Thursday, April 13, 2017

Birthday, Bonsai, and Beaches

A Post and Photographic Journey by Apryle Craig

Zach & I at Rhododendron Garden
This weekend, Zach and I set out for an easy 8-mile run out our back door on Cougar Mountain. It was a nice morning and the miles rolled off easily and quickly found ourselves 10 miles in. So, for the third weekend in a row, I hit double digits. After cleaning off the mud, we headed to Federal Way to the Rhododendron Gardens for my birthday. We were surprised to also find a Bonsai Museum at the Rhododendron Garden. Zach and I have always been kind of intrigued by small plants and some of the miniature trees were really cool. That said, I didn't like how the wires were bent around the stems of the plants, making them conform to a human's will. The rhododendrons were beautiful and we had a fun visit.

At the Rhododendron Species Gardens
On Sunday, we went up to Deception Pass and went for a 7 mile run along the beach. It was very windy and I had forgotten how challenging it is to run on the rocky beach. After Zach knocked out a few extra miles, we at salads and watched the waves roll in then went on a little interpretive loop walk.

A fantastic birthday with a fantastic husband!

At the Rhododendron Species Gardens

At the Rhododendron Species Gardens

At the Rhododendron Species Gardens

At the Rhododendron Species Gardens

At the Rhododendron Species Gardens

At the Rhododendron Species Gardens

At the Rhododendron Species Gardens

Shore Pine


Chinese Elm Forest

Japanese Beech

Western Hemlock

Ponderosa Pine

Bristle Thighed Curlew at Deception Pass

Running at Deception Pass

Interpretive Hike at Deception Pass

Iris in Skagit County

Tulips and Iris Fields in Skagit County

Tulips in Skagit County

Friday, March 24, 2017

Chuckanut 50K

Chuckanut 50K Map
In regards to the SAID principle, conditions could not have been more perfect for the Chuckanut 50K. My body had adapted to a specific weather pattern – 40 degrees and rainy. The perpetual cloud that has descended upon western Washington this year allowed me the opportunity simulate race day conditions on a regular basis. The slick mud and endless puddles on the trail were a welcome reminder that I was right at home and in my comfort zone.

Chuckanut 50K Elevation Profile
In addition to the weather tolerance preparations, I believed that my 840 miles and 128,000 feet of vertical would prepare my body for the imposed demands of the race. With about a dozen long runs/races over the 20 mile distance and two 50K races under 3:30, I was certain that I could tackle Chuckanut in under 4 hours regardless of the conditions. Unfortunately the end result of my race was nowhere near my goal, and I found myself in 20th place with a time of 4:15:17.

11 Training Weeks in Graph Form
Although I only made it up to Larrabee State Park once to preview the course, I believed that my backyard served as an adequate substitute. Both Cougar and Squawk Mountain Parks served as my daily training grounds. Each weekday I would run roughly 10 miles with 1300-1800 vertical feet and on Saturday/Sunday I would run 20+ with 3000-6000 vertical feet. I found myself doing very little speed work, but thought the hills would be a sufficient substitute. Ironically in the race, my speed on the flat sections seemed to far outshine my atrocious performance on the hilly midsection of the course.

Larrabee State Park (Spring 2016)
At any rate, my experience at Chuckanut was exciting and enlightening, but also miserable, and demoralizing. Ultimately, my emotions in regards to the race were a net positive. The race was exciting due in large part to the concentration of elite competitors from all over the nation. It was enlightening to discover the pace needed to keep up with those elite competitors. The misery was due in large part to Chin Scrapper and the pain it inflicted in the latter stages of the race. The race results were a little demoralizing, simply based on the effort/performance ratio. However, if I only ran for sake of finishing among the top echelon then I would have hung it up years ago.

Larrabee State Park (Spring 2016)
I will always keep lofty goals that are far out of my reach, it gives my training purpose and keeps me focused. I came up a few places short of All-Ohio in high school cross country and track, I imploded in my senior year of college and never toed the line at Nationals, and my trail/ultra career continues to fall short. However, this is all fuel on the fire to continue training harder (and maybe one day smarter), and as long as I have the capabilities of controlled falling I will not stop.

