Monday, July 13, 2009

Holy Hills

Yesterday was my Sunday Trail Run with my training group. The schedule called for 8 miles and Coaches T and M were very excited to introduce us to a "local loop favorite" up in Auburn. In fact, the last 3.5 miles of the run we were scheduled to do is the last 3.5 miles of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run a.k.a. my dream race/obsession. So you can imagine my excitement for Sunday's run. I had been talking about it to friends and family the entire week.

On Sunday we met in the Placer High School parking lot. I came equipped with my brand new Nathan Intensity Hydration Vest This would be the first time I was running with this vest and I picked a decent overcast non-hot day to do this just in case the vest did not work out according to my hopes and dreams. My hydration "problem" on the trail is really one of inconvenience. I love running with handheld water bottles but I find the water gets hot fast and nothing is as unappealing as hot water (well, check that. NO water on a trail is more unappealing than warm water). I am also running longer and longer and finding that I need methods of fueling and I cannot wear anything around my waist including a fanny pack or a hydration pack. So the Nathan vest allows me to run with water, keeps it cool and keeps my hands free and has storage pockets in the front for food or Gu!

Apparently the vest was a hit the moment I put it on too as I had many women approach me to inquire what I thought of it or where I got it. I had to inform them that today was my "test run" with it and to ask me next week about it or if they see it mysteriously missing next week that means it did not work out.

Back to the run. Coach T informed us that we will be running the last 3.5 miles of Western States including running through the gates and onto the Placer High track and around to the "finish" line in front of the stadium. I hemmed and hawed as to whether or not I wanted to do this or if I should "save" that moment for some day when I actually DO try and run Western States. I decided to make my decision when I reached the gates later at the end of my run.

So 185 trail runners started off running. Our coaches led the way through the residential streets of Auburn until we reached the Stagecoach entrance of the trails. From here on out it was down down down until we reached the river. I admit, I got caught up with some of the faster folks and powered down the hills in complete awe of the beauty that surrounded me! Totally undeniably beautiful. We occasionally ran into a hiker or a mountain biker all equally pleasant and polite. I was in heaven!

My quads however, were starting to feel the "burn" a little as I continued descending down this rocky uneven terrain. But, finally we reached the bottom and hopped back up on to the road, crossed a bridge and then back onto the trail which is right where the Western States Trail connected with our run. I was about to cross the "legendary" No Hands Bridge! I kept asking the runners I was near where it was and finally had to explain to them that I am originally from New Jersey and totally unfamiliar with the area. That seemed to get me "off the hook" for being so ignorant about the local trails.

Crossing the bridge meant we were on the 3.5 mile stretch going back home. It also meant that the last 3.5 miles were mostly up hill. What goes up must go down and vice versa right? I was passed by a couple who I had ran by earlier on the downhills and then ultimately found myself alone on the trail. Which, to my surprise, was actually quite pleasant and totally not as scary as I thought it would be. I have huge fears of getting lost alone in the woods and being eaten by a mountain lion or bear. Not that I have ever seen either (knock on wood that this record remains in tact).

As the inclines grew I noticed that a lot of the trail was not shaded by trees. This means that the Western States runners from a few weeks ago who ran this (on the hottest day of the year) were completely exposed, running UPHILL after having ran 97 miles all night long! I was humbled immediately.

Eventually I did climb up into a single track area that was shaded and I even noticed some glow sticks hanging from the trees that remained from the big event. I became giddy. I started scolding myself for not bringing my camera or at the very least, my phone to take pictures of myself while on the trails next to the Western States markers. Who knows if I'll be alone on the trails again like that! Ah well. Maybe next time I'll bring my camera just in case . . . if I do get eaten by a mountain lion at least someone will know I was there (if I can get a picture of myself before I become lunch).

It really was impossible to get lost though. The track was clearly marked and basically you were just climbing and climbing until you came to the road and the famous Robie Point! All I kept thinking as I was hiking (not running mind you) up those hills was how unfair this is to the runners running Western States. You would think that they would catch a break and have SOME downhill sections the last 3 miles! Nope. Even when we were back on the residential streets you are going up and up and up. Neighbors were out washing cars and watering their lawns waving "hi" as I was wheezing my way up hill. I noticed at one point, a woman from the group was behind me. Shoot. Someone caught up to me. So . . . off I went . . . running. Uphill. "Ouch" said my quads but it actually felt good to run a hill as where I live, the only "hill" I can run is also called a "levee" and really doesn't do much for "hill training" when you come right down to it.

We were told to follow the orange foot prints back to Placer High. These are the markings their cross country team follows during races. Apparently, the cross country kids must run portion of Western States too . . . man those are some in shape kids! Sheesh!

Well the moment came. After running uphill for what seemed like forever, I was finally graced with a downhill section and then deposited at the gate of the track. I decided, just this once, in case I never get the chance again, I will do it. And besides, my other option was to run UPHILL to the car! The track allowed me a small section of soft FLAT terrain to recover! But I am telling you, I can see how the runners get so inspired and find energy to just sprint around that track! That is what I did despite how dead my legs felt just moments ago. What an adrenaline rush that was!

However, I was then stuck inside the track and forced to climb the bleachers back to my car. I couldn't quite pull a "rocky" and climb to the top and jump around but I was jumping internally. What a day! I was on a high and look forward to my run this Sunday which will be in Cool, another "famous" spot for ultra runners!

Post Run Vest Report:
Overall, the hydration vest worked great. My two "thoughts" on it were this:
1. My back was semi hot and sweaty. Curious how it will be on a day when it is actually really hot out.
2. The vest is like a "camel back" type vest. Which means you SUCK the water out. Well, when you're sucking wind climbing a hill it makes it a bit difficult to suck water compared with a handheld bottle that you just squirt water into your mouth.

But, I think I will wear it next week for the 9 miles at Cool that we're running. I've bought and paid for this thing, I might as well give it a decent shot right?

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