Living Futures (Un)Conference 2015

This week I had the pleasure of attending the Living Futures Conference in Seattle, WA. The main reason I was going was to present research that my colleague, Heather Nelson, and I have been working on, but that’s for another post. Going into LF I was hoping to come away reinvigorated and excited to push the limits of sustainability at my own firm, EHDD. I had never been to LF, but had heard great things about both the content and the people.

Heather and I arrived in Seattle early on Wednesday so we could meet with the other ladies presenting in our session, and do some Seattle exploring. We meandered Pike Market, and all through Belltown catching up on life which was nice since I hadn’t seen her since our U of O friends meet up last October. We got back in time to meet or presenters in the hotel wine bar which was abuzz with other attendees excited to see what this year had to offer.

The opening plenary began with a Native American prayer and song, led by locals, then a “15 minutes of brilliance” about pollinator pathways by Sarah Bergmann. Her brief presentation was really interesting because we saw her work being executed in a nearby neighborhood that was starting to benefit from the pathways. After her talk, the opening keynote was a woman I admire, and was super excited to hear after reading her book: Janine Benyus. For those who don’t know Janine, she researches, writes, and presents on Biomimicry. Here are a few of the big takeaways from her talk:

1) We know we will have succeeded when the swallows want to nest. Janine lives with her partner on an amazing property in Montana. This was the first year they found a swallow nest in their rafters, which meant their home had finally blended in enough for nature to nest as well. They had a moose visit, and are on the migration path for great cranes.

2) We are not the first to build shelter. Or deal with waste. Or drought. Or high wind. Or farming.  Or communities. Species all over the world have been dealing with these issues for hundreds of years, we just need to follow their lead.

3)  We have to make our clients FEEL what the living future will be. We have to be embedded in nature, as one symbiotic relationship.

4) Biomimicry begins with noticing what works.

After such a motivating and thought provoking  evening keynote, I had high expectations for the morning. My team met early to run through our presentation one last time, then headed into the main ballroom to hear the morning keynote: Jason McLennan. Jason is the CEO of both the International Living Futures Institute and the Cascadia Green Building Council and began the Living Building Challenge. He has been on the forefront of the sustainable building movement, and since I have never heard him speak, was excited for it. He did a great job talking about where we are now and we are heading. He announced the new Reveal label for building to showcase their building performance, regardless of it being net zero, LEED, Passivehouse, or a standard building. He also announced the Living Products Challenge to push manufacturers in a similar way the Living Building Challenge and pushed the building and architecture industry. The other exciting news Jason shared is that buildings earning the Energy and Water petals (net zero energy and water) would automatically get LEED platinum without having to do double documentation. I love it when organizations are working together for the greater good.

After the announcements, Jason told us about his own house which jut made it through the permit process and will be up to Living Building Challenge standards on Bainbridge Island, WA. It looked like a great hour and it was interesting hearing his account of the trials and tribulations of reaching LBC. One of the difficulties was being allowed to use a competing toilet on Bainbridge. He worked with the code officials there to add another law that competing toilet can be an alternate to connecting to the islands sewer system. If only all of our cities were as willing to re-write ordinances like Bainbridge Island. The bigger takeaway for me from his almost hour and a half talk was:

Don’t constrain the good you can do by the harm you are causing now. Look toward the future, make a better handprint than the footprint you are leaving behind.

I loved this. I love the idea that we can deviate from our current path to a more sustainable future. We may have done harm in the past, but if we change to reframe our thoughts of building and sustainability, we can have a huge impact and rewrite our future. To make thi sharpen though, we all have to buy in. We all have to spread the knowledge, educating both client and other architects.

I will do another post on some session highlights, but I wanted to leave you with the highlights from the keynotes and hopefully you will be inspired to take a step back and look at the bigger picture and your role in shaping our future.

Way Too Cool 50k

Its taken me a few days to reflect on this my Way Too Cool 50k race and pull together my thoughts for a blog post. This was my 5th 50k, and it was the first race that I have gotten into the lottery for (I have terrible lottery luck). The lottery opened right after my huge PR at North Face Endurance Challenge SF 50k in December, so I quickly signed up for the lottery, hoping I would get to check this race off my bucket list.  

course elevation

  

 

I hadn’t quite processed how early in the year the race was, or how much recovery I would take in December.

My training for this race was a bit haphazard. My weekday runs weren’t happening as often, I joined a gym and added in strength training, which I think has helped immensely, and my weekend miles were a bit faster than normal. Three weeks before WTC I was supposed to run the Lake Chabot 30k as a training race, but I caught a terrible chest cold, and instead raced the half marathon, hacking up a storm the whole time, but still coming in as the third woman overall, setting a new trail half PR. When I got to the start line of WTC, I felt fit, but I wasn’t quite sure about the long miles on trails I had never seen. 

