Wednesday, December 3, 2014

UP up and away (almost)

The fitness band bandwagon got me on Oct. 21, the first day I donned an UP band to start tracking my steps, sleep, food, weight and exercise.

I picked this particular band from the many, many fitness bands out there because I liked the look of it. That was pretty much the extend of my research. Looking back, I might have selected the Garmin vivosmart, which looks almost as cool but also does more stuff and connects to the same system as my Garmin Forerunner 110 watch, but alas, here I am with the UP by Jawbone, getting buzzed when I sit to long and feeling guilty on the days when I don't walk 10,000 steps. 

Last night, a remarkably normal Tuesday, I lost my UP. Sometime after yoga class, maybe during dinner at Manuel's with friends or on the subsequent dark, rainy dog walk through the upper parking lot of Seacliff State Beach, the band vanished. I didn't notice it was gone — or how addicted I'd become to the device — until we had walked home from the restaurant and gone for yet another dog walk in the storm. There, I tore apart the house, checking my gloves and rain jacket in case it had slipped off my bird-like wrist. 

Using the UP app and the big brother-esque GPS tracking feature of the band, I tried to locate my UP. The app pinpointed the device a half-mile away in a residential area we had not walked through, so I assumed someone had found my demure black band and taken it home. It was after 11 and still raining — not the appropriate time to go knocking on doors — but I decided to take a quick spin through the neighborhood to retrace at least some of my steps. 

Every wet leaf, pile of animal excrement and stray twig looked like an UP band in the dark. For a moment, I thought I found it in our backyard, but that was a salamander. When a sheriff's deputy started slowly cruising behind me, I realized my actions were both suspicious (hood up, black jacket, peering around trash cans and near fences) and likely fruitless, so I went home. No band was found. 

The stages of grief came quickly then. I talked myself out of the need for this particular fitness band while appreciating what UP had taught me: 
  • I (and most people) sit too long and don't drink enough water when I'm at work. Setting a reminder to get up, move and drink a glass of water has helped me develop healthier habits when I'm at the office.
  • I'm not interested in logging my food intake. Just not. Oh well. 
  • I could stand to sleep more and better. I go to bed kind of late and wake up a couple of times a night.
  • Taking 10,000 steps (an arbitrary goal I set for myself) doesn't happen on a normal workday. Going for a run, a long dog walk, out dancing or walking my work errands is necessary to crack the 10K barrier.
Just as I was prepared to let go of monitoring myself, I discovered my UP — on my dresser, right where I set it to change after yoga before dinner. Whoops. So all I really learned was the UP app's GPS tracking can be quite off.

Ironically, I didn't get any credit for the steps I took searching for the band (or going to dinner, or walking dogs). So yesterday I logged less than 10,000 steps, again. The band is back on my wrist today and it will probably remain there, at least until the next time I lose it. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Race Report: Surfers Path 10K (on fumes)

In a masochistic move, I ran a 10K on Sunday morning, approximately 18 hours after completing this insane bike ride.

To be fair, the race had been a good idea in the beginning. I'd signed up for the inaugural Surfers Path 10K at the suggestion of a friend who I sometimes get the chance to run with. Plus having a race on the calendar always motivates me to run more, maybe even with said friend. And it worked — running group ramped up the training effort and I did get one run in with my friend together before the race — so the race was probably even a good idea in the middle.

But in the end, my legs were fried from 5,300 feet of climbing, followed immediately by a hot tub soak at the Dream Inn pool deck, then beers and burgers at West End Taphouse. Everything felt amazing; the food and drink was delicious.

But the Sunday morning 10K loomed. I foam-rolled at home and hydrated. In the morning, I briefly considered staying in but, but instead pulled on my Smartwool compression socks (a hopeful move to prevent cramping) and grabbed a cup of coffee. It was go time!

