Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Back to the Peak

Today marked the return to our local peak. We abandoned this trail in late spring when the foxtails took over. The narrow single track with steep climbs and drop offs gave little room for Kona to avoid trouble with those barbed seeds.

This morning, I waited until dawn before arriving at the trailhead. I don't like to run alone with Kona in our forest before sun-up. I'm sure the big predators aren't any less active when we arrive at sunrise but having more light gives me peace of mind.
Because the trailhead sits on a street with through traffic, there's always more activity compared to our neighborhood trails. Subsequently, Kona has more trouble moving from the car to the trail. Unfortunately, the street was abuzz with pre-work activity and Kona was a freight train out of the car.

Right after getting off the street we ran into a pack of dogs. Two were still leashed and walking down a different trail and the other three were close to the entrance. I knew right away that the smallest of the off leash dogs was going to be trouble. Poor Kona was stressing and this little dog got all in her face, huffing and puffing. While the two big dogs were no trouble at all, this little guy would not let us move. He got snarly every time I tried to move around them. I gave their human a firm shout out, "Call your dogs."

She did, and not one of them looked up. While the human kept walking away, yelling for her dogs, the little dog kept at Kona. I finally tried body blocking him. When that didn't work, I gave him a strong poke-shove. Voila! He got the picture and moved away enough for us to get by. Yikes. While I don't condone using physical force on a dog. . .well, don't mess with my Kona.

Starting up the trail, I was both peeved and pissed. Why does someone bring a pack of dogs with no off leash skills and questionable social skills and let them run loose in an area with coyotes, mountain lions, deer, not to mention other dogs?

(Deep breath AC. Enjoy the sky.)

I stayed dissociated for awhile, flustered about the dog encounter. Before I knew it, we were at the mile marker. I was shocked how easy those first few minutes felt. At 2.5 miles, the run to the peak isn't especially long but it is all uphill and usually leaves me huffing and puffing. Not today! My legs felt strong and the climb (dare I say) felt easy. I felt a smidgen more confident about my marathon training.

Kona pulled out in front. She always seems nervous on this trail. I knew by her active nose that she wasn't that stressed but she did look all business. When I stopped to take pictures, Kona stood at full alert, sometimes looking worried about movement down canyon.
The ridge above us came closer and closer as we ran each switchback towards our peak. The forest just beyond the ridge was destroyed in last year's massive fire. Kona and I peaked into the burn area earlier in the year and it was truly a sight. Because the forest is so steep and rocky, the burn area will be closed indefinitely to keep hikers safe from landslides. I'm grateful that we still have trails to run.
We continued to make good time and made it to the peak at a record pace. As is tradition on this run, I let Kona pull me around the flat vista. Her nose worked double time, sounding like a vacuum.
Kona zig-zagged around the foundation of an old resort. While fires took the luxury destination years ago, remnants of the past still remain.
Before leaving, Kona stood at the edge of the old entrance steps, the city sprawled below her.
As winds kicked up, Kona stuck her nose in the air, edging too close for my comfort to the drop off just beyond her paw. It was time to get moving again.
As we started our descent, I was reminded how much I enjoyed our peak trail. Running downhill can be miserable, except when the terrain is just steep enough, just technical enough, just fast enough to feel like a rollercoaster! Once I convinced Kona to stay behind me, there was no braking. I turned up my proprioception to save my ankles and let gravity work.

I felt like I had springs in my shoes. We zigged around rocks and snapped around switchbacks. Kona's feet were fast at work behind me. Before I knew it, we passed the trailhead and headed toward the street.

Kona, the poor stressball, started hesitating. I kept running. I've yet to find anything to ease Kona's nerves when we approach streets, so I figured we might as well make it to the safety of the car sooner than later. As soon as I opened the car door, Kona made a flying leap into her crate. Safe!

So the beginning and end of our peak adventure weren't great but there was good stuff smooshed in the middle.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Seven Things Kona

I've been way too slow to post about our first blog award, presented to us by our new blogging friend, Oscar. Kona is quite excited about Oscar because he's a Maltese and she's never met a Maltese before. Even more, Kona likes Oscar because Kona likes chicken. Not too long ago, Oscar and his human rescued some chicken. Kona thinks that no chicken should run away (from her), so she's grateful for Oscar's efforts.