 The course of WTC is fairly simple, an 8mi loop from with rolling hills, returning to the start to then go on a 22ish mi loop down to the American River. Overall there is about 4800ft of elevation gain, most of which occurs in the latter half of the race. From reading other people’s blog posts, I knew the 8mi loop would be speedy, although potentially congested with the single track, then the start of the 22mi loop was downhill to the river, rolling along the river, and then uphill back to the finish. Since I knew the majority of the climbing was in the second half of the race, my plan was to race the first half of rolling hills and downhill slightly faster than I normally would, but at a comfortable pace, before being forced to slow down for the climbs at the end. I thought it was a good strategy that would either push me to another PR, or make me crash and burn from pushing too hard too early. I’ll let you be the judge of how that played out. 

 

crowd waiting to start

 The night before the race we stayed in the newly remodeled, dog-friendly Motel 6 in Auburn. I was super impressed with it considering it was only $65 a night. The bed was comfy, our dog could join, and it had a huge tv and wood floors. The race started at the reasonable hour of 8am, which meant no 5am alarm since we were only 15 minutes from the start line. I was assigned to heat 2 (people estimated to finish over 5:30), which starts 10 minutes after heat 1 (there are only two heats). I purposely moved to the front of the start heat, since I knew there was a flat 1 mi road section to start, then a quick decent to the first river crossing. I had read in other posts that there can be heavy congestion here since there is only a tiny log bridge for people who don’t want to get their feet wet, and I did not want to be caught in congestion or get my feet wet so early in the race. 

 When the gun went off, I started at what I thought was  reasonable speed, felt comfortable, there were people in front of me so I knew it wasn’t too fast, but when my watch beeped for the first mile and it read 7:50, I knew it was too fast. Oops. Before I knew it I was tagging along with two guys in a great rhythm, dashing across the first river without hesitation or dodging people. The single track was perfect: smooth, beautifully rolling through alternating forest and meadows, a perfect start. Around mile 5 we started catching people at the end of heat 1. I was in such a solid rhythm that I passed a number of congo lines of people walking, probably using more energy than I should have, but I really didn’t want to walk such runable terrain so early in the race.  I choked down my first Gu at mile 6, always hard to do early in the race, but I knew my body would thank me later. I finishe the 8 mi loop around a 9:20 average per mile, quite speedy for me on trails, but I was smiling, having a great time, and feeling like I still had plenty of energy in the tank. I saw Charlie and Camus, my support squad at the start, got a quick kiss and dashed away for the nice 3miles of downhill to the river.

This section was pretty uneventful, it was a a nice grade of downhill, I got passed by a few guys barreling down, but before I knew it the downhill was over, we were crossing highway 193, and heading down to follow the rive.  

mile 8

 

At Aid station 2 (mile 11ish) I took a few salty potatoes, refilled my hand held, and headed down the Quarry Trail, a wide, gravel trail that I would get to know quite well over the next 5.5 miles. Quarry Trail was quite rolling, with a few steep climbs that brought me to a walk. I had counted on this section being fairly runable, but saw my average split on my Garmin creeping. Still, being 2 min/mi average faster than my PR time, I figured I was in a good place even if I had to walk the last 10 miles of uphill. On this section I made a few friends with people who had the same race strategy as me. We chatted about running and other races they had planned for the year. It is always inspiring to be mid-race and hear about how this race is a launching point for their next 50 miler or 100 miler (and I thought I was crazy with this being my 5th 50k!). 

 When we hit Aid station 3 at mile 17, I knew it was only a matter of time before the uphill pain cave started. Up until this point I had been super on top of my hydration, and Gu/food consumption, making sure I had the fuel and energy for the next 14 miles. The uphill started soon after the aid station, alternating between uphill and gradual but runable uphill, not what I was expecting based on previous posts. Based on the elevation chart, I had expected pretty continuous uphill after mile 17, but really the uphill started closer to 18, but then was relentless. 

As we were climbing, all of a sudden, there were Charlie and Camus again!  

Starting the climb with a surprise cheering section on!!

 They hiked in a few miles to cheer, take pictures, and sit in the sun. Seeing them was a very welcome sight that kept me energized for quite a few miles!

