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Warning: (barefoot) race report ahead

February 2, 2016

 

Caution: if you are allergic to hearing runners go on and on about their insane weekly mileage, negative splits, PRs, aching quads, hitting the wall, and/or carb loading, stop here and go outside and enjoy the company of a neighborhood critter.

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Cooper’s hawk in our birdbath

Otherwise: read on . . . ’cause I finally ran a race!

[For a variety of reasons (mostly having to do with running pain), I did not enter any trail races in 2015. (I usually only race a couple of times a year anyway, because trail running is something that doesn’t need an organized race to make it fun.  Street running/racing? Yuck. I can’t imagine doing that with or without race fanfare. But that’s a rant for another blog.)]

Since this new year is off to a much more fabulous-free-flowy running start, I was happy to discover that the generous race promoter of Rock It Racing would trade an entry for some help before/after the race . . . perfect for our tight sabbatical budget.

So . . . I got up a little earlier than usual last Saturday, and made it to the race site (Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park) by 6:15 am to unload supplies and then work the sign-in table.

It was a pleasure to meet and assist so many cheerful trail runners!

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The 12k race began at 8:15, so about 8 am I left my post in the good hands of another (non-racing-that-day) worker, and went to my car to remove my socks, sandals, fleece hat, sweatpants, down vest, and a few other layers–while it had been a bit chilly for standing around for two hours, this was perfect running weather!

After a few sets of 60 crawling “steps” (which I tried to do away from the crowds, as it still feels a bit odd to “crawl in public”) I was warm and ready to run.

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We all headed over to hear the last minute race directions. “Yellow flags” . . . something something  . . . follow the yellow flags,” was about all I could hear from the crackly bullhorn, but that was enough. I knew there would be plenty of people ahead of me to follow, and even if I got lost, it was a beautiful cool and cloudy morning to run in circles for a couple of hours . . . and Whiting Ranch is not that big of a place, so I knew I’d be able to find the parking lot easily again.

And yes, some of the fast folks in front did get mixed up when it came to the turn-around section of the course; even though they ran an extra mile or two, they still finished the race a half hour ahead of me. It was so inspiring to see them flying on by as I was trudging up the last incline before the turn-around . . . and most of them shouted out not only encouragement (“you’re almost to the top”) but also instructions on how to keep on course (“turn around when you see the three yellow flags”).

Runners . . . gotta love ’em (even if they tend to go on and on about about their obsession . . . )

On a sadder note: 12 years ago, Jan. 10, 2004, a mountain biker fixing his bike on the side of the trail was mauled and killed by a mountain lion here at Whiting Ranch.

Not too many attacks in recent years, though, so I decided to go “minimalist” . . . no anti-mountain-lion sprays/bells/guns, no hydration pack, and absolutely no iPod-iPhone-FitBit-GPS-heart rate monitor-watch, etc. Not even my trusty little camera.

Just me and my bare feet.

Just fun!

The 12K (around 7 miles) course took me 1:27:20 to complete its seriously steep dirt roads and single track–and although I tried hard to keep my breathing controlled and only in and out my nose, I caved a few times and had to gasp my way up and up and up some sections.

But the trail surface! Lovely damp sandstone with only a sprinkling of rocks here and there . . . over which I (literally? at least in the photo below) floated my way to the finish line (finishing 72nd out of 123 runners).

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. . . and photobombing other runners along the way . . . (yeah, my wool long-sleeved t-shirt got a little warm on the never-ending uphills).

 

Whiting Ranch 5K and 12K 2016

Whiting Ranch 5K and 12K 2016

Thanks to Foggy Bay Photos for the great shots, and to RockIt Racing for a well-run event.

Barefoot running for six years: feeling grateful!

January 25, 2016

It’s been six years since my 50-year-old self began the barefoot hiking and trail running journey. (Here’s a blog post celebrating the one-year anniversary milestone.)

From chronically (and I mean my ENTIRE life, from my first after-school track season in fifth grade, through adulthood) injured runner to feeling-better-all-the-time movement proponent . . . it’s been a rocky (pun intended) journey full of ups and downs (enough puns already).

But . . . here I am at 56 able to run farther, with more enjoyment, than ever before.

No, I’m not completely pain-free and unrestricted in my trotting along the trails; my right hip and lower back still are stiffer and sore-er (is that a word?) than I’d like. But . . . I’ve been out on some steep trails for 2-3 hours several times in the last month, feeling my arms and legs and spine and shoulders and elbows and ears and toes all flowing along in a most delightful fashion.

