Monday, April 18, 2011

Presidio 10

I signed up for the Presidio 10 at the last minute, not sure if I was better off just doing my coaching duties at the tent or actually running. As an RRCA 10 mile National Championship Race and Western Regional Championship 10k, I knew I wanted to be there to represent the SFRRC in some way. However, I’ve spent the past four months nursing a nagging hamstring thing – not a full blown injury, but right on the edge of one – that was keeping me from running too hard or doing too much hill work. I’ve been feeling good for the past few weeks thanks to PT, but since I haven’t been doing the speed training, I wasn’t sure about signing up because I didn’t want a crappy time on my athlinks account!

Finally, Coach Matt convinced me to take it easy on the first half of the 10-mile course and then kill it on the downhills/flats in the later miles of the race. That sounded more reasonable than trying to gut it out in a 10k (which probably wouldn’t have gotten me anywhere near my PR). So I signed up on Thursday for the Sunday race. I had done the 10 mile course in 2008 in 1:22:28, which wasn’t particularly fast, but was a good start for where I was in the season. Given my recent setbacks, I didn’t think I could get anywhere near that time, but that was the lofty goal I would be aiming for (or at least near!!!).

On Saturday morning, I went for a nice, fairly hilly bike ride in Marin with some SF Tri friends: SF – Mill Valley – Panoramic Highway – Stinson – Hwy1 – SF. It was a gorgeous day, I felt great on the climbs, and I didn’t really feel tired afterward, so I was very happy with the ride. I spent the rest of Saturday with the RRCA crew at the Sports Basement. Ultrarunner NancyHobbs gave a couple of trail running seminars, and Jean Knaack (Executive Director) and David Epstein (Western Region Director) of the RRCA were in town for the Presidio 10 and California state meeting. After the meeting, we all had dinner together. Coach Bailey and I shared a bottle of wine, which probably wasn't the brightest idea, but we called it a night before it was even dark (stayed out just long enough to catch the end of the Giants game at the restaurant's bar), so there was plenty of time to sleep it off.

Dinner with the RRCA crew (courtesy of Simone Adair)
Coach Bailey picked me up bright and early (and she even brought me a latte!!!), and we got to the race with plenty of time to spare. I was feeling a little bit tired, a little bit gross from breakfast/coffee/the previous night’s wine, and totally unprepared, but because I had pretty low expectations for the race, I stood at the start line feeling ridiculously calm. I ate a Gu, and before I knew it, we were off and running.

Listening to the National Anthem before the race start
A short little jaunt out Crissy Field, and then we headed right into a long uphill mile. I felt pretty strong until we got to the top of Lincoln, and then I had a moment where I thought “Holy crap, I don’t think I can keep this up!” Fortunately, I saw some fellow SFRRCers at the first turnaround and they got my head back in the race. We came back down through the batteries on the Coastal Trail, which I flew on. It was obvious that a lot of the runners weren’t used to running on trails because I passed a ton of them. I guess all the trail running has definitely been paying off – thanks, M2!

From there, we ended up on the west side of the Golden Gate Bridge, which felt like a long slog. That first uphill section on the bridge was pretty painful after the previous hills, and I spent most of it wishing I were flying across it on my bike instead of trudging up it on foot. I got passed by a few people, but I told myself I’d catch them or someone else on my way back down the hill. After crossing under the bridge, I regained my kick going up the other side, and used some psychological warfare to leave a couple of people in my dust. This kept me entertained and I gained some extra confidence by passing people, especially the guys!

Flying down that last hill from the bridge
I really kicked it into high gear on the downhills from the GGB down to Crissy Field. This is where I finally managed to catch the annoying Lululemon chick that I’d been tracking since the beginning of the race (nothing against Lululemon!). I’m not sure what she said at the start, but something about her made me want to kick her ass, so I spent several miles trying to catch her, then blew right by on the way down the Lincoln bike path. A few seconds later, I hear this breathing behind me, and I’m thinking, “Oh great, now she’s going to catch back up!” Thankfully, it turns out, it was my friend Anne, who had apparently been trying to catch up with me since the first little out and back in the Presidio. I had seen her wave to me at that point, but I didn’t know who it was (I was so focused that I just saw the arm stick out, but didn’t have time to catch the face that went with it!). Anne and I chatted on the way out to Fort Point, but I let her go ahead after the turnaround. I knew that I just needed to keep my pace and I would be in range to finish in about 1:22.