Throughout the climb, I had been downing my water, knowing their was an aid station at mile 21. Well, mile 21 came and went on my Garmin without and aid station, me without water, and temperatures rising. Fortunately, the Aid station came around mile 22.2, but another runner, seeing me walking on some mostly flat section of trail with an empty bottle, had offered me some of their water to tide me over. I love how friendly trail runners are. She insisted I let her pour some water into my bottle, which in hindsight I was very thankful for because I was thirsty. I was still feeling pretty good at the aid station, but around mile 25 was where my wheels were starting to come off. The uphill kept coming. Mostly runable, which I think was the bad part for me. In Marin, I train on big climbs, where I can alternate running and walking. This race had a lot of runable terrain, which was not what I had trained for. Actually running (opposed to mixing in walking) most of the previous 25 miles had taken a toll on my body that I wasn’t used to at this point in a race, I was used to a bit more walking. My hips started hurting, my IT bands were very tights from the running. In hindsight, I would have trained for this race a bit more similarly to a road marathon, lots of long, mostly flat miles so my body would be more used to the wear of continuous running. I was also used to uphill first, downhill second, but since this race was in canyon lands, it was downhill first, uphill second, some thing I also hadn’t trained for. 

 As I climbed Goat Hill to the mile 26.5 aid station, I was SO grateful to be hiking. The change in muscle use in my legs did wonders for me. I grabbed some salty potatoes and part of a pb&j at this aid station, my spirits renewed by the tough climb up the hill. By now though, my pace had severely dropped, I was hovering around a 10:50/mi average, but still well below my PR average of 11:28. After Goat hill was some downhill, again a nice break from the slightly uphill running since gravity was in my favor, but i still had to stop and stretch my IT bands, which were unbelievable tight, unusual for me during trail runs.

Alas the downhill was short lived at only 1.5 miles, and then we started climbing again. I surprised myself with how much of the miles between Goat Hill and the finish I race considering how I was feeling. 

Did I go out to hard from the beginning? I kept asking myself this question, and kept answering that I always run how I feel, and no matter what, the second half was going to slow me down. Had I run slightly slower to start, would I have been able to run slightly faster at the end? Maybe, but either way the last few miles of a 31 mile race aren’t as fast as the first few (at least for me) especially if those miles are uphill.

We crossed back over 193 with 1.5 miles to go, it was an uphill climb to the crossing and I knew there was more uphill between me and the finish. Relentless Forward Progress was the name of the game. No matter what, keep moving, run when you can, walk when you need to. 

 

 I finally crested the uphill, and could see the finish line a quarter mile away, yes it was uphill until the last quarter miles. I was in the pain cave, I’m pretty sure you could see it on my face, despite my smile that I was in fact finishing my 5th 50k, AND setting a new PR. I crossed the finish line in 5:42, 14 minutes faster than North Face, and exactly 2 hours slower than my road marathon PR. I was all smiles at the finish, instantly putting aside the pain of those last 10 miles, but in awe of the things my body can do. I got a frog cupcake, as promised by the race director, and we headed to Auburn Brewing Co for a celebratory lunch and beer.

Overall, I am excited that I PR’d, but I also know that had I trained better (part of this was not knowing anything about the course other than what I found on-line) I could have run a lot faster. So to some extent I am slightly disappointed, but I am also thrilled that I did PR, and finished my 5th 50k. I am already plotting my strategy for next year, reliving the trails over and over in my head. 

The beauty of trail running is that I can come back to this race next year and based the weather and my training, have a completely different race experience. I don’t have any more big races on my calendar yet, but I am scheming about a doing either Skyline to the Sea 50k or North Face again. We will just have to see what the summer holds!

  

The North Face Endurance Challenge SF 50k

Every once in a while, we all have that perfect day. Saturday at The North Face Endurance Challenge SF 50k was one of those days.

I did my last 50k in 2011, two in back to back months. Between then and now, the only long distance race I had done was the Eugene Marathon last year. But over the summer I decided I wanted to train for another big race. I enjoyed Eugene, but I wasn’t feeling up to logging so many miles on road, so I set my sights on TNF SF 50k.

TNFSF was my first 50k back in 2010 and it took me around 7.5 hours to complete the course. The overwhelming joy and exhausting I felt at the finish line to this day is still my favorite race finish. This time around, I planned to do all my long runs on the course in the Headlands since I now live in San Francisco and am a mere 20 minutes from the trails. My only worry was logging so many miles by myself, this would be my first long distance race that I trained for on my own. I found a few people to run short miles with, particularly with the San Francisco Running Company fun run on Saturday mornings. They are a great group and great company for  a few miles before I branched off on my own for longer distances.

