Monday, March 26, 2007

Avast Ye Scurvy Dogs

OK, I couldn't think of a good title for this post, but I ran Pirates Cove this weekend so pirate speak it is. I was gonna call it "Six in one, Half Dozen the other" as I realized that this 50K was actually my 6th ultra. It's something I probably need to keep in mind as I have only been doing them since last May and that puts me on a pace of one every 1.5 months since I have 3 more planned including a repeat of Ohlone (my first). While there are some out there who do far, far more, I am probably someone who needs to keep myself in check as this is still my first year and I do have a propensity to obsess and overdo things. Which brings me to this past weekend and my other possible title for the post of "Did I over do it?". I am feeling fine now, but Sunday night was a different story as I sort of blew my plans out of the water.

Run the Pirates Cove 50K as a training race since I have AR50 in 3 weeks and then Miwok 3 weeks later. I was thinking of a pace somewhere upwards of 6+ hours given the 6000+ ft of climbing. I wanted to run it and finish feeling like I had more and then get in another 10+ mile run on Sunday to cap off my weekly mileage.

I ran most of the first part of the race with a guy named Patrick Morin from Roseville who kept saying "we're going way too fast" as we completed the 30K loop in a little over 3 hours. I knew this was way way too fast for me, but I felt good especially since the weather never warmed up (in fact, it got colder as the day went on). As I still felt good on the next 20K loop, I just kept going thinking that I would slow down or walk when my body told me I was pushing it. That time never really seemed to arrive. I mean, I pushed, but never so hard as to feel like I couldn't maintain. Also, I think I realized that a 5:30 finish was in the realm of possibility so I should just see. I could always cancel Sunday's run if I needed to. So, I kept it up. I realized near the end that 5:30 wasn't going to happen, so I just kept pace. When I hit the sand (who the hell puts sand in the last mile of a 31 mile race?!?) I realized I could make it under 5:35 so I pushed a bit more to the end. I sprinted it in for a 5:34:something finish. It was very satisfying and I should have left the weekend at that.

Sunday morning, my soccer team was in disparate need of players for a game that would decide the championship. I hadn't played in almost 2 months and knew I shouldn't push myself too hard, but I could try and take it easy and cancel my afternoon run. Well, since we had no subs at all, there wasn't much in the way of taking it too easy. I was happy to have been able to help the team win and to also survive with no injury or serious debilitating pain. There was plenty of tightness and soreness in my sprinting and kicking muscles which I don't use much on the trails and I should have left the weekend at that.

Sunday afternoon, my wife needed to go to the gym. I thought about just spinning easy on the bike, but then I thought, why not hit the treadmill. I could take it easy and stop whenever I felt the need. It's not committing like running outside and it should be easier on the legs. I haven't run on a treadmill in a while and its easy to forget how simple it is to just push it a little more...and then a little more still. I probably shouldn't have been running near my normal 8:30/mi pace given all I had done this weekend and there was really no reason to push myself to make 9 miles other than some silly number in an electronic file on my computer. But, I did finish and I felt OK thought I knew my legs would need some recovery time.

Cut to me in Walmart hanging on to the cart with a blank stare in my eyes. Cut to my wife handing me a bag of pistachios and telling me to go to the car and sit down. I mumbled some pitiful sort of objection, but then complied as I knew she was right. About two hours later after more orders by my wife and food handed to me, my dizziness and slight nausea subsided. Did I over do it? Did I just not rehydrate and refuel properly on Sunday? I feel OK now and tonight I really will just spin easily on the bike or simply go for a walk. I guess tomorrow will be the true tell as I am supposed to do my easy run and I'll see if it is really easy or not. Ah well, it's all good training and in the end, I feel the weekend was a good accomplishment regardless.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Riding The Ridge

Sunday's run would be in the morning and I decided on some hills to counter the flat running the previous day. Zane agreed to come along and do some hiking while I ran over at Pleasanton Ridge. This is a great place for some good hill running. It has some nice uphill, but almost nothing as steep as Mission Peak and there is plenty of down to match with the up as you go. This is a popular place for mountain bikers which I always find motivating, especially when they challenge me on the uphill. The first biker was some skinny young guy who blew right past me on the way up the Oak Tree Trail. It made me think that maybe the trail wasn't steep enough for me to hang with the bikers. However the next guy was more my size. He passed by me, but was huffing and puffing a bit. As the trail steepened a little, I caught up to him and then pushed hard to pull ahead and pass some hikers up ahead. He stayed on my tail the whole way up, but never actually caught me again. As the trail curved around and I headed up the Ridgeline Trail, he stayed on the more level Thermalito Trail. Ridgeline is the best hill training. It is basically a serious of hills each one a bit steeper and a bit higher with short level breaks in between. There are always bikers resting at the top of these hills and as I passed them I began to think about how much my past mountain biking has taught me about running hills. So, here are the mountain biking skills that I have translated into running mantras:

