Monday, May 26, 2014

Extracurricular Activity: Carolina Tiger Rescue

After running an easy six miles and then doing yoga at Fullsteam Brewery, Neil and I joined his friend Myles for a trip out to the Carolina Tiger Rescue, a big cat sanctuary in Pittsboro (about a half hour away). Myles is very involved there, so we were able to tour the facility with him and get up close and personal with tigers, lions, ocelots, servals, bobcats, caracals, and binturongs. We even got to give the lions and tigers treats: 

It was amazing, and somewhat frightening, to see these animals close up. I was very surprised by the greetings the tigers give, which are somewhat like a purr, but much louder. I can't really describe how amazing it was to be within three feet of the big and small cats, and really interacting with them.

This lovely tiger was super playful.

This guy looked at Neil like he would be lunch. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Exploring Western North Carolina

Twice in the past few months, we've gone out to western North Carolina, or "WNC" as it is described on bumper stickers and travel pamphlets. The west of the state has beautiful mountains, and includes the Pisgah National Forest, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
I think those are the Smokies behind me.
Over spring break back in early March, we had grand plans for a backpacking trip around Linville Gorge. After perusing some backpacking websites, we were scared off by reports of impassible rivers, and weather predictions of freezing temperatures and snow (we just don't have the gear for that). We picked a shorter backpacking loop in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and a few longer hikes in Pisgah National Forest.
Pretty, steep trail.  
Well, what we didn't realize is that the Blue Ridge Parkway is closed for much of the winter. Buh-bye Great Smoky Mountains, due to lack of access. After a long detour, we ended up spending a lovely few days camping and hiking in the Pisgah Ranger District section of the Pisgah National Forest.

Looking Glass Falls
After school got out, Neil's dad and brother visited for a week, and we headed out to WNC once again. We made it to the Linville Gorge area, spending a day and night on Table Rock, part of the Grandfather Ranger District in Pisgah. This part of the park is much higher in elevation than the Pisgah Ranger District, and had breathtaking views that seemed to go on forever. We had a chance to visit Mount Pisgah in the Pisgah Ranger District during that visit as well.
From the top of Table Rock. 

After a downpour on Mount Pisgah. I forgot a raincoat!
Now, you didn't think we made it all the way to the west of the state without visiting Asheville, did you? For those of you who don't know, we love craft beer. Asheville apparently has the most craft breweries per capita in the country (though Portland still wins for most craft breweries, period). Over our two trips, we sampled brews from Lexington Avenue Brewery, Asheville Brewing Company, Wicked Weed, and Wedge Brewing. That leaves ten more craft breweries in Asheville to try!
The eclectic building that houses Wedge Brewery. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Race Report: Tar Heel 10 Miler

This post is a bit belated; running this morning's NCRC Half Marathon reminded me I was delinquint. Better late than never...

Not finding any half marathons with openings in April or May, I settled on the Tar Heel 10 Miler for my first "real race" since breaking my leg and not really running for a year and a half. Being in late April, I had the tail end of March and half of April to get my mileage up.

I picked up with the Bull City Running Group, a nice group of (mainly) women who run from the South Durham area, usually from Bull City Running Company. The standard is 8 miles at 8 every Saturday. I managed that, plus 2-3 days of 3-5 miles during the week, without needing to backtrack or stop completely like this time last year.

With school and rugby, Neil wasn't able to run as much, but came out for the 8 miles most weekends. We decided not to push it too much at the race, but aim for 8:45 to 9:00 average pace. Of course, I wanted to go faster, but I mostly wanted us to run together.

We started out at the Bell Tower on UNC Chapel Hill's campus at 7:30 on April 26th, and easily settled into our goal pace. In fact, despite rolling hills through Chapel Hill, I pushed us a bit faster. Once we started doing sub-8:30 miles, I stopped telling Neil our splits, so that he wouldn't think I was having us go too fast. I knew we could do it.

The Tar Heel 10 Miler is known for the Laurel Hill Challenge, which is a section near the end of the race that is allegedly a hill a mile long. In our estimation, it is a mile and a half of uphill, with some short flatish sections. In either case, there is a chip timing mat at the start and finish of this section, so you know your pace for that section, plus your overall pace at the end of the race.

