A Runner's Story

Slow and steady finishes the race.

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The run that left me in stitches

Posted by vgriffey on June 27, 2010


At least smiling doesn't hurt.

Yesterday, I was doing a coached run with the team at Lake Merritt. I was planning to do two laps around the lake. On the first lap, I saw lots of dogs, a gaggle of fluffy goslings and a bird emerging from below the water with a fish in its mouth. I think I’ve mentioned before that my favorite things to see while running are dogs and wildlife, so you can imagine my day was going pretty well.

I was running well. My pace was on the fast side, usually staying in the 11- to 11.5-minute range. After my first lap, which I did clockwise, I turned around and headed back in the other direction. One of my teammates had missed the four-mile turnaround on her lap around the lake, so she’d gone about 3.3 miles. Because I have a Garmin, I told her to run with me and said I’d tell her when she needed to turn around to finish at four miles.

All cleaned up and ready to sew

What a great day, right? I’m running well. I’m doing my duty as a volunteer staff member for Team in Training by helping a participant reach her goal for the day. I’m seeing lots of animals. I’m flying through the air. I’m seeing the ground approach. I’m holding out my hands to try to break the fall. My chin is slamming against the concrete. My blood is spilling out onto the ground.

I was surprisingly calm after hitting the ground. I saw the blood, but I figured I wasn’t that badly hurt because I was conscious and able to move. One of my teammates ran up from behind and asked me if I was OK. I could tell she was worried because of all the blood, but I told her I would be all right. I was really close to a water stop, so I headed there. She ran ahead to tell them I was hurt. I had chipped a tooth once when I fell as a child, so I was running my tongue all along my teeth to make sure nothing felt different, and nothing did. Phew.

Bloody shirt, bloody shoes, bloody name-tag button

Everyone at the water stop was really helpful. They had first-aid supplies. I grabbed some paper towels to start applying pressure to my chin. I knew it would seem like forever before the blood stopped, but I was confidant it would. A pediatrician on our team arrived at the stop and saw what was going on. She flushed out the wound with some water and put some Band-Aids on it. I kept applying pressure after that. The blood kept coming, but it seemed to be slowing down.

I decided I didn’t want to continue around the lake. I needed to stop the bleeding. At first I thought I could walk the rest of the way, but then I thought better of it. I was starting to get cold, so I borrowed a jacket. I was still pretty calm, but I was getting a little bit of a bad feeling by then. Several people had mentioned that it looked like I’d need stitches. I was tightening up from the run because I hadn’t stretched after stopping. I needed to sit down and wait to get a ride back to the start of our run.

Those dark spots are my dried blood.

Everyone who came by was making sure I was OK. I was so glad to be out with the team that day instead of on my own. I didn’t have to wait very long for a ride, and when I got back to the start, our team manager, Kerri, offered to take me to the hospital. I had been thinking I could make it there on my own, but I’m really glad she talked me into letting her take me. Independence is a great thing, but sometimes one just needs to let others take the reins.

I was in pretty good spirits. Kerri drove me to the hospital and stayed with me until the stitches were in. She even took pictures for me! The ER wasn’t too busy, and they fast-tracked me, so we were probably only at the hospital for about an hour and half. Kerri took me home. She even drove to her house, picked up a gel-pack and drove back to my house to give it to me to use to ice my wound.

The circle toward the right side of this end of the metal plate is the bolt I tripped over. I landed really close to the bottom of the green lamppost. Glad I didn't hit my head on that!

Things weren’t too bad. I was thinking of the whole incident as an adventure. I would heal up. It wasn’t a wound that would keep me from running, and that’s the best kind of running injury to get. I’ve posted a bunch of pictures on Facebook. It’s been kind of fun, just another story to tell.

Later yesterday I realized that I had chipped a tooth, way in the back of my mouth on the top. I looked a it with two mirrors. A pretty good chunk of tooth is missing, so I don’t know why I didn’t notice it at first. It was hurting yesterday, though. I ran cold water over it, chewed with it. Nothing hurt. No sensitivity. I knew I’d have to go see a dentist, but I wasn’t very worried about it.

There's a chunk missing from that last molar.

