Running Down the Potrero Grade Means You Have to Run Back Up

Without any particular marathon goals in mind, I've been running at a casual pace, mostly with camera in hand, for the past year. This past Saturday, on a whim I decided to run from Newbury Park down the Potrero Grade to CSU Channel Islands (CI)...and back.


It wasn't a particularly great day for running long, as the Santa Anas were drying things up after recent storms and, starting my run around 9 a.m., the heat played a bit of a factor. With water bottle, a single GU pack and my camera in hand, off I went.

For those of you not familiar with Potrero Road, it is a moderately treacherous, yet nicely paved, two lane road that links Newbury Park with Camarillo and the Oxnard Plain. It drops about 1,000 feet from Dos Vientos to CI. The top portion has a few tight twists and turns, with minimal shoulder space in these sections. Bottom line is, most runners I know have never, and will never, attempt running Potrero Road (I do know one crazy guy who has run it...John, I'm talking about you).

It was a bright, clear day and I felt confident that passing automobiles and motorcycles (and cyclists) would clearly see me running and not bash into me, ruining what otherwise was a pretty nice day. I survived to type this.

My water bottle was empty before I hit the bottom of the grade. But the good news is that I found a drinking fountain at a park on the east end of CI, near the student housing. Funny how good lukewarm water tastes on a warm day after running 9 miles. I downed my single GU pack and moved along, back towards Potrero.

Back up the grade from just above CSU Channel Islands

Back up the grade from just above CSU Channel Islands

The trek back up the grade was slow and steady. Having no long runs under my belt of late, combined with the steady climb, made this a bit more challenging than my body could endure. I used to pride myself on being a badass...someone who only stops running if a bodily function, injury, or emergency situation arises...not so this Saturday. I stopped for walk breaks off and on starting with the really steep part of the climb. It was a survival game for me.

Luckily there's a dirt shoulder next to most of the Potrero Grade

Luckily there's a dirt shoulder next to most of the Potrero Grade


Alternating running with walking up the hill allowed me to see things the speeding cars can't see so much, like this truck at the bottom of the canyon adjacent to the road. Not a particularly good place to park, one would think. Would be interesting to learn the history behind this truck.

All told, I made it back to the start in 2 1/2 hours. The run/walk was about 17 miles, so while much slower than my typical training run pace, it felt good to have completed this trek for the first time.

Needless to say, I was pretty sore the next day, heightened by the fact that I took the kids bowling in the afternoon.

22nd Year of Running in the Books: Another Average to Mediocre Year

2014 was the 22nd year that I've run on a consistent basis, the 21st full year; I started a third of the way into the year in 1993.

I've been tracking my mileage in an Excel spreadsheet since sometime in 1993 when I decided it would be more effective than tracking solely in my day planner. Actually, I do both. I attempt to jot down my approximate mileage and time spent running in my planner book, then at some point in time I type this information into the spreadsheet.

Life in the Fast Lane: My 22 year old Running Excel Spreadsheet.

Years ago I would update the spreadsheet on a weekly, sometimes even daily, basis. I would go back and look at my training in the weeks/months prior to a marathon and analyze what worked and what I should change. I would make notes in the spreadsheet, now 1.8 megabytes in size, about if I was sick, injured, traveling or sore on a given day.  Sometimes I would go back and review these notes, but not often. 

Now it is a chore updating this spreadsheet as things are quite different for me...married, with kids, busy, busy. For the last several years I update the entire year's worth of running data at the end of the year and it is something I don't particularly look forward to doing. A chore and a bore. BUT...I'm glad I forced myself to track my mileage for so long over the years because I'll know when I need to trade in my body, which has now logged over 53,000 miles.

I vaguely recalled years ago that Excel spreadsheets have certain finite number of rows that could theoretically require me to create a second sheet at some point. I decided to look it up.

Back in the day, versions of Excel up to 7.0 limited the number of rows to 16,384, which would mean that I'd have to create a separate spreadsheet when I'm 73 years old (my spreadsheet is currently near 8,000 rows).

But versions 8.0 through 11.0 quadrupled the maximum rows to 65,536 (and 256 columns) and version 12.0, which is what I now use, expanded that by a factor of 16, to 1,048,576 rows (along with 16,384 columns). So I can safely say that my current spreadsheet,will suffice for tracking my time into the twilight of my life.

2014: How Was It? Mediocre at best. I ran zero marathons in 2014, having to bail on the Los Angeles Marathon after tweaking my right hamstring/sciatic nerve in a half marathon training run.

