’40 by 40′ accomplished!

I did it! It was down to the wire but I completed my “40 by 40” challenge. I ran three days in a row, capping off the fitness frenzy with a four-mile run on my birthday.

IMG_4222I’ve run 40 miles over the past 16 days—on dirt trails when I could, up more hills than I liked, through canyons and around my neighborhood—all in pursuit of a specific goal with illusive meaning.

In my first blog post about this challenge, I wrote that I didn’t feel 40. Now I unfortunately do. My right knee is tender. I’m wearing my knee brace and patella bands again. And for the final runs, I spent as much time stretching as I did running. I rolled on my foam roller and ran my awesome Homedics handheld massager over my entire body.

But I don’t mean to sound so negative. This has been a fun adventure. I learned more about where I live, like discovering beautiful Bommer Canyon. The views have been great. And my boyfriend achieved his own personal challenge that we’re calling his “4 at 40.” He joined me on my final run at Quail Hill and ran four miles for the first time ever!

I’m going to keep running, just not as often. I don’t want to squander this better shape that I’m in so I’ll try to keep exercising 3-4 times a week by working out or taking classes at the gym, hiking, doing much-needed yoga and, yes, running.

But this challenge has been a reminder that I need to take care of myself more than I used to. My mom had wise advice when I called her on her birthday, which is a day before mine: “When you’re exercising at an advanced age, whether it’s 40 or 70, you do have to do some conditioning. And you have to know when to cut it off too.”

My mom dances, so her conditioning is weekly 30-minute sports massages and an IT band stretch. If she does these things, she can dance for hours and sleep well that night.

I know I need to stretch fully and use my foam roller both before and after I run. But I can’t forget the other part of her advice. “You have to know when to cut it off too.” I didn’t realize how hard this challenge would be because I hadn’t run this much in a while.

I set out to prove that I could be in shape at any age. That I accomplished. I feel in great shape. But I also faced my limitations. I’ll never beat my high school cross-country times. I don’t plan to ever run a marathon again. My boyfriend asked if I’d run another half-marathon. I can’t rule that out because I (obviously) love a good challenge and it’s been fun to run destination races with my sister. My brother-in-law promises he can get me to run a half-marathon in under two hours (my PR is 2:10). My left leg could handle that but I’m not sure my right leg could. I strained my right hamstring playing rugby years ago and over time the knots and pain have crept up to my lower back and down to my knee. The pain is more acute now from having run all these miles. Even if I stretch like a mad woman, could I handle those long runs?

I know I can continue to make running a part of my life, which is good because running makes me feel at peace, positive and balanced. But I also know I need to take care of my body. Otherwise, how will I accomplish 50 by 50?

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It rained the day before my final run, so we had a great view of the snow-capped mountains from Quail Hill.
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‘We’re almost there’

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The summer after my junior year in high school, my work schedule conflicted with my cross-country practices so I didn’t run at all. The week before school started I arrived to practice completely out of shape. Our coaches, probably realizing they didn’t have a lot of time to get us meet ready, sent us out on an eight-mile run. Near the end, my running buddy Jennifer chanted “We’re almost there, we’re almost there, we’re almost there” to the rhythm of our struggling steps. We weren’t literally almost there, but it helped. I was able to focus on her words instead of how I felt. And it created the illusion that the run was almost over, which gave me the energy to finish.

In the years since, that chant has helped me tackle other challenging runs. I think of it again as I near the end of my “40 by 40” challenge. Yesterday I ran four miles to bring my total to 30. The final 10 miles will be challenging because my legs aren’t as fresh as when I started, but being this close gives me the energy to finish.  Just 10 to go!

Day 10:

Not gonna lie, I didn’t want to run today. My legs were tired and my knees were still sore. But I knew I had to, so I tried a new spot to get myself excited for my run. That plan didn’t exactly work. I ran part of a bike path next to the 405 freeway. As I passed the slow-moving cars on the 405, I first thought that at least I wasn’t stuck in traffic. But then I thought, but at least they’re sitting! I begrudgingly ran four miles, very happy to be done.

Day 12:

After a busy Friday, all I wanted to do was take it easy and not have to tackle the “run” item on my to-do list. But I had taken Thursday off, so I had no choice: I had to run today. It turns out that I picked the perfect run to end the week. I ran Bommer Canyon, one of the other Irvine Open Space Preserves. I really liked it because Bommer Canyon is more quiet and tranquil than the Quail Hill Loop Trail.

