Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter at Pace Bend Park

I hope you had a fabulous Happy Easter!  Since our church had service on Friday, we attended that evening and that meant I could get out for a run early on Sunday (ie. no excuses!).  For me, trail running is a way to connect with God and it gives me time to clear my head and be grateful for being able to run.

Continuing my exploration of the Austin area trails, I went to Pace Bend Park in Spicewood, TX.  Thankfully I had read others' comments that the trails were not well marked and that getting turned around was easy.  I did not even spot the trailhead while looking for a place to park!  That combined with wondering if I was going to be ticketed since I did not have a parking decal (no one at park entrance when I arrived) made me feel very "off" starting my run.  

I had printed a trail map at home and it immediately seemed off when the "bulk water station" location did not match the map.  When I started running trails, I learned that trail running requires being adventurous and in this park,  I knew that even if I got lost, I would not be far from a park road. 

I parked at a camping area near one of the coves off Lake Travis and soaked in the sights -- just what I needed this Easter.  I ran down the road towards the park entrance for about a mile before finally finding a trail entrance.   Along the way, I battled myself over how far I would run.  Mentally, I was not convinced I could run 15 miles-- the distance I needed prior to next week's 30K.  I've struggled with getting the confidence to run longer distances this year.

Once I hit the trails, I still doubted myself but basked in the joy of being on trails.  There were times when I was unsure if I was going the correct direction and I pulled out my phone to take pictures with hand signals to help me find my way back; based on the maps, an out and back was the only way I could get in my mileage.  

Gorgeous view of Lake Travis

I decided to run out 4-5 miles and turn around since I doubted my legs could do 15 on the rocky terrain; I was super cautious on the rocks and tree roots and I remembered that training on rocky terrain makes it easier! 

Beautiful windy trails through the woods

I turned around close to being 5 miles out and thankfully the return trip was not confusing to me.  I made it back to my car and decided to go back out for a couple of miles and call it at 12 miles.  I convinced myself that I could not do 15 miles since my legs felt like they were dragging.

I ran out the same path along the road and spotted a trailhead that I somehow missed previously.  I decided to run it out and turn around after about a mile....somehow I got turned around at one of the junctions, ran the wrong way (recognized it from the out/back from the other trailhead) and then just decided to go back the way from my prior out and back. I heard cars on the park road and knew I was not truly lost--- thankfully! Since I was at 14.60 when I got back to my car, I ran past it on the road and back to make it 15 miles.  I guess my body decided that it could do the mileage and got lost to force me to do it!

Negative split run!

I made it!  

The only negatives about the park are that the trails are not well marked and they are relatively flat; the trail markers have numbers on them and the map online names the trails and does not give numbers (odd!!!).  I hoped for some hills during the run but it was barely any up/down.  Overall, I loved the park and the seclusion of the trails and see running them frequently since they are nearby.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Canyonlands trails

Last weekend the weather was gorgeous and I went to Canyonlands park in Lakeway.  This was only my second time running the trails and I get nervous running trails alone; after dislocating my finger and ripping up my ankle during a rocky race, I get skittish about rocky trails.

I parked on Trophy Drive to enter the Canyonlands Park (tons of street parking and easy to find) both times; the trails were very beautiful and peaceful and nearly empty.  

The trails I ran lead to "Mount Lakeway" and that rocky climb is supposedly one of the best climbs in the area. 

On New Years Day, since Alan has not been running, I opted to keep us on flat land with fewer rocks.  Since the prior weeks had been very tough, a run was a fantastic way to share a beautiful day out in nature together and focus our minds on the beauty of God's creation.  “Let me run loose and free, celebrating God’s great work...’” (Psalm 35:9, MSG)

Views from Pond Trail

Not sure what trail but many are like this in the Canyonlands

This weekend I needed time to clear my head and challenge myself more than I did when running with Alan; I typically run with a trail map and I did not this time.  I regretted that when I could not figure out which trail led me to the Mount Lakeway trail.  The trails are not extremely well marked and many are short, so getting turned around is easy.

This would have been useful during the run.

I did some backtracking but finally got saw the sign pointing me to the Mount Lakeway trail.  After running on it less than a mile, it appeared to end at a rocky wide path leading uphill; since there were no signs and rocky paths go to the left and right, I was unsure if I was to climb uphill along the power lines or not.  

Do I go straight up this trail?!

I started climbing and then saw a trail to the right that meandered through the trees; I took that path and it was beautiful.  Eventually it ended and I started climbing the rocky path along the power lines again.  When it got steep with drop offs, I turned around.  Since the trails were deserted and I was not sure if I was going the right way, I decided to play it safe on the rocky terrain. 

I wish that the trails were better marked since it's very easy to get lost since there are tons of rocky jeep roads (assuming due to the power plant and lines).  All in all, it was a good exploration run -- took it super easy and did not sprain an ankle. :)

After getting home, I found a trail map that I compared to my Garmin mapping data; it looks like I was going the right way when I was climbing up the telephone pole area and that the trail connects or will connect to others in the area!  Maybe I have found trails like I had in Orange County, CA--- tons of miles possible without running the same trails twice?!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

10 Reasons I why I love Costa Rica

If you love nature and long for a relaxing vacation, I highly recommend visiting Costa Rica!  In 2013, we went there for a belated honeymoon and I loved the culture and country.  When we decided we were overdue for a vacation, I researched other warm destinations; with Southwest Airlines offering "cheap" nonstop flights from Houston to Liberia, Costa Rica, it made staying at a fantastic resort near the Arenal Volcano a better deal than many other places.

Going back to Costa Rica and staying at the same resort broke my unspoken rule of visiting somewhere new.  We are not "beach" people and Costa Rica offers fantastic activities in the rain forest.  As we left C.R. and I thought of returning there for a third time in the future, I realized there are 10 reasons I love that country-- in no particular order.