And I’ve signed up for what will be (Lord willing and the creek don’t rise) my first ultra . . . a 50k race through Monument Valley in a couple of months. (In the past, signing up for a “big” race has been my downfall as I overtrain and become injured in my Type A attempt to thoroughly prepare. This time I’m going to err on the side of “undertraining,” knowing I can walk a lot and still, maybe, make the 11 hour cutoff time. And if I don’t? That’s OK too . . . I’ll be wandering through Monument Valley, a culturally significant place I’ve always wanted to visit.)

Here’s a few photos from my longest run so far, just under three hours, earlier this month on the lovely undulating ridgeline trails of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

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Old Saddleback keeps watch over Orange County .

 

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Nature’s almost-infinity pool? (A puddle with a view of the shining Pacific Ocean.) 

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One of my favorite chaparral birds: the always-ready-with-a-song California thrasher in its favorite perch, a laurel sumac.

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Why don’t I run these trails more? Only 30 minutes from my inland home (during low traffic hours) are these long views of Laguna Beach and the Dana Point Headlands.

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The sandstone hills erode into trails that are practically rock-less: a barefooter’s paradise!

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Yes, there were many lovely rain-remnants to gallop through; here I am re-enacting for the camera another “pride goeth before the fall” moment when I thought I’d show off my awesome puddle-running skills and ended up slipping and falling on my bum. The puzzled onlooker’s comment when I asked him to take my photo? “There’s nothing like blackmailing yourself, I guess.”

Here’s hoping and praying for (at least) six more years of barefoot trail fun!

 

 

 

Another step on the (barefoot, parkour) journey

January 21, 2016

Continuing my 2016 focus on “more movement, more fun”. . . I’ve been discovering all kinds of new ways to play at my favorite local park: Irvine Regional Park.

It’s been a county park since 1897; I’ve been running in the hills surrounding it for about 20 years, but only in the last couple of weeks have I realized there’s so much more to do than “just” run.  A fabulous web resource for folks looking to add liveliness to their lives is “Nerd Fitness,” which describes parkour this way:

“Parkour is for Everyone. Anyone can figure out a way to traverse an obstacle. Parkour is just a mindset to find your own best way through in each particular situation and moment.”

Bonus: others seem willing to join the fun!

Here are the latest images from two recent visits to Irvine Park:

 

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Thanks, Gina B., for “hanging out” on a beautiful January afternoon! (Remind me of your friend’s name who took all these awesome pictures with my little camera . . . which was set, as always, to “VIVID” . . . ’cause orange skin is a small price to pay for greens that pop :) )

Final photos: the next gen of park runners/crawlers (my grandsons, left, and family friend Katy C, right, a heroic young lady with juvenile diabetes whose spirit of adventure took her over, under, and through all kinds of obstacles at Irvine Park last weekend . . . and which serves her well as she continues to negotiate the tough terrain of Type 1 diabetes at age 11).

 

You’ll never believe what strange critters are roaming the hills just outside your own home town!

January 8, 2016

Ha! I just read an article about how to write “click-bait” titles, and thought I’d give it a try. (Action figures sold separately; actual results may vary*)

(*from another entertaining web spot: a useful page of disclaimers)

Anyway, here’s the latest in my ongoing series of “barefootprintselfies” that I’ve been collecting for the last almost-six years: (you’re welcome, reader Brian :) )

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This image gives a hint at the most recent epiphany of my decade-plus quest to get my body capable of running an ultra marathon: Crawling! (Yep. That’s a hand-print in the dust to the left of the toe impression.)

Here’s a click-bait-worthy quote: “Yes, crawling, a seemingly childish and foolish ‘exercise,’ could be the one thing that improves your health, your strength, your mobility, and your performance in any athletic area. It could even improve your ability to think, focus, and reason.”

It’s not as easy as all those babies make it look, though; here’s the “wrong way” to do it:

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What’s less than optimal in the photo above? I’m moving my left arm and left leg forward at the same time. The goal is cross-over motion, where the left leg and right arm move together, as I’m attempting below.

