Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Trail Review: North Shore: Lowell, Oregon

Trail Smitten was stoked to run the North Shore Trail with her hubby

Lowell's North Shore Trail is one of my many favorite places to run in Lane County.  This place is too good to keep to myself.  Here's the "down and dirty" on this totally tubular place that will keep you stoked whether you're setting off for as little as six miles or as many as sixteen.

From Eugene go East on 58 for about 20 miles. Make a left at the covered bridge and continue to N. Shore Dr. Turn Right, this will become N. Boundary Rd. Continue till you come to the dam. There will be a parking lot with a bathroom by the boat ramp on your right. Trail head is on the left side, marked with a Hikers sign.

Why it's worth the trip:
Along the shore of Lookout Reservoir and North Shore Road there's a single track trail.  There are a few short easy climbs and lots of fun roots, rocks and creeks to keep things interesting.  I never get bored on this trail. The views are spectacular!  You'll enjoy sights of the lake, old growth trees, forest vegetation, streams and Eula Ridge which is often snow topped or shrouded in fog.  Pretty wildflowers bloom alongside the trails from spring to summer.

There are lots of out and back options. Only tricky part is that sometimes you are forced to get off the dirt trail and run on the road for a short jaunt.  It's easy to miss where the road leads to the trail again.  I enjoy the 14 mile out and back from the dam to the boat dock or vice versa.  If that's not enough running for you, you can continue past the boat dock for a mile and half out to the Ivan Oaks Campground.  There is a connector trail that will take your run even further and give you lots of good climbs.  I haven't attempted that portion of the trail yet.  

If those aren't enough reasons to get out there and get dirty, here are a few more:

  • There are nice clean, non stinky vault toilets WITH toilet paper AND locking doors!
  • There are picnic tables and fire pits. I've thought about taking my family there for a day trip.  Kiddos can go on a nature hike, cool off or float around in the lake, play in the forest, picnic at the tables, roast marshmallows or hot dogs around the fire with supervising adult while other person or people get in a run.  
  • The cool lake is a fabulous place for a post-run "ice bath"
  • There are few people on the trail.  With that said, this trail is shared with mountain bikers so keep your eyes and ears open.  
What to wear:
Plan on getting dirty!  In the spring there's lots of mud.  Wear a good pair of trail shoes.  I opt for my Montrail Masochists which are my shoes with the biggest lugs.  Plan on getting wet in the spring!  You'll be crossing creeks, puddles, and wet ferns encroaching the trail will brush against your legs.  Tights will keep you warm, dry and protect your legs from scratches.  Wear layers so you're comfortable in the various temperatures and ever-changing sun/rain variations that seem to be inevitable in this area.  There isn't water so bring your own.  I wear my Nathan Hydration pack for hands-free hydrating and to store all my extra clothes and snacks.

Take a Peek!

Beginning of the trail from the boat dock parking lot

Trees downed from the March wind storm

One of the many wooden bridges over a creek

Old growth forest

Sun streaming through the trees
Pretty trees
Lookout Reservoir
Eula Ridge behind Lookout Reservoir
Scaling a giant root of a fallen tree
Climbing over and through downed branches and logs 
Trail crew have been working hard on clearing the trails
Bloody and muddy ankles and calves = good time on the trail

Happy trails!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Taking rides from strangers

I sat shivering and scared in the passenger seat of a car driven by a complete stranger.  I didn't know where I was, nor did I know where my husband and children were.  We had just wrapped up a relaxing week in Bend and were heading back to Eugene.  The McKenzie River Trail was near our halfway point.  Why not steal a quick run?  My husband came up with a route on a recently cleared section of the MRT.  He would let me out at Deer Creek.  I would run 3.22 miles along the trail.  He would be waiting there for me.  At that point, I could stop there or log a few more miles.  My four-legged sidekick, Japhy would join me.

Now Japhy was sitting on the floor in front of my legs in some strange car as I scanned the road for my husband and our van.  It was one of those times that I wished life had a rewind button.  I'd go back back an hour and half and I'd be in the car sitting next to Steve heading home.  While I was grateful to be warm again and out of the elements, I was worried about my husband and kids and worried that they were worried about me.  Greg calmly assured me that my family was safe.  They had a car.  Worse case scenario was that if we didn't find them, we would continue to the next town where we could call to the police. The thought of leaving them out there put dread in my heart.  I could see them wandering the trails in search of me.  The sooner I got back to them the safer we'd all be.

