A little bit lost…

I was very excited to see “hilly or trail run” on my training schedule this week!  We are very close to the Walnut Creek/Shell Ridge Open Spaces, which provide endless trails, lots of elevation changes and gorgeous scenery!  For about 8-9 months a year the hills are California dead, um…I mean gold!  But right now we are in the middle of the green season, and it is spectacular this year thanks to El Niño (sadly no photos as I don’t run with a camera – but enjoy the sampling of dead – slightly dead below)!

Memorial Day 009

The climb to the Open Space – in shades of California Gold!

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Atop the ridge, a few years ago with a hit of green (is now lovely and lush!)

Memorial Day crop

May in the Open Space – mostly dead with hints of green.

See, scenery worth running up hills for, right?!  This week’s 8 miler seemed like the perfect excuse to reacquaint myself with the old trails!  I mapped out my route the night before, carefully planning a mix of known trails and some new extensions to make up the distance.  I studied the elevation to make sure it was challenging but not stupid, and I saved the route so that my husband could find my broken little body if it all went poorly!

I headed out just before 4pm, giving myself plenty of time before the sun set.  It started out beautifully with my long, gradual up hill and exploring some new trails.  I passed some cows grazing in a field, saw chickens and goats at a historic ranch and found a sign with a map that verified that I was about half way done, and exactly where I needed to be!!

And then it all went wrong.

I got lost

As you can see, there is some discord between the intended route (blue, 8.02 mile line) and the ahem, detour (red line).  And a slight variation in the actual elevation (green shaded area) and the intended elevation (grey line).  The final third is particularly more uppy-downy than planned! 

It was that critical moment, that fork in the road…that time in your life when you realise you have an important choice and you have to pick a path.  I choose poorly.  Instead of turning left and finishing the top loop of the figure eight route, I turned right.  As you can see below, it was a mistake both distance and elevation wise.
I didn’t mind exploring a bit, but I realised that I didn’t really know how to set things right.  In an attempt to find higher ground to get a better sense of where I was, I took a steep trail up.  I had a spectacular view of San Francisco, the Bay, and the Marin Headlands but I couldn’t actually see Walnut Creek, or the trails I was standing over due to tree and hill coverage.  Crap.

I continued in the general direction of San Francisco (when in doubt, go west) and had a vague idea of where I was.  But it was starting to get overcast, and the sun started to lower on the horizon.  I hadn’t seen anyone else for about 45 minutes and couldn’t find a map.  I finally saw a guy coming towards me on a bike around mile 6.5 and swallowed my pride and declared “I’m completely lost – how do I get downtown?”.  He gave me some directions that made some sense, and then just said “Do you want me to go with you?”.  I was so grateful, especially because it meant he would be turning around and going back from where he came!  He then cycled in front of me for the next mile and a half until we hit a point that I could get home from!  I am so fortunate, and will forever be grateful for the random act of kindness from this total stranger!

At the end of the day I ran about 8.5 miles before hitting the steep climb out of the Open Space.  I stopped my gps watch and walked up (I was pretty knackered at this point) and then jogged the remaining mile home.  So my lovely 8 mile figure eight route turned into a 9.5 mile adventure!  Alls well that ends well, but next time I think I might bring a map!


Getting Cold Feet

Literally, my feet are freezing right now…in a bucket of ice water. (warning, this post contains graphic images of very ugly feet!)

Yup, loving this.

Yup, loving this.

I count myself as being a very fortunate runner. I have never really suffered a major injury (knock on wood!), and I generally don’t suffer from stiffness or soreness after long runs. I hurt immediately afterwards, but a few stretches and some walking sorts me out.

My major weakness….my feet. Genetically, my father’s family has particularly ugly, and problematic, feet. For instance, my right foot has a random bony bump on the top (as does my Father’s and Grandmother’s). I also had bunion surgery in 2014, as I had a sore, achy and misaligned metatarsal (another family trait). Beyond the aching, the bunion was prone to rather annoying blisters. And as a final blow to my poor feetsies, I am prone to flare ups of Morton’s Neuroma.

foot bump

Mutant foot bump!

bunion in its glory

I honestly thought that bump was suppose to be there for most of my life!