Then today it did get sensitive, even to room-temperature water. I also noticed that the same molar on the other side of my mouth didn’t feel quite right. I looked at it with the mirrors, and I think there is a tiny piece missing. I’m not sure. Now I’m a little worried, though. It seems like my teeth are crumbling away. I’ll be calling a dentist first thing in the morning. I know it will all turn out fine — but at what cost? My credit cards are really hating me for this fall.

Today I was hanging out with my friend Maritessa. Some streets were closed to car traffic for a few hours for Oaklavia, so we went to check it out. It was cool walking up a carless Broadway again — just like running up it on marathon day in March. We walked all the way up to Grand, then over to the lake. Then I suggested we head over to where I had fallen and check out the scene.

Here's how it looked this morning. Sewn up and really bruised. It was a really hard fall.

It took some hunting around, but I finally found the drops of blood where I’d fallen. The first drop that I remember seeing fall to the ground, then the drops that were falling as I stood up. I remembered some kind of metal plate on the sidewalk and knew that something about it had made me fall. I remember it seeming flush with the ground, though, so I wasn’t sure how I could have tripped over it. Today I saw that there was a bolt sticking up from one end of it, and I’m sure that’s what I tripped over.

I think the distance from the bolt to the first drop of blood was 10-12 feet. Taking my height into account, that means I flew 5-7 feet through the air after tripping and before hitting the ground. Pretty impressive!

I most likely will have a scar on my chin. Scars don’t bother me much, though. I have a bunch of them: a big one on my knee from the childhood fall that also resulted in a chipped tooth, a bunch from fights with my sister when we were kids, one from some boiling strawberry pie filling that flew out of a pan onto my arm, one from my arm hitting a roasting pan when I was making some delicious chicken, a couple from my appendectomy last year, one from getting chafed once from my heart-rate monitor.

You get the picture. All the scars hold memories. Some good, some bad, but none that I particularly want to forget. Battle scars, war wounds, stories to tell. I just hope my teeth aren’t too expensive to fix!

What was the worst fall you’ve taken while running? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

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Running high

Posted by vgriffey on June 3, 2010

Trail near my friends' home in Santa Fe

Trail near my friends' home in Santa Fe

I just spent five days visiting friends in Santa Fe, a city that’s above 7,000 feet in elevation. I was hoping to get in at least one run while I was there, so I brought my running shoes and clothes.

That’s one of the great things about running. It’s easy to do on vacation, wherever you go. You don’t need a gym. You don’t need any equipment that won’t fit into a suitcase. A vacation doesn’t have to be a vacation from running unless you want it to be — and who wants that?

I knew the elevation would make the run harder than usual. I waited until the fourth day of my trip before I tried running. I thought after a few days I’d be somewhat acclimated, but that run was still pretty hard.

It was also hotter than it is when I normally run. The temperature reached into the 80s that day in Santa Fe. I don’t know exactly how hot it was when I was out for my run, but it was around noon when I left, so it was definitely warming up.

I managed to run a little over two miles in nearly 26 minutes. That’s about normal for my pace, but I struggled to get through the run. My lungs were hurting less than halfway into the run, and the heat really got to me. The sun was pressing down on me from above, and the warmed pavement sent heat floating up from below.

I had woken up around 6:30 that morning, and it occurred to me then that I should just get up and go for a run then take a nap later if I needed it. If I had done that, I would have had just the elevation to deal with. But alas, I went back to sleep and didn’t get out to run until midday.

I wish I hadn’t been suffering quite so much during the run. I would’ve liked to enjoy the scenery more. I love the high-desert vegetation and colors in Santa Fe. Unfortunately, the photo I posted here doesn’t do them justice. You’ll have to go see for yourself sometime.

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Early in the morning

Posted by vgriffey on May 27, 2010

Early morning view from Clark Kerr Track in Berkeley

Early morning view from Clark Kerr Track in Berkeley

Today was the first of many 5:50 a.m. track workouts I’ll be enduring this season with Team in Training.

Boy, did I not want to get out of bed when my alarm went off this morning. I woke up several times last night, so I didn’t get a very good night’s rest.

