Friday, March 25, 2005

Songs for Kate (fiction)

[A guest entry from Katherine]

Mommy checklist is nearly complete this morning. Roger has left for work, complete with a bag of carrots to help fend off Doughnut Day at the office. Max, Tim, and Sophie are on their way to grade and middle school with sack lunches in hand. There’s just one sack left at the end of the kitchen counter – Kate’s gym bag. And if I know Kate, her hot pink iPod is nestled among her smelly trail running shoes, gym socks, and faded scrunchies, just screaming to get outside.

“Katherine dear, don’t you think these drapes have faded enough?” said my mother, sliding her free hand up and down the drapes with the precision of a military inspection. I almost expected her to hold up her cocktail glass to zero in on every sunspot. The morning drunk’s magnifying lens.

“Oh, mother,” I replied softly, arching a sponge across the breakfast carnage at the table with the speed and efficiency of a mother of three. We both have our morning rituals, Mother and me, and playing nice is just a part of the act. Mother gets a starring role like every other weekday morning, opening not with a ‘hello’, but a question, just condescending enough to get under my skin, but not enough for me to risk being the fool in questioning her motives. Instead I play the straight woman, responding with a kindness that just beg for more.

Act II comes quickly, as it usually does when the spring sun breaks boldly through the living room windows. Like any faithful supporting cast, I watch mother command the stage from the corner of my eye, in awe of how she can pour out such drama in a scene she has performed a thousand times. First, the sun hits her face, forcing her eyes closed. She breathes. Next she lifts her double Old Fashioned in a smooth but exaggerated motion, letting the glass block the sun from her eyes as she tips the last of her all-liquid breakfast down her throat. She breathes deeper this time, feeling the sun and drink release her, and glides towards the couch where she has cat-napped enough times to leave an imprint on the cushions. Not as big as Roger’s basketball season imprint on the other end of the couch (complete with Cheeto-orange outlines on the arm where the remote sits), but worn as well as any sun-drenched drapes could ever be. Mothers performance was epic as usual - precise, fast, but not rushed. Good thing, since Kate is getting restless.

Mother has always called me by my full name, Katherine. I think she enjoys how it rolls off her lips with authority, unsurprisingly recalling ghosts of childhood scolding long since forgotten. Roger, my husband, picked up on this early so he generously opted for Kathy. As in “Kathy the loyal spouse and friend, changer of diapers, and listener of woes”. And of course, once again, supporting actress. Mommy, Katherine, Kathy – each comes with a house full of expectations, and although rewarding, are expectations nonetheless. Kate has always understood this. She knows that even Academy Award-winning Supporting Actresses yearn for a starring role.

I took off my apron, and glanced over at the gym bag. Kate never cleans that thing, and it showed, particularly in the spotless kitchen. What gets into that girl? Maybe I’ll never know what makes her tick, but I’m always curious. It so many ways, she is my idol, leading a life of adventure and never once apologizing for being comfortable in her own skin. She is sexiest without her make up, glowing with confidence and optimism that is drawn from within. In many ways, she is woman, unabridged.

I grabbed the dusty gym bag and tip-toed out to the garage to open it in private. As expected, the iPod was right on top, complete with the “Songs for Kate” playlist. I scrolled through the list of 40+ songs, seeing all her favorite trail running divas – Aretha, Tina, Janis, and even a bit of Shania and Brittany. One list, three generations of undeniable Girl Power. I pictured Kate’s ritual, pulling on her grubby trail running gear and heading in any direction she pleases, the siren songs and fresh air filling every sense, filling her soul to the point of spilling over. Some days she runs, some days she walks. Some mornings she will just sit and watch the wild around her, just to prove to herself that this is her time. Kate is in control, and she can do what she pleases, when she pleases.