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Blister on a bunion!  The joy!

photo 3

Screw you bunion!  (get it?!) Post surgery x-ray.

As I have ramped up my distances (12 miles yesterday – wahoo!!!), my feet have decided to protest. By and large the post-surgery left foot is less annoying than pre-surgery, but there are some lingering aches in the soft tissue. Not enough to limit my running, but enough to be a bother.

edited with permission from http://www.prestonpodiatry.com.au/service/mortons-neuroma/

More annoying is the damned neuroma. Thanks, Morton but could you have just kept the Neuroma to yourself?! Essentially, it is a swelling of a nerve in the ball of my foot, at the base of the toes. In my case, I am slightly irregular as mine is between the second and third toes on my right foot. The result is a burning sensation in the ball of my foot, followed by numbness in the two toes which eventually becomes searing pain. Overall, it is improving, and generally doesn’t kick in until 7 or 8 miles into hilly runs. I have literally gone years without it flaring, so the timing during marathon training is particularly irksome.

Hence the bucket of ice. Since my feet are a fairly important part of running (so experts say), I am trying to take care of them as best I can. When I decided ice baths were better than ice packs (both feet are affected in some way, and the pain isn’t isolated) I thought it would be like 30 seconds in the ice, then warm up. But no, apparently I am supposed to sit with frigid feet for 10-20 minutes, 2-3 times a day! The jury is out on whether this torture is worse than the actually ‘injuries’ I’m treating!  I will keep you updated!

Startling realisations of a slow learner

Three years ago I left this blog years ago with the announcement that I was going to run the Santa Rosa, California marathon.  The post involved much back story and rambling.

Long story short – I ran it, finished it and felt like crap and was left mentally scarred by completely falling apart (which I now realise I didn’t actually).  The free bottle of wine was good though!

So, having been through that struggle and come out the other side one would think that I would have learned my lesson, ticked the ‘to do’ box and moved on.  Not I!  Having also completed my PhD, I recently realised that I have no more daily emotional torment.  I briefly considered signing up for a second PhD, but realised that signing up for another marathon was cheaper! (note: I never, ever considered the second PhD)

In yet another chapter of my completely relaxed, non-competitive life, I was in no way inspired to re-visit the marathon distance because I missed my time goal on the first one by a measly 7 minutes!  Nope, doesn’t play in at all!

After having been successfully coached through a successful Turkey Trot by Coach Val at Sweat Tracker (brilliant online training!), I decided she was the one to get me through my ill conceived marathon attempt! She has been very kind and patient through my first 3 weeks of the 16 week plan.  This is admirable because I have yet to get through a week of completing all my runs.  And last week I managed to run none of them.  Today, after a week of excuses (it was wet! I was tired!) I headed out for my long run – 8 miles (c. 13 km).  During this endeavor I reflected deeply on my running life and I came to realise some very obvious things that you’d think someone who has run as long as I have would have already figured out:

  • My body is capable of a good deal when it comes to running!
  • I should probably still train it though, instead of just taking it for granted – just because it CAN do 8 miles for the first time in months without having run for a full week, doesn’t mean I SHOULD continue training like that
  • Begrudging my own performance to those who actually just enjoy running and are super happy with their times (which may be slower than mine) makes me a jerk. Seriously…jerk.
  • People who run simply because they enjoy the challenge and view finishing (in whatever time) as an accomplishment may be onto something pretty fantastic. Actually they are also some of the most content, well adjusted people I know.  I wonder if there is a connection?
  • I ran a frickin’ marathon….that is seriously awesome. (It has taken me well over two years to really accept that as true!)
  • My bearded husband isn’t nearly as talkative as I am on long runs.

Having these epiphanies may prove to be the breakthrough I need to get off the couch (even if it’s wet!) and embrace this training!

3 years, and a facelift later…

Technology is not my strong point.  Five years ago I started a blog about my life as a perpetual ex-pat.  It was very therapeutic, but it ran it’s course.  Now, three years after my final entry, I have realised that what the world really needs is another running blog.

Most people would figure out how to start a second blog from the same account, or just create a new account.  I am not most people.  Instead, I have just changed the title, theme and ‘about’ section and am calling this my NEW blog.  So if you are here to read about running, don’t bother reading any pre-2016 posts – except maybe January 20, 2013.  That is the blog in which I introduce myself as the average, ordinary recreational runner, who in no way puts ridiculous expectations on her self, and is absolutely not at all competitive.

