Friday, August 31, 2012

Berries and runnable doorways

A couple of quick things on this gloomy Friday.

My gardening skills this year have been pathetic. Very few tomatoes, an OK amount of zucchini (which is pathetic -who can't grow WAY more zucchini than they can use?), and a few small pumpkins will be it. But one thing that went reasonably well were these berry plants that I grew in small hanging planters.

I grew up in Kansas eating these berries a lot. I don't know what they are actually called though, and it's tough to describe their taste - they look like small blueberries but taste nothing like them.

My German grandmother called them (phonetic spelling alert) swaspidda.

I've gotten two small bowls of berries so far - this harvest was added to a loaf of zucchini bread (which came out stunningly wonderful). My mother sent me a bunch of the seeds a couple of years ago and this is the first year I've seriously tried to grow them here. I'm thinking next year they will get bigger pots and even more attention - I love fresh picked berries, especially from plants that aren't trying to maim you.

The grandkids have started school. Grandkid First Born (above) is in third grade (!) and Grandkid Second Born (below, eating chicken nuggets) is in first grade.

GFB told me about how she was one of the few successfully climb a flagpole at school yesterday. And she did it multiple times. Then she showed me how she can climb doorways. In a princess dress.

I have more than a little pity for her teacher.

That's it - move along…

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Skirts, dirt, and a lot of (sometimes tired) smiles

What happens if you put on a tough trail race, put "skirt" in its name, and target it at women runners? You get an event that I nearly blew my camera out trying to take enough pictures.

Inside Trail Racing put on the inaugural Skirt 'n' Dirt trail race out of Joaquin Miller and Redwood Parks - parks known for some of the toughest trails in the East Bay. While men weren't excluded from running the race, they were a tiny minority (193 women finishers vs. 16 men). Mrs Notthat ran the 25K course while Weird Haired Mom (with her damaged foot) and I (with my camera) worked at the most exciting of the aid stations, Moon Gate. (Motto: "GU So Nice You'll Want To Come Back Twice! Or Four Times If You Are Nuts And Running The 50K." T-shirts available soon.)

K-Dub being WAY too perky this early in the morning.
We knew a lot of the runners that were going to be out there, which helped make this even more fun for us. WHM and I stopped by the start area to drop off Mrs Notthat and say hi to a few people before heading out to Moon Gate.

Note that WHM is on crutches here. And still was eying that start line, thinking  "I could do a 10K on crutches, right?"

We did what we could to get a group picture, and this one is nice, but a number of people are missing. That was OK though, since we would be seeing them all later.

WHM and I drove up to where the aid station was to be placed. As you can see, it was quite foggy - the  mist dripping from the trees was very close to being rain, and the trails under the trees (which are most of them) were actually a bit muddy and slippery.

Yes - this aid station name is ripe for a practical joke or two. But we didn't have time for that (and it was a bit too cold for the obvious mooning opportunity - besides, the runners had to endure enough without having to experience something like that).

Within minutes of getting set up, the first runners appeared. They loved the cool weather.

Only one of the 16 men finishers got into the spirit of the day, and naturally it would be Yhcrats (not his real name).

Weirdly, K-Dub is still perky after nearly 3 miles of running. She is closely followed by K-Bacon who was a star of the show today - she not only ran the 25K, but helped check runners in at the start, helped us out at Moon Gate once her race was done, then swept part of the course. Not to mention the cookies (more on them later).

Two VERY brave men that drove up to the aid station and walked 100 feet down the trail to cheer on their significant others. They survived. Barely.
Mrs Notthat after 12 tough miles, with 3.3 miles left to go.
All runners hit our aid station at the 2.9 mile mark. Then:

• The 10K runners wandered off to do a 1.7 mile loop (that was much harder than it looked on the map), hit us again, then went back to the finish.

• The 25K runners stormed off to do a 9.1 mile loop (that was exactly as hard as it looked on the map), hit us again, then went back to the finish.

• The 50K runners stormed off to do the same 9.1 mile loop, hit us again, head to the finish, head back out to us again, storm (but maybe with a bit less thunder) the 9.1 mile loop again, hit us yet again, then head back to the real finish.

As I said, this was a great aid station to work at, although we had to be the first to open and the last to close.

That's a LOT of pink! 
Note the pink flamingos. These are a trademark of All Day Nek (not his real name) who places them just ahead of the aid station to provide a tasteful early warning that a buffet is just ahead. 

Don't EVER make the mistake of thinking women in pink aren't tough. The one on the left is smiling, even while sporting a nasty bit of trail rash.