The smelly running gear has a familiar stench that engulfs me. At first I feel like gagging – that’s sooo Kathy – but within a few breaths the familiarity calms me. I slide off my clothes and step into Kate’s shorts. I stroke my hair back into the faded scrunchie. I pull on the white socks, permanently stained from miles of trail running, and then the shoes, still wet from yesterday’s run. The screaming hot pink iPod finds its place on my armband, and the earphones slip into place. As “Songs for Kate” begins, I feel the blood rush through my legs, arms, to my toes and fingers. I become one with the smell, with the rhythm of the song, and my heart catches up.

Curtain in 30 seconds…it's time for your run, Kate.

- SD

[This is fiction, btw. Just thought y'all would enjoy it. Full copyright, 2005, all rights reserved. ]

Monday, March 21, 2005

Touring the Backcountry with Redwood Trails

I love getting deep in the backcountry, but as many do, I struggle with knowing that "the deeper you go, the more gear you gotta bring". If you want to go for 2-3 days, you have to weigh yourself down. Food is a tricky trade off - nobody wants to cap off a great day of running with beef jerky since it was the only thing light enough to bring along. Well it looks like Redwood Trails has cracked the code on this one with their new trail running/backpacking tours. Check it out...



REDWOOD CITY, Calif. - An increasing number of athletes are experiencing the wonders of training and racing on trails. But instead of running or cycling through the wilderness with time restraints or while focusing on a competition, why not take a slightly slower more peaceful approach ­ all without sacrificing the "exercise high" along the way.

That's the idea of Eric Gould, president of Redwood Trails, the San Francisco Bay Area's leading provider of premium trail events. As race director for more than a dozen triathlons, mountain bike races and trail runs, Gould is introducing the Redwood Trails Backpacking Experience.

Limited to groups of 10, Gould and a select group of experienced outdoor professionals will guide participants on catered journeys into some of the country's most scenic and exhilarating locations ‹ Hawaii, the Grand Canyon and the High Sierra backcountry of Yosemite. The destinations are remote and idyllic for small groups, but not conducive to larger groups or for official endurance events.

Instead of completing a three-to-five hour racing event and leaving the splendors of the outdoors all-too-soon, the Redwood Trails staff will organize trips that will take participants on journeys deep into the backcountry that last for several days.

Unlike trail races, the Redwood Trails Backpacking Experience affords participants time to stop and absorb the scenery, swim, take pictures, take off from camp and explore a side trail, read, sketch or meditate. But, these trips are for people who also want great workouts along the way too. Most trips include five to six hours of hiking each day and several hundred feet of climbing at altitudes up to 10,000 feet.

While the trips do not require any backpacking experience, and are perfect for first timers, they are geared to fit individuals who at a minimum completed one or two trail running events in the past 24 months.

"As with our races, we picked the very finest locales, and we're taking care of all of the details," says Gould. "Backpacking is our way of taking you to even more glorious locations for a full immersion fitness and nature experience."

Redwood Trails will provide all equipment and supplies necessary. Lightweight, high-tech yet functional backpacking equipment will be provided as well as all cooking equipment and food. Accommodations will also be provided, with options: single or double-occupancy tents.

"Our promise for these trips is that you'll come for the hiking, but you'll stay for the food," says Gould, who has several trips to Yosemite and the Grand Canyon planned already. "Our passion is to give folks a great outdoors experience, with plenty of healthy exercise, spectacular scenery and gourmet meals."

During the Redwood Trails Backpacking Experience, all participants' meals will be prepared by trip guides. Cuisine choices will be "real food," made from non-dehydrated ingredients. Accommodation choices will be impromptu but will be located at safe and secure locations far off the beaten path.

Gould believes the new exercise option will give participants the best of endurance activity choices. The objective is simple: great exercise, picture perfect locations, and fantastic food.

Trips start June, 2005.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Getting Muddy at the Rucky Chucky 50k

Although I had originally scheduled to do the Catalina Marathon yesterday, United flight delays to LAX prevented me from getting to Catalina Island in time for the race.* Being tapered and eager to hit some trails, I saw that the Rucky Chucky Roundabout 50k was being held in Foresthill, CA. I packed up my bags early on Saturday and headed up.

