Saturday, June 30, 2007

Mucho de nada

I haven't written about my first couple days down here in Coast Rica as there really isn't much to write about. We are doing a "whole lot of nothing" and that is JUST FINE! In fact, part of the plan for this vacation is to get out of our normal mode-of-being where we are constantly trying to figure out "what's next". Placing no expectations on oneself can sometimes be a tall order in and of itself, but this place makes it seem quite natural. The house we have rented is gorgeous, quiet, isolated and surrounded by lush jungle flora (and fauna). I probably spent as much time watching an Iguana while soaking in the pool today as any other single activity. The rest of the day was filled with reading, resting, sleeping, sunning, thinking, staring and a few games of "Online Family Fued" with my wife for some laughs before dinner. Her blog entry captures the mood far better than my inept prattling ever could.

I did manage to get a run in of about 7.5 miles at 6am this morning. Since there is basically a single road here, I ran it to the end at the beach and then back a little bit the other way. A few hills (one steep) but it would normally be considered a fairly easy run were it not for the humidity. It was actually much less humid at that time of day, but I still needed to wring out my shirt at the end of the run! I am going to try a lighter, sleevless shirt tomorrow, but I may need to resort to running shirtless. Believe me, I am no Anton Krupicka and the thought of running shirtless still leaves this getting-close-to-40 year old runner feeling a bit self-conscious. However, it may turn out to be the only solution for one born and raised in arid California. Such are the weighty concerns of life in paradise.

As they say here in Costa Rica, Pura Vida!

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Rich Coast

This week's running will be interrupted by a trip south. While not nearly as far south as my last trip, I will be heading down to Costa Rica on Thursday. Actually, this is really my wife's extended vacation. I will simply be a temporary interloper for a week. She recently left her job after more than a decade and will be spending the better part of the month in a vacation rental on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica in a town called Manuel Antonio. The picture above is the deck on the backside of the house. If the place is even a fraction as beautiful as the pictures it should be a amazing. She leaves tonight (actually, very early tomorrow morning) and won't be back until late July. I'm hoping it will be more than enough time to rest, relax and worry about nothing more stressful than whether she should visit the beach or the rainforest. Since it is a 3-bedroom house, she will be having some visitors during her stay, starting with me. I will be arriving there on Thursday and returning after the 4th of July. Yes, I will inevitably do some running, explore some trails and whatever other adventures I can get myself into. However, I too hope to get a bit of R&R time in and enjoy the simplicity of just being.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Foot Scare

I forgot to include one story from last weekend that almost kept me from my run and, for a split second, gave me a scare that made all my running plans flash before my eyes. I was in the garage scrounging around for my first aid kit where I had some S!Caps stashed from my last backpacking trip. I stepped behind a stack of boxes and <CRUNCH!>. I felt something cut into my foot. I immediately looked down to see a shattered X-mas ornament. I hopped onto my left foot and lifted my right to find a pretty good sized piece lodged in my right heel. As I pulled it out I managed to step and get a piece in my right toe. The piece in the heel was larger, but neither turned out to be too deep, just enough to send me moaning and hopping into the house. My wife, hearing my wails, came rushing down the stairs to find me laying on the floor on my back with both feet in the air. I'm sure I looked ridiculous and it would have been a funny site were it not for the blood coming from both my feet. Woman of action that she is, Zane had paper towels on my feet and a box of bandages in her hand before I knew what happened. She forced me to keep my feet in the air while keeping pressure on the wounds. Luckily they stopped bleeding fairly quickly and with bandages applied I could actually walk without pain. I obviously went forward with the run and they didn't bother me at all the whole time. I had planned to take the bandages off before heading out (against Zane's recommendation), but I forgot and luckily left them on (when will I learn?) since when I took them off after the run and walked around, It hurt again. Apparently, the bandages provided just enough padding. At any rate, it was just a scare, but I will be more careful next time I am wandering around the garage. Perhaps I'll actually even clean it one day...hmm.

Monday, June 18, 2007

35 to 1

No, those are not the current Vegas odds on me finishing my first 100 in under 24 hours. OK...perhaps that is an accurate assessment of my odds, but it's not what the blog title refers to. This was my Father's Day run on Sunday. But, first, the rest of the week in brief...

With lots of ice and some extra rest the foot was feeling mostly better. I stuck with my old shoes all week just to be safe. Had to run roads during the week, but managed a decent 36+ miles by Friday with runs of 9.7, 8.1, 10.6 & 8.2. Freddy had a tournament this weekend going through Sunday morning and we planned to spend Saturday afternoon at my parents for Father's Day. Since Saturday was all rest, Sunday would be my Father's Day and I planned to spend a good bit of it on a long run. The locale was undecided and would be planned at the last minute.