The Race

My Race Splits from buduracing
The race started at a park in Fairhaven, and I tried my best to latch onto the lead group that were clicking off 5:40 miles with ease. I was detached but managed to run my first 10K in about 41 minutes, and bank away some time that I would certainly loose on the hilly stretches. As soon as we hit the single track section and began ascending I lost a few spots, but picked back up a few on the down hills. On the Cleator Road ascent I felt like I was getting my second wind and tackled the incline quickly, but once I hit the ridge trail I realized how deficient I was on slightly more technical terrain.

Larrabee State Park (Spring 2016)
The trail toward Lost Lake was very runnable and I swapped positions with a few runners, but Chin Scrapper buried me in a hole I could not dig myself out of. After a pathetic 17 minute climb, I tried my best to use gravity to my advantage on the long descent. The biggest problem with the last 10 miles was motivation… I knew I was not going to break four hours and I knew I was way out of the top ten. It was encouraging to see Apryle at the final aid station, and I decided to finish out the race with a strong kick. Someone said it was a battle for 20th place and in my head I was thinking who cares, but in my heart I knew I had to hold that position.

At the end of it all I took home four positives from the race.

The Vest Debate
1.     My nutrition was on point – I decided to wear the UD pack, even though I far prefer to take a handheld. Most of my long runs were 25 miles and a little over four hours and I got away with the handheld but I did not want to risk it for the race. I could not help but think of the scene from Superbad where McLovin is having a nervous breakdown about not wearing his vest… I carried 1.8 L of water mixed with 800 calories of Tailwind and finished off 80% of it in addition to one gel worth about 90 calories.
2.     I didn’t bonk - I actually finished the race at a semi-respectable pace, despite starting out a little too quick and struggling through the hills.
3.     I didn’t pack it in – Even though I was upset with my performance, I put forth an effort that I was proud of and finished strong.

4.     I have an amazing and supportive wife – This is perhaps the most important takeaway… She was there cheering me on at the 1st, 4th,  and 5th aid stations and at the finish. Unfortunately I was either too out of it or too focused to even see her at the 4th aid station, but I am sure my subconscious was excited…

Training Stats

Mileage Time Vertical
82.97 11:37:13 10423
89.65 12:26:18 8147
74.26 12:53:51 12612
74.7 11:02:11 11109
58.52 7:54:53 6679
92.62 13:08:08 11068
82.63 12:37:58 16837
92.07 15:50:54 18888
79.82 12:20:53 15371
74.5 10:54:34 11073
68.18 9:25:36 10502
869.92 130:12:29 132,709

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Peru Part 5: Miraflores & Los Pantanos de Villa

Inca Tern
To finish out our great Peru adventure, Apryle and I decided to relax in the ocean-front capital city. After a 600 kilometer overnight bus ride we arrived at the bus stop rested and ready to take a taxi to Miraflores. Based on advice from our friend Liam, we booked a room at the 151 Colon Hostel, which was only a half mile jog from the Pacific Ocean. 

Apryle & Zach in Miraflores
We experienced a culture shock as we entered a neighborhood more akin to Waikiki Beach in Honolulu than what we came to expect in Peru. Miraflores had an artificial tourist feel which was pleasant in some ways after a long trip of sleeping in tents and buses, but sad in other ways because it represented the start of our transition out of Peru. 

Entrance to our Hostel
Upon arrival, Apryle and I went for a run along the sheer Cliffside overlooking the ocean, which paralleled the Circuito de Playas. This was a paved trail that was alive and active, with cyclist zooming by, masses of people aimlessly walking, and parks with playing fields every kilometer.  It was a perfect stretch of trail to knock out some miles and enjoy endless ocean front views. The last three days in Peru I took to this trail and tested my living at elevation speed. In addition to my daily Circuito de Playas jaunt, Apryle and I explored our surroundings, including the extravagant outdoor mall Larcomar and the Barranco Districts unique architecture.

Apryle at Villa Marshes
On our second day in Lima, we made our way down to the Los Pantanos de Villa Wildlife Refuge, which is a birding treasure. This 263 hectare protected wetland is one of the last remnants of natural coastline left in Lima and is surrounded by encroaching civilization on three sides. 