As we drove, I  scanned the roads for our white van and tried once again to piece together what had gone wrong.  Prior to meeting up with Greg, at an interpretive kiosk, my Garmin indicated that I had logged eight miles over the course of an hour and twenty minutes.  The scale on the map revealed that I was only two miles from my drop-off at Deer Creek.  How could that be possible?  Even with my back-tracking, this figure just didn't make sense.  I was highly annoyed with myself for getting into this situation.  It's amazing how quickly things can turn from good to bad.  Just minutes prior, I had been enjoying a run in an absolutely breathtaking setting.  Gentle rolling hills, soft flat trails sprinkled with snow, puddles and fallen branches provided a welcome break from a long car ride.  The trees were dusted with snow and while I knew it was raining, or perhaps even snowing, I was protected under the forest's canopy.  The river-side trail proved to be everything I had hoped.  I could've run miles and miles and never tire of the spectacular sights.

How did my first little jaunt along the McKenzie River Trail come to taking a ride with a stranger?  I refrained from crying, tried to keep my cool and prayed that it would all turn out okay as we drove down the highway in search what now would be my concerned family.  A flash of white caught my eye.  Could that be our van parked on the forest service bridge?  At my request, Greg circled the car, turned off the road and crossed the bridge.  There just in front of the van stood my husband peering out into the trail.  I will never forget the look on his concerned face.  It was as if he was asking the trail to tell him what had happened to me and what his next step should be.  Having two young, tired, grumpy children in the van didn't make matters any easier.  His attention quickly turned from the trail to the approaching car.  As we slowed to a stop he saw me through the passenger window and let out a visible sigh of relief.  I profusely thanked my trail angel, Greg, and jumped out of the car more happy than ever to be reunited with my family.

Feeling like a complete idiot, I rambled on and on about what had happened and how scared I was.  I changed into warm, dry clothes, had some food and water continued to try and make sense of all that had happened.  All the while I stole grateful glances at my daughters and husband.  After listening and thinking for a while, Steve, who always seems to have the answers by the way, asked if I had reset the Garmin.  When I started today's run, the Garmin's data fields showed all zeros so I thought I had.  According to Steve, it turns out that today's mileage picked up at the four mile point where my last run had ended.  When my trail led me to a bunch of boulders, I knew something was wrong.  Rather than continue forward in search of my trail, I looked at my watch for the first time.  It read 5.45 miles.  How had I gone so far in such a short amount of time?  I must have missed my turn a couple miles back.  I would have to retrace my footsteps to find where Steve and I were supposed to reconnect.

At this point, I wasn't overly concerned.  It isn't uncommon for me to lose sense of time and distance in my blissed-out trail running state.  I had made good time running this relatively flat section of the trail.  Steve would give me a little time allowance knowing that I like to stop and snap pictures along the way.  Instead of finding my missed turn, I found myself back at my starting point to an empty parking lot.  I was more confused than ever.  From there, rather than continue back on the trail and risk getting lost a second time, I decided to hit the road in search of Steve and my missed turn off.  Either Steve would find me or I would find him.

This short run was going to turn into a long run.  I hoped like heck that each passing car was Steve.  The further I went and the more time that passed, the more worried I became.  I talked to myself.  I talked to Japhy.  I wondered if I should flag down a driver to help me.  I kicked myself for messing up what should have been a simple run.  With a sense of direction like mine, what was I thinking being out there on my own?  I get lost all the time.  Why should today be any different?  Although, it was only four o'clock, the sky from which a mixture of snow and rain fell, was getting darker and darker.  I was getting cold.  The van was no where to be found.

As I told Steve my story, it started to make sense.  He breathed sigh after sigh of relief and then told his side of story.  While waiting for me, he thought I was still on the trail.  That's where I was supposed to be.  He would wait for me there and not take to the road as I had thought he would when I didn't show up.  As he stood and waited at the trail head, he wondered where I was with each passing minute.  Had I fallen and hurt myself on the trail?  Was I lying out there in the cold there waiting for him?  Should he bundle up the girls and hike in to find me?

I gave the both of us quite the scare.  Not only do I have a terrible sense of direction, but I am also a poor judge of miles and minutes.  Add those things to a Garmin that I failed to reset, a suddenly disappearing trail and you've got one of my scariest running experiences.  Even with my bruised ego, I feel like a very lucky woman.  Things turned out okay for me in the end thanks to the kind soul who took me and my wet dog down the highway.  I am thankful that I didn't hurt myself on the trail or on the road.  Most of all, I am thankful for my husband for patiently waiting for me where he had promised, keeping our children warm and safe and believing that I would find my way back to him.  Moreover, Steve chose not to scold me for my Garmin oversight/trail run detour/riding in a car with a stranger.  If anyone was giving a scolding, it was me.  In hindsight, I would have done so many things differently.  Life doesn't work that way.  Fortunately there was a happy ending and many a lesson learned.