50k Course Map

Revised Course Map

The night before the race, we all got an email that the course had been changed. Because of the rain all week, and a bridge washed out by Mt Tam, they would be re-routing the course. My heart sank a little bit since I was mentally prepared for the existing course, but when I saw the new map, all I felt was relief. My goal for the race was to run 6:15-6:30, beating my 2010 race by an hour. The course revisions added a loop up Bobcat  and down Rodeo Valley before heading up Miwok to the normal course. The other change was that at Pantoll, atop of Cardiac, we would turn around and head back down To Heather Cut off rather then loop through the woods of Mt Tam. This meant the 100 stair I was lightly dreading were no longer on the course. Once I saw the revisions, I was confident I could meet my goal.

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Heading Up Bobcat on our first loop

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Fog Rolling Out on Alta Trail

Race morning came quickly, and I ate my usual granola bar/peanut butter/banana pre-race combo as we headed out the door for the quick drive to the start line. The start line was well organized, easy to drop bags and plenty of ports potties for everyone. There was a wave start, but each wave was only a minute or two apart. This didn’t matter too much since the start is on an old road and there is plenty of room. I started at the back of wave 2 instead of my assigned wave 4 since I new the people around me would be more inclined to run first hill (~800′) rather than walk. By the time we climbed and came down the first hill, and I rounded the corner to head up Miwok around mi 7, I was averaging about 9:40/mi, way faster than planned, but I felt good. I saw Charlie and Camus right at the start of Miwok which was amazing, they popped up all over the course to cheer me on, even in places I least expected.

The climb up Miwok and down Old Springs was uneventful, I kept cruising along feeling good. Coastal trail is one of my favorite trails around, so I was looking forward to this part of the course. It was about as muddy and sloppy as I was expecting, and I was glad I had my new Peregrines on. This was the part of the course I wish I had my camera for, but I have the analog memories, and I would have added a lot of time taking pictures, it was that beautiful!

Starting the Climb up Miwok - All Smiles!

Starting the Climb up Miwok – All Smiles!

After the mud on Coastal, we dropped down into Muir beach onto a half mile of road before taking the side trail towards Heather Cutoff. This was the other section of the course I anticipated a lot of mud. Since the course change was an out and back for the 50k and 50mi, I knew I would see the top contender scoring down as I headed up

At the Top of Heather Cutoff

At the Top of Heather Cutoff

towards Cardiac. Heather Cutoff was a river. It says wonderfully muddy, and I knew the downhill would be sweet. I passed many people walking here, a bit intimidated by the slipping, but I had run this hill a few times before, and I knew it was runable grade and my shoes could handle the mud. It was awesome seeing all the elite runners coming towards me on my 3mi grind to the aid station. I saw a few other Oiselle Teammates and happily cheered and high fives which lifted my spirits. Charlie and Camus were waiting for me on the top of the Cutoff which was a very welcome surprise that kept me smiling for miles.

It was around the top of the cutoff that I realized I could make it under 6 hours – my goal I kept to myself and didn’t tell anyone since I thought it would be a reach for me. Even thinking about going under 6 was making me tear up, so I set my sights on pushing the rest of the uphill. Early in the race, I started repeating this mantra, which really helped me throughout the race:

These are YOUR mountains to conquer, you are STRONG

Cruising down from Cardiac

Cruising down from Cardiac, Feeling Strong

Finishing that Final Climb up Marincello

Finishing that Final Climb up Marincello

The downhill back from Cardiac was my favorite part of the course. I got to cheer people still coming up the hill and I got to slosh through all the super fun mud and puddles all the way down Heather Cutoff. I felt a bit rejuvenated after this section, and I knew I had a steep climb and equally steep decent back into Tennessee Valley. Luckily I saw Charlie and Camus for what I thought was going to be the last time which gave me an extra boost on the climb. The ascent and decent had beautiful views and before I knew it I was making my way up Marincello, the last climb on the course, and I climb I knew well from training. As I started the final descent, a mere 2.5mi from the finish, I heard someone calling my name and to my surprise, there were Charlie and Camus AGAIN! They were the best cheering team I could have ever asked for.

The downhill was nice on my muscles as I let gravity carry me down, encouraged by the fresh legs of the marathon relay people around me. As soon as I hit the flat and saw that final tiny climb, I could hear the crows at the finish. I looked down at my watch – 5:55. It was at this point I started tearing up a bit, for I knew I would be under the 6 hour mark, a goal that seemed unimaginable a few weeks earlier. Two minutes later I was crossing the finish line, exhausted, with Charlie and Camus there to great me. I truly gave this race everything I had. I ran with my heart and soul and it really paid off in the end.

So Happy At the Finish!

So Happy At the Finish!

