Monday, February 26, 2007


In spite of last week's enthusiasm, Spring is definitely not here yet as the weather did a reversal this week and left the Bay Area overcast, wet and cold (relatively speaking). I still managed to keep pretty much to my training plan including the tempo run on Thursday, knocking off 7:45/mi for just over 6 (painful) miles. The Friday rest-day was much welcome as I was feeling pretty beat up after a 7-day streak. I normally don't run more than 4-5 days straight without rest.

My weekend schedule also required a bit of a reversal, swapping the order of my long and medium distance back-to-back runs. Normally, I like to do my long run on Saturday and then a medium distance on Sunday to train for running on tired legs. This type of training worked well for my first ultra last year. However, I had a busy Saturday planned and also found myself with 4+ hours of free-time on Sunday while my son would be at his basketball workout in Oakland. I decided to do a 10-miler on Saturday evening and then try to get in 20 miles of trail running in the Oakland Hills Sunday morning for a total of around 30 miles within an 18-hour time block. Kind of like a really slow 50K with a nice night's sleep in the middle.

Sunday's plan was to head up to Redwood Park just a few miles from where Holy Names University where my son would be working out. I planned to start on the east side of the park along Skyline Blvd and loop around the outside perimeter adding an out-and-back to Sibley Preserve for some extra miles and climbing. I got a little bit of a late start due to my own stupidity of not printing out the trail map or paying good attention to my starting location. After driving past it a few times I finally realized that the building I kept looking at was the old Park Administrative Headquarters and my starting location. The late start and slow trail conditions didn't leave me much hope at completing my full plan, but I thought that if I could keep a decent pace and not stop too much, I could still get in some good miles and come close to my goal.

Even though I spent some time studying the map, I still managed to have some trouble finding the planned start of my route. I missed the turn-off to the Golden Spike Trail and ended up running all the way to the start of the Dunn Trail. Some helpful hiker set me straight, explaning that there was a "closed to equestrians" sign at the start of the Golden Spike. An extra warm-up mile to start, no problem. I found the Golden Spike and all its glorious, single-track, wet-and-muddy goodness. For my money, this is one of the best trails in the park, winding through the woods, rolling up-and-down hills, all good stuff. After about 3 miles, this trail comes around to the main park area. Then, a half-mile on the Bridle Trail to a 1/4 mile on the Stream Trail brings one to the slow grind up the Canyon Trail to the East Ridge. This section of the run was part of the Firetrails 50 route last October. Next is the East Ridge Trail which is wide fireroad for a little over 2 more miles before the turnoff out of Redwood Park that heads through Huckleberry and on to Sibley. This section follows the Skyline National Trail which winds through the lush and wondrous Huckleberry Botanical Regional Preserve. This area seems almost pre-historic as you head down into a fern-covered gully surrounded by a unique and rare variety of plant life. Following this is the brutal (and very sloppy when wet) climb up into Robert Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve which has its own unique eco-system created from a 10-million-year-old volcano. The Visitor Center is my turnaround point, but the trail continues on to Tilden Park in Bezerkley.

The map claims that it is a little under 3.5 miles from Sibley's Visitor Center back to Redwood Park's Skyline Gate. From that point I followed the West Ridge Trail for another couple of miles until it intersects with the Graham Trail. Another mile or so on this trail connects back to the middle of the Dunn Trail about a half mile from my start point. However, I still had a little time left and wanted to get as many miles in as time allowed so I did another out-and-back to the start of the Dunn Trail at the Equestrian Arena. Given that my full run was less than 3:40, I figured I had only put in about 18-19 miles at best. However, calculating (and re-calculating) based on maps and even measurements from some local race routes, I come up with just over 20 miles! I guess my surprise comes from thinking about my times over on Mission Peak where things are just so much steeper. All in all, this run only had a couple of "serious" climbs and neither was particularly long. As much as I love my backyard, Mission Peak and even my childhood home on Mt. Diablo, I think the Oakland Hills really have to take the cake for East Bay trails in terms of quality, variety and natural beauty. Between Chabot and Redwood there is just so much trail to explore and then there is always the option to go all the way through Huckleberry and Sibley on to Tilden in Berkeley and possibly even beyond! It really does make the Bay Area Ridge Trail seem like a reality. If they ever finish connecting all 500 miles, it would sure make one heck of an ultra :-)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Spring-ing up that hill (twice)

OK, so I was actually more like "shuffling" up that hill, but it was definitely Spring-like conditions. Now that I'd announced my plans for the season, it was time to start my first official "serious" run with a long hilly session over Mission Peak to Sonol and back. My mid-day Saturday start was absolutely perfect, sunny and warm. In fact, I even had to use my S!Caps for the first time this year. Since I actually decided to go ahead and sign up for the Ohlone 50K even though it is only 2 weeks after my 100K, I thought that heading up the start path of that race was appropriate. I started up the main fireroad and then cut over on the Peak Meadow Trail to catch Horse Heaven up to the right side of the Peak Trail. For some reason I always get off path on Horse Haven, especially in the early season when it hasn't seen much traffic other than by cows (which begs the question as to which animal it really should be named after). After a couple sessions of back-tracking and cutting across fields, I did manage to get to the Peak Trail and hit the top in a little under 1:05. A half minute rest and then a nice long rewarding downhill to Sonol. I continued down the Peak Trail to the Eagle Trail and around the back side for a stop at the water spigot to fill bottles. Then its a bit of the Laurel Loop Trail to the Sign-in panel for the Ohlone Wilderness. Dirt and then gravel fireroad all downhill to Calaveras Blvd where a crosswalk leads to the trail into the Sonol Regional Wilderness.

