Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Running, running, always running

I hate it. And I love it.

When I'm not doing it my shoes look up at me like a sad puppy who wants to go out. Or I'm reading running blogs: "Wow, she ran a 2 hour half marathon! Good for her!" Or reading running magazines: "Do men always run shirtless like on runner's world covers?" Or looking up race results: "I can't believe she can run a 67 min 15K, and to think I sat right next to her at the running club potluck!" "And HER! she runs by my house doing a 20 minute mile shuffle and she just beat my best 5K race time!"

When I do have to go run, when it's one of those short weekday runs which are suppose to just put miles down and shake off the hard ones, I practically feel sick at the thought. 9 miles: bring it on. But what? 3 miles? Easy? But I'm tired. And my outside left lower legs feels a little tight. It's kind of a tearing sensation. Where did I put my HMO card? And the ever troubling right outer foot is complaining that it would like to take me down for another 2 weeks if I even put weight on it. Everything just says "really, shouldn't you just take a nap instead?"

Today was one of those days. The day after the rest day after the long run. Those days suck. It seems everything has tightened, my breathing seems off, my legs are heavy having not fully rebounded from Sunday's glycogen exhausted state. Worst of all worlds.

We would normally run around the lake for a flat and easy 3 miler but motivation was low so we headed to the hills to run one of our favorite trails. This always gets us going and after the pavement pounding of 9 miles a couple of days ago the trail surface was perfect. As usual, we felt better when we finished than when we started.

So the question is: why are we so flat? Why aren't the days rest cutting it? Lack of carbs? But we live on pasta and rice. Lack of protein? Maybe, but not really. Dehydration? Well you know you are supposed to drink like 64 oz a day. Does a cup of coffee count towards that? Ha. Tomorrow I start my new well hydrated life.

Tomorrow is our day after the sucky day after the rest day after the long run. That usually goes better. I hope so. But now, I need to sleep.

Friday, April 20, 2007

100 days

I have a count down on my Google home page that tells me how many days until the San Francisco Marathon. It's the geek-meets-runner in me. Anyway, today at 6am marked 100 days left to train.

It is also nearly 4 weeks since we started official marathon training. We're doing a pretty standard ramp up of weekend long runs (up to 20 miles), mid-week medium-long runs (rising to 10 milers) that we kick into pace or tempo runs when the mood strikes, and two extra runs: one easy and short and the other a hill route. And in theory we're doing fallbacks, but we blew that off last week in favor of a hard trail run.

Today was our hill run. It's a route we've run plenty of times before because it's the perfect little but hard 3 mile workout. It starts with the climb -- a steady uphill for more than a mile -- from our house, up Park Blvd in Oakland, to Hwy 13. It's a somewhat busy road with a mix of sidewalk and use trail on the shoulder. (There's plans to put a multi-use path along here which would be great.) But in spite of the proximity to the road it is nicer than it sounds. If you can look past the occasional road kill and KFC boxes and other unmentionables, the run, at least the top half, has no houses to be seen. Ahead are the East Bay hills. To one side is a drop down into a tree filled canyon. To our back, when the weather is good, is a view across the whole bay and beyond to San Francisco.

Our route turns at the top of the hill and then takes a trail down into the canyon. Suddenly it is another world: a muddy decent through lush vegetation, beneath towering redwoods, down to a small creek bubbling with last night's rain. We cross a little wood bridge and then ascend the other side. This is still a steep hard climb to run, so much so that it usually reduces both of us to a walk. Even then my HR rises as quickly as the switch-backed trail itself. At the top we continue our walk to steady for a moment, then, once the world stops spinning, we take off down a fire trail that skirts the side of the canyon and looks across, between the trees, at the road we just ran up.

Occasionally we pass someone walking their dog, but on a week day there's usually not many people in there. It really is a little treasure that hardly anyone knows about. The fire trail eventually ends at a road. From there it's full speed downhill, or however fast our knees feel like that day, until we reach our home. Fun over.

We'll probably run this route ten more times before the marathon. And then, when the famous San Francisco hills come at us, we'll be ready!

99 days of running to go,
99 days to go!
Run across town, log it down,
98 days of running to go!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Running club

Last year we started to run some of the monthly 4th Sunday runs at Lake Merritt. There are 5K, 10K and 15K races (1, 2 and 3 laps of the lake). There is also a kids race every second month.