Did I mention that I run?

You know those moments when you say something and think it really isn’t much but then one day you realize that that one simple conversation or nod of the head actually sets into being a roller-coaster ride that you aren’t sure you can get off?  I am quite convinced that this is how most runners get started.  Someone, one day suggests that they should go for a run together.  And that act of agreeing drags them into the twisted world of 6am jogs and achy muscles.  Now, not everyone gets drawn in so easily.  I know many a person who entered and exited running completely on their own terms.  I admire them.  My personality didn’t quite allow me that.  I ran as a kid (managed 1st in the 1500m and 2nd in the 800m at the zone track meet during elementary school), and dabbled in Cross Country in High School.  I was never a stand out runner, but I have never found running hard, it was easy and mostly enjoyable for me.  After putting on the ‘frosh 15’ I again dabbled in running, but it was never a part of my life.  I didn’t do races, I just ran around the park every now and then.

The first weekend I met my future in-laws I was trying to make a good impression.  I was friendly, out-going and interested.  The Bearded One’s youngest brother announced that he was going to sign up for the first ever London Royal Parks Half Marathon in October 2008.  I thought this was a great idea, and mentioned that I liked the idea but had never stuck with running.  Somehow, by the time I left that weekend, I had agreed to run it with him.  I honestly didn’t even know how long a Half Marathon was (it is 21.1 km or 13.1 miles) – and had never run longer than about 35 minutes.

That was the conversation that started it all.  Now, simply signing up wasn’t the nail in the coffin for me.  My Brother-in-Law showed up, finished the race and to the best of my knowledge has yet to ever run again.  No, the kiss of death for me was the fact that I trained for it, set out to complete it and finished in 2:00:28.  I missed the sub-two hour mark by 29 seconds!  29 silly little tiny seconds!  Had I finished in 2:05 I would have patted myself on the back and walked away.  But no, instead I had those 28 seconds staring at me reminding me that I was almost awesome (for the record, finishing a half marathon is awesome – one only thinks it’s not if you miss some mythical, rather arbitrary roll over of a number by 29 seconds).

So, the following winter I signed up for the Ottawa Half Marathon to be run in May 2008.  I was determined that this would allow me to run sub- two hours AND help me get super fit for my upcoming wedding in October that year.  I then embarked on a regimented training regime of….sitting on my butt and eating a lot of chocolate.  That year ended up being very manic and frankly I just didn’t make time for running – which was silly.  Needless to say, rather than decreasing my time by 29 seconds, I increased it by about 18 minutes.  It was a lovely weekend though and Ottawa is quite nice!

So, I got married and moved overseas.  I met some wonderful new friends who decided a trip to Scotland to run a half-marathon at the Mull of Kintyre was a great idea!  I hadn’t run in months, but we set about a very structured 8 week training regime that didn’t involve sitting on butts or chocolate!  It was fantastic having training partners – even if they were both so much more fit than I was (one was a former professional athlete who hated running but still kicked my butt every run!).  So, I thought maybe this would be it – the moment of truth.  I didn’t train for long, but I trained hard – so hard in fact that I managed to injure my foot.  But I ran through the burning pain, I ran down the beach, I stared longingly at Islay and Jura wishing for a dram, I ran around the bagpipers in kilts, I ran past the hairy coo’s, I ran through the heather…and finished in 2:02:08.  Shit.

The next year my training partners and I decided to run something a bit closer to home.  So we signed up for the Liverpool Half Marathon in March 2011.  For good measure I also signed up for the Leeds Half Marathon a few weeks later in May.  I hadn’t run since the debacle of the Mull of Kintyre (in theory because my foot was healing but mostly because I was lazy).  So, we embarked on our 8 week intensive training plan, and I worked my little butt off (literally – managed to drop a size!) and I was set and I was ready.  And I ran with my friend’s little French father who was so encouraging and kept an amazingly steady pace.  I felt great during the run, I had energy at the end – I was happy and proud and I finished in……..2:04:00.  Sigh.