The downhill section from the back of Mission Peak to Sonol is some of my favorite; beautiful, quiet and a perfect grade for running. However, it always seems to take longer than I expect . Every time I run here, I think that I should reach the park sooner given that I am generally moving at a decent pace on this part. No matter, I arrive soon enough. At Sonol, there were many people enjoying this wonderful afternoon, but it was definitely early season as evidenced by the fact that none of the water fountains were working. I jogged around checking a few different ones before heading over to the Visitor Center to find the big jugs of bottled water that had very kindly been provided by the park staff.

After refilling water and downing a Clif Bar, it was time for the long trudge back up. Just as the trip down always seems like it should be shorter, the trip back up always seems like it should be longer! I think this is a great example of the mental aspect of distance running. When I am coming down moving well, I think I tend to be looking ahead and focusing on where I am trying to get to. However, heading up, knowing it is going to be tough, I tend to just put my head down and focus on keeping those feet moving at as constant a pace as the terrain will allow. I am always surprised to look up and notice some landmark that has arrived sooner than expected. I arrived back up at the Eagle Trail with around 3 hours total moving time. Since it was only around 5pm at this point with plenty of light still left in the day, I decided to head back up over to the far side of the Peak Trail again and bag the peak one more time before heading down. Up and over the peak the same direction as before just in time to see the sun starting to set. Continuing down the Peak Trail to the start of Eagle, this time I would head down the main fireroad finishing right around sunset in a little under 4 hours total.

I just spent a very long time plotting this route on the USATF routes site. However, when I attempted to save it, I apparently crashed their program as it reported a "stack overflow" and a message about not being able to handle that many points. Bummer! The full route was probably somewhere between 18 and 18.5 miles with around 4600 ft. of climbing. The legs felt better than expected and I was still able to knock off a 6 1/2 miler on Sunday for a weekly total of close to 55 miles. Feels like I am back in training again and ready to start bumping up to those back-to-back weekends. Here's what I am thinking for a weekly training plan, keeping in mind that I always keep things flexible week-to-week:

Mon: Rest or X-train (possible a short barefoot run on grass or treadmill)
Tue: Easy 1-hr or around 7-mile run
Wed: Mid distance of 1.5-hr or 10+mile run (building up to longer runs or double days)
Thu: Tempo or speedwork of around 6 miles (alternatively easy run on a light week)
Fri: Rest
Sat: Long run or possibly a training race (mid-distance run if training racing on Sunday)
Sun: Build up to Mid-Long run depending on Saturday's run (target 30-40 weekend miles)

I am also going to be hitting the weights a couple of days a week as well as doing some flexibility, core and ab work as consistently as I possibly can. I am learning how important much of this is for active recovery and injury avoidance, but it still doesn't make it any easier to get myself to do it!

Happy training everyone!!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Planning Season

Well, it's time to commit to some race plans for the year. Training is getting going. I had a 50 mile week when I did the 50K and then took a light week. Last week was a reasonable 46 miles, but I haven't yet gotten going on serious weekend long runs. That should start this week and I am going to try and layout a schedule that gets back to the back-to-back running I did last year in prep for Ohlone.

OK, for the races. My main goal this season revolves around doing my first 100K which is at the Miwok 100K Trail Race which I am already entered in for May 5, 2007. I was lucky to sign up early as it filled fast and I know a lot of people who did not manage to get in.
Working backwards from there, I have signed up for the American River 50-mile Endurance Run which is three weeks back on April 14 which I will try to use as a sort of last long training run.
I am considering, but haven't yet signed up for, doing the Ruth Anderson 50K/50M/100K run on March 31 as it allows you to pick your distance as you go. I would plan on just doing the 50K, but might continue on to the 50M if I felt good. This is a loop race which totally freaks me out as I dislike running repeated loops so it would have a definite extra mental component.
If I bail on Ruth Anderson I will likely do the Pacific Coast Trail Runs race at Pirates Cove on March 24 as it covers some of the same trails as Miwok.
Beyond Miwok, my plans are much more vague. I would love to repeat at the Ohlone 50K as it is the 20th anniversary. However, it is only 2 weeks after Miwok on May 20 so it may be a bit much to bite off. I need to decide on this soon as it is filling up fast!
If I don't do Ohlone, I may return to the my home mountain and do Mount Diablo on June 2.
The rest of my summer is pretty much open and I may just take a couple easy months after a busy spring schedule. I do plan to return to the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 for a repeat on the 25th anniversary of the event. Everything else will just depend on how I feel. Who knows, maybe things will go so great that I'll want to enter a Fall 100-miler. That is, assuming any are open still.

