Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Weekend of Trails in the Briones and Pine Valley

 I typically run with my wife, primarily because we love running together and are each others best friends.  In fact, I wouldn't be a runner today if it wasn't for my wife's encouragement. And if I am not running with her, I am typically doing it by myself. So, when I end up running with anyone else, it is both an odd and intimidating experience.

I was invited by my Ultra buddy to join a group of two others for a Sunday morning run in the Briones Regional Park.  These are the hills that overlook both Martinez and Pleasant Hill.  It would be almost an eight mile run through the hills.  Since my wife and I focus more on the trails around Mt. Diablo and Castle Rock Regional Park, this sounded a bit exciting.  My only exposure to the area was a hike I had done with my family a couple of years back which I resulted in my first case of poison oak.

It was a great run even though a bit fast (this being a good thing) after being off of running for a month due to a calf injury.  The initial trail was great single track with a bit of a climb.  Within the first 2 miles you climb over 800 feet.  Once to the top you are rewarded with views of the Diablo Valley.  The sun was just cresting over Mt. Diablo without a cloud in the sky.  We then took a really fast single track down hill to an expansive meadow.  Hear we started climbing again on firetrail for a couple of miles before our decent into the Alhambra Valley.  It was a beautiful day for the run!

This was the first time in a while that I have taken up the back of the pack in a while, which was a bit humbling.  In fact, watching one of my speedy friends run every hill was amazing.

The map and elevation gain of the run is below:

I was able to follow up Sunday's run with another run with my wife on the Monday holiday.  We had decided to run out of Castle Rock for this run.  It was a bit overcast and not as warm as the day before, but it was perfect weather for a run.  We did a bit more hill work on this run, compared to the day before, with the initial climb of 700 feet over the first 0.5 mile, followed by a decent to Buckeye Ravine and then back up.  The wind was blowing on the ridges, but you would warm up in the valleys.  Everything is turning a nice green, even more than the week before, which is awesome.  For our final decent, we ran down Little Yosemite Trail.  Beth has told me about this trail, and I have been up it once; however, I didn't remember it for being as technical as it was.  It was a blast!

So after two days of running, my legs feel tired in a good way.  My quads aren't rubber bands, which I thought they might, and no lingering pains.  Training has begun!

The course and elevation with my wife is as follows:

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Back to the Trail!! Castle Rock to the China Wall and Back

So I have finally been able to get back on the trails!  After over a month absence due to a calf injury and being limited to the very flat Embarcadero, my wife finally took me up to see some of the trails she had been running. 

To say the precaution was necessary is an understatement.  She has come up with a awesome 7.25 mile loop that starts out the gate with a 500 foot elevation gain, nice enough to burn out any calf.  It is a beautiful run though, with sweeping vistas of Mt. Diablo, the pinnacles of Castle Rock, breathtaking views of the Diablo Valley, past The China Wall (which looks like what the Great Wall of China would look like in Ireland this time of year), and back down through Pine Valley.  Overall, it is 1,400 feet of elevation gain.

I love running with my wife.  We started this running journey together and know how to have fun on the trails.  I really feel we push one another and complement each other on the trail, just like we do elsewhere in our life.

So the details of the run:

So you leave directly from the lower parking lot (closest to the gate).  This is a nice climb up, with a very steep grade.  Beth and I had seen the trail from Burma a few months back and had wondered how to get to it.  The last 25 yards is pretty intense; however, you are rewarded with some awesome views.  We were also rewarded with a jackrabbit on our climb that look like it was the size of a wallaby.  

At the top of the hill you run a couple hundred yards to a single track that is hidden amongst the oaks.  This is one roller coaster of a trail with wonderful twists and turns. This eventually loops back onto the trail that you were previously on.  You follow this trail downhill and back to the Stage Rd. /Briones Mt. Diablo Trail cut-over.  

Running up the cut-over, we saw on the hillside a coyote.  The cattle had been grazing on the field nearby and we think he was curious.  There is no way a coyote could bring down one of the behemoths, in fact there was a cow facing the coyote ready to chase him off.

Once we got to the Briones Mt. Diablo trail, we hung a left towards the China Wall.  This is about a 1.5 run to the rock formation, with a beautiful view of Walnut Creek and Shell Ridge.  This area is well exposed, but being in the 50's it was nice to feel the sun.

While this route has become a normal path for Beth,  this was the first time on this trail.  It is a wonderful fire road.  Once we got to China Wall, the hills were a lovely emerald green.  The rock formations  there are pretty impressive and it is understandable, if you didn't know better, that this looks more like a man made wall than the awesome force of plate tectonics at work.

We carried on past the Little Yosemite Valley trail to Wall Rd then to Dusty Trail.  We took Dusty trail down to Stage Rd.  The creeks are flowing nicely, so it is really fun splashing through the creeks.  In fact, within the first quarter mile, the trail becomes the creek for 50 or so feet.  It was really funny to watch folks who where watching us run through the water.  They looked at us like we were insane.

I came to to point were I strained my calf a month a go without any problems.  I did have a little trepidation running the creek but no problems.  Beth barreled through.

We finally made it back to the parking lot very happy for the run.  All in all, this was the first week I actually ran a total 30 miles in quite a while.  I also managed to 45 miles on the bike.  No pain!  I think I can now begin the 50K training!

