Sunday, October 23, 2011

Note to self: Rocky Ridge 10K might be a good idea next year

Reality check: 10K might be nice and wise for 2012, but past experience shows that within a week or so I will already be thinking about how I can beat this year's time in the Half Marathon. Common sense and trail running rarely go hand in hand.

Last year, the Brazen Rocky Ridge event nearly brought me my first DNF. This course is shockingly hard. This year I was determined to tame it and finish strong.

Mrs Notthat, being wiser than me, and Hteb (not her real name) did the 10K race. The funny thing was that they both bought new trail shoes this week, and they ended up with exactly the same ones! Wearing new shoes at a trail race is a bit risky, but Mrs Notthat had been having lots of trouble with her current shoes, and it was unlikely that the new ones could be worse. So would the new shoes make these two faster? Who would finish first? And who really buys turquoise shoes on purpose anyway?

I was explaining to Htenaj (not her real name either) what the hills were going to be like. Just to humor me, she pretended to be concerned. In the end, she flew up and down them and finished with a time I can only dream about.

The course was as billed - absurdly challenging but laced with stunning views. Mt Diablo mocked us in the distance.

Much of the course was reasonably shaded, with a lot of great single-track. Granted, that single-track was either going straight up or straight down.

As usual, the course was very well marked, although I was a bit puzzled by the "Go Rocky" and the dog drawing at the 5K turnaround. (It turns out that World Famous by HBO Artac - not her real name - helped mark the course, and was running the 5K with her dog name Rocky Ridge. It's good to be a course marker!)

There were four aid stations for the Half Marathon, and they were all fantastic. But the last one was a bit special. Yes, Weird Haired Mom and her wonder dog Dove were there, but what really made it special was that there were only 2.7 miles left. And no more major hills to climb.

Dove begged me to take her with me. I probably should have since her perkiness might have rubbed off on me, as I was in desperate need of perkiness at this point.

As I was on the final stretch, I couldn't resist pausing to stand in the only real mud puddle on the course.

These two were heading back out on the course, cheering on the last few runners. I loved the emotional lift and high fives I got from them! That carried me all the way to the finish line.

The waiting ambulance was amazingly not for me, but that arch certainly was.

Mrs Notthat had been finished with her 10K for hours before I finally showed up. She's smiling because she did really well, and even more important, her feet were in great shape - the new shoes performed better than hoped!

Mrs Notthat keeps getting faster, and now she's picking the brains of others for how she can get better. Here, Nad (not his real name) is explaining that moving your feet quicker can make you go faster.

A great surprise was seeing Ultra Woof with her new dog, Spammy! Here she is teaching Spammy that standing on a table is great fun!

After I rested a bit, Ultra Woof, Spammy, and I headed back out on the course to find Einre (not his real name either). I had forgotten that it was mostly downhill to the finish, which meant that heading back out would mean going uphill. We went for a bit and then I decided it was wiser to sit and wait for them. I played fetch with Spammy (what a cool dog!) while waiting.

It was a little disconcerting that we met up with the course sweeper before Einre - he explained that Einre was coming up behind him along with one of the aid station volunteers ("the one with tattoos" he said - that didn't narrow it down very much).

It turned out to be Weird Haired Mom and Dove the Wonder Dog pacing Einre in. Einre has been doing tough race after tough race all summer long, and it finally caught up to him on this course. He had a tough time, and nearly DNFd at the same point I nearly did last year, but the sweeper talked him into finishing, and finish he did.

Which naturally led to a tasty recovery lunch at a local In-N-Out.

This was, as usual, a very tough race. I'm thrilled that I managed to finish it without all the issues I had last year, but am humbled that it still kicked my butt. In the battle of new shoes, Mrs Notthat ended up beating Hteb by a little over five minutes, and beat her time from last year by more than an hour and forty minutes, finishing in 1:21:10. I ended up beating last year's time by a bit over thirty minutes, finishing in 4:33:46.

To make things a bit more interesting, Brazen offered cash prizes for the winners. This is probably partly to blame for their being nearly twice the number of runners this year as last. Last year, Mrs and I both got third in our age groups - this year, she got 7th out of 9 and I got 9th out of 9.