After Freddy's last game and a nice breakfast, a leisurely Sunday morning limitted my long run options, so I just tried to think of some place interesting. I was going to drive my wife to the city so I decided for one of the trails off Skyline Blvd (aka Hwy 35) up the Peninsula. The choice of Purisma Creek Redwoods was an easy one. This choice came out of my love for "destination runs" where I actually go somewhere interesting or on an interesting route during the run. While staying in the preserve would leave plenty of options, a more interesting one was to accept a bit of road running and go straight through the preserve to where it meets Higgins Purisma Road which can be followed all the way to the coast in Half Moon Bay. I even thought that if I managed the time I could go to the beach before heading back.

I got a bit of a late start so I decided to just head straight down (via the Whitmore Gulch Trail) and then into town to refill my hydration pack. Despite its proximity to rural housing, there is no water in the preserve other than the creek that runs through it. The initial downhill is pretty much a straight plunge that I remember being very exciting when I used to mountain bike it. Well, it was just as much fun (and almost as fast) on foot. I then had to deal with about 4 1/2 miles of road to get to Hwy 1. Another mile or so brought me deep into the tourist-laden downtown. I wandered around a little looking for a market (as apposed to a souvenir shop) to buy some water. The streets were a little crowded for my liking so I headed back the way I had come and where I had passed the James Johnston House which had some bathrooms and a water fountain in the parking lot. I filled as best I could from the drinking fountain, but would later learn that it was insufficient.

On the way back to the preserve, I took a little side trip to another historic locale called Burleigh H. Murray Ranch State Park. This is a historic ranch that holds a couple old buildings including a big old dairy barn. The "trail" is just a gravel road that goes about 1 1/4 miles to the barn. The map showed it continuing beyond that, but when I tried to continue I found myself amid complete overgrowth including itch-causing nettle plants and (as a quickly discovered) tick-infested bushes. I picked two of them off my leg before they could take hold and made a note to do a full body inspection when I got home. While I found no more real ticks, the virtual ticks that I imagined on my body stuck with me for the rest of the run.

Back to the road and up and over to the park. The road was actually hillier than I had expected and I definitely felt it on my feet during the downhill. I was glad to get back to the preserve and onto soft dirt. However, I was not glad to discover that my hydration bladder was empty and that I had only a less-than-full handheld bottle of NUUN mix remaining for the trip up to the ridge. My plan was to take the Purisma Creek Trail to the Soda Gulch Trail for a 6+ mile route back up giving a longer and more runnable route than the direct 3.3 mile climb. I would just have to make do and risk the danger of creek water if needed. About a third of the way up I resorted to the creek as I realized that the day was warmer than the shade-giving redwoods had led me to believe.

A little over half-way up I started feeling pretty bad. I knew I was probably a little bit dehydrated since I was conserving my water, but this felt like something else. My stomach was fine, I was just starting to feel really low. I calculated my calorie intake for the day and realized that I had taken in less than 400 calories in the 3-1/2 hours I had been running. I need to remember that even a big "Father's Day Breakfast" at Cocos isn't going to carry me through a 20+ mile afternoon run. I quickly downed two Clif Shots and felt better immediately. I still completely ran out of water on the last (and steepest) climb, but just reminded myself that it is good training and slugged it out.

I really haven't done a lot of long training runs this year as I have been pretty time constrained when not racing. Since I've run an ultra a month for every month except February so far, it really hasn't hurt my overall fitness. However, I really miss these training runs where I pick a route or a destination and make a sort of adventure of it. It's satisfying in a way that you just don't get from an organized and supported race. The run ended up being a little over 22.5 miles giving me a weekly total just under 60 miles. Finally! This is the first week since Miwok that I've managed to get my mileage back where I want it. Now, I just have to find a way to keep it up.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ankle bone's conencted to the shin bone...

I've been having a bit of a foot/ankle issue for the past week. It is on the inside of my left foot from the back of the arch up to the bottom inside part of my ankle. I have had trouble here before and am pretty sure it is a minor bit of tendinitis. There was certainly no traumatic event that caused it so it is most likely some for of overuse injury.