For the map of our run on Sunday (with an extra challenge thrown in), see below:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Wrong Advice

So I will first start by saying, I by no means am an expert in running.  I have been running now, and enjoying it, for the last four years.  What makes up for my lack in running knowledge I make up in my obsessive compulsiveness in doing research.  Even from the onset of my running journey with my wife, we wanted to do it right.

This meant I was always reading and Googling everything from what shoes to wear, how to train for a marathon, nutrition, how to run certain types of terrain, etc.  I would ask people I knew who had run a while tips of the trade. I follow different bloggers (check the blog role to the left). We subscribed to both Runners World and Trail Runner magazines.  I have now even jumped into listen to podcasts, like Endurance Planet, UltraRunnerPodcast, and Trail Runner Nation for psuedo mentors.

Lately I have discovered Reddit and LinkedIn (my favorite groups being Bay Area Trail Runners, Run Lovers, Running In Business, and Marathon Runners) as sources for tips. For the most part, the tips and information is pretty reliable. 
Advice broken down by:

  • Terrain specific
  • Running method specific (trail, sprinters, marathon, etc.)
  • School of hard knocks (do what I say and not copy what I did)
  • Equipment and Nutrition 
Maybe its because I am getting cynical in my old age (in my prime for a trail or ultra runner), but it amazes me when people don't take the time to get answers to nagging problems or ways to improve. And it irks me when someone gives inacccurate or just plan wrong.   In fact, when looking for tips or advice it is easy to also find a rehash of old and outdated advice, or tips that, if someone would apply a level of thinking ability, make no common sense.  It is typically from runners (or any athletes) that are still learning from the school of hard knocks and haven't graduated.
For example, my wife and I have some friends that have been running for years.  They frequently get injured; however, have never looked into why.  However, they are also the first to jump into the latest running fad.  They have never asked why they can't walk a week because they tore up their quads going down hill. Or if you decide to go minimalist, do your research so that if the change is for you, you make the switchover without injury.
Dinner for the Napa Marathon.  Source: Winterjade.com

I learned the hard way early in my running about accepting wrong advice.  For me it was carb loading before my first half marathon.  More specifically the pasta dinner the night before.  Don't get me wrong, I understand the importance of glycogen stores and the purpose of carb loading.  The problem is that I (and many others who are tempted by the pasta feed the night before) is how much is enough without overloading.   I in fact repeated this error at my first, third, and fourth marathon and ended up in the porta-potty at mile 18 (pretty much at all three).  

The key here is not accepting advice on face value.  Evaluate it against other research you have done.  Ask questions and learn.  If the advise you are given doesn't add up, move on.   Find what works for you.

Another example, when we began running I was 265 pounds.  That was March 2008.  By February 2009, I was 195 pounds running the Surf City Half -Marathon, and by October 2009, I was 177 and running my first marathon in Long Beach.  Eating wise, I subscribed to a ratio of 46% carb, 30% protein, 24% fat diet.  My weight had stabilized at Long Beach and wasn't bonking on runs.  I actually felt the best since high school. 

I wanted to get a bit more serious about running and did a lot more reading.  I surmised from what I read and the advise given,  that my ratios were wrong!  My carb and fat intake was too low and my protein to high.  SO, I started messing with a good thing.  Now I was finding that, while maintaining my calories at the same level, I was gaining weight.  I also noticed that my blood sugar was swinging.  So for me, a traditional "runners diet" was not good for me.  It wasn't until I started paying attention to more of the nuances of the advice that I understood what would be better.

Keep in mind, every bit of advice you will get may be due to that runners experience.  That said, a sprint runner's advice will be completely different than a 10K, a sub-3 hour marathoner to a 100 mile distance ultra runner.  It means discernment on your part.

So next time you get wrong advice, smile, and move on.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Favorite Trails: Lime Ridge Open Space

So I have been getting requests from a couple of my friends to start posting some of my wife and mine favorite trails in the Lime Ridge Open Space near our house.  This is a great playground in our backyard that is taken care of by the Walnut Creek Park District and has a lot of trails to challenge any level of runner.

Lime Ridge is segmented into three parts separated by Treat Blvd and Ygnacio Valley Road.  While the north part of the open space is separated by Treat (and really does not have that great of running), the great news is that there are two tunnels that connect the central and southern part of the open space.

We either access the open space on Citrus Rd where the Contra Costa Canal Trail intersects), the parking lot off Ygnacio Valley Road and Cowell Rd, or the Magini Ranch entrance located in the back of the Crystyl Ranch housing development. 

Starting at the Citrus Road entrance affords you the opportunity to run some wonderful, but fully exposed hills.  In fact, my wife loves running the tall hill right at the beginning of the trail head and then down some serious single track.  There are so many trails here to explore you can really mix it up, especially if you are training for a serious run.

By taking one of the two tunnels ( the eastern tunnel), you are again treated to both wonderful single track and fire road.  You can easily get over 1,500 feet elevation gain on some of the trails to the peak.  Wrapping around, you can also access the Arbalado trail head and back to the southern tunnel which also gives you the opportunity to take it easy back to Citrus, or another nice climb before you drop down to the trail head.

For another fun run start at the Cowell and Ygnacio Staging area.  Follow the following course.

For more information on the Lime Ridge Open Space, check out the video tour put together by Save Mt. Diablo. You can find it here. It highlights the history as well as what you will be seeing on your run.

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