1. "Pura Vida"
That phrase is heard constantly (at least by tourists).  It epitomizes the way of life --- slow down, enjoy life, relax.  Even the dogs wandering around their neighborhoods seem chill.  Everyone we encountered seemed happy and not as stressed as I see in the US.

"Pura Vida!"-- our cheer after making our way through tougher rapids!

2.  Hospitality
Maybe it was the resort where we stayed but even the Hilton Garden Inn staff seemed more welcoming that many hotel staff members in the US and other places I have visited.

3.  Peaceful
The country is beautiful and spending time in the rain forest is amazing.

Hiking Arenal Volcano

4.  Friendly people
Both trips we felt welcomed by everyone we met.  Being surrounded by smiling people saying "Pura Vida" makes your day that much better!

5.  Educational tours
Tour guides are required to hold a college degree or pass subject-matter tests in order to work as tour guides; many continue their education by taking specialized courses in order to be knowledgeable about the country and the types of things you will see during the tour.  Even our driver to the airport was able to explain how a reservoir we observed was connected to the country's hydroelectric power system.

One of the birds pointed out by our tour guide on a twilight safari float- zoom on camera made this shot possible

6. Work ethic
We noticed that the staff of the hotel seemed to be around nonstop and we asked one of them if she ever slept; she said she sleeps about 4 hours per night and works 6 days/week.  I am guessing that is the norm of many resort staff employees.  From what we heard about people employed in other industries, that strong work ethic is part of the Costa Rican culture.

7.  Educational priority
Everyone is required to attend school!  Wow.  College is free but it is very competitive to get in and there are many private universities.  The literacy rate is the 2nd highest in the world.  Driving through the country, you see schools in every town and they appear to be the heart of the community.

8.  Slower paced life
The speed limit is slower and people are not running each other over on the roads.  People sit and enjoy meals instead of rushing through them--- and we did not feel rushed to eat and leave our table as we often feel in the US.  On the drive to the airport, our driver spotted a sloth, stopped the car in the lane on a two lane highway and allowed us to see the slot and snap plenty of pictures-- crazy to see him motioning cars to slow down and their obeying!

Sloth hanging out on the lines above the road

9.  Safety
There is no national military but the police force has grown in size to make the country safer.  Every country has its rougher areas but we felt safe in every area we visited.

10.  Conservation of natural spaces
Costa Rica utilizes its resources for energy --- hydroelectic and wind power are huge!  Many areas around the volcanoes are established as conservation lands and the country does not allow developments in those areas.  They know that tourism is dependent upon their natural areas remaining natural and they make protecting those areas a priority.

We saw major improvements in infrastructure between 2013 and 2016 but I was thrilled that what I love about the country had not changed.  I would love to move there but I know that will not happen.  Instead, I hope to visit there again.  If you are looking for a beautiful country to visit for a reasonable cost, add Costa Rica to your travel plans!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Rocking it at Pandora's Box of Rox - Race Report

I finally ran my first Austin area trail race! The trail running and trail racing vibe is extremely different than a road race and I have missed being a part of the trail running community.  Last Saturday, I ran the half marathon at Tejas Trails aptly named "Pandora's Box of Rox." 

I rolled out of bed at 5:30am since the race started at 8am and the course did not appear to be very far.  The drive out to Reveille Peak Ranch was an easy hour long drive; thankfully the race director provided instructions for locating the ranch since my iphone told me to park along the highway and walk to my destination!  It was my first time to drive through Marble Falls and Burnet and I loved the wide open spaces -- definitely an appeal of TX!

As soon as I entered the ranch, I felt at ease.  The ranch was beautiful and the pavilion where bib and chip pick up were located was huge!  The restrooms were clean and boasted showers --- super nice.

I had plenty of time to relax in the car before the race started.  The half marathon and marathon started together and I lined up near the middle.  The first mile was very slow as we were doing a conga line through the single track.  In the last two months, my longest run was 10 miles and I knew the course was technical, so my goal was to finish without getting injured.

Obligatory selfie

I fought temptation to stop and take a picture with the cattle during the first couple of miles.  I focused on avoiding tripping on rocks or cow pies (eewww).  I resisted the urge to pass people during the first few miles and trotted along tripping but not as badly as normal.  Within the first few miles, we hit a long stretch of the trail that was comparable to running on sheets of cracked rocks; it was hard on my legs and I took it super easy.  That was the theme of the race-- go slowly and avoid falling hard since rock is not forgiving!

Around mile 6, I got brave enough to grab my camera since the conga line thinned out.  Taking pictures while running on rocks is never a good idea for me but I snapped a few and then put away my camera to avoid face planting.

Yes, we ran through that....

And kept running through the rock field

Beautiful but tougher than expected

Yes, that is the course....thankfully it was well marked!

For several miles, I ran with someone who was in town from Louisiana and that helped get my mind off the pounding of running on rocks.  When the course hit dirt paths, it remained beautiful but treacherous as rocks littered the course; I tripped and landed hard on my right hip and knee around mile 10.  My legs felt the effects of the uneven, hard rocky terrain and being severely undertrained.  I focused on picking up my feet and going slowly.  It was my slowest half marathon but I was thrilled to cross the finish line without a broken ankle.  The course name fits the course-- box of rox!

Awesome medal and swag!

After the race, I cleaned up and snapped some more pictures.

The start/finish

Posing while contemplating wading into the water

I love their unique trophies
Tejas Trails puts on a fantastic race.  The course was well marked and, though I did not stop at any aid stations, the aid station volunteers were friendly and the aid stations looked stocked with trail runners favorites.  The start/finish had a food truck plus post race snacks for runners.  I look forward to running more of their races.