Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Javelina - The Novel (unabridged)

Table of Contents
Preface - Over-trained and under-prepared
My plan was certainly not to run two 100 miler races this year. In fact, my original plan for the year was simply to complete a 100K and then to complete a 100M next year before my 40th. Just as last year, though, things accelerated; one goal leading inexorably to the next. Late in the season I could definitely feel the build up of race miles on my body. Allowing friends to talk me into a second, late season 100 certainly doesn't seem the height of prudence. Agreeing to attempt one only two weeks after a tough 50-miler might seem downright stupid. However, being an ultrarunner in the Bay Area, running too many races, too close together seems almost endemic.

By way of example, I give you this look into some of the other local runners who were also headed to Javelina and their most recent ultra races prior to the event:
  • Harry Walther, Fred Ecks, Flora Krivak-Tetley - Firetrails 50 - 2 weeks prior
  • Steve Holman - San Francisco 12hr (50 mi) - 1 week prior
  • Jonathon Gunderson - San Diego 100 (50mi) - 1 week prior
  • Craig Slagel - San Francisco 24hr (106mi) - 1 week prior
  • Beat Jegerlehner - San Diego 100 (100mi PR) - 1 week prior
These are the sort of people whom I let talk me into sign up for this race in the first place. Sometimes one's own mental state seems sane and rational only in comparison to the company one keeps.

However, truth be told, I did have my own motivation for heading to Arizona at the end of October. I'd heard about the race and the course. Other than the heat, it actually seemed like a really good chance to run a 100 miles in under 24 hours. For some reason my mathematical mind has always been sort of fixated on the seeming symmetry of this 100mi/1-day goal. The distance, the time, in the end it really is all arbitrary anyways. However, imagining some difficult goal and then pushing your mind and body through it is really what this game is all about.

I'd studied what info was available on the course. I'd read what previous runners had said. I talked to people who were knowledgeable. I had a plan. Here it is:

Loop 1 - Go out at a good pace and get some time under your belt in the cool of the morning. This doesn't mean going out fast, but at a comfortable, sustainable pace that isn't a push. Basically, this would be the pace I would try and run for a good 50 miler. Target sub-3 hr.
Loop 2 - Ease up some on the gradual uphill, but not too much if it is still cool. As the heat of the day comes on continue to slow up. Carefully monitor hydration, heat and energy levels. Target around 6 hours, maybe a little more for the 50K. Other than it getting hot by noon, this would be a very conservative time for this course.
Loops 3,4 - The heat of the day. The plan here is to continue to slow down, way down. Basically, I could afford to average as much as 4 hours per loop here in my assessment. This was less than 4 mi/hr which I can almost walk on flat ground; certainly something I could do with a walk-slow run intervals. This would leave 10 hours for the remaining 40 miles or so.
Loops 5,6 - Normally I would expect to go slower at night, but between the temperature and the very runnable course with almost no real technical sections, I was pretty sure I would speed up once the evening hit. If I could manage a relatively easy 3:45 average for these loops I would still have 2 1/2 hours for the final part loop.
Final "half" loop - The last loop is a shortened loop up to the first aid station and then back via a cutoff train. It would actually be less than 10 miles as the full loops were 15.3. If I executed well I would have even more time for this finale than I did for the mid-day loops. Knowing that I am a strong finisher and that I would lay it on the line if necessary, I considered this to be totally doable.

So, there it is. The plan. I truly believe, even now, that my initial plan was good and correct. It is a plan that I think should get someone of my ability level through a sub-24 hour run at Javelina even given the tough conditions we had this year. It includes plenty of buffer in order to either go out slower or recover faster depending on the conditions. There was just one problem, I didn't quite follow it myself.

Furthermore, I was definitely feeling the amount I had pushed myself at Firetrails. This had also left my foot needing extra healing before this race which meant that I did very little running which meant very little heat training. My hope that the little I did do along with my vague attempts to just keep generally warm would suffice. Otherwise all I could hope for was that the prediction of 88 degrees for race day would be lower (it wasn't).

So, there I was, over-trained, under-prepared, but not without a plan.

I headed to Phoenix

Introduction - Delays
A good Thursday night's rest. Sleep in a bit. Get to the airport with plenty of time for some breakfast. Everything looks good. What? Flight delayed? The waiting game begins. At some point I give up my prime seat in the crowded waiting area across from the punk kid blatantly lying across 4 seats pretending to sleep. I accidentally bump his elbow as I pass by. Well, the force with which my knee hit it was accidental anyway. I guess he got the point because when I looked over there later he was sitting up.

Anyway, I'm heading to get some water and there's Craig. I knew he was flying as well, but didn't know we'd be on the same flight. We talk and I discover he hasn't booked anything in terms of car, hotel, anything. And I thought I was a last minute guy. I offer him to share what he needs of mine and he at least accepts the ride once we land. More delays to get the plane off the ground and then the inevitable waiting for bags on the other side. By the time we get the car, learn that Phoenix has traffic too, and manage to find our way to the park (my directions were to the hotel first), it is already deep into check-in time. No worry, they haven't started dinner or the briefing yet. We have time to catch up with all the Bay Area runners including Beat, Fred, Sarah, Wendell, Flora and Chuck. I also meet fellow bloggers Angie and Jessica who will be doing pacing duty for a SoCal runner late in the race. I don't really recall much of the pre-race briefing other than the fact that Beat won some extra-small, bright pink, sleeves in the raffle.

(Beat and Flora)

After the briefing we head out and stop by the giant Safeway in Fountain Hills to buy the last minute supplies. For me, this means something for breakfast and the essentials of Red Bull and Ensure, a proven formula to get me (and anyone in my vicinity) through the night. I was unable to acquire a foam cooler, but all else goes marvelously mundanely; hotel check-in, drop-bag prep, gaiter gluing, pre-bed ice on the feet and some actual sleep before the alarm goes off. All that remained was to get procrastinating Craig out the door and driven to the start. At a few before 6 the weather and desert are perfect.I'm ready to go and ready to glow decked out in my florescent green shirt and matching gloves.

I start out running with Sarah.

Chapter 1 - Oreo Cookies
There was so much talk about going out too fast at Javelina that one almost felt that it was inevitable. The thing is that almost everyone also wants to bank some good time on that first lap before the sun really starts heating up the desert. This was definitely part of my plan. However, there is a difference between running some relatively fast early miles and going out too fast. I'll explain that a bit further later. I have been working on starting more slowly in my 50+ mile races lately. Starting with Sarah for the first few miles seemed the perfect opportunity to assure this at Javelina. First, Sarah is generally a little slower runner than me, but, more importantly, she is a much more consistent pacer than I am and claims to never ever go out too fast. Second, I really enjoy talking to Sarah at all of her PCTR races as well as online and consider her a good friend, but have never had the opportunity to actually run with her before. It was great just going at her pace and chatting and not thinking about the race other than the emerging beauty of this course as the sun began to rise. Eventually, Sarah being the well known persona she is, some runners behind us drew her into a conversation and it seemed the perfect opportunity for me to slowly begin to pull away. Besides, it was somewhere past 20 minutes at this point and I had I passed through my first stage of warm-up.

I've always been very cognizant of the various stages my body goes through as I run. The 20-25 minute stage has been a constant for as long as I have been able to consistently run that long. Somewhere around this time is where I first begin to feel warmed up. It used to be about 2 miles, but now it is closer to 3 thanks to improvements in both endurance and speed. This first stage is the simple one where things feel just generally looser, more natural and rhythmic. As I've come to run longer and longer distances, I have been able to discover some other stages that I go through whether mental or physical or both. One of my favorites is the 2-hour mark. This is where I know I am running an ultra because I can begin counting (and focusing on) hours rather than miles. However, recently, I discovered a new sort of intermediate stage that I'm not quite sure how to interpret. Somewhere between 40-50 minutes, I can run faster. Something feels like it "opens up" and I can move the legs a bit faster or push a bit more, but seemingly without any major consequences for later miles. I haven't had time to give it proper study, but it is just that I just start to feel faster and so I go faster. Its not a pace I can keep forever, but it has seemed generally good for my overall running times. At Javelina this was perfect as it came not long before the uphill was done around the first aid station and the course began the rolling hills that would then lead to the gradual downhill after the second aid station.

(Feeling good in the morning)

I felt really good through this entire first loop. I felt like I was running strong, but at a sustainable pace. All was right with my world and I even discovered a new fueling option that I had never tried before. I love discovering new foods during ultras especially if they are something that I normally would not let myself eat. Oreo cookies seemed to be my miracle food out here in the desert. They were always yummy and filled with the perfect mix of carbs and fats. Ah, heaven on the run! Enjoying the gradual downhill after the second aid station, I got to experience another nice feature of Javelina which is the "washing-machine" loops. Since you change directions after each loop it is really more like running continuous out-and-backs as you get to see people both in front and behind you going the opposite direction. As of lap one, Eric Clifton was out in front and setting what seemed an almost reckless pace. Jorge Pacheco was behind him and was the pre-race favorite according to some, but Andy Jones-Wilkens was said to often run a smarter race and he was indeed pacing himself a few spots back in loops one. The woman's race was clearly going to be between previous winner Michelle Barton and Connie Gardner. Michelle had the early lead.

Watching the front-runners races unfold provided a nice diversion as the day went on as did seeing all my friends and acquaintances as we passed one another numerous times throughout the day. I finished lap one around 2:38. A bit faster than I planned, but not so aggressive to have me worried. It was well within my plan as I expected to slow for the next lap both due to the course and the fact that the sun would be coming into its own.

Chapter 2 - Blame Beat
The other warning that people give at Javelina is not to run to hard on the gradual uphill out of the aid station on the second loop. Again, advice I didn't take. However, I also don't think it was a mistake on my part. While the sun was up it wasn't really warm yet and there was an excellent cool breeze that made running this slight uphill feel like the right thing to do. I was still taking it easy and enjoying saying hello to everyone who was heading down. Most of my friends were where I expected them to be, Wendell was up with the front runners, Harry was in front of me a bit, Beat behind me a little, Sarah back some more and Craig taking it really easy cruising with Flora (he always seems to find a woman to run with). At any rate, I was taking it easy and as the temperature heated, I slowed.

(OK, so maybe I didn't slow for the camera...what a ham!)

After the second aid station I was slowing quite a bit. Walking the hills even if small and never pushing the pace at all. Then I heard it coming up behind me:

"I can't believe I caught you!"

Beat. It was like someone was playing a rerun of Headlands when he caught me on the way back from the first out-and-back. I've run with Beat quite a bit and we have a similar pace, I'm a bit faster on the downhills, he on the ups (especially when walking). He had done San Diego the weekend before and even though he is much more experienced than me, I didn't expect him to be pushing it here at Javelina a week later. Little did I know that he was about to have the race of his life!

The first time we met, Beat explained to me that his name was pronounced like bay-yacht. However, today, I was going to learn that it was more appropriate to say it like it was spelled, beat, as in beat you into the sand. I really don't like to blame anyone else for my own stupid decisions. Even though Beat was one of the people who first convinced me to do this race in the first place, I take full responsibility for what I was about to do next. I stuck with Beat. I kept up with his pace. I mean, he just PR'ed at San Diego the weekend before. How long could he keep pushing it? Well, apparently, quite a bit longer than I.

The heat was coming on strong now and I was drinking and taking my electrolytes on schedule, but it would turn out not to be enough. Even before the final downhill section was over, both my bottles were drained and I could feel the dehydration coming on fast. I could also feel a little cramping "twinge" in my left thigh. My quads are one of my greatest strengths. I couldn't afford to have them go south this early in a race. I let Beat go as I eased up during the last mile and a half into the start/finish area. I came in some where around 5:35 or a little more. Still way ahead of schedule and so I decided to take a little time. I said goodbye to Beat and something about maybe catching him later (I wouldn't). I drank some extra fluids and strapped on my waste pack to carry a third water bottle. Much like I learned running at altitude during TRT50, I needed more than just my 26oz NUUN and 20oz water. Besides, I was expecting to go slower now and that meant longer between aid. However, there's more and sometimes there's a bit too much more. I would learn a little bit about that later.

With one extra water bottle and ice in all three, I was ready to start taking it easy for the next couple laps. As per my schedule, I had over 4 hours per lap to work with. I could afford to take it very easy. What exactly is "easy"? In the middle of the Sonoran desert, when the mid-day sun arrives at its apex, there really is no amount of activity that can claim rights to that adjective.

Chapter 3 - Respect the heat
The beginning of loop 3 barely exists within my memory. I have particularly little recollection of the time between leaving the start/finish area and arriving at the first aid station. I always find it interesting which parts of a race stick firmly and vividly in my mind and which parts either fade or perhaps never make an impression at all. I often don't remember the early part of a race as I actively ignore the minutes waiting for my mind to lapse into the mode of "counting hours". However, sometimes sections right in the middle just disappear. I'm not sure if it is particularly difficult sections that I just want to forget or times when I am over-focused on my internal state and not paying much attention to the surroundings through which I'm moving. At any rate, there's not much there now. I do however, remember that it was hot.

I learned about the 95 degree record temperature much later, but I do remember how incredibly oppressive the heat felt during this loop. I have pretty clear memories of moving between the two on-course aid stations; the most rolling part of the course. This must also have been the peak of the day's heat. I recall that I only let myself run if it was downhill or if the sun was "behind" the semblance of clouds in the sky giving just the slightest respite. I probably should have been walking even more than I was. I also recall sucking down water constantly and trying to keep my S!Cap schedule around every 45 minutes, though I lost track at least once. This was probably my low point in terms of letting the conditions get to me mentally.

Funny that my wife would happen to post on her blog words that represented almost exactly the idea that got me out of my funk.

"Just smile when those insane words come out of your mouth."

I remember thinking that "this just isn't any fun". I immediately laughed at myself after forcing out a verbal "yes, it is." It was a forced laugh, but it worked on my mood. Then I remembered the idea of just smiling when you feel bad and I forced myself to do that even though having nothing particular to smile about. Somehow this seems to work. It's almost like the mind gets confused by what is normally a physical manifestation of an internal emotional state and finding that no such state seem to exist, it searches and then simply creates the emotion that it expected as an antecedent. That's a long winded and over-intellectualized way of saying "smiling works". However, I still do recall that, during this period, I swore of running in the heat and was going to sign up for Susitna as my next 100 miler.

At some point before the second aid station, I hooked up with Taylor Murphy. A 20-year old from the east coast who is attending West Point. He was doing his first 100, having only completed a single 50 miler at JFK in 2005. I can't imagine showing up in Arizona from New York after that little preparation. However, he was obviously a pretty tough kid with a whole heap of determination. I enjoyed talking to him and answering his myriad of questions. I encouraged him to take it as easy as possible over the next couple loops as he was obviously even less heat trained than I was. We went together most of the way down to the start/finish area and it was exactly the sort of diversion I needed.

We were now somewhere just past mile 45 and it was time to take a little inventory as the mid-way point of the race would soon be approaching. I sat down at the aid station and changed my socks. My feet looked good and felt fine as well. I had committed myself to stay away from the ibuprofen until the mid-way point and I now decided to extend that until the 100K mark. I spent a little extra time at the aid station trying to cool down. I chatted briefly with Angie and Jessica. I knew I was way ahead of my schedule. However, I also didn't want to start "growing roots" here either. I rubbed some soothing lotion stuff on my legs, added another layer of sunscreen and got ready to go.

(Yeah, that loop was hot!)

Someone suggested that I weigh myself to assure I was drinking enough. I was pretty sure I was drinking plenty, but hopped on the scale before going anyway. I failed to establish a baseline at the race start so it was just an estimate. However, my weight was pretty much what I would expect it to be if I hopped on a scale in running clothes on any given day. In fact, it might have even been a bit higher than normal. Clearly, I was no longer dehydrating. Could I actually be drinking too much? My body would soon answer that question for me.

(Not sure what I expected to learn)

I exited the aid station and headed out for loop 4. I had deposited more than enough time in the bank over the past 45 miles. It was time to make a nice large withdrawal. If I needed to walk the entire 4th loop that was fine with me. I put 24 hours out of my mind and decided to focus solely on finishing.

Chapter 4 - Withdrawal
Here we go. Time to walk. In fact, time to force myself to walk. As I said, I was mentally prepared to walk the entire loop if necessary. Of course, it didn't take very long for that to change to a statement of "no running until after sundown", but the point is I walked. I didn't care how many people might catch and pass me on the path up to the first aid station. Far fewer did than I expected indicating to me that my strategy seemed sound or that a lot of people were fading fast. I think that both were true in the end.

I did chat with one guy early on and I'm not sure how I looked, but he seemed to be concerned. He was a bit older than I and this wasn't his first go at Javelina. His main concern seemed to be my lack of hat. I had brought one in my bag, but I always feel hotter when I wear it as it seems to cause no end of sweating from my head. I never caught the guy's name, but he seemed pretty convinced that I hadn't made a good choice and that I was likely to pay for it later as the sun was probably draining my muscles more than I realized. Oh, he was pretty polite and I know he meant well, but I feel like I know my body pretty well at this point and I'm also pretty stubborn. I was polite back as I bid him farewell when he headed up the trail, but inside my natural sense defiance was building. I was more determined than ever that I was going to finish and finish in under 24 at that. I know I'm a strong finisher.

Right now, though, I continued to walk. I also learned that my hydration strategy needed some adjustment. Over a period of about an hour and a half, I probably urinated 5 times. Always steady and clear as could be. Usually, my body doesn't start dumping water until it cools down so I figured I was plenty hydrated, but might need to up the sodium a little. I focused on backing down to about 2 1/2 bottles between the next couple aid stations and upped my S!Caps to one every 1/2 hour. This actually seemed to work pretty well. It also left me with a half a bottle of ice water from my waste pack to utilize for cooling myself. The one in the pack stayed cooler and felt wonderful every time I poured a little over my head.

The sun went down as it is wont to do and it was surprising how quickly the desert air seemed to respond. I'm sure some of it was psychological. Pretty much everyone out on the trail was now commenting about how great it was that the sun was gone and that it was already starting to cool down. Amazingly, my legs started feeling better and better the cooler it became. What part was mental, what physical and what environmental, didn't matter. I was feeling better. I knew at this point that I was going to hit the 100K mark and have no trouble heading right back out on the trail.

Ted Nunes, whom I'd met on the Runner's World Forums, caught up with me at this point. He was looking really strong in his first 100. He said he was feeling great and was wondering if he should start to push it. My advice was to hold back a little longer until somewhere after the 2/3 point. A general rule I use is that in the last half of a 50-miler or the last 1/3 of a longer race, you take whatever your body gives you at the time. While there is no guarantee that your good feeling is going to last, there is also no guarantee that preserving it for the very end is going to work either. In my (admittedly limited) experience, the last 25-30 miles is where I find it generally OK to push a bit if my body is up for it. Ted and I stuck together. It was actually a good thing as I had only taken my headlamp with me for this loop and it was seeming very dim. While the moon would be bright enough later, it wasn't up yet. It was also that early evening gray where I actually needed more light as it was being dispersed by the not yet dark sky. I trailed Ted using his light to see down the trail and mine to focus on what was at my feet. We went thusly into the start/finish area.

Lap 4 was done, the night was upon us, I was ready to roll. I did want to give myself a bit of time here to make sure I was properly prepared for the night. However, I definitely felt the pressure of the clock. I exactly recall what time it was, but I think that it was after 8pm at this point and that I wanted to get going by 8:30 at the latest. I know that my goal was to be back for the final 1/2 loop as shortly after 3am as possible. I figured that anything beyond 2 1/2 hours was good buffer. I was definitely going to have to keep a good pace on those night loops. I had definitely taken a big time withdrawal on that last lap, but I needed it.

(Note the Red Bull at foot)

I had my special formula of Red Bull and Ensure to drive me through the night.

I love running at night.

Chapter 5 - I believe in miracles
Bring on the night! I was ready. However, not everything agreed with me. My stomach was the first to say so. I was a bit worried, but then I remembered that it was just the normal "Ensure Cycle." Some people have trouble with this liquid meal and I can understand why. It usually takes me a bit to get through the initial digestion phase, but I've learned to just ease up a bit and let my stomach do its thing. I know that once it gets through the gut and into the rest of the system it is pure magic. I walked a bit when it upset me then ran until it bothered me again and then walked a get the idea. Maybe around 15 minutes of this. Fred Ecks had caught me at the aid station, but I let him go ahead as I waited for my fuel to make its way to the engine, so to speak.

Just as I was feeling good, I was hit with another potential issue. My flashlight went dim. I had my leftover lithium batteries from Headland in them, but I was pretty sure that there would be plenty of juice as they only had a couple of hours of use on them. I switched them out for traditional alkalines from my pack. Still dim. Great. I could actually get by without a light as the moon was now providing plenty of illumination even for the upcoming rocky section. However, I knew it would slow my downhill running. I kept it off for a bit before giving it another attempt. Success! I love the brightness of my Fenix light, but sometimes the controls for all the various settings is just too much especially out on the trail. It seemed to be working fine now, but out of paranoia I decided to go without light on the non-technical uphill sections of the trail. Besides, running under moonlight in the desert was well worth it.

With all systems a go now, I was ready for a miracle. I truly believe in miracles though not of the mystical kind. I consider miracles to be epistemological rather than metaphysical concepts. Meaning, that I see a miracle as when the reality of a situation greatly exceeds one's plans based on preconceived expectations. You wouldn't expect after 60+ miles, much of it in the heat of the day, that you would suddenly find yourself running uphill faster and with greater ease than you did at mile 5. But, that is exactly how I felt when I caught back up to Fred. I felt great. Miraculously so.

I hit the first aid station just before Jorge came in for his final partial lap to the finish. His lead was untouchable at this point. He had about 45 minutes on second place and hours on everyone else. I was just happy that I arrived there before he did because it meant that I had managed not to be lapped! Hey, we all set our own goals in these things.

I remember hitting that second aid station and one of the volunteers commenting on how good I looked. I had clearly recovered. In fact, I think I was pretty much bouncing up and down at the time. I was very excited about the approaching gradual downhill to the start/finish area. I tried to hold back a bit as I wanted to retain this feeling into the final full lap. However, I kept moving and moving well. I saw Harry and Beat coming up the trail with less than 2 miles to the aid station. I cruised on in starting to do the mental math to figure out what I should plan for the rest of my trip.

Again, I can't exactly recall the exact time here, but I do remember thinking that I could still finish the next lap with close to 3 hours remaining if I maintained the pace. I didn't spend too much time at the turnaround, but downed plenty of Ensure, drank another Red Bull and grabbed some food to go. One thing to know at this point in the story is that Javelina doesn't have glow sticks on the trail except near the aid stations. It mostly isn't a problem with the easy trails and bright moon, but it still seems a little strange to me as it would be such an easy addition.

There was a guy in front of me leaving the aid station wearing last year's Javelina shirt. I followed him. As I did so, I noticed a glow stick off to my left that didn't quite seem right. I really should have listened to that little voice in the back of my head that said "stop and check". But, this guy seemed to know where he was going. I followed some more looking around for ribbons. When I didn't see any I asked him if we were on the right trail. He said he was pretty sure we were and explained how last year a bunch of them had taken a trail here that had lead right into the hills on our right.

"This trail should be curving left any minute now..."

Chapter 6 - Man on a mission
"Not again!"

That's all I could think as I told the guy in front of me I was pretty sure we were headed the wrong way and turned around to head back as quickly as I could. Memories of the Pirates Cove stairs from Headlands were in my mind as I cursed myself over and over. Was this now a trend? Always take a wrong turn in the middle of the night for my hundred milers? Should I add it to my pre-race plans? Luckily, I had probably only gone about 5 minutes or so before turning back. When I returned to the glowstick marking the correct trail, I yelled back at the guy whom I had followed to let him know. I didn't wait around to see if he followed me. I was already trying to work my anger into a more controlled form of energy. However, if I missed a sub-24 by 10 minutes, there was going to be no consolling me.

I managed to get things under control by the time I crossed the road. I had made up some time running hard for a couple miles, but fear of burning myself out with well over 20 miles still in the race was a serious consideration. As I started up the gradual slope I met Fred coming back down. He had apparently hit a bad stomach spell just before the aid station. I told him it was just a couple miles to the start/finish area, but I didn't dally as I was now a man on a mission. I don't remember much about the next few sections which usually indicates that I was pretty focused. I know I took another ensure at the aid station and I do remember listening to the coyotes howling in the distance. However, the time between the two aid stations just sort of cruised on by.

At the second aid station a woman and her pacer came in just as I was about to leave. I recognized her as someone who had been quite a bit ahead of me for most of the race. I heard them talking about getting off course and so I briefly shared my tale. Apparently, the woman had taken the same wrong turn, but had gone much further than I. She was talking about having done something like 3+ extra miles. However, we both agreed that a sub-24 was still within reach and so I headed out in haste. I powered the next section taking the downhills at speed. I just wanted to get back to the start/finish area in a time where the last lap wouldn't be an issue. My calculations indicated that there should be 8.2 miles in that last loop (15.3 x 6 = 91.8), but everyone kept saying 10 or between 9 and 10. I kept pushing. I saw both Harry and Beat on my way down and they each commented that I looked good. Sometimes a positive word from a friend is all you need. I powered on.

I arrived at the start/finish to the familiar call of "That's what I'm taking about!" which was now greeting every runner on every lap. It was about 3:15am. I quickly pulled off my waste pack figuring the two handhelds would be more than enough for the final partial lap. I downed half an ensure and some Red Bull then asked the RD about the remaining miles. He said it was 9.2 since the course was actually 101 miles. While this was news to me, I didn't have time to dwell on it. Besides, I still had plenty of time as I headed off having spent only a couple of minutes in the aid station.

2 Hours 42 minutes to go 9.2 miles. I felt good. There was no way I was not going to finish in under 24. Nothing could stand in my way now.

That's what I believed.

Chapter 6.6 - Mission...
The great mystery of running 100 miles is that when you push yourself that far and for that long, there is pretty much no telling what can happen and when. Breakdowns happen sometimes much closer to one's goal than you might think. I didn't know it at the time, but three challenges still awaited me on that last 2/3 of a lap. One emotional, one physical and one near complete breakdown stood between me and the finish line.

The loop started off good. With plenty of padding time, I started at an easy pace waiting for the ensure to digest. It shouldn't take long as I had only taken a half. I walked, jogged and waited. I haven't had hallucinations before (well, not since my mis-spent youth), but I have occasions where conversations just pop into my mind seemingly from nowhere. In this case it was my wife who appeared in my head. I was sort of looking at her pleadingly feeling like things were about to fall apart.

I said to her, my voice cracking, "Honey, why do I always have to hurt myself like this?"

Her response, a near whisper, but with strength in her voice, "You know why you do it."

When I would later tell her the story she laughed. She hoped that my mind would come up with something more inspiring for her to say, but she agreed that it did kind of sound like her. In truth, it was probably more what I needed than some platitude of inspiration. She was telling me that the "answer lies within", that my true inspiration must come from my own goals and desire. Being out there on the trail alone, running within myself late in a long race, this is why I do these things. I turned my mind to focus on the task at hand. I knew it was all downhill once I reached the aid station so I was ready to give what I had on the way up. However, it felt like maybe that last 1/2 ensure just wasn't gonna digest.

With the waste pack off, I hoped that the lessened pressure on my bladder would allow me to hold off on the constant pit stops I had to make in the last couple of laps. However, my gut wasn't feeling too great now. I tried to ignore it, but I knew exactly what was going on. Unfortunately, with my waste pack had went the all important package of wipes that would be somewhat critical at this juncture. I really had nothing to use in their place. From my days as a rock climber, I knew that a decent stick will work in a pinch. However, in the desert, where all of the plant life seemed to contain needles, spikes or thorns, sticks just were not a viable option. So, I pulled off the trail and searched around with my light for a properly shaped rock. I'll leave the details to those with overactive imaginations. To the rest, I will just say that I suddenly felt better. In fact, great.

I started running. I mean really running. Running up the hill. My mind went into a state of hyper-focus. Normally, when I pass people on the trail going the other way, I am the first to say "good job" or "keep it up" or some such. However, now it was all I could do to grunt a response to the "congratulations" that were passed my way. I barely even said words to the friends like Fred and Craig when we passed. I was just going. My eyes on the trail. My mind on my goal. My legs moving. A short downhill and the trail leveled a bit. I passed a couple of guys and asked quickly, "how far?" One of them said that it was just over a mile. Then, just before leaving earshot, "Steve, it's a bit longer than that. It's been 18 minutes." I recognized him as the guy from Utah whom we'd met at the Safeway the night before. I yelled back a thanks as I took another short pit stop checking my watch to see that I had plenty of time. However, I still took off running as I just wanted to be at that aid station.

I could see the lights. It couldn't be more than a couple minutes away. Suddenly, though things didn't feel so good. Whoa! What was that? I felt dizzy. I stopped running. I felt light headed. I started walking. I stumbled a bit. Images of Graham Cooper, Chris Leigh and other finish line collapses filled my head. Only, I wasn't approaching the finish line yet. I completely stopped trying to get my breathing in order. I downed what was left of my water. I started walking slowly. I felt a little better so I sped it up. Not much, though. I felt as though I just had no energy. Had I pushed too hard up the hill? There were only a few miles left after the aid station. I couldn't let things go down like this. I managed a little jog and then walked as I came into the station.

I held out my bottles and said, "water". The volunteers were cheering and congratulating me saying I had it "in the bag" and that it was "all downhill from here." I looked at them still not feeling well and just said, "I need something". The problem is, I didn't know what it was I needed. I walked over to the table and grabbed the first thing that looked good. I think it was a couple of Pringles. As soon as they hit my stomach my mind went, "OH!" in realization. In my haste, at the last aid station, I had neglected my fueling needs. Someone offered me some chicken noodle soup and I sucked it down. "WOW!" I handed the cup back and asked for more as I grabbed a couple of potatoes as well. I drank the second soup and then grabbed an Oreo cookie to go, just for good measure.

I was back. I headed out to the cutoff trail that would take me 2.7 miles downhill to the intersection and the final rolling section to the finish. I took the downhill at a decent, but cautious pace arriving at the trail junction with around a half hour to spare. At this point, I was there and I was just going to enjoy taking it easy to the finish. I saw the lights coming down the trail behind me, but it didn't matter. I was walking as they caught me encouraging me to pick it up and go with them. I passed. I told the woman that she deserved to be in front of me and that I was more than happy to take the honor of the final 24 hour finisher. She seemed more than happy to push for another spot up on the results. I was going to finish in my goal time and thats all that mattered to me. Besides, I really didn't want to finish with anyone else or even with someone close behind me. I took it easy until I heard the cheers for them finishing just as I hit the road.

I ran in, but slow and easy. I wasn't going to sprint this finish I was going to savor it. I could see the clock approaching 23:45 as I came up to the finish. I stopped just before the mat, put my bottles down at the edge and did a little dance before strolling across.

(Me with buckle)

I won't go into how great it was to finish and hit my goal, I think that can all be inferred. I will say that, in the end, I really enjoyed this race even more than I had expected. The heat was terrible in the midday and I am not a fan of running in the heat, but everything else about it was just fantastic. I even liked the loops since the "washing machine" style repeats meant you never ran the loop the same twice and the dramatic differences in the desert weather throughout the shortened fall day meant that each loop was became its own unique experience.

(Harry and I chillin' at the finish)

Harry and Beat had both finished and were there when I arrived. Beat really did have an incredible race coming in at 22:38 and almost catching Harry on the last loop. Wendell came in 7th. A few other friends had dropped down either at the 100K mark (Steve Holman, Chuck Wilson) or less (Sarah had an inner ear issue). Many other friends both old and new were still out on the course. I always enjoy hanging out and cheering people in. I have to say that those people near the back who had to do their last lap as it heated up again Sunday morning really had it tough as Sunday was to be even hotter than Saturday. Most inspiring to me was Eric Troska who came in "dead last" and seemed to have met with every problem imaginable. I met him with Harry early in the race and watched him slowly deteriorate throughout the day and night, but he never ever gave up.

That's what I'm talking about!)

I few of us went out and grabbed some sandwiches for lunch and I eventually drove off to my hotel by the airport for Sunday night. While I didn't hallucinate on the run, I think they were about to start on the final drive. Luckily I managed to keep awake enough to find the hotel and take a nap. My son Jefferson drove up from college in Tucson to join me for dinner which was a really nice treat. Everything else was mostly uneventful except for my plane being seriously delayed again on the way home. I guess that just caps it perfectly at both ends.

Links to pictures and stuff, some of which were shamelessly used in this report.

Race web site (now with video)
Some of the most excellent event photos I have ever seen.
Thread on Fried Quads forum
Angie's Blog entry (part 2)
Angie's Pictures
Will Follette race photos (long load time)
Even more photos




What? That wasn't long enough for you? Add your comments below.........

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

7 miles and a ride

7 miles. That's all I ran last week. Partly, I was just recovering from Firetrails, but also I was babying the crap out of my right foot. Lots of ice, massage, stretching and wearing my Thermoskin Plantar FSX to bed each night. It seems to be working and right now I have almost no heel pain during normal activity. I have no doubt it will resurface at some point during the race this weekend, but keeping it from hurting until after mile 50 will make a HUGE difference than if the pain starts at mile 10 or so.

All of my 7 miles have been bundled up treadmill runs in my attempt to get in some form of heat training before the race. The latest forecast for the weekend in Fountain Hills, Arizona (the closest city to the race) shows a high of 89. While it has warmed up this week in the Bay Area, it is nowhere close to that. I liked it better when the extended forecast said 84. Anything above 85 constitutes warm weather running in my book. My runs have all been done wearing rain pants over shorts, long sleeve shirt covered by my new Marmot windshirt from Firetrails, gloves and a running hat. It is amazing how much sweat one can work up in this sort of getup over just 2-3 short miles on an indoor treadmill! Other than this I have just been trying to stay generally warm as much as possible. I am wearing more clothes than normal; a jacket or sweater in the office and warm clothes to bed even though I tend to sleep warm. Hopefully some of this helps.

The RD sent a bunch of information over about the race. I am going to be #203. All the first-time Javalina runners will have pink bibs starting in the 200 range. I have heard that going out too fast is almost expected at this race so I figure "why fight it". I don't mean that I am going to charge out from the start, but I am not going to force any walking in that first loop unless I feel it. I figure it will be one of the coolest parts of the race, temperature-wise, so why not get a decent time on that loop (but, without pushing too hard) and plan to take it easier on loops 2&3 which should be in the hottest part of the day.

This is actually going to be my first race out of state and the first time I am traveling for an ultra. I need to force myself to get my things together sooner than the night before I leave. I am a little worried about things like my Blistershield and S!Caps making it through to Arizona without too much TSA scrutiny over the unmarked capsules and strange white powder. I need to do some research to see where the closest local shop might be for replacement supplies. I also plan to buy my Ensure and Red Bull once I am there. I know a number of people who are driving down from the area (some after doing races last weekend), but I am going on the "cushy" side. I have lots of airline miles so the flight is free and I am taking the nice hotel option rather than camping at the start. I will be staying in Scottsdale on Friday night and near the airport on Sunday night before flying back early Monday. My son may drive up from college in Tucson on Sunday if he isn't working. Hopefully, I can finish early enough to have a nice nap before taking him out for a BIG dinner :-).

Last week I took Monday off and ran 2 miles on the treadmill on Tuesday. I did another 3 treadmill miles on Wednesday as well. Thursday I had family obligations and I ended up taking Friday off as well. On Saturday, my wife had to work in San Mateo so I planned a bike ride up to San Francisco from there. From the San Francisco Bike Coalition web site, I found the Peninsula Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition site which has some maps of a great route up the Peninsula to San Francisco. The route starts all the way down in Palo Alto which means that if I ever got really ambitious I could follow this all the way form my house in Fremont since it is possible to ride over the Dumbarton Bridge. For Saturday I started from the Hayward Park Clatrain station in San Mateo. The route pretty much follows the tracks as closely as possible which is nice since it allows you to "wimp out" at any point and basically just wait for the next train. I planned to follow it all the way to San Fran and then around the Embarcadero to Chrissy Field. The reason for heading there was that it was the location of the PCTR San Francisco One Day race. I knew a number of people running in this as well as some helping out.

It was a actually a lot of fun being out there and seeing everyone going lap after lap. It is a cool venue, but I still just don't personally find it very attractive as a race for me. I helped out a bit at the aid station where I could, but also just enjoyed saying hi to everyone running, watching and working. Of those running, I think Craig Slagel was the craziest as he is signed up for Javelina as well and did over 100 miles at this event. I hung out most of the time with Rick Gaston as we tried to get emails from the website to the runners, a cool feature that may just have been too successful. Finally, just before I left, Leslie Antonis showed up and was nice enough to snap a picture of me before I headed back out on my bike.


Yes, the "Yellow Jacket" was intentional for anyone who gets the inside joke. The rest of my outfit is actually equally as "hornet colored" and matches my yellow and black Felt bike. I only rode back as far as the Caltrain station which I took back down to San Mateo (after waiting for nearly an hour since I missed the 5:00pm by 3 minutes). The total ride was about 34 miles and not terribly difficult at all. There was one really windy section along Lagoon Rd. which goes along 101 between Candlestick and the Cow Palace. I only had one car come really close to me on San Mateo Blvd (a Prius, go figure). The section along 3rd St in the city would probably be a bit scary during the week, but weekend traffic was quite reasonable. The biggest challenge was probably all the tourists along the Embarcadero and through the Fisherman's Wharf/Pier 39 area. It was perfect weather and a great day to be playing up in the city by the bay!

I finished off the week with a couple more treadmill miles while watching Sunday night football and then did a Yoga workout before bed. This week I may get in one final run, but I think rest is more important. I have cut out my afternoon caffeine which seemed to help last 100. I think I fall asleep faster at night and it also makes the race-day caffeine intake that much more effective. I just need to stay awake at work the next few afternoons before I head off to Arizona!

Monday, October 22, 2007

DC2007 Pictures

While I don't run with a camera, I luckily know lots of people who do or who at least show up to races with them. Here is my collection of "other people's pictures" from the recent Dick Collins Firetrails 50 race. I didn't post the one from Chris because it is in the posting below.

Early in the race taken by Chihping in the dark. I think this was still on the road.

From the official race photos. This must have been fairly early on as I'm just getting that "bald and bloated" look I usually have in race photos. Notice how I always have my bottle ready coming into the aid station :-).

Not a picture of me, but I am in the background stuffing my face at the turnaround aid station. The woman next to me is Stephanie who helped "pull me" up the long hill.

Post-race picture taken by Miki. This was taken pretty shortly after my finish.

Another post-race photo by Miki. This one demonstrating how a mid-packer like myself looks next to a front runner such as Mark Tanaka who took 3rd. Aside from looking like a "real runner" he also looks nice an rested as he finished more than 2 hours in front of me :-).

Finally, this one from Rick as I wait for coffee to be made by the wonderful Zombierunners Don and Gillian.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I won't be writing a very long race report about the Dick Collins Firetrails 50M as, mentally, I am already on to "The Next Big Thing" with Javelina looming ominously in the very near future. Overall, the race went well. Really well in fact as I ended up taking nearly an hour off my time from last year coming in at exactly 9:33. I probably could have pushed the final few miles and broken 9:30, but then I am pretty sure I would have hurt myself in the effort. As it is I am sitting here, stretching, massaging, icing and generally trying to make my right heel feel better. It seems that plantar fascitiis is a reoccurring theme for the end the year as my foot pains last year nearly ruined the second half of this same race. At any rate, I know all the treatments that work for me and will be doing my thing to get it under control and allow me to finish Javelina.

I arrived pretty early on race morning and found Harry Walther immediately. Hanging out at the start I also saw many other familiar faces including Rick Gaston, Brian Wyatt, Norbert Leinfellner and others. I started the race at what felt like a pretty conservative pace running along with Rick. Rick is a notorious slow starter so I figured I was doing OK. Of course, I also knew he was going for a good time at this race so I should have taken heed when he told me he was actually going out faster than usual. We also hooked up with Chris Marolf whom I know from the Runner's World forums. Chris is an avid photographer and proceeded to snap numerous shots as we trudged up the initial hills (they are steeper than they look in the picture). The third guy in the picture below was named Tony Huff and was doing his first 50.

As usual, I spent my time speeding forward in the downhills and being caught on the ups. I got to see "gimpy" Will Gotthardt manning the Big Bear aid station with his nice ankle brace on and then had fun on the wonderfully twisty Golden Spike trail. I believe it was on the flat section of the Spring Trail where Rick decided it was time to push ahead. I'm not a fan of the flats, but it was very beautiful in the deep redwoods before the climb up to Skyline Gate. At Skyline there were more familiar faces, but I was trying to work on my aid station efficiency. This is a great race for that as there are so many aid stations. I was able to go the whole way with just a single water bottle. A testament to the race organization and the awesome volunteers.

After leaving Redwood the course gets interesting as you head towards Sibley. This was also where we would start to see the people doing the Marathon course which takes a single path along nearly the same course. I knew of a few people doing the marathon especially perennial race directors of the PCTR Sarah and Wendell. Wendell was moving fast near the front of the field while Sarah seemed to be just enjoying herself as she said hi to almost every single person in the 50 miler. I imagine the number of people running who have done at least one PCTR event is in the 90% range. I also was once again surprised to see Meredith Terranova whom I ran with at Miwok and have seen going the opposite direction as me at TRT, Headlands and now Dick Collins. She seemed to be moving pretty well and having a blast. She lives in Texas, but I think she does more races out here in the Bay Area.

As I was at the Steam Train station the leaders of the 50 came through going the other direction. The two leaders were definitely moving. I was starting to hit my bad spell. For some reason 4 hours always seems to be a mark for me. I'll have to spend some time thinking about it, but maybe it is a trend. The climb out of Steam Trains is my least favorite part of the course as it is on road. However, it eventually brings you up and over to the Seaview Trail which has some of the best views ...oh... ON THE PLANET! OK, I exaggerate, but any place where you can see both Mount Diablo and San Francisco from the same spot is high in my book. This then led to the big downhill into the turnaround which would normally be a great place to pick up some time before trudging back up. However, the mud here was pretty thick and stick and I swear it felt like wearing ankle weights. At any rate, I made it into and out of the turnaround somewhere in the neighborhood of 4:45; about 15 minutes faster than I arrived last year. I also decided not to change socks or even dip into any of my gear other than sunscreen. The mission was about to begin.

I met a woman named Stephanie on the way up and we hung together for a while. I sort of just trailed her hoping to kick my low energy at least by the time we reached the top. I knew the return trip was more my style as it has a lot more downhill. Once you finish the big climb there is really only one more major ascent the rest is mostly down with some reasonable sized hills and one stretch of flat. About halfway to the top, my body said it was ready to move. I don't know if it was the view again or something internal, but when I am in the second half of a race (at least one less than 100), if my body decides it can go, I go. I started my shuffle and left Stephanie behind. I passed a few more folks going up the hill. I know, rare, but occasionally I pass on the ups. Once we returned to the road, I was ready to move, but the blasted pavement brought my right foot into my mind. Upon arriving back at the Steam Trains aid station I succumbed to the need for ibuprofen. It was earlier in the race than I wanted to be taking it, but I didn't want my foot to stop my running.

I met up with a guy named Jerome who was another downhiller like myself. We stayed mostly together for a while until after the big downhill into Redwood. Once we hit the flats he went on. I was really not liking the flat stuff, but was determined to keep moving at a running pace. I an most of that with a guy is a teacher down in Santa Barbara. We both were looking forward to getting through this section and onto some uphill so we could walk. It seemed like forever, but eventually the Golden Spike arrived and I was happy to walk it up. I was trying to recover here a bit as I knew the last big hill was ahead after coming down off this trail. Once I made the top I bombed it down only to find that someone behind was desperately trying to catch me. It was Fred Ecks. He came in and ran along with me into the aid station, but showed that he was really ready to go after that so I didn't try to stay with him.

The section from there until the end, I am very familiar with. I knew the big hill and where I needed to walk and where I could push a shuffle. I did what my body would let me and waited the downhill. I also remembered how painful the downhill was last year as I hadn't remembered to take any vitamin-I until after Bort Meadows. On this day, I was taking probably more than I should. I hit the meadows and kept going. I could see that a 9:30 was still in sites. I could also feel that my body was pretty tired, my legs a bit tight and my right foot not good. I decided I would just keep it on cruise control until the final aid station 3 miles from the finish. I knew the trail here and they are beautiful and very runnable. It was here that I was now passing some of the last people in the marathon. It sort of helped distract me as I could offer encouragement and course advice. There were some last hills coming up that, while not long, can definitely get you if you aren't mentally prepared.

I came to the last AS right around 9 hours. Running 10 min/mi would be no problem under normal situations (and in fact, I ran much faster than that last year from this point). However, I had been pushing longer and harder than I had planned. All I really had as a goal was a sub-10 and that was assured so long as I didn't crawl to the finish. I let up, but not so much that I wouldn't break 9:35. I always like to have some goal at the end to keep me moving forward. The final miles were uneventful other than the one woman jogger who seemed to be trying to race me up the hill on the paved path. I didn't have the heart to tell her that I had already run nearly 49 miles. I came to the finish and could see that it was going to be right around 9:33 so I just cruised it in. The finish line at Firetrails is always great. People tend to hand out for a while as the food is incredible and the venue pleasant.

I stuck around and talked to others about their race and watched still others finish theirs. Harry Walther was there and had a great race coming in under 8:30. Fred died a bit after burning past me and also failed to break 9:30 by just over a minute. Brian Wyatt finished just up from him, obviously injured as he is generally much further up in the pack. 15 year-old phenom Michael Kanning proved that he is a kid to keep a serious eye on finishing in 8:16 just ahead of 3rd woman Michele Barton. Mark Tanaka came back from 7th when I saw him struggling up from the turnaround to finish in 3rd overall after a battle to hold his place against a rookie 50 miler. Another rookie at the distance, but no rookie runner, Victor Ballesteros won the race in a close battle, setting a new rookie record in the process. The woman's race was also a close one as Caren Spore defended her title by holding off 2004 winner Diana Fitzpatrick. It sounds like the race was as exciting up front as it was purely enjoyable for those of us further back in the pack. Congrats go to all!'s on to The Next Big Thing!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Pre-race non-jitters

Dick Collins tomorrow morning. I am way too relaxed and casual for before a 50 miler (it's not like I've done dozens of them or something). This is probably a bad sign. I should probably go get my gear together or pack a drop bag or something...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Time over distance

I knew that last week was going to be impacted in terms of running time, but things on the personal side ended up even more hectic than expected between dealing with a bout of teen angst, feline dental surgery, and a 4am visit to the emergency room fitting in runs became both challenging and de-prioritized. I've heard that during a taper or at times of reduced mileage it is good to increase (or at least maintain) the level of intensity. I can't say that I did this as a matter of pre-cognated planning, but it did sort of work out that way.

The formula for pace in the title of this post normally implies that with limited time, the number of miles I will get in will drop proportionally given my normal 8-8:30 pace. I knew that I would not be getting a long run in since we would be driving down to San Luis Obispo to visit my wife's half-sister in college over the weekend. I was thinking that I could get 30 miles in, with 40 being a stretch if I could somehow eek in a 6th run somewhere. Monday evening I only had time for a bit over 5 miles, but my legs felt pretty "peppy". On shorter runs I will occasionally dip below 8 min/mi pace, on really good days I might even dip into the mid-7s. I only rarely go much lower than that unless I am doing dedicated speed work. I was mildly surprised to see that I was staying below 8s without much effort and pushed the last mile at a 7 minute pace to come out at a 7:37 average. Tuesday I did 8 miles at work and, again, my pace stayed below 8 minute miles the whole time. Wednesday I didn't have time for a run during the day, so I hit the treadmill at the gym which is always a good time to push the pace. I started at 8s and just kept working my way down each mile or so. The last mile of 6 was below 7 minutes with the final 1/2 pushing down to a 6 minute/mile pace. Thursday life intervened and no running was to be done. However, by Friday's planned 12-miler, I was looking at a log of more than 19 miles with an average pace just under 7:44 minutes/mile. This had never happened.

I probably should have just been happy with that. However, I was running a double out-and-back on the very flat Alameda Creek Trail and the wind was very much at my back during the first 3 mile leg. On the way back I realized how much, but I'd already fixed the whole sub-8 thing in my head and so I instinctively pushed it. Continuing mostly into the wind for the next 3 miles, I realized that running into a strong headwind can be a zero sum gain as increased effort results in less and less increased speed, but more and more energy output. I'd passed the point of diminishing returns, but really didn't recognize it until the trail turned out of the wind. For some reason, I wasn't able to really feel the effort I'd been putting out until I was no longer pushing directly against the wind. I could feel the muscles in my legs starting to tighten up as my came around the curve towards William Cann Park. A moment of sanity overtook me as I ran into the park to re-fill my bottle. I reminded myself that I was not in a race and that it really didn't do well to risk injury just to finish a training run in a certain time. I stopped my watch and forced myself to take a couple minutes to stretch and massage. I told myself that if I wanted to try and keep a certain pace that was fine, but pushing limits to hit an overall time goal should be reserved for race day and so I allowed myself this "cheat". My legs thanked me and felt much better keeping an easy, but relatively quick, cruising speed on the return trip with the wind back behind me. In the end I came out at an even 8:00 per mile (not counting the "stoppage time" at the park). My overall pace for the week was still below 8 with a 50K worth of distance covered. If I could cram that into a single run I would know what a near 4-hr 50K would feel like. Given that I did this over 4 days, such an attempt would actually feel like a total collapse on the course at the half-way point :-).

I managed to fit in one final run before the road trip on Saturday morning. Another flat trail run near the gym. It was windy, but not like the day before. This one I pushed hard from the get-go. I knew it would be my last run for the week and I wanted a strong finish for this string of sub-8s. It ended at just under 7.5 miles with a pace the same as my first run of the week. The final stats for the week came out to 38.5 miles with an average pace of 7:48 minutes/mile. It was kind of cool to do a "fast" pace week. However, all of that pushing on flat road and trail was as tough mentally as it was physically. I have to say that, overall, I enjoyed the experience of running less as I was always so focused on pace and time. Also, the lack of hills to break things up and the lack of real trail to provide that mental escape really left me wanting.

Yesterday, I had the day off for Columbus Day. With Dick Collins coming up I decided to get in one last hilly run and also to set a more appropriate pace standard for going into a 50-miler. I did a nice easy 9 miles up Mission Peak. Usually the words "nice and easy" don't go along with a run up Mission Peak. However, I was actually able to take it at what felt like an easy pace the whole time even while maintaining a running gait. There was no heavy breathing and was less than extraordinary given the hills and the warm weather. Running up the peak on a mid-week afternoon is a rare treat and after last week's focus on pace it was so very nice. I actually saw 4 other runners out there as I was coming down which is a pretty high number especially given how few people overall were out. As a final treat, I had a very rare and amazing wildlife encounter on the way down. Coming down the less traveled Peak Meadow Trail, I was suddenly confronted with a mother bobcat and two kittens. The kits immediately shot off into the brush below the trail, but mom stayed planted firmly to protect her young. I stopped too. She remained on the side of the trail between me and where the kittens had gone. She opened her mouth and made some noises, kind of a something between a hiss and a growl, but sounding like neither. I moved slowly along the far side of the trail talking calmly to try and assure her I wasn't interested in her babies. She watched me carefully the whole time without moving until I was well down the trail. She was absolutely amazing; beautiful, powerful and, yet, graceful. So many times, I am such an idiot for not carrying a camera during my runs, but this time takes the cake. However, the experience cannot be replaced and it is one great reminder of why I run trails.