It was alright, because Leeds would be it.  It would be the event that took me over the edge, put me in place.  I had trained, I had tapered and trained and tapered and I was ready.  Except that Leeds isn’t actually a PB kind of course.  And maybe I wasn’t actually in quite as amazing shape as I thought I was because I finished in 2:04:13.  At this point I decided that maybe I wasn’t actually meant to run a sub-2 hour race.  Maybe the running gods were telling me that it was absolutely alright to consistently finishing within 5 minutes of it, but never under the 2 hour mark.  Maybe I should have just listened.

About that time we packed up and moved to Walnut Creek.  It was fun, it was exciting, it was stressful.  I ate a lot.  This is what I do.  When I realized that my largest clothes from the UK were getting tight, I decided that the only rational solution was to revive the pipe dream and get my butt out running again.  So I picked a race – San Leandro Summer Breeze Half Marathon set to run August 2012.  It was a flat, fast out and back along the bay.  It sounded ideal.  I signed up in February.  I dusted off the old training plan, but realized that the 8 week plan would probably be more effective if I did a bit of running before embarking on it.  So I signed up for a local 5k in April and Bay to Breakers in SF in May to get me in the running kind of mood (full account here).  I started to enjoy running again.  We have great trails around our place and I enjoyed the fact that my largest clothes were suddenly too big, and my smallest clothes were starting to feel a bit baggy too.  I trained well, long and properly.  I built a base and then pushed the training plan.  I was going to do this.  I was going to conquer the 2 hour mark!

The day of the race came.  My training notes told me I was golden.  Officially my goal was sub-2 hour.  I told the bearded wonder that I really wanted a 1:55, but secretly what I wanted was sub 1:50.  I felt strong, and fit and confident.  I ran the first half of the race and felt good.  I thought that maybe I my pace was even a bit too easy, but wasn’t going to check my watch until the turn around point.  I could adjust then if needed.  I hit the turn around, feeling fantastic.  I looked at my watch and it said 53 minutes.  Normal people would look at that, do some quick maths and go “holy crap – I’m on track for 1:46!!!” and then would have just carried on feeling good and cruised through an amazing race and fantastic finish.  I am apparently not normal.  I looked at it and went “oh crap – I’m only on track for 1:56” and proceeded to speed up (note: please don’t ask me to explain how I thought that….I don’t know).  I didn’t sprint, I am not that foolish.  But I began pushing the pace, running harder…passing people I had no business passing.  I started to slow and feel tired, my stomach became a rock hard mass of hurting, I had stitches in my sides, I felt ill.  I kept pushing but became more and more distressed.  I was convinced I had messed it up.  I was upset and in pain.  Now, you may say “but you had a watch, why didn’t you just look to assure yourself that you were alright with time?”.  But I couldn’t because I was convinced I would look down and it would say 2 hours and I would just stop running and cry.  I pushed through all this mental and physical stress out of sheer bloody stubbornness but I honestly thought I had messed it up and that I had failed.  I was miserable.  I crossed the line in 1:49:37.

Not only had I achieved my goal (despite my best efforts), I had smashed my PB and even managed my private secret goal!  It felt disappointing in some way though because if I had been better at running and doing grade 2 arithmetic at the same time I could have finished stronger, happier and faster.  But, that being said I was bloody proud of that moment.  I even signed up to run the Base Borden Half Marathon in my hometown a few months later just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.  My parents got to see me run for the first time, which was really special and I decided to take the race easy and just run for the fun of it.  I managed a very respectable 1:53:08 and was very proud and pleased.

So, where does that leave me now?  I had this pipe dream for years.  I tried, failed, tried again.  I achieved that goal.  So where does one go from there?!  How does one top that?  I could try to run faster or….I could do a FULL MARATHON!  So, that, my friends, is where the madness lies.  I have now signed up to run the Santa Rosa Marathon in August of this year.  There is a free bottle of wine involved and free beer at the finish.  I may be foolish and misguided, but I know a good deal when I see one!

Are you a card carrying member?!