Speaking of seasons, I often hear the charge that California doesn't have seasons. That is simply not true. We have 4 seasons, they just aren't quite what other parts of the nation are used to. Here out seasons consist of Spring, Late-spring, Fall and The Rainy Week. It was really rainy last week so guess what that must be Spring! And, what does the weather report say for tomorrow in my area? That's right, 70 degrees and sunny, perfect running weather!!!

(My apologies to anyone who might accidentally to read this from the Midwest where there is a Clipper Storm brewing and especially anyone from Western NY where they are buried under snow and expecting more this weekend.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Cleansing by mud

After a week of running asphalt in downtown Tokyo, I am home and back on the trails. Yesterday I did a run over at Anthony Chabot Park starting from the Clyde Woolridge staging area. After two days of fairly heavy rain, there was a nice amount of mud on the trail. Actually, it was pretty much just right, not enough mud to be sloppy, but enough to make it soft and to christen my new Asics Gel-Trabuco trail shoes. My route took me down the Brandon Trail to Bort Meadows and then up and over the MacDonald Trail to the edge of Redwood Regional Park. I could only afford two hours on this day which was fine as I was still a little stiff from all the road running, plane sitting and jet lag. I had a little time left on the way back so I continued down the Cascade Trail to the start of the Columbine Trail before heading back up to the ridge and along the Goldenrod to my start location. The weather stayed dry and cool making it a perfect day amongst some of my favorite trails in the East Bay. Much of the route is along the path of the Firetrails 50 course that I did last October as my first 50 miler. It felt great to be back on the trail and especially slopping in some nice soft mud.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


I've been to Japan about 2-dozen times at this point, but this is my first trip in over a year. The longest I have gone without visiting the "mother ship" since starting work at Sony over 4 years ago. It's nice to be back in my "second home" at the La Foret hotel in the Shinagawa-ku of Tokyo. An early morning meeting meant starting my run alongside the Meguro-gawa in the dark. This is my standard and favorite route for running in the area as it has fewer road crossings than most other options and at least some of the path along the river is softer asphalt than the standard brick sidewalks that comprise most streets in the area. It also assures that I don't get lost as it is a fairly simply out-and-back route of either 5.5 or 7.3 miles depending on how much time I have in the morning.

It has also been quite a while since I have done any city running. Obviously very different than running the hilly trails, or even the suburban streets near my home. Watching the city wake up as I travel through its varied neighborhoods has its own very unique appeal. The sights, sounds and smells both familiar and bizarre envelope my senses. Its a cold morning in the city and I take advantage of the ever present Tokyo vending machines that can be found on every corner to purchase a "Hot Lemon Vitamin" drink and suck it down before the light turns green. These vending machines mean I never have to carry a water bottle in Tokyo, just a few 100 yen coins even on a long run. The fact that they dispense both hot and cold drinks has saved me in both summer and winter. I recall one particular time on a long weekend run being caught under-dressed in downpour. Shivering, I discovered the amazing power of a can of hot corn chowder to give me the warmth and energy I needed. At the next stoplight on my route I smile at the familiar "Repeat of Hair" salon. There is an advert in the window that asks "Will you increase pheromone by digital permanent wave?" It is apparently about a lecturer coming to the salon who is an expert in this "digital permanent wave" technique. One can only guess what it consists of and how it could possibly be related to pheromones.

I continue my run enjoying the sights including the new buildings that have arisen during my absence. Tokyo is a city that is forever under construction, an always changing patchwork of old and new. This juxtaposition is perhaps one of my favorite aspect of the city. In a culture where the latest trend of the moment is as revered as the most ancient traditional ceremony, it is no surprise to find thousand year old temples nestled tightly between two giant modern skyscrapers. Tiny, quaint little parks and cemeteries clouded in the smoke from incense dot the urban landscape. The city is both clean and safe. There are always people out in the morning along the path I take. Some strolling or walking their dogs, a few other runners and people on bicycles riding to work. The Japanese rarely make eye contact with strangers, but when they do I always make sure to breathe out a friendly "ohiogozaimasu!" (good morning).

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Lesson for me

After last weekend's 50k, I am actually recovering quite well. Things are stiff, but I am still able to run and expect to feel at full bore by next week. The fact that I was able to run the race on very little training, no recent long runs and feeling, overall, a bit under the weather should be a lesson for me. Fitness does not get lost as quickly as one may think. Taking time off to let things heal and make sure minor injuries don't become major is much more important than the slight loss of fitness that the rest will cause. Furthermore, the fitness will come back quicker than the injury will heal if you don't let it rest. Had I just taken the down time immediately after my knees started hurting, I would definitely be even further along in my fitness goals than I am right now. However, I am well aware of how hard it is, mentally, to take that time off. The feeling that the results of my hard work are fading away and the difficulty of judging when the time off is absolutely necessary are the most difficult bits. There is always that line between the pain of building a stronger body and that other kind of pain, of tearing it down. In a way this issue echoes the whole reason I like running so much. The mind is capable of pushing the body much farther than one would think. However, it also must listen to the body as it can certainly push too far. Running along that, sometimes razor-sharp, edge is what ultrarunning is all about.