The race is put on by the same group that organizes the Surfers Path Marathon and Half Marathon in the spring. All of the courses cover popular running/cycling/walking routes along the Monterey Bay coastline from Capitola to Santa Cruz. The races on Sunday (a 5K and a 10K) started on 41st Avenue and headed out to Pleasure Point, then hooking a right onto East Cliff Drive. The 5K loops back around Moran Lake, while us 10Kers continued to Twin Lakes State Beach before turning back. Everyone runs past the start line and into Capitola Village for a nice downhill finish at the beach.

Road races can be big here (thousands run the She.Is.Beautiful race in the spring and the Wharf to Wharf sells out faster and faster every year). Maybe because the Surfers Path is new, or because it's November, the course wasn't packed and the whole event had a friendly, local vibe to it.

I had a few minutes to warm up before the 8 a.m. start. It was warming up, so I ditched my long sleeve at the sweat check (pretty posh for a local 10K). I didn't see my friend anywhere, but wasn't worried. I'd find her on the course.

Cinder and Callie (and Mike) came to cheer. 
I can't report much about my pacing. I managed to screw up my Garmin right at the start and didn't record about four-tenths of a mile. Instead of worrying about pace (and because my legs were beat), I focused on enjoying myself: great views, happy people. I chatted with a fellow racer who was struggling, spotted a few friends near the turn-around point, got a cheer from Mike and the dogs, and caught up with a running buddy who was out cruising on his bike. He and I ended up chatting through about three (painful) miles of the run before he ordered me to pass some people in the last half-mile.

At the finish, we found more friends, including Greg from South Valley Endurance, the timer who handles "my" race, the Santa Cruz Triathlon. There was cold-press coffee from Verve Coffee Roasters, great race shirts and a bag full of snacks from New Leaf Market for us.

It wasn't my best 10K time, not by a long shot. But I held essentially a 9-minute mile pace despite extreme fatigue. I'm definitely happy with the overall weekend effort and am ready to plan my next race! (Oh, and I need to find some new spandex shorts. Looking at race photos makes me realize what I for was not cool. Not cool at all.)

This is PROOF I need new racing
shorts. Seriously, what am I wearing?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ride Report: Our Personal Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge

Some background to start: Mike, the fiancĂ©, and I love playing outside together. We appreciate each other's activities — he's a surfer, I'm a runner — but often there is one person who truly loves what we're doing and one person who is along for the adventure. One area where that isn't true is road cycling. We both really, really like getting on bikes, climbing hills and covering a lot of pavement.

We set off this morning on an adventure Mike had mapped out. Inspired by the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge, he wanted to tackle some of the toughest climbs in the county during a 55(ish)-mile-ride. Our weekend rides often include 2,500 or more feet of elevation gain over 25-30 miles, but increasing that didn't seem like a bad idea, especially if was just the two of us and no timeline.

Elevation Map

The plan entailed parking off West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz, then heading through town to our first climb, a breezy warm up on Glen Canyon Road to Scotts Valley. From there, we rode the lower section of Glenwood Drive (a normal climb for us) and then headed up the infamous Mt. Charlie Road, a 5.2-mile climb with multiple short Cat 2 segments. Mt. Charlie was new for both of us. The steep sections left us gasping for breath but overall the ride was scenic and pleasant. We stopped at a historical marker at the top to learn about Mountain Charlie, a failed gold digger who survived a bear attack in the 1870s and went on to be a stagecoach operator in the area, before continuing our climb up Summit Road.

The road seemed remarkable free of cars. We pedaled past vineyards and Christmas Tree farms on Hwy. 35/Summit Road until the highway split at Bear Creek Road. We went left up, then down Bear Creek Road about 11 miles into the town of Boulder Creek. This was essentially the halfway point of Mike's plan: about 30 miles in and one of two significant climbs done. After a quick stop to refuel at Johnnie's Super (including a LARABAR and Hammer Gel) we were back on the road.

The next section covered more new terrain for us: Hwy. 236 toward Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Four miles in, we made a sharp left onto Jamison Creek Road. Mike had said this would be the steepest — but also shortest — climb of the ride. The hill started with a mellow 5% grade and we held the same conversational pace we'd carried throughout the ride. But 1.2 miles in, the hill changed. Here's a description from Stanford Cycling Team For people wanting to climb over 1,100 feet in 1.8 miles (read: masochists), this is the ride for you. This section of the climb averages 11.5% grade, with some areas nearing 14% grade. 

I made it about two-thirds the way up the hill (the whole hill, not just the really steep part) before my legs turned to Jell-o and I had to walk. Mike powered on, using a mix of out-of-the-saddle riding, weaving back-and-forth across the entire road (much to the chagrin of descending cyclists) and sheer willpower to summit the hill. I walked about a mile, pushing my bike and wishing for a passing motorist to hitchhike with. I tried (and failed) to ride again, and even considered carrying my bike on the back of a motorcycle. The bike-hike took about 25 minutes, but it turned out Mike had only beaten me to the top by a few minutes. That must have been one hell of a crawl up! 

(Let's just say, the only good Jamison is probably the whisky, and there should be a bottle at the top of that climb for poor cyclists like me.)

From there, we turned onto Empire Grade Road bemoaned all of the little hills on our back to town. Just before we passed UC Santa Cruz, we hit 37 mph on a downhill. The ride finished along West Cliff Drive, rounding out at 56 miles and about 5,600 feet of elevation.

These climbs are integral parts of a couple cool century rides that happen in here in the spring and summer: the Mt. Charlie Challenge in April and the Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge in late July or early August. I've heard the Mountains Challenge always includes Jamison, which may be a deal-breaker for me, but the Mt. Charlie ride could be exciting. I haven't ever attempted a century ride (metric or full 100 miles), but would like to. Maybe 2015 is the year! 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Muddin' it up

I attempted a long trail run Saturday morning. It's been awhile since I felt motivated to hit double-digit mileage on a run, but the "perfect storm" of new trail running shoes and a chance to hit some new-to-me trails presented itself. I couldn't resist.

I set out in Ed R. Levin County Park after dropping M at the Oakland Airport for a quick boys' weekend in Joshua Tree and Long Beach. I arrived at the park, on the outskirts of Milpitas, before 9 a.m. and paid the modest entry fee. Despite miles of trails wending up the grassy hillsides, the parking lots were empty. I felt surprised, but was excited to have the paths to myself.

I laced up new Project E-Motion N2 trail shoes by Pearl Izumi, decided against listening to music and popped a Hammer Endurolytes Fizz tablet in my water bottle. I had roughly planned a 9- to 12-mile adventure that would take me to Monument Peak and perhaps all the way to Mission Peak, in the adjacent Mission Peak Regional Preserve.

Unfortunately, it also was the morning after one of the first storms of the fall in the Bay Area and the rainfall (after so many months of so little) congealed the trail dust. Large signs declared the trails closed to bikes and horses because of the rain, a regulation I silently celebrated — I wouldn't have to contend with those trail users and I got a brief boost of confidence for being out there when cyclists and horsemen weren't. 

Quickly, I realized the trails should also have been closed to runners and hikers. The mud sucked my shoes in, encasing them in a thick, sticky paste largely composed of decomposing horse shit. I paused to clean my shoes on a wooden fence, then continued my run. As the hill steepened, my feet slipped in the slick mud but I soldiered on. 

A quarter-mile into the run, I encountered the first locked gate. Maybe this should have been a sign to turn back, but I assumed it was meant to keep those horses and bikes out. I just climbed it and used a rail to, again, clean mud from my shoes. I changed my mind when at the second locked gate, a long 15-minute mile farther up the trail. The trail conditions hadn't improved and likely wouldn't, even though the rain had let up and the sun was peeking through clouds. So I turned back, hopping a different gate to access a paved service road that led back to the parking lot. 

Just before the parking lot, I detoured onto another trail that seemed less mucky than the first. Yeah right! Muckity muck mud everywhere. It felt like my shoes could be pulled right off my feet by the goop. On downhills, the mud naturally shook off of my shoes, and clumps of muddy horse poop flicked against my calves. Eventually, I found my way to manicured grass near the nearly-dry reservoir built for recreational fishing. I ran loops there to clean off the mud until I hit 4.5 miles. Unable to keep a pace in the extreme trail conditions, I called it. 

