Monday, December 14, 2009

Shellburg Falls Trail Run

I ran my first race in more than a year this past weekend. The Shellburg Falls 10k was pretty low key, and “just” a 10k (and I don’t mean to denigrate 10k’s, but ultra distances are more to my liking), but a great course and a lots of fun.

I only decided for certain to run this just the day before, still unsure whether my leg was healthy enough to “race” on, even though I’d had some really good runs of 10+ miles while in New Zealand. But the race was free, Pain Train had been trying to talk me into checking out the Shellburg Falls trails for more than a year, and Luvin’ offered to pick me up and do the driving. So off to the races it was.

I told myself, and others, that I was going to run SLOWLY, and aim for last place. In reality I didn’t know what I’d do. I hadn’t tried to run fast all year, but I’d managed to push it a bit when running up hills and was fairly confident I could do that without risking injury. For whatever reason, the uphills have been much better on my leg than flats sections or down hills. I asked Mike about the course on the drive in, and found out, roughly, that the first couple miles were mostly flat or down hill, then the middle section had a long, tough climb, and the end was mostly downhill again. So I figured I’d run really conservatively for the first section, then if I felt OK I’d try to push it a bit on the uphill, and after that, just wing it.

I took a good long warm-up, jogging really slowly and walking up a hill or two. I’ve found my leg does a lot better if I start with an easy warm-up, followed by some stretching. So that’s what I did, and it seemed to work out OK. The race started a few minutes after nine. As planned, I started off easy – probably a bit too easy. Within a half mile or so we came to a creek crossing with two options – a narrow foot bridge (clogged by runners crossing one at a time) or getting your feet wet. I chose the latter – actually an easy choice, despite the cold temps – as my shoes were already soaked prior to that start. (I’d gone for a run my last day in New Zealand, in a heavy rain. I threw them in a plastic bag before packing them… and of course I didn’t take them out of the bag until race morning). From there the course moved into single track, and began a long, easy, fun descent. I was feeling good and moving well, but It was sort’ve tough passing people on the single track, making me think perhaps I’d started a bit too slowly. On the other hand, maybe that was a good thing.

At the bottom of the hill, the course ran along a forest road for a while, past a waterfall below us, and back onto single track. The single track pass behind another waterfall (really cool!) an climbed a good bit on the other side before passing the water station on the other side. I didn’t get any water, but did toss my jacket to Dennis, who’d come out to watch with his wife, who was running the race.
A short flat section brought us to the big climb. I was feeling pretty good – though breathing pretty hard – but stuck with my plan to see if I could push it on the climb. At the bottom there were 4 or 5 in a line walking the steep bit. I redlined it a bit to work past the group (which included Guy and Gaby from Corvallis), and suffered for a few minutes after that while the ascent continued.

At one point a group of people in front went left (on the logging road) while I went right (on the trail). I wasn’t 100% sure I’d gone the right way – but pretty sure. I tried to holler but they didn’t hear – and it looked pretty much like the trail and road would merge again anyway, so I didn’t worry much about it. They did eventually merge – much further up the hill than I expected – and I had chosen the right path. But I don’t think it made much difference, time wise, whether one took the road or trail. When the road merged back with the trail, there was one guy who got back on course about 20 yards in front of me. Not that I really cared if I’d missed the turn, but I decided I’d do my best to pass him and beat him to the finish, just so I didn’t have any reason to whine about anyone going off course and beating me. I was pretty tired from the climb, so I go within maybe 10 yards of him, and then just stayed there for a while, letting him set the pace and have the stress of being chased. After a while he must’ve gotten sick of being chased, as he stepped aside to let me pass, than fell in behind me. I didn’t want him to think he could hang with me, so I pushed really hard for a few minutes to build a bit of a gap between us.

From here the course joined a logging road again for a long, flat to slightly uphill section. The guy behind me wasn’t yet too far back, and I could see another guy dressed in powder blue shorts maybe 100 yards ahead of me, and another not far ahead of him. I didn’t know if I could catch them – but I figured if I could stay in contact until the downhill, I’d have a chance. At my best I’m not a bad downhill runner - not that I’m at my best right now – but I figured if the two in front were roadies and the downhill was good and technical, I’d have a shot. On the flat I pretty much stayed on pace with them, and put some distance between me and the guy behind me. My leg felt great, and my lungs weren’t totally spent, so I went into full chase mode once we hit the downhill. Three or four times I found myself getting within striking distance of Powder blue, who wasn’t far back from the next guy – only to see them put on a good burst and pull back ahead. Each time I thought I’d lost them for good, only to find myself gaining again, and then have them pull away again.
Finally I finished the trail and dropped onto the last section of logging road, which I knew from my warmup was only a few hundred yards from the finish line. To my amazement, I was once again within striking distance of the two in front of me. In hindsight, they may have been playing a bit of cat and mouse with each other, each trying to save something for a final kick, which allowed me to repeatedly catch back up. As soon as I thought I had a chance, I went all on an all out kick. I gained a bit, and got within maybe ten yards, by which time they’d gone into a kick as well, and showed they both definitely had more left in the tank than I. I tried to stay with them, but couldn’t hold on, and they finished 6 and 8 seconds ahead of me, respectively. I was so blown that I didn’t even notice who beat who to the finish line.