IMG_4181I ran Bommer Meadows Trail (1/2 miles) and the aptly-named Nature Loop Trail (1 mile), then took the Meadows trail back to the parking lot. I ran past groves of trees, crossed over quaint wooden bridges and admired the views in every direction. I stopped often to take photos, welcoming the brief respite. When I got back to the trailhead, my Runkeeper app said I’d run 1.8 miles so I started down the Shady Canyon Bikeway that connected with the parking lot. My plan was to turn around when I got to two miles and run the canyon again, but I continued on the path because there was a dirt hiking and riding trail next to the bike path that was flat and soft. And it was slightly warmer here than in the canyon (it was 62 degrees in the late afternoon, brrr). The path parallels Shady Canyon Drive and then enters a gated community. That seemed odd. But there’s something invigorating about running without knowing where you’re going. It was a beautiful run surrounded by nature with no houses in sight (they were hidden up side streets). I turned around when I reached three miles. But if I had continued, it would have taken me through the community all the way to Quail Hill.

I finished my four-mile run feeling really good. Once again, my knees were loving the soft ground. I have from Saturday to Tuesday to run the final 10 miles. It feels good to be “almost there!”

40 by 40 Progress:

Day: 12 of 16
Miles: 30 of 40 completed
Status: Just 10 miles to go, woo-hoo!

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Week 2 of ’40 by 40′

I’m eight days into my “40 by 40” challenge and so far I’ve logged 22 miles, which means I’m on pace to finish 40 miles by my birthday. It feels great to be running more, although my knees and lower back would beg to differ.

Day 3:

Rest day 🙂

Days 4 and 5:

I ran a 4.5-mile loop in my neighborhood on Thursday, reversing it and running the other way on Friday. It was the same distance, but I encountered the long hill at the end of the run instead of at the beginning. Potayto, potahto. A hill is a hill no matter where it is in your run!

Days 6-7:

Rest days 🙂 And I really rested. As an early birthday present, my boyfriend booked a night at a tranquil Desert Hot Springs hotel, including a 90-minute massage. I had planned to run on Sunday, but I was too relaxed after soaking in a hot tub and pool filled with hot mineral water (104 degrees and 97 degrees, respectively). He nailed my present—it was the perfect gift for my sore body!

Day 8:

After a two-day break, I’m back at it. I ran the Quail Hill loop today because I wanted to give my knees a break by running on dirt. Even still, I wore a brace on my right knee and patella bands on both knees for extra support because my knees are sore after a week of pounding the pavement. I ran the loop forward, backward and then added a little extra to bring my run to five miles. It was a challenge because of the distance, heat and that damn hill but I felt pretty good. I’d say that was thanks to my relaxing spa weekend, the soft surface and all that support. Have knee brace, will run!

40 by 40 Progress:

Day: 8 of 15
Miles: 22 of 40 completed
Status: I will accomplish my goal if my knees survive!

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A hazy view of the mountains from Quail Hill’s vista point.

40 by 40

It feels surreal to say, but I’m turning 40 in two weeks.

I don’t feel 40. Sure, I have aches and pains but I attribute these ailments to activity, not age: back problems from 12 years of playing rugby, tennis elbow from, well, tennis. And I’m pretty sure I developed plantar fasciitis because I have very high arches yet insist on wearing my cute brown boots that have absolutely no support (if that isn’t youthful thinking, I don’t know what is).

The Challenge:

I don’t feel 40, but  as my birthday approaches I can’t help thinking about the passage of time and getting older. So I’ve come up with a plan to help me embrace this milestone. I’m going to run 40 miles by my 40th birthday. 40 by 40—a gut check to make sure this girl still has it. And by ‘it’ I mean being in shape, like I was when I ran cross-country in high school, completed a marathon at age 29 and played full games of competitive rugby in my early 30s.

Day 1:

IMG_4058On Monday I ran a hilly four miles I’ll call “Hilltop Run.” Or “Loop de Loop.” I started by running up a steep street I’ve always avoided. At the top I ran around another circular street (the inner loop). When I was back on the main street, I started running down the other side. About halfway down I noticed a dirt trail that led off into the hills. I’d noticed it before but had never checked it out. This time, wanting to increase my mileage for this run, I  went for it. The trail spread out in all directions, but I stayed on the same path until I got to a high point where I could see all the way to the ocean. Now completely sweating, I ran back to the paved street and headed home. If I hadn’t set this challenge for myself, I might not have added the trail run, but I’m glad I did.