The Rucky Chucky Mascot

The Rucky Chucky 50k takes place on the Western States Trail between Foresthill and the Ruck-a-Chuck (mile 62-77 of the Western States 100). About ~120 racers signed up for the out-and-back 50k, with 30 more doing a two person relay. The course drops about 3,500 vertical feet fairly quickly, then ambles along the American River to a turnaround, before heading right back up. Props to the second-leg relay runners - they definitely drew the short straw. And if you're interested in seeing how crazy the Western States 100 trail is, this 15-mile section is a humlbing introduction.

Upon arriving, it was in the high 40's, pouring down rain and had no signs of letting up. This didn't seem to dampen the spirits of the runners milling about. Those that had been here last year had said they would much rather take the rain than the stagnant heat of the canyons that engulfed runners last year. As runners ate Krispy Kremes and filled their water bottles, there were lots of hugs and catching up. It seemed like everyone knew everyone, including all the volunteers. Perhaps they were all part of the series, or maybe it was just the rich sense of community I seem to find at all these ultra races. They quickly picked me out as a new face, and were happy to chat me up.

Imagine this, but pouring rain (pic by David Cotter, 2003)

As the race began, a group of six runners took off so quickly they lost us within the first quarter mile. I settled in around 12th, just fast enough to keep my body temp up. I spotted Beatrice Song whom I had met at the Palo Alto Vista Marathon a couple weeks previous, and she told me that Rich Hornstra was at the bottom of the hill to do the second leg of the relay. She was smiling ear-to-ear as she charged through the rain, as would be Rich, no doubt.

Once we got a couple of miles in, it was clear there was no way to avoid being soaked to the bone. The rain streaked the sky, and massive puddles blocked the trail every 20-30 yards, often requiring you to charge straight through. Gaiters would have been a great idea. I began pacing with Marty Hoffman, an experienced ultra runner from El Dorado Hills, and we quickly figured out he was faster at the downhills and I was faster at the flats so we switched off at appropriate spots. Marty was nice enough to share his downhill running technique with me too, pointing out that I was losing time looking for good foot placement and zig-zagging across the trail while he pretty much charged straight down. The last couple of miles to the turnaround was flat, so I pulled away, but knowing that Marty would catch up once we got back in the hills.

About a mile from the turnaround, Lon Freeman from Berkeley, CA went blazing in the other direction, looking strong. Marty had told me that Lon can crush the downhills, and in ultra running that can make all the difference since most runners keep similar uphill paces (ie, fast walking). Marty must be right - Lon was nearly 30 minutes ahead of us at the halfway point. About 10 minutes behind him was Beverly Anderson-Abbs, the ultra running super star, getting ready for her first Western States 100. Her husband, Alan, wasn't too far behind her with 2-3 others. At the turnaround, they let us know that the last aid station had to be shut down so we needed to pack in as much as we could. A grabbed a couple of extra bananas just in case, and charged back up the hill.

The rain continued to come down, but a few clearings exposed the majestic green canyons of the Auburn mountain country. A few areas of the trail were like running up a stream, and got a few laughs and hollers from the other runners. Daniel Small was having a great time, particularly given the only other trail race he had done was a 10k, and enjoyed digging deep to get himself up the hills. As I passed Daniel, I caught up to Alan Abbs and one of the other racers at the last aid station. The wind had begun to pick up, so everyone donned any clothes they had. A cup of instant soup gave me a boost of energy (although it was challenging to run with), and the three of us closed in on the last 8.7 miles and 2,000 vertical feet. Two of the relay runners, including Rich Hornstra, passed me in the last 2 miles. It took us about 100 minutes to cover the last stretch, and in the last half mile, both Marty and Alan Abbs kicked into high gear to surge up the last hill.