I also realized during this race the importance of logging all those training miles by myself. I was weary of so much trail running by myself, fearing the mental challenge of the climbs by myself. But running so many of the climbs alone gave me a great deal of metal strength when race day came around. I knew I could do it without relying on a training partner to push me. I had full confidence in my own body, something I might not have had if I had logged all my long miles with a partner. Moving forward, setting my sights on other races, I will definitely continue to log miles on my own, to strengthen my mind, push myself to new limits, and most of all, to conquer new mountains.

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Camus

Camus

A Quick Thought on Trail Running

This morning I ran the Horseshoe Lake Trail Half Marathon near Palo Alto, CA. More on the race later, but I wanted to do a separate post about an often debated issue: wearing headphones during trail races.

As we came up a hill around mile 3, there was a quick right off of the fire road onto single track trail. Coastal Trail Runs did a great job marking the course with pink flags leading up to, and through the turn, and blue wrong way flags for a while on the continuation of the fire road that was the wrong way. Since it was early in the race, there were also a number of people around, so following the last runner was fairly easy. I’m not sure if this girl was super in the zone, perhaps from battling it out with me for the last mile up the hill, but she cruised on down the wrong-way road. Another runner and I stopped for a moment to yell after her. We tried all sort of things “Hey You!” “Wrong Turn” “The Run is this Way” Hey Runner in White” but despite yelling at the top of our lungs, her pumped up headphones, which I could hear most of the way up the hill, prevented her from hearing us. The other runner and I gave up, there was a biker at that intersection as well who was going to see about catching her, and I continued on my race.

I think this brings up a good issue. On trail races, where the trails are narrow and people want to pass, and there can be sharp and unobvious turns despite heavy course marking, should headphones be allowed? I do love running to music around my house, but I find on trails the beauty of the forest helps me more than music. When I do want music, I often only do one headphone so I can hear people coming up behind me, or yelling after me if a I make a wrong turn. I hope this woman realized she had gone the wrong way and found her way back to the race!

What do you guys think? Headphones or no headphones for racing?

Runner with headphones, thank you Runners World.

Ragnar Trail Relay Zion

This past weekend I had the pleasure of being part of Team Nuun Hydration at the Ragnar Trail Relay just outside of Zion National Park in Utah. Before I dive into the race, I wanted to start this post by saying that even though race conditions were less then ideal, the Ragnar Trail staff did an amazing job keeping all of the runners informed and having staff out on the course when times got rough. Because of them I am looking forward to another Trail Relay with full confidence that they are looking out for all of our safety.

Trail map from the Ragnar Relay page

Trail map from the Ragnar Relay page

Charlie and I committed to running this race a few months ago, because we took a road trip to Zion shortly after we first started dating, and could not wait to go back. We had no idea that in between committing to the race and running the race that we would be engaged, and that I would be living in San Francisco, and he would still be in Truckee, throwing a small wrench in how we were getting to the race. Our friend Johnny was also arriving from London that day and wanted to join us for the crazy adventure. We headed out of the Bay Area Thursday after I got off a crazy day at work, and stayed the night in beautiful Barstow California in a $50 motel. We had not anticipated a time change crossing into Utah (silly us!) and ended up arriving at the race only a half hour before our team start at 3:30. It was super windy out and the forecast was for 100% rain around midnight, but everyone was in great spirits at the start. Because we were last to arrive, we were runner 7 and 8, which gave us plenty of time to set up our tent and get situated before our first legs, which were bound to be in the dark. We met all of our wonderful teammates: Rira, Catey, Bry, Megan, Sean, and Holly, and shared fun facts about ourselves.

Everyone waiting to see their team pop up on the screen indicating their runner is 1/4 mile away

Everyone waiting to see their team pop up on the screen indicating their runner is 1/4 mile away

After the first runners came in for our team we had some idea of what we were in for: rocky single track, sandy trails, good climbs, and potential views. We were also at about 6000 ft, so the elevation was a factor for almost everyone. I was starting to get excited because it sounded like excellent trails! I spent most of the evening hanging at the Nuun tent talking to people about how awesome Nuun is and swapping trail running stories. Before I knew it was my turn to head out on the 3.1mi green loop which descended into Jones Gulch and back up the other side. It was pitch black, but luckily I just replaced the batteries in my Spot headlamp so the 90 lumens were at full blast!