The last two miles were totally flat, along Crissy Field to the Little Marina Green, around the lagoon, and back to the Sports Basement. The wind was at our back while we were headed east, but as soon as we turned around, there was a nasty headwind. Again, to take my mind off of things, I surged ahead of the woman that was running next to me with about a half mile to go. I knew it was early, but I decided that I had to crush her mentally before we got to the final kick so that I wouldn’t have to outkick her at the finish line. I knew I would have an advantage if I could stay ahead in the wind. That would surely kill her spirit, on top of getting passed! (I sound so mean in this post – I think I was just using other peoples’ suffering to drown out my own!) At one point, I remember that I couldn’t hear her breathing over my shoulder anymore, so I knew I was safe. The finish line was just ahead, so I started my sprint, and even managed to chick a couple of guys (who I never thought I would catch!) on the way into the chute.

I didn’t quite beat my previous time, but I was only 17 seconds off, with a finishing time of 1:22:45. Considering the lack of training and yesterday’s long bike ride, I was more than happy with my performance. It was tough, but it felt really good to run hard, and I look forward to more runs like this (and faster!) in the near future!

After the race, I hung out in the RRCA tent, chatting with fellow RRCA members, and recruiting for SFRRC. It was absolutely freezing out there – the fog rolled back in, and we were pretty much in a wind tunnel where our tent was set up. RRCA rep George leant me his Dolphin Club swim parka, so I managed to stay warm. I’ve gotta get me one of those…I’m almost considering suffering through the icy swims just so I can get one! Can’t forget to mention that the post-race breakfast burritos, pancakes and cocktails were amazing – one of the many reasons why the Guardsmen rock at putting on this event!
We stayed a while to listen to the awards ceremony – lots of great performances out there, in our club as well as others – but it was too cold to hang out much longer than that. Unfortunately, the cold drove most of the crowds away – gotta love that unpredictable SF weather! Fingers crossed for warm weather at this race next year because I’d love to come back to enjoy my Bloody Mary and some sunshine afterward!!!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Tri Not 2 Ralph VI

Tri Not 2 Ralph is something of a legend in the SF Tri Club. The brain child of Uncle Ralph and Muffy, TN2R started out as an alternative to Ralph's California 70.3 (now Oceanside), and turned into a shit show that people (myself included) are somehow lining up to participate in.

The Event

Swim Course
Option 1: A relatively standard reverse perimeter loop of Aquatic Park WITH wetsuit - roughly one mile against the current.
Option 2: Lingerie swim to the buoy line and back SANS westuit - roughly 200m in freezing ass cold water.
Strangely enough, Option 2 is the more popular of the two.

Bike Course
51 ridiculously hilly miles - in costume, of course! The route: from Aquatic Park to Mill Valley, UP to Four Corners, down to Muir Woods, UP Hwy 1 to Muir Beach, down to Stinson Beach, UP Bolinas-Fairfax road, UP the Seven Sisters (or "Bitches," if you prefer), UP to the East Peak of Mount Tam, down the East Peak of Tam (which, to add insult to injury, requires you to go UP yet again), and back down to Mill Valley.

Run Course
The Double Dipsea. There is nothing flat about this course. You're either climbing stairs or trail, or you're screaming down them for 14.5 miles.

Finish Line
A spectacular party complete with puke bucket prizes, finisher medals and shirts, pizza, beer, and other goodies!

So, really, who wouldn't want to participate in this torture and mayhem??? Well, after hearing all the stories (and despite hearing all the stories), I sure as hell wasn't going to miss it!

Let the madness begin
I turned in my registration, along with my "Ode to Ralph," a Haiku written especially for Uncle Ralph and Muffy, dubbed myself "Ralphaholic," and crossed my fingers that they would find me worthy of taking part in the event this year (or maybe I was secretly hoping that they would laugh in my face and say "Go Ralph somewhere else!" but that's neither here nor there...).

