|Special thanks go out to MLK for having a dream and giving me|
a Monday off work to pursue mine.
*NOTE: I started this blog last Wednesday; after one day off, I'm back to pounding it.
I started the year with an expressly stated goal of working my way up to handling 60 miles per week with 10,000 feet of climbing (and 10k down) in January. I thought it would be great to be able to run a full 20 miles by the end of the month. Only then, I ran 26 on the 2nd and have been averaging 75 miles and 17,000 feet for the first two weeks. I'm pretty sure that's awesome, but I'm also pretty sure that's why my knee is swelling again. Grrrrr.
You may say, "Well Katie, that is downright silly," and I wouldn't necessarily disagree with you. But what I will offer is that I simply couldn't help it. My body feels best when I'm running lots of miles and my world seems altogether right. Plus I have major FOMO. So when friends ask me to run the last 26 of the AC course, I say absolutely. When I realize it may be my last chance to frolick in the San Gorgonio Wilderness before winter sets in, I convince Unicorn to drive to San Bernadino with me, citing that it will be excellent Hardrock training. And by golly, when I see a 3 day weekend with non-existent snow levels in Tahoe, I get my ass on the States course to train. That would be the real point of this post, so let's move on to that, shall we?
Last Friday, Dom and I headed up to Auburn after work to enjoy it the way Mr. King Jr. would have liked. Chasing a dream. Only chasing said dream first involved a 7 hour drive in a loud, bumpy Jeep getting us to the inn at roughly 3:30 in the morning. Hey folks, running 100 miles ain't exactly glamorous - and neither is the lifestyle. It's all part of the training. :) After sleeping for maybe 2 hours, maybe, we got back in the panda-mobile and headed into Foresthill to meet our guru for the day, the lovely Mrs. Suzanna Bon. The plan was to run all day, heading backwards on the course as far as we felt like and then turn around - keeping an easy pace and focusing on purely enjoying the beautiful day. We'd be rocking the canyons section of the course, which is largely considered the hardest part, and doing it twice. That seemed like a perfect introduction to me.
|Michigan Bluff in January - La Niña = La Awésome.|
Our journey took us all the way back to Last Chance, and as such, we realized we needed to get a move on to get back to Foresthill before dark. All the way, I was marveling at the fact I was running in the Tahoe National Forest in January in a t-shirt. The day was seriously magical. And I was excited to go back through these dreaded canyons and see what was truly up.
|Chasing Suzanna down the canyons is the |
opposite of easy.
Down to Swinging Bridge we went, and there before me was the grandaddy of them all: Devil's Thumb. Based on what I've heard, here's what I expected from this section:
After a blistering, quad-busting decent, I'd stare down the steepest, most awful climb imaginable. It would be something like climbing the Luna Trail*, but for like 5 miles at least. It would start at least at 7,000 feet and climb to over 10 - but it would feel like climbing 11 to 14, because fuck, this is Western States. It would be exceptionally rocky and overgrown, not to mention completely exposed for the duration of the climb. I would have to use my hands at points. I would have to hike every step. I would have to physically stop and catch my breath at points. There would probably even be bear traps to avoid and eagles would swoop down and try to peck out my eyes. If I even made it to the top, it would be a goddamn miracle.
|Saying hi to the Thumb for Kev, after successfully|
locating 3 shades of his face he left there last year.
Needless to say, the Devil's Thumb I had imagined was not quite the Devil's Thumb of reality. (Although I do realize that during the race I may become quite convinced that my first perception was actually spot on.) The reality was that Devil's Thumb starts at around 2,700 and climbs about 1,350 in like 2 miles. I did it in about 45 minutes, hiking most, running a little and stopping twice to take pictures and once to pee. It was steep and it will be a bitch with 45 miles on my legs and the sun blazing down on me, but it is possible. Furthermore, if I continue with my training on the AC course with the likes of Upper Winter Creek, Baden Powell and Acorn and power slogs up the steep slopes of Mt. Baldy - I should be pretty much good to go on the canyons. Thank you Angeles National Forest.
What the day made me realize, however, is that much of the terrain on the States course is very runnable and the climbs aren't long. Accordingly, I really need to work on sustained running more than hiking and some major turnover. Perhaps I will no longer look at the whimpy Santa Monicas outside of my window as a sorry excuse for weekday training when I can't get over to the big girl mountains in Pasadena and beyond. The runnable, 30-45 min climbs are perfect to work on efficiently switching from up to down mode and this will be an integral part of my training.