  1. Cadence is key. Finding the right gear for the terrain and then maintaining a consistent leg turnover is what it's all about.
  2. It's OK to push it anaerobically up a short hill, but on the longer steep stuff you need to learn how to properly use your "granny gear".
  3. When cresting a tough hill do not immediately "shift gears" and try to accelerate as soon as it flattens out. "Spin it out" a little and give your legs a few seconds to recover, shifting gradually and naturally into the new pace.
  4. Do not overuse your brakes on the downhill. Gravity is your friend. With practice you will find that you can actually maintain better control by using the acceleration that gravity gives you. Besides, you really don't want to burn out your brakes (knees).
  5. When going down more technical terrain, focus on balance and technique. Look down the trail and anticipate obstacles. Bank the turns and then accelerate through them.
  6. If a downhill leads into an uphill try to use your momentum, but be prepared to shift into an easier gear (pace) as the hill steepens. Nothing will zap your energy reserves more quickly than charging too hard up a big hill after a fast downhill or flat section.
  7. Finally, it's OK to catch a little air and even let out a happy "whoop" now and then. Remember, it's supposed to be fun. There's nothing wrong with letting those around you know just how much!!!
With these rules in mind, I had a great run and I managed to do the entire Ridgeline Trail and then the Bay Leaf and (steep) Sinbad Creek Trail loop before returning. I managed to surprise myself by knocking off the whole thing (close to 12 miles) in under 2 hours. This was especially satisfying as I did one of my first "big" trail runs here almost 4 years ago. I remember struggling and having to walk slowly and painfully up the Sinbad Creek Trail and even stopping to keep myself from throwing up part way up. This time, I simply cruised through this section at my slow shuffle-run pace (i.e. "granny gear"). My overall pace for the run was almost a minute and a half per mile faster than back then. It's good to look back sometimes and see how much we've learned.

Flat Sat

I knew the weekend was going to be busy with Freddie having basketball on both days, Jefferson coming home for the weekend and a planned Sunday dinner with my parents. A long run just wasn't going to be possible. However, Zane was out of town on business Thursday night so I realized I could get a run up Mission Peak in during the week without disturbing her schedule (or her sleep). It also meant that I had an honest to goodness excuse for skipping my speedwork :-). Thursday night was beautiful and even though I managed to pack both my gloves and my ultra-light running jacket into my minimal waste pak, I never needed either and ran the whole thing in short sleeves finishing close to midnight. The round-trip from house to peak and back was a little over 18 miles. I did some extra road miles and went up the alternate start to get some extra miles in. I had to come down the main fireroad since the other trail was just way too beat up to run down at night unless I wanted to break an ankle.

This gave me enough miles that I only needed to hit around 10-12 on each of the weekend days to keep to my 60 weekly miles. On Saturday I opted for some very flat running near Club Sport where my Zane would be working out. I discovered that there is a section of The Bay Trail that is right near there. It is also part of the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge that can be found near the Dumbarton Bridge and also down in Alviso. It isn't much, but its a nice little trail along levees with plenty of different species of birds around. I took a couple of detours (both dead ends), but managed to stretch the run to just over 10 miles and managed to finish in perfect time with Zane completing her gym workout.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Running on Columbine