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Besides being a really challenging workout (I started at 20 “steps” and am up to doing 40 at a time, several times throughout my run), it’s a tough “mind game” as well, for at least two reasons:

  1. I usually am out on the local trails during late afternoon/sunset, which is “breakfast time” for mountain lions. How convenient for them to find me floundering down the trail, trying so hard to coordinate my left arm/right leg movement that I never even notice until I feel that crashing weight on the back of my neck right before it snaps and . . . (OK, enough of that horror channel. Back to our regularly scheduled program . . . )
  2. As hard as it may be to tell, from all the ridiculous barefoot selfies I relentlessly post to this blog, I do have a shred or two of dignity left . . . which means I’m trying to work in my crawling segments when I’m pretty sure no other trail users are around. However, this being Orange County, home to lots of other trail lovers . . .  well, I’m also trying to prep my psyche for the inevitable awkward moment when I crawl around a switchback and find myself staring at the shoelaces of someone’s hiking boots.

Here’s something even cooler than crawling I ran into the midst of a few days ago: a big flock of robins going crazy for toyon berries.

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Like deer, these creatures are common throughout much of the county, but rare here in Orange County, where I have never seen a robin on someone’s lawn, let alone out in the hills.

Research time! I discovered that robins travel in flocks when they are migrating (safety in numbers from flying predators, which have a harder time distinguishing single birds in chaotic wheeling throng).

This group (20-30+) was flittering and chittering and knocking brilliant  toyon berries into the leaf letter, creating a syncopated song of muted taps that resounded throughout my favorite little forest of oak and sycamore and cottonwood outside of Irvine Regional Park.

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The day’s trail eventually led me to the back side (inside the catch basin) of Villa Park dam . . . in the final day before el Nino struck this week. Where will the water line be next time I venture this way?

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It was a birder-ific day . . . as I ran (and crawled) along past the nearby cemetery, I heard gnatcatchers and startled puffs of (unidentified) sparrows. Here’s a shrub-full just before they spotted the dark eye of my little camera staring at them (how rude of me! Sorry friends!). There’s at least eight birds in the photo . . . but the best part is missing: the tiny whooshing their wings made as they fled for better cover . . .

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One final bird shot from the day, below. What makes it memorable for me is the fact that, somehow, I managed to get an image of something on the move. (My pocket camera works best when things hold still, stuff like rocks and feet . . . )

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On a completely unrelated note: what if we could BRAID our toes?! A world-gallivanting friend was in town this week; she stopped by to catch up and show me One More Surprising Thing Our Feet Can Do!  (Results may vary; must be present to win; get medical attention if symptoms persist.)

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Christine G.: world traveller, writer/editor, yoga instructor, hula hoop dancer, ukulele-ist, and toe braider.

 

Barefoot running and more: what worked in 2015

December 31, 2015
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Day’s end, year’s end clouds and sunshine, Orange County, CA

Reflections, Dec. 31, 2015.

End of one year.

Beginning of another.

Nagging thought: “I didn’t get enough done” (nature and nurture, childhood and choices all contribute to this ongoing excavation of my own personal pit o’ despair).

Nagging aches and pains: From sitting too much? Sure. From running? Maybe. From unprocessed emotions that have somehow embedded themselves in my living tissue and need to be acknowledged and dealt with? Whaaat? “Somatic archelogy” is a thing?

Following is a list of stuff that worked for me in 2015: (the year that saw me fulfill my dream of traveling across the Grand Canyon barefoot, in one day, not once but twice, at age 56, with a sketchy haircut)

(AND the year ends with much gratitude to movement educators/bloggers Michael Sandler (Mindful Running), Jae Gruenke (The Balanced Runner), and Katy Bowman (Nutritious Movement) for giving me lots of the nutty ideas below.)

Nose breathing. That’s right . . . when I run and hike, I aim to keep my mouth shut at all times (would that I could transfer that skill to my interpersonal dealings!). Just like running without shoes, this seems like an impossibility until you. Do. It.

Michael Sandler tries to explain it here, but for me, the proof is in my own performance: my grin-sparking ability to fly up hills like a happy hippogriff. Especially gratifying (in a masochistic sort of fashion) was power-hiking up the South Kaibab Trail (seven miles, 4,860 feet in elevation gain) BREATHING THROUGH MY NOSE! Mind (and nose?) blowing!