IMG_5202The initial green loop trails were smooth and wove between trees. I passed a few people on this section before we started descending. The trail very quickly got rocky, and there was a ditch/drainage in the middle of the path that I kept jumping around. There was one guy hanging off my shoulder, undoubtably watching my footwork, because he was doing the same moves. Normally I don’t mind people behind me, their headlights usually help. But this guy had a handheld light and it kept swinging in crazy directions. I tried to pick up my pace, but the amount I could see ahead vs the rocks on the trail were a slightly limiting factor. Before I knew it we were reascending up to camp. I’m kind of glad that it was dark because I could not see the amount of uphill, so I just kept running. All three loops meet up 0.75 mi from the finish and go up a bitch of a climb. It was a number of switchbacks that almost everyone walked some piece of before heading back into camp. The whole loop took me about 32 minutes, but I’m not sure because my Garmin died part way through. After I finished I chowed down some dinner, waited for Charlie to finish the yellow loop, then we snuggled up in the tent for a few hours of sleep.IMG_5207

The rain started around midnight, and I had a 3:30am alarm since I had estimated I would start running my second leg around 4:30. I woke up to pounding rain on my tent, and once I found my teammates realized that our runner 5, Bry, had just left and Holly, runner 6 had yet to leave. So I waited with Holly, warming by the fire, and wished her good luck as she left at 4:40. Bry and everyone else coming through the finish told me that the trails were like ice skating rinks. The nice trails I had run on a mere hours before, were clay. Which means that when it rains they cannot absorb much water and they turn into slides. I figured that the 4.2mi loop would take Holly an hour, so I hung by the warm fire until 5:45, then found a place in the transition tent to await my turn.

Team Nuun Hydration

Team Nuun Hydration

It was right around then that the snow started. Yes, SNOW. Apparently highly unusual for this time of year in Zion. I figured once it got light in an hour the snow might turn to rain, but it kept coming down. Runners were coming in with snow build up on their hats and shoulders, shivering from the cold. Everyone was being advised to run with a buddy if possible, or begin doubling up the runners so that you were not out alone.

Huddling by the fire for warmth

Huddling by the fire for warmth

This is where the Ragnar staff began doing an amazing job. They deployed more staff to all the trails to help runners, and began looking at revising the red loop (the 8.1 that I was supposed to do next). They were trying to keep the race as safe as possible despite the weather conditions. They also did a great job keeping everyone in the transition tent informed. They were allowing teams to turn in their bibs essentially putting their time on hold, in order to wait out the weather or find their next runner. Once I overheard this and heard how unsafe the trails conditions were I made a decision for myself that I was going to wait until daylight to run, and hopefully convince one of my teammates who had to run red to run with me.

The snow did not relent. By the time 6:30 rolled around and it was starting to get light out, Holly was still out on the course. I texted Megan asking if we could have a team meeting. In my head I was thinking there was no way I wanted to go out and tun 8mi, much less then run 4.2 a few miles later. When Holly came in, the first thing she said is there was no way she was going back out there and no way she would let our two pregnant teammates go out there. She walked almost the entire loop, like many other runners out there. As we headed to the team meeting by the fire, with snow still coming down, all I could think was, maybe we can just DNF. This is the first race I’ve actually wanted to DNF. Fortunately my team was in unanimous agreement and we decided to DNF. Lo and behold a half hour later the whole race is called off, and no more runners are allowed to head out on the course.

Snow on the prius. Luckily the concrete roads were clear

Snow on the prius. Luckily the concrete roads were clear

I found this was my hardcore limit. I’ve never really reached a time when running that I absolutely could not be convinced to continue. I’ve run 18 miles in the pouring rain, trail run in the snow, been hailed on, and every time I finished my run. So what I realized is that my limit is when I have no hot shower or warm bed and unlimited amounts of clothes t put on after my freezing adventures. I knew that if I headed out on my red loop and came back freezing and wet, my best bet to get warm again was to sit by the fire and put on the few remaining warm clothes I had, or go sit in my car with the heat on. Then I would still have another leg. So I’ve determined that I love running in harsh conditions, it gives me some thrill, but I love it as long as I have a warm shower and a warm place to return to.

Our awesome brunch spot in Vegas had a cool ceiling

Our awesome brunch spot in Vegas had a cool ceiling

As we packed up the car, we saw many exhausted runners coming in, and I was relieved that my team was in agreement about our decision to DNF. Since Johnny, Charlie and I headed out of Zion by 8am, we decided to make the long drive back to the Bay Area in one go rather then sleep halfway. We figured 2hr rotations would leave each of us enough time to nap. We stopped in Vegas for a breakfast buffet that kept us pretty full all day. We finally made it back home at 9:30 after hitting traffic in Gilroy. We made some salad (I was seriously lacking veggies the last few days) and mac’n’cheese, drank a delicious beer and headed to bed. I slept for an astounding 12 hours, more then I’ve slept at once in a while.