I placed 8th overall with a 5:21, quickly joining the other shivering and soaked racers for a massive buffet of soups, sandwiches, salads, pies, and cake. Everyone looked like chocolate-dipped cookies, caked with mud from shoes to shoulders on the back, but freshly rinsed from the rain on the front. Lon had come in first with an extraordinary 4:28, and Bev Abbs won the female division coming in at 5 hours. Despite the missing aid station, the race had gone off flawlessly. I would certainly do this race again.

Now, time for the hot tub. ;oP


* A couple of quick notes about making it to Catalina Island. The last ferry out is at 7pm, and you have to check in at 6pm to keep your ferry ticket. LAX-Long Beach can be as much as a two hour shuttle (although JetBlue and others allow you to fly into Long Beach directly) so you have to fly in fairly early. I gave myself four hours of flex time, and still didn't make it. When I called to cancel my hotel/etc., all the Catalina vendors kept their deposits and pre-pays, gave me a one year credit. Just be forewarned - you can be out hundreds of dollars if you don't make it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Is anandamide behind the human will to thrive?

For those of you following my "anandamide" thread (for a description, check out "What Is The Runner's High?"), here's an interesting article about anandamide in childhood development. Perhaps the runner's high is more primal than we think...


Pot Pediatrics

By Paul Armentano, AlterNet. Posted March 15, 2005.

More stories by Paul Armentano

Could the human body's own "marijuana" hold the key to a healthy and happy childhood? Scientists in Israel have posed the question, and their answer may surprise you.

Recently, researcher Ester Fride of the Behavioral Sciences Department of Israel's College of Judea and Samaria published a pair of scientific papers stating that the brain's cannabinoid receptors (receptors in the brain that respond pharmacologically to various compounds in cannabis as well as other endogenous compounds) and the naturally occurring messenger molecules that activate and bind to them (so-called endocannabinoids) "are present from the early stages of gestation" and may play "a number of vital roles" in human prenatal and postnatal development.

Writing in Neuroendocrinology Letters and the European Journal of Pharmacology, Fride suggests, "A role for the endocannabinoid system for the human infant is likely."

She notes that in animals, the endogenous cannabinoid system fulfills several important developmental functions, including: embryonal implantation (which requires a temporary and localized reduction in the production of the endocannabinoid anandamide), neural development, neuroprotection, the development of memory and oral-motor skills, and the initiation of suckling in newborns.

A dysfunctional endocannabinoid system, Fride speculates, may be responsible for certain abnormalities in infants, particularly "failure-to-thrive" syndrome, a condition in which newborns fail to properly grow and gain weight. (In animal studies, mice fail to gain weight and die within the first week of life when their cannabinoid receptors are blocked.)

Nevertheless, the author does not recommend that pregnant mothers consume cannabis, noting that a handful of studies have observed subtle cognitive deficiencies in offspring with prenatal exposure to pot. (At present, there exists little consensus within the scientific community as to whether infrequent cannabis use may impair postnatal development, as various studies have yielded conflicting results.)

Fride does, however, strongly recommend the use of cannabinoids in pediatric medicine. She notes that "excellent clinical results" have been reported in pediatric oncology and in case studies of children with severe neurological diseases or brain trauma, and suggests that cannabis-derived medicines could also play a role in the treatment of other childhood syndromes, including the pain and gastrointestinal inflammation associated with cystic fibrosis.

Because the development of the cannabinoid receptor system appears to occur gradually over the course of childhood, "children may be less prone to the psychoactive side effects of THC or endocannabinoids than adults," Fride writes. "Therefore, it is suggested that children may respond positively to the medicinal applications of cannabinoids without [psychoactive] effects." She concludes, "The medical implications of these novel developments are far reaching and suggest a promising future for cannabinoids in pediatric medicine" for conditions including cachexia (severe weight loss), cystic fibrosis, failure-to-thrive, anorexia, inflammation, and chronic pain.

"It's clear that the cannabinoid system is essential for complete human development, and that cannabis medicines have a great potential to help sick children," says University of Southern California professor Mitch Earlywine, author of the book, Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence. "Given the well established safety of the medication, clinical trials for other disorders, particularly cystic fibrosis and 'failure-to-thrive,' seem a humane and essential next step."

Paul Armentano is the senior policy analyst for the NORML Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Xterra - The Next Big Name in Trail Running?

When Xterra announced the 2005 schedule for their wildly successful off-road triathlon series earlier this month, there were some new additions to the program that included team-style adventure racing, snowshoeing and winter race events, and a trail running Scramble Series. At first this wasn't a surprise - Xterra has had 5k and 10k runs on the same courses as their triathlons for the last couple of years, mostly to reach out to those who would prefer to avoid the swim and bike. But the press release had one line that indicated Xterra might have a growing appetite for trail running:

"[the 2005 schedules includes] 15 trail running races, expanding to 50-75 races in the future."

If this is true, Xterra could be bringing a point series to short course trail running similar to their wildly popular Xterra triathlon series. And with Xterra's successful sponsorship and TV coverage, it could boost the sport to a whole new level. Xterra has done a great job creating an international triathlon pro circuit chasing over $500k in prize money around the globe, and an "adventure lifestyle brand" similar to Ironman. I was excited at the possibility and thought I would dig around a bit.

After getting more info, I didn't find any indications that Xterra is creating an international point series anytime soon, but was happy to see that they will be applying their growth engine to trail running. All the facts to date indicate that Xterra is using trail running to "grow" a larger audience for their outdoor adventures, particularly as they create destination events for more of their big races. Each of the seven announced races (the other eight are yet to be announced) work with local race promoters to put on a 5k and 10k, often using the same two-lap course that will be used for the Xterra triathlons. Each race begins with a free Xterra University trail running clinic as part of the entry fee. Awards go down the the "9 and under" category, showing an interest in getting folks hooked early. And a few of them have even listed the event as "run/walks", opening up their audience to just about anyone with a pair of shoes.

A new point series in the making? Doesn't sound like it. Raising interest in trail running? Definitely. Free trail running clinics that invites kids of all ages will help encourage a healthy lifestyle and appreciation for the outdoors, and is likely to turn up the next Dean Karnazes or Monica Scholz. I will keep my fingers crossed that they might create a bigger series in the future.

- SD

P.S. - Thanks for all the e-mails welcoming me to the Catalina Marathon next Saturday. I look forward to meeting you all!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

2005 Trail Runner Trophy Series Runners Hit the Dirt, Take Early Leads

Trail Runner Magazine has already tallied up points from the first weekend and put out the below press release. They are also posting results/rankings here.



CARBONDALE, COLO. MARCH 9, 2005 – BANG! With the sun rising over the East Coast on Saturday, March 5, race starter’s pistols signaled the commencement of Trail Runner Magazine’s 2005 Trail Runner Trophy Series—the largest trail-running series in the world. Sponsored by La Sportiva and other outdoor companies, the Trophy Series is a seven-month-long points-based competition with two categories: Marathon and Shorter Distances and Ultra Distances.

The Series’ opening day featured four Trophy Series races and gave several hundred Trophy Series participants a leg up on their competition. Scott Dunlap, who narrowly won last year’s Trophy Series Title (Marathon & Under Division), was one of the competitors. "Last year proved that every point counts, and it's best to get on the board early,” he said, “But with over 130 races left, the Series is far from over." Dunlap won the Redwood Trails Palo Alto Vista Trail Marathon in Palo Alto, California, placing him at the top of the early overall standings for the Marathon & Under Division. Beatrice Song of Sunnyvale, California, won the women’s marathon.

Out East, Dale Reicheneder of Malibu, California, and Monika Bracken of Castleton, Virginia, won the Seneca Creek Greenway Trail Marathon in Damascus, Maryland. Just a few degrees latitude south, at the Umstead Trail Marathon in Raleigh, North Carolina, Mike Aldrink and Leanna House, both from nearby Durham, were victorious.

