Checking in…..

11 Jun

I took a break from the blog world for the last few weeks. Things got just a little too busy at work, at home, Son’s 8th grade graduation, birthdays, etc

However, as planned I have been hitting the trails. There are several open space areas nearby, and this is where I have been making my home lately. I do my shorter runs at Lime Ridge, a small open space area about 3 miles away. Then there is Shell Ridge open space, nestled between Concord and Walnut Creek, which offers steeper hills with a mix of fire roads and technical single track. But by far, my favorite place to run is this wonderful mountain, Mt Diablo – the Devil’s Mountain.

mt_diablo1

I always attack from the north side of the mountain. You can park for free in the neighborhoods spread across the foothills, and its less crowded. My favorite time to hit the mountain trails is early Sunday morning. I’m usually the first to park at the trailhead. By the time I’m done, 3-4 hours later, I will have encountered 4-5 hikers/runners, and perhaps as many mountain bikers.

My last jaunt through the hills took longer than expected.

Mt Diablo – north face 9.6m

Sometime after 2 hours, I lost my trail map. I had just made my way to Prospector’s Gap and was headed downhill through Eagle’s Peak. I never saw the side trail off to the right headed back to the trailhead. Instead I ended up at Twin Peaks then Mitchell Rock. This was a very difficult and technical trail section. very steep in places and very rocky. I fell on my ass a few times. I made it back unscathed. Though now, eight days later, I’m finding small dots of poison oak here and there. Nothing serious – probably resulted from when I slid on the rocky sections.

But, by far the best run I’ve had this year! Whew!!

Anyone watching the World Cup??

mexicosoccerball_300

Guess who I’m cheering for???

How I spent my Easter break

20 Apr

Since running the LA Marathon back on Mar 21st, I’ve run exactly 4 times. After taking about a week to recover, I took to the local trail at the Lime Ridge Open Space preserve. It felt great to get away from traffic and off the pavement, and follow the ups and downs of a hilly trail. Then Easter break hit, and I haven’t run since.

This year, for Easter, My daughter and I volunteered to travel to Mexico to build homes for those in need. The day before Easter, we joined about 65 other adults and teenagers, as we caravanned to Tijuana, Baja California. This was our first year traveling with this group, made up of volunteers from local catholic churches in Concord, CA. Last year, we had made similar preparations to travel to TJ, but the violence related to the drug cartel wars had frightened many families. The decision to not go left me feeling empty. Although the drug war continues, the violence has been contained within the warring drug families. No harm has come to Americans, particularly the hundreds who travel to Mexico during the year on these type of missions. So the trip was on for this year.

After an overnight stop at Loyola-Marymount university, we arrived at the border north of Tijuana on Easter Sunday. I was traveling in a van with 8 teenagers and one adult. Although there was much frivolity on the US side, the quiet was deafening once we crossed into Mexico. As I looked back on their faces, all I saw were astonished looks. Most of these kids had never traveled out of state, much less to a 3rd world country. Though they tried to hide it, one could sense their shock at the deep contrast in living conditions. Here they were in a place where buildings are crumbling from disrepair, basic sanitation is not a given, and some houses are made of cardboard. there are scattered new government subdivision, but the housing units very small and very expensive.

Finally we arrived at our campsite on the grounds of one of the local churches. Over the next 4 days, we would build one new 3 bedroom house from the ground up, plus custom additions at two other sites. Together we put up the frame, applied stucco and new roofs, and installed drywall.

The neighborhood of La Morita is a mix of dirt and decaying roads. There are open markets selling corn on the cob, grilled meats, and various clothes. There are thin, flea infested, stray dogs everywhere. In the midst of all this are an amazing people. The love and support we receive from the community was overwhelming. Most people don’t have running water, some no electricity. Some do not even have enough to eat. Yet they invited us into their homes. The heads of the three homes we are working on, were all women. It was not clear how large each family was. However, they all joined us, in whatever way they could, particularly in applying stucco. What was most heartening were the kids. Many of the US kids have taken Spanish in school, their Mexican counterparts know a few English words. Yet, all they need to do is smile and they connected easily.

The work was at time difficult (it rained on the first work day, and very hot on the 3rd). But we had many willing hands and we accomplished much. At the end of the last building day, we  gathered together with the families and had a simple home blessing. We were uneasy as we gathered out tools to leave. Over the last few days, we had opened our hearts to each other and had somehow become ‘family’. Later, as we returned to our campsite and finally crashed out, I felt emotionally and physically spent, yet spiritually energized.

On our final day, there was excitement in the air as we packed up. Traditionally, our group has a crafts party for the neighborhood kids on our departure date. Sure enough, there was a long line of kids and parents at the camp entrance. Once we opened the gates, the kids rush in to partake of the various craft activities, play with the giant parachute, or join in a soccer game. One activity which they all looked forward to, in particular, was creating custom foto frames. We take a foto of each kid with a digital camera and print it out on an attached printer and computer. For some families, this is the only family picture they may have.

