Sunday, May 3, 2009

Miwok 100K race report - challenging conditions for a first 100K

I had been looking forward to this day for a long time. Sometime last year I decided that I really wanted to run the Miwok 100K race up in the Marin Headlands, and if I could get into it for 2009 I wanted it to be my first attempt at the distance. Not quite sure why I decided that, but I think part of it was it's reputation as a challenging course. It didn't hurt that it was near where I live, and finishers get a bottle of beer from Lagunitas Brewing Company. OK, who am I kidding, gettin the beer was the main reason I wanted to run this race, I admit it. But can you blame me???

My alarm went off at 3am, and I wasn't too enthralled to get out of bed. Fortunately the coffee was already brewed - I must say, I love having a coffeemaker with a timer! I got some toast going (thankfully the toaster-oven decided to work properly) and was out the door by 3:30am as planned. I confess to a few moments of anxiety on my way up to the race, worrying that I wouldn't make it in time for the start. Ahh, the joys of pre-race jitters! I made it in plenty of time, parked in the remote parking lot and grabbed a ride to the starting area from another runner. While finishing my last minute prep stuff Adam Blum, a fellow RhoQuick team member, came up to say hi. We chatted for a few minutes, then it was time to walk over to the start line on Rodeo Beach.

The temperature was pretty comfortable for 5:40am on the beach, warm enough for a light long sleeve shirt - there was a light breeze and it was foggy but not raining. Tia gave us a short spiel and off we went right on time. I found myself close to the front of the pack - making a mad dash across the sand to the far side of Rodeo Beach and the first of the day's climbs - primarily to avoid the bottleneck at the single track trail heading up to the road. I really hate waiting at bottlenecks in races and will run a little too fast to start off just to avoid them.

Once on the road I settled into a more comfortable pace and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the race. I love listening to snippets of conversations along the way and am fascinated by the variety of things people talk about while running. After a little while I heard someone call my name, and turned to see Pierre-Yves Couteau, another of my fellow Rhomobile/Quicksilver teammates who was running his first 100K race too. Pierre and I ran, chatted, and unfortunately missed the fabulous view of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco that is available on a clear day (or early morning, as it were). I'm 0-3 in this department, having run this area of the headlands in three different races and it's been socked in every time. I'm just gonna keep running races up there until I get a decent view. If it takes 20 damn years (I hope I can keep running that long)!

I took my leave of Pierre at the Tennessee Valley aid station (mile 11.9) as I had to answer the call of nature, which is one call I do not like to miss, avoid, screen, or have the answering machine pick up. Particularly in a race. Fortunately I was in and out quickly, and back on the trail. Right away I ran into Keith Blom, another member of the Quicksilver running club (we had 6 club members running the race) and we ran together for awhile. By this time I had warmed up and took off my long sleeve shirt and was running with a t-shirt and my team singlet. I was running comfortably, and blew through the Muir Beach aid station (mile 16), taking time only to get my water bottle refilled and grab a pb&j square.

The climb up to the Pan Toll aid station (mile 21.7) is the biggest climb of the race, gaining around 1,600' over a little less than 6 miles. It's not a killer climb from a steepness perspective, it just goes on for awhile. I didn't want to push too hard, knowing there was still plenty of running to do, so I took a few walk breaks here and there especially on the occasional steeper sections. Again, once at the aid station, I took only enough time to refill a water bottle and grab a little to eat. On my way out Victoria and Steve said hi - they had come out to pace some friends.

The next section between Pan Toll and Bolinas Ridge aid station (mile 28.4) had its own challenges. It's a very exposed section of the trail, right out on the coastal hills. When clear there is a wonderful view of the Pacific Ocean up and down the coast, and the wildflowers (what I could see of them) were blooming all over. Today it was foggy, very windy in areas, and it started to rain. On top of that, the trail is very narrow and within 10 minutes my shoes, socks and feet were soaking wet from the grass hanging over the sides of the trail. I pulled over near a big rock outcropping to dig out my sleeves, as I was beginning to get a bit cold, and also to get a Vespa out of my pack, as I had forgotten to drink one at Pan Toll, and it was time. After a while, it started to rain, though fairly lightly.

Soon enough I saw some motivational signs and heard cheers, and knew the Bolinas Ridge aid station was coming up. A little before the aid station, though, I came up on Sean Lang, yet another of my RhoQuick teammates. I knew this was not a good sign, as Sean is much faster than I am. He was noticeably limping, and I checked in with him to see if there was anything I could do. He had re-injured his calf, and was planning to drop at one of the upcoming aid stations.

A few minutes later the Bolinas Ridge aid station appeared and I pulled in and handed my water bottle to a familiar face and one of my ultra mentors - Carol Cuminale. We chatted for a few moments while I grabbed a couple things from the smorgasbord, then got back on the trail to the turnaround at the Randall Trail aid station (mile 35.6). This section took us along a ridge and followed a fire road. It started off with rolling hills, nothing too big, steep, or long. In no time I came up on Adam Blum, who was running strong. The rain had picked up by this time, the temperature began to drop, and I had to eventually dig my rain jacket out of my pack. Not to stay dry, as I was already soaked, but to keep warm. I also grabbed my gloves because my fingers just weren't working well, and that made it hard to get to the supplies I needed on a regular basis - electrolyte pills and food.

After a couple miles the front runners started going by on their way back. Most of them looked pretty focused, and who wouldn't be running at the pace those folks run at. I enjoy cheering on other runners while at races, and this was no different. Some are so into their own thing that they really don't even acknowledge you, but many have a kind word of encouragement in return. Caitlin Smith, the 3rd place female and 10th place overall finisher, whizzed by clad in shorts and a sports bra! I chuckled to myself and wondered if she wasn't just a little bit cold at that point.