Today Steve and I will celebrate our eighteenth wedding anniversary with a nice long trail run.  We will pack and dress for the elements.  While I know this trail well, I will let Steve be the navigator.  I think we'll leave the Garmin at home this time and enjoy our run solely on feel rather than miles logged and time passed.

Be safe out there, runners!

Japhy after our ordeal

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Trail Smitten's Getting Her Groove Back

My Happy Place
The hardest part about returning to exercise after taking time off is not over doing it.  When you're making up for lost time, have friends who are training longer and harder than you and have a looming race date, this is especially challenging.  Exercising restraint, honoring those rest days and recovery workouts and sticking with the plan, rather than getting overly excited and jumping aboard someone else's, is tough!

I've been back training for a month now. To most, it would appear that I'm doing fine and am up to speed.  I am afraid that that's not the case just yet.  My training log reveals lots of modifications, set backs, sore days and unplanned rest days as the result of doing too much, too soon.  More than once I angrily scribbled "Overdid it. Sloooooow down!" in the margins of my log.  This week I heeded my own advice and thankfully managed to pull off a complete week of training without physical setbacks. Hurray! I'm celebrating!

Here's my happy week in review:

Monday:  Swim Cycle Brick
  • Half mile swim using my new and improved Total Immersion technique. It's feeling more natural.  There's no zoning out since I am uber-focused on what each part of my body is doing: soft hands, high elbows, reach under the water (not over the water), gentle kicks, belly button to each side as I rotate back and forth, breathe from both sides.  My latest mantra is I'm slippery, balanced and piercing the water.  My form is still a little rough, but I've getting over that "fish out of the water" feeling.  No improvement in speed just yet.  All my focus is on technique. Supposedly when that's in place, I'll feel like I'm swimming down hill.
  •  45 minute easy ride on my spin bike. Ah, feels good to ride after swimming. I was able to chat with my husband and do this workout from the dry warm comforts of my own home, as opposed to the wet, blustery outdoors.  
Tuesday:  Rest
  • This is always the hardest day for me. I don't like resting! Fortunately I was super busy with my daughters, work and had a post-work hair cut.  I watched my swimming DVDs, read my Mile Markers book about running and enjoyed an evening cocktail.  
Wednesday:  Long Cycle
  • Biked eight miles to work. Even in the pouring rain, it felt awesome.  My only complaint was when I had to share the road with motorists.  Please don't hit me cars!  I felt energized the entire day then biked eight miles back home in the pouring rain.  I didn't mind the rain, especially since there wasn't wind and my route back was flat and/or downhill.  Yay, for spin bike drills!  They are making me a stronger cycler who is more conscious of utilizing the entire rotation of each pedal stroke.
This shot came from a sunny,  dry, but chilly ride with my husband a couple weeks ago.
Thursday:  Run
  • Drove across town at the crack of dawn to meet up with friends.  Enjoyed a five mile run and marveled for the umpteeth time how much quicker miles go when they are shared with friends.  Who needs to "do lunch" when you can meet up and "do runs"?  Logging miles with my fabulous running partner and running buddies is the best way to start the day.  Hopefully soon, I'll be able to keep up with their distance and pace so I can enjoy their company longer.
Friday:  Cycle Run Brick
  • Went to Janet's kick-ass 45-minute spin class at the gym.  Forgot how challenging these can be compared to solo riding.  My legs were toast after countless sprints and climbs!  The night before I had balked at the 20 minute run that was supposed to follow my class.  Who runs for 20 minutes?!  Hardly seemed worth the change of shoes.  Turned out that twenty minutes was more than enough running for my legs.  I found it odd that I like to swim then bike,  I like to swim then run, I like to run then bike, I like to run then swim, I like to bike then swim, but the one combo I DON'T like is to bike then run. It's so hard! Can we please change the order of events in triathlons?  These cycle run bricks are just what I need.  I hope they eventually feel good.  Currently the run portion, is slow, awkward and exhausting.
Sunrise over canal at Pre's Trail at Alton Baker Park
Get a load of those clouds, colors and tree silhouettes!   
Saturday:  Long Trail Run
  • Took my sweet dog out for some fun in the sun on Ridgeline.  I was delighted to be back on the trails.  I enjoyed eight miles worth of quiet solitude and took in the beautiful sights-- sunbeams through the trees,  chartreuse ferns, moss covered trees, tiny wildflower buds springing from the ground.  I had a meditative, rejuvenating time in the forest.  I walked the ups and ran the flats and downs.  There was no rush, nothing to prove, only enjoyment to be found.  How I love the peace and beauty of trails.  Out there, my worries melt away and I find myself reconnecting with my small, humble place in this magnificent universe.
Trail Smitten's Side Kick Japhy Ryder.  Look at that toothy grin!
My muddy buddy radiates pure joy on the trails. Notice the blue skies and sunshine in the background!