Another breathing tweak: Inhale for an even number of steps, exhale oddly. Most of my trail runs are to the count of in-four, out-three. On hills, things change. In-three, out-three. In-three, out-two. In-one. Gasp. (But see above tip for how freakin’ awesome NOSE BREATHING is :) )

This has been interesting to experiment with. The benefit is supposed to be a shifting–equalization–of stress on the body . . . here’s a quote from Jae Gruenke’s blog, where I got the idea, always seeking to chase the pain away from my right hip/left knee: “alternating which foot you begin your exhale on powerfully reduces movement asymmetries. So if you’re regularly having discomfort somewhere on one side of your body, you will feel it reduces over the course of a run in which you breathe this way.” Another no-cost strategy that is worth a try for all us hopeful hippogriffs.

Pillow-less sleeping. Yikes. What will these movement bloggers think of next? Katie Bowman likens pillows to another much-reviled body-stifling device in this blow-your-mind blog post, “Your Pillow is an Orthotic.”

No pillow, no problem! (And this allows me to carry one less (fewer?) piece of gear when backpacking.)

–More carb mindfulness. Back in 2014, I started cutting out “white carbs” (white flour, sugar, desserts that combined both of these in the most delicious fashions. Sigh.) Toward the end of 2014, I severely cut back on all carbs, including my beloved organic brown rice and organic whole grain bread. Even potatoes. That was rough. After suffering the expert-predicted low-carb brain-fog and weird restless mental state, I began to adapt. And lost five pounds that I wasn’t necessarily looking to lose, but was fine with me. What 56-year-old-granny wouldn’t love to rock a set of six-pack abs? (Sorry for that disturbing image.)

Instead of carbs, I aimed for snarfing down more “good fats”, as well as the usual forest of green leafies & other salad fixin’s. What fun to be able to “snack” on a whole tin of oily sardines post-run. Mmmm.

A pleasing byproduct: I can now run first thing in the morning on “no fuel.” My body is a bit more fat adapted than carb-dependent, so an hour or so of running no longer leaves me quivery-kneed and carb starved.

Same with water, lately: I almost always carry a liter or two (in a Nathan pack, along with my little camera), but often don’t drink anything unless I’m out for more than 90 minutes. Then a handful of nuts and a few gulps of water will keep me headed up and down our lovely sage-and-sumac ridges.

Disclaimer: this holiday season saw me descending into carbolicious pizza territory a bit more often than I would have liked. That’s what New Years are for . . .

–Mid-run pain “mirroring”: this is a recent (and weird!) one. Again, thanks to the mind-blowing “The Balanced Runner” blog, I am experimenting with a new way to deal with my annoying, chronic, no-good-reason-for-it right knee pain (instigator of many-a poem/blog post/cry of frustration over the last 10+ years).

During my last run, trying this technique helped still the whisperings of discomfort from my right hip (right hip=reason I did not run for months this year). And then, when my left knee decided to remind me it had unresolved issues toward the end of that same run, I was again able to distract my body somehow and get back to the trailhead without having to whimper and limp the last mile. Woo hoo!

–Making small movements to reap big benefits in group Feldenkrais classes with movement guru Darcia Dexter. Another “hard-to-give-credence-to-until-you-try-it” sort of things . . .

Being grateful for my ability to run–I’m thankful for both my physical health as well as for living in a society where women can go outdoors and run without threat of bodily harm. This is NOT something to take for granted, as evidenced by this inspiring story of Kubra, an Afghani woman who faces huge challenges as she pursues her running dreams.

–Seeking out ways to move in three dimensions (or four, or ?) Running involves so much repetition, and (to butcher Robert Frost), “something there is that doesn’t love doing the same thing over and over.” Something = my fearfully and wonderfully slightly asymmetrical body. I’ve just started mixing things up: jumping, hanging, balancing . . . the world is full of fun stuff (tree branches! rocks! retaining walls!); we just need to pay attention and be ready to play a bit.

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2015 was a year of changes and challenges; this blog’s purpose is not to whine, so I rarely give readers the opportunity to go swimming with me in my wading pool of despair (the depths of which are relatively shallow, but which seem bottomless when I’m barely able to tread water).

Just know that all the So Cal sunshine throws shadows as well, and when running barefoot through our local wild lands (nose-breathing and counting my steps all the way), doesn’t dispel the darkness, light and joy are just a prayer away, as I was reminded of this last morning of the year when I read, “The Lord God is my strength and song.” (Isaiah 12:2)

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Here’s looking forward to 2016 as another year of questioning & learning (especially focused on stuff everyone “knows” must be true/good/beautiful just because, well, because that’s what everyone else thinks . . . like front yard lawns in a dry climate, ankle-high boots on the trails, moving stiffly–or not at all–’cause you’re getting older . . . I could go on, but then I’d having nothing to blog about next time. May the joy of discovery be yours in the New Year!).