I ended up in 20th place out of ~130 starters. Not bad I guess, though nothing spectacular, especially in a low key event where most people aren’t “racing”. And while I really wasn’t concerned about where I finished, it was still fun to get competitive and “race” against others and push hard, especially near the end. I think that makes sense. And it was sure fun to run hard again, and make it hurt in a GOOD way. It’ll be even more fun when I’m in shape for it. Hopefully my leg continues to improve over the winter so I can race a lot more in 2010!

New Zealand!

It had been far too long since we visited New Zealand (Jasmine’s home country!), but we finally made it back, spending nearly 3 ½ weeks there. Pictures can be found here: .

We flew in and spent a couple days in Auckland, then drove our rental car South, making stops to see Jasmine’s great aunt Dorothy (88 years young!), then visiting the geysers, hot mud pools, and the lake at and around Rotorua, just like real tourists.

From there we drove to Lake Taupo, where we me met up with Jasmine’s dad and Shirley at a “holiday batch” (a “cabin” in Minnesotan) owned by Shirley’s family. The batch was terrific, and within walking distance of the lake. Lake Taupo is also a short distance from Tongariro National Park, which boasts “the best one day hike in New Zealand”, the Tongariro Crossing. Imagine a trail crossing the three sisters wilderness from east to west or vice versa – it’s kind’ve like that. I think. For Jasmine and I, however, it was mostly inside a cloud and really, really, REALLY windy and cold. Surrounding the peaks and high plateaus of the crossing it was actually a nice, albeit breezy day. But high the on crossing itself, the weather was just insane. Visibility was maybe 20 feet at times. Rime ice formed as tho fog froze onto our clothes, and up on highest ridges, the wind nearly knocked us over. It was as “fun” as any alpine adventure I can recall, in that respect. At one point we were following a ridge, not knowing what was to our right, below the drop. I just sort’ve figured we were on the edge of a valley. Then for an instant we could see waves below us, then they disappeared back into the fog. Pretty weird feeling. A few hours hike brought us to the descent on the far side, and eventually we dropped back below the clouds and were treated to a nice view of Lake Taupo from high above. We stopped for a snack at the hut, maybe 3 miles from the finish. The hut was full of hikers, mostly young Scandinavian women. Sometimes crowded hikes aren’t all that unpleasant, afterall. J Eventually Jasmine dragged me from the hut and we continued down. Eventually we dropped below the alpine grasslands into thick forest, featuring tall fern trees and other flora that seemed almost tropical to me. It was cool to walk from the frozen, high alpine wasteland into thick, green, warm forest.

We spent a few more days at the batch, highlighted by a visit from Jasmine’s high school friend Bridgitt, who served as tour guide and entertainment (as she did again a few days later when we visited her near her home in Wellington). Other highlights of the Taupo portion of our trip included: throwing hundreds of pumice stones into the lake, carving pumice stones into shapes and throwing them into the lake, sticking sticks into pumice stones and throwing them into the lakes, and sticking two pumice stones together with a stick and throwing them into the lake. I can’t overstate how much fun this really was. Another outrageously fun time was had when Avery and I decided to redirect a small creek. It was a small, warm water creek that flowed into the Huka river at a nice little sand and rock beach. Avery and I, through considerable time and effort, redirected that last 10 feet or so about three feet to the right, creating a new channel through the beach into the river. Good fun.

After Taupo we spent a could days and night in Wellington, the capitol of New Zealand. To economize a bit, we stayed at a Youth Hostel. I think this was Avery’s favorite place to sleep, because she got to sleep on the top bunk of a bunkbed. Wellington was a great museum where we spent half day and got to see the preserved remains of a giant squid (the largest living squid ever caught). It was pretty big, but not huge. It was pretty gross too, truth be told.