The final couple miles to the turnaround are downhill. I hit the aid station in 5:55, and did my standard quick stop, just long enough to fill a bottle and grab something to eat. Adam had come in moments before me, but had to take a pit stop so I got out of there ahead of him. I kept expecting him to catch up to me, but he never did. I found out later he had dropped due to a tight calf. No sense in pushing things too far in a race like this one and ending up with a long-term injury.

Leaving the turnaround aid station I felt good, and knowing that I was more than halfway to finishing made me feel even better. While the conditions had progressively gotten more challenging, I felt that barring some unfortunate incident, I was going to finish this thing.

Well, on an out-and-back course, what goes down must go back up. And since we had gone down to the turnaround, back up I went. I walked much of the trail back up to the ridge, but did run some of the "flatter" sections. But once back on the ridge I picked it back up. It was nice to be able to see the rest of the runners, and I took the opportunity to give as many as possible encouraging words. I saw quite a few familiar faces, which is always one of the great things about these types of courses. I even had an opportunity to "meet" a couple people I had only previously known through either reading their blog or through Facebook. Kinda cool.

I came back to the Bolinas Ridge aid station (mile 42.8) and received some wonderful support from the volunteers there (actually, all the volunteers were fantastic, going out of their way to help). They helped me get some supplies out, and put em back, which was huge since taking off my gloves and resealing ziplocks was not the easiest of tasks. I thanked the wonderful volunteers profusely, grabbed a little food from the table, said hi to Carol and hit the trail.

Back out on the narrow single track along the coastal bluffs, the trail itself had degraded by this time due to all the runners, the rain, and mud. A couple sections had really been eroded, especially on the downhill side and made footing and traction very difficult. These sections were walked and negotiated with the utmost care, as sliding down the hill was not something I wanted to experience. The wind was pretty brutal here, too. At times it was blowing around and driving rain directly in my face, causing salt that had built up on my face from sweating to run into my eyes! Damn, it that doesn't constitute a 1-2-3 punch combo, I don't know what does.

It was on this section that I first came up on Rick Gaston. I had met Rick at Quad Dipsea last November, though had been reading his blog for some time. Rick is a strong runner, and I was surprised to have caught up to him. I asked how he was doing, to which he replied "Oh, I'm fine, but my legs are dead right now. Probably not recovered from Diablo." Yeah, I would imagine (at least in my case). He ran the PCTR Diablo 50 mile race a couple Sundays previous, a tough race with over 13,000' of elevation gain and loss. Oh, and the temps that day hit the 90's! He stepped aside to let me pass, telling me I was looking good, running strong, and to keep it up.

I was beginning to tire a bit at this point, my pace slowed some. I didn't remember so much uphill along this section, and was happy to roll into Pan Toll again at mile 49.5. From here, there was a nice section of downhill, and I could use that to keep up a good pace and recover a bit. Rick and I had traded places a couple times by this point, and he mentioned to me that I shouldn't hammer this downhill too hard, as it could really wipe the legs out and with a few nice climbs still to go, you need them for the finish. I heeded his advice, but still managed to run a good pace.

Not far from the Hwy. 1 crossing/aid station (mile 54.7) Rick and I were running a lot closer on a consistent basis. He mentioned to me, "I don't know what it is, but every time you pass me, I get re-energized and pick up the pace, It's not an ego thing, but I just feel better!" So Rick paced off me for a while, but I was pacing off him, too. We talked as we went, and somewhere along the way I told him this was my first attempt at the 100K distance and that my big goal was to see if I could finish in under 11 hours. A couple miles later, as we were approaching the Tennessee Valley aid station (mile 58.4), Rick looks at me and said, "I don't mean to put any pressure on you, take it how you want, but if you keep up this pace for the final 5 or so miles, you can make it under 11. I think you should go for it."

Well, it turns out we both went for it. Rick and I "put our heads down" and went to work. We blew through the Tennessee Valley aid station without stopping, and ran as much as we could. While there were still some good climbs to negotiate, and we walked those, we ran the flats and downhills. I was pretty spent at this point, and can honestly say that if Rick was not there with me I would not have finished in under 11 hours. He pulled me up those final climbs and kept me motivated to keep going, just by keeping going himself. The final mile or so is downhill to the finish at Rodeo Beach, and Rick had pulled ahead of me on the final climb and the downhill. I was glad, because it really forced me to run harder to try to catch up to him. I couldn't, but I tried and by virtue of that I crossed the line in under my goal - 10:58:26!

Tia, the race director, greeted me as she did all finishers, with a congratulations and a finishers medal around my neck. Pierre was right there, too, having finished 5 or so minutes before me. I immediately went over to Rick to say thanks for the company and help in achieving my goal. I was elated, and tired. And a little dazed. I wandered around for a few minutes, and eventually grabbed my drop bag so I could get some warm, dry clothes on. I grabbed some food and sat down by a heater they had set up in the finish area food tent. It felt great to sit, eat, and talk with other runners.

I hung around for a little while, enjoying the scene, but eventually it was time to go. I got my finishers' goodie bag (some nice stuff too - the previously mentioned beer from Lagunitas Brewing Company, a hat and technical shirt from Brooks, a water bottle from Montrail, a pint glass with the Miwok 100K logo, and all of it in a nice cloth bag with the Miwok 100K logo! Sweet! I grabbed the rest of my stuff, and headed out to the remote parking lot. I walked, and it felt good. About 6 or 7 cars stopped to offer me a ride, and many of them were surprised when I declined. But I wanted to walk, as I believe in active recovery and this was a good time to start.