The strange thing is that it didn't hurt at all after the Mt. Diablo 50K. I took Sunday completely off other than some walking and ran 3 easy treadmill miles Monday evening. On Tuesday I did 7 miles that felt really good. Wednesday I had to cut my run to 4 miles due to some GI distress (bad lunch food choice coming back to get me). I don't remember the foot hurting then, but I do remember that when I went to run on Thursday it was already hurting and I wasn't surprised. I pushed through the run, but it hurt more near the end and I finished with a modified gate which is never a good side, but further confirmed my tendinitis diagnosis. I took the next 3 days off, but I felt it all weekend.

I have been icing and taking it easy. I did discover some very surprising trigger points my shin that actually seemed to help when I got them to release. I've had moderate success with trigger point self-therapy, but this seemed more dramatic since the pain was lessened to an extent that I could now roll my foot outward without pain. I have continued icing and self-massage and was able to complete a 9.7 miler yesterday, but it hurt again afterwards. Further treatment helped again and I ran just over 8 miles tonight with less pain. However, I am still at a loss as to what caused (or is causing) this in the first place since it didn't seem to be a direct result of my race. I have some theories based on examining what was different in my routine over the past week. Here are my theories in increasing order of "likely contributing factor".

1) New work shoes
I bought some new shoes for work last week. They are slip-on Clarks and seem to have a decent insole and OK support. However, they are a little different from my previous shoes which were Borns and had a bit of a wider fit. I prefer to wear slip-ons as I take my shoes off when at my desk. I am going to try a different pair of older shoes for a little while.
2) Yoga DVD
I recently bought a DVD called Yoga Conditioning for Athletes which is actually quite good. While I think it is unlikely to be a primary cause, it probably didn't help as any of the one-legged stands on my left foot became increasingly difficult. I have stopped the conditioning for now, but will restart once I feel confident in my foot/ankle.
3) New running shoes
These would seem like a VERY likely candidate prima facie. However, while they are a new model they are an update of my older model that I have been using for a few years and they fit very similarly. The new Brooks Adrenaline GTS 7 really didn't change much over the 6 except in the cushioning technology. That said, I must admit that after running in my 6's today (which I was planning to reserve only for trail running), I definitely feel more isolated from the ground in the new 7's and didn't feel as good on uneven paths. I will stick to my older shoes for the time being, but if it is the shoes I have a bigger problem long-term :-(.
4) Too much too soon (too asphalt-y)
While I didn't feel any problems immediately after my race, I did jump back into running with only one rest/recovery day. It was a tough 50K and perhaps I didn't respect the impact on my body and take more rest than I normally would after a "mere 31 miles". I also have been running on the road due to life and time constraints which is never preferable. After taking the weekend off I feel like I can run so long as I take care of my foot/ankle after and don't push too much into the pain zone.

If the modifications above don't continue to show improvement then I know that a longer break period is definitely called for whether I like it or not. Tahoe is a long ways off and it would be MUCH better to take time off now than closer to the race.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Devil in the Mix

Mt. Diablo wasn't on my original plan for the year though I've always wanted to race it since I do still consider it "my mountain". So, when I had to bail on Ohlone I decided to throw the Mt. Diablo 50K into the mix. Ohlone is a tough 50K with 7800+ft of climbing. The Diablo course adds more than 1000ft of extra climbing over the same distance. That's 8900ft of climbing in just 31 miles; only 600ft less than Miwok which is twice the distance! Add in some nice warm temps, a body still in recovery, a dive in the dirt and your usual mix of brain-dead ultra errors and you've got the making of an epic! So, join me as we take a voyage where I mix it up with the mountain named after the devil and learn that....


Sunglasses and Shade don't mix

The race started innocently enough. I stayed at my sister's house just 2.5 miles from the start so I got to sleep in a bit. I still arrived at the start early enough to hang out and chat with some ultra friends and put some faces to people I have only met on the PCTR Forums. I started the first loop at a nice pace. I was doing a nice consistent shuffle-jog, not much walking, but not pushing and no heavy breathing. I was among a lot of 25K runners so I knew my pace was probably a bit faster than it should be, but I knew it was going to get warm later and so I wanted a good time buffer under my belt for the first lap. A couple of the 25K runners seemed to be working much harder than me so I was pretty pleased with how I was moving along. I really never felt like I was working and I made it to the peak in a little under 2 hours.

It was warm and I was drinking well, but got a little hint of things to come later when I felt like my calves were cramping as soon as I started the downhill. I was
surprised because I didn't feel fatigued or dehydrated. However, I had been sick for a week and I did have spasms in my calves when I tried to run through it. I stopped and stretched and took an S!Cap (and decided to continue taking them every hour). I also put my sunglasses on for the downhill. I don't usually wear them in my races, but for some reason decided to try. They became too fogged up on the climb, but I figured they'd be OK going down.