Eventually the runners thinned out and the sun made a token appearance, which meant we could spend some time trying to warm up a bit.

K-Bacon fresh from her 25K race, headed out to sweep the 10K loop. That's a lot of ribbons for less than two miles of trail.

WHM working over a blister.

K-Bacon could have spent the night before the race cowering under the elevation chart, but instead made a bunch of these ridiculously cool cookies, as modeled by Ettevi (not her real name).

Once the last couple of runners came through, we packed up and headed down to the finish area to pick up Mrs Notthat.

I didn't wear a skirt, but I hoped the pink lei would be festive enough. (Don't tell Mrs Notthat, but I also tried to wear her tiara from a previous race, but there was no way it was going to fit on my non-tiara-friendly head.)

This was a great event. There were a number of issues with runners getting off course, which worried me a bit with regards to Mrs Notthat - the last time she did a race in these parks she managed to turn a 13.1 mile Half into a nearly 20 mile trudge. But in talking to her afterwards, she had no issues and said it was all well marked.

Which kind of leads to the last interesting bit.

I'm a tiny bit anal about having a course map with me for all races. Even with races that provide printed maps, I end up making my own, with lots of helpful notes ("Don't die on this stretch"). So I made a map for Mrs Notthat, which she thanked me for, folded up, and tucked safely away in some forgotten pocket. (Note that when she was busy turning her Half into a 20 miler, she also had a map with her. They do NOT guarantee success.)

Before the race, Mr Inside asked how many were carrying maps. Naturally, Mrs was not paying attention and missed that bit, but she did hear about a raffle for a pair of La Sportiva shoes at the end of the race. When she finished, she asked about the raffle and learned that it was only for runners with maps. Like the one she had stuffed into some obscure pocket.

So she entered the raffle, and we found out yesterday, she won!

A map might not keep you from getting lost, but they can help your feet feel better about any bonus miles you add.

That's it - move along…

PS: Here's a link to some more pictures I took. And here's a link to the Inside Trails Picasa site that has all of the pictures I took.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Brazen Bear Creek - no bears but there was a creek

Mrs Notthat, Weird Haired Mom, and I joined a bunch of friends and others (well over 600 finishers all together) for this summer's Brazen Bear Creek trail race. In a move that is starting to become a bit more common in many of the trail races around here, this one sold out and had no race day registration available.

I can only assume that's because lots of runners failed to look at the elevation chart.

Brazen is known for tough races, and I would rank this as number two, behind only the absurdly challenging Rocky Ridge (which will likely sell out too, especially since they've added the Ultra Half Series with a nifty bonus medal to it). And yes, their next race, Drag-N-Fly is very tough too (I would rank it as number three, but you have to love a race whose initials spell out "DNF").

So what makes the Bear Creek Half Marathon so tough? Obviously, the hills have a lot to say about that. But it's also the placement of the hills - you have to do significant climbing late in the race. And there is also the heat factor - a LOT of the trails are very exposed. This makes for great views, but a lot of sun can make for a long race. (We had a bit of a break this year due to a freak set of clouds that got lost coming out of Mexico and wandered up into our area.)

Scattered clouds provided bonus shade occasionally.
Regardless, we all lined up for the start and headed out at 8AM.

Nearly 40 feet into the race and I've already taken three pictures.

The Half course teases you for a bit with some more or less level trails before taking you up the first big hill.

My arch-nemisis Yram (not her real name) was there. We kept pretty close for the first mile or so, but then I slowly pulled away (she was not feeling right for this race, but still, I BEAT HER!).

I loved that this paparazzi wore the aid station sign.
The first aid station (near mile 3) is a great sight since it means that first big hill is done. Here is one of the pictures he took of me:

Picture by volunteer with sign duct taped to him.
Better picture by volunteer with sign duct taped to him.  
Mrs Notthat beat me to the top of this hill by seven minutes. She was quite motivated.

On this course, being at the top of a hill means you get a view. And some downhill to make up some time.

On the way down that first hill you get to spend a little time in some trees, which is a nice break from the sun.

Eventually you make it to the second aid station, about mile 5.8. There was a two hour cutoff at this station, but everyone (including me!) made it with plenty of time to spare.

Once you leave that station, you get a bit of exposed downhill, but it's on single-track instead of fire roads, and is quite fun.