The ride home was uneventful, if a bit uncomfortable. Though the drive home from races is always uncomfortable, as sore muscles make it hard to sit for any length of time. I made it home just in time to go stand in the San Lorenzo River for about 15 minutes, my version of an ice bath to help reduce swelling and speed recovery. It works, too.

I couldn't be happier with my first 100K experience. I liked the course, and the inclement weather just added to the challenge and the story of the day. This will be one race to remember, and I'm sure many will talk about it for years to come. I came in 47th place out of 260 finishers; while 322 started, which worked out to an 81% finish rate, the second lowest finish rate in the races' 14 year history. My overall pace was 10:35/mile. My pace for the first 35.6 (to the turnaround) was 9:58/mile; my pace for the final 26.5 miles works out to 11:27/mile. Not too bad, considering it was my first try at the distance and the tough conditions.

Thanks to Tia for a great job organizing the race, and to the many sponsors who contributed to make the race possible. The volunteers, though, were all incredible. They endured conditions miserable to have to stand around in all day, just to help a bunch of crazy mofo's run up and down muddy trails all day long. And they did it with a smile and a willingness to go out of their way to help us out! My heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you for your time, cheerfulness and support.

Sorry I don't have any pictures, but I've been boycotting bringing the camera along, and I'm especially glad I did that for this race. I'm sure it would have been ruined if I had brought it along. And thanks to those of you still reading this "ultra" report. Since the race was so long, I figured it deserved a long report. I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the race! :-)

Monday, April 6, 2009

American River 50 Mile Race Report

The American River 50 Mile Endurance Run came just a scant three weeks after Way Too Cool, and though I ran pretty hard at WTC, I felt great coming in to AR50. Instead of taking a down week between the two races, I decided to keep my mileage up fairly high, only shaving a few miles off my weekly totals and cutting my mileage a fair amount in the week leading up to the race. This strategy was a bit risky, considering I had a little pain/tendinitis in my left Achilles and heel, and some swelling in my right knee, but nothing I thought I couldn't manage with some ice and smart training (read - minimal hill running and a lot of easy pace running).

Lori and I drove up the night before and stayed in a hotel, because with a 6am start I really didn't want to get up at 2am the morning of the race. The hotel was pretty inexpensive, and a decent room. I spent a few minutes organizing my stuff when we got there, then settled in to enjoy a beer and a little relaxation before going to sleep. The next morning, when I went to take a shower, I found one of the reasons the rooms are so inexpensive - the water for the shower never got above "lukewarm." Oh well, it woke me up. And the room had a mini coffee maker, so I couldn't really complain all that much. At least I didn't have to try to find a place to get coffee on the way to the start.

I did eat a good breakfast, my standard pre-race breakfast of whole wheat bread (though usually toasted, I'm gonna have to get a "travel toaster" for out-of-town races!), peanut butter, raisins and a banana sliced on top of it all. And of course the aforementioned coffee. And a little water. One other thing I have started to incorporate into my long training runs and races is Vespa, and I am now a firm believer in it. In my experience it has really stabilized my energy levels, and I don't seem to need to eat as much, though I am still experimenting with food intake as I have had a few times where I'm really hungry while on a long run or during a race. I waited until I was at the registration area, about 40 minutes or so before the race, to drink the Vespa as per their instructions.

We had wanted to hook up with some of the Runners World Forum members before the race, as Becky Johnson Sabin had graciously offered the use of the Junior League office as a pre-race respite for forumites (she is the current president of the Sacramento chapter). Their office is right next to the start area by the California State University Sacramento campus. Unfortunately I took a little too much time getting ready and didn't have time to stop by. Maybe next time.

We lucked out and found a parking spot right next to the registration area, and I got my bib and timing chip right away. I also had to make an additional pit stop to take care of some "important pre-race business," which was a relief in many ways. Those kinds of stops during a run can be a real drag, especially if not done with the proper facilities. I got my bib pinned on, chip secured to my shoe, and it was time to head to the start line. I was supposed to meet some other guys that I am running with on a team before the race, as one of them brought our team singlets that had just been made (About 7 guys are running as a team for Quicksilver Running Club for the Pacific Association USA Track and Field Ultra Grand Prix series and a company called Rhomobile is sponsoring the team, which we call RhoQuick. Two of the team members work at Rhomobile - Adam Blum, CEO; and Pierre-Yves Couteau, Dir. of Sales. The other team members are Jean Pommier, Sean Lang, Jim Magill, and John Burton.) Just after saying goodbye to Lori I ran into the group as they were getting a team picture taken, what luck! We got another quick picture, and got going to the start line.

Part of Team RhoQuick just before the start. L-R: me, Sean Lang, Pierre-Yves Couteau, Adam Blum, Jean Pommier. photo courtesy of Jean Pommier.

The AR50 course is basically a two-parter. The first part - about 26 and a half miles - is along a flat, paved bike path along the American River. The second part - about 24 and a half miles - is mostly on dirt roads and single track trail and includes most of the 3,500' of climb, with 1,00' of that climb coming in the final 3 miles. My plan was to run comfortably for the first half, and save something for the last half. If I paced myself properly I figured I had a real chance to finish in under 8 hours. Though I certainly wasn't going to be bummed if I didn't.

As we were walking up to the back of the pack at the starting line, the horn sounded and the race started - we were late! Funny, none of us seemed all that concerned, at least I didn't. I wasn't going to win this thing, and it was chip timed so no worries. I started out at an easy pace, and worked my way along the side passing runners as I warmed up and tried not to trip on anything in the dark since I didn't bring a headlamp. We ran "the wrong way" for about a mile before turning around and heading back east towards Auburn, and soon enough the sky lightened and it was a beautiful morning.