After a few hours, we finally left to return home. This was the most difficult time for me. I didn’t want to leave. Although I looked forward to seeing my family again, like with any vacation, I dreaded the thought of returning to work, commutes, bills, mortgages, and mowing the lawn. We left behind new friends. Friends likes Guadalupe, smiling ear to ear as we finished her new home; or Jesus, who provided camp security and showed me even an old guy can hang with the young soccer studs; or Benjamin, the fastest dry wall installer I’ve ever seen. We left them with wishes that they stay well and strong. Wishes that they overcome their struggles and realize what they want in life. Wishes that God will keep them close. Wishes that we see each other again soon.

We returned to Concord, CA on Sunday, and I went back to work on Monday. It took me 4 days to shake off the emotional and physical fatigue. It took me another week before I finally strapped on my trail shoes for a short run. My knees had taken a  beating and had finally recovered. And the trails have never looked so inviting……

Into the Woods..

26 Mar

Yesterday marked the earliest I have reached 300 miles in a year!  I guess there’s still some life in these old legs.

After taking 4 days off to rest up from the LA Marathon, I drove to my daughter’s school, dropped off the car, and ran home. My daughter had a track meet and would not be back till later. On the run back home, I got caught in a thunderstorm, which actually felt great. Today all effects of the marathon are gone. No stiffness or achiness.

The photos from the marathon are also available now online. A little pricey, and they didn’t really catch a good one of me running. I’m debating whether to get one of these:

no 5 This is me at about the 25 mile mark. Note the ear plugs. By the end of a marathon, for whatever reason, my hearing gets really sensitive. Usually its because of cranked up music or older brothers nagging me to keep going🙂. So this time, I decided to wear plugs when I couldn’t handle all the noise. They worked pretty well, though I could hear my shoes pounding the pavement.

no 3 This is me right at the finish. The happiest guy on the face of planet earth. I was going to stop and do my Usain Bolt pose. But, I was too out of it.

no 11

Tonight I was all set to sit my big butt in front of the tube and watch my alma mater, St. Mary’s College of California, take on 3rd seed Baylor in the NCAA sweet 16. Alas, I forgot my wife and I had bought tickets to watch one of her music students in their school’s production of Into the Woods. Maybe I can sneak in my transistor radio?  I’m sure my Gaels are going to pounding the Bears senseless!!

Finally, this weekend marks my return to trail running. I’m not leaving road running entirely. I just need to refresh and running Into the Woods has always been the way to do it. And live happily ever after!!

Miguel

LA Marathon recap

23 Mar

I’m back home now with a bit of soreness in the quads, but otherwise I’m feeling pretty good. here’s a recap of my experience during the LA Marathon.

Saturday, woke up at 4:15 am to get ready to the drive to Dodger Stadium. I was traveling with my sister , her husband and one of their friends. Her husband was not running, and  besides driving us to the start, was planning on meeting us at different spots on the course.

Things didn’t look good as we approached the turnoff to the Pasadena Freeway, which runs right next to the stadium. There was a huge back up to the off ramp. Cars were moving about 100 yards every 10 minutes. We decided to try taking the streets instead. We got as close as Echo Park and had to walk about 1.5 miles to the stadium. We later heard that some people got so desperate to get to the stadium that they abandoned their cars on the freeway.

I easily got to the 11 minute marker at 7am, about 30 minutes before the scheduled start. However, the start was moved out about 20 minutes due to some difficulties. I can’t tell you how much I now hate Randy Newman’s “I Love LA.”  they must have played that song about 100 times while we waited. I met some interesting people. Met a guy running in Vibram Five Fingers, a girl who plans on running Bay to Breakers in the nude (it’s on her bucket list), even someone from Australia.

The first 6 miles had some nice small hills which weren’t too bad. At mile 2, someone tried to jump the tie down ropes holding up the air filled marker, failing badly. The mid part of the balloon marker started to collapsed on the runners underneath.  I managed to get around it. After mile 6, the course flattened out a bit. I was running at my planned pace, but it was starting to get hot and, for me anyway, humid. There was water at each mile, and it helped a little, but I could feel my leg getting heavy. I ran into my brother and brother-in-law at mile 8 and sucked up some orange slices they had ready. 

By the 13 mile mark, I was struggling. I was wondering how much hotter it was going to get and whether I’d be able to get through this. I didn’t even notice any of the Hollywood landmarks. I perked up in West Hollywood when I thought I saw some college cheerleaders about a quarter mile up. Imagine my shock when I realized they were transvestites! Talk about adding misery to my pain.

To this point, the crowds were out at each neighborhood, handing out water, oranges, even Vaseline. However, Beverly Hills seemed empty in comparison. That dreariness was wiped away as I approached the VA grounds. The runners were met by swarms of high school cheerleaders. It looked like there was about 10-12 different schools trying to outdo each other. Although it was short-lived, it was very uplifting.  This was right in the middle of the last 6-7 miles of slight upgrade.  I had been getting bad cramps since the 13 mile mark, but this last uphill section was killing me. I had to walk about 1/3 mile for every 2/3 I ran wobbled. My brother jumped in and tried to pace me from mile 20 on to the finish. However, his constant jabbering and Rocky references were driving me nuts. I finally had to tell him to shut the hell up! But, he ignored me and continued to accompany me. About this time, I started to feel the cooling breezes from the ocean.

