Thursday, August 31, 2006

Night fever, night fever...

Another amazing night run up Mission Peak. Same route, run from home to Stanford Ave. trailhead, up main fireroad, around the back side then up and over the peak. Headed out after dinner around 8:30pm or so. It was a warm evening in Fremont, but you never know what the temps will be like on the peak. I wore a long sleeve running shirt (sleeves rolled up) and carried a vest and gloves in my waist pack. Turns out that I didn't need any of it as the weather was as perfect as perfect can be. I didn't even roll my sleeves down the entire time. It's unfortunate that I didn't know this beforehand as I could have left room for a camera in my pack. The air was cool, but not cold and completely clear. The moon, while not even half full, was shining very brightly in the western sky above the trail. It didn't even feel like night going up the face. While I brought my tiny little Petzl Zipka headlight, I decided that I would attempt the entire run without it. I certainly didn't need it on the front side. However, once over the ridge the moon was blocked by the peak and it became much more challenging. Running while barely being able to see the trail is an interesting sensation. I told myself it would improve my balance and train me to lift my feet more. This is relatively smooth fireroad that had been recently re-grated and I have it pretty much wired so I don't think it was really dangerous. However, every time there was a significant dip in the trail my stomach would sink momentarily before my foot discovered the ground a few inches lower than expected. There were also a couple of near misses snagging my toe on invisible rocks or lumps of dirt.

the entire way up, the view of the valley and bay were so clear that I kept wanting to stop and look, but told myself it would be even better from the top. It was. It's hard to describe how perfect the view was. I could see all the shimmering lights down through San Jose to the south. The water on the bay reflecting the light of the moon. The peninsula hills, the east bay and all the way up north all perfectly visible. I just sat there looking. I felt as though I could stay all night reflecting on my life here in the bay. I looked north-east to where Mt. Diablo should be. My childhood home from age 9-18. Not really visible, but I could imagine its shadowy outline. I looked to the bottom of the bay where I work and thought about all the craziness that my team and I have endured this past year. Then, my eyes and mind returned back to the base of the hill. To Fremont. I looked to the lights where my house should be and thought of Zane and Freddy who, at just after 10pm, would be gettng ready for bed. Then I thought I should probably get going. I told Zane that she was allowed to worry if I wasn't back by midnight. The last thing I wanted to do was cause her more stress after all she's been through lately. I wanted to reach down from on high and give her a kiss on the forehead before heading off.

The run down was uneventful with the exception of a deer and me scaring each other in the dark. I gasped and it bounced swiftly away up the hill. The moon continued to illuminate the trail brightly for my return trip. In fact, it was almost too bright at times making the trail details difficult to see. As I descended, I watched as the moon dropped lower in the sky to the west. Like a sunset turning from yellow to orange to an almost crimson color. A perfect ending to an almost perfect night. Almost...

NOTE TO SELF: No matter how yummy your homemade chicken enchiladas are, save them for after the run.

...night heaver, night heaver...

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Log blog

I've been running at least semi-regularly since about 1992 (not including a couple of years being a sprinter on the track team in high school and lots of running around on the soccer pitch). However, I have only gotten serious about my running since around 2000. As an engineer by trade this means that I have been tracking it in a log. As a software engineer, it means I keep an electronic running log. I like to review my log entries, see how I have progressed over the years, re-live some of my more memorable runs and, of course, look at the stats. The log program I use (called "Runner's Log" of all things) is very old and no longer maintained. I've thought about upgrading to something newer, using one of the many web-based logs or actually writing my own program. However, it is so much simpler to just use what has been working for over 6 years.