I settled into a good, comfortable pace and enjoyed the sunrise, and the sights and sounds of runners at a race. I have found that trail and ultra races are such an enjoyable experience on so many levels. People are very friendly and often strangers running together for a few miles will strike up a conversation and friendships are born. I enjoy seeing the various clothing choices and equipment options that people use. I have learned a lot just by observing what other people do and use, and experiment during my training to see what works for me. It's a fun part of this sport.

After a few miles I came across a couple of guys I have come to know through another club I run with - the Santa Cruz Track Club - Jon and Mike. This was their first 50 miler and they had been excited and a bit nervous in the days leading up to the race. We had run our weekly track workout together the Wednesday before the race - 10 400's at 4 minutes each. While everyone else ran at mile pace, we were the "back of the packer's" for each one. Though running easy and slow, we were consistent, coming in within a 5 second range for each lap. Both Jon and Mike were feeling good when I saw them, and Jon finished in just over 11 hours, while Mike finished in 8:54!

About an hour and a half into the run I took my first S Cap and thereafter took one an hour. I also made sure to grab a little food at almost every aid station. Since it wasn't too hot in the early part of the race I wasn't drinking a lot, but still keeping hydrated. I was able to cruise through a couple aid stations only stopping long enough to grab a pb&j square, while at others I needed only fill one bottle of the two I carried the whole race.

Not long after passing Jon and Mike, I came up on another guy I know through the Santa Cruz Track Club - Howard Wood. Now Howard is pretty fast, I've been at a number of races where he ripped it up and finished before me by a pretty comfortable margin. The fact that I was catching up to him got me a bit worried that maybe I was pushing my pace too much too early. We chatted for awhile, and he said he really hadn't trained all that much coming into this race, though he always seems to say that (can you say sandbagger?!? :-) ). Ahh well, I was in a good groove and didn't feel like I was pushing anything too hard, so kept up the pace. I lost Howard somewhere at an aid station, and then saw him again at the finish area.

I hit the marathon mark somewhere around 3:39, and Beals Point at 3:43 for an 8:23/mile pace over the first 26.7 miles. I was right on pace for what I felt I needed to do to hit my "big" goal of a sub-8 hour race. Lori met me there with fresh bottles of cold water and sports drink, and I had another Vespa. I said bye to Lori and hit the trail.

As I came up to the aid station table I saw Jean Pommier with camera in hand and knew something had gone wrong for him. At the finish area I confirmed that his asthma had acted up again and he pulled out at Beals Point. There is something about this race, and the air in Sacramento, that seems to have it in for him as he struggled mightily last year as well.

Leaving Beals Point we quickly got onto dirt road and then some single track. The trail took us along Folsom Lake, and it was some beautiful terrain. Ups and downs, some technical sections and lots of wildflowers blooming. The temperature was climbing a bit, but not too bad, especially in the shaded sections. A couple aid stations came and went, and for the most part I was feeling pretty good and keeping a good pace.

Somewhere around Rattlesnake Bar I came up on Adam Blum, one of the guys on the running team I'm on. He was retying his shoes. We traded places for a while, and with about 5 or 6 miles to go decided we could work together to push/pull each other to the finish. We were both getting a bit tired at this point, and figured the motivation of running with each other would help, so we decided to finish together. And did it ever help.

The last three miles of the course climbs 1,000' up to Auburn, and the first half mile is pretty steep. It was getting a bit hot at that point, too. We definitely walked that. And we got passed by a few people in this stretch. As the grade flattened out we picked the pace back up to a run.

The Last Gasp aid station couldn't come soon enough, as we both needed water. The aid station volunteers rocked it there, coming down the hill to grab our bottles. They had ice, too, and I put a handful in my hat, which really helped cool me down over the next mile as it melted and ran down my face and neck. We slowed to a walk again for a short stretch, but picked it back up to a run for the final half mile or so.

As we rounded the last bend before the finish line we were passed by one last person, Jesse Barrigan, a guy I had gotten to know via the Runners World Forum and had met in person at the Way Too Cool 50K a few weeks before. This was his first 50 miler and he did great.

Adam and I crossed the finish line together at 7:54:58. Volunteers were right there to hand us our finishers jacket and snip off our timing chips, and a familiar face helped with mine - Victoria Folks, everybody's favorite trail running tart - who was supposed to be running. Unfortunately she had a recurrence of tendinitis in her knee and had to drop at mile 18.

I was really happy to meet my "big" goal of finishing in under 8 hours! Lori met me just past the finish area with a big hug and congratulations. And a few of our other teammates met us as well - Sean, Pierre and Jean. We grabbed a seat and all shared our race details for a little while. But Adam had to hit the road, as he was giving a presentation in Southern California that evening on his company and our team sponsor - Rhomobile. Sean was giving him a lift to the airport, so they took off. I changed clothes and then grabbed a cheeseburger and inhaled it while talking with Jesse and Howard. After getting home later on, I also inhaled a big burrito. Guess I burned a few calories.

This was a great day and race for me. I put everything together to meet my goal of sub-8 hours. And it was a great confirmation that my training is on track, and I am applying knowledge gained from previous races and mistakes. I didn't have any issues with cramping, never felt like my energy was low, and ran pretty strong for the majority of the race. I still have room for improvement, but feel I am on the right track and additional improvement will come from continued and focused training.

I also have to say that I am becoming a believer in Vespa. My energy levels throughout the race were very even. I'm sure I could have eaten more, but I never felt low on energy, and never felt a big spike in energy even after eating a pb&j square, brownie, and some other stuff at one aid station. I'm definitely going to continue to use that stuff.