I actually had a pretty good start to the year, having run a pretty solid 1:24 half marathon off of moderate training, 3 weeks prior to the injury. And then in early April I was able to run a slightly sub-38 minute 10K. But my motivation level dropped and my 50th birthday mid-year travels and fun made it ever more challenging to train for anything.

So it was a pretty uneventful year of running, but I managed to rake in 2,123 miles on the trails and roads. So far 2015 has not been much different...but I'm still running, and that's a good thing.

Today's run up Powerline (Edison) Trail. Danger Ahead? Steep Dropoff? Nah. Just enjoying the view.

First Day Off Running in Two Months Today

Yes, today, Sunday, September 7, 2014, is the first day I've taken off from running since July 5, 2014. I've been running pretty much every day the entire summer, though my 50th birthday, the longest vacation since my teen years and other summer activities.

My running, however, has been nothing special, just daily 4 to 6 mile runs, mostly on trails, nothing too speedy, no races, speedwork. My fastest runs have been with the local youth cross country running club that my son participates in.

So today my quads are sore as hell. Why? Because yesterday I ran a local 5K cross country race mostly with a bunch of kids (and some adults) who have been training for the last 6 to 8 weeks. I, on the other hand, have not been in race training mode.

You can't fool your body, especially at age 50. Five years ago I could run a 5K on a moment's notice and feel fine the next day. Today I run a 5K and the next day my legs feel like I've run a marathon.

But it's a "good" feeling in that it is just soreness, not pain. No injuries. Just my muscles reminding me that if I want to run fast, I've got to train fast. A pretty basic concept. The soreness is a wake up call.

Getting back to the race, I don't even know my time. I had to bolt out of there to get to my other son's soccer game. The race was at 10am in 80+ degree heat, which is not my idea of fun. But I'm glad I did it and it gave me the excuse today to take a well-needed (and deserved) day off.

Looking forward to a fall/winter season of cool temperatures and rain. Perhaps wishful thinking here in drought-ridden Southern California, but I think we're about due for it.

Saturday Morning Run Down Sycamore Canyon to Ranch Center Road

SycamoreCanyon FR_sign.JPG

For those of you who have walked, run or cycled down the paved Big Sycamore Canyon Road in Pt Mugu State Park from the Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa area, you may have noticed the fork in the road about a mile from the bottom of the steep hill.

Sycamore Canyon Road / Ranch Center Road juncture

Sycamore Canyon Road / Ranch Center Road juncture

Sycamore Canyon Road / Ranch Center Road junctureMost folks continue straight down Sycamore Canyon towards the beach. But if you veer right, you are headed down Ranch Center Road. I don't get up that way very often on my runs in the canyon. In fact, I can't even remember the last time I was up that way. But this past Saturday I decided to divert myself up that path.

In general, I don't see a lot of people down in Sycamore Canyon. As beautiful as it is, it is a lot of work getting down there and about five times tougher getting back out of it up the steep fire road to Newbury Park. I'd estimate easily two thirds of the folks I see down there are on bikes and the rest are hikers and runners.

But  there are significantly less people on Ranch Center Road. This past Saturday, I was surprised to see two young teenage-looking gals jogging up the trail, chatting away, having a nice run. Otherwise, I saw about 8 cyclists as I made my way up Ranch Center Road to the dilapidated, burned down Ranch area structures where Ranch Center Road meets Wood Canyon Fire Road.

Wood Canyon Fire Road is more interesting to run than Ranch Center Road as it is all dirt trail and surrounded by trees.

Wood Canyon Fire Road is more interesting to run than Ranch Center Road as it is all dirt trail and surrounded by trees.


Wood Canyon Fire Road is more interesting to run than Ranch Center Road as it is all dirt trail and surrounded by trees. I saw two cyclists rolling up this trail as I was coming down. Quite peaceful.

Trail runners' heaven is Wood Canyon Fire Road. I could run on trails like this any day.

Trail runners' heaven is Wood Canyon Fire Road. I could run on trails like this any day.

Several miles downhill the trail links back up to Sycamore Canyon Road, where I ran up past the Danielson Multi-Use Area, where I saw a group of campers, then back up the canyon.

Less than a mile north of the Danielson Multi-use area is this well placed porta-john.

Less than a mile north of the Danielson Multi-use area is this well placed porta-john.

I was out there for about 1 1/2 hours. A good, mid-summer fun run.