Then you get to spend some time rolling through single-track in the trees along a dry creek. I like this stretch, but I also dread it since I know what is coming…

… a cliff. I would love one day to watch the faster runners run up this. It's not very long, but it's pretty steep and very root-infested. It also marks the start of the biggest climb of the day, which again, is mostly on fire roads, although there are trees involved for some of it.

Once you get to the top, you have a very exposed stretch with some nice downhill. And then, just before you hit the next aid station, you start climbing again. The best part of this climb is that the next aid station, at about mile 10, is about halfway up the hill. The worst part of this climb is that this aid station has some chairs and shade and very friendly volunteers - it's not easy to tear yourself away and keep plodding up that hill.

That's Oel with the camera and Ainigriv behind the table (not their real names) along with a few others that are very happy to see me since it means almost all of the runners must be through. (The last runner through was really struggling with calf cramps and didn't think she would be able to finish. Ainigriv offered to pace her the remaining three miles and it worked - she was the last finisher, but she made it!)

I really struggled out of this aid station and up the rest of this hill. I had counted on making up some time going down the other side, but once I started down, I had nothing left for running. Which maybe was a blessing, since I came across this guy:

Last year, Mrs Notthat and I came across two rattlesnakes in the last three miles of the course, so I knew they could be out there, and was keeping my eyes open. The odd thing was that this guy was not in the sun, like normal (which maybe tells you how hot it was), and instead was stretched out across the trail in the shade.

He was never a threat to me - I stopped took a couple of pictures, asked him to move, and waited while he turned around. He kept both eyes on me as he headed back the way he came.

The worry would have been a faster runner charging down this hill and not seeing him in time to stop. As the snake was slowly making his way off the trail, another runner came up - I waved for him to stop, and we both watched the snake wander off the trail and let us go past. (More about that runner in a bit.)

An interesting curiosity of this course is that there is a fourth aid station, just one mile from the finish. The fun thing about this aid station is that you can see it from a long ways away. And it's all downhill to get there. I still wasn't up to running much, but knowing how close I was getting certainly put a bit of a bounce in my step.

OK, so maybe it wasn't that hot out after all since these three chose to sit out in the sun and cheer us on.

And there was Yrrek (not her real name) at that last station, being all perky and encouraging. ("Finally" she said as I waddled by. "I guess we won't need Search and Rescue after all." She's a charmer!)

There was only a mile to go, and it was mostly through woods, although there were several small hills (which by this point seemed MUCH bigger).

Picture by Brazen volunteer.
Mrs Notthat is genuinely perky as she nears the end.

Picture by Brazen volunteer.
I, on the other hand, had to work a bit to look this perky. By this point though, you can hear the music and general mayhem of the finish line, so it was really hard not to be perky.

The last 200 feet of the course involves some steps down to a small creek crossing (which I took advantage of to cool off), followed by more steps to get you up to the finish line.


It's-It ice cream can't be beat at the end of a long, brutal, hot race.
This is Ynahs (not his real name either) from the Show Me state. This was his first trail race ever. He was visiting the area, and after reading up a bit about races this weekend, chose this one because, well, it had a medal. He was a bit puzzled by the 4.5 hour time limit for the race though - that seemed like a LONG time to allow for a normal Half Marathon.

He quickly learned that this was not a normal Half Marathon. (You could say we showed him. I'm not going to say that, but you could.)

If you go back through the pictures in this post, you will see he is in a lot of them. He was ahead of me for most of the race, although I weirdly managed to pass him on that last hill. He was the runner that stopped and watched the rattlesnake meander off the trail - he got such a kick out of that! We then went most of the way to the finish together, although once he heard the music, he took off. He had an amazing attitude towards the challenges this race presented - it was a blast covering most of the last bits of the trail with him.

Photo by yet another Brazen paparazzi.
I love this picture. Weird Haired Mom (who's our daughter for those who don't know) is doing her best "McKayla is not impressed" face since, as bad as I did, I still beat her time.

This was a tough race. It actually went a lot better than last year's version, but still. Mrs Notthat beat me by a bit over 40 minutes.

The amazing thing about this race though was that everyone that started, finished. That just doesn't happen in tough trail races.

It was a great event, with great volunteers at the aid stations, the start/finish area, and all the photographers along the course.

It was also a great reality check - I need to get significantly stronger if I'm going to survive Rocky Ridge in a couple of months.

That's it - move along…

PS: Here is a link to more of my pictures.

PPS: I heard from a LOT of runners that they are all shooting for the Ultra Half Series at Rocky Ridge. This panicked me a bit - I don't want it to sell out before I get in, so I'm sending my forms in this week. Just saying…