The other thing it made me realize is that my knee has seriously got to get its act together if I want to run this thing well. It's absolutely imperative to run the downhills in control, but strong - and right now I'm kind of doing this crumbly, timid dance thing that isn't working for anybody. Halfway down the El Dorado decent, my knee totally and royally crapped out on me and every step, fast or slow, became wildly painful. It just ain't up to speed yet, and while that is ok for January, I'm really going to have some work to do on improving my downhill ability once the weaksauce joint is able to handle it.
All in all though, I got over 35 miles and somewhere between 10 and 11,000 feet on the day - so I was pretty happy with the effort. I haven't ran that far since AC last July and it felt good. Really good. All day adventures are my lifeblood and I've been downright cantankerous without them. My fear, however, was that I had possibly ruined the rest of the weekend by pushing the distance on the first day. Luckily, a big ass sammich from Worton's, some Udo's Oil, Ice and sleep cured my ailments and I woke up on Sunday hungry for more of the course.
Accordingly, we hopped in the Jeep and set out for Robinson Flat to see what we could see. The local yokels at Worton's, as well as everyone else on FB who was apparently "in the know," told us there would be no snow at all until Red Star. Sounds bueno. Imagine our surprise when 3 miles from the campground we encountered such nasty ice on the road, that even my Jeep in 4WD seemed like a bad idea. Not to be rerouted, we simply parked and ran up the road to Robinson where we found a land of ice and snow and circled around a few times, consulted a compass and finally found our trail. Setting off for Duncan Canyon, I was definitely tired, but totally ready for whatever the day held. I knew it would likely be another 5-6 hour day and that seemed pretty great to me. The decent into the canyon was absolutely gorgeous; the trail enveloped in huge, dense green forest that swallowed me whole. And at the first point we popped out of the trees, my breath was completely taken away by the sweeping expanse of pristine wilderness. No photo could ever do justice to the beauty of the Tahoe National Forest. And parking off the road at an aid station ain't gonna do it either. You've got to be in it. You've got to feel it.
|Star Fire remnants in Duncan Canyon|
|Like Rockefeller Center, y'all.|
*Which I'm not so secretly hoping is the original course + river crossing at mile 80 sans boats.
Standing at the future home of the Duncan Canyon aid station, I again marveled at how my perceptions have changed with my perspectives over the years. In 2009, I had stood in this very place waiting for my friend Jimmy to come in. I'd just entered into the world of ultrarunning and the thought of actually running 100 miles myself still seemed superhuman and something I likely would be unable to tackle for a few years, at least. Maybe someday far, far in the future, I'd run Western States too - but I couldn't fathom it. As I watched the runners leave the aid station, I marveled at how they navigated the steep rocky decent and wondered how in the hell they could do that all the way down into the canyon. This course seemed ridiculous and the toughest thing I could ever imagine.
|Taking a break with the dude @ DC|
Another amazing day now in the books, Dom and I headed back down to Auburn for some hot showers and delicious food. I was immediately glad we had not decided to camp, as the thought of spending the rest of the evening trapped in a sleeping bag for warmth seemed awful. I needed to stretch, ice and somehow pull one more day of hard training out of my tired body before heading home. Also, I needed a freaking beer.
|The scene at Dusty Corners, circa 2k9|
|Tracking our 110 prints from 2 days prior.|
That snow wasn't there back then.
|"Hey! Is that Jimmy?"|
At any rate, we finished up the run and headed back into town to refuel and try to fix my stomach with salad. That kind of worked, but then I bombed it again with Monster, Candy and an Americano in my attempts to stay awake at the wheel on the way back to LA. That night, I lie in bed with twitchy, overworked legs and a brain buzzing with caffeine; but let me tell you what, I was satisfied. The Western States trail is some seriously beautiful shit, and I am so pumped to take on Gordy's dream in 2012.
AFTERWORD: I feel like I have to start including these, since it takes me a freaking week and a half to write a post.
I'm happy to say that I took a little step back in the week after the WS weekend and only ran around 60 miles with 15k of vert, which seemed to do me good. This week, I'm back at it climbing 2-3k per day and will hit 80-90 miles. Also, I was released from PT on Wednesday, which is awesome because that is one more morning hour I can spend training. Therapist chick said the muscle around my left knee is finally back to the size of the right before it wussed out from surgery and atrophied, so that is bueno. And most importantly, I'm finally starting to feel strong and powerful again. Getting back in shape is hard, but it's working...
Finally, I'm going to attempt to post a January re-cap blog here of totals and exciting news, but don't hold your breath.