Shopping in America is like a wonderful adventure in reward cards of varying usefulness!  Obviously loyalty cards aren’t exclusive to the USA.  However, in Canada I really only used my Shopper’s Drug Mart card and then had a few “buy 10 get one free” stamp cards.  In the UK the Boots cards was well worth carrying, and the Nectar card was useful as we shopped at Sainsbury most often.  All 3 offer very easy rewards programs – buy stuff, get points, use points for goods.  We often redeemed Boots points for regular month end shops (oops, completely out of contact lens solution and we don’t get paid for 2 more days…thank goodness for Boots points!).  We were also able to use our Nectar points for free movies – just insert card to pay!  Easy.

An assortment of cards I have amassed since arriving. Most were filed neatly under stacks of assorted paper.

Arriving in the US we were offered a membership card at nearly EVERY store we entered.  I accepted the cards as I had no idea what to expect.  I have learned that all the Office/Business Depot/Max/Outlet cards are fairly useless.  You get points towards printer ink I think, but we don’t go through enough office supplies or ink to make it worthwhile.  So I took all those out of my wallet (or purse).  It didn’t help that I could never remember what store I was in and often tried to present the wrong Office/Business Depot/Max/Outlet card anyways.

The Safeway card is the most pointless card EVER!  It just creates a false economy.  You walk in and almost every item has a price and then a CLUB price.  The actual price is usually higher than a sane person would actually pay anyways, and the special savings club price is usually just the price you would normally pay at other stores.  However, because you are super special and a member of ‘the club’ (which is free to join) you pay less…right?!  You are an amazing shopper for saving 23% on your bill, right?!  Wrong.  Safeway is just patting itself on the back for making you think you are special, when really you are just paying what you should.  The bearded wonder dislikes cards, so once went in and was grumpy and just wanted to buy food.  When asked if he had a card, he said no.  When asked if he wanted one, he said no.  The cashier just looked at him, picked up a random card anyways and scanned it and rang up the food.  The card is pointless and means nothing.  Oh, except I think you now get gas points for money off at Safeway gas stations.  This might be useful if a) we had one near us; b) had a car!

So I didn’t over pay by $16.47?! Am I too cynical?

We do, however, use the Shopper’s/Boots equivalent with our CVS card.  It is just amusing.  On the weekend we went to buy some essentials.  I needed razor blades.  The brand I always buy happened to be on sale from $13 to $10.  Plus, when purchasing them, I got $4 CVS bucks to spend at a later date on whatever I wanted.  I also needed a toothbrush.  I found one that I rather liked the look of and it just happened to be on sale from $5 to $4.50 PLUS when purchasing it you got $4 CVS bucks.  I bought 2 as you could do this twice.  So I paid $19 for 2 toothbrushes and razors and got cash vouchers worth $12.  Not a bad deal for things I was going to buy anyways!  A few days later, I needed to pick up a couple of small things again.  I picked up my items at CVS and my total was $4.67.  I handed the man a $4 CVS voucher and a one dollar bill.  He handed me my change and a receipt that had $3 CVS bucks attached to it.  Today I also got an email from them offering me $4 any purchase of $20 in store.  So the way I see it, at this point they are actually paying me to buy things I need and would buy anyways!

How much toothpaste do they think we need?!?

We have found a shop that sells pretty much everything – furniture, imported food, cards, kitchen supplies, wine… – and they do nice coffee.  With their rewards program (thankfully cardless) you get a free bag of coffee for every 6 bags you buy!  Even better, if you buy your coffee on Wednesday you get double credit for it.  So when we are clever, we get a free bag for every 3 bags.  Not so bad.  Plus once we spend $100 on food (including the coffee, and British imports that we splurge on) you get a voucher for $10 for anything in store.  This is also a useful program!

So despite a few useful examples, I have decided that not a lot makes sense when shopping in America.  I don’t understand how or why CVS manages its program, but I do reap the rewards!  Safeway drives me nuts and I hate their program, so I generally shop at Trader Joe’s which is cheaper and doesn’t have a ‘reward’ program, which is refreshing and novel.  I have been collecting points at the Eco Shoppe/Vitamin Shoppe, which we buy a few things at but I still have no idea what the points do!  I also randomly get vouchers for being a member at our Hardware store, which is useful, but I can get the same coupons on the back of my Safeway recipe every time I shop.  Which opens up the whole American obsession with coupons…which is a story for another day!