Despite all the difficult weather and the long drive, I am already plotting my next Ragnar Trail race, potentially Vail Lake since it is the closest one to me. I also really want to do Zion next year, but this time take off a day or two on each side of the race so we can go hike in Zion and Bryce.

Beautiful clouds and rays of sunshine on the way home

Beautiful clouds and rays of sunshine on the way home

Life Update : Controlled Changing Chaos

I’ll try to keep this short, the last few weeks have been crazy. But here is a quick rundown of the happenings in my life, which may explain my lack of blogging for the past month…

1) San Francisco.
I just accepted an amazing new job there, at an architecture firm I have loved for many years, so I’ll be making the move from Tahoe throughout April. Lets just say this firm does amazing net-zero energy and sustainability related non-residential projects in California and the US, more on them later. I am very sad to be leaving Kelly and Stone, and everyone in Tahoe. Its been an emotional few weeks, as all of this has been happening really fast.

2) Nuun Hood to Coast team.
I’m a new Nuun ambassador, and one of the perks, is there is are two Nuun Ambassador HTC teams. I did have to apply between all the other ambassadors, and I magically was chosen. I’ve been wanting to run this race ever since my first Mt. Si Relay back in 2008, and I have been part of the lottery a number of times, only to never have my team be picked. Needless to say, I jumped at this opportunity. I’m runner number 8 (so legs 8, 20, and 32) in van 2, and I have no idea what to expect other than an amazing few days in a van with other crazy/passionate runners.

3) Washington D.C.
This may not seem that exciting, but someone neither my parents nor my brother or I have been to D.C. so we are taking a family trip! I will also be visiting one of my best friends from graduate school, which will make the trip all the more fun! I’m excited to visit the other coast, I haven’t been in a few years, and see some awesome museums!

4) Ragnar Trail Zion
Ever since Charlie and I took our first road trip ever, a mere months after we started dating, to Zion and the Grand Canyon, I’ve been dying to go back. So we are heading together on another Southwest road trip, meeting up with some Nuunies to traverse miles in Zion. It should be epic fun, like Ragnar Trail Tahoe or McDowell Mountain, and I can’t wait to Run, Camp, and Sleep under the stars with other crazy runners!

5) Architect Registration Exams (ARE)
These lovely 7, 3-4hour long tests tests required for architecture licensure are a bear to tackle. I just took #2, planning on taking #3 at the start of May, so more studying ahead of me! I’m hoping to have them all done before next July (27th birthday) or even better, depending on summer plans, by Christmas of this year! That would be a lovely Christmas present to myself.

So that’s the short of it, stay tuned for more blog posts on each of these, they are all happening in April, so it will be a busy month, exciting and action packed, but busy!

 

 

Trip to Guatemala: The Tamahu Project

It has taken me a few days since returning form my trip to Guatemala to digest everything that I saw and everything I did. Needless to say, it was a packed trip, but not full of the usual activities. So here goes the story, I hope you all enjoy reading about a whole different part of my life.

Aerial Map of Tamahu

Aerial Map of Tamahu

We were heading to Tamahu, Guatemala, to visit our Grandfather, who runs the Tamahu Project, a non-profit with a three branches. Tamahu is located about 3 hours by car from Guatemala City, and has a population of about 4,000 including a few of the surrounding hill villages. To access it, you drive on a windy one lane highway for the first 2.5-3hrs, then on a dirt road with a few paved sections or a half hour. The dirt road continues for another 7hrs to the Gulf of Mexico passing through other towns. Like I said, it is pretty rural. Our grandfather met us in San Julian, the junction to the dirt road after we took the Monja Blanca (greyhound equivalent) form Guatemala City. I had never been to Central America, much less to Guatemala, but my brother and cousin had each been a few times, so I trusted their navigation skills.

All the kids were surprisingly happy given all their situations

All the kids were surprisingly happy given all their situations

First let me explain, the Tamahu Project as I mentioned before, is a non-profit with three branches: an elementary school, a kids nutritional clinic, and a number of building projects. The school was the first piece, opened in 2005 quickly followed by the clinic which rehabilitates infants and children from malnutrition, a common problem in the area. The third piece, the building projects range in scope from new dwelling for people who live in metal shacks with dirt floors to brining running water to houses in hillside villages.

Tomas asking them to hold up their hearts

Tomas asking them to hold up their hearts

Since our first full day there was a Friday, we spent the most time at the school with the cute kids. It was “La Dia del Cariño” (Valentine’s Day) so we helped them decorate hearts and, helped the teachers with activities and lunch. I should mention that this region of Guatemala has two dialects, Q’eqchi and Pocom which are based on Mayan, and most of the kids speak one of these two at home, and then learn Spanish throughout their schooling. Needless to say none of them spoke a lick of English, although the teachers all spoke Spanish and the dialects fluently.