I had planned to follow up my flat-25 on Saturday with a bit hillier trail run on Sunday of around 10 miles. My son's basketball workout in Oakland provided the perfect opportunity to run up near Lake Chabot. I started up at the Clyde Staging Area and decided to try out the Columbine Trail which I had only been on a little bit in the past. My wife has hiked the trail and says it is the best in the park. After Sunday, I think I can go further than that and put it up as one of (if not the) best running trails in the East Bay. This choice piece of rolling hills is even better than the Golden Spike a little ways further north in Redwood Park. It is a bit wider, but more runnable in my opinion. It has little that I would call steep and just as little that is perfectly flat which was just right for me after Saturday's run. It also has enough twists and "whoop-de-doos" to keep one smiling the whole way. The drop down from the Goldenrod fireroad to the Columbine is a bit sharp, but from there it follows the creek for about a 1/2 mile before heading up into the woods. From there it climbs and dips for a little over two miles before ending at the Honker Bay fireroad which leads up to a campground in one direction and down to the lake in the other. I opted to the lake where I knew a much needed porta-john would be available. I then went along the lake for a little further before turning back around at the intersection with Huck's Trail. The way back up the Honker Bay allowed for me to get a little more serious climbing in. I continued all the way to the campground to refill my water bottle. From there, it was back down to the lovely Columbine. A little ways in, I noticed another trail runner coming up behind me. He was definitely speedier than me, at least on this uphill portion. But, then the beauty of the trail revealed itself again and I took off on my forte downhill. This continued for the rest of the trail, each time he started gaining, I was able to hold him off until the next downhill. I believe he went the other way once I made it too the creek and intersection with the Bass Cove Trail. However, I could feel the effects of pushing it as I continued along this flat section to a gradual uphill. When I hit the connector trail to go back up to the Goldenrod, I didn't think I had it in me and so I opted to continue along the Cascade Trail. This was a little longer, but more picturesque return route with a more gradual climb back up to the ridge at the end. I estimate that my overall time would be about the same, but with more running.

My end of run, map-based, calculations came out to exactly 10 miles. Right on target and I definitely felt that I could have gone longer. All in all, it was an excellent run and a beautiful way to cap off the week's running. The weekend 25+10 confirms my plan to do a run the day after my Pirate's Cove 50K in two weeks. This also gave me a nice weekly total of almost 63 miles. The weather was absolutely perfect all weekend and the real weekend "capper" came after returning home and relaxing in a poolside hammock with my wife.

Sometimes easy lessons are hard to learn

I consider all of my training runs as lessons of one sort or another. Sometimes the lesson is more physical like hitting a particular mileage goal or practicing downhill running technique. Sometimes the lesson is more mental like pushing through the last set of intervals or finishing the last few miles of a planned long run when your body says "stop". Almost always it is some combination of both. Saturday's lesson was supposed to be easy. Not so much an easy lesson, but a lesson about going easy. The plan was to run 25 miles "easy". Not that I am really capable of making any mile past 20 (whether it be 30 or just 1) feel easy, but I wanted to try to maintain an easy pace for the entire run and finish feeling like I had plenty left in the tank.

I decided to run a very flat course covering the full Alameda Creek Trail in Fremont which measures just about 24 miles so I would have to do a little extra out and back after returning to the start. This, I reasoned, would be the good measure of how much I still had in me. I am definitely not what I would consider a fast runner, but I have a difficult time setting a slow pace for myself. I almost always run in the mid-8 minute miles on the flats. Part of the reason I love running trails so much is that the terrain usually sets the pace for me so I can just run by feel. However, I have signed up for a relatively flat 50-miler in just over a month and my hope was that I could run this 25 at a pace where I finished feeling like I could just go and go. Apparently, that's not me. I started out running at what felt like a very easy pace. I didn't check it as many of the mile markers along the trail are inaccurate, but for the first couple hours I felt like I could maintain it forever. At about the 3 hour mark, I realized that I was probably going to finish the run in under 4. I also realized that my pace and energy were fading. I checked my pace with a few mile markers that I knew to be OK and I was running at about 9:40/mi. This was a pace I could probably have maintained easily the whole time, but my mental math told me that I had obviously started a whole lot faster than that. In fact, about a minute per mile faster. Damn it!

I hit the start and did around another mile or so out-an-back and I definitely still had some energy to continue. I could probably have gone on for a 50K or so and the pace is about what I would need to do sub-5 hour ultra (some day). However, this is not something I could maintain for a 50 miles. I either need to figure out how to go out at a much slower pace or take (can I even say it?) walking breaks...ugh. Don't get me wrong, I walk all the time in ultras, but that's usually because the terrain demands it. The idea of taking planned walking breaks throughout a run on a flat course is something I just can't quite get my head around. Maybe this is the true lesson I need to learn. If I am unable find a slow sustainable pace I will either need to deal with integrating walking into my current pace or find myself forced into walking later on in the run whether I want to or not.

