0.0 : I Don’t Run — Or Do I?

I’m not a runner. I have never liked running. Running was a horrible punishment for my high school Women’s Swim Team when we still had 2 months left of the semester after the Fall sport season was over. Insult to injury was that they’d throw us out there to run around the track with the cross country team. Nothing like struggling to run a mile around a track with the cross country guys effortlessly lapping you without breaking a sweat. Back then I’d swear that my lungs crystallized over whenever I had to run. I considered myself lucky if I could run an entire .25 mile lap without having to stop to walk.

I have the lungs of a guppy too. Don’t think that I’ve got some massive lung capacity with my swimming and cycling resume. I can’t make it across a 25 yard pool in a single breath. If we’re ever stuck in a flooding chamber, you can bet that I’m going to drown first. Somehow the rest of my body seems to manage to compensate for the fact that I need to breathe at a higher rate than most people. Thanks to swimming and cycling, I have a well developed cardiovascular system with a max heart rate of a 23-year-old even though I’m 42 years old.

Fast forward about 25 years to when I’m on my semi-annual trip to visit my family in Lima, Peru. My normal routine in Lima involves visiting family, eating a bunch of food, and holding down an aunt’s couch with a book and tea. I am pretty much on complete vacation from even my fitness routine when in Lima since I don’t have access to a pool, gym, or road bike (and Heaven help you if you decide to try road cycling in Lima). My fitness level goes downhill there slowly turning me into a soft round shape. Unfortunately there was one obvious solution for getting a cardio workout in when there which was *running*. Ugh.

Do I need to remove the bottom sticker on my locker at South End Rowing Club now?

My friend Enrique has been trying to get me to run for years. He managed to drop me on a run around the block once years ago that was supposed to be a negative split on all 4 sides. I’m pretty sure grannies could have beat my last block length time. If anything, I hate having to do anything with a time pressure.

In November 2019 though I was down in Lima with a huge sense of dread that I was going to have to actually go on my first run in 25 years. Luckily my Tia Chito lives right on the coast so I’d at least have an ocean view while making the rest of me miserable. The first day I managed to run 2 miles, which tied the longest that I’d ever ran back in my obese high school physique days. For those who think I’m joking about obese, I weighed 165 pounds at my senior year physical and 180+ pounds by the time I *started* college. So not a huge surprise that I could run 2 miles when weighing 25 – 45 pounds less now. My calves were killing me the next morning and stretching didn’t help at all. I dragged myself out for another run though as I was going to get some cardio while on vacation even if it killed me. Interesting to think that those legs could ride a bike 200 miles and be taken down by a 2 mile run. I did another run on Day 3 even though my legs were begging me to not do it. I was feeling sore just walking around town now. I’d make a futile attempt to stretch my calves while waiting for the shower water to heat up. Only stubbornness was getting me out the door every morning. My last day of running was very joyous knowing that I wouldn’t have to run ever again, or at least for a long time since this was a quick trip so I’d be heading back home tonight. I was impressed that I managed to do 4 runs even though none of them were longer than half an hour.

4 days of running in Lima

Something horrible happened that last afternoon though when my right hip joint flared up and hurt with just weight on it along with walking. I needed to use my arms to help bend my leg at the joint. I had no doubt that my pelvis and hip joint were still in tact from the reconstructive in 2011. I was worried though on why I was feeling this pain. I don’t feel pain in my hip joints often and it’s usually random breakthrough pain that’s hard to pinpoint what caused it. This pain was more sustained though and I called my surgeon’s office at Stanford Hospital as soon as I got home. The pain went away after a few days, but I still wanted to see him to discuss what happened.

I met with Dr. Bellino for an emergency appointment on 20 December 2019. He said that the impact of running on the asphalt most likely caused the joint to hurt. He recommended only running every other day and/or on a softer surface like dirt. He likes that I’m cycling and swimming since that isn’t any pressure on the joints. 🙂

Enrique was back in SF for a hot minute to get the rest of his stuff as he, his wife, and their cute puppy were moving to Puerto Rico, where he’s from, sooner than they’d planned. After discussing things with him, he suggested trail running also. I consider EJ to be a close friend and mentor so I take all of his words of advice with a lot of weight as I trust him. I at least wanted something that I could do when traveling and didn’t have reasonable access to swim or ride. Trail running could combine my love of being outdoors in nature with getting some cardio in. Sure, I’ll try this.

Enrique and me catching up over beers. We discussed my recent hip pain from running on sidewalks and he suggested to try trail running.

In January I was visiting friends in Grass Valley and decided to go for a quick 2.4 mile run around Empire Mine. This was my first real run on a dirt trail. Despite the air being cold, I was impressed that I was able to finish the run without feeling like I wanted to die by the end. I felt accomplished and glad it was over when I got back to my car, but I could have gone further. I was not feeling any pain in my calves or hip joints afterwards.

Over about the next several weeks I’d do a 2 – 3 mile run every so often if I needed a quick cardio workout, but it was hard to get me to do it. I had plans to run in Singapore and Thailand while on vacation, but decided Singapore was too humid and I’d only run in Thailand early in the morning (maybe). It still didn’t really feel like a workout though aside from my body hating me since each run was only about half an hour at the most compared to multiple hours that I can spend cycling, swimming, hiking, and cross-country skiing. My only plan though was to just do some “maintenance” of 2 – 3 miles so I could run with some relative ease when traveling away from home.

Wildflowers on San Bruno Mountain

23 February 2020 was the 27 year anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s death. I had piloted a RIB for a swim at South End that morning. I’d eyed the Summit Loop at San Bruno Mountain State and County Park for awhile to go for a trail run. I decided to go for it that day on my way home. The uphill part sucked and reminded me of cycling where I know I’ll be glad when I get to the top as there should be a nice descent shortly afterwards. I dragged my sorry butt up that climb and loved the views of the Peninsula. I knew that I could easily run along the ridge once I got to the top and then had the fun of the switchbacks all the way back down. I consider downhill mileage to be bonus mileage since it takes a lot less effort to go down them than up in both cycling and running. The balls of my feet hurt the next day from this run, but I’d managed to survive a 3.84 mile / 736′ run. I felt like I was finally starting to get into an area of these being real legit workouts. Maybe I could go further with this?

Panoramic view from Las Trampas Peak

A few days later I implemented a yearlong plan to surprise my friend Cathy at her work on her birthday, 26 February. The previous year all she did for her birthday was go to Masters swim practice, work, then a PB&J sandwich at home before going to bed early (BS in my book!). So I’d decided a year ago that I was surprising her at her work and at least take her out to dinner. I was excited that the day finally arrived and the birthday girl was not suspicious at all when I asked her if she was going to work that day. Since East Bay traffic originates from the 9th circle of Dante’s Inferno, I went over to San Ramon early. My horrible plan was to go run up Las Trampas Peak to kill time while waiting for Cathy to get off from work. This would have been a great time to know a) elevation profiles and b) not all hikes make good trail runs. I had figured I could do a 4.25 trail run, but I didn’t pay attention to the little fact that it was 1080′ with most of that being in the first 1.5 miles. That uphill was all “I hope it’ll level off after this upcoming turn/bush…Oh crap it keeps going up….” I’m still not sure how I didn’t die on that run since my legs were definitely not happy with me. I managed to finish it along with the equally steep descent past a bunch of cows that I’m sure were laughing at me. It was worth it though to see the surprised look on Cathy’s face when I walked into her office. 🙂

Happy birthday Cathy!

A week later I needed to get in a quick workout so I decided to run at Pulgas Ridge. There was a 4.4 mile loop that I knew with a couple of other options to make it a bit longer. I loathed the uphill as always, but I enjoyed the quietness and being the only person out there at daybreak. It just amazes me that these preserves and parks are right next to city life, but you feel like you’re miles away especially when you can’t hear car traffic anymore. I did most of my run not seeing anyone. I decided at a junction to tack on another mile as I was feeling that I possibly had it in me to do a 5+ mile run that morning. I would have to try it to know if I’d regret it later. It ended up being a 5.5 mile / 1100′ run which the only part I really didn’t like was the part where I had to run on a paved path. Running on a paved path is like hiking on one to me where it kind of feels fake in a way. I’m a slow runner, but I seemed to have surprisingly good endurance. I’m not even sure where this endurance came from aside from having some cycling legs and a pretty regular cardio routine based on going distances for swimming and cycling.

A week later I decided that I could try running some more challenging routes in larger parks. I had mapped out a 10K distance at Wunderlich County Park. It was a bit daunting and I wasn’t entirely sure I could do it, but I wanted to try. For the most part to me Wunderlich was just a park that I passed by countless times on my bike between Old La Honda Road and Kings Mountain Road. I realized on this run that my “wall” is about the 2 – 3 mile mark where if I can get past that then I can keep going. Unfortunately on a lot of my runs, this is where I’m still going uphill and wondering why am I running. The foliage helps though and makes me feel like I’m more on a quick paced hike than a run as I easily get distracted by trees, leaves, squirrels, birds, etc.. I end up going too far up Skyline Trail which adds mileage to this run, but at least I know that I’ll run at least 10K today. I’m relieved when I know that it’s mostly downhill once I turn around on Skyline to head back down to the parking lot. I usually try to make my runs be a loop instead of an out-and-back so I can get different views and see more of where I am. Thanks to my extension this run ends up being a 7.3 mile / 1500′ run in 90 minutes, which I feel is finally a real workout and very respectable distance and climbing. My legs weren’t sore the next day. Could I run farther?

Of course now you know where this is going. The same part of my brain that made me push my swimming distance to 20 miles and cycling distance to 300K is now wondering if I can do a 10 mile run. After 7.3 miles, 10 miles actually seems within reach. I’d been hesitant too to sign up for the Strava 10K and Run Climbing (2000m) challenges since I wasn’t sure that I could complete either of them. Now they seemed within grasp, which completely baffled me.

Craig Britton Trail in Purisima Creek Redwoods

Less than a week later on St. Paddy’s Day 2020, I pick one of my favorites, Purisima Creek Redwoods, to do a 8/9/whatever mile run in. Honestly, I didn’t really calculate the distance when I was looking at the map and decided that the 8 mile mark towards the end of a loop was close enough for me. I was foolishly thinking of starting at the bottom and running up the 3 miles to the top and then take the easy gradient down the rest of the distance. Time constraints that morning made me start the top instead. I made a last minute decision to go down the steep 3 mile trail and take the long way to get back up as that would spread the climbing out over several miles instead of just 3 miles.

Purisima Creek Redwoods

A steep descent wasn’t fun, but it oddly left me feeling a bit warmed up to tackle the uphill. Once I got to the bottom, I immediately turned and started my way back up on the other side of the creek. I’m glad that I decided to run up this way and enjoy the scenery while running along the creek. I cut over onto Craig Britton Trail which is my kind of trail. It’s narrow and dense and I don’t see anyone else here the entire time. Sharp pain shoots out as my left ankle rolls outward about 7 miles into my run and I hobble a few feet. I know that I still have about 3 uphill miles to make it back to the car. I do a quick assessment and can still put weight on it without much pain. I’ve sprained that ankle several times in the past so it has so much scar tissue giving it a permanently swollen appearance. I have to feel to find any squishy inflammation. Life as an endurance athlete comes in handy here where I can figure out if I can reasonably carry on. The pain subsides quickly and I continue running with the thought in the back of my mind that it may hurt more later. I am pretty exhausted by the time I get back to the Harkins Ridge Trail. I make a deal with myself that I’ll walk all the steep parts and run the flatter parts of the trail. It seems weird otherwise to call it a “run” when I walked a bunch of it. One accidental wrong turn at the top leads the total distance to being 10.5 miles / 2400′! My left ankle wasn’t exactly happy when I got in the car. I was more elated and astonished that I actually ran 10 miles, let alone that it was far from being flat terrain. I immediately started treating the sprained ankle as soon as I got home. (Btw what’s it say when you’ve sprained your ankle so many times that you already have a brace, physical therapy bands/exercises, and ice packs for it?)

Fallen tree blocking the Skyline Trail at Wunderlich

A week later (aka a few days ago), my ankle was feeling okay after testing it out on a couple of hikes and a bike ride so I felt like I could do another run again. I wanted to go back to Wunderlich and do the full loop up Skyline Trail and back down Alambique Trail. This would be about another 10 miles / 2000′ run. Running ten miles just six days after a first degree sprain sounded a bit crazy to me too, but I also knew that most of the inflammation was gone. I would wear my ankle brace for extra support. I’d been wanting to see if I could get a faster overall time by starting up Bear Gulch Trail instead of Alambique Trail, but decided to just do the route that I knew going the opposite direction. A large tree had crashed down right across Skyline Trail blocking several feet of the trail. Against my better judgement, I decided to do a Class IV scramble around it while being careful not to dislodge any part of the tree. I’m rewarded with getting to see 2 barn owls fly across the trail right in front of me shortly after! It was foggy and significantly colder at the top of Skyline. I was glad that I was wearing gloves because the ligament damage in my left hand from a cycling accident last year renders most of my left hand pretty useless when it gets cold. I turn right from Skyline onto Alambique to start my descent down. I’m actually really enjoying this part since I feel pretty good and know the majority of climbing is over. My left ankle isn’t bothering me and I’m enjoying seeing the trees in the fog along with, of course, the solitude. I opt to not go down the super steep service road and unfortunately have to scramble around the fallen tree again. I catch glimpses of a few rabbits around the Meadows on my way back to the car. Somehow I’ve managed to pull off a 10 mile / 2000′ run again.

March 2020 Climbing Challenge of 2000 meters (6561.7 feet) completed! Wow!

I still don’t consider myself a runner. I’m still not entirely sure how I was able to pick up trail running so quickly either. If you had asked me in January if I could run 10 miles, I’d have laughed. The climbing challenge intimidated me also as I never would have guessed that I was capable of running 2000+ meters uphill in a single month. I can’t really explain how I was able to go from a 2.x mile run to a 10.x mile run in only 6 runs in a handful of weeks with increasing elevation gain also. Running isn’t natural for me. Some other friends agree with me since we feel prouder of finishing any run than we do a 60+ mile bike ride.

I have no desire to run a marathon or any other organized run event, especially not ultra-marathons (sorry Marcia, you’re on your own for those 100 – 400 mile runs!). I don’t like the competitive setting or running on pavement. I’m lucky that running on dirt doesn’t hurt my hip joints. I thought that I couldn’t run for the last 42 years so my small success with trail running has been a surprising experience. I like being able to get away from other people and like with hiking, just get out and enjoy nature while you happen to be getting in a cardio workout. Running isn’t my forte and is still a big challenge for me. It puts me out of my comfort zone, which is good to do that to yourself every once in a while. I’m not sure if it’ll ever get any easier for me. Trail running definitely reminds me of open water swimming where the terrain is always changing and no two runs are the exact same. I treat each run like riding up Tam with “just get to the next corner” and you’re at the top before you know it. I enjoy getting lost in the trees as I want the the sunrise, barn owls and bunnies scamper. I’m far away from the city alone with nature and my own thoughts at least for a couple of hours of the day which makes me happy.

Sunrise from Wunderlich County Park

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