I forced myself to get up, though, because I knew I had a job to do. I not only had to do the workout. I also had to snap photos for our team’s website.

Once I got there, out in the cool morning air, I felt much more awake. Our coach spent some time talking about form and breathing. We did a warmup lap and some stretching, and we each ran 13-17 minutes around the track. Nothing too hard to handle.

I know these workouts will get tougher when we begin our circuit drills and hill training, and I’m sure I’ll look back fondly on this easy day.

I must say, though, that as hard as it is to get up so early in the morning, the feeling I get after the workout makes it worth it.

And then I go home and take a nap. 🙂

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Training with the best

Posted by vgriffey on May 23, 2010

I was so excited to get my Team in Training "captain" training shirt!

I was so excited to get my Team in Training "captain" training shirt!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m the summer season Web captain for Team in Training’s East Bay-Bay Side team. Team in Training is an endurance sport training group in which participants raise money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in exchange for professional training and support while preparing for an endurance event (like a marathon, century ride or triathlon).

Yesterday, we held our season kickoff, where participants get to meet their teammates and mentors, pick up training shirts and other goodies, and connect to the cause — finding a cure for blood cancers — by meeting team honorees.

Team honorees are people who have or have had a blood cancer (leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, myeloma). Sometimes honorees are family members who have lost a loved one to a blood cancer. Yesterday, I heard from several honorees who said that while they’re going through chemotherapy and other treatments, knowing that we’re out here running or cycling or whatever else helps keep them going. I’ve known several honorees who have gone on to complete their own endurance events, and that’s an inspiration to me.

Did I mention that SF Weekly named Team in Training the “Best Training Group 2010“? Did I mention that if you tried and failed to get a spot in this year’s Nike Women’s Marathon, you still can get in through Team in Training? We’re accepting registration through June 21. Raising $2,500 isn’t as hard as you think (and you get lots of help!), and training with this team is a life-changing experience you will never forget.

Give it some thought, and check out the Team in Training website for more information. I hope to see some of you on the team this season!

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Back on my feet

Posted by vgriffey on May 16, 2010

Trail along the shore of Bay Farm Island in Alameda

Trail along the shore of Bay Farm Island in Alameda

I was a little under the weather this week and didn’t get much training done. I went on a short run Monday, took most of the week off and finally made it out for a run today.

My friend Kristin wanted to run with me, so I ended up running on a paved trail in Alameda instead of heading up to the hills. I’ll have to get back onto the trails this week.

Kristin’s faster than I am. I really had to push myself to keep up, so I’ll count this as a tempo run. I ran 5.78 miles in 1:08:09. This was a new pace record for me for a run nearing six miles. Thanks KB!

Kristin ran another 3.2 miles while I stayed behind and did some badly needed stretching. I hope to get back into some serious training this week.

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Running at Pebbles’ pace

Posted by vgriffey on May 6, 2010

Pebbles takes a break along West Ridge Trail in Redwood Regional Park.

Pebbles takes a break along West Ridge Trail in Redwood Regional Park.

Announcement: I’m going to be the summer Web captain for the East Bay – Bayside run team! I took yesterday off work so I could attend my training at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s San Francisco office.

So what’s the best way to spend a day off work? Running, of course. I don’t normally head up to the trails for my short runs, but because I didn’t have to rush to get to work, I had more time. And because it was a short run, I could take my dog, Pebbles.

I headed back to Skyline Gate at Redwood Regional Park and ran along the West Ridge Trail. Because I had Pebbles with me, I decided to stay on West Ridge instead of heading down one of the narrow, steep trails that branch off it.

There was a lot of stopping and starting during this run. Pebbles had to sniff around, and we ran into a few packs of dogs that she had socialize with. At one point, she was surrounded by about six other dogs that were all off leash (that’s allowed on this trail). She looked a little nervous for a second, but she handled it pretty well.

It was a warm day, so I also stopped a few times to give Pebbles some water. Toward the turnaround point, the trail started to get kind of hilly, so that slowed us down too. And then Pebbles found something interesting-smelling on the ground and started rubbing herself in it. Ugh.