The program generates a reasonable amount of statistics (distance, time, calories, pace, etc.) with pretty bar graphs that I can view on a weekly, monthly or overall basis. I try not to pay attention to pace except to note when it averages around 9:00 min/mile or lower which usually indicates that I have not been getting in enough serious trail runs (need to hit them hills). In general, I try not to obsess on it, but continue to enjoy looking at and reviewing various statistics and milestones. Aside from my races, the following milestones are one's I have recently reviewed or started looking forward to:

7 miles - Some time in 2000 I logged my first "long run" greater than this length. This is now about the shortest run I do in any given week.
2 hours - In 2001, I ran for nearly 2 hours on a 12 miler training for my first half marathon. I now consider 2 hours the start of a long run.
20 miles - My first 20 miler was run from Fremont to Pleasanton where I met my wife at her work. After a brief rest and change of clothes we went out for a burritos at El Balazo (mmm...).
Peaks - Runs up Mt. Tam, Mt. Diablo and my Big Loop run (from home, up and over Mission Peak, down to Ed Levin Park in Milpitas then back home) are all recorded. These runs were training targets as much as any of my races.
Destinations - Other memorable destination runs include running from Pleasanton to my parent's house in Concord (one day I want to do if from my house in Fremont), running from the middle of Yosemite Valley to the top of Vernal Falls on the 4th of July (eventually I plan to do the run all the way to Half Dome and back) and running from the south rim of the Grand Canyon to Phantom Ranch and half way back up before the temps reached triple digits forcing me to walk (R2R2R is definitely among my long-term goals).
6,000 miles - While my lifetime miles are probably 1-2 thousand longer, this is what I have recorded in the log. It was crossed at around mile 8 during the Big Basin Redwoods 50K race recently.
6,200 miles - The approximate distance across the US and back. Should be hit sometime in September.
1,000 runs - This milestone will also be hit sometime in the next few weeks.
1,000 hours - This one should be passed before the end of the year.
1,000,000 calories - If I keep on target this extremely important milestone will be crossed in the middle of next year. I have yet to decide what sort of crazy gluttonous feast I am going to celebrate with :-).

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Non-run instead of long run

I knew I wasn't going to have time for a really long run this weekend, but the plan was to do three mid-distance runs with a soccer game Sunday morning to make the Sunday run feel a bit longer. This worked well two weeks ago doing 14.5 on Friday, 10.6 Saturday and then 13.5 miles on Sunday on Mount Diablo after a full 90 minute soccer game in the morning. Those Diablo miles felt as tough as any long run I've done. The plan this weekend was similar. I'd done 10.6 on Friday, 14.25 yesterday up Mission Peak from home. The game this morning was easy with lots of subs so I had plenty of juice for whatever distance I felt up for this afternoon. However by the time I got home and had something to eat (PB&J on rice cake...mmm), I just didn't feel like running. Physically I felt fine. I thought about pushing myself to just go out for a training run, but then I thought "what for?" I'm not feeling it. I am technically in a bit of a recovery week after the 50K last weekend and I just can't get jazzed about an uninteresting training run on Sunday afternoon. Training is for the weekdays, weekends are for challenge and adventure. So, I decided to bail. Only 30 short miles this week. Considering that just a few years ago, I celebrated my first 30 mile week, it still makes me smile.

I decided that I will make next week a "big" week. I am going to plan a night run up Mission mid week and some decent training runs spread around. Saturday will be spent watching my son play football and with no soccer on Sunday, I am going to plan a good long run on the DC Firetrails course. A plan I can definitely be excited about.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mind the gap

The results are in from the Big Basin Redwoods Trail Run and I came in 10th. Something about it just doesn't seem right to me. Another top-10 result? I mean, the last time I finished top-10 in a race was when I sprinted in track my sophomore year in high school. But, there were only about 10 people in the race back then. Just so people don't start thinking that I've become some sort of really "good" runner (or worse, I start thinking it myself), it should be kept in mind that these 50K races each only had a little over 30 finishers. I known, I know, fnishing in the top 1/3 is till nothing to sneeze at regardless of race size. I certainly would have been ecstatic to get such a result at a bigger race like Ohlone where I was already overjoyed that I managed to finish near the middle of the pack.