Saturday Morning Run Up to Danielson Cabin in Boney Mountain State Wilderness

This morning I decided to test out my new Sketchers trail running shoes with a trail run up to the Danielson Cabin and back.

I have no affiliation with Sketchers, by the way. Maybe I should, because I'm liking their shoes more and more. These trail shoes feel as comfortable as any shoes I've worn. Every shoe brand is different and everyone has a brand that seems to fit their own feet better than others. I'm finding this to be the case with my Sketchers. They fit snug but not too snug, light, yet supportive. And comfy.

Mind you, I can pretty much run in any shoes. Over the years I've worn ASICS, Saucony, Nike, Mizuno, Brooks and a few others. Since I'm not particularly picky about the shoes I run in, other than they can't feel too heavy, I tend to go with whatever's on sale.

But the price point on the Sketchers I like on a day-to-day basis without having to wait for a sale. Plus, if I can get to the Sketchers store on a buy one, get one at X% off day, that's even better. Also helps that my kids like to wear Sketchers.

But enough about Sketchers, which is just one thing that Meb Keflezighi and I have in common.

What else do I have in common with Boston Marathon winner Meb K? Well we're both UCLA graduates. And we've both run the Boston Marathon. He ran it 37 minutes faster than my time back in the day, enough time to shower and have breakfast. But we both like Sketchers. Except, he gets paid to like his Sketchers. I don't. But that's ok with me. Or maybe it isn't ok with me subconsciously, since I've mentioned it twice now. Hmm.

So my run up to the Danielson Monument this morning was a nice, easy one, no falling and hurting myself, which is good, as the scabs from my last fall have not quite healed up yet.

I'm keeping my eyes on the trail more now. Watching where you're stepping on trails is pretty important. It is ok to look around too, but better to do so on flatter sections so you don't trip on a rock or root and bash your body around. Attempting to practice what I'm preaching.

The sky was pretty clear this morning and it wasn't quite too hot...yet. We are a few days from July and it appears the temps are going up soon. Spring is my favorite time to run, when it's cool out, but not too cool, and the sun's out, but it's not too hot.

From my house, I made it to the Danielson Monument in 36 minutes at casual pace, stopping my watch a few times to take pictures. I was back at the house 34 minutes later, which, given the downhill, seems slow, but I did sidetrack a couple minutes to see if there was even a little dribble of water in the "Waterfall" off of Danielson Road. No such like. Quite dry back there.

Longest Duration Training Run Ever Yesterday Due to My Bad Sense of Direction

Yesterday, three weeks and a day before the marathon I'm signed to run, I decided to explore a bit. A week ago I ran a solid 19.5 miler on the roads, my longest long training run in quite some time. Two weeks ago I ran a half marathon. So the question yesterday for me was, do I need to get another long run in before the LA Marathon on March 9th, or is it too late in the game for that. Would a 20 miler three weeks before marathon day prove detrimental?

I figured sure, why not. I've run plenty of marathons and have generally run my final long run in the 3 to 4 week time frame prior to the race. But since my training has been generally on the light side, I hedged my bets today and decided to try a trail, which would be a lot easier on my body.

One of 5 stream crossings on the Arroyo Conejo Trail in Newbury Park/Thousand Oaks.

The Arroyo Conejo Trail trailhead in Newbury Park is about four miles from my house. I ran to it with a bottle of water in one hand and a camera in the other. I'd never run this trail before. It was nicely maintained but, not having reviewed a map of the trail, I didn't know where it ended or much about it.

I ran at a nice easy pace and discovered this particular trail has not one, not two, but five stream crossings. I'm not a big fan of stream crossings because you have to slow down and usually stop to navigate how to get over them without getting your shoes soaked. I don't like running with shoes doused in water because I don't blisters on my feet. But nonetheless, they are kind of cool to do every now and then.

The first two crossings have little wood bridges on them that make it easy to get across. The next three took more effort as there were no little wood bridges...just strategically placed rocks. Not overly difficult or anything, but when you're not wearing hiking books...just lightweight, road-type training shoes, it's a bit more challenging. I stopped my watch each time I went over a crossing as I didn't want to include the rock navigation time in my training run.

Two of the stream crossings are a breeze with these wood bridges helping out.

It was either the 3rd or 4th crossing that for me was the most challenging. I stepped on a branch that I thought was solid, then my right foot dropped all-in to the water. Dammit. I didn't want that. So while navigating my right foot out of the water, my left foot slipped in too. Arrghh. Oh well. I mentally regrouped and found my way across the stream and thought positive thoughts, like, hey that cold water feels pretty good on my feet.