Bring the car around, Jeeves…

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of visiting Walnut Creek, what you need to understand is that the entire downtown shopping and restaurant area is very small and dense.  It is busy, it is popular and it takes no more than 15 minutes to walk from one furthest extent to the other furthest extent.  That is 15 Google Maps minutes too, not 15 “Emily is on a mission, get out of the way” minutes.  So…to sum up…once you are in central Walnut Creek, you are less than a 15 minute walk from where you want to be.

Central Walnut Creek has 3 municipal parking lots, located directly within the shopping district.  It costs 50 cents per hour, with a daily total of $3.  The total number of spots provided by the municipality is 1378.  There are also 120 spots available at the public library after hours.  On top of that, the Broadway Plaza provides FREE parking for patrons.  I am not sure of the exact number of spaces, but at a guess I would say at least 800-1000 spots are provided in the centre of the shopping area.  Then there are at 2-4 other multi-story parking garages provided by various blocks of shops, again ranging between 150-700 spots each.  On top of all of this, there is also metered on street parking – lots of it.  Parking is allowed on all the major roads, with the exception of those running directly through the Broadway Plaza.  While writing this, I came up with a random estimate of a minimum 4000 parking spaces available for public parking within a 15 minute walk of ALL the shops and restaurants in downtown Walnut Creek.  However, I have since found the results of a 2006 study that showed there were some 7000 spots in garages and lots, and then there would be street parking on top of that.  And apparently in 2006 at least 20% of those spots were available during peak times on Friday and Saturday. Oh, that doesn’t even take into account the large lots on the periphery of the downtown that are designed for the larger stores such as Target, Whole Foods, Safeway and CVS or the BART.  Those truly athletic folk willing to walk 20 minutes or so can use those after hours!  Oh, and let us not forget the FREE trolley that circles the main shopping streets.

So, now that you have the background, onto the main event.  With such wonderful parking facilities available in combination with such a density of shops in a small area one might think it was an urban planning success.  Apparently not so in the eyes of the citizens of Walnut Creek.  No no, when faced with the idea of $3 or even FREE parking AND a 15 minute walk the only solution is obvious.  VALET PARKING!  I wish I was joking, but I am not.  For the low, low price of $7 you can drive up to Nordstroms and have someone take your car and drive it around the corner and park it in the free lot (which incidentally is directly beside the back entrance to the store).  If you don’t want to walk for dinner after shopping, you can then get your car, drive 3 blocks and pull up in front of your favourite Italian restaurant and pay them $7 to drive your car back to the same parking lot it sat in while you shopped.  Or if you are fortunate enough to be visiting an establishment directly beside a parking garage, you can avoid the bother of driving around and parking for free by….paying $7 when you drive into the garage to have your car valeted!  I don’t have an exact count of valet stops around town, but off the top of my head I can refer you to 5 by exact location, and vaguely remember seeing a couple of others somewhere…over there-ish.

Now, this may sound as though I am being dramatic.  Maybe I am playing this up for the sake of a humourous blog?!  I have another example.  Our gym is located just outside the central shopping area.  It shares a large parking lot with a number of other businesses, and as such only has parking for about 40 cars out front.  The remaining spots up front are for the other businesses.  Apparently, however, parking somewhere else nearby that involves WALKING more than 30 seconds in order to work out is too much effort.  There were so many complaints from the other businesses about gym members taking their spots that the gym now has…..say it with me….VALET PARKING!  During business hours you can drive your car right up front and have a lovely gentleman take it away for you!  The gym even foots the bill.

As someone who lives in the city centre and does not own a car, I find this both fascinating and disturbing.  I don’t see why someone would pay $7 to avoid a 10 minute walk!  It isn’t like we have a horrible climate!  At least if it was – 30 oC, pouring rain or there was snow to my knees I could vaguely understand it.  But we live in a semi-arid climate and it won’t rain again until October!  While researching this blog, however, I did discover that the internet is divided.  There are those who think there is no parking in downtown Walnut Creek and that it is a crying shame and needs to be fixed.  Then there are those who quite bluntly think that Walnut Creek shoppers are spoiled and lazy.  I am tempted to lean towards the latter; however, since I like living here I prefer to think of this as a charming quirk of living in the shadow of Mt. Diablo.