Ode to Ralph
Ralph in icy Bay 
Then on Tam and Dipsea Trail 
I need a bucket 

As is expected by Muffy and Ralph, TN2R arrived, and I was nowhere near ready for any of it. I'd done a few long, hilly bike rides and some trail runs, but no brick workouts, and I hadn't run more than 8 miles in at least a month thanks to my tweaky hamstring. Oh well!

Megan (AKA "Bat Girl") picked me up at 5:40, and we headed to Aquatic Park to set up our transition area. Needless to say, it was still dark, but several other athletes were there getting ready before making the trip to Mill Valley to drop off cars for the run transition. It only took me about five minutes to set up my area, so I spent a good deal of time getting body marked and trying to blow up my awesome Hello Kitty inner tube. 

Cherries for TN2R virgins, Buckets for returning Ralphers
A few of us made a trip to Starbucks to use the bathroom and get coffee (they forgot to put the espresso in my latte - WTF?), and then as the shuttle returned from Mill Valley, we all changed into our costumes for the swim. I wish I had photos of the reactions that we got from the Team in Training and Luna Chix groups that had gathered at AP for their own workout. They were thoroughly entertained! I thought my Ross (Dress for Less!) houndstooth checked lingere was ugly, but it was actually pretty cute compared to a lot of what was out there! Here's a sampling:

Muffy herself, ready to Ralph!
That's some fancy lingerie, there!
Don't you hate it when everyone shows up in the same polka dotted nightie as you???
These guys made pink tutus look gooooood.

We all gathered on the beach for a quick competition between the TN2R virgins and the more experienced Ralphers, which involved us running down the beach holding hands and moving big blow-up plastic balls through an obstacle course. The virgins won!!!

Virgins on the left, Ralphers on the right. This little contest was more tiring than the swim! (courtesy of C. Chan)
After our jaunt down the beach and back, we lined up for a group photo, and then headed into the water for our swim.

Tri Not 2 Ralph Class of 2011 (courtesy of C. Chan)
I ditched the inner tube on the beach, dove in, and started swimming, and it wasn't until about halfway to the buoy that I realized I couldn't breathe. The water was so cold that I started to hyperventilate, so I had to calm down, take a few deep breaths, and continue on my way. For a few moments I thought that maybe I could handle that whole swimming-in-the-Bay-without-a-wetsuit thing, but then my better judgment kicked in and I realized that would just be plain crazy. Because I never do anything crazy, right?

Let me tell you, costume changes in triathlon are not easy. I did two full costume changes in Ironman AZ, and I vowed never to do it again, but in this case I had to (unless I wanted to ride my bike in a soggy, ugly negligee all day). Freezing cold hands and wet clothes do not make for an easy change, especially when you've got to do it under a towel! Finally, I somehow managed to get my bike shorts on, along with my adorable (if I do say so myself) beer maid outfit. If nothing else, TN2R is a great opportunity to recycle Halloween costumes!

Rolling into Old Mill Park on the way out. And to clear up any confusion, yes, I have a Hello Kitty boob tattoo. No, it's not real!!! (courtesy of L. Geller)
A few more fun shots from T1:

Skins is a hottie. She's also the only one who actually ralphed on this ride.

Bat Girl flew up those hills!
Bunny Ralph and The King were just too cool for words!
Katya, Skins, Howard and I made a quick pit stop at the Sports Basement to use the facilities on the way out, and I got a bar (which, it turns out, was a very good decision on my part), and then we headed on our merry way out to Mill Valley. The climb started just past Old Mill Park, and I managed to stay pretty well within my limits on the way up to Four Corners. I lost the front and back of the pack here, so I just headed on down the hill on my own. I didn't see anyone else until I'd climbed out of Muir Woods and was getting ready to start the descent into Stinson. That's when Faith caught me (and proceeded to drop me like a rock!). I kept my steady pace, and saw a few other Ralphers here and there. It was a pretty nice day for a ride, so I tried to enjoy what I could before the real climbing began.

I caught back up to Howard at Stinson, and he was nice enough to let me hang onto his wheel on the way up the Bolinas lagoon. Thank God, because the next turn after the lagoon is the start of a 10 mile climb up Bo-Fax to the top of Mount Tam. Bo-Fax didn't feel so bad, or at least not as bad as the previous time I'd ridden it a couple of weeks back, but I did stop at one point to eat a Gu. Otherwise, I just kept chugging along. Passed a couple of people, but mostly got my ass kicked by Dolce Vita types who blew by me like I was standing still. I felt like a complete dumbass, too, because they're all in their fancy full cycling kits and I'm in a beer maid costume. But seriously, how can you not at least crack a smile when you see something ridiculous like that? Whatever. At least I was having fun! Fun. Right. I kept trying to remind myself of that.