The club which organizes these is called the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders. This year we became members, as one of our goals for the year was to be more of a part of the running community.

So far it seems like a great group.

Yesterday we practically spent the whole day with LMJS activities. By the end of the day our heads were spinning with running and runners.

9am: We met at Skyline Gate trailhead in Redwood Regional Park. About a dozen runners from the club gathered as the rain started to drizzle down. The forest surrounding us was shrouded in mist but was beautiful and inviting nonetheless.

Our running plan had this week being a fallback week but here we were out for an 8 mile trail run with a running club. Sometimes you have to give in and go with whatever feels right. We headed off down the trail as the rain picked up.

The pace warmed us quickly. Our HRs left our training zone within minutes. These were runners. These were runners who get up on a Saturday morning in the rain and want to do a brisk 8 miles in the forest. These were runners who could leave us in the dust (or mud, in this case) whenever they wanted. But they didn't. At least not by too much.

As we continued the rain got harder. It was pouring as we crossed Skyline Blvd and entered Jouquin Miller park. Trails had become rivers. We couldn't get wetter but still made an effort to avoid the lake-sized mud holes. It's hard to say why. The runners in front of us disappeared into the mist and the redwoods and we were left to run by ourselves. Those who had been behind us decided to take a shorter option, leaving us at the back of the pack.

As we neared the turn-around point, we realized we weren't very far behind. It wasn't a race. A while later the run organizer Karen was waiting at a trail junction in case we got confused which way to go (although these are our trails, we know them pretty well). We ran with her for awhile (she recently won her age group in the Chicago Shamrock Shuffle , the largest 8K race in the world). We talked for a while until she effortlessly pulled away from us.

10:30am: after the run we were all covered in mud and soaked to the bone. Hard work behind us, we headed to the club president's house for brunch. Much needed calories made of bagels and warm coffee and chocolate covered cherries!

Several of the founding members of the club were there including Ruth Anderson, one of the pioneers of women's ultra marathon running.

3pm: nap.

6pm: In the evening we attended the 30th anniversary club dinner. It was filled with stories about the founding of the club and the characters which have kept it going for 30 years. By the time the music kicked up we left it to the old guys to party the night away. Old guys who can run 6:00 miles.

9pm: Driving home I feel all the more determined to become a stronger runner. Now that I've found the running community I just have to be able to keep up with them!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Make your own Google map

Google today updated it's mapping application to allow you to create your own maps. You can add place marks, lines and polygons to a map. I gave it a try.

Grand Teton Backpacking trip

My first attempt was to make a map of a backpacking trip we did a few years ago.

In Google Earth I was previously able to import actual GPS data for the trip which included some sections of the route itself, plus various waypoints I recorded such as our camp locations. I was pretty satisfied with the results in Google Earth, but sharing it on the web involves putting a KML file someplace that needs to be downloaded and then loaded into Google Earth, if they even have it. So, being able to display this on Google Maps would be cool.

For sometime you have been able to do this. In Google Maps, simply put the KML file on a webserver and then point Google Maps at it by entering the URL into the search field.

Here is the gt.kml file on my webserver displayed in Google Maps.

Pretty good and anyone can follow that link. It displays the elements in a hierarchy of data just as it was arranged in Google Earth. But no photos. Hmmm...

So today I tried to do the same thing in the My Maps feature on Google Maps and it was initially a no-go right from the start. The reason is there seemed to be no way to recreate that route simply by staring at the satellite imagery.

In fact, there are two solutions for this which escaped me on the first pass. The first is that in Map view, Google Maps will actually display hiking trails for national parks as a dotted line! Who knew?! Tracing the trails leads to a pretty nice route. The second thing I didn't realize was that I can display the KML file at the same time as I'm drawing within My Maps. There's a link that will Clear Search Results when you don't want to see it anymore. When this data is displayed you can even click on place marks from the KML file and it gives you the option of adding it to My Maps. Cool! Unfortunately you don't seem to be able to do this for routes.

Here is my attempt, displaying the backpacking trip with the My Maps interface.

Adding photos was pretty easy. The editing of the bubbles that appears when you click on a place mark is really nice. I was able to quickly add a few images from my smugmug album of this trip.

All in all a successful little project even though the way to import data is pretty obscure.

San Francisco Marathon route

Then I turned to a different project. I tried to make a map of the San Francisco Marathon route. This project suggests many problems with My Maps.