I suspect that at a larger race, with a deeper talent pool, a top 50% result is probably a more reasonable goal for me to shoot for. Looking at the results of these last two races, I've noticed a very interesting trend. At Santa Cruz there were six people in front of me. Aside from the winner who pretty much tore the course apart, all of the front runners finished within 10 minutes of each other. Then there is about a 20 minute gap and then me. Behind me are people every 3-7 minutes with no really big gaps until around 7 hours. Then, again when I look at the results from this past weekend, there is a sizeable gap between me and the group in front of me and a nice sized clump of people coming in relatively close behind me. I'm not sure where I'm going with all this or if there are any real conclusions to draw. I do know that when I compare these to the results of Ohlone, there are not any obvious big gaps other than between those first three, inhuman, running machines who ran that course in under 5 hours and the rest of us mortals. I guess that I just keep thinking that at a bigger race there would be a group of people filling that gap between me and the front runners and my placing would seem much more "real" to me.

I think part of my over-focus on this is that I am starting to look forward to my 50 miler which will be a much bigger race and my first at that distance. I've started to feel comfortable with the 50K distance and seem to be developing a sense of how I should be running and where I should be in the field. All of that will be going away when there is an extra 19 miles to run. It's so much bigger of a jump than going from the marathon to 50K. But, I think that's what makes it exciting. What awaits me on the other side of 31 miles? How will my body respond pushing past the 7 hour mark? Will I make early mistakes and pay dearly for them in the end? Will I finish wondering if I could have pushed harder? I should really put such thoughts out of my mind as none of it means anything until I am out there on the course. My real hope is just that I am able to continue pushing forward and enjoying as much of that very long course as my body will allow.

Monday, August 21, 2006


I've heard it said that running ultras is an exercise in pain management. Well, I did the Big Basin Redwoods 50K this past weekend and I guess it went well, but getting up this morning I was made aware of how much pain I had been managing. This was partly due to the three stupid things I did before this race, but that is getting ahead of myself.

First, the race. There are few places more beautiful to run in the Bay Area than the redwoods north of Santa Cruz. The scenery and terrain were awesome and made the course seem easier than it was. I remember on the last uphills thinking that this course didn't seem that tough and wondering why I was struggling so much and why my time was so much further back than my last race. I think the extra few hundred feet that was added due to a last-minute course change took more of a toll than I realized. That and the beautiful setting distracted me from the pain developing in my feet. Don't get me wrong. I can't really complain. I finished fairly strong at 6:23 and was able to run the final downhill section despite the pain. It's just that the pain seemed much worse than in previous races from what I could recall. However, I am learning that, just like when I used to rock climb, the brain has a way of making the painful aspects of an event fade from memory as time passes. Maybe it is an evolutionary throwback from when our existence depended on not shying away from repeating previously painful events.

Anyway, yesterday was painful. Some of it was pain that I started with and some of it was acquired along the way. I started with pain because of my own stupidity ("the three stupid things"). My son was playing basketball with a friend and his friend's father and so I decided to jump in despite only having flip-flops on my feet. At first, I went barefoot (stupid thing #1). When running around on pavement without shoes started to hurt, did I stop? No, of course not. I decided to just put my flip-flops back on (stupid thing #2). This lasted about 5 minutes before I smashed my big toe into the ground and removed most of the flesh from the tip. My question is: "who does this the day before running an ultra?" I told myself at the start of the race that this was good training for my 50 miler. I was just simulating what my feet might feel like after the first 20 miles (yeah, right). Well, all this focus on my feet made me forget my training run the previous weekend where I had tried out my new shoes (The North Face Radials if anyone is interested). The shoes were great, but caused some irritation on my Achilles going downhill. I was supposed to remember this and do something about it before the race, but didn't (stupid thing #3) and ended up with two nice raw spots on the back of my ankles.

Apparently, these self-induced foot pains (combined with the normal pains of running 31 miles on hilly terrain) were not enough according to some local Big Basin residents. The native hornets decided that a few well placed stings (I got three) would help all these crazy runners test their minds ability to manage (and then try to forget) the pain of the day's event. Well, getting up this morning, my memorywas pretty fresh. Especially once I tried to stand up and walk on my still very sore feet. I think the frustrating thing is that my legs actually feel just fine (aside from the location of the stings which now itch) My legs feel just like after a long training run. I've suspected for a while that my feet are my limiting factor in these races. I'm just not sure if they are actually getting any stronger or if I am just putting up with more pain. Maybe that's all there is to it and I simply need to continue to learn better pain management. I guess we'll see come October. If you hear reports of a runner crawling the last 10 miles of the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 on his hands and knees, you'll know that my feet got the best of me.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Good Morning Fremont