Many Colored Rush Tyrant
While in Lima or any city in Peru really, we were hard-pressed to find a tree, plant or anything green, so Villa Marshes was a refreshing site.  The refuge is home to over 208 species of birds and features several walking trails, observation towers and lagoon view points.

Tower at Villa Marshes
Even though it was only 14 kilometer to Villa Marshes from our hostel it was no easy feat to reach the obscure destination. We took a bus to Chorrillos (neighborhood of Lima) and then walked the remaining distance from the downtown area along Av. Huaylas. The walk was uncomfortable, Chorrillos represented a more typical Peruvian city with stray dogs, trash strewn streets and rundown buildings. 

Trail around Villa Marsh
Additionally, it required us to walk along a four lane highway past a vicious dog fight and past people that did not seem to like seeing us strolling by. The disparity in wealth in Peru and within Lima from a superficial prospective appears astronomical. Most of the towns consist of crumbling brick/clay buildings with rebar sticking through the roof tops, but in Miraflores, there are skyscraping hotel buildings, expensive retail outlets, and houses watched over by doormen.

Common Moorhen
We arrived at the entrance gait and continued down the road until we reached a visitors center where we paid a small entrance fee and started on our adventure. There were three main stops: 1. Sendero Tradicional, 2. Sendero Laguna Marvilla, and 3. Sendero Laguna Genesis

1. Sendero Tradicional
Black Vulture
This is simply the traditional path that includes some reed strewn trails that meander around Laguna Mayor. Within this section there are two rather tall observation towers that provide a birds eye view of the refuge. Although we arrived in a birding offseason (we were told November is the best time for birding),  we were still able to identify an Andean Coot, a Many Colored Rush Tyrant, a Common Moorhen, and a Neotropic Cormorant.

Zach & Apryle at Villa Marsh
2. Sendero Laguna Marvilla
This was the most difficult section to find because there is no signage it was a paved road not a trail that we followed to arrive at this quadrant. The street was called Alameda Las Garzas Reales and it led to a gated community called Surco. We showed our ticket to the men guarding the entrance and followed the road past houses that were more upscale than the ramshackle plywood and corrugated aluminum chanteys across the highway. 

Snowy Egrets
After passing by a walled-off country club we arrived at the lagoon we were searching for. This was a birding buffet and because the lagoon was situated only a narrow sandbar from the ocean we were able to see both wetland and shore birds comingling in the same location. Here we identified: a Great Grebe, a Snowy Egret, a Cinnamon Teal, an American Oystercatcher, a Grey-Headed Gull, and a Franklin’s Gull.

Striated Heron
3. Sendero Laguna Genesis
This was our last stop on the circuit, and an excellent way to cap off the trip to the Villa Marshes. At the visitors center, we purchased tickets for the canoe ride around the Laguna Genesis with the intention of paddling ourselves. However, included in the price of the ticket was a canoe guide who pointed out every species of bird we encountered. 

Great Egret
Although I typically prefer unguided tours, this was actually quite fun and our guide appeared to be having as much fun as us after he took about a 100 photos of the Great Egret we spotted along the way. This leisurely paddle looped around a shallow lagoon that was bordered with tall reeds. Within the reeds we spotted several species including: a Black-Crowned Night Heron, a Striated Heron, a Lessor Grebe, a Great Egret and many others already identified.

Black-Crowned Night Heron
After our birding extravaganza we taxied back to our hostel, I ran a quick 10 along the Circuito, and then we enjoyed some ice-cream in the park as we peered over the cliff at the vast expanse of ocean. Our final day in Lima was a little stressful due to the difficulty of finding a cab that would take us to the airport. Once we did finally find one, he had to drop us off on the highway because he did not have the correct permits to get into the airport, but it all worked out. 

Apryle in Las Vegas
Six hours later we arrived in Mexico City where customs confiscated our avocados, our dinner… We slept in the airport and caught our connector flight to Las Vegas. We had some time to kill, so Apryle and I walked along the strip, and though it was fun for a few hours we found it surprising that it was such an appealing destination. The final flight dropped us in Seattle in the early morning, bringing our Peru trip to a close.

Zach at Villa Marsh

Apryle & Zach on Canoe Ride at Villa Marsh