I often question why I signed up for the American River 50. I wanted to do another 50-miler before tackling Miwok and the timing worked out pretty well. However, the course profile is so very different than your average trail ultra. It is basically a 30 mile road run followed by a 20 mile mostly flat trail run that has a steep climb in the last few miles. I may be the only one out there welcoming that final climb. In running, as in life, I've never really been one for the steady even pace. I like the peaks and valleys. The self-actualizing, struggle up and over tough obstacles followed by the euphoric reward of flying down the other side and then the final pride of looking back over the mountain that you've "conquered", knowing you are that much better for having taken it on. However, every challenge has its lesson to teach and the lesson of keeping my up-and-down tendencies in check and maintaining an even, steady gate may be one that
has broader applications than I may yet foresee.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dante's In-tervals

For someone who was once a sprinter, I sure don't much like speedwork. I guess nobody really likes speedwork, just the results it produces. Based on the recent article making the rounds about intervals vs. tempo runs, I have switched my Thursday run to be interval based. I don't have access to a track at lunch and don't really like running in circles anyway so I do simple timed intervals. After about a 6-7 minute warm-up that brings me to the dirt and gravel path around the Coyote Creek, I set my countdown timer for 2:00 min. I run 2 minutes hard followed by a 2 minute recovery jog. After the fifth interval, I allow myself a 4 minute recovery jog before hitting the next 5 VERY painful intervals with 2 minute recoveries. I don't know exactly how far or what pace I am at, but I am definitely sucking wind badly at the end of those last couple. I'm pretty sure that I am running somewhere below my 5K race-pace of about 7 minute miles as I know I could never keep up the level of intensity for 3 miles (or maybe even 1 mile). At 6:45/mi or so, that makes these about 500m intervals. Maybe not as good as 800m intervals for distance training, but with I am getting in at least 3 miles at intensity and I definitely feel worked. I finish with a 6-7 minute cool-down jog back to work for a total of around 7.3 miles of running.

Today was interval day. I was going to bail completely due to feeling pretty worked already this week. Normally, Wednesdays are my mid-long days which should be reaching close to 12 miles or so at this point. However, scheduling conflicts made me decide that I would try out a double day instead this week. Further scheduling conflicts meant that my easy 7+ on Tuesday was done at 4:20pm. Then, I did around 6 miles early Wednesday morning and finished off with another 7+ miler at lunch on Wednesday. During that last one I had a "near bonk experience" as I hadn't really handled my nutrition correctly given that I was now running 20+ miles in a less than a 20 hour time period. I probably should have treated it a little more like the end of a long run. I survived, but was definitely feeling worked. So, when I felt OK with the decision to skip my speedwork.

However, one thing I like about doing my speedwork in the same area as a my "normal" runs is the mental games I play with myself to keep myself going. I was feeling OK at lunch. I had already gone from deciding to do a tempo run to convincing myself to do a minimal interval workout. Maybe just 6-8 with a longer recovery at 3 or 4. After the warm-up, I hit the timer and was prepared for 8 intervals with a long recover after 4. At interval 4, I was feeling OK so I thought I'll do 5 and then take the long recovery before doing just 3 more. At 7 I though, maybe I'll finish 8 and take a second long interval and complete my 9 or 10. However, each time that alarm went off, I found the motivation somewhere to kick it in, like some sort of Pavlovian response. Finishing the 9th and 10th intervals I was sucking wind so hard I felt like I was hyperventilating. I had gone from deciding to skip my interval workout altogether to running the intervals from HELL!!

In the end, there is really nothing more satisfying than completing a hard workout. Especially one that forces you to dig deep and push past the pain and your perception of your own limits. I'm thinking I may try to increase the length of the intervals if I can ever get to the point of finish number 10 feeling like I could actually do another. We'll see. It was actually pretty warm today and it definitely took some time to cool down. However, I still felt good enough to hit the gym tonight and do some weights, abs and some very light spinning on the bike. I am definitely looking forward to the rest day tomorrow. Then its the weekend and the plans are already stirring in my head...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Running through the levee on a trail called No Name

With only a couple of hours to get a run in on Sunday, I decided for a more flat option in order to get my miles in. My son had a basketball practice in Newark so I headed over to the Don Edwards Preserve. Parking here is free and provides access to the Coyote Hills by running over the Dumbarton Bridge tollbooths. I decided I was going to run along the Levees. Normally I would run along the Apay Way path to the paved Bay View Trail that hooks up with Alameda Creek Trail and then out to the Shoreline Trail along the levee. However, I wanted to try going all the way to the Dumbarton Bridge via the levee so I decided to take the No Name Trail (yes, it is actually labeled as such) that heads off along a levee from the intersection of the Apay and Bay View. This had the added advantage of eliminating all of the paved sections of the trail from the run. Amazingly, I actually felt hot on running out there, especially on the way to the bridge as the wind was at my back. On the way back, I needed to make a detour over to the Dairy Glen area to refill my water bottle before hurrying back. The USATF site puts this route at about 11.6 miles. With the added trip to get water it is a little over 12 miles.