I think I'll hit a favorite trail at The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park tomorrow morning before work. The rain improves those paths! 

But Ed R. Levin County Park — I'll be back. A friend had recommended the trails there and they do look great, given the right weather conditions. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Getting back UP

It's been months since I've blogged. Running, like blogging, also has languished. Why? Why not? Life has been busy-busy-busy.
Race director-ing proved harder than I expected,
but the race went well! 

I just finished my first year as the Race Director of the Santa Cruz Triathlon. One might think organizing a triathlon would correlate into triathlete workouts. I can tell you, it doesn't. I miss paddle boarding. Evenings normally reserved for yoga class or beach runs were consumed with meetings, paperwork and stress. Lots of stress, which makes it hard to sleep, which makes difficult to rise early and get a workout in before work (I have a day job too). So my fitness has suffered some.

Thankfully (I guess), it's mostly running fitness that's poor right now. Yoga is fun. Our Tuesday morning "Oregon Workouts" of circuits and body-weight exercises feel great. And cycling has never been better. Mike and I just got back from a quick jaunt to Ashland, Oregon, to plan our wedding (240 days to go!) and ride bikes. We knocked out 25 miles and made it halfway up Mount Ashland, which is about 2,100 feet of elevation in a single, steady climb. While we wanted to go all the way up (5,000-plus feet of climbing), the altitude ate up any anaerobic fitness I had, plus we had to get cleaned up for a friend's nuptials. I am sticking with my story that the elevation, not a lack of fitness, did me in because rode the undulating hills here at sea level in Santa Cruz with ease the following weekend.
Conquering Eureka Canyon Road
with Mike and friends in August. 

But the reality is I need to do more. I know that. I'm healthier but, more importantly, I'm happier when I'm exercising and feeling fit. So I've taken three steps to do better:
  1. I registered for a 10K. I haven't wanted to race in years. Really, years now. But I needed something to force me to run, and the prospect of official race results available forever on the Internet is super motivating. Plus, my running buddy Meaghan was already signed up for this one, the Surfer's Path 10K. The race is too soon and I won't be in great shape, but it's a starting-off point to get me back where I should be: able to knock out a 10-mile trail run any day of the week. 
  2. I'm heading back to the gym. This will please my brother, a personal trainer who swears by lifting for fitness and weight loss. He's right, too. Doing weights seems to give everything else a little extra "umf!" So I'm on board: at least once a week, plus those body-weight exercises in the Oregon Workout and yoga on Tuesdays. Someday I may even do a pull-up.
  3. I bought an UP. I never thought I'd be a fitness tracker person, but I love my Garmin and got intrigued about what else was out there. The UP wrist band tracks steps and sleep, and if you want, moods, calories eaten and exercise. So far, I'm just using it for the basics and to remind myself to get up and move around at the office every 45 minutes. I'm interested to see how much I walk and run each day, and really like the the reminders to get off my ass. Too often, I get sucked into whatever I'm doing on a screen and lose track of the time. UP should help with that. 
I feel like I'm starting from zero, which is a huge bummer. It's easy to regret not maintaining fitness when I had it because, man, I had a few good years where I busted out two or three marathons annually. But I also know the commitment it takes to get it back and keep it — and I know I'm capable. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Backcountry Ski Trippin'

I'm new to snow sports.

Until the past couple of winters, my experience in the snow amounted to some sledding as a child and chaining up my '98 Mustang in college to get access to a snow-covered peak for a hike.

But the boyfriend is a snowboarder and, over the course of the past couple winters, I've learned how to get down a mild blue-square run and acquired all kinds of snow gear: the appropriate layers, snowshoes, waterproof boots and a complete snowboarding setup. 

Last weekend we put it all to the test by hiking in to the Benson Hut, a Sierra Club shelter three miles south of Sugarbowl and about six miles from Donner Pass. Our friends had, smartly, left a day earlier and made the five-mile hike from the ski resort parking lot in during idyllic conditions. 

The boyfriend, a buddy and I weren't so lucky. 