Well, fall is fast approaching and that means I need to start converting back to running in the morning (yuck). Now that my average run is around 10 miles, lunchtime is no longer an option and with Frederick about to start high school my evenings will be getting busy (picking up from football, making dinner, making sure homework is done, etc.) This morning, with much help and prodding from my wife, I managed to wake up around 6am and get out the door in another half hour or so. Not really early by some people's standards, but I am more of a night owl than a morning person. So, up in the morning running on the roads around the neighborhood it is. I guess I could technically drive to the trail, but between getting up early, getting all my stuff together and into the car and then faced with the prospect of ~2000ft of climbing in the first few miles, I would probably end up at Starbucks rather than the trailhead ("Grande quad-shot americano, please").

Truth be told, it's actually not so bad running in the morning. Since I tend to generate a lot of heat when I run, I enjoy the crisp morning air. Also, I do kind of enjoy all the morning types that populate our neighborhood. There aren't too many runners, but living in south Fremont there is are many families from Taiwan, China and Hong Kong and I am always impressed with how many of the elderly people from these cultures are up and active every morning. Many of these people appear to be at least in their 70's, some walk very slowly, some with canes, some stretch or practice Tai Chi in the park. There is one guy who I have seen almost every morning I have gone running, rain or shine, in the baptist church parking lot performing his routine which seems to consist of a lot of walking in tight circles and walking backwards. Hopefully this is one of the positive values that others in our culturally diverse area can learn to emulate. I know I always think of it as a reminder that I want to remain as active as I can throughout my life.

I run to the trailhead as my turnaround, rather than starting, point and head back home. About half way back I remember another benefit of running in the morning: hot, post-run coffee!!! I love hot coffee after a run and have even been known to drink it in the middle of a warm day. However, after a cold (or at least cool) morning run, the thought of that steaming, hot goodness is what will assure I get up for my morning run again tomorrow.

Monday, August 14, 2006

More animal attacks

Well, I finally have proof of something I have always suspected. Seagulls are scheming, vengeful birds who take aim with deliberation! On Friday evening I did an after work run around the salt ponds in the San Francisco Wildlife Refuge. I decided to do the full double loop including the levees on both sides of the railroad tracks for a total 14.5 miles. The section on the other side of the tracks from the Alviso Marina is very empty in the evening since the visitor center is closed.

Running along this section I noticed a sort of "sea of white" up ahead on the path. As I got closer I realized that there were probably a couple of hundred seagulls sitting on the levee in front of me. It was a pretty breezy day and as I came upon them they would fly up and into the wind and just sort of hover there above the left side of the trail. I thought this was kind of neat until I heard this sort of soft "thpt" sound hitting the trail along side of me. I looked up and quickly realized that about every 4th or 5th one of these gulls was letting loose. I was running right in the middle of a veritable seagull bombing raid! Lucky for me (and my exposed head), I was able to find a safe shelter from the onslaught by keeping to the far right side of the trail. While these birds definitely appeared to have the determination and desire, their mastery of ballistics was a bit lacking and they were only able to strafe about 2/3 of the trail.

I escaped thise incident unharmed, but a wee bit wiser. Perhaps I should reconsider the idea of wearing a hat while I run. It may offer protection from more than just the sun.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Getting eaten in gator country

Well, we are here in Orlando Florida for a youth basketball tournament. I did a couple of arm and humid morning road runs doing circles around the vacation villas complex where we are staying (yuck). Having dropped my wife at the airport early this morning, I decide that a long day would give me an oportunity to find some sort of trail in this land of amuzement parks and vacation rentals. I looked one up on the internet and intended to run at Disney Wilderness Preserve. No, it isn't part of Disney, it is named after them because they had to pay for the wetland replacement due to the land taken up by their park. It is managed by the Nature Conservancy.