We dropped off the rental car in Wellington and took the ferry across to the South Island where we met back up with Derek and Shirley. We spent the next 5 or 6 days at Tuna Bay in the Marlborough sounds, at the house Jasmine considered “home” while in high school. Tuna Bay and the surrounding area is a wonderful place, with a very few houses, beautiful and sheltered bays where we did lots of sea kayaking, and native forests where we did lots of hiking.

I did quite a bit of running on the local trails as well. My favorite run of the trip (and of 2009, now that I think of it) was a run from Penzance Bay (just a hundred yards or so up from Tuna Bay) up the “power-line trail” which climbed well over 1000 feet from the sea, ambled along a high rolling traverse for a while, then dropped over to Elaine Bay (the “next” town along the coast, to the North of Penzance Bay), and then back along the “Archer Track” which follows the winding coastline back to Penzance Bay. The run took about 2 hours, plus some added time to stop and take pictures and admire the views of forests and sea. It would have taken at least twice that long to drive to Elaine Bay and back, as there are simply no roads directly connecting the two bays.

Another highlight from Tuna bay was Sea Kayaking. Shirley’s family has a pair of sea kayaks that we were fortunate enough to be lent. On the windy days with choppy water, this was a ton of fun. On the one morning where we had calm, glassy ocean, it was spectacular. There are endless bays, beaches, and rocky coastlines to explore. One day we encountered lots of huge stingrays that we chased around from the safety of our kayaks. Another day we paddled through waters filled with hundreds and hundreds of purple jellyfish.

And of course I can’t forget Jasmine’s trip down memory lane, as she sorted through box after box of stuff saved from her high school and university years in New Zealand. She spent hours sorting trash from treasure, condemning the trash to the fire. More than a few teenage love letters didn’t make the cut – a fact I took a guilty pleasure in as I watched smoke rise from behind the house as I paddled a kayak in the bay out front.

The last leg of our trip was spent in and around Nelson, with a side overnight trip to Golden Bay and Abel Tasman national park. Derek and Shirley recently moved into a new, really nice, smaller house that’s part of a larger retirement community. They’ve really got it good. They’ve also got some great hills right behind town in which I was able to get in a couple great runs. The forest reminded me of Mac forest in Corvallis, in that it was used for both logging and recreation, and the hills were on the same scale. Beyond the front range of hills (the Barnicoat range), however, one could pretty much continue on trails for hundreds of miles, into range after range of increasingly high and rugged peaks. But I enjoyed just the small slice that I got to explore near Nelson

Our side trip to Abel Tasman and Golden bay was blessed by warm, beautiful weather. The first day we took a sea taxi into the national park, were dropped off along the Abel Tasman track, and then picked back up a few hours later at another bay, 8 km down the track. Avery and I started the hike barefoot, having removed our shoes for the taxi drop off in a foot or so of water. Before long we were locked in a contest, to see who could continue to hike the longest without shoes. I lasted maybe 3 miles before I gave up. Avery was still going strong. It was a hoot seeing the reaction on other hikers faces to our bare feet, while they were clad in heavy, burly hiking boots.

Our last Sunday in New Zealand was our last day of perfect weather, and we seized the opportunity to hike on Mt Arthur, a roughly 6000 foot peak in another National Park. The road in was as exciting as the hike, being insanely steep, and narrow, with huge drop offs to the grassy sheep farms below. Jas, Avery and I first hiked up to the Mt Arthur hut, which took a bit over an hour. They stayed there for a couple hours reading, watching birds, and enjoying the views and the sunshine, while I jogged and power hiked to the summit and back. This was a blast – some of the best mountain running I’ve ever gotten to do, as the trail rose in a series of steps, then traversed gently along high ridges between the steps. Near the summit there was a bit of easy scrambling and a good sized snowfield to cross, which completed the high, alpine feeling of the hike. I managed to pass all the other hikers on the way up, and had the summit to myself for a few minutes. I had a perfect 360 degree view: rugged mountain chain extending to the horizons in three directly, with Tasman Bay and the city of Nelson in the other. In the distance I could even see Mt Egmont (a.k.a. Mt Taranaki) on the North Island.

After hiking/running back down to the hut, I convinced Jasmine and Avery to hike just a few hundred feet above the hut, which brought to a high point along the ridge, above treeline, and offered a 360 degree view nearly as good as that I enjoyed on the summit. We lounged around there for an hour or more, enjoyed a the sun and the warm rocks. Finally we dragged ourselves away, and enjoyed a long down to the Flora hut through native beech forest, and then completed a loop with a mile or so of uphill, back to our starting point.