Tuesday, September 18, 2007


They itch, every last one of them. The one's on my back itch. The one's on my head too. The one at the base of my skull and on my neck. On my elbow, my forearm, back of my right thigh...you get the idea. They all itch. I don't like the itching. It is what has remained after the dull pain subsided. The dull pain was OK. The dull pain was, in fact, good. It was a sign of the fading of the sharp, needle-like pain. Besides, pain I can deal with. There is some modicum of pride in pain. Itching is just plain annoying.

Sunday was the Big Basin Redwoods 50K Trail Run. I ran this same race last year. In fact, this was my first time ever repeating an event. Even though the course had changed somewhat from last year (supposedly a bit more difficult), I was still wondering what I would do for this encore performance. You see, I actually finished this race in the top-10 last year. I like to write that because it looks so good in print. Reality is that there were only around 30 people in the race and since I often come in the top 1/3 in these smaller races, I get to feel like a "real runner" if not too many people show up. That seemed pretty unlikely this year with 60 initially signed up to run. Oh well, I'd have to find some other way to make this repeat run a memorable event.

Last year, I also received 3 wasp stings during this run. It was sort of a common occurrence last summer as I learned that I seem to have that certain something (sweat? heat? smell?) that seems to attract stinging insects. This year, the infamous Big Basin Yellow Jackets made sure it was a run I would not soon forget. The race course for the 50K was to include a 15K loop and a 10K loop each done twice. The 15K loop includes some of the most beautiful trails around. It runs through deep redwoods, has steep, technical downhills, creeks running through it and a most excellent waterfall. However, it seems that our flying friends, Vespula pensylvanica, enjoy the natural beauty as much as we do. In fact, that don't seem to appreciate fast moving hominids traveling through what they view as their territory. Last year they were only to be found in a single location down near the falls. This year, they were much better organized. There first line of defense was just before crossing Berry Falls Creek. They then collected in a larger grouping closer to the falls itself. Finally, in case you made it unscathed through those two sections they had one last area after the falls staked out to sort of say "don't come back". It was a good strategy as many people managed to avoid them in the one or two spots only to be caught in the final trap. A select few made it all the way through unscathed. Me, with my insectal magnetism, managed to collect dermal souvenirs at each location. It wasn't until after the last section that I realized that a few of them were catching a ride on the back of my shirt in order to let me know, over and over again, just how "special" I was.

For a while, the race was a bit like a bad horror movie. Not only could you hear the yelps of other participants up ahead letting you know what you were in for, but after you made it through, you could hear the anonymous yells and even screams coming from the distance behind you knowing what they were going through, but incapable of doing anything to help. The rest of the run through that first loop was as painful as it was beautiful. The stings on my head particularly felt like someone had beat me some form of sharp instrument about the skull. By the time I made it back to the aid station near the start, I had already decided that I was not going to repeat that loop again under any circumstances. I knew I had at least a dozen stings and it couldn't possibly be safe to keep collecting them. I told the volunteers at the aid station that they should talk to Wendell about re-routing. At any rate, I was going to just do loops of the 10K section even though I knew it was the steeper of the two.

The 10K loop went by without any major incident, but it was definitely the tougher loop in terms of intensity. There is one very steep section that seems to go on for quite a while, especially when you don't know where it will actually end. However, I felt during this section that my breathing was becoming labored. In fact, I sort of felt like I was running at elevation. I don't know if it was just all the adrenaline expended or if there really was some reaction to the multiple stings. At any rate, I decided to take Wendell up on the Benadryl he offered when I finally returned to the aid station. He warned me of possible stomach problems, but I assured him that my iron gullet has yet to fail me. He also informed me that the 15K section was now altered to just be an out and back to the creek crossing. I was pretty sure this was after the first location of the wasps, but was assured otherwise. Early on in this section I hooked up with Rick Gaston and Patrick Nolan. It was good to have company at this point and I have to extend some serious thanks to those two guys for making this section simply cruise right on by. The creek crossing was indeed after the initial swarm locale, but the advance squadron had apparently moved on so we all managed the out-and-back without further attack.

We actually made pretty good time heading back up and were heading out on the final trip of the 10K loop at about 4:40 into the race. I recalled doing it the first time in around 1 hour 20. A 6-hour race would be a pretty nice ending, especially on this tougher course with all the extra challenges thrown in. Rick and Patrick had the same idea, and they upped the tempo as we headed into this loop. I kept with them for a bit, but knew my uphill legs just weren't going to keep me in pace. I was definitely feeling some leg fatigue at this point. I'd save it for the final downhill and just try to keep running my own race. It's often the case that I find people to run with in the middle of a race, but generally finish on my own as I like to run within myself in those final miles. Whether I'm in front or behind my fellow runners matters little. I enjoy working through the mental struggle of the final stretch on my own. It's part of the attraction of ultrarunning to me. Even though I couldn't keep up with Rick and Patrick, I didn't really have too much trouble with the steep section. Knowing it the second time made it seem shorter and I made it to the fireroad, it seemed, with time to spare. However, I didn't recall how "rolling" the fireroad was and the final downhill seemed to be taking forever to arrive. Furthermore, I was feeling a bit of dehydration having drained both my water bottles. The Benadryl had worked, but I had forgotten about the other possible side effects, one of them being dehydration. I needed that downhill bad! Then it was finally there. A single track through the woods then back to the road. A sign at the road said 0.9 miles to the park headquarters. With only a few minutes to go, I was nearly ready to give up on the 6 hour goal. However, I couldn't recall whether the headquarters indicated was where we started or if it was the building about 1/2 mile further on. I kept pushing until I could see the bridge that separated the two loops. Less than two minutes to go. I might make it after all! A little kick to the end and I slip in just under the buzzer. 5 hours 59 minutes 29 seconds.

Bonus: Apparently my acceptance of the many gifts from my back and yellow flying companions paid off. In the end only 32 people completed the 50K garnering me my first (and very likely only) top-10 finish of the season.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Tokyo Run

We stayed in a different hotel in Tokyo than usual so my normal run along the Meguro-gawa (river) changed to a route based on city streets. I've run this route before and even added it to the USATF database if anyone is interested. We stayed at the Takanawa Prince Sakura Tower which is actually the first hotel I ever stayed in Japan when I visited about 8-9 years ago. While I didn't bring a camera on this trip, I did a few years back when I ran pretty much the same route as on this trip. At that time, I even remembered to bring the camera with me on one of my morning runs so that I could capture the scenes as I ran through the streets of the Shinagawa-ku of Tokyo. Enjoy!

The route goes up behind the hotels across from the Shinagawa train station. I like to run the little back street as it is more picturesque than the main thoroughfare. Tokyo is an interesting city, mixed with old and new; ancient structures often cit nestled right amongst ultra modern buildings.

This gate is always the first and last landmark on this route which goes along a backstreet before meeting up with a major highway to travel past the Tokyo Tower and sometimes as far as the Royal Palace. I'm not actually if this is a temple or some other site, but it is typical of many such markers.

The narrow, street is lined with sidewalks of rough brick which is common throughout Tokyo. The brick is softer than concrete, but still harder than asphalt. However, running 0n the road here is really not a good idea as they are narrow and these buses fly by at sometimes frightening speeds.

Despite how crowded and busy Tokyo is, they seem to find room for these little parks wherever they can.

The Tokyo Tower can be seen in the distance. I pass it around the 2.5-3 mile point on my route.

I generally head out for my runs around 6:30-7:00am so the city is still just waking up, though you will see that it picks up on my way back.

Just before the 2 mile mark I reach the intersection with the major highway 1. The roads are wider here and so are the sidewalks which is good as it can get busy if I am running late.

The Tower can be seen directly ahead.

And, then, it gets closer.

I can see it directly between the buildings as I pass.

I'm not sure what this place is, but it looks like a very old home that is about the size of a small shack.

One nice thing about running in Tokyo is that you never need to carry water, just a few 100 yen as there are vending machines on nearly every corner. Pocari Sweat is sort of a local version of Gatorade.

As I said, vending machines are everywhere. However so are small shops and very familiar convenience stores such as 7-11 and AM/PM. Familiar from the outside that is, not necessarily within.

As my route curves around, I get an excellent view of the Tower including the massive legs.

This is a gate to a city temple. Very common throughout Tokyo.

On my way back, the local children are starting to head off to school.

The school is along the small back road where I began my run.

Another landmark is a typical city cemetery.

Dodging the kids heading to school is often a challenge on the narrow street. I particularly like the little kids with their backpacks containing bright yellow reflective signs.

Finally, I arrive back at the familiar landmark and a short distance back downhill to the hotel.