I love running in the Forest of Nisene Marks! Similar to the sights and smells of the ocean, those of a redwood forest remind me of growing up in Santa Cruz – of camping and hiking in Big Sur and Big Basin, of summers at Camp Kennolyn, of childhood friends whose families lived up in the mountains…That’s the beauty of Santa Cruz – I live a five minute walk from a beautiful beach, and a ten minute drive to this beautiful forest. Nisene is still quite new to me as a runner, but I look forward to getting to know its vast network of trails!

Today’s 15 mile trail run certainly was a start. I have only done one long run here once before, and that was exactly one year ago while training for the NYC marathon. The elevation profile of this run remains a vivid (and painful) memory! I didn’t have this blog at that time, so let me show you what I’m talking about:

Ouch.

For that run, I followed the Fire Road, which begins as the road entering the park, quickly turns into a wide dirt trail and then at the base of that steep climb you see, narrows into a more typical trail (although still fairly wide). After about 8-9M of running, you reach Sand Point Overlook, which on a clear day gives you a great view of the ocean.

The nice thing about this route is that it’s a killer hill workout as you can see, plus if you’re running alone (as I was), there are other runners, hikers and cyclists out and about, so you feel safe. However, for a long run, it’s not exactly ideal to do so many consecutive downhill miles. Also, there are so many trailheads along the main road, I wanted to try something new, or at least get a taste of  some “real” trail running in Nisene Marks!

I had hoped to have a running buddy to keep me company and lead the way, but unfortunately it didn’t work out. It wasn’t the best idea to test out the trails on my own, since I started running at 8:15am (and most of the people in the park at that hour were sticking to the main trail), there’s no cell reception in the park, and the trails are relatively dark, tricky in spots and remote. Nevertheless, I decided to try out the Loma Prieta Grade Trail, which leads to Hoffman’s Historic Site and can be part of a much larger loop that I definitely want to try at a later stage. I figured I could run along the main road for three miles and then do an out and back detour along this trail, finishing any remaining miles further along the main road from where I left off. That way, if at any point I felt unsafe or didn’t like the trail, I could simply turn around.

My other goal for today, aside from completing 15 miles partly on new trails, was to test out a different gel belt that I bought at the NYC marathon expo last year. I love SIS gels (sadly not sold yet in the US), but my SIS belt was so annoying yesterday that when I realized I had this one, completely unused, I had to test it out. Here’s the new one (left) as well as the older SIS go gel marathon belt (right) – as you can see, the main difference is that all the gels fit into a pouch in the new one, and the gels fit into separate slots in the older one.

 

The verdict: I carried three gels with me, and the belt was extremely comfy. No bouncing or loose straps! The downside was that I found it harder to remove a gel than with the SIS belt – rather than simply pulling the gel down from its loop, I was fumbling with a zipper and trying to extract one. Perhaps practice will make perfect. On race day, I will carry five gels, so I will also have to try that out too.

Because I wanted to sleep in (well, until 7:30am), I didn’t have time for breakfast this morning, so these gels were essential. I usually try to eat a couple hours before my long run, but once in awhile I practice running on empty, for those late miles on race day. My stomach was grumbling by the time I finished running for two hours and 35 minutes, but I survived.

So, what did I end up doing? I ran three miles to the Loma Prieta trailhead, 6M out and back on the trail, and then another 1.5M along the Fire Road (hitting the first part of the climb) before turning around. As you can see in my Garmin details, it was a fairly slow run – between my injury, post-race soreness, incline and general precaution on tricky trails, I wasn’t worrying about pace today, particularly when I was on Loma Prieta. The trail was beautiful – single track, alongside (and into) ravines, across rivers, so quiet and deserted you could hear a leaf fall or a creek trickling in the distance. I kind of enjoyed it, and I kind of didn’t. I promised myself that if I started to feel really uncomfortable, I would turn around immediately. From the start, I was on the edge of my comfort zone – not so much with regards to creepy men or animals (although my Mom has made me paranoid about mountain lions…), but rather, in terms of twisting an ankle or falling into a ravine. I’d be screwed!

And yet, it was so incredible, I was determined to keep going – I knew I was being a bit stupid, but this was the type of trail I had been seeking! I felt like the world didn’t exist – completely lost in the wilderness, not a soul anywhere for miles. Although it was that feeling that hindered me from really enjoying my run. I was fighting off ridiculous thoughts, jumping at every noise, carefully running/walking over every obstacle (of which there were many – hence my pace).

Finally, as my Garmin clocked six miles, I decided I’d had enough. I must’ve been right around the corner from Hoffman’s, looking at the trail map now that I’m back – but the trail took a steep dive into a ravine and the further out into the middle of nowhere I went without seeing anyone at all, the more paranoid I became, so I cut myself off and went back the way I came. This is the perfect trail to do with E – I thought.

I booked it back to the trail head – I realized just how desperate I was to no longer be alone. Don’t get me wrong – I love to run alone and be alone – but in an unfamiliar place, in the middle of nature where a lovely trail run could turn into something more dangerous, I was over it. About one mile from the trailhead, I finally saw some people – an older man running with poles and shortly thereafter, a male cyclist (I have no idea how he was cycling on that tiny, crazy trail). It got me thinking back to something a guy in my local running shop said to me, about men going out on the trails alone but most women shouldn’t/don’t. If a guy falls and hurts himself, or gets attacked by an animal or whatever else, will he really be any better off than if it happens to a woman? I think not. Best to not run alone in these types of places – man or woman.

As soon as I hit the main road to get in my extra three miles, everything started to hurt. I think I had so much adrenaline rushing through my body as I was running deep in the forest that I didn’t really notice all my aches and pains! I was far more focused on my safety and surroundings. So, the last 4-5 miles weren’t too fun – but I made it through! Here’s my post-run, post-chocolate milk (I had a cold one waiting in the car – delicious recovery!), I’m-still-alive shot:

The elevation definitely didn’t feel as painful as that of last year’s run, although the net gain fell short of last year’s just by 30ft. Check out today’s profile:

Needless to say, I was in much need of an ice bath (and a proper shower) once I got home. My body felt pretty wrecked! We didn’t have any ice on hand, but we did have tons of freezer packs, so my bath looked like this:

As for food, today is my Dad’s birthday, so we got dressed up and headed to Cafe Sparrow, a wonderful restaurant (funny enough, across the street from the Nisene Marks entrance) that my family has been going to since I was little. Brunch was massive and delicious – as were our mimosas!

Happy birthday, Dad!

And happy 100th post to me!! This blog has been so much fun for me to maintain since I created it last December – hopefully you enjoy reading it as well.

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