 Sunday: Long Swim
  • Did a half mile's worth of drills and realized that maybe, just maybe, they aren't so bad after all.  Followed that up with a half mile of freestyle.  For the first time, I had a swim plan, took notes, counted strokes and timed myself.  It was out of character for me to be so science and data-driven in the pool.  We'll see if/how it helps in the weeks to come.  Currently I'm still swimming the same pace but it's only been a week of using this new swimming style. 
It was a fantastic training week.  I dare say that I just might be getting my groove back.  Four more weeks until my first sprint triathlon.  I can hardly wait!  

Love the tide, the ride and the stride...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fish Out of Water

I have religiously been swimming two to three times a week since June.  I was aware that my form needed some work and I needed to build speed; nonetheless, I thought I was a decent swimmer.  Looking out at my swimming peers at my gym, I do okay.  I pass more people than pass me during circle swim.  I can swim up to a mile without taking rest breaks.  I don't make big splashes or wakes nor do I accidentally kick or smack someone with my arms like "some people".  I thought I pretty much had this swim thing down, but would be even better off if I attended a swim lesson or two.

I caught wind of an open water swim workshop and decided that this was just what I needed.  A week before the clinic, I started having dreams about being the only one showing up to class in a swim suit.  I didn't even know what to wear to a swim clinic?!  I didn't know what we were going to do at one.  Who would be attending.  Suddenly I was worried that perhaps, this swim clinic was out of my league.  Lately I've been doing things and thinking later.  I recently decided on a whim to go from brunette to blond.  At the karaoke bar, I sang "Bette Davis Eyes" solo.  I registered for races before I got doctor's clearance to resume any form of exercise.  My typically sound decision making has been MIA for the last several months and quite frankly, things haven't been working so well for me.

I report to class, in my swim suit.  The teacher was welcoming, knowledgeable and the other participants seemed eager and friendly.  One guy was training for an Ironman and swam on the master's swim team three times a week, one gal had done several triathlons from sprints to half-Irons, and two others, like myself, were newbies with triathlon aspirations.  We all hopped in the pool.  I shared a lane with the Ironman in training.  He seemed the friendliest and I enjoyed his conversation.  By the time I had gotten my goggles on, he was heading back the length of the pool toward me.  He was amazingly graceful in the water and hardly needed to come up for breaths.  I uttered my mantra, live fearlessly, live fearlessly, live fearlessly and shoved off.  I had nothing to prove here, only skills to gain.  This is a swim clinic and I need some skills.  In order to know what skills I needed and to be able to help, the coach had to see me swim.  After our warm up, the coach shuffled us around. The two triathletes were to share a lane and the three aspiring triathletes were to share a different lane.  The coach handed the two people that shared my lane flippers then gave us instructions for our first drill.  Well, at least he didn't give me flippers I thought.

We were to swim on our side with the lower arm stretched out and shoulder glued to our ear.  I haven't done swim drills since my childhood swim lessons.  This all seemed very slow and tedious.  I trusted that the coach knew what he was doing and hoped that we'd get through this drill business and get to the real swimming part, better yet open water part, as soon as possible.  After my lane mates took off with relative ease, it was my turn.  I pushed off, shot my arm out in front of me, turned to my side and sank.  I did my best not to panic, kicked harder, tightened up my body and attempted to resurface.  Once I did, I slowly and awkwardly zigzagged my way to the end of the pool under the watchful eyes of the coach.  Thank God! I made it!  My flippered friends were already at the opposite end waiting for me.  The coach signaled for me to head back.  By the time I splashed and gasped my way back the length of the pool, coach had a pair of flippers waiting for me.  I eagerly accepted them.

The next hour was spent breaking down freestyle into its most basic components.  Much to my surprise, there were many pieces to this freestyle puzzle, many of which I had never bothered noticing.  Body positioning-- I'm supposed to be on my side? Arm motion-- I'm not supposed to circle my arms like a steamboat?  Breathing-- I'm supposed to breath from both sides?  Speed-- I'm not supposed to go as fast as possible?  And seriously, what's with all that twisting?  Rotating from side to side? No one at my gym does that!  I quickly learned that the swimming I've been doing for the last nine months, in no way resembles the freestyle form I was now being taught.  Oops!  Swimming is a lot more complicated than running, cycling and even surfing!  To become a better runner, I ran more frequently, and gradually increased my mileage and speed. To become a better cycler, I rode more and gradually added longer distances, hills and increased speed.  I approached swimming with this mindset.  I'd become a better swimmer if I swam more, swam harder and swam longer, right?  WRONG!