This gives me about 53 for the week. I wanted to be a little higher as my past two weeks have been around 57 mi. However, I intend to do about 25 or so miles next Saturday and another 10 on Sunday to be close to 60 for the week. With a little over two weeks before the "official" start of my ultra season, I'm feeling good, but want a little more mileage on the legs. I intend to try and do a run the day after my Pirates Cove 50K race and want to be comfortably into 60+ mile weeks by the time my 50 miler and then 100K roll around.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Sometimes less is more

This weekend was a little less mileage than planned, but all good running nonetheless. I was originally thinking of doing some longer, flatter distance on Saturday, but some necessary morning Family time combined with my own procrastination required a change of plans. Since my wife decided to go hiking in the afternoon, I decided to join her and get in a shorter (about 3 hour), but hillier run. I'm not sure if it was the extra rest, the intervals I did on Thursday (10x2:00) or my recent addition of strength work, but I felt awesome running up Mission Peak that afternoon. I also made two other changes to my normal routine, running in my road shoes and starting up the peak via the alternate start on the Peak Meadow Trail. This trail starts a little steeper, but eventually levels out and is more "runnable" than the direct route. It is also a little bit longer taking a over 2 miles where the main trail takes just 1.5. This left me feeling a bit fresher at the start.

As I approached the Grove Trail heading up to the saddle, I noticed a couple of mountain bikers ahead of me, one of which was struggling. I couldn't resist, but kicking it in a bit to try and catch them. I passed the first guy before the saddle and managed to nab the lead biker just before he crested the hill at Ohlone Trail marker #5. I still remember back when I was a mountain biker being passed on some brutal uphill in Joseph Grant Park by some studly trail runner who went cruising past me. While I still don't think I quite measure up to the image I recall of that runner, it did feel good to be on the other side of the table. Rather than tiring me out, this extra push actually made me feel stronger. I powered on around the backside of the peak to the water spigot for a refill and then wasted no time heading up to the top which I tagged and then hurried off towards Monument Peak. My road shoes were definitely feeling better than my normal trail runners on the downhill even if not quite as stable. I passed the bikers again and then continued to "play tag" with them as we both headed out on the rolling hills of the Ridge Trail that eventually heads down to Ed Levin Park. This is one of my favorite stretches of local trail due to the runnable terrain and feeling of remoteness.

I've run the route many times including the full loop from my house up Mission then over to Ed Levin and back home. However, I had never been up to Monument Peak. In fact, I wasn't even sure exactly which peak it was. I hooked up with something called the Sierra Trail and went up one peak, but I didn't think that was it. I then went along the Monument Peak Road which I figured must take me to the top. I think this second peak which had a bunch of interesting rock formations on it was Monument. However, I crested one more little peak before heading back down the Ridge Trail to head back. All this time, I was still feeling strong. Furthermore, my feet still felt good even though I was pounding pretty hard on some of the downhill. I think my road shoes are the way to go when the trail isn't too muddy or technical. I managed to get back to the water spigot with just a droplet left in my single bottle. By the time I came back around Mission, the sun was beginning to set. Saturday couldn't have been more clear and beautiful. However, since it was starting to get dark and I would be pushing my 3 hour limit, I decided to head straight down the main trail back to the car where my wife was now huddled inside reading a book. From her report, she powered through her hike faster than expected, but was enjoying the reading time.

All in all, the run went better than planned (OK, so it wasn't really much planned). I think it is around 15.5 miles (I measured it as 15.3 at the USATF site, but I was pretty lazy with my points). I estimate my overall pace to be a bit below 11 min/mi which is rare for me when running Mission Peak, it is usually in the 11-12+ min/mi range. Plan for Sunday was to just get a couple hour run in. Next weekend I will hit a longer flat run.