December 3, 2011

California Running

When Matias told me in August he was going to California in early December to run his first 50 miler - The North Face Challenge (TNF50) - and asked if I wanted to join him, I of course said yes. Lets face it, I couldn’t go and not run, so I, too, picked a distance farther than I’d gone before - the mighty 50K (about 31 miles). After a very busy summer running season and completing the Rim to Rim to Rim in October, continuing to train for a 50K in December was more challenging than I expected. My legs were flat from the Grand Canyon and motivating to run in pre-Thanksgiving record setting cold (lows fell to -44F/C) took nearly as much as energy as completing the run.

We arrived to California eight days before my event. Matias had decided to double up and compete in the Quad Dipsea the week before TNF50. Thus started our outdoorsy excursions in which we sampled the varietals of not just the wines and olive oils of Sonoma Valley but the landscapes of Northern California. First was to enjoy the Dipsea trail, the namesake for the oldest trail race in the US, 101 years old. Touted as “one of the most beautiful courses in the world,” it is a beautiful and grueling 7.4 mile course from Mill Valley through the Muir Woods to Stinson Beach. I enjoyed running support as Matias traversed this historic trail four times.

Dipsea trail gets lush and Women's Champ Cedar commands her lead.

The view down to Stinson Beach.

Among our daytrips to recover from the Quad Dipsea and to prepare for our 50 mile/50K extravaganza, we climbed to the top of wine country and frolicked along a ridge trail lined with Mandrone trees characterized with smooth red bark and twisted branches.

Sweeping views of vineyards from a Madrone lined trail.

After a dizzying drive up Route 1, we unwound by running through the forested trails along the Avenue of the Giants disappearing behind the mighty Redwoods. These ancient colossals can be as old as 2,000 years, grow to heights over 300 ft; they are fire- and insect-resistant and can survive major floods. They are truly marvelous natural wonders.

So big...we even drove through one!

Where's Waldo!?! There you are! Now, careful Waldo, that tree might not go the distance.

Point Reyes was a must as was the beach. During a night of backcountry camping near Point Reyes we relaxed into an ocean sunset behind a beautiful eucalyptus tree. Leaving the fly off the tent, the moon, stars and ocean breeze kissed our salty cheeks all the night.

The wind blows onshore frequently as evidenced by the tree and my hair!

As soft a sunset as I've experienced.

On race day I happily discovered the course routed us through nearly all vegetation types in which we spent the week playing: windswept beaches, dramatic cliffs, coastal chaparral, low mountains, swaths of prairie, live oak woodlands, salt marshes, freshwater wetlands and creeks, and redwood forests. Outstanding!

(no pics from the race - too busy running)

Unlike Alaskan trails to which I am more accustomed, the trails were wide, flat and the steep climbs were moderated with switchbacks preventing the need for power-hiking and forcing us to run the low grade ascents. The 50K felt very much like a marathon and was perfectly scheduled to intersect with the 50 mile for the final 15 miles of our respective runs. I had the fortune of ceding the trail as some of the best of the best Ultra trail runners surged passed me. Talk about inspiring. I do hope someday I can have that kind of strength and fitness. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th place women in the 50 mile caught me along the way. I cheered them and even yelled out – “Teach me how you do that!” I would seriously love to learn.

After this experience, I am ever inspired to set new goals and improve my training. For now, I intend to enjoy a month of mostly skiing and hiking with a bit of running in as mountainous a region as I can find, to decorate an Austrian style Christmas tree, cook good food, and surround myself with the sounds and smells of an Alaskan Christmas. I’ll save the real training for 2012.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love this post, Christie! Terrific photos of the terrain and the run.

Hey, if you're back in AK come spring, shoot me an email. I'd love to climb in the Deltas with you if you need a partner for some relaxing climbing therapy after all that running :)