California Runnin’ (On such a winter’s day)

Fast and Flat beats those hills

It’s been 9 months since I moved out west. Nine months of hilly trail runs, and I still haven’t convinced my mind, lungs and feet that I love running hills. Hiking hills – LOVE IT; in fact, the higher I go, the more likely I am to burst into song (usually from a musical). I’ve been waiting for that same “Sound of Music” moment to kick in on the hill training, but so far my favorite part is still when the hill ends.

Running trails areound these parts

Running trails around these parts

Last week-end at a conference in Park City, Utah, I commiserated with a colleague about hill-running. Given the choice, we’d both prefer to run flat at altitude rather than a hilly trail at sea level. She’s from Alaska, and spends a fair amount of time out and about on Denali (3000m – 5300m elevation), but I’m from sea level, so either I’m REALLY gifted at performance at altitude (unlikely, but unproven; I’ve never run a race at altitude) or I’m supremely not gifted at hill running. How much do we hate running hills? When devising a route to run in Park City, it included running DOWN into town, planning to return up the hill on the Gondola. So while those outdoor runs were pretty as anything, the best run I had out there was flat on a treadmill, incline set to 1.5%, with Meghan Trainor in my earbuds.

Rattlers and Seal Lions and Bears, oh my! (and humans)

Once I get past the whining and crying about hill running, the scenery out in California more than makes up for the quad burning. Not only that, but the wildlife that share the trail make it even more exhilarating. One of those “Aha” moments for me about moving out here came during a hilly run at altitude in Mammoth, coming from sea level of course. Mammoth is at approximately 8,000 ft, and the peak of the ski mountain is a bit over 11K. It was a challenging run, but strikingly beautiful. It got even better when I ran into this guy:

Mammoth Bear on the run

Mammoth Bear on the run

The 4-minute differential between a flat mile and a hill mile

Sometimes it’s totally worth it. Last weekend I did my long run at Torrey Pines State Reserve – one of the most gorgeous trails in the world, right in our backyard. The one problem with running this trail, is I can’t bring my favorite running buddy, Chase. The trail is not dog-friendly. Feeling a little guilty about leaving Chase at home, and facing the monster FIRST hill, I started out pretty sluggish, to the tune of over a 12-minute mile. But over the course of 8 miles, a couple of wonderfully awesome things happened. Three quarters of the way up the monstrous hill, my tongue hanging out of the side of my mouth, a cyclist passing me slowed down, looked right at me and said “You’ve got this!” That was pretty much all I needed to rev the engine as I yelled back “Ditto and thank you!” A few minutes later, I got a reward:

My new ugly-but-comfy shoes testing out Torrey Pines

My new ugly-but-comfy shoes testing out Torrey Pines

After running up and down those hills for a while, exchanging some more “way to go”-like words with other runners, I encountered two very excited hikers working on the world’s most precariously taken selfie. Instead of sticking to the clock, I remembered what Chris McDougal (author of “Born to Run”) told me about running after I waited in line to meet him and have him sign a copy of his book. He said “Run wild. So what if you stop and look around at the scenery or smell the flowers.?” So Selfie-guys and I helped each other out of selfie-mode with a little photo session:

Heading down to the beach to finish it out

Heading down to the beach to finish it out

The last amazing thing that happened was running into this adorable little sea lion pup on the beach. He was so sweet, and I think he even resembled Chase!

Sea Lion pup at Torrey Pines State Beach

Sea Lion pup at Torrey Pines State Beach

It was a reward for me to meet him, however, in all likelihood, he was on the beach because he was sick or hungry. This year in Southern California there’s been a huge increase in the number of sea lion pups washed up on shore, leaving their mamas earlier than they should because there’s not enough food. Mama sea lions are also abandoning the pups for days at a time looking for food.  I ran up the beach, and found a lifeguard who knew about him, but was hoping he’d make it back out to sea. That obviously wasn’t happening, so the lifeguard went to collect him to go to Sea World for a check-up.

On the Run Again

Today I went out running in the canyons with the world’s best running dog:

Chase checking out the canyon

Chase checking out the canyon

Within a few minutes I let him off leash to lead the way. Well he led the way right over to a guy who looked just like this:



In a prior post , I talked about seeing a surprisingly large number of human patients in the ED in San Diego who came in with rattlesnake bites. I’ve since learned it’s extremely common for dogs, especially off leash in the trails, and more often in hotter weather, to sustain rattlesnake bites. It’s so common that all vets in the region carry antivenin. It’s also common enough here that there’s an industry offering rattlesnake negative behavioral conditioning therapy for dogs. We’ve gone back and forth about taking both pups to this class. Though I have yet to take Chase to Rattlesnake Avoidance School, today Chase slowly approached the snake, not in hunting mode, but in “let me sniff you out mode,” and luckily, as soon as I called him (with a dash of terror in my voice), he came. And Chase remained on leash for the remainder of the run, happily ever after. Amen.



3 thoughts on “California Runnin’ (On such a winter’s day)

  1. WMG,
    Everything looking great. Pictures have so much energy. I am enjoying your adventure. So, back in the day, I was known as a “hill runner” amongst my cohorts, some who are still (‘running’ ?) with me. In actuality, the down hills were sometimes more punishing to the joints. These days, my running mantra is in the character of ” The older I get, the faster I was “. That old Yankees Cap. I remember feeling a bit nervous driving into the parking field at Angels Ball Park, opening game 1998. It was happily no problem at all, many great fans there.
    I am proud of you, WMG
    your uncle, me

    • Uncle Mark, I love that you took great notice of the Yankees cap 🙂 Forgive my ignorance, but Angels Ball Park in NYC? I’m unfamiliar. I’ve heard stories about your mountain-goat hill-running, and really wish I’d gotten one or two of those genes! People with knee pain tend to complain about those downhills, but I LOVE those down hills…unless it’s very dry slippery dirt… The good news is, I think those hills will help me get through my first HALF marathon Sunday!

      • WMG,
        actually I have never had knee issues in the 35+ years, mostly issues have been in the gluteus and hip area (nerve related). Angels park is the Baseball stadium in Anaheim across from Disneyland. Have a Good Run on Sunday. your pictures indicate to me that you have lost some weight from the first time that I saw you complete the Vt. marathon. You are older now but I suspect that you have more speed. One of these days we should run up a mountain.

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