To claim our award, we present you with seven tidbits about Kona:

1) Kona was nameless for quite some time while I tried on different names. The runners up?
*Manzanita (My favorite plant, Kona's color and waaay too many syllables for a dog's name). *Boundy (She didn't run as a puppy, she bounded. Fitting, but not the right ring).

2) Kona has a thing for socks and Bounce sheets. In other words, she likes helping with laundry.

3) She doesn't do nights. At all. Kona sacks out between 5 and 7PM (depending on the season) and does not want to be messed with. She's so pooped that she can't hold her ears up straight, thus her nickname, "Yoda."

4) Kona can't "head shake." (You know, the kill the prey move). She'll try with a stuffie, but her attempts are painfully pitiful.

5) Kona's sensitive to some odd things. If she's around another dog that starts gagging, she flattens her ears and slinks out of the room.

6) Kona never had that awkward puppy look. She was subsequently mistaken as a dachshund many times when she was young. (Still can't figure that one out, but it happened often. "Oh, look at the wiener dog!" Poor girl).

7) Kona loves waking up in the morning. She's so happy to be awake that she doesn't just prance down the hallway, she throws her head back and swings it from side to side.

And that's Kona Dog!
Have a good weekend everyone!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Weather and Kona Changes

Soon after my 20 miler, our weather morphed back into Fall. We've had rain the past few days, with showers and fog greeting me and Kona during our outings.
We don't normally get rain this time of year, so it's been strange to watch the hillsides turn to their winter green. You can see Kona standing on a bed of new wild grass. If these sprouts continue to grow, they'll choke out the dry foxtails, making exploring safe for Kona again. Unfortunately, they'll ultimately dry out to become stickers themselves.
Kona and I hiked the last two mornings. I'm slow to get my wet-weather legs moving. Kona has enjoyed the slower pace, taking more time to sniff and look over the trails.
I've noticed changes in Kona during our trail time over the past couple months. Kona use to have one speed--Kona speed. This meant if we ran, she pulled. If we hiked, she really pulled. Lately, Kona changes her pace to follow mine. It seems so basic, but the basics with Kona are huge. I wonder if she's gained confidence or maturity.

We've had a lot of fun together on our last two hikes. Kona has taken the initiative to play eye contact games. She became so insistant yesterday that I had to send her away in order to save treats! It was only a year ago that Kona was first willing to eat a treat while on trail. Lately, she's exploring, checking in with me, exploring more.

Look at that Kona tail!
Of course, all this togetherness flies out the window at the first sign of a small animal, but that enthusiasm only adds zest. I keep hoping that the changes aren't a fluke. Feeling connected to my dog on our morning trails is truly a treasure.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When it Hurts

On Sunday I set out to tackle my one 20 miler before race day in November. At the end of last week, training got disheveled after Kona had to make (another) trip to the vet. After a Summer of vigilance on the trails, Kona picked up two grass seeds in her ear from a plant in our yard. I felt terrible. Thankfully, removing foreign bodies from the ear is easier than from the snout.

After a couple days of short workouts while Kona got the vet nerves out, we started our long run early Sunday morning. The forecast called for temperatures in the upper 80's. Not ideal running weather, but the training clock ticks on.
For six miles, I ran with Kona on our ridge. My legs protested the hills, so I took it easy. I wanted to run ten miles at race space, letting myself relax for the other ten. There was no way I could run at street race speed on our trails, so I listened to my protesting body and slowed down.

After last week's eight ridge miles, six went by quickly. Kona had energy to spare and I felt badly as I loaded her back in the car, knowing I'd have to leave her at home to finish my run. Back at home, I quickly inhaled half an energy bar and gulped a bottle of Gatorade. Almost immediately, my body revolted against the onslot of processed carbs. Before tightening my hydration waist-belt, I ripped open a pack of Pepto-Bismol.

Back at it, I was surprised how fresh my legs felt on my first hill. Last week, the same hill left me shuffling. This time, I had a spring in my step. This was good. I reminded myself of my goal to keep my pace up for the next ten miles. My stride felt strong and relaxed.
My route took me over 3.5 miles of rolling hills, followed by 7 miles of flat trail. The hills passed quickly and I was glad to reach dirt again, pulling away from the hustle of Sunday morning travelers. The trail followed an arroyo, where water crawled in the heat of the sun.