Soon enough I was at the Hill Canyon Wastewater Treatment Plant "Wetlands" - probably not something one would want to jump into for a swim. Slightly stinky around there (as one may expect, though not overpowering. I ran a path around the Wetlands and found myself on trails taking me past Wildwood Park on the right to the Western Plateau section of Thousand Oaks. I figured I would run about an hour and 20 minutes, then loop around through Wildwood Park, for a total time of about 2 hours, 40 minutes.

But I got sidetracked with the numerous trails back there, a veritable runners/cyclists playground. I ran past a group of Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency volunteers working on some trails and made it to a fire road overlooking the Conejo Grade. I stopped several times to take pictures, making sure to stop the timer on my watch each time I stopped.

View of the Conejo Grade from the Western Plateau section of Thousand OaksI would have loved to continue running down the fire road towards the 101 to explore, but had a sparse amount of water in my bottle and was past the 1:20 mark of my run, so I turned back. My navigational skills while running are not very good. So after about 20 wrong turns and an extra 30 minutes of trail running, I decided I should find my way back to the trail that took me there.

Thankfully it was only about 70 degrees (tough winter) as I made it back to the stream crossings. My water was gone and I was getting a bit tired. The crossings were a lot easier for me going back down and my shoes and socks were pretty dried out at this point, as was my water bottle.

I made it to the trailhead at Rancho Conejo Playfields about 2 hours, 45 minutes into my run, with about 4 miles to go. I stopped at the park to refill my water bottle and take in a pack of GU. That was only my 2nd pack of GU of the day; the first one was before my run...basically my breakfast. The GU and water seemed to give me a bit of a second wind as I pushed my way home in a cumulative elapsed running time of 3 hours, 17 minutes.

This may actually have been my longest training run ever in terms of elapsed time. Three hours, 17 minutes at my typical long run training pace would be about a 25 to 26 mile run. But given a lot of my miles were on trails, with lots of stop and go, I'm going to credit myself with a 22 mile run, or only a 9 minute average pace.

Today, Sunday, I'm just slightly sore, but not too much. Time to eat some real food!

In a Perfect World I'd Be Running a 20 Miler Six Weeks Before the Los Angeles Marathon

Potrero Road Westbound in Newbury Park

The Los Angeles Marathon is six weeks from today and in my younger days by now I'd have have run 3 to 5 20 milers at this point. But today I'm at zero 20 milers but got have some solid 14 to 17 milers in the bag. This includes a run through Hidden Valley via Potrero Road, a run down Sycamore Canyon to the beach and back and several road runs.

In my younger days I was family-free and could get to bed any time I wanted and wake up early without concernt Today I'm constrained by kids, the dog and other things that take the focus away. But that's ok. Life changes and priorities change. I just have to shift my mentality from running a P.R. marathon to running a solid marathon.

Next Sunday I'm running the Ventura Habitat Half Marathon to test my fitness level five weeks prior to the full marathon. Based on my most recent 5K time of 18:17 on Thanksgiving Day, I believe that I have the aerobic capacity to run about a 3 hour marathon. I think a 1:26 half marathon time next Sunday would prove that out using the rule of thumb, half marathon time x 2.1 equals projected marathon time.

Getting back to the long runs, since I'm doing a half marathon next Sunday, there will be no long run next weekend. That leaves basically one last opportunity to run a 20 miler, three weeks prior to the marathon. Assuming I don't injure my right hamstring again at the half marathon, that's what I'm hoping to accomplish.

Ran Half of the Camarillo Marathon This Past Sunday at a Training Run

On December 28th I ran one of my longest training runs of the year, at 14 miles. Then, having not partied on New Year's Eve, decided to do a 2 hour run up to Boney Peak and back.

The next few days my quads and calves were sore, but that didn't stop me from looking at the CVG Upcoming Races listing and thinking, why not sign up for the Camarillo Marathon this Sunday and use it as a training run. So, I signed up Thursday night and picked up my bib number on Saturday. My legs were still sore on Saturday.

Some local runners have bad memories from the well-publicized issues at the inaugural Camarillo Marathon in 2010, when there were issues with course logistics. I'm very pleased to say that the race was very well organized on Sunday. The race started at 7am and is a double-loop course now, with plenty of water/Gatorade stops and a reasonable number of porta-johns along the course. They did a nice job and I would recommend this course as a flat, very low key alternative to the larger courses. The beauty of race like this is that you can wake up not so early, drive over, park, run, finish and be home shortly thereafter.