The rest of this week will be maybe a couple light miles, some easy cross training with lots of self-therapy to make sure my PF is good to go for Saturday. Should be a great race with many familiar faces. See you there if you'll be there.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Kinda all over the place

Despite the joke about "Spring, late-spring, fall and the rainy week" we do actually experience some minor cyclical climate changes in the Bay Area. Yes, they are incredibly mild compared to what most parts of the country experience; certainly not the sort of weather changes that should keep one from going out of doors. There really is no natural reason to plan a break in one's racing schedule especially when some of our coldest months are what most would consider ideal running weather. However, the cloudy skies outside my window foretell the coming of fall and I foresee the closing of my ultra season. I've done quite a bit of racing this year and I look forward to taking things easy as we move into the final months with the holidays and the my son's basketball season on the horizon. Of course, it's not over just yet. Now that October is upon us, I have two big races to plan for this month. A sort of grand finale for 2007 with Dick Collins Firetrails 50 in less than two weeks leading to the Javelina Jundred two weeks after that. I am also signed up for the Quad Dipsea in November, but that is really just sort of the season capper; have fun and see all the local runners one last time for the year.

Run shuffle
I did my last long run before Firetrails last weekend. Not necessarily because I am planning a real taper, but because my running schedule has basically been dictated by all my other commitments lately. Between work, family, personal obligations and the shortening days, I have just been struggling to keep around 50mi/wk, shuffling runs around to fit in miles. This last week was a good example. I got my Tuesday run in by running to the Toyota dealership to pick my car up from the shop. Wednesday I ended up running into the evening under the light of a big full moon. Thursday I ended up bailing on my planned 8-9 miles first due to work and then stuff at home. I forced myself to pay penance by getting up early Friday and slothing through 4 painful morning miles before my 10.5 faster though hillier miles at the other end of the day. I did my long run on Saturday afternoon because I had scored first-row seats to the 49er game for Sunday and Saturday morning the cats had a vet appointment. Overall, I ended up getting some decent mileage in and the Fri-Sat combo of close to 38 total miles was enough for the legs to feel it. We have a road trip planned next weekend so this will probably be a lighter mileage week. Then, it is pre-race week for Firetrails which will be followed by recovery and prep weeks before Javelina. Let the fun begin!

The beginning and the end
As I mentioned above, I did my long run on Saturday afternoon. I decided to do the first part of the Dick Collins course and then the last section on the way back. As far as familiarity, this part of the course is actually what I know the best. However, I think the start and end sections of ultra races are the most important parts mentally. Most of my "problems" always occur in the middle, but I can't plan for when and where and just need to be prepared to endure. Running the early sections of the course was all about reminding myself of the right pace to set early on and remembering to take the initial hills easy. The first climb is fairly steep leading up to the Brandon Trail, but it is still tempting to want to run it and warm up. The first aid station comes pretty early, but is at the top of the climb and the next AS isn't until about mile 8 at Bort Meadows so if I decide to use just one water bottle, I will need to top it off there. For Saturday's run there is no water at the top of the climb and I have to do a little extra out-and-back to the Bort Meadows group campground for water. Since I had started late (3pm) and wanted to finish before dark, I told myself I would turnaround a little after 2 hours which would either be at the entrance to Redwood or, if I pushed a little, at Fern Dell.
I made it to Fern Dell, but was definitely feeling my legs during the grind back up to the ridge from MacDonald Gate. I was planning to take it very easy up this last climb and not burn myself out, but one of the young hikers I passed decided to charge up passed me afterwards. I gave him a "nice job" and reminded myself not to increase my pace, but after he could no longer maintain I think my subconscious kicked it up a bit to the peak. On the ridge I was going to take it easy and recover when another runner popped onto the fireroad in front of me from a side trail. I tried not to catch him on the ups, but I can't help myself when it slopes down. We actually ended up running together for a bit. He lives right off the trail in the hills and is just trying to get back into running again. His name was Alexander Mayer and he's a theoretical physicist currently working on a new book. He was only doing a short run, but he had a ton of running questions and I think I managed to inspire him to run more. I think if I lived in the hills right there that you wouldn't be able to find a day without me on the trail.
I got to Bort Meadows and re-filled the water bottle again. I actually hadn't drained it and was probably not keeping up on my hydration needs. I didn't actually think about it at the time or I would have downed some extra at the camp ground. I got distracted by another conversation by an older gentleman who was picnicking there with his family. He asked about my running and told me that he had heard of the race in this hills named after some guy. I told him about Dick Collins and Ann Trason before heading back out. It wasn't until I hit the Columbine trail and took a bio break that I realized I was WAY behind on hydration (like florescent yellow behind) and probably on nutrition as well. I ate some Clif Bloks drank half my bottle and decided I was just gonna have to put through to the end. In a way, it may help to have been in this state as the contextual effects of emotion on memory could make it easier for me to recall the final miles during the race in a similar mind set. At any rate, running the final miles is all about setting up the end of the race in my head. Remember where the last hills are; where I can push and where I need to cruise. If I am close to a time goal, I want to have a decent idea about how much longer until the finish so I can know whether I should go for it or just let it slide and enjoy the ride.

Experiment of one ... sock
I've mentioned on numerous occasions that my feet are my limiting factor. I don't get blisters luckily, but I do get occasional plantar fasciitis and sometimes toe and ball of the foot pain. The thing is, it is generally much more common in my right foot than my left. I have been thinking that this is quite possibly due to my right foot being the smaller of the two. I think it is about 1/2 size less based on how trying on different shoes has always felt on the two feet. I have been wondering if a lot of the problems are due to (or at least exacerbated by) my right foot sliding around in my shoe more than the left. It certainly never feels as secure and I often find myself cinching up the laces to try and secure the heal before long downhills. So, I thought, why not try a little extra padding on that foot? Before my run on Saturday, I put one Injinji toe sock on my right foot before putting on my normal trail socks. It definitely felt weird at first to have different amounts of padding on each foot, but I have to admit that the right foot was definitely more secure in the shoe than usual. In the end, I think I have to call the experiment a success because I never really noticed any issues during the run. It wasn't a perfect test since I already had some minor pains in that foot to begin with, but they were certainly no worse at the end of the run than at the start and there was no new problems springing up. I will do some more runs like this before I fully declare the problem solved, but it is definitely looking promising. So, if there is anyone out there in need of a bunch of left-footed toe socks, please let me know.

Looking forward
While many people I know are already planning next season I just can't do so this early even if some races will fill up and limit my options. I submitted my application for the Western States lottery so that could (about 15% possibility) greatly effect my planning for next year. Other than that, I don't know. There are a few races I want to do that I didn't do this year. I have an invite for a spring Grand Canyon R2R2R that is very tempting. I am also considering setting some early season time goals; possibly even doing a road marathon to set a more reasonable PR and then try for a sub-5 50K someplace and maybe a sub-9 at AR50. I am thinking that December I will focus on more cross training, strength and speed work. I know that there is a very big correlation between speed and weight and the holidays are deadly for a sweet tooth like me. I think after Javelina I will give it some serious thought, but for now it is still 2007 and it has already been my best running year by a long, long way.