Since my parents are visiting next weekend, I will be taking it off (my first non-race weekend in 10 weeks). But the following weekend has the Brazen Mt Diablo race, which is tough, but mild compared to Rocky Ridge. Thankfully.

And for those of you that worried I missed a porta-pottie picture, not to worry. I didn't take this one (world famous photographer Etep did), but it is stunning (including getting mooned by Spammy).

That's it - move along...

PS: Lots more pictures and snarky comments here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I've got some catching up to do...

I've got lots of fun stuff that needs to be covered, so let's get on with it.

The Boy has a new toy. He saved his pennies, he took a motorcycle safety course, he bought all the right  clothing (that jacket has all sorts of protective bits on all sorts of places that need protecting), and then, finally, he bought a bike. I know nothing about it other than it's a 600 and has two wheels.

Riley of course loves it, and can't wait until he's big enough to get a ride on it.

A couple of weeks ago Riley had another of his breathing issues and ended up spending a night in the hospital. Darci hung out with Mrs Notthat and made this message. (I have NO idea what that thing is on the right.)

Darci knows but isn't telling.

A friend headed to Japan for a couple of weeks, and Mrs Notthat bravely volunteered to watch their, ummmm, dog. It was one of the most bizarre dogs I've ever seen - tiny, with a haircut that looks like a cartoon animal, and more quirks than a high school theatrical group on Red Bull.

Of course, Darci loved her. Although I think even she had her limits.

Speaking of Darci, she has lost another tooth. I came home from work to her being extremely excited about this - so excited she couldn't wait to show me the kleenex that had all the blood she lost during the process. Mrs Notthat was the one that pulled it - judging by all the lost body fluids, it might have been a bit early, but Darci was certainly ready.

This is the note that Darci wrote. I think the idea is that she wants the money, but she also wants to keep the tooth. I've got no idea how all this turned out, but it's just like Darci to put in so much effort to negotiate with a fictional person (Darci has admitted that she knows there is no such thing as a tooth fairy).

Weird Haired Mom and the grandkids went to a charity dog walk sort of thing (NOT a race). That is their lovely dog Dove (after two weeks with that other kind of a dog thing, I now realize that Dove is a very noble pooch). Riley wanted to wear his dog costume, and Darci volunteered to walk him (all dogs had to be on a leash). This is an adorable picture.

And that's about it. There are other things that have happened (a race or six, a bathroom being born in our bedroom, and a LOT of tomatoes coming from our garden) but they either didn't make the cut or will be handled later.

That's it - move along...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Weekend off my eye

When I finished the Urban Cow Half Marathon last Sunday, I took a deep breath and looked forward to the following weekend, when I, for the first time in seven straight weekends, would not be doing a race.

And then Einre (not his real name) started telling me about the Golden Hills Marathon. About the great trails. About the really long cutoff time. And I laughed. "Not me buddy! I'm sitting home and watching football!"

But then I went to the race website. And I started thinking about how this really was a great-sounding race. And I was suckered in.

There are actually two races - a 50 miler that starts in the dark at 6:30 AM at Lake Chabot and heads up to Tilden Park in Berkeley, only to turn around and head back; and a Full Marathon that starts at 9 AM in Berkeley and follows mostly the same trails as the 50 mile race back to Lake Chabot.

Since the Marathon was a point-to-point race, we parked at the finish line and rode a bus to the start line. It took nearly an hour to get up there. It is NOT true that Einre started up a rousing chorus of "One Hundred Packets of GU on the Wall."

Einre getting bibbed up. It was pretty cool up in Tilden Park while we waited for the race to start. Not that he noticed.

Our start is the 50 miler's turnaround. They will have gone 26 miles by this time.

A porta-pottie picture!

The course had a LOT of these sorts of inspirational signs.

The trails were a mix of fire roads and lots of fun single-track. And there were plenty of hills if that is your thing.

And a LOT of dogs! I loved all of them out running around. This guy paced me for a bit before realizing that I was going too slow to be worth pacing.