Though it had been awhile since I had run there, I knew the trail well and check the landmarks off my mental list as I ran, keeping track of my progress. The smell of horse and hay came and went as I passed the stable, followed my the ammonia stench as I ran under the bridge where two men huddled in sleeping bags. A pick-up soccer game was in full swing on the field. I said my prayers and picked up my pace through the golf course, keenly aware that neither fence nor net separated my trail from the greens.

I reached my turn around point. A few yards down the trail I nearly jumped out of my skin when something strange walked into my peripheral vision. A chicken! Just as I started to warn the approaching walker and lab, the man beat me to it. "Is that the chicken?" We chatted for a minute and I got filled in on the chicken scoop.

Grateful for an excuse for a break, I felt fatigue set in as I continued. I wanted to keep my race pace. I spent much of Saturday watching the live feed of the Ironman World Championships in Kona. The physical and mental prioress of those athletes was inspirational. I kept the image of those triathletes in my mind as I focused on my stride. But, focus is hard when you're tired.
I finally made it off the trail, back to the streets on the last 3.5 miles. As I started up the first hill, a man in his 60's ran towards me. Dressed in tri shorts and a jersey, he was probably doing a brick workout--a bike ride, followed by a run. His legs showed the strength of a well-seasoned athlete. As he ran by, he hollered a quick, "good work!" my way. I'd never felt so grateful for the encouragement of a stranger. I collected my breath into a squeaky, "thank you."

The last 2.5 miles were hot. I cut through the park at my mile marker, bypassing the water fountain and ignoring my empty water bottle. I just wanted to get home. I remind myself of the Ironman commentators words as they reflected on the pain of running after 112 miles on the bike.

You've got to keep turning it over.

They meant one foot in front of the other. You just have to keep moving.

I kept moving, but as nausea set in, I wanted to stop. I knew I was over heating. I tried to pull the words of another friend to get me home. He wished me luck with my training, hoping that as my legs felt heavy that my heart would feel light, knowing that each step was to help strengthen and empower someone on a much harder journey.

I did my best to find my homestretch inspiration. All that drummed in my head was, "but is hurts, and I'm tired."

I finally made it home. After Kona kisses, a cold shower and more Gatorade, I started feeling better. After dinner in the evening and in an endorphins hangover, I thought back on how badly I felt at the end of my run. I had tried to muster strength and inspiration but I really didn't care. I thought of the cancer patients that this LIVESTRONG venture is about and suddenly found new inspiration. These are the folks who find strength to get back to work, get out of bed, smile for their children

even when it hurts
even when they're tired
and they don't get to stop in a mile.

I'll keep training. I'll keep running. And thank the sunshine for letting me stand tall today.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Return to the Forest

For the first time since late Spring, Kona and I headed to the forest. I picked a route that kept us on a fireroad and away from the pesky foxtails that chased us from these trails in the first place.

Winter's water disappeared from the creek.
We zigged up the trail, avoiding the narrows of the canyon.
We snaked up the hillside, keeping views of the morning sky.
Kona, who often is told she looks like a coyote (if not outright mistaken for one), showed off her wild animal pose.
A doe crashed down the near vertical slope above us, showing how gravity strips the grace from even the most sure-footed. Kona wanted to follow. I wondered why the doe ran so quickly.
The sun made a cameo through the clouds but was outshone on what turned into a day of rain.
Near the top, Kona caught the irresistible whiff of an animal and took the direct route to get a closer sniff.
She eventually gave up.

At our destination, we took in the view of the city to the South
and the forest ahead of us.
On our way down, Kona skirted around nervousness (Kona often gets nervous as we head towards our car) but managed to look my way when I called her, sun in her eyes and all.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hell Week

The New York Marathon is November 7th, giving me a measly month to finish training. I can no longer put off those long runs. Thus enters Hell Week.

All the high school athletes in the house remember those days, right at the end of pre-season training, when your coach put you through the grinder. For me, it was swim team. Hell Week conjures up memories of my coach, an ex-female body builder, screaming profanities as we sprinted laps up the steepest hill in the neighborhood. Never mind we weren't runners.

These next two weeks, I'll be kicking it into high gear, wearing ice packs and drinking lots of chocolate milk. In other words, no more pink clouds and puppy dogs.
I made one last day of procrastination yesterday, but for good reason. On Friday, I was walking home when the sky opened. Lighting was far enough away that I wasn't in danger, but close enough that I could feel the thunder. About ten minutes from home, the downpour began. It was the kind of rain where you could bring out your shampoo. I was soaked to the bone.