After turning around and getting past the hills, we were able to run faster. I glanced down at my Garmin a few times and saw we were running at a sub-12-minute pace. A few times we were even running sub-11! Pebbles is good for getting me to speed up for a mile or two. She’s my tempo dog.

We ran 3.32 miles in 46 minutes and 39 seconds, and we had a great time doing it.

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Tough trails

Posted by vgriffey on May 2, 2010

A stream along French Trail in Redwood Regional Park

A stream along French Trail in Redwood Regional Park

For my second long trail run, I started at the same place as last week, Skyline Gate at Redwood Regional Park, which is the turnaround point for the Skyline 50K. This time, I ran up West Ridge Trail for about a half-mile, then down French Trail, following the 50K route.

West Ridge Trail was an easy, wide trail similar to East Ridge Trail, which I ran last week. French Trail, on the other hand, was narrow, steep, eroded around rocks and branches, and very difficult to run in a lot of places. The first 1.5 miles or so of French Trail were very steep uphill and downhill, too steep to run for the most part. I spent of lot of time practicing my power hiking on that stretch of trail. I couldn’t get into a good rhythm, so I know I need more practice.

After that first 1.5 miles, the trail flattened out somewhat and was a little smoother. I was able to get into a good running rhythm and finally start covering some ground. My goal was to run two hours and 18 minutes, so I ran in for an hour, then turned around, planning to make up whatever time was left when I returned to West Ridge Trail. It took me about an hour and five minutes to make it back to West Ridge.

There wasn’t much power in my hiking on the way back up and down and up and down the hills of French Trail. My legs were so tired that I was left wondering, What is this jelly-like substance where my legs used to be? The good news, though, is that when I did make it up to West Ridge, my pace returned to normal and my legs didn’t feel too bad at all. So when I hit these really tough parts of the trail during the race, I’ll know that after I’m past them, I’ll be able to continue running as normal.

The bad news is my pace was nowhere near good enough. My Garmin said I ran 7.37 miles in two hours and 18 minutes. (For comparison, last week I ran 8.67 miles in two hours and five minutes.) I thought the distance might be short, however, because I still had the auto pause function turned on. Sometimes on the uphill parts of French Trail, I was going so slowly that the Garmin thought I had stopped (embarrassing!) and, thus, stopped timing and measuring distance. So I finally turned the auto pause function off.

I checked on the map and added up the distance that I knew I had covered — 7.16 miles. After getting back up to West Ridge, I ran out another five minutes and back, which conservatively would have been about 0.67 miles. So that’s 7.83 miles. It’s a little better than the 7.37 miles my Garmin recorded, but it’s not good enough. That’s a pace of more than 17 minutes per mile.

Practice, practice, practice.

This was a nice trail, but better for hiking than running I think. Maybe it was too tough of a trail to attempt this early in my training, but now I can run on it again in a month or so and see how I’ve improved. It was shady the whole way, which was nice. And up on West Ridge, I spotted a rabbit and a couple of slugs. There were lots of birds too. It was a difficult but enjoyable couple of hours.

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My first long trail run

Posted by vgriffey on April 25, 2010

View from the East Ridge Trail in Redwood Regional Park

View from East Ridge Trail in Redwood Regional Park

I’ve decided that because I live near the trails that will be used for the Skyline 50K, I should use those trails for my long training runs. For my first long run, I ran on the East Ridge Trail, starting from Skyline Gate in Redwood Regional Park.

I’ll be running that part of the trail during the first half of the race. The route goes up Canyon Trail in Redwood, meets up with East Ridge Trail, then turns onto West Ridge Trail at Skyline Gate. So starting at Skyline Gate, I first ran the trail the opposite direction as I will during the race.

It seemed like I was hitting a lot of downhill on the way out. I was feeling good and moving pretty quickly. The trail was hilly, but mostly gently rolling hills with some steeper downhill parts. I didn’t do much power hiking in the first half because there just weren’t many steep uphill portions.

The trail was pretty wide and smooth. There were a few bumpy parts where rain had damaged the trail. I got into a rhythm hopping from bump to bump in those areas. Before I knew it, I reached the end of the trail at Pinehurst Staging Area, only 50 minutes into a run that was supposed to last two hour and five minutes.