In the Ultra Division (races longer than 26.2 miles), Karl Meltzer of Sandy, Utah, won the Old Pueblo 50-Miler in the old-West environs of Sonoita, Arizona. Emily Baer of Silverton, Colorado, won the women’s race. For their sweaty efforts, Meltzer and Baer pounced on the early Ultra Division lead.

For more information on the 2005 Trail Runner Trophy Series and the Grand Prize package of a trip for two to the 2006 Dolomite Sky Race in Italy, provided by title sponsor and leading trail-running shoe company La Sportiva, visit

# # #

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Racing on the Ridge - Palo Alto Vista Marathon, 3/05

200 runners arrived at the Skyline Open Space Preserve just as the sun cooked the morning fog down below the trail level. The Palo Alto Vista Run was the first race of the spring season (and 2005 Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series), and the first sunny day in weeks. No surprise it was a sold out event. Mud be damned, we were going to have fun!

Breathtaking views of the Skyline Open Space Preserve

Eric Gould and the Redwood Trails volunteers put on a wonderful event. For racers, there was a well-marked and well-stocked two loop course with 5k, 10k, 1/2 marathon, and marathon distances. Guests were treated to live acoustic music as they soaked up the sun in their beach chairs, with kids and dogs exploring the landscape speckled with the first signs of Spring. It was a great way to spend the morning.

I entered the marathon, joining a handful of others at the starting line at 7:30am. The sun hadn't quite dried up the muddy trail, so the first 10k loop was a slippery run up and down two 800' vertical foot mountains. I had pulled out far enough I couldn't see the other runners behind me, but I knew they were back there. Thomas Workman was running second, holding a steady pace through the ups and downs. Not too far behind him were the inseperable Beatrice Song and Rich Hornstra, smiling far too much for a marathon morning. Just a few steps behind them was Chuan Gao, a 12-time Boston qualifier (ran it twice) trying her hand at only her second trail marathon. On mile four, I had a local pacer join me as well - a fox jumped out on the trail and led me out for about 200 yards., kicking up mud and water as it turboed away. Looking at the petite paw prints I realized that, under all that red hair, a fox isn't much bigger than Rocky the pug. But a heck of a lot faster!

The second part of the first loop was pleasant, although there were a couple of 18+ degree hills to keep your training honest. I came in at the halfway point at around 1 hr 40 min, feeling pretty good. The second loop was going to be much dryer, as the sun had warmed enough you could see the the steam coming off the trail. The 1/2 marathoners and 10k runners had already started, so we had more company on that second loop. There were some fast runners careening down the trail - Delphine Verde, John Burton, and the super-fast Mara Rieden were setting the pace for the 1/2 marathon, while Ronald Little and Redwood Trail regular Amy Chi were upstoppable in the 10k. Eric Gould had given me the number 1 bib, and he must have said something at the start, for everyone I passed was giving me a high-five and calling me by name. As marathoners can attest, that's just the kind of thing you need around mile 18.

I kept the sub-8 pace right up until mile 20, when a mild stomach discomfort quickly turned into a vomit-fest. This was a new experience for me, but in retrospect, it was the first time I had tried to take in over 350 calories an hour. Turns out, that's something you want to test before a race. I got back on the trail, but within a few miles my legs started seizing with cramps due to the loss of water and electrolytes. It was dawning on me that vomiting was causing a whole chain reaction of issues, and it wasn't something I was going to be able to fix in the next four miles. My 7:45 min miles quickly turned into 11 min run/walks, and I felt lucky to cross the finish line in less than 4 hours. Soon after, I sat in the parking lot and watched my legs sieze out of control for the next 10 minutes. To all my friends whom I scoffed at when they said they had cramps, I take it all back now. It's very hard to keep a pace when your legs don't do what you ask them too and scream back in pain with every step.

The win was enough for 104.8 points in the Trophy Series, a great way to start the season. But clearly I have some fine tuning to do before the Catalina Marathon in a couple of weeks.