Well, I basically missed the turnoff due to the fact that the area around this conservancy is growing like crazy with new housing and retail development. I guess only big, well-known, companies have to replace their wetlands not housing developers and local governments ;-). Anyway, after driving for another 15-20 minutes I saw a sign with the universal symbol for hikers on it (imagine my excitement). Pulling into the pull-off and reading the map it showed a trail that went out for about 5.5 miles. I guess a good 11 miles would be OK even though I was planning on more like 14. I could always go out again after returning to the car after the first out-and-back.

The trail is basically an overgrown 4x4 trail near Lake Marion used by hunters. However, the sign said it was also for hiking and I met two other runners coming off just as I pulled up. They said that the trail was pretty good, but gets kinda thick. They hadn't gone all the way to the end so I would have to see for myself. The runners were southerners so I figured they knew more about when hunting season was than I did (is that prejudice?). Anyway, I figured there would be signs up if it was hunting season so I felt fairly safe heading out in this lush, jungle-like environ.

It was very different than anyplace else I had run. The trail was completely flat, but the thick grasses that grew thicker the deeper I went made it feel more like a typical trail run pace. There are lots of great noises from flying bugs, beetles, birds and other animals. The plant life is so dense and lush that I felt again like I was running in pre-historic times. However, this was as far from the desert climate (where I last felt that way) as one can get. It does share the heat, but the humidity is quite stiffling.

Running along, I was enjoying the scenary thinking that it was nice (like in the desert) to be running a fairly remote trail without thinking about mountain lions or other predetors. Then, I saw it. A simple little sign on the side of the trail. It said, "Alligator area, do not harrass or feed". I thought to myself, "what am I going to feed them, my foot?" Then I thought there should be a sign facing away from the trail saying "Human area, do not harass or EAT!" Well, just as I was thinking these thoughts, I ran by a little mucky swampy pond and heard a very lowed "KERPLUNK!!" Needless to say, this startled me quite a bit. I realized that Alligators don't chase people, but I still picked up my pace. About a mile later I was forced to stop and get my heart in check. The pace was not something I could keep up in the growing heat and humidity. If I thought my little Big Basin run would prepare me for Florida humidity then I am an idiot. This stuff is serious! I ended up having to take my shirt off because the wicking fabric was less than useless. It did much better over my head and flopping about my shoulders.

I put the thought of alligators behind me and just tried to enjoy the trail. It really was beautiful and I wished I'd brought the camera along. The dense parts look something like this.

Well, going along all was good and alligators were out of my thoughts when I heard another loud "KERSPLASH!" This time I stopped and looked. I couldn't see anything, but something had definitely just dove under the water. I assured myself that the chance of a full grown man being eaten by an alligator along a trail was small. However, I was out of my element and really knew nothing about these beasts. I shortly came to the dead-end of the trail. Here there was another nice little swamp-pool so I stood and looked to see if anything was moving underneath the surface. Just then, a sound came from the bushes and I started. Then I laughed as I saw the absolute cutest little black pig I have ever seen in my life.

It was about the size of one of our black cats and about the same color. I watched it for a bit before continuing on. I now felt no fear of alligators. With these tasty little pork morsels roaming around, no alligator could possibly be tempted by me. On the way back I saw more wildlife included many birds, a racoon and a deer.

Guessing this is what gets hunted, I made a point to scare it off the trail. No point in it getting in the habit of being in such an easily accessible area only to be shot. Hmmm...venison, pork, so many options for these gators. I can't imagine that human meat could even be tempting. I arrived back where I heard the first splash and decided to see if I could find the beast. Looking closely, I guess he (once again) saw me first. I caught a glimpse of him as he jumped off a low tree branch into the water....wait...tree branch? That bugger was only about a foot and a half long!!! These gators on this trail would have difficulty with those hogs let along a full sized human being. Silly Californian!

The rest of the run went fairly well, though the heat and humidity got the best of me. I ended up feeling like I did at the end of my Lake Meade run where I couldn't cool down even though I was drinking. I had to stop a few times and find shade and also got a nasty side cramp. My shorts were as wet as if I had jumped in a pool and my shirt that I alternated between carrying and wearing on my head must have weighed five pounds with all the moisture it was holding on to. Finally, I realized that there was a real danger of being eaten out here. With my shirt off in this humid jungle I was a veritable feast for the Florida bugs.