She was showing us where her heart is

She was showing us where her heart is

It was definitely a test of my Spanish ability since that was my only method of communication. I was surprised at how happy all the kids are despite most of them traveling for more than an hour to school, many of them from hillside villages that they walk a ways down to the road from. It worked out great though, and I loved spending time at the school. We spent the afternoon reading and walking around the town, I wanted to get familiar with as much of the surroundings as I could.

The town of Tamahu, Guatemala

The town of Tamahu, Guatemala

Fr. Ricardo's property in the hills above San Cristobal

Fr. Ricardo’s property in the hills above San Cristobal

Saturday was a bit of an unusual day for us. We went to run errands with my grandfather, stopping to purchase things for the school and clinic and then meet his friend, Father Ricardo, in San Cristobal. We had a great lunch with a few weird Guatemalan foods I wish I had taken pictures of, and then he wanted to show us a property he bought from a friend who owns a few fincas (agricultural estate, usually to grow coffee) in the area. His property was beautiful, and we got to hear stories about all his walks and adventures to the hillside towns that are part of his parish. Next time I go to Guatemala I would like to join him on some of his visits to see what even smaller/more rural towns in the area look like. After we went to his property, we went to meet his friends, Tono and Irma, and they were very nice. Again, a test of my Spanish, but I managed. It was really interesting to see the coffee beam process before they get roasted. In case anyone was curious, unroasted coffee beans taste like any other bean – pretty bland.

The town square and welcome sign

The town square and welcome sign

Sunday was another day of adventure. First we went to a few minutes of the mass in Pocom, because I heard the music was an experience, and boy did it not let me down! I’m not even sure I can describe it, so maybe next time I will record a clip for you all to hear. After the music, we sat on the steps of the church in the main square of town to just watch life go by. Being three tall outsiders, people tended to stare at us, but sitting on those steps, after a few minutes people forgot or stopped caring we were there and it was really nice to see life go on.

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Local taxi driver stopping to read the paper

Local taxi driver stopping to read the paper

Tortilla making

Tortilla making

We spent the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon exploring the area. We stopped to see an awesome waterfall on the way to seeing a few of the completed housing projects that my Grandfather worked on. They are a simple design, designed to not require many tools, no saws, and be easily assembled by the owners, with a concrete floor and real doors and windows.

One of the completed Casitas

One of the completed Casitas

Dwelling before the Casita

Dwelling before the Casita

For me, it was really interesting to talk to the people who owned the houses and hear their stories about how they heard of the Tamahu Project, and what their conditions were like before their new home. It was similar with the water projects, seeing how grateful everyone was for something so simple as running water, not plumbing, just running drinking water.

The main road in Tamahu, where the market takes place

The main road in Tamahu, where the market takes place

Overall, this trip was very eye opening. It was hard coming back and going to work to design 4000sf and larger second/third homes for people when there are clearly so many people without proper homes. I know my work in Tahoe is interesting, but I guess I’m beginning to question the importance. Designing cool mountain houses is, well, cool and great experience, but what if I could do more for humanity and actually have a real impact on people’s lives who would truly appreciate it. These Casitas that are being built in Guatemala cost only $800 each and make a huge difference in the lives of the owners.  Many of us spend more than that on just the plumbing fixtures or a couch in our homes. To send a child to the private school, including food, transportation, and school supplies, is less then $600 per year. We have found that the kids who attend this school are far less likely to drop out of their subsequent levels of education. At the school, they are given love and attention that is sometimes lacking at home. They are told they can do things and travel, and are allowed to dream. For many of the kids in this area, it is the bright part of their day before they have to return home and do labor.

Meeting the people and seeing Tamahu, the town I have heard about for more then a decade, was an amazing experience, one I will not soon forget. I love that my grandfather wants the grandchildren to continue his work. Part of us going to visit this time was to meet all the people who run each piece of the Tamahu Project so that in ten years when my grandfather cannot live in Guatemala full time, we can continue the work that he began. I love that I have been presented the opportunity to help make such a difference in the lives of people. Hopefully I will be making a return trip in June to again work in the school and travel to the Aldeas (hill villages) and meet even more people in the town whose lives have been changed with the Tamahu Project.

Do you ever wonder if you could do more for humanity?

The school in Tamahu

The school in Tamahu

The dirt road through the mountains coming into Tamahu

The dirt road through the mountains coming into Tamahu

Tamahu from across the river

Tamahu from across the river