So when I saw the sky morph during the beginning of yesterday's run, I decided to procrastinate just one more day before Hell Week. I really didn't want to be stuck on a high ridge with thunder and a scared Kona.
Today's sky was much more benign. No more excuses! I wanted to run at least 16 miles. Kona would help me through the first half and I would take to the streets to finish on my own. For the first time is many days, the air felt cool. We were off.
The first few steps scared me. My legs felt like bricks. We had a lazy week with our high temperatures and I was feeling it. Luckily, the initial burn faded quickly. Kona helped me up our early hills with several rabbit sightings.

I was surprised to feel my body relax. Before I knew it, the sun was up and we were nearing our last lap.
As we finished our 8th mile, I felt (relatively) strong, but tried not to think about the fact that I was only halfway through my run.

I dropped Kona off at home, drank some water and scarfed half an energy bar before heading out the door. I'm not use to running on streets, but figure it's probably a good idea to let my body adjust to the different impact before I take on 26 miles in November.

I ran through my neighborhood, pass a busy freeway on ramp, and over rolling hills to a nearby running and cycling mecca. While I seek out solitude on trails, the hub-bub of this 5k loop provided great distraction as my knees and hips started talking to me.

People of every shape, size and age were out for a Sunday workout. A woman with a triathlete's physique sported an Ironman cap. Her gait was relaxed and strong. I tried to match it.

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.

Well, I tried.

A boy hollered from his stroller, "Bang, bang, bang," and shot me as I ran by.

Cyclists in fancy matching kits road by in a peloton. An 8 year old got reprimanded by his dad as he zoomed close by me on his 16" bike.

As twinges in my knees and hips came and went, I was glad the people watching gave me something else to focus on. I finally finished the 5k loop and headed back up for the last 2.5 miles toward home.

It was in these last miles that I realized that distance running has little to do with cardiovascular fitness and everything to do with joint resiliency. My hips ached. It's a familiar feeling but not a comfortable one. While I was breathing like I would if out on a stroll, my legs took a beating.

With many more shuffles, I made it home. I hadn't been beat to a pulp, but I felt nervous. Could I handle 10 more miles? What was I in for? Then, I opened the door and Kona clobbered me, licking all the salt off my face. It was a victory celebration at the finish line!

Not a bad start to Hell Week.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


If you've stopped by other blogging friends' posts, you probably already know that today is LIVESTRONG Day. Today is the day to rally behind the cancer fighting community. It's about celebrating the survivors, honoring those we've lost and taking a stand against the disease that interrupts too many lives.

Earlier in the Summer, I got an entry to run the New York Marathon to raise money for LIVESTRONG. If you missed it, you can read my original post here. I'll have a full update on my marathon training tomorrow. For today, I want to say thank you to all the generosity and support you have all sent my way. Together, we've raised over $2000. Wow!

I still need to raise nearly $1500 to meet my pledge to LIVESTRONG. If you've thought about making a donation but haven't gotten around to it, now's your chance! You can find my fundraising page and make a donation here.

What does LIVESTRONG do?
Curious what your money supports? Yeah, I was too. LIVESTRONG supports cancer patients, survivors and anyone else (family members/caretakers) affected by cancer through a number of programs and partnerships. They are also involved with campaigns to end cancer stigma in other countries through education.

LIVESTRONG's SurvivorCare program offers free counseling that helps those afflicted with cancer navigate the treatment process. You can image (and perhaps have experienced) the millions of questions that go through your head after a cancer diagnosis. What are my treatment options? How will I pay? How can I keep my job? SurvivorCare helps patients navigate these questions, pointing them to resources, decoding medical jargon, providing therapy services when the journey is too hard. All of this is free. Your money helps make it happen.

Donate here to support LIVESTRONG's programs and help me run the New York Marathon!

I love the banner at the top of this post. It represents the spirit of LIVESTRONG Day and of LIVESTRONG. Even more, the themes of hope, defiance, focus and courage can inspire all our lives, whether or not cancer is our battle. Your stories, my blogging friends, so often resonate these themes, inspiring and encouraging me.

So thank you and Live Strong.