The only precipitation the Sierra has seen since the first week of December rolled in Saturday morning as we got geared up for the adventure. We cut off two miles of hiking by riding chairlifts up to the top of Sugarbowl, a cheat method that almost immediately knocked me out of the game because I didn't know how to snowboard with a 25-pound pack on. 

Kindly, the boyfriend carried both our packs (what a stud!) and we made it to the top of Sugarbowl, AKA Mt. Lincoln, elevation 8,400 feet. 

It looked like this: 

Yikes. Visibility was basically nothing. Winds whipped us, threatening to blow away stray gloves as we got our  gear organized and used a bike lock to chain our snowboards together between some boulders (for protection against blowing away, not theft). 

Then we hiked.

Three miles, even backpacking at altitude, should be nothing. We were able to hug the ridgeline enough to avoid getting lost (normally, it's a simple ridge hike and the path is visible throughout). But no one was having fun. Our buddy, hiking in Sorels with Yaktrax post-holed through the soft new snow. Once the boyfriend and I strapped on our snowshoes, we kept them on -- even when that meant crossing the rocks of wind-blown, snow-free saddles in the snowshoes. 

We hiked for two hours to reach the hut, quite off of the 30-minutes-a-mile pace we had accepted as the slowest we would possibly go. The boyfriend and most of the crew already the hut had made this same trek five years prior (one of them loves doing this trip as a birthday celebration) which also helped us find the way.

The hut was a welcome sight, nestled just below the peak of Mt. Anderson (8,500 feet). 

We spent the afternoon and evening sipping whiskey, making fajitas and enjoying the company of friends while it stormed outside. A few brave skiers in the group took their skis and skins out to test the fresh snow. I can't imagine being good enough at snowboarding to get a split board and skins and ski in the backcountry, but props to those who do. Resort skiing feels adventurous enough for me.

In the morning, we awoke to more snow and panoramic views. 

The return hike, with the sun shining and epic views surrounding us, felt like a walk in the park compared to our adventure the day prior. To avoid the snowboarding-with-a-pack debacle, get a little more cardio and ensure the guys got to a sports bar in time for the Niners game, I handed off my snowboard to a friend who had hiked in without one and chose to snowshoe down the ski runs with the boyfriend's sister. This added a little over two miles to our hike and was possibly the most pleasurable part of the weekend. Happy skiers paused to ask us about our adventure before zipping down the mountain. We trotted on.

The Benson Hut is open to the public for day use and as an emergency shelter. You also can book the hut for overnight stays and volunteer to maintain it (one of our friends does this, which is how we got hooked up with the hut). It's part of a network of huts on the Sierra Ski Trail in the Lake Tahoe area. Each are about a day's ski apart. 

After visiting, I'd love to go back in the summer. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What I learned from #RWRunStreak

I set out in November to run at least one mile every day from Thanksgiving to New Years. My running streak lasted 25 days before illness, fatigue and scheduling torpedoed the effort.

The theory behind a running streak is getting out to run one mile will help you run farther. One mile becomes two or three, and pretty soon you're logging more miles that you ever thought possible.

That didn't work for me. One mile often was just one mile. Getting my daily "run" in became a chore often done as dusk fell and I darted around the neighborhood for 10 minutes. Even worse were the days I pounded out two miserable miles on a treadmill at the gym. My longest run during the streak was nine miles.

Other issues? Yes:

  • At first, the effort cranked my metabolism. I was hungry all the time. But as my body adjusted to doing short runs every day, that appetite was unwarranted. I gained a couple pounds during my run streak. 
  • Though I was able to keep up on yoga and weight workouts during the running streak, biking went bye-bye. 
With all of these negatives, I did learn a valuable lesson: I really love running, about four times a week. I thought this was true before I started streaking. Back in college, we trained 13 of 14 days and it destroyed me. Running was no longer fun. Cruising through four to 10 miles four times a week is just right for me. It also leaves room for those other things I love to do: cycling, beach walks with the dogs, hiking, yoga. 

I won't be streaking again any time soon, but I'm excited to return to my normal running regime. 

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."