Here are my race stats:

Total Time - 7:54:58
Total Pace - 9:29/M
Overall Rank - 59/510
Age Group Rank - 12/124
------- 26.7 M -------
Time - 3:43:45.3
Pace - 8:23/M
Overall Rank - 80
Age Group Rank - 18
------- Finish -------
Time - 4:11:11.9
Pace - 10:47/M
Overall Rank - 48
Age Group Rank - 8 (Holy shit - 8th place in my age group from the halfway point to the finish?!? Kinda hard to believe!!!)

Link to overall results.
Link to age group results.

Kudos to Julie Fingar, the Race Director, for putting on a great event. And the volunteers ROCKED it out there! Every aid station had a great group of folks who were very encouraging and helpful. Thank you all for giving your time to help the runners have a great run - your time and effort are greatly appreciated. :-)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

2009 Way Too Cool 50K race report

Well, I got into Way Too Cool again this year, even though I had forgotten about it on registration day last December until about 8:15am. When Lori and I logged in, registration was over, but she persisted and got on the waiting list, which I did as well. Turns out we were both high up on the list, and within a week or so the RD had contacted us to say that we would get in. Hooray! Unfortunately, Lori would be sidelined this year due to injury, but she did sign up to help out and was going to make the trip with me. Which is always nice, cause it's great to have her there to share the experience and day - she makes it that much better a day!

As I mentioned in a previous post my spring race schedule got full pretty quick. As a result of this, I got to training pretty seriously in January and February. I felt that I had really improved my aerobic endurance quite a bit since I started doing low heart rate training last summer, and took the opportunity of a number of Fat Ass races early this year to test out my fitness and do a little "speed work." My results from those were encouraging, and I felt that a new 50K PR was very much a possibility.

Then the Way Too Cool participant guide arrived in my email box. Turns out the new race director measured the course and found it to be a little over a mile short of 50K! She reworked the course to add the extra distance and make it a true 50K, and I began to wonder if the new 50K PR would be attainable. As it would happen, I went for a run with a few guys that I am running on a team with for a year-long race series, and that run gave me some new confidence in the possibility of a PR.

So, dawn broke on race day...well, not really dawn. The alarm clock went off at 2:55am and Lori and I pried ourselves out of bed. We had decided to skip the motel stay in Auburn this year (damn crappy economy) and drive up the morning of, which meant leaving by 3:30am to get there by 6:30am since Lori was volunteering at runner check-in. I had put all my stuff together the night before, so all I had to do was take a quick shower, get my breakfast together, and put the dogs out back to be ready to go.

The nice thing about getting there early is good parking near the start/finish - last year I had to hobble about a quarter mile to the car after I finished so I could get some warm clothes on and some food. I checked in while Lori went to help out. I still had plenty of time, so I leisurely got ready, made a mandatory "pit stop," then headed out to do a little warm up walking and jogging. On my way out of the parking lot Will Gotthardt spotted my and rolled down the window of this truck to say hi. He introduced me to Caitlin Smith, a friend of his who recently started running ultras. She won her debut 50K a few weeks earlier at PCTR's Sequoia event in a blistering 4:22, coming in 2nd overall! Will had been coaching her leading up to her entry into ultras, and I'd say he did a pretty good job. She beat him at Sequoia, and at WTC too! She is gonna be quite a force to contend with in any race she enters, that is for sure.

Just before 8am I went to find Lori by the check-in tent to get one last "good luck" kiss, then made my way to the middle of the pack. Right at 8am we were off! My goal was to keep it easy for the first couple miles, which were on a road, and at the turn-off to dirt trail I would pick up the pace. I kept to my strategy, but noticed right off that my heart rate was running a little high. Most likely adrenaline from race day excitement. Other than that, I was feeling good and enjoying the scenery and watching other runners.

Looking around I couldn't believe that a couple people were running with no shirts! Now this is California, so our cold temps are not what they get in, say, Minnesota or North Dakota but still - 38 degrees is 38 degrees! That is cold enough to warrant wearing a damn shirt, if you ask me! I had two on, and my hands were freezing for the first couple miles.

I hit the first aid station (Hwy. 49) - 7 miles in - in one hour exactly and grabbed a pb&j square and kept on moving. I had brought two water bottles with me, and had only drank about half of one of them so far. Once across the highway, I pulled out an S-cap and took that right after eating the pb&j. I was feeling great and moving well. Not too many people to deal with on the trail, and most of the trail sections in this area were wide enough to easily pass when I did come across others.

The section between Hwy. 49 and the ALT1 aid station is a great section of trail. There is one good hill that I can remember, but the rest is really runnable, and it takes you along the American River which was really nice. I maintained a nice steady pace, and hit the ALT1 aid station, which pretty much marks the half-way point, in 2:13 - a little faster than I thought I would, but no complaints as I was feeling good. I got my water bottles filled, grabbed another pb&j square, a rice crispy treat and brownie square (I'm a sucker for the sweet treats at aid stations, it seems) and hit the trail.

The next section started out with an uphill right out of the aid station, so I walked and ate my food. Basically we were doing a loop which would bring us right back to the ALT aid station again, which was called...wait for it...ALT2! Makes sense, doesn't it? I topped out on the first hill by the time I was done with my food, and picked up the pace again. I soon fell in behind a couple of people who were running a nice, even pace and I stayed with them for awhile. I overheard them talking about a friend of theirs who was running with a broken toe, and he was ahead of us! Within about 15 minutes we caught up to their friend, and when I heard one of them use his full name - Steve Itano - I couldn't believe it - I knew him from when I used to work in a fly fishing store in San Jose! It also turns out that one of the people pacing me in the group is the owner of the Fleet Feet store in Vacaville - Carol Rewick. She was very nice and really set a good pace through this section.

