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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Calico Trail Run 2015

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESI will  cut to the finish right away and end the suspense.  I completed my 7th consecutive Calico 30k trail race last Sunday.  I did worry about this one, that I might get pulled due to time requirements.  I tried not to think about that, but the fear lingered in the back of my mind.  At the rate I’d been going and due to the difficulty of this course, I figured I would be lucky if I “ran” this one in less than 6 hours.  I didn’t want to worry about this though – I’m not that kind of runner.  I have always been in it for the adventure. 

We arrived in Calico Ghost town the afternoon prior to the race.  By “we” I mean, my three sons, my husband, our nephew and middle son’s friend.  After taking in some sights – visited the old school house, rode the train, ate dinner – we headed back to the bunkhouse.  I was early to bed, and woke often, at least once an hour, maybe more.  I woke for good at 5:45 AM.

As I walked through the desert into Calico Ghost Town, I didn’t much feel like running.  Knowing that this course runs long, I was looking at close to 20 miles through the desert.  I’m talking uphill in sand, boulder hopping through canyons, kind of trails.  Tough stuff.  For a second, a milli-second, I considered walking back to the bunkhouse and skipping the race.  But then I faced the facts.  I would never be able to handle watching the runners come through the finish as we took in the town’s sights.  The self-bashing would be immense.  

At a complete disadvantage physical fitness-wise, I needed to come up with a plan – something to get me to the start line and through the next twentyish miles.  Pacing plans were out of the question – my pace was too slow for a “plan.” 

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThis is what I came up with:  BE PRESENT.  I had to be there on the trails, not inside my head, not ahead of myself, or looking back.  It was essential that I focus on my step – my current step.  I had to be there.  And there I was – in the present, running down an asphalt road out of Calico.  I saw Steve Harvey, and a few other friends, including followers of this blog that I was so fortunate to meet for the first time.  It was a lovely beginning with a nice pace to start (can’t beat a downhill asphalt start Smile ).


I stayed so focused in the present trekking through that soft sand, that I didn’t turn on the music until mile 8.  MILE EIGHT.  I didn’t even notice the music’s absence.  Instead, I looked for hard spots in the sand, which were mainly off trail.  Believe me, if they were easily accessible, I was off trail to run the hard stuff often (And I was not the only runner doing this).  I chatted some with other runners, and I focused on covering 4 miles in the first hour.  I did that, plus some, coming in at 4.5 miles after the first hour. 

I ran into the first aid station thirty minutes shy of the cutoff.  Stopping briefly, I headed out with a pocket-full of Jelly-Bellies and a handful of Party Mix (Pretzels, Cheeze-Its, etc).  I hit mile 8 within two hours.  That’s when the trail grew more and more technical with slants, uphills, fist-sized rocks and boulders.   


I made the half-way point at 2:15.  A negative split was pretty much out of the question (as was an even split) with the trail gaining in difficulty.   So, I knew that a sub-five wasn’t going to happen.  That was a-okay – remember I was worried about a six hour finish. 

I lost my four-mile an hour goal at about mile 12.  This did not concern me.  I could actually see other runners, as opposed to being so far behind that I was out there in the desert by my lonesome.  Being out there by my lonesome wouldn’t have been that bad though.  I have run this course enough times that I know it by heart, and the trail’s rugged beauty is breathtaking.  Unfortunately though, the trail grew so difficult that I had to focus so hard on my step that I could not look up often and enjoy the beauty.  But I did catch glimpses.  Winking smile

I love this spot – it comes right after a particularly technical portion, followed by a good climb.  At this point, the colorful views greet you just before a nice mile-long downhill: 


As I summited the last big hill of the race (there would be a couple little hills to come), I met up with and passed two runners I had been trailing the entire race.  They asked when the next aid was, and I gladly gave out that information as well as a whole lot more, especially about the two miles of extremely difficult trail that we would encounter soon.  (Though I passed these young ladies, they passed me after the last aid station, which I was glad to see – I know, weird – weird as in, who is happy about someone passing them?  I was happy for their success.  Funny.  One of these young ladies told me that they chose this race to train for the L.A. Marathon.  I thought to myself, having not ever run the LA Marathon, that the Calico Trail Run will make the LA race seem easy – he,he).

Onward into that last aid station, I still held firm in my attempt at four miles an hour, though I had lost it recently.  When I hiked, I hiked determined and quickly, moving at a 15 mile pace.  I told myself, “If you can’t hike a 15 minute mile, then run!”  Glancing at my Garmin more often than usual, I sped up when needed, but never told myself to slow down.  Fatigue was setting in.