The Marathoners were blessed with the bonus of going on the French Trail. If you've ever wondered where the saying "Pardon my French" came from, just go spend a bit of time on this trail. Lots of climbing, lots of roots and rocks - just plain some of the best single-track around. But it nearly killed me. I was really dragging by this point. And my French was freely flowing.

And then I saw these guys. I thought about stealing one of them, but then thought better of it since I didn't have my cowboy hat with me. (Llamaboy hat?)

There were a couple of trees that lost the battle with gravity and chose to block the trail. Almost nobody gave up and turned around.

This bit of trail really puzzled me - why was a perfectly good looking bit of trail being detoured around? I found out later that many of the 50 milers were attacked by a swarm of wasps from a nest here on their way out. It's good to not be first sometimes!

The aid stations were plentiful, well stocked, and universally awesome! They cheered, they watered, they fed - they did everything they could to make this a perfect race. The graveyard was a new twist though (and as the Brazen Rabbit noted, that guy in the middle should have had a bib on - he certainly looked more perky than I felt at this point).

Finally - Lake Chabot! And the finish line (eventually).

I saw this and thought, Mrs Notthat isn't here, but it was possible that the Brazen Rabbit might be there waiting for me to finish (or more likely "drop-dead"). Both her and Nad (not his real name) were doing the 50 miles and I had seen them a long time ago looking absurdly perky as they were heading to the 50 mile turnaround, and assumed they had both blown past me while I was "pardoning my French" while struggling up a hill or two on That Trail.

I freaked out the finish line guy and the photographer when I stopped just before finishing so that I could take this picture. (The time is for the 50 milers - subtract 2:30 to get my Marathon time.)

And it turned out there really was a drop dead gorgeous person waiting for me - Yrrek (not her real name)! Neither the Brazen Rabbit or Nad had come in yet, so the two of us did a lot of cheering as runner after runner came streaking in. The BR made her appearance well before the magical 11:00 time (faster than 11:00 means you qualify for the Western States 100).

I was tired, not feeling well, and barely functioning at this point. The Brazen Rabbit was ready for another lap.

Both Nad and Einre finished a bit later. Swapping post-race stories is a lot of fun after a tough race. I was surprised by how many people were still hanging around, although there was a LOT of great food (the homemade soup was stunning!) waiting for us.

Nad and the unstoppable RJ (not his real name either) swapping their own post-race stories.

The swag was pretty amazing for this race - a great Patagonia shirt, Moeben arm sleeves (you got to pick the style you wanted), a wine glass, an issue of Trail Runner magazine, some other misc stuff, and a nice bag to carry it all in. Note the lack of a medal - a lot of these types of races know that these kinds of runners do a lot of events and appreciate getting useful stuff (which is why coasters are popular). The 50 milers also got a very nice Patagonia jacket.

This was a stunningly great race. Everything about it was well done, from the excellent course marking, fun aid stations, and great finish line experience to the great post-race food. The weather was ideal and the trails were perfect after the rain we had earlier (it was nice to not have to deal with dusty trails). The rain did cause a slight course change, and I'm hoping next year to get to see that other trail.

So I didn't get the weekend off. In fact, I ended up doing the DSE Polo Fields 5K the next day. Next weekend is the Redwood City Half Marathon, followed by my nemesis - the Brazen Rocky Ridge Half Marathon.

Likely I will be polishing up my French for that last one.

That's it - move along...

PS: You can see a lot more pictures I took here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cowbells! And more cow-based puns than you ever imagined...

We had to make a choice.

There was a Half Marathon in San Jose that would be a lot of fun with bands sprinkled around the course. When I was a cheerleader there last year I realized that Mrs Notthat would love the San Jose Rock and Roll Half Marathon.

But there was also this Urban Cow Half Marathon in Sacramento ("A Race Like No Udder!") that would be a lot of fun with bands sprinkled around the course. Even though I had never been a cheerleader at this race, I knew Mrs Notthat and The Boy would both love it. (Mrs Notthat because it was much cheaper and still had the element of music along the course, and The Boy because it meant he could see his sweetie, The Big Wind.)

