Monday, August 31, 2009

"Fun" is a fourth-place finish

So it's like this: I kind of kick ass. Oh, and I'm tough.

Saturday was my freebie entry to a Brazen Racing trail run in Briones Regional Park, a hilly, sun-baked open space somewhere outside of Walnut Creek and Orinda in Contra Costa County. The plan was to have fun, not race.

Fun, in this case, is relative. Most would not consider running up and down rocky slopes under the blazing sun (it had to be 80 degrees at 8 a.m., and only got hotter) for nearly three hours fun. But once I got past the idea of clocking a fast time -- more than 2,800 feet of elevation gain over 13-plus miles knocked out that goal pretty fast -- I was able to relax and enjoy the experience.

Without mile paces to concern myself with (the first mile was 9:19, but then the hills started and I gave up watching the clock), I noticed a black butterfly and a grasshopper-like critter with red wings. I talked to the grazing cows and thanked the aid station volunteers who forced a water bottle into my hands at mile 6 and wrung out big sponges of ice water over my head at miles 9 and 12. Sometimes I sang aloud (sorry to anyone who overheard me), greeted hikers and encouraged other runners, mostly as I passed by their pained, sweat-drenched faces. I even stopped to use an outhouse with about 1.5 miles left.

And for this race, I carried a map because it was a Brazen Racing event where I got lost (and exceedingly frustrated) earlier this year. It was a "just in case" move, and luckily, something I never needed. However, I did glance down sometimes to see when the next aid station would appear on the horizon. The blue pop-up tents were a welcome relief from the heat. (It was so hot, I downed two 16-ounce water bottles and about 10 Dixie cups of liquid during the race.)

When the finish finally snuck up on me I was walking up three mild switchbacks (walking the hills was the only way to survive this course). Then bam! The finish line was 100 feet away. After all of the hills and heat, I actually felt like I could grind out a few more miles at that point. The extreme conditions had given way to a rolling-single track, mostly shaded trail. But instead, an announcer read my name and someone handed me a shiny medal.

Really, I was glad to be done. My time was somewhere around 2:40, that is 2 hours and 40 minutes, much slower than I'd predicted and a far cry from my personal best of 1:54. But I didn't care. It was for fun. So I picked up my sweet shirt and the pretty-rockin' goody bag (a reusable grocery bag from BareNaked granola with lots of neat swag in it), spent a few minutes sitting in the shade, then headed out with Kendall and Callie the dog to get burgers and cokes at the In and Out in Oakland.

Only today did I look up my race results.

Sure, my mile pace was nothing to write home about (12:14 a mile), but I was 24th of 84 half marathon finishers (35 of whom were women). That put me third of seven women in my age group and ... drum roll please ... the fourth woman overall!

And I had fun.

So I'm kind of a bad ass, at least when it comes to trail running in harsh conditions. Now, if you try to break into my house, I might scream bloody murder and cower in the corner, but that's a whole 'nother story.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Just for fun

I'm running a "race" in the morning. The quote marks mean I intend to just have fun and not get competitive. I'll rock out to some tunes on my iPod, check out new trails in a park I've never been to before and just have a good time.

I hope.

Because usually I race.

Case and point: Two weekends ago I found myself kicking it up a notch during the last half of the Race Through the Redwoods 10K. This, even though I'd spent most of the past 96 hours choking down smoke on a fire line while covering the 7,800-acre Lockheed Fire. Even though I'd netted an average of five hours sleep a night since the fire started. Even though we ran six miles before the race to see how many bridges we could find (and cross) in and around Henry Cowell State Park.

So I sprinted to the finish. My time wasn't blazing fast (57 something) but given the hours and days leading up to it -- and the 1/2-mile hill climb at mile 3 that most people walk (I didn't!) -- the showing wasn't too bad. I was 6th of 20-some women in my age division.

But getting back to tomorrow.... I swear I intend to just have a good time at the Bear Creek Trail Half Marathon. This is my free race "I complained" race entry so really it's a glorified weekend long run... with a T-shirt and a medal.

The big goal is not miss a turn and actually run 13.1 miles. Also crossing my fingers for no food poisoning or bee stings (other recent race ailments). We'll see how it goes.

What are you searching for?

"So be prepared to quit. Do it willingly and with honest resolve. You'll be back. The marvelous thing about running is that you will never become jaded by it. Boredom, injury or anguish may overtake you from time to time, but the reward that first drew you to begin logging the miles remain untarnished and available -- always. Just put on your shoes and head out the door."