Anyway, I was sooo happy to see the top of Bo-Fax!  I stopped at our little Tiki Bar for some snacks - potato chips and peanut butter pretzels are pretty fantastic when you've been eating Gu and Gatorade all morning - and took a little bit of a rest. There were lots of gracious volunteers waiting at the top to help us out. A big thanks to everyone who spent their day supporting all of us freaks!

Michelle working the Tiki Bar at the top of Bo-Fax (courtesy of C. Chan)
Hanging with fellow SFRRC/SFTri'er Deirdre at the top of Bo-Fax

I didn't spend too much time at the rest stop because I didn't want to end up all on my own for the rest of the ride, so I got back on my bike to tackle the Seven Sisters with a few other riders. I prefer to refer to them as the "Seven Bitches" because "Seven Sisters" just sounds so cute and sweet. There is nothing cute or sweet about them. Bo-Fax is a long climb, but it's steady. These bitches are great big rollers, so you're constantly shifting up and down so you can gain momentum on the downhills and survive the uphills. Unfortunately, the downhills only get you enough speed to get part-way, so then you have to grind your way up the rest of the hill. Seven times! Bitches.

I gutted my way through, and just as I was about to catch the group in front of me, I stood to gain a little extra speed and my chain slipped. Luckily, it miraculously slid right back on without me having to do anything, but as the chain slipped, my left pedal dropped really fast, and I whacked the crap out of my thigh on my aero bar pad. I cussed up a storm and started to tear up because it was so painful. I almost decided then and there to skip the East Peak of Tam, but something in me made me keep going. It hurt like crazy, but nothing was going to stop me from finishing this stupid bike ride!

So I kept climbing up to the West Peak of Tam, which was the first time I'd actually felt like I was working so hard that I might ralph (in retrospect, I would have felt better if I'd eaten more earlier on, because at this point I was running on a Gu, a bar, and a couple of potato chips). The only thing that kept me going was seeing everyone else descending back toward Pantoll - the encouragement from my fellow PEPs was definitely helpful! When I finally got to the top of West Peak, I could see the final climb into the parking lot at East Peak - it looked like a cliff from where I was, and I wasn't I would make it up there. Fortunately, it's not as bad as it looks, but it's a nasty little climb at the end of an already gnarly ride! I hung out at the top of Tam for a bit and enjoyed the view, while random hikers laughed at my costume. I'm sure we did look pretty ridiculous!

Proof that I made it to the top!
After a few minutes of rest and another Gu, I made my way back down East Peak, and then lost my chain just as I was starting to ascend West Peak again (to add insult to injury, you have to climb UP again just when you think you're finally going to get to go DOWN the mountain!). I stopped to fix it, and then I walked my bike back down the road a good 100 feet so I could get some momentum on the flat before heading up the hill again. And of course, just as I got started, a group of Dolce Vita cyclists blew by me again. I might as well have been standing still. But thankfully I wasn't. I made it up the hill, and then back down to Pantoll in no time (amazing how much faster it is going downhill...). I ran into some friendly SF Tri PEPs there, and we continued on down (and down and down) all the way back to Old Mill Park.

I got a few cheers as I headed into the park - I was SO happy to be done with what was probably my most difficult bike ride ever (not the longest, but definitely the hardest!). And, fortunately, I was blissfully ignorant of what was to come. I headed to the car, switched out my beer maid costume for more comfortable running attire, put my bike away, and stuffed part of a bar in my mouth. Grabbed my Camelback, and headed for the Dipsea trailhead with about ten others.