Day 2:

IMG_4082On Tuesday I wanted a flat course to give my glutes a break. But alas, since I live halfway up a hill, I can’t catch a break. I decided to run a section of University Trail, which would accomplish two goals. First, to make progress toward my ’40 by 40′ challenge, and second, to cross an item off my O.C. bucket list. I’ve been wanting to run this trail but had been putting it off because I wasn’t sure how long it was and didn’t think I was in good enough shape to run more than three miles. But there’s nothing like a challenge (even one that’s self-inflicted) to make you just do it!

It was a challenging course because I had to run more than a mile uphill to get home, but the University Trail section was flat and pleasant. It’s paved and I don’t like running on concrete, but I was able to run most of it on the packed dirt next to the path. Even though there’s a busy street nearby, it felt peaceful because the trees blocked the view of the road. It was 78 degrees with the slightest of breezes, so needless to say I was sweaty once again by the end of my run.

With every new run I go on, I’m continually amazed by how many nature trails there are in Orange County and what a great place this is to run.

40 by 40 Progress:

Day: 2 of 15
Miles: 8 of 40 completed
Status: My legs are sore. But I still don’t feel 40!

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Today’s run was hilly!
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University Trail
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University Trail
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Yes, dogs are allowed on University Trail
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Day 1 run: A flower on the path
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Day 1 run … views all the way to the ocean
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What comes up must come down!

Quail Hill … a running gem hidden in plain sight

I’m lucky to live a short distance from many great places to run. This is a fact I’m just beginning to realize.

IMG_3970For a year, my boyfriend and I passed the Quail Hill Open Space Preserve on our way to the Irvine Spectrum or the gym (or more often, the gym then the Yard House at the Spectrum to undo our workout). We thought the lush scenery was just for show until one day we noticed people in them hills. A quick Google search of Irvine Open Space Preserve led us to discover this nature trail practically in our backyard.

In January, we walked the almost two-mile Quail Hill Loop Trail. This was right after the rains had turned the hills bright green like Ireland, so needless to say it was a slow pace as we took lots of photos. The cool thing about this trail is that dogs are allowed, but for our first visit we left our dog at home since his arthritis had been acting up.

Today, I returned to run the loop twice for almost four miles total. With a decent hill to up the difficulty level, temps in the mid-60s and a dirt surface to keep my knees happy, this was a great run!

The trail is easy to get to. From the 405 South, take the Sand Canyon Road exit and turn right. You’ll go through a roundabout at Quail Hill Parkway, then the parking lot is on the right (the address is 34 Shady Canyon Drive). From the parking lot, you can access the Quail Hill trail or a bike path. There were about 20 cars in the parking lot but I passed only four people on the loop, so I suspect most people were on the bike path.

First Loop:

I started by running clockwise, which means I started with the hill. At the top of the hill, there’s a vista point where you can take photos (past the freeway, you can see Irvine’s tall office buildings, the orange balloon in the Orange County Great Park and all the way to the mountains in the distance). Since I was running today, I didn’t stop. But next time I’ll run to the end of the vista point and back to get the loop distance a little closer to two miles.

The other side of the loop is a flat section next to the freeway. Even though you can hear cars zooming by in the background, the run still feels tranquil because of the swaying grass, chirping birds and expansive views. Civilization—and its frantic pace—feel a world away.

Second Loop:

I felt good after the first loop. I stopped to reset my Runkeeper app and turned around to run the other way. This time I encountered the hill at the end of the run. Muttering “OK” to myself over and over, my now-tired legs slowly made it to the top. After nearly 40 minutes of running, I was rewarded with great views of the city to my left and Quill Hill to my right.

True to form, I quickly cleaned up in the bathroom located next to the parking lot, then undid my workout by having lunch with my boyfriend at Mendocino Farms :). I’ll definitely be back to improve my time, especially since this trail is so close to my home. But even if you don’t live nearby, it’s worth the drive to walk or run this trail hidden in plain sight.

For more info: Irvine Open Space Reserve

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