After awhile, though, I pulled ahead and kept pushing my pace - still feeling strong. The steepest climb of the course lay ahead and when I got there I powered up, passing at least 5 people. The ALT2 aid station awaited at the top of Ball Bearing, and again I refilled my water bottles and grabbed some food and hit the trail. This next section I encountered numerous runners on their way to the ALT1 aid station and the half-way point. I like courses where you see other runners, as it's always motivating and I like to encourage others as it feels good to see their smiles and hear their words of encouragement too. The distance from ALT2 to the Goat Hill aid station wasn't too far, but I knew that Goat Hill would present some difficulty, as it's a tough hill coming fairly late in the race. I wasn't disappointed.

As I hit Goat Hill I started to feel a bit fatigued. I still managed to maintain a pretty good pace, even passing some people, but I was feeling it. My breathing was heavier, my heart rate higher and didn't recover as much in flatter sections. From here on out it was time to dig and push. When I hit the aid station I quickly refilled one of my bottles and grabbed a pb&j square and ate it on the run out of the aid station.

Last year between Goat Hill and Hwy. 49 I really died and had to walk a little bit, but this year, though feeling fatigued, I did my best to maintain my pace and ran the whole way. At one of the little stream crossings I almost had an accident, as I stepped up on a log mid-stride with my left foot and it slipped out a bit. I managed to recover with my right foot quickly enough, but felt a strain on the upper inside part of my left thigh. At first I thought I may have really pulled something, but within a couple minutes I felt fine and didn't really think about it the rest of the run.

Before long I could hear the music wafting up from the Hwy. 49 aid station and it was a wondrous sound to behold. The problem was, it seemed like forever to get to the aid station from the time you could hear the music! No matter though, as it made it that much better when I did get there. The traffic guards held traffic for me so I was able to blaze right through, and didn't stop at the aid station as I had plenty of water. The aid station folks were great and cheered me on with vigor, happily telling me "just 1.3 miles to the finish!" Hooray!!!

I hoped to run the entire section between Hwy. 49 and the finish this year, but had forgotten just how steep the uphill section was. And by that point in the race I was definitely fatigued. I couldn't do it, I had to walk the steeper section of uphill, though I was able to maintain a pretty good pace, eventually passing about 3 people on the uphill. Once it flattened out a bit I resumed running and once I saw the finish area I really picked it up. I passed a couple more people and crossed the finish line in 4:47:58. I was tired, but very happy, and Lori was there to see me finish! My time was my best 50K time by a little over 10 minutes, and I ran faster than last year by just over 11 minutes, and on a course that was 1.3 miles longer!

I was pretty tired, but cold too as the wind had picked up and really cut through wet running clothes. Lori and I made our way back to the car so I could change. While changing I overheard a couple other people talking and picked up the guy's name - Jesse. I asked if he was Jesse Barrigan, to which he said yes. I had just "met" Jesse through Facebook, and had seen him post quite a bit on the Runners World forums, particularly the trail and ultra forums. We chatted for a little while, sharing the events of our day. This was Jesse's first ultra, and he rocked it finishing in 4:54. And, he is signed up for the American River 50 mile in early April, so I'll probably see him there, too. I'm sure you'll do great there too, Jesse.

Unfortunately I was a bit out of it and forgot to introduce Lori and Jesse, something I've done before at races and I need to think about more consciously. I also managed to somehow wipe my heart rate data from my monitor, which I'm kinda pissed about because I really wanted to see that data, since I pushed the pace for the whole run. Oh well, there will be other runs to get data from.

AFter changing Lori and I headed back to the finish area and grabbed some food. We ran into Will and Caitlin again (and this time I remembered to introduce Lori and Caitlin - getting better already!) and we chatted for a couple minutes. A little while later Lori and I decided to head home after a long, fun day. My final stats:

Time - 4:47:58
Pace - 9:16/M
Overall Place - 91/459
Age Group - M 40-44
Age Group Position - 18/66

Hwy 49 Out (7.1 miles):
Rnk - 140
Time - 1:00:02
Pace - 8:27/M

Hwy 49 In (22.6 miles):
Rnk - 78
Time - 3:34:44
Pace - 9:28/M

Finish (1.3 miles):
Rnk - 69
Time - 13:11
Pace - 10:08/M

I'm pretty pleased with my times from section to section, especially when I compare them to others up in the front of the pack. Now I'm not as fast as them, obviously, but in terms of pace drop off, mine holds up comparatively to many of theirs.

The race was really run well, kudos to Julie Fingar the new RD, and all the great volunteers. They made getting in and out of the aid stations quick and easy, and provided a lot of encouragement along the way. Congrats to Leor Pantilat and Caitlin Smith, the winners, who both ran fabulous races and are very talented runners. We'll all be hearing a lot more about them in the coming days.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

2009 Races

Well, my spring racing season is filling up fast. I just found out that I got into one of my goal races for the year - the Miwok 100k Trail Race - held in the Marin Headlands in early May. I'm very excited about getting into this race, as I have run part of the course and it is beautiful, as well as challenging. This was the first year they went to a lottery to select the field, as opposed to first-come first-serve online registration. So getting into this sets the tone for the rest of my year, in a way.

Other races I have (or probably will have) coming up are these:

Way Too Cool 50k - March 14. I'm 2nd or 3rd on the wait list, and the RD says I'm pretty much in.