In any case, I opted not to run two loops on Sunday. The legs were still a bit shot so I decided to run a just over 7 minute pace to not overexert myself. It was yet another day of sun and wind. It didn't get overly hot (mid to high 60s, maybe low 70s later on), but the Santa Anas were out in force and it was quite dry. It was one of those days where I drank at every single water stop but there was no sweat on my shirt to speak of as the wind immediately dried it up.

Had my only issue been sore legs, I might have continued to run the full 26.2. But of all things, my stomach wasn't feeling up to the task on Sunday. My fate was decided at a pit stop around mile 11, when I said to myself "it ain't worth it." Adding to my discomfort was the beginnings of chafing in the back armpit area (I wore a sleeved shirt, not a singlet, and the wind was wreaking some havoc). Having signed up not to race, but to train, I opted to keep it positive at the halfway point, bail out and head back home to hang with the kids. I paced myself to a 1:32ish 13.1 miles. Slow for me, but purposeful. I'm still a bit sore today.

The overall winner was 27 year old Amanda Phillips of Roseburg (I'm assuing Oregon), who blew away the entire field, women and men alike, in 2 hours, 52 minutes. I saw her on the first lap turnaround and she looked really smooth. The 2nd and 3rd place finishers were men who came in around 3:06 and 3:07. The race had only 122 finishers but I would run it again.

Ran My Longest Long Run Since September 8th in Anticipation of L.A. Marathon

Training through the December holiday season is a bit of a challenge, among holiday festivities, shopping, parties, and, of course, colds. Yes, somehow I managed to catch two separate colds this month. Both of them were fairly short in duration, but as I age, I seem to encounter longer periods of chest congestion and coughiing after battling off the sore throat, runny nose and sneezing. I still wake up with a cough, but, I'm feeling pretty good at this point.

Speaking of catching colds, it was a specific Saturday lunchtime when the kids and I visited one of our favorite local restaurants, which I will leave unnamed as it is not important. The cashier, someone who I immediately recognized and said hello to from prior visits when he served the food, briefly turned away and looked like he was sneezing or wiping his nose. For a brief second I thought, this is not good. But I was in the middle of ordering and the kids were unwieldy. There was only one available table in the restaurant and it had plates on it. The cashier bussed the table. Then, minutes later, the same guy served our food.

Five days later...slight sore throat and lethargic. I KNEW that was a mistake but sometime's it's hard to steer clear of viruses. And when you're constantly getting inadequate sleep, you're more susceptable to catching a cold virus.

I digress. My training has been consistently light to moderate this month, even after I attempted to motivate myself to train more by signing up for the Los Angeles Marathon on March 9, 2014. So today, the last Saturday of 2013, I managed to get out there and run 14 miles on the roads in 1 hour, 45 minutes. Not a bad start to my training. I figure I have about 6 weeks of training before a 3 week taper. This is not an optimal amount of time, but I'm not taking this marathon particularly seriously.

I have fond memories of the LA Marathon in the mid-1990s, when I was a heck of a lot younger and able to train a lot harder in my pre-marriage, pre-kids state. My first sub-3 hour marathon was the 1995 LA Marathon in 2:48. The next year I ran my first sub-2:40 marathon at the 1996 LA Marathon. Then my PR marathon was the LA Marathon the next year in 2:35, back when the course was still a loop around Los Angeles. That was my 8th marathon. Now I've run 31 of them, with #32 hopefully happening next March.

Interval Training on the Roads as an Alternative to the Track

There's no arguing that if you're looking to improve your speed, doing intervals on the track will help. A standard 400 meter track makes it easy to run any distance in repetitive format. I prefer simple workouts like 400s at 5K or faster pace with a 200 or 400 meter jog in between.

But I don't like running on the track for various reasons. It is always challenging finding/making the time to get over to the track when it is open. Running in circles isn't particularly fun for me. And I tend to get injured on the track.

As an alternative, a few weeks ago I started to do a little stealh interval work on a local road. Starting out with only 4 repetitions from one point to another on a slightly downhill surface, I'll jog back to the start, a noticeable crack in the pavement. The finish is a sign adjacent to the road. Nothing fancy. I don't even know the exact distance (though I'd estimate it is about 450 meters).

I feel fitter already, having done this routine just once a week. I'm up to repetitions. This upcoming week will test my commitment with the Daylight Saving time less hour of sleep this week!

So think about mixing it up in your own routine a bit. You'll definitely notice a difference.