Heading out on the run (courtesy of L. Geller)
We walked to the bottom of the Dipsea stairs, and then proceeded to walk up all 676 steps. We may have jogged a little bit at this point, but we hit trail and another uphill section, so we did more walking than anything. We didn't legitimately start running until we hit the Panoramic Highway - a downhill portion of the course that's maybe a mile in. We ran all the way down to Muir Woods, past some sketchy portions of road that looked like they might fall down the cliff at any minute. When we arrived, we found that the bridge that crosses the river was closed, and that we'd have to take a detour. While the others continued on, I took a detour of my own, back to the Muir Woods gate to use the restroom. I'm glad I did because it was the only chance to do so on the whole run, but I was also sad to have lost a group of running buddies. 

Well, at least I made it to Muir Woods...
After my pit stop, I headed out on the detour route, and then up the fire road that connected back to the Dipsea. It was muddy and hilly, and hot, and I spent a good chunk of this time walking. In fact, other than a few times when I found a little bit of energy, I walked most of the way up to Cardiac Hill - about two miles. Nice little trail for a hike. :) I passed a few other Ralphers who were going the other way - some who had made it all the way to the finish, and others who had turned around early - and it was nice to see some friendly faces out on the course!

At the top of Cardiac Hill
When I finally made it to Cardiac Hill, I regained my composure and my energy and I started to run. I was so excited that I ran all the way down to Stinson Beach - I was flying down those trails! It felt good to run after trudging along for so long, and I was excited to make it to the end. The views were amazing, too!

Gorgeous view of Stinson from the Dipsea Trail

I finally caught the back of the group JUST before crossing the road to the aid station at Stinson. Before stopping for food, Meredith and I decided to do the last little bit down to the end of the trail, and then we walked back up to replenish our stores. This is where I discovered Fritos - quite possibly the best trail food out there. They're salty, full of carbs, and just plain awesome! Anyway, after a few snacks and a game of darts (more Ralph madness), four of us ladies decided to head back up the trail. Now, I'm going to admit, when I started the run, I had fully intended to quit at Stinson beach and get a ride back from one of the volunteers. But I got a nice little runner's high coming down the hill, and I really wanted to be able to say that I'd done the whole thing, so when everyone started to take off, I went along with them.

Our little pack started to spread out as we headed up the hill, and I just did my best to keep Meredith, who was still in her Wonder Woman costume, in my sights. I ran when she ran, I walked when she walked, and I tried to just ignore how tired I was. By this point, we'd gone at least 8 miles. This was my longest distance prior to TN2R in a loooong time, and it was readily apparent to me that my endurance was not up to par for something like this, especially not on a hilly trail like the Dipsea! I think this is when we were both bonking big-time. While we were trudging up the stairs, we were both in a deep, dark pit of despair. At one point, Meredith wobbled. I mustered an, "Are you alright?" She managed a, "Yes." But later, back at the top of Cardiac Hill, she told me she was feeling pretty out of it at that point. We were both on the verge of passing out, but somehow pushed ourselves and each other through it until the Gu and Fritos we'd eaten at Stinson finally kicked in.

Despite our totally trashed quads, we jogged the rest of the way down to Muir Woods, where we caught back up with a couple of other Ralphers. We stopped at the bathrooms there and braced ourselves for the last stretch. There's another long uphill from Muir Woods back up to the Panoramic Highway, and then it's all downhill from there. We chatted with some wild turkeys (they were really there, I swear!), and then made our way up the hill. From the top, all we had to do was navigate the rest of the trail without falling (one of these days, I'm going to eat it on the trail, I just know it, and it would have been just like me to do it at the end of this run!). We swore that we were going to walk down the stairs, more for safety than anything, but we were so excited to get back that we ran all the way down and back into camp. The cheers from the rest of the Ralphers were pretty awesome!

Making our grand entrance into the post-workout kegger! (courtesy of A. Ramirez)
I cleaned up a little bit, and then ate pizza and brownies and had a much-needed beer. Muffy and Uncle Ralph gave out puke buckets to the top Ralphers (the tutu boys took home the men's and Abby took home the women's award for being the only person to do the WHOLE thing, including the longer swim). We hung out and shared stories from the day and welcomed in the last few Ralphers - Skinner Ralphed, the Rangers thought we were crazy, and the top phrase of the day was "Are you with the guys in the tutus?" Finally, as it got dark we all started to disperse. I'm not sure I even remember the ride home...I was so exhausted when I got there that I sat on the couch and watched TV for a good four hours before I took a shower and went to bed for some well-deserved rest!