American River 50-Mile Endurance Run - April 4. My wife registered for this last fall, but is now dealing with ITBS and can't rehab and build up in time, so she contacted the RD (who happens to be the same one as WTC) to see if I could take her place. She said yes, so now I have a 50 miler on my spring schedule. This is a pretty flat course, and who knows, maybe I can knock a little time off my 50 mile PR here. With this being in early April, that should give me plenty of time to recover for the next one on my list.

Miwok 100k - May 2. Already mentioned this above.

Ohlone Wilderness Run 50k - May 31. Both my wife and I are registered for this one. She ran it last year, and I skipped it as I had just run my first 50 miler at Quicksilver a few weeks before and didn't want to push it. Well, this year I'm pushing it. I don't think I'll be setting any 50k PR at this one, though if the weather is anything like it was in 2008, I don't know that anyone will be setting any PR's - it was HOT!

So, that is what I have on the schedule so far, though those are not the only races I'm looking at. It's highly likely that the Angel Island 50k will be on my schedule, as Lori and I have gone up there a few times and it's a great place to run - this summer it is being held on July 4th. Unfortunately, all the camping sites have been reserved. I also want to run my first 100 miler this year, and I'm leaning heavily towards the Headlands Hundred 100 Mile Endurance Run, put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs, being held August 8 - 9. And last, but certainly not least, I'd like to do the Quad Dipsea again - that is a fun run and I think I can do better than I did this past November.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Virtual Run Across America

The Virtual Run Across America is a blog and running concept that I recently found as the result of one of the followers of my blog (Nikemom), who is the organizer. It's a pretty cool idea.

Basically, you "sign up" to run across America, but you do it "virtually." A route will be posted every so often on the site, with mileage and even a link to maps if you want to see the "route" you are running. You do your own running, at your own pace, wherever you are and post comments to inform the group of how many miles you have run. For every one mile you actually run, you will have run 10 "virtual" miles. So a real 6 mile run will get you 60 "virtual" miles along the designated route.

"Goals may be personal obstacles, increasing pace, adding another marathon to your endeavors, etc. This is your run. You make it what you need to so you become who and what you are meant to be." Whatever your interest in participating is fine, according to Nikemom. All are welcome. Here is another snippet from the site:
Our goal is to have fun, explore and enjoy the journey.

* Anybody from Anywhere can participate.
* All kinds of running apparatus and gear is encouraged and welcome.
* You can run as many or as few miles as you would like and still be considered a participant.
* Routes will be posted for all to see via MapQuest.
* Routes will be plotted and shared by participants.
* Each one mile = ten miles. i.e. 100 miles would be 10 actual miles run by you.
* Pictures, comments and race reports are encouraged and welcome.
* Any VRAA participant who plots a piece of the journey can be an author to the VRAA Blog.
* We will journey one state at a time.
* The shortest or the longest or the crookedest route is welcome - who knows what we may encounter.
* Recruiting runners is encouraged.
* Purchasing new running gear to complete the journey is at your discretion.
* The option of a participant T-Shirt still exists.
* SAG is your responsibility.
* All participants participate at their own risk.
* Any injuries resulting from the VRAA is the runner's responsibility.
* Take good care of yourself. Eat healthy and drink plenty of H20.
* All participants will have a link on the sidebar with their picture and their blog addy.

Need a little extra motivation to get out the door. Or do you have a running route you want to share or boast about? Join the group and submit it for the run. Before you know it you'll have a bunch of other people "running" it with you! How cool is that?!? I'm thinking of a few out my way that may be good for the end of the journey - which is just down the road from me in Carmel, California.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2009 Fat Ass 50 (Steatopygous Quinquamillia) Run Report

January 3, 2009 was the 25th running of the Fat Ass 50 (Steatopygous Quinquamillia), and my first running of it, or any other Fat Ass run for that matter. It was a fun run on a fabulous course. A 50 mile and a 50k option were offered, and I chose to run the 50k version. Glad I did, cause it got pretty damn cold out there the last couple hours. has a little history of the Fat Ass, and it turns out this particular one evolved from the granddaddy of em all, which was originally run on Hwy. 1 from Santa Cruz to Half Moon Bay.

Chatting in the parking lot at Saratoga Gap before the start.

About 10 or so people showed up for the 8am start at Saratoga Gap. I had a chance to meet and run with a number of people including Brian Robinson, Adam Blum and Sean Lang. We headed north from the parking lot at Saratoga Gap, eventually crossing Hwy. 35 going west. We crossed through Portola State Park, Pescadero County Park, and Big Basin State Park eventually ending up back at Saratoga Gap.

I did my best to stay with Brian and a friend of his, Adam Blum, and Sean Lang on a long uphill section in Portola State Park, but ended up redlining my heart rate and dropping back. Actually, I hit a new maximum heart rate on that climb (gotta remember to reset my HR monitor)! I caught up with Sean a little later, which I couldn't believe, as he is really speedy. As we ran together for a while, he mentioned that he had taken December off, and had been nursing an injury, so my catching up to him made a lot more sense at that point. :-) We hit the lone aid station at China Grade and stopped for a few minutes to munch on some chips before hitting the trail again.

A little later we hit the Skyline to the Sea trail. I was feeling pretty good at that point, and picked up my pace. By Waterman Gap, though, I tired somewhat as the weather turned overcast and cold. With 7 miles to go, I pushed as hard as I could but still had to walk some of the uphill sections. With about 3 miles to go, I caught up to Adam Blum and we stayed together for a little while. He was struggling a bit, and stopped to rest at the overlook pullout on Hwy. 9 a couple miles from Saratoga Gap. I continued on, again, pushing it when I could but still walking some of the uphills.