I hadn’t been planning to turn off East Ridge Trail because I just wanted a simple out and back run. As I ran back, I saw the turnoff for Canyon Trail — a steep hill that I’ll be climbing on race day to get to East Ridge — and ran past it. I’ll incorporate that hill into a future long run.

I got plenty of chances to use power hiking on the hills heading back to Skyline Gate. I got back about 16 minutes early, and I was out of water. I stopped at the drinking fountain, then headed up West Ridge Trail to finish off my run.

The pros of trail running (so far): beautiful views, no cars trying to hit me (I’m a car magnet — I once had three near misses on one run), lots of hills to practice on (I do, believe it or not, enjoy running uphill and appreciate getting practice running downhill, which I find far more difficult).

The con: My feet became sore much faster. Usually that takes a long time to happen to me, but I guess with all the rocks and everything, it didn’t take so long this time. When I bought my new trail running shoes, I also bought some new socks, including a couple of pairs with extra padding. I’ll have to try those next time.

It felt great to get back out for a long run. I’ll likely be back on the streets this week, but I look forward to getting out on the trails again next weekend.

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My training plan

Posted by vgriffey on April 21, 2010

After committing to running my first ultramarathon, I had to come up with a training plan. I chose a 50K race, which is about  five miles longer than a regular marathon, so I expect the training mileage won’t be much different from what I’ve done training for marathons.

What is different is the terrain I need to train for. The Skyline 50K course has a total elevation gain and loss of 4,750 feet. That’s a lot of running up and down hills. It’s also on trails rather than the roads I’m used to running on during races.

I found a suggested 50-miler training plan in an old issue of Runner’s World and a general trail running training plan the current issue of Trail Runner. After studying those and thinking about how I’ve successfully trained for two marathons and three half marathons, I came up with a plan that I think will work for me.

One thing I’ve been wanting to try is running every other day with rest days in between (mostly “active rest” days with cross training and strength training). Because a week contains an odd number of days, training every other day means switching between Saturdays and Sundays for my long runs. So one week I’ll run on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and the next week I’ll run on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

I’ll be running my long runs based on time, not mileage, and I’ll be increasing those by 10 percent each week. My goal is to run about six hours three weeks before the race, so working my way back, that means this weekend I’ll run about two hours and five minutes for my long run.

My strength training routine will be similar to what I did while training for the Oakland Marathon. It’s a full-body routine I do two to three times a week — arms, chest, back, abs, legs and shoulders. I’ll be adding some more lower-body work, and I plan to do core work on most days each week.

Besides putting in time running, the plans from the two magazines I consulted suggested that I practice power hiking as well. Trail Runner pointed out that it wastes energy to run too hard up a steep hill. I should have the goal of trying to maintain the same heart rate throughout the race, which means if a hill is too steep, I need to power hike up it.

Runner’s World reminded me that running muscles and hiking muscles are different, so it’s important to train both. I will get the opportunity to do that on my long runs, which I’ll be doing on trails — some of the same trails I’ll be running on during the race, in fact.

I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.

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Out on the trails

Posted by vgriffey on April 18, 2010

Today I went for a trail run, my first in preparation for the Skyline 50K. I didn’t run very long because I was breaking in the new trail running shoes I got yesterday. I ran about 4.4 miles in a little over an hour. My average pace was 14:46.

That would have been great if it had been a 20-mile run trail run, but it wasn’t. Such a slow pace on such a short run has me a little worried. I’ll need to run Skyline’s approximately 31 miles at a sub-15-minute average pace. I’m going to need to get serious about my training.

I’m in luck, though. I noticed that the May issue of Trail Runner magazine contains an article for beginning trail runners. I’ve done a few trail runs before, but I never knew of any techniques for trail running. I look forward to putting some of the tips into practice and seeing whether they help.

It looks like the magazine’s website has some more tips for beginners, including these on running up hills. I’m going to need the help. I really pushed myself up the hills on today’s run, leaving me tired, out of breath and in need of a walking break at the top. I was running the hills like hill repeats instead of focusing on keeping my exertion level steady throughout the run.

Now I feel like I have some direction in my training. If you’re a trail runner and have any tips you’d like to share, please leave them in the comments section.

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