Swimming is an art.  It's all about form.  Unfortunately for the self-taught athlete, this form doesn't come naturally to land-dwelling humans.  I humbly plodded my way through an hour's worth of swim drills.  It wasn't pretty.  I was weaving all over the lane and kept crashing into the lane dividers.  Until this evening, I had never done these embarrassing things in my swim practice.  The lifeguard kept a close eye on me.  The coach watched me with a concerned expression and offered thoughtful pointers and encouragement.  The language was new and barely comprehensible.  The motions were exotic and cumbersome.  I was lost.

I had never been so glad or ready to get out of the pool.  Was I ready for a tri?  Did I need a swim coach?  It's not like I am trying to be an elite athlete or anything.  I just want to stay in shape, enjoy my training and have a few culminating events to keep challenging myself physically.  I used to love swimming and was okay at it.  Now I was a mess in the pool.  I had so many things to work on.  I couldn't remember how I used to swim, nor could I swim how I had just been taught to swim. What was I supposed to do now?

A week later, I went to a triathlon club meeting at my neighborhood rec center.  Another one of my whims but one that fortunately turned out for me.  I came away from the meeting with a sense of optimism.  I was also armed with a list of helpful websites, books and DVD titles. Perhaps there was hope for me yet.  My public library had the whole "Total Immersion" swimming series of DVDs and books.  I checked them all out and proceeded to watch and read all I could about this "Revolutionary Way to Swim Better, Faster, and Easier".  Sticky notes cover many pages, tips and drills have been scribbled on my notepad, I have forced my husband to listen to me read especially meaningful passages aloud.  I have become a swim technique sponge.  I am a very good book learner, but how would this translate in my first TI swim?  Would I feel as awkward and out of my element as I did at my swim clinic and the one swim that followed?  Would I be ready for my first triathlon April 17th?  Did I need a swim coach after all?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What's better than a bromance & involves a pair of running chicks?

"What's the female version of a bromance?" a friend asked me.  I had just read a text message my running partner, Laura had sent. It was Friday afternoon and we were eagerly anticipating a long trail run together the next morning.  We had been sending texts about the details.  My friend, who had heard countless stories about the running adventures of Leah and Laura, was starting to get curious about our unique little relationship.
After quietly thinking for a minute, he went on to explain that when two guys are really good friends, they are in a bromance. As one who really enjoys bromedies like "Superbad", I Love You, Man" and "The Hangover", I was familiar with the term.  Yet I had never thought that there might be a female equivalentMy friend was sure there was a term, but I certainly didn't know it.

Laura is my friend and running partner.  We have logged hundreds of miles together.  During peak training days, I am likely to spend more hours talking to her than I do anyone else.  I mean really, how often do you have a four hour conversation with someone unless you're training together for a marathon or ultra-marathon? After all the hours, miles, conversations and shared experiences, Laura and I have gotten close.  We know when the other is happy, stressed, excited or sad.  We have shared the ups and downs of being a mom, wife, sister and friend.  We have supported and encouraged each other. We have kept a watchful eye for passersby while the other has slipped discretely off the trail or road to take a tinkle.

After my nine week running hiatus, I have been more grateful than ever to have such a great running partner.  As I looked over pictures of us together at the fabulous Run Momma Run Winery Run & Brunch, I started thinking back to that distant conversation I had with my friend.  Was there a female equivalent to the term bromance?  Indeed there is!  I can't believe I needed google to help me figure it out.  According to Urban Dictionary and a number of websites, the term my friend was looking for was womance.  I'm feeling a little disappointed.  Bromance sounds cool.  Bruthas havin' a bromance ain't nuthin' to be ashamed of.  Sistas havin' a womance seems well, wather widiculous.

At the Run Momma Run Winery Run & Brunch

For the most part, a day doesn't go by that Laura and I don't communicate.  I look forward to seeing and even better, running with her whenever we're able.  Our runs are full of conversation, laughter and easy silences.  We have known and been running with each other for two years now.  I look forward to many more miles, races and events together.  Forget womances, I'd wather have a wockstar wunning partner ANY day!

After our first trail race: Hagg Lake 25K 2010