 

 

What’s more fun than barefoot trail running?

December 16, 2015

Barefoot trail running combined with parkour!

I like this quote (from Wikipedia, of course).

Parkour involves seeing one’s environment in a new way, and imagining the potentialities for navigating it by movement around, across, through, over and under its features.”

How has it taken me this long to realize there’s even more to see along our local trails than “just” all the fabulous native plants, critters, and rocks?

There are also possibilities for PLAY . . . and active play is vital for our desk-bound generation.

Here’s a video that Christopher McDougall (yeah, that guy who wrote Born to Run and Natural Born Heroes) posted on his Facebook feed this morning . . . about how play, and movement, and parkour (all synonymous?) can help us older adults age more gracefully (ha . . . literally!) : To Be and To Last: A Parkour Documentary.

Of course, I’ve been heading in this direction for a while, ever since web-stumbling across Katy Bowman’s excellent, fabulous, life-changing blog (recently re-branded as “Nutritious Movement”).

So now my barefoot trail time has become a quest for opportunities to jump and swing and balance and hang:

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All the while still enjoying the beauty of our local wildlands:

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The view west from Robber’s Peak/Anaheim Hills: Pacific Ocean, then Catalina Island 26 miles off the Orange County coast. (The locked gate symbolizes the paradox of “wild” places: ACCESS DENIED in an effort to keep things wild.)

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Same view spot, now looking east toward the San Gabriel Mountains (about 60 miles). That’s Chino Hills State Park in mid-image, with “Old Baldy” (Mt. San Antonio) in the distance (left) with just a dusting of snow from our weekend mini-storm.

And, of course, the sycamore are still sporting some terrific fall color:

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Winter is on its way. . . and “el Nino” (“El Niño means The Little Boy, or Christ Child in Spanish. El Niño was originally recognized by fishermen off the coast of South America in the 1600s, with the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean. The name was chosen based on the time of year (around December) during which these warm waters events tended to occur.”) and Christmas!

Christmas Time’s A Comin’! (This video of the classic bluegrass song by Bill Monroe starts with an interview; skip to 1:15 for the song, which you will not be able to get out of your ears . . . for better or worse :) )

Christmas Times A Comin

 

Waiting for el Nino

December 10, 2015

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During this afternoon’s shoeless run up and down the ridges between Santiago Oaks and Irvine Park . . . it felt like the hills and critters and plants were all waiting, like the wilted black sage (above) . . . holding their collective faded-and-dusty breaths in anticipation of the winter rains.

This being a Mediterranean climate, winter is when we get our precipitation, but for anyone who’s been hiding under a rock for the last several years, our rains have been sparse, and California is in High Media Alert for the all-but-guaranteed-by-meteorologists-who-should-know, El-Nino-induced, Massive Winter Storms of 2015-16.

So I took this “before” shot of (bone-dry) Santiago Creek, just below the Villa Park Dam, to have something to contrast with the raging torrent that should appear in roughly two weeks and thirty minutes.

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A bit further downstream is another crossing, near the Santiago Oaks parking lot . . . this lovely riparian paradise has not gone dry yet:

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Our brief season of leaf-color continues; coupled with recent pink sunsets . . . altogether lovely:

Another sight that always makes my day: mule deer along the trail (in Orange County these creatures are still rare enough to be considered a treat to glimpse).

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What does not bring a smile to my face: trail trash! This sorry lot is from my two-hour trek this afternoon . . . and one of the reasons I carry a small pack when I run–to carry not only food and water (and tape and a whistle and a knife and ID and keys, etc.) . . . but to also have a place to attach all the crap I find along the way. Grrr . . .

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There is one category of refuse I refuse to pick up, however: anything that looks liked it’s been used to wipe a human orifice of any kind . . . ick!

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Still . . . being able to run our fluff-dusty local trails barefoot for two hours in the early afternoon (meaning few folks out on the trails) did make me jump for joy:

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(My new trick for catching guaranteed air in a photo? Set the camera on video mode, then do a screen capture with editing software . . . a lot easier than trying to coordinate my jump with the camera’s timer . . . )

Happy dusty trails . . . let the rain (and MUD) begin!

 

 

 

 

 

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