The race winds through UNC's campus, and through some very nice neighborhoods in Chapel Hill. It finished in the stadium on campus, which reminded me of the Shamrock'n Half Marathon, my very fist half marathon, in West Sacramento.

Nearing the stadium, we sped up, and finished in 1:26:34, or 8:39 average per mile. Our pace for the Laurel Hill section was 9:39, so not too bad for a few flatlanders on a long hill!

Throughout the race, I felt like I could go faster. I didn't, because I wanted to run with Neil. But I knew that I could do a bit more. Two days later, this ambition pushed me to register for the NCRC Classic Half Marathon, set to be my first half marathon since October 2012! Exciting!

My Garmin details for the race:

Race Report: NCRC Classic Half Marathon

After about a month of running about four days a week, with 8 miles every Saturday, I started itching to run a race. Several reasons: to see what I could do, to see how I would fare on the hills, and really to know how far I still had to go to "be back" from my injury. Neil and I had signed up for the Tar Heel 10 Miler, but since we'd be running together, I felt it would be a good test of my abilities.

The trouble is, I couldn't find any late spring or early summer races that were close by and didn't cost an arm and a leg. I settled on a fall half.

Fast forward a few weeks to mid-April. Neil and I ran the Tar Heel 10 Miler. He hadn't been running too much, mainly just the Saturday 8 milers and weekdays when he could. School and rugby take priority. We had planned to run together, so I settled on an achievable goal of 8:45 per mile average. I wanted to be closer to 8:30, but didn't want to go too fast, for both of our sakes.

To make a long story short (and I need to write a race report still anyway), I kept us under 8:45. We finished in 1:26, at an average of 8:39 including the 1.5 mile hill towards the end. And I'd felt like I could have gone faster, and further.

I needed a race. Soon. To test myself.

Coming in for the finish. Photo credit: Kate F.
Luckily, several of the ladies I run with on Saturdays had decided (after watching Boston) to run the NCRC Classic Half Marathon, which I didn't know existed. So I signed up.

The race came early this morning, with carpool from Lara's at 6. I initially wavered, thinking I'd run with the group. Just doing the 13.1 would be a test. The starting gun sounded, and my body made the decision for me. I went for it.

First off, the course is beautiful. The race is mostly inside Umstead State Park, which has a fairly even bridle trail that is small gravel most of the time, larger stones some of the time. The course is shaded by lush green trees, with the forest all around. The rolling hills, and several steeper hills, pose a challenge, but that seems to be par for the course in this part of North Carolina.

My goal had been 8:30 to 8:45 like the last race, but I not-so-secretly wanted to go faster. You know, testing myself and coming home with a PR would be nice. Knowing that would not be happening, I thought anything under 8:30 average would be a nice result.

The early hills were a bit challenging, but aside from a minor side cramp I did better than anticipated. I even maintained a pace that allowed me to pass the 1:50 pace group for a time. Leading up towards the halfway mark, more than a mile of hill slowed me down. The 1:50 group overtook me; though I hung on for a while, they left me behind around mile 8 or so.

One of my main "findings" from my test is that my hips are tight. Really tight. At some points, I felt as though they would just pop out of the sockets if I sat cross-legged on the ground. I need to work on flexibility in a major way if I want to make it "all the way back" to pre-leg-break fitness.

In the final miles, motivated by beautiful scenery and generally feeling good, I pushed through at a decent pace. Not sure what it was because the pretty trees gave my Garmin a hard time, but in the upper 8 minute per mile to low 9 minute per mile range. With some early quick miles banked, that seemed fine.

I turned the last corner, saw 1:54 on the clock, and sprinted in for a not-too-shabby 1:54:27. Good enough for 5th in my age group, of 58. Not a PR by any means, but a decent finish for a hilly race on cautious, low-mileage training with no speedwork.

I think I have my work cut out for me for my fall race schedule!!

In case you're interested, here is my Garmin snapshot: