Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Quicksilver 50 mile Race Report

Saturday, May 10th I did my first 50 mile run - the Quicksilver 50 Mile Endurance Run in south San Jose, California. I grew up in the area and spent a lot of time hiking with friends, catching snakes, and later, in high school, doing things our parents just wouldn't want to hear about. ;-) So when my brother told me a friend of his had signed up for it, and he was thinking about it and wanted to know if I would run it too, I said sure, let's do it. Unfortunately, due to injury, both of them couldn't do the run.

I trained pretty well for this run, logging quite a few training runs in the high 20 to low 30 mile range, along with a couple 50k races in the previous two months as well - the final one two weeks before the big day. My taper week went well too, logging just two fairly short distance runs with the last one an "easy" tempo run the Wednesday before the race. I was feeling prepared, and excited to push myself running a new distance. I had set 3 goals for myself: 1. finish; 2. finish in under 11 hours for a Western States qualifier; and 3. my "stretch" goal - finish in under 10 hours. I was pretty confident of meeting the first two goals; as for the third - well, that's why it's a stretch goal. I figured if I ran a smart run, and things went well, I had a chance of meeting the under 10 hour goal.

The race started at 6am, which meant my wife, Lori, and I had to leave the house by 4:15am in order to get there with enough time to for me to check in, get my number and have some time to all the little things necessary to get myself ready to run (for longer than I have ever run at one time). That meant waking up around 3:30am. Uggg! I'm not one to go to bed early, but with that kind of wake up time, I knew it was either that, or a really crappy night of (non) sleep. Funny, though, I awoke just a bit before my alarm went off, so getting out of bed was no problem. Coffee was already made (whoever first put an alarm mechanism on a coffee maker should be hailed as one of the greatest human beings of all time), and I jumped in the shower for a quick rinse to help with the waking process. I wolfed down my typical pre-race breakfast of whole wheat toast with peanut butter, raisins and a banana, and put the dog out back (poor girl had to endure a whole day - darkness to darkness - all alone). We were out the door in time and on our way.

Arriving at the Mockingbird Entrance to Quicksilver County Park at a little after 5am, the parking lot was busy and almost full. We parked and went to the check in area. The air was cool, but not cold and people were dressed in a wide variety of layers from shorts and singlets to full fleece coverage complete with stocking caps and gloves.

While in line I heard a familiar voice go by in the dark and Carol Cuminale - a member of the track club I belong to (Santa Cruz Track Club) - walked by. I said hi, introduced her to Lori, and we chatted for a couple minutes. Carol has been doing ultras for a while, and she does a lot of them. The weekend before she ran the Miwok 100k, sustaining a bit of a knee injury when she fell around mile 5. She was signed up for the 50 mile race, but changed that morning to the 50k. She had also signed up for the Ohlone 50k the weekend after. Talk about tough! Her picture should be next to the word in the Oxford Dictionary, if you were to ask my opinion (and even if you weren't to ask, it should still be there). We wished each other well, and went our ways. I got my bib and we returned to the car.

There was still about 40 minutes to start time, and as it was just a bit chilly, we climbed back in the car and got the heater going. I continued to fiddle with my gear, pinned my bib to my shorts, drank more water, and went to the bathroom a couple more times (a good sign I was hydrated well at least for the beginning of the race!). I also just stared out the window a bit, imagining my day, picturing the scenery I would run by and how I would feel. I wasn't nervous, just excited about this new venture. I wanted it to begin. I wanted to be running.

I got out once again to hit the bathroom (I typically go a LOT in the mornings anyway, and fortunately this morning was no exception, at least until the race started). After getting back to the car, I did a stretching routine making sure to hit all the major spots that have ever given me grief, then stretching them again. It was about time, so I grabbed my gear, and Lori and I walked to the start area where everyone was
gathering. It was about to begin.

All the runners crowded onto the dirt fire road behind the start line, and after a few words, and a minute to wait until the "official" start time, the go signal was given and we were off. I was on the road beginning my first 50 mile run! I was happy, and had a big grin on my face. I was also trying my best to not get caught up in the early adrenalin rush which often causes me to start fast (said as though I'm the only one that happens too - yeah right). The first couple miles are generally uphill, though not too steep. I did walk a couple sections, but ran most of it. The first turn came around 3 miles in, at a point only a couple tenths of a mile from the starting area, which allowed some friends, family and supporters to make a short walk to cheer us on. Passing by, I made an offhand comment asking "What place am I in" which drew some good laughs, as I certainly was in no way close to the front.

We turned onto single track, which we would be on for about 6 miles. The early morning light was beautiful, and the hillsides still had a fair amount of green grass, and plenty of wildflowers. Sunlight streamed through oak trees in places to create a warm, soft light that was magical. We wound our way along, and I passed the first aid station at about an hour in. After the single track, we turned onto fire road, which we would be on for almost the entire rest of the run (only one other short section of single track remained, run twice, in the final 19 mile stretch).

The next 10 or so miles had a fair amount of uphill to it. Passing through another aid station, I paused briefly to grab a little food. I had already been drinking some Cytomax energy drink that had been working well for me in training, and of which I had brought two bottles with me. I had also eaten a GU. I really wanted to make sure I was eating and drinking well, and had even started in on electrolyte supplements. On the way out of the aid station, I struck up a conversation with another runner, and he and I ran together for some time. He had run quite a few ultras, including a number of 100's, and was regaling me with an aid-station-by-aid-station description of the Western States 100 course. It was entertaining, but he was also running a little faster than I wanted to, so after he finished his description, I took the opportunity to "relieve" myself in two important ways, if you get the drift.

I finished the long uphill, and while on the way down I "ran" into a guy who had been kind enough to run part of a training run on the course a month earlier with one of the other guys who was supposed to be running that day (but had hurt his back) and myself, giving us valuable course info and guiding. His name was Mike, and we ran together for a while, all the way down, around some old Quicksilver mines (a site I was well familiar with as friends and I had spent a lot of time in that particular area as kids hunting for snakes and lizards, and drinking beer later in high school), and then back up the hill. Again, I could tell that Mike could run faster than I, so I told him I needed to walk at one point and he should go ahead. Mike went ahead, and I walked for a few minutes before picking up the pace to a run.

After my third trip through the Dam Overlook aid station, I felt a twinge in my right calf. Uh oh, I thought. I know what that is, and immediately popped a couple electrolyte pills, and drank some water. Cramps are not fun, and I was hoping I could head them off at the pass, but apparently, cramps had a plan of their own - one well thought out and executed.

The course at that point was heading up a long uphill section, after which a fairly good downhill section then a "nice" section of ups and downs into the finish of the 50k section of the race. The last two miles are really quite brutal, with some short but really steep ascents followed by equally steep descents. On fresh legs they are difficult; on tired legs they are many other things. I saw a number of people with cuts and scrapes on their legs, arms, hands, and a few on their heads from falls on these downhills. I made sure to be careful, and didn't push the pace through there. Partly because I had been getting some good cramps in both calves, but mostly my right one. In fact, coming into the 50k finish area aid station, my calves were really cramping up, so I decided to take a few minutes to take care of myself.

Coming into the aid station I saw a photographer on the side of the trail, and as I passed I noticed him taking quite a few pictures of me. Cool, I thought, I should have at least one decent pic of me at the race! A moment later, I noticed him running after me and just off my right shoulder. That, I thought, was pretty odd - I had never had a photographer run after me to take another photo. What the hell was this?!? As I looked over, I then realized why...it was my brother (guess I get a little tunnel vision when I run, apparently)! I laughed, said hi, and explained my initial confusion and failure to say hi to him, which gave him a good laugh too.

I got to the aid station in about 5:15 or so, which was a bit faster than I thought I would be able to do, but besides the cramping calves, I felt fairly good. At the aid station, my wife Lori, my parents, and my brother all helped me out. It was obvious I was having some issues with my legs, and Lori started to massage them a bit. My parents and brother got me some food and filled my water bladder with ice and water. We chatted a bit as I took some time to recharge and let my calves settle. I ended up taking about a 20 minute rest. Heading back out for the final 19 miles, my dad walked a bit with me and gave me some wonderful encouragement - telling me how proud he and my mom were of me and how impressed they were of what I was doing. Great things to hear at that point and I was glad to have them all there, it really helped my spirits.

I was now getting to new running territory. Heading out for the final 19 we followed the same initial route as the start then veered off to follow a part of the course we had run nearing the end of the 50k, which was mostly uphill for a number of miles. I had to walk some sections I had run earlier, and it seemed my calves were on a 20 or so minute schedule of cramping. I would pop a couple electrolyte pills and drink some water, and in a minute or so I could resume running or power walking. This continued through the rest of the race.

At one point I came across another runner who was in obvious pain and distress, which I immediately recognized as cramping. I asked if he had any electrolytes, and he said no. I quickly pulled out my supply (I brought way more than I would need, just in case) and got him a couple and told him to keep up with some fluid. He was doing the 50k, and wasn't too far from the finish, so I think he was able to make it in ok.

At the next aid station I pulled in to refill my water bladder. There was a runner there who was off to the side really puking his guts out. He looked pretty bad, and the aid station volunteers were talking amongst themselves saying this guy shouldn't be allowed to go on. One of them pulled him aside after he emptied him stomach, saying he should seriously consider dropping. The guy said he had never DNF'ed, and wasn't about to today. He left just before I finished my stuff, and I passed him on the trail and offered encouragement.

The next aid station came quickly, and I passed right through and headed into the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve section of the course to the turnaround. As I was running on this section, I kept expecting to hit the turnaround after rounding every corner. It seemed as though it would never come! I kept an eye on my watch, and with each passing minute I felt my chances of a sub-10 hour finish slipping by, thinking that there would be no way I could retrace the path back to the finish area in the time I had remaining.

Finally, thankfully, I got to the turnaround. I took a few minutes to grab some food and drink some water, and get some ice in my water bladder for the trip back out of Sierra Azul. While there, one of the volunteers happened to mention that there was a net elevation loss of about 1000 feet back to the finish. It had taken me about 2:20 to get out to the turnaround, and I had about 2 hours left to make a sub 10 hour finish. I just found my motivation. I told my cramps that I had a new weapon against them - motivation to finish in sub 10, to which they replied "Bring it on, buddy!"

I hit the trail, and picked up my pace considerably. It felt good to stretch my stride out, at times. At others it was really tough, but manageable. When the cramps would hit, I would have to slow down or walk, get some electrolytes and water, and pick it back up as soon as possible. I also started to just take electrolytes every 15 minutes, and that helped keep them in check a lot better. I even managed to pass a couple people in this section!

I stopped at the next aid station to refill my water and grab a little food. A few people I had earlier passed now passed me as they didn't stop. I headed back out, and pushed through the next section to the last aid station. I struggled a few times, having to walk a couple sections that I really wanted to run, but with full sun exposure heating me up, I didn't want to risk really overheating myself at that point.

Coming up to the final aid station I started to veer to the right, thinking we were heading back the same way we came out and not sure I could finish this last section in the time I had left in order to get in under 10 hours. Part of me was already letting go of that goal, and I was alright with it. This was my first 50 miler and finishing was a big accomplishment. And, I was pretty certain that, barring any major mishap, I would come in under 11 hours which would give me a qualifying time to apply for Western States in 2009! I was happy with that, certainly.

Just as I was starting to head to the right, a volunteer noticed and redirected me and another runner to the trail to the left of the aid station. She informed us both that the way to the finish was on the left trail, and the finish line was only 2.5 miles away! I couldn't believe it. At no other time have I been happier of my lack of course knowledge. Looking at my watch I quickly realized that I could crawl from there and pretty much finish in under 10 hours! Needless to say, I was quite elated, excited, ecstatic...not only would I finish in under 10 hours, I would finish in substantially less than 10 hours. I picked up the pace a bit.

Another runner and I were playing a bit of yo-yo the last few miles, and I had just passed her. We still had the dreaded, fun Ups and downs that we had coming in at the 50k finish to go. Heading up one of the steep sections, she passed me and I had to comment to her about how strong she was going up these hills. She said she just wanted to get into the finish and get it over with. We ended up chatting for the rest of the way in, keeping each other company and helping to keep our minds off the steep ups, downs, and pain in our legs. As we hit the final flat section coming in to the finish, she kept looking at her watch then said "If we push it, we can finish in under 9:15," to which I replied "Lead the way!"

As we neared the finish corral, my parents were waiting about 200 yards out and when they saw me coming, my dad literally sprinted out in front to alert Lori and my brother. I think they were all a bit surprised at me coming in at that point, not expecting me for a little while longer.

My new friend and I ran through the chute, and I finished a pace behind her not wanting to finish before someone who had helped me push through that last section and really had pulled me in to the finish with a great time. We high-fived and congratulated each other, and then my family came up, congratulated me and were very excited. Carol Cuminale came over too, and she was just great, saying she was really impressed with how well I did, and that she thought I looked good coming in. I was really happy, and proud of what I had been able to accomplish. And my calves had their last parting shot, too, cramping just 15 yards from the finish line and continuing for a couple minutes until I had a chance to settle in to a chair and get myself taken care of.

We hung around for a while, talking with some other people, cheering other runners as they came in, and I just soaked it all in and let the day sink in. I had just run the furthest distance I had ever done, and exceeded all my goals! I had some struggles, some ups and downs, but had persevered and accomplished something I had trained quite some time for, and had looked forward to for some time as well. After a half hour or so, I even got hungry and got some of the famous Quicksilver BBQ. They don't lie when they say it's good BBQ. I didn't have any ice cream or strawberry shortcake, as we had plans at my parents house for an early mother's day celebration, but it looked good.

And remember the guy I mentioned who was puking and looking pretty bad, and the aid station volunteers were encouraging to drop? Well, he finished, and looked pretty good, too. I went over to offer him my congratulations on persevering and finishing. The guy is tough, no doubt about that.

The next couple days I was sore, as would be expected, particularly my right calf which was cramping the worst of the two. My quads weren't too bad, and by the Tuesday after my legs were feeling pretty good, with only minor soreness in my right calf. I went to my track club workout Wednesday evening, as I didn't want to miss my chance to share my race results with the club. And I did my first recovery run, too. I managed to run a nice easy 4.5 miles around the track, including a half mile barefoot (I started running some barefoot a month ago to help strengthen my feet).

I'm back to running a fairly normal schedule this week, and feel great. There is no doubt I still have things to work out in training - I need to hydrate better on long runs, and I also need to do a better job of managing my electrolyte balance. The cramping calves really sucked big time, and had I not had that problem I most likely would have finished in under 9 hours. Something to shoot for next time, I guess. I think I could have also done a better job eating, though I never felt like I was bonking.

But all that aside, I am very, very happy with my first 50 mile race and the results. I am also looking forward to the next one, and the next one...and eventually, a 100k and 100 mile run. I really love running long distances, the challenges, the struggles, and what you can learn about yourself and what you can share with other people.

Thanks to the Quicksilver Running Club for putting on a great event in a beautiful place. Thanks to all the great volunteers who took time out of their lives to help all the runners - you are what makes these events happen and no runner could do it without your generosity. Thanks to my wife Lori, who was my crew chief and helped me get ready, helped me get through the 50k aid station, and helped me for the next couple days as I recovered. I KNOW I couldn't have done it without her and owe her a lot. And thanks to my brother and parents who came out to support me and help out - your assistance and encouragement meant a lot and lifted my spirits immeasurably.

Monday, May 12, 2008

UC Santa Cruz Conducting Mountain Lion Study in Santa Cruz Mountains Area

A group of researchers from UC Santa Cruz, in conjunction with the Felidae Conservation Fund and the California Department of Fish and Game, are beginning a study of Mountain Lions in the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as locations in the North and East SF Bay area. The goal is to understand more about their movements, habitat needs, caloric expenditure and intake requirements, and other factors necessary to their survival in a world quickly closing in on them.

(I pulled the photo off the UCSC website. Credit goes to Daniel Stahler for it.)

Here is an article from the San Jose Mercury News about it.

And, one from the Felidae Conservation Fund about it, too.

While the thought of encountering one of these magnificent animals up close while running the trails around my home doesn't often come across my mind (thankfully), the possibility is there, no doubt. The chances are pretty slim, and most likely any "encounter" would not even be noticed by me, as from what I know most lions would be long gone before I had a chance to see them. At least, that's what I like to tell myself.

I have to say, I find the idea of this study to be pretty fascinating, and hope to be able to remember to check for the results in a couple years to see what they discovered. I hoping it won't be a high number of cats in the areas I like to run! I also think it would be cool if they could make some of the GPS data live and available to the public as the study is going on, as it would be nice to see if there is any recent activity before planning any long training runs on remote trails or at night.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Quicksilver 50 mile training

I have been busy lately training for my first 50 mile run - the Quicksilver 50 coming up this Saturday, May 10th. This race is held in the foothills around south San Jose, where I grew up. I used to hike with friends and catch snakes in the area as a kid, so have many fond memories of the trails there.

It can be hot in them thar hills, which is why many people around the Bay Area like QS for a Western States training run. It also has some decent hills, with elevation gain around 8,500' or so.

My training has gone well, and I am feeling very excited about running my first 50 miler. I am reasonably confident of hitting my goals: first - to finish; second - finish in under 11 hours to qualify for the Western States lottery; and third - I would like to finish in under 10 hours. While the third goal may be a stretch, I think it's good to have goals that make you reach a bit.

I did run a 50k recently - PCTR's Big Basin which had about 6,100' of elevation gain - and finished that in just over 6:30. And it was more than 50k for me, as I took a wrong turn on one of the loops and added a couple miles, and at least a half hour to my time. Gotta love bonus miles!

With that in mind, and considering I felt pretty good at the finish, I think my third goal is within reach as long as I make sure to hydrate and eat enough. My body is ready for the distance, I just have to do the right things at the right time and let my training take me to the finish line.

2008 Way Too Cool 50k Race Report

This race report is long overdue, obviously, since the race was early this past March. But better late than never. I'll add a couple photos soon, once I have a chance to resize them.

It all began early last December, on a Sunday morning, as people across the land were frantically trying to log in to their Active.com accounts, hoping to be one of the few, the proud, the randomly lucky who were able to gain entry to the Way Too Cool 50K trail race. Having filled the previous year in just over 7 minutes, my wife and I were at the ready. I was logged in, and she was futzing with her account when she told me, more than 5 minutes before 8am (registration was supposed to open at 8am PST), that she had just registered for the race and received an email confirmation. I was on it, and within a minute was checking my email for the confirmation. We were both in! Unfortunately, for those who waited until 8am to log in to Active.com, the 450 available slots filled quickly (just over 11 minutes this year) and many were left out. Active.com was actively thrashed on many online discussion forums for having opened up the registration "early." And rightfully so.

WTC is in the Sierra foothills east of Auburn and follows trails along and near the American River. There is about 3,600' of elevation gain (and equal amount of elevation loss), and a couple of pretty killer hills - both fairly late in the course. Nothing like a nice steep climb at mile 25 to keep things interesting! The hills were green, and fortunately the streams were low so crossing wasn't much of a problem. I did manage to get one foot wet twice, but with the nice temps my shoes dried quickly.

Way Too Cool was my second 50K race, and my wife's first. We drove up Friday afternoon to pick up our race packets at the Auburn Running Company, and had dinner before retiring early for the night at a local motel. I was glad to not have to drive up the morning of the race, only to run then drive back home. It was enough just to have to drive home!

The weather really held out, as the day dawned clear and bright. Not too cold, either. We arrived in Cool around 45 minutes before start time, what we thought would be on the early side. Wrong about that one. We ended up parking along a road about 1/3 - 1/2 mile from the starting area. No problem, this should be a good way to stretch the legs out both before and after. We did the ritualistic porta-potty line thing, then milled around until the start. Way Too Cool is a popular race, and with Montrail sponsoring it, and the top 3 men and women getting a free pass to the Western States 100, it was bound to bring out some pretty fast runners. And did it ever. Last year's Ultrarunners of the Year - Nikki Kimbal and Scott Jurek - were on hand with a whole host of folks who have won a wide variety of races. Over 450 people toed the line, and we were off at 8 am.

It didn't take long for runners to stretch out over a pretty long area, and after a short time on pavement, we turned onto a trail and I felt the trail mojo. I really do love running on dirt, and enjoy the race atmosphere, though it tends to cause me to start a little too fast. And it seems the chatting that goes on during trail races is not only more common, but friendly and often helpful, too.

The first aid station came up pretty quickly, and since I was doing well supply-wise I blew right through. Two things I was careful about for this race was to make sure I drank more water, and also take electrolyte replacements regularly. My first 50K - last December - and some of my long training runs leading up to the race, had not gone well, and after some research and consideration felt pretty confident I just wasn't replacing my electrolytes or hydrating properly. This time, I was determined to double the electrolyte intake, and keep drinking.

And it seemed to be working, by the second aid station, about 14 miles in, my hydration pack was ready for a refill and I was feeling good. I scarfed down a few brownies and a PB&J square, and off I went. This was a killer section - a six mile loop that brings you back to the same aid station. And also the steepest decent, followed, naturally, by the steepest (and longest) ascent. So basically, you thrash your quads running down the steep downhill, then peg your heart rate going up the ascent. Nothing like hitting mile 20 after that combo.

I again refilled my water (hooray for no dehydration!), and ate some more brownies and a PB&J square. One of the things I love about trail races and ultras, they have some good vittles at aid stations. I was still feeling good, too. No stomach problems like on recent training runs, and the legs and abdomen were, so far, cramp free unlike my first 50K. I was happy, looking at the last third of the race, and pleased with my time. Even with a pretty big slowdown, I could still crush my previous 50k time, though realistically, it shouldn't be hard as the first one was a disaster - with hydration and electrolyte problems alluded to previously.

Now, looking at a map of the course or an elevation profile on the website is one thing. Actually being out on the course, especially a "hill" at about mile 25, is another. I have come to believe that previous course knowledge is a good thing. Helps you plan your run a little better. Funny what a hill at 25 miles can teach you.

I think I just may have been pushing it a bit too hard, to try to finish in a time that I soon came to realize wasn't possible. Unfortunately, I realized that just after hitting the top of the hill and I just didn't have a whole lot left in the tank. I tried to eat a bit at the second to last aid station, but couldn't eat much then. I just refilled my water and hit the trail. I managed to run alright for a while, but definitely noticed a slow down, and by the time I hit the last aid station I just wanted to get to the finish line so I blew through that one again.

The last section has a nice little climb as well, and I found myself walking a good portion of it. Whenever the trail would level out, or go downhill I would run; whenever it was even hinting at an uphill, I was walking. Luckily, the finish area was all flat. And it was a good thing that I had decided to not stop at the last aid station. Coming in to the final stretch before the finish line, I could see the clock just about to turn over to 4:59. I managed to finish in less than 5 hours, and take more than an hour off my previous time! I was very happy, and not just because of my time...I could take a seat and rest. I hung out at the finish area for a few minutes, and then made my way to the car. As for the stretching the legs walking the 1/3 mile to the car after the race...I would have much rather the car been closer and did some standard stretching.

I changed clothes and rested for a bit before heading back to the finish area to wait for my wife. While waiting, I noticed a gentleman who had set up a chiropractor’s table, and was offering to make you a "well adjusted human being" for $1! That was a deal I couldn't pass up, as I had a bit of pain in my neck/upper back area. As I as watching him finish up with another person, I thought he looked familiar. When it was my turn I told him he looked a lot like Gordy Ainsleigh, to which he replied "That's because I am." I had a great back adjustment, and a nice conversation with the man who started the Western States 100 Mile Run. So far it's been a great day!

I meandered over to the finish area a little before the 7 hour mark. My wife always downplays her running, and had predicted an 8 hour-ish finish. Her work had been pretty busy lately, and she had not been feeling well with a sore throat, so she was a bit concerned about running up against the cut-off times. Well, I'm glad I decided to get there early, because she managed to run a fantastic 7:11 in her first ultramarathon, or for that matter, her first race distance longer than a half-marathon! Well, what a day indeed - we had both run well and had a great time. The race was well organized, the volunteers were magnificent, and the atmosphere was fun.

I try to take away a few lessons from each race, as there is always something to learn from each one. I know I could have done a better job hydrating and fueling during this race, even though I felt pretty good throughout, and managed to do a much better job than my first ultra and a number of my recent training runs. I also better understand the value of course experience and how it can help in planning a better strategy. Overall, Way Too Cool turned out to be a great day all the way around. I hope to run it again, and can highly recommend it to anyone thinking about trying to get in.

Good luck, and happy running!