The thing that swung the decision firmly in the direction of Sacramento were the cowbell finisher medals. How can any race compete with that?

On Saturday afternoon we headed up to Sacramento to pick up our bibs, shirts, and timing chips for the next day's race, then headed north to Marysville (motto: "We know it looks like Kansas, but trust is, you really are still in California") to stay with The Big Wind and her family.

TBW works at a shelter where a few weeks earlier, someone had left a herd of very fresh kittens on their doorstep. So TBW ended up keeping them at her place so she could bottle feed them and get them to an adoptable age. Yes - the kittens were absurdly cute and I am stunned we didn't end up with one or four riding back home with us.

The next morning we all headed to downtown Sacramento. It turns out there were about 4000 other people that thought a cowbell medal sounded like a good idea. The plan was for Mrs Notthat, The Boy, and I to do the Half Marathon while The Big Wind would do the 5K. This changed a bit when The Boy started having stomach issues and sadly (wink wink, nudge nudge) had to do the 5K with TBW.

The obligatory porta pottie-picture. There were a lot of these along the course, and early on, they all had lines like this.

One of the bands along the course. There were probably 5 official bands plus a few unofficial ones - they were all fun though.

We spent a lot of time wandering through neighborhoods, and I loved how many people were out in their driveway cheering us on.

I love the "Caution Watch For Pole" sign in the middle of this picture. The course was all on pavement, although there was a nice stretch along the river where you could run beside the pavement on dirt if you so chose. (I so chose.)

We were told that at one point we would be passing close to the state capital building. This wasn't it.

I completely missed the capital building, but fortunately Ultra Woof had her camera, and since she is a better tourist than me, got this picture of it. How in the world could I have missed this? (I overheard a LOT of people saying they too had missed it. You had to look the opposite way you were running to see it, which is why so many missed it.)

It was nearly impossible to miss the many cow-based cheerleaders along the course though.

There was one short out-and-back stretch and I had hoped to see Mrs Notthat there. She didn't start with me since she spent a LOT of quality time in the porta-pottie line at the start area. Here she was though, just a few minutes behind me.

A side note: As you can see it was sunny. Sunny + Sacramento = HOT. Usually. But not on this day - the weather was perfect for this race.

My favorite stretch of the trail, along the river with optional dirt to run on.

This was a first for me - an arch telling you that you still had half a mile to go. (Sporting one of the many cow puns along the course.)

A surprise to us was that Yram (not her real name and needing a fun nickname) also did the race and turned in a great time.

A total non-surprise was that Einre (not his real name and also in need of a nickname) did the race and finished with a smile on his face.

And then of course there was Ultra Woof (does not need a nickname), with her superior tourist abilities (I stole four pictures from her) and amazing talent for adding stress to the beginning of a race.

The happy owners of new cowbell medals. After a fine meal at an upscale burger joint, we headed back to Marysville to drop off The Big Wind and pick up our bags and such.

And give The Boy one last chance to bottle feed a kitten. THEY WERE SO CUTE!!!

So, how did it go? I was happy. Both Mrs and I set PRs with our times. (Not that the USA Olympic Committee should be taking notice. Yet.) I bought a bonus cowbell to give to Weird Haired Mom who was unable to come to the race. (It was embarrassingly hard to hand it over though.) I loved the finish line area - it sounded like a huge herd of cows wandering around a field with all the clanging cowbells.

The race was a blast. The course was fun, there were lots of water stations (no food on the course though), and it seemed like everyone in Sacramento was either in the race or standing on the side cheering. The only negative was that they had no Half shirts in my size or the next size down - I had to settle for a 5K shirt. (Seriously, I can't complain too much - I've already gotten about 30 shirts from races so far this year and my closet deserves a break.)

Maybe next year we will try the San Jose Rock and Roll race. Or maybe we need to get a second cowbell medal.

You can never have too much cowbell. (Sorry. I couldn't resist.)

That's it - Moooove along...

PS: You can see a lot more pictures here.