One of my favorite trail names in all of California is on Mt. Diablo. It is called "The Trail Through Time". I was somewhere in the upper Jurassic / Cretaceous Period up above Juniper Campgrounds heading down towards the only on-course aid station. I actually really like this section of trail that winds around a bit and dips through some trees. I liked it so much that I failed to pay attention to the fact that wearing sunglasses in the shade made it impossible to see the rocks and roots along the trail. I went down in an instant and did a nice forward plant in the dirt. Luckily, it was a relatively soft landing, but hard enough for some nice long scrapes on my shin and beautiful skinless bloody patch on my upper left leg. I cursed, but continued. I cursed some more, but mainly at my own stupidity. I stopped at the aid station, but decided to wait until the bottom to clean off as I didn't want to deal with it until I had finished my first loop.

The leg slowed me down a bit on the downhill and I finished my first loop in a little over 3:10. I spent some time cleaning up at the bottom and it definitely hurt more once it was clean. However, I was trying hard not to be distracted and wanted to get back underway or I would end up staying down there way too long. I saw Miki and had her take a picture of my leg for posterity. I then headed out almost tripping over an orange cone as I left.


Conquest and NUUN don't mix
I should have realized that the trip over the cone was my addle-minded brain trying to tell me something. I wasn't thinking straight. I really didn't spend enough time at the aid station to hydrate and eat properly for the second climb on this, now quite warm, course. I also made a really, really dumb mistake which I have made once before. I was running with my normal two water bottles. One in which I would mix a NUUN tablet with water and the other with plain water. I was about 10 minutes into the second loop when I took a sip of my "plain water" to realize it was not so plain. I had filled with Conquest. This meant that my other bottle was a syrupy sweet mix of two different hydration formulas. I avoided it as long as I could. The climb got warm and hard. I really needed all the hydration I could get so I forced myself to drink it. It was disgusting.

Mentally, I was not in a great place. I was not at all heat trained. My fall had taken more out of me than I wanted to admit. I was under-hydrated and feeling crampy and, to top it all off, I had to force myself to try and drink this awful mix which made me gag with each mouthful. Some of it wouldn't stay down and I had visions of my stomach issues coming raging back forcing me to drop at the next aid station. For some reason, I had it in my mind that there was a water spigot at Deer Flat, but I don't know why. Perhaps I just didn't want to deal with the fact that I knew all my fluids would be gone by that point and the steep climb up the the aid station was still ahead. I trudged along dreaming of that aid station and just sitting down.

Heat and Empty Water Bottles don't mix
I managed to get to that last climb and, somehow, was able to shuffle up it. I could feel that I was pushing and my legs were on the verge of seizing, but I wanted to be at the station so bad. I couldn't take in any gel without water nor could I take my (overdue) S!Cap without it. I came to the station, sat down and started drinking, eating and trying to cool down in the shade. The front-runners had past by on their way down earlier and I dreamed of feeling a small fraction as strong as they had looked. I probably didn't sit as long as I thought, but I made myself just keep eating and drinking. I also dumped water on my head and this seemed to help more than anything. It was at this point that I realized I really hadn't been taking proper care of myself and decided to up my sodium level. I had plenty of S!Caps and vowed to start on a 1/2 hour regimen for the remainder of the race. So, I guess that's it. I was going to continue with the race.

I continued along towards the peak, walking a lot more than I would have liked to, but resigned to finishing this thing. I made it to the peak and took another look out over the area where I grew up. My first trip up here was under the 2 hours mark, now it was about 6 hours into the race. My second trip up had taken more than 40 minutes longer. As I was filling my water up, I met Fred Ecks and we headed down together on the section back towards the aid station. I was on my second S!Cap since my last visit and was feeling pretty good. It was here that I realized that I had really not hydrated properly throughout the race nor had I taken enough electrolytes to compensate for the relative heat. If I had this race to do over again I would probably carry a pack or do as I did at Miwok and spend some extra time at the later aid stations drinking my fill.

Finally, getting the mix right
My last visit to the Juniper AS I almost made the same mistake again and started filling with Conquest (doh!). This time I caught myself. I got my mixes right, drank some extra water, took my final S!Cap and vowed to run the downhill as best I could. I was, after all, a downhill runner.
A low-7 hour goal had long left me, but a 7:30 was still in sight and it is this sort of goal that always helps me focus on getting to the end of these races. Fred had headed out before me, but I caught him on the initial downhill as I forced myself to get my legs moving. I passed a woman not long after that and then another guy further down. I was feeling like my old self a bit. Truth be told, I would still rather run down the singletrack as I had to push to make myself go at a good pace in the hardpack dirt road. I ran on the side in the gravel as much as possible since it didn't hurt my feet as much.