Firstly I began by drawing the entire 26.2 mile course. This took quite some time as the interactivity of the map was slowed right down. Eventually I started to use the Overview window in the bottom corner to move the window and this worked much better. In addition, the line drawing has some wacky display issues, often drawing the rubber band dots in the wrong direction from the previous point or sometimes in a completely wrong place. But the actual line placement always worked. It's nice that you can edit the points later, but how about right when you make a mistake while drawing a 26 mile route. I was able to fix problems later.

Secondly I added place marks for the mile markers and for the water stations. This worked well and it was nice to change the icons and have the next place mark remember the previous place mark's settings. Nice work flow detail.

But then I tried to save it. Hitting the save button seemed to do nothing. Trying to navigate away from the page warned me I was going to lose unsaved changes. I clicked save again and gave it 5 minutes. No feedback as to if it was trying to save, or just failed to save. Eventually I went back to My Maps to see if I had anything to show for the past 45 minutes work. It turned out I only had my place markers. The whole route was gone!

Normally, this is when I'd give up and never use this again. But I did try again and added the route mile by mile instead of one long route. And I saved as I went. And this worked out fine.

The result is here.

So now you'd think I'd have a nice map of the San Francisco Marathon course. But instead, Google Maps has divided it all into two pages, meaning all the mile markers which are first are on one page along with about 13 miles of the course, while the other 13 miles is on a second page. It displays them as one long list of all the pieces and there's no way to group anything or form any kind of structure like the import of the KML file displayed. When you export the map to Google Earth it only outputs what's on the current page. It shouldn't do this! It should export the whole thing not just part of it!


I think that My Maps is a cool feature and it ended up working well for the first project. But a combination of bugs, the failure to save, and the poor final result (in terms of the display of elements on the left hand side as a long list, divided into pages) means this is just not ready for all but the simplest maps.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

San Francisco Marathon

This was our plan: run 3 half marathons this year and when we felt good about that and our bodies had hardened to steel (as hourly trips before the mirror would attest) we'd talk about running a marathon. New year would come and we'd go to a restaurant, and one of us would eventually say 'pass the chips and salsa, honey, and by the way what do you think about running a marathon?' And then we'd make a very careful plan to run one, if we wanted to. Or we'd say 'running a marathon doesn't MAKE you a runner, let's just see if we can knock some time of our 5K time?'.

This is the reality: we decided, after running one half marathon, that this is the time. We're in decent shape, it's exactly the right amount of time until our 'home' marathon San Francisco, and although I hate to admit this, it seems like almost everyone we know has run one or more at some point. Some of the people we know run ultras on regular basis. That means they run MORE than 26.1 miles at a time. Much more, usually. Some are even champions at, you know, 100 mile races across mountain ranges.

Compare this to our little teeny weeny half marathon that so recently whooped our 10:30 min/mile butts. In the face of this kind of peer pressure, we are forced to admit we suck.

But here's the thing: one third of American are OBESE. I'm thinking they can't run a half marathon (stop me if I'm unfairly categorizing obese people, but I think not) and, more directly, 75% of Americans don't get enough exercise to save themselves from possible heart failure. So a couple of Google searches for statistics later and I feel much better. Suck is relative.

And another thing. We had plenty of time sitting about the start line to our Half Marathon in which to survey the competition. They were some fit people. It was like an issue of Calves Illustrated. Okay, so there was a few people who looked like they shouldn't have been there, but the ambulances picked them up as they fell. But as I ran I thought 'these are really fit people and I'm running with them.' And in the last couple of miles, I was passing them too. Again, suck is relative.

So, back to the marathon thing. Once you admit that 1) You are not going to win. When my mother and/or father was not Kenyan, or of any particular running pedigree, I was never going to win. Or place. Or probably break 3 hours. Ever. 2) I wasn't going to qualify for Boston. Maybe one day I will, but frankly that seems easier when I'm old and slow instead of young and slow; and 3) that most people don't know a good finishing time from a bad one. When they ask how long it took they are fascinated that you might be out there running for 5 hours. How could you run for 5 hours, they are thinking? They are not thinking 'dude, if I ran, I'd do it faster.' Or, 'doesn't that Kenyan guy (what's his name?) do it in 2 hours and change?'

So, come the 29th of July, we'll run a first marathon content that it is not really about time. The goal will be to finish. And to finish a marathon is to not suck.

After that I can maybe do something about my 5K time.