise, before, never been tested, and felt exhilarated. No headache, no nausea, and only a slight shortness of breath but no biggie. Actually, I couldn't figure out why everyone kept stopping to rest. Of course, I had a secret weapon--a big bag of homemade chocolate chip cookies in my pocket that I nibbled continuously. I must have annoyed everyone enough as I chirped away and scampered upwards because, eventually, they waved me away, actually humoring me by letting me lead the way up for a bit. Anyway, I desperately wanted to reach the summit. I should have thought a little more carefully when Mark asked, "You have your headlamp, right?"

We continued climbing. Suddenly, there were no more pine trees. The wind picked up and the temperature dropped. It was 32 without the windchill, most likely in the 20s with the wind (even though the winds were mild). Actually, when the sun blessed us with its presence, it was delightful. I couldn't believe how one minute, it would be sunny and pleasant, and the next, it was windy, cloudy and cold. Everything was so transient.

--view of the desert from the summit

And then, we reached the summit. It was a small plateau, covered with a smooth blanket of snow. The view was incredible. To the east, I saw the Anza Borrego Desert. It was like walking on the moon. Another planet. 10,000 feet. I felt incredible. Mark said, "You bagged your first peak!" I hadn't even realized it until that moment. It was akin to crossing a finish line. Thanks, Mark. You will always be my Mike Reilly of the mountains.

--bagging Mt. Baldy!

We stopped to eat in a protected grove of pine trees. I gobbled down everything I had in my pack and most of what anyone offered me from theirs as well. The wind picked up and the sun disappeared, and I started to get miserably cold. The group waved me onward. Since I would be the slowest descender of the group, it was a good solution. Apparently, as the saying goes, the climb doesn't begin until the descent. I know now this is all too true but had no idea that going down is twice as hard as getting up. Going up is easy. You're excited, it's easy to see where to put your feet, and you have lots of energy. After reaching the summit, all the wind is gone from your sails. And it's getting dark and cold, you're using less energy so you're colder, but you're using incredible amount of quad strength. And it's hard on the ole' knees! I had never worn crampons before. Luckily, Mark traded me the toothpick ones for the sturdy, iron nails ones, which makes you feel like Spiderman. You can walk on the ceiling with those things. I felt much more comfortable. However, it's a little unnerving going down. One misstep.....

--view from our lunch spot

--She's coming down the mountain!

I may have been a little mountain goat going up but I was like a cat stuck in a tree coming down. No one seemed to mind waiting for me. Unfortunately, we overshot the trail coming down and had to traverse across on a loosely-packed, snow covered part of the bowl for a short way to get back to the trail. It was steep and tedious work. Matt ice axed a path for Mark, who was wearing the measly toothpick crampons; not good in steep sections. Even though I had sturdy crampons, I still used a lot of mental forethought before every step, which was simply exhausting. We reached the trail safe and sound and made our way back to the hut at dusk.

--view coming down in the late afternoon light

We stopped to put on our headlamps and stuff our faces one last time. Only 3 miles to go. Of course, since it was dark, and the trail was narrow, it was the toughest 3 miles. Also, the ice was melting and mixing with rock, which was difficult to navigate with crampons. Do I keep them on? Take them off? After tripping and stumbling about 3 times, which put me exactly at the spot where all the ice had melted, I eagerly took them off. I was the last to take them off. I hate ice! My quads were toast by that point. And I was mentally exhausted. Hiking downhill by headlamp is actually quite difficult! I tripped, fell, stumbled my way down a few more times but all very minor.

--donning my headlamp
At last, we made it back to the car. We were victorious! We made our way to the closest Outback Steakhouse and gorged on meat, Bloomin' Onions, and some sort of warm, wonderful, delicious brownie sundae concoction. All I can say is, when can we do it again?!
--crumpled bottles back at sea level