I never felt stressed, panicked or scared during this race.  Yes, I grew irritated at times, and frustrated when some runners passed.  And yes, I was extremely tired.  Cramps were right at the edge – I kept them at bay by sipping my electrolyte water (3 Nuun tablets to my 70 oz).  And though I was not a particularly quick trotter, landmarks continued to come in much sooner than I expected.  If you run trails, or if you run at all, you know the sheer delight of coming upon a landmark all of a sudden when you didn’t expect it.  It’s a lovely thing!

Those last 4 miles of the Calico 30k are the toughest of the entire race.  The rocky trail slants one way, then the other.  You must zig-zag through the terrain, else eat dirt (or rather, rock).  At times, I braced myself against the canyon walls, but I never needed to stoop down and butt-scoot down a boulder.  I noticed a runner scoot down a boulder ahead early on, which was the sign that I needed to tell me that I could pass her.  Difficult terrain is my strength among the back-of-the-packers.  I passed her easily and ended up passing three runners total during this difficult canyon.  I was thrilled.  But the pressure was on to keep moving quickly.  Last thing I wanted is for runners that I passed at the end of the race, to over-take me toward the finish. 


This pink canyon was the final landmark I waited for – it meant the technical aspect was over – that I was entering the final stretch:SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

With about two miles remaining, I worked hard at leaving behind the three runners that I had recently passed.  And I passed another runner as I made my way back into Calico.  It was a difficult, final stretch, with a killer (though very quick) climb.  By the time I made it to the Calico parking lot, I felt that I could not run another step.  Two of my sons and my nephew met me at the base of the utility road back into town.  They marched up it with me, and kept a lookout for the “orange guy” (the last guy I passed).  I didn’t need him passing me so close to the end. 


My oldest son ran me through town to the finish line.  He urged me to sprint.  All I had in me was a trot.  I crossed the finish line at 5:15, with 12 runners (out of about 45) coming in behind me.  When I finished, I was spent.  I had no more gas in the tank.  But what did I need gas for?  The race was over, and hubby was going to drive us all home.



Friday, January 23, 2015

New Shoes, New Camera, New Bladder

I don’t try on my running shoes before I buy them, because local stores don’t stock my size (US women’s size twelve!).  I’m used to this.  Stores haven’t carried my shoe size since I was in high school (hence my first reason to love the internet – shoes!).  Sadly, in my youth, I continuously shoved my foot into shoes that were too small.  I wonder if this has anything to do with my continuous feet problems (that I am in continual denial over). 

Now, I purchase the same type of running shoe pretty much every time I get shoes online.  I always buy New Balance running shoes, always a neutral shoe with an 8mm (or less) heal-to-toe drop (that is my heal rests 8mm higher than my toe).   This formula (NB, neutral, 8mm) works pretty well.  So, I was surprised with this last purchase (New Balance Gore-Tex trail running shoe) when I experienced so much shin and calve pain on my last run which entailed 6 miles along Quail Hill Loop. 

Determined to get to the bottom of this, I decided on one last run before Calico.  First things first, because I have much to do in preparation for this family trip, I filled my truck with gas this morning and headed off to purchase a new camera.  Yes, I broke another camera.  Imagine that.  I set my heart on the Canon Elph.  I’m a nostalgic lady (reason for running Calico #7 even though it will kick my butt).  The Elph was the first camera that I ever smashed down onto the rocks, way back when, during my first Calico trail race in 2009.  Alas, Walmart didn’t have an Elph in stock.  So, I settled for a Nikon.  Then as I drove off to purchase a new replacement bladder for my hydration pack, I noticed that my newly purchased Nikon had only an internal memory and no slot for an SD card.  No, no, no!  I could not deal with that. 

To my dismay, the running store didn’t sell bladders.  I drove back to Walmart, stood in a long-ass line to return the camera I had just purchased.  Then I went back to Electronics and bought another camera (a Samsung).  Finally, at 11:30 AM, I was able to hit the trails in Wood Canyon to try out my new shoes once more.

0123151144-010123151220-00My calves and shins felt fine.  Really fine.  I felt sluggish, but that’s pretty much because I am out of shape.  The shoes were also a little stiff (because they are waterproof – doh!  I didn’t realize that I had bought waterproof shoes).  Best of all though, these shoes have tremendous grip on the terrain.  To really test out the grip, I took them for a spin on Rock It trail.  If I were to slip, Rock It would be the place. 

Good news.  No slippage. 

After my 6+ mile run, I headed off to pick up my boys from school, ran off to the Laundromat (our washer AND dryer are broken).  While the clothes dried, I walked across the street to Big 5 and bought a new 70 ounce bladder just in time for Calico.  

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Quail Hill Loop

0121151320-02 (1)Wednesday, I had some time after work to stop by Shady Canyon and run what is known as the Quail Hill Loop.  The nearly two mile loop is incredibly green this time of year.  With views of Saddleback Mountain, cool weather and new shoes, it all looked good for a nice run.  Problem was: my shins and calves were so tight they hurt.  The first two miles of my loop I needed to stop again and again to vigorously stretch.  Finally, about mile two, my calves and shins eased up (a tad!).  I can’t tell you that I didn’t worry that I bought the wrong pair of shoes. (yikes!!)  By mile six (the last mile), I felt okay.  Just okay.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Little Help

Much of my life I have been the type of person who does not want help from anyone. In fact, I’ve been known to act quiet childish regarding it, by downright refusing help. This is not a good thing. One thing that trails has taught me, again and again, is that it’s good to take help from your friends. Monday, very early in the morning, I met my friend Kelly at the mouth of Trabuco Canyon. She hopped in my truck and we drove in to Holy Jim Canyon. Let me tell you – I felt like running like running to the top of the mountain like I felt like taking a swim across the ocean. I even more so didn’t feel like taking this run when I took those first steps and it felt like my legs weighed fifty pounds a piece. I could barely lift them!

Our Goal (as witness from about 3 miles up Holy Jim):

Left to my own devices on Monday, I would have turned around at the top of Holy Jim for a 10 mile out-and-back.  Yes, the mountains were green and beautiful and tranquil – but that wasn’t enough.  Every step was excruciating.  The Trek up The Main Divide adds three more uphill miles before reaching the peak, and it’s the pits.  But it isn’t so bad when you have a friend encouraging you, helping you to move on. 

I could not have been happier when we reached the peak.  It was far from my best time.  But heck, I made it, and that was a major feat in itself.  We trotted off to the ledge, took in the views, snapped some pictures and ate a snack.  We also chatted with a group of young cross country runners from Saddleback College who came up after us.  After that, it was all downhill – downhill for 8 miles!  All with a little help from a friend. 

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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Personal Running News

Next weekend, I run my first race of 2015 – as usual, I am undertrained.  But I am okay with that (of course) because I am the type of runner that finds triumph in merely finishing.  In about a week, I attempt my 8th Calico finish.  Secondly, I am registered for Nanny Goat 24 which takes place this spring, for which I aiming at not going into undertrained.  And thirdly, I have taken on volunteer coordinating for another Old Goat race.  The race is Old Goat 50, the same race that I was pulled at mile 41.  I believe that I have finally gotten over it, and am looking forward to working with Steve Harvey again.  He is so easy to work with.  He’s kind of a celebrity in the local ultra-running community, and I feel honored to be part of another Harvey race. 

Back to now, I have a much needed new pair of trail shoes en-route to my front porch as we speak.  So excited! Also now – that is lately, I am needing to run wherever I can which means more road running. This is a benefit in the long run because it will increase my speed.  To end this week’s training, I headed out the door for a 6.70 mile run down to the wharf, across to the harbor island which I ran in its entirety.  Crowds were out in abundance, runners, picnickers, walkers, sun-bathers, you name it – today was a day to get out under the sun!  After the island, I ran on through the marina, past the historical replica of The Pilgrim (Richard Henry Dana’s ship), and over to the marine institute where I snapped a picture of the Pacific Ocean, turned around and headed back home.

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Friday, January 16, 2015


With little time to spare Wednesday, I ran through Aliso Canyon for a 10+ mile loop. I tried something different this time. Different as in, I didn’t take the steepest route to the ridge, and different as in, my loop did not include running to The Top of the World. This time, I took a gradual incline up Wood Canyon where I crossed the meandering creek at least three times. The canyon was bursting with green. So lovely were the views, I took three detours on my Wood Canyon trip. First, I ran off onto Cave Rock Trail where the moss was a thick as carpet on the moist, shady side of the rock. Second, I stopped at the Old Corral and strolled through it. The wood is darkened from weathering and the grass is tall enough to cover my feet. I can’t believe that I have never walked through the corral. I cannot count how many times I have run past it. What was I thinking? And thirdly, I hopped onto Wood Creek Trail, which was so shady in some portions, the forest was dark. The trail’s two flights of stairs made this detour extra challenging

Cave Rock Trail:

Entering The Old Corral:

At the end of Wood Canyon I ran up Cholla trail. Cholla is a steep trail, but it’s the shortest route to West Ridge (only about one-third of a mile). From there I ran the rolling hills of West Ridge, coming upon other runners, hikers and mountain bikers a plenty.   Finally, I descended down Rockit back into Wood Canyon.  When I hit Coyote Run, I realized that time was running short.  I had only an hour remaining before picking my youngest son up from school, so I pushed myself a little harder, and ran a bit faster than I usually do, which is a good thing.

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Route:  Aliso Creek Trail, Wood Canyon, Cave Rock Trail, Wood Canyon, Wood Creek, Wood Canyon, Cholla, West Ridge, Rockit, Coyote Run, Mathis, Wood Canyon, Aliso Creek Trail:

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Three Runs

Wow.  It has been so difficult to get out there and run lately.  If it’s not lack of gas money, poor shoes or lack of motivation, it’s something else like rain, or ice.  Thursday, I pillaged through my purse and managed to find $10.75, of which I promptly poured into my truck tank so that I could drive to San Juan Trail.  Normally, I take San Juan Trail from the top of the mountain (out of Blue Jay campground).  Thursday, I thought that I’d try taking the trail from the base of the mountains (which I have never done).  After using up nearly a third of the gasoline that I had just purchased, I arrived to an idyllic setting a couple miles into Hot Springs Canyon.  The spring near the trailhead was full.  Leaf litter sprinkled the parking lot which was tucked into a shady grove of trees. 

Well, my hydration pack sprung a leak, and I slid all over that trail wearing shoes with hardly any tread.  Barely a mile in, I turned back.

Well, screw the hydration pack AND needing shoes with good tread.  Friday, I hit my hometown streets and headed down to the beaches around 4PM.   The 5.77 miles were flat and cool, and I got caught out in the dark.  This meant lovely light reflections on the ocean waters, and a run back up the highway against headlights. 

Saturday, I got caught out in the dark again, but this time on the trails in Aliso Wood Wilderness Park.  I scrounged around beneath my bed and located some trail shoes with better tread.  I ran a 9.32 mile loop up Mathis and almost reached the ridge before the rain came down.  

Up Mathis:  

I didn’t mind running in the rain.  For some reason, I don’t mind rain when it starts WHILE I’m running.  (I just can’t begin my run in the rain).  I got caught out in the dark again.  I wasn’t the only one – I marched out of Aliso Canyon with several other hikers, just as the ranger truck made its way in with its bright search light scanning the trail.   

Mathis / Meadows loop:

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Let 2015 Begin

We got a cold winter storm here in California last week. The snow level was down to one-thousand feet. 1000 feet! I didn’t get out to the trails until three days after the storm (Friday). And I chose Trabuco Canyon since I wouldn’t have to do any mountain driving. Pretty safe choice, or so I thought.

About a mile into the canyon I spotted snow at the sides of the road. And about a half mile later, the shady road turned icy. Well, I was determined to make the five mile drive into Holy Jim. But somewhere around mile 3, my tires started spinning and I found myself stuck in a rut before a large boulder on the ice. After attempting to drive out of the small whole and up over the rock, I decided to exit the truck to see to survey the situation. I could see that if I backed out of the rut, and cut the wheel sharply to the left avoiding the boulder up front, I would hit a patch of dirt. This I did, and continued driving slowly onward on that sloped canyon road. Very soon, I saw a truck driving toward me. The driver hung his head out as he passed and said, “Be careful in there – we had to turn back because it was too icy.”

I REALLY wanted to get to the Holy Jim lot. But quite quickly, I decided that this was not a very smart move. The mountain sides covered in snow, the road was pretty much solid ice and slanted in a direction that if I slid, I’d slide right off the road into Trabuco Creek. Last thing I wanted to do was hike back out of the canyon for cell reception to call for help. Hubby would not be happy.

And so, I began the harrowing task of turning my truck around on the ice. The road is thin, and being icy, made it even more difficult to turn around. I also had another problem. Turning the truck around put me nearly face forward with a giant ice puddle. Now, when I drove in, I hugged the mountain side of this puddle, avoiding it completely. But now, I could not get my car back to that side of the road – the space was too tight and too slippery.

So, I just sat there with my car perpendicular to the road, trying to think up a plan when two men came hiking up. “What do I do?” I asked the gentlemen. One of them had blood dripping down from his knee from a fall on the ice. He told me get the truck in the lowest gear then turn my wheel a little to the left. I followed his instructions. "A little more to the left he said." And then, "Now, just drive and momentum will get you through the puddle.” With no other options, I drove, with my wheel turned as directed I went down into the side of the puddle on the far edge, and then back up on the other end.

Whew! I drove back to the closest lot, parked and pushed in the emergency brake. And as I sat there prepping for some outside time, my truck began sliding. Turned off and with the brake on! Determined to get out there, I started the my truck back up and drove further out of the canyon, found a flat spot in the snow, parked, and with my heavy coat hiked back into the canyon. 

I hiked back to the Holy Jim lot, saving myself from a spill on the ice many times.  During my hike back out, cars were sliding all over the road, ice chips and rocks flying at my legs.  Eventually, I figured I would be safer off the road, so I hiked down to the creek and made my way back to the truck slushing through the snow all by myself.  (2.31 miles hiked)

A nice flat place to park:

Tuesday, I made it back to the trails for a 10.63 mile run in Aliso / Wood Canyons that kicked my ass.  Yup.  Chewed me up and spit me out.  

Let 2015 begin!

A coyote bolts off the trail that I’m stumbling upon:

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