At this point, I just wanted to get back so I could get my sweat soaked clothes off as I was pretty cold. The temperature had dropped noticeably as some cloud cover moved in and the wind picked up. I made it back to Saratoga Gap with a time of 5:44 to find Adam there. Turns out he got a few crackers from someone at the pull out and rebounded. He started out back on the trail, but ended up running part of the Saratoga Toll Rd. missing a turn off for the SttS trail, which is how he passed me.

In talking to Adam as we logged our runs on the sign-out sheet, he figured he was getting a bit hyponatremic, and the salt helped restore balance to his electrolytes. I had thought of it, but when I asked him if there was anything he needed, he said no he had water and food, and I just figured he had electrolytes too. Next time I come across a situation like that, I'll make certain to go through the laundry list to make certain. Lesson learned!

I had a great time, and felt pretty good throughout the run (except for getting really cold the last hour or so). The course is beautiful, and challenging, and I think it's one I'll have to get back out on in the future for general training, not to mention running the "official" Fat Ass run next year.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k (+)

Saturday, December 6th I had the pleasure of toeing the line at the North Face Endurance Challenge 50k being held up in the Marin Headlands area (this race turned out to be a 50k+, as they told us at the start line that the distance was somewhere between 33-34 miles, not the standard 31...ahh well, at least they didn't charge us extra for the bonus miles!!!). Actually, there were four distances available to runners - 50 miles, 50k, 1/2 marathon, and 10k. The 50 mile race was billed as the "championship," the final race in a series of events held across the country throughout the year. The top male and female finishers would take home $10,000 - the biggest payday in ultrarunning! As such, there were some fast folks lining up for the chance to get paid.

The start was near Rodeo Beach (actually, the start was from Fort Barry), and the 50k course took runners through Tennessee Valley, Muir Beach, and out to Pantoll before turning around and heading back on various trails, including a section of the Dipsea Trail. The views were gorgeous as the day was clear and sunny, though a bit windy in some areas. Cool temperatures made for ideal running conditions, and The North Face did a good job of marking the course and stocking the aid stations with supplies and volunteers.

I started out fairly conservatively, which was not typical of most of my races. About the nine mile mark we started on a long climb gaining about 1,500 feet over four miles. Up till then I was trading places with three friends running together, and just before the climb they passed me. I decided it was a good time to push my uphill pace a bit and attached myself to the back of their "train." They set a comfortable pace and before I knew it we were at the top, at the Pantoll aid station. A little bit before the top, though, I came up on a friend from the Santa Cruz Track Club, Diane Delucchi, who was looking strong. I found out later that she was having a tough time early on, but I would have never known from seeing her steady pace going up that hill. We exchanged cheers for one another – it’s always nice to get a little motivational bump from a friend on the trail.

Speaking of friends, I saw Carol Cuminale at a couple of the aid stations, and she always had a cheer for me as I came through. She was going to be pacing Diane later in her 50 mile quest, and was out meeting her at some aid stations to make sure she had what she needed in the early goings.

Just before arriving at the Pantoll aid station I was running alongside another guy and we started chatting. At one point he took a look at me and asked my age, which I was more than happy to share. He indicated we were in the same age group (40-49), and that he believed there was only one other person in our age group ahead of us. I was somewhat surprised at this, and figured he was being a bit optimistic. As we entered the aid station, I saw him veer off to the drop bag area, while I continued to the tables to get my water bottle filled and grab some food. I was back out on the trail within about a minute.

The next section was a blast, as we lost most of the elevation we had just gained (ain't it always like that?!?) running through the Steep Ravine section, next to a beautiful creek. This was a very technical section of trail, and you really had to pay attention here or you were bound to take a tumble and risk losing some teeth, or skin, or something! Before long, the trail headed back up, then down, then up, then down...there really wasn't much in the way of flat spots on this run - the overall elevation gain for the 50k was about 6,900'.

Winding around here and there, we eventually ended up back in Muir Beach and started a long, steep, grueling climb. This one kicked me in the stomach, so-to-speak. As I got to the top, I had a stitch under my ribcage that pestered me for a little while until it finally went away. I was getting a bit tired (imagine that). From here on out, I ran (if you can really call it that) the downs and what little flats there were, and walked as fast as I could muster on the ups. I passed a few people, and was passed by a few people, but managed to keep up steady forward progress. Hitting the last aid station, the final couple miles (except for the last half mile) were down hill. Though my stomach was a little sloshy, I ran as best my legs would let me, and sprinted the final 800. I crossed the finish line in 6:09, which I was quite pleased with, and immediately looked for a seat.

The North Face had a little "expo" at the finish area, with a nice spread of food. I spent some time chatting with people and sharing stories of the day before my appetite kicked in. After shoveling some food down, I wandered over to check the results, mainly to see who won the big prize in the 50 miler. To my utter amazement I finished in 19th place overall, and 2nd in my age division! I couldn't believe it. Now, I'm a decent runner, not really speedy, but I do posses pretty good endurance, determination and motivation - but 2nd?!? Then I realized why - most of the folks I would typically run against in my age division were in the 50 miler (and another 50k race being held in Woodside), so that left a little softer field. At any rate, I'll take a 2nd place finish any way I can get it, and am not only happy with it, but proud, too. I also got some extra stuff for the age division placement - thanks North Face!

As always, the ultra community was fun and supportive throughout the day. It was great to see all the spectators out along the course cheering the runners on. The North Face did a great job with this event, and if anyone is looking for a fun entry into trail running, or ultrarunning, this could be a good opportunity to give it a go. From what I understand, they will be having the championship event here again in 2009 around the same time. I think I may just have to run it again. Who knows, maybe I can improve my...time? ;-)