I got to the bottom and knew I was gonna finish, but the last two miles of this trail are my least favorite. I think I would rather end on an uphill like at AR50 than on the flats. I'm just never quite sure how much I can push at the end on flat ground. It always seems so much longer than it is and my biggest fear is to push myself over the edge before I even get to the end. I just tried to stay within myself and looked for that last sign post. There it was, one mile to go and I had just enough water left to keep me happy. Not that it really matters at the end, but somehow it always seems psychologically important to me to keep drinking during my final miles. I dropped my bottles once I saw the finish and kicked it in a bit as I didn't know how close to 7:30 I was. I managed to cross the line at 7:27.

Mixing it up
I decided to hang out at the finish for a while and chat and cheer on others. There was a really great group at this race and everyone was enjoying sharing the tales of finishing a hard race. Sarah (the RD) even told me that Beverly Anderson-
Abbs had called the course "tough". Somehow it is reassuring to hear that someone who just knocked over an hour off the womans course record and came in only 8 minutes behind the mens record also felt that this was a tough course. I had vowed off ever running this again numerous times while up on the mountain, but now I can't wait until next time it comes around. Isn't that always the case?

Friday, June 01, 2007

I'm back (almost)

Well, after the Thursday ordeal, I actually took two entire days off. I was feeling generally better on both Friday and Saturday, but my stomach was really not happy. I new that running would have produced pretty much the same results as I had "enjoyed" on Thursday. Sunday, I was feeling a little better still and couldn't take it any more. I decided a nice little afternoon run would be in order. I wouldn't set the distance, but run how I felt. After a couple miles I realized that my stomach was still not very happy. However, in all other ways I felt fine. I decided to cut it to just 4 miles. As I was heading back home, at mile 3, a little bit of stomach content came up. However, I felt fine and was able to finish the run without issue and my pace was fine, perhaps even a little faster than normal. Monday, I went for another run. At mile 2 things fell apart. I stopped and stretched and felt bad. My stomach didn't feel horrible, but I felt weak again. I sat down with my head between my knees feeling sorry for myself. It was weird that I hadn't felt weak in a while and here it was. It almost felt like I was "bonking." I thought about it and realized that I hadn't really been eating much at all lately and was probably a bit dehydrated as well. I got up and decided to go get some water in the park and just try to finish my run back home for another measly 4-miler. Well, somehow things got better. I felt stronger and stronger so I continued on past my house. I could have gone further, but I decided to stop around 6-1/2 miles. Afterwards my stomach was still a bit upset but everything felt OK. For the first time in a week I felt sure I would be better in time for Mt. Diablo. However, I vowed to take a couple more days off and just do a test run on Thursday to make sure everything was in proper order.

Tuesday and Wednesday things felt better still. I went to the gym and rode the stationary bike to get in some exercise without the jostling. I felt great, ready to run. It took an entire week for the bug to run its course. I know, it probably would have taken much less if I actually had let it run its course rather than fighting it. There was one side effect of my being sick that actually had a positive effect. Since I haven't been able to eat much over the past week I have lost even more weight. I was already down close to 10lbs for the year, but now I am another 5lbs lighter. In fact, I haven't seen 160lbs on a scale in about 22 years! Furthermore, I discovered an even better side effect last night when I did my promised 4 mile test run. I felt like I was running fairly easy, like my normal low-mid 8 min/mi pace. However, I knew my legs were moving faster and I felt lighter. I tried not to look at my watch until I finished and was shocked to see the time of 30:42 staring me in the face! A sub-31 minute 4-miler without effort? That has NEVER happened before! I generally have to push myself at least a little to maintain any pace below an 8-minute mile. This will either be a great boon for Diablo as I enjoy cruising up that mountain in my new lighter frame or a total disaster as I go blazing out at a pace that destroys me later in the race. Either way, I can't wait!!!

The real question is, what should I call my upcoming article for Trail Runner Magazine?
"Improve Your Performance While Lying in Bed"
"Stop Running, Stop Eating, Get Faster"
"The Bulimic Guide to Speed Work"
"Forget the Taper, Get Sick Before Your Next Race"
"10 Common Viruses to Help You Run Better"
"Run, Puke, Rest, Repeat"

OK, I'll put my sick (pun intended) humor away for now.