Finally turned the corner on Ocean Avenue and looked out to see thousands of people lining the last mile stretch. I could make out the 26 mile marker and the finish just beyond. So close and yet so very far. I put more effort into the final yards but pulled up with 1/2 mile to go with more cramps down my left leg. At last, I crossed the finish. Hands up in triumph, a stupid grin on my face.

PLUS & MINUSES

PLUS – great course, great place for the finish

MINUS -  the net loss in elevation was overstated. The uphill sections were long, and the downhills short and abrupt

PLUS – high school cheerleaders – such energy!

MINUS – Transvetite cheerleaders – I was fooled. What can I say?

PLUS – water at every mile, Powerade at every odd mile

MINUS – warm Powerade sucks.

PLUS -  thousands of high school kids from the Students Run LA program – what a great idea – now in its 12th year.

PLUS – fantastic support from the surrounding communities. great way to bring the city together

MINUS – not enough porta-potties at the start, even counting the washrooms inside the stadium. The lines were too long. And whose bright ideas was it to have the route go between the porta-potties and the start line?

PLUS – big brothers who stick by you till the end – no matter how much you tell them to get lost

MINUS – the finisher’s medal – you’d think they come up with a cool design for the 25th anniversary

LA Marathon short recap

21 Mar

It’s all done!

I didn’t BQ – LOL !! – but I wasn’t looking to anyway. Not that big a deal.

I was hoping for a 4:40 something time, averaging an 11 min pace.

But the course turned out to be a little to warm and humid for me in the first half. I was bothered by leg cramps from about 13 miles till the end. I finished in 5:46 –  about an hour later than I was hoping. But that doesn’t bother me. I’m glad I persevered and gutted it out till the finish – with some help from my brother, who bitched at me paced for the last 6 miles. Ha ha – he was talking way too much, trying to get me not stop, but I was in such tormet from the cramps, that I finally told to just shut up. He just laughed and kept me going😉

Now, due to other commitments, I have about a 3 week period of somewhat inactivity. More on that on a later post

Miguel

4 days and counting….

17 Mar
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Just 4 days days until the LA Marathon. I’m trying not to think too much about it yet. but it is a little hard to focus at work.

I’ve cut back quite a bit from my training as I finish off the last taper week. I’ve been feeling really good the last few days. I’ve slept in for the last week or so, something I haven’t done in years. I’ve also have been eating everything in sight. Is it just me, or does everyone just naturally eat more during a taper? And, my belly is starting to stick out a little too much. Gotta watch all this carbo loading!!

There is one down side to flying down from Northern California to LA for the marathon. I signed up for this back in December. Well, my daughter is going to her junior prom this Saturday. This is her first prom and she is so excited!. My wife took her to buy a prom dress recently. Since I’m not going to be around, she modeled it for me on Monday. wow! My little baby girl has really grown up. I can’t believe how great she looked. She promised to take a zillion pictures for me. Still…I’m kind of sad I’ll be missing this big event.

So, I’m flying into Burbank on Friday and hitting up the expo that afternoon. Then, I’m going to relax with family and friends all day Saturday. And, I’m not going to even take a sip of beer, as tempting as that will be. I’m not young anymore. Gone are the days of partying till 2am, and running a 1:45 half marathon after 4 hours sleep!

Just checked the forecast and it looks like temperatures will rise into the low 70s. That’s going to be hot considering all my long runs have been in 50 degree weather. If anything kicks my butt, it will be the sun.

Taper week # 2

11 Mar

 

Only 10 days until the LA Marathon  I’m not getting too freaked out about it yet.

Last week, I took an extra recovery day after my last long run of 24 miles. I did a short 5.5 mile easy run midweek. At Johann’s suggestion, I kept my long run to 13 miles on Sunday. Then this week, I threw in a couple of 5 mile runs.

I hate tapers. The runs seem so blah. Or perhaps, I’m just fatigued from all the long runs. Then I started to feel these aches similar to when I had a calf injury a couple of years ago. Back then, I had to take 3 weeks off to let my body repair itself. Last week, I started feeling the same twinges in my calf. Thankfully, it went away once I got going. Since then, my heels and knees have felt sore and my legs have felt stiff and heavy.  Maybe this means I really ready for LA.

Anyway, I felt I needed a change. For today’s run, after a mile warmup, I took to the trails. Sprinting up and down the dirt hills felt fabulous! This was way better than doing 800 intervals. And I felt great afterwards. I even had a spring in my step.

In a way, I’m looking forward to getting the marathon out of the way; getting away from the asphalt and cement roads, and all the traffic. I can’t wait to get back to the trails….

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