Monday, January 28, 2008

A Kick in the 50K

Donation to the Weather Gods
With travel plans postponed and an open weekend, I decided to go back to my original plan and run the Fremont Fat Ass 50K that Mike Palmer and Catra Corbett arranged. I could really use more hills in my training at this point, but given the weather I decided that just getting the miles in on would be more important and more productive. Also, speaking of weather, I really didn't want a repeat of my Monday drenching. With massive storms pummeling the Bay Area, I decided to head over to the Fremont REI to finally buy a real running rain jacket. I checked out an ultralight model, but Catra, who works there, told me that it was unlikely to hold up to any real rain and recommended the REI Taku Jacket which had good weather proof cred and was reasonably breathable. So, $200 later and I was ready for whatever Mother Nature decided to throw our way. Of course, what this really meant was that when I woke up on Saturday morning the storm had broken. The skies were clear, the air in the 50s and the news forecasting no rain until that evening. Wow, purchasing that jacket kept me drier than I ever imagined! I would be going with a lightweight shell after all.

Goals? What goals?
I did this run last year and had a good time. It starts in the Quarry Lakes park, mostly follows the Alameda Creek Trail going out to Niles and back then heading out to do a loop around Coyote Hills before returning back. The route is almost completely flat with only one real hill in the Coyote Hills. It is also mostly on a bike path that with the majority gravel, but about 1/3 of it paved.

Because of the flat, fast nature of the course, I was able to set a 50K PR at the time being completely out of shape and not even trying. While I am definitely not in top racing shape right now either, I still wanted to better my time. I've run faster than last year's time on much less flat courses and I have always wanted to establish a 50K PR that was below the 5-hour mark just for my own edification. I figured I could do this without even needing to really push it or go out like it was a serious race. I was just going to go out running in the low-9s and see how long I could hold that pace. If I felt good I could kick it in on the way back for something more dramatic.

Small group, big fun
Only 12 people showed up at the start this year. Apparently, quite a few who had previously contacted Mike or Catra had backed out after Friday night's storm. Too bad for them as this was a perfect day to be running. When Mark Tanaka pulled up a few minutes before the start, it was pretty much assumed who would be leading the pack. Even if he had only gotten a few hours sleep and didn't know the course, this guy actually wins real races, a claim to which none of the rest of us could make. Ultraholic Chihping Fu also showed up in his usual fashion eschewing automobiles and running to the start. He lived fairly close so he didn't have to sleep in the dirt at the start of this race. There were a few others like Ernesto whom I'd met before and some new faces as well. Also, well known ultrarunners, Barb Ellia and Linda McFadden (who together may have more miles to their names than the rest of us combined including Catra) started early and were already out on the course. We all started together and ran through the Quarry Lakes part, but quickly split into two main groups as we headed out on the Alameda Creek Trail. After the Niles turnaround things split up a bit more with Mark and Ohlone 50K RD, Rob Byrn disappearing out in front. After the water fill-up at Isherwood, Chihping fell back along with Claire and Scott while I sort of hung a little ways back from Brian Koo all the way going into Coyote Hills. I caught up with him just around the backside near the bay which allowed me to help him with the route as it is the one place where the course gets a bit tricky.

The idea is that this is to eventually be an official race with aid stations and all so some of the routing is due to where they are considering to put aid and checkpoints. In Coyote Hills it first comes around the west side of the Bayview Trail and then goes to the Dairy Glen. After that it heads back up and over the hill on the Meadowlark Trail loop before returning to Dairy Glen. It then heads over to the Quarry Staging Area and out the Tuibun Trail to the loop around the Chochenyo Trail to the Visitor Center and finishing the Bayview Trail back around to the Alameda Creek Trail. On my second trip to the Dairy Glen I saw Catra and company coming in for their first trip and was quite surprised to see Mark and Rob with them. Apparently, they had missed the point near Ardenwood where you are supposed to take the overpass and cut over to the paved side of the trail to get to Coyote Hills. They were into bonus miles.

What the tail wind giveth, the head wind (more than) taketh away
By the time I returned to the Alameda Creek Trail I was all alone and leading the run. A rather precarious position for a lifelong mid-packer such as myself. I fully expected Mark and Rob to catch me eventually even with my few miles of lead and I also figured Brian would catch up as well since he was a pretty descent marathoner in his past. However, the only thing I really cared about was breaking the 5 hour barrier. My average so far was about 9:10 per mile and I was even thinking that a 4:45 might be possible. Heck, I even thought about the idea of approaching 4:30, but some mental math and my tired legs immediately threw that out as total folly. Well, either I hadn't realized how much of a wind was at our backs on the way out, or the wind was seriously picking up. The head wind going back on the Alameda Trail was pretty brutal in parts and I suddenly I was having trouble even keeping my legs going below 10min per mile! Not only that, but pushing hard against the wind was draining. Even if the wind were the same as when we had headed out, the advantage of a direct tail wind never really matches the obvious disadvantage of a direct head wind. You are left with the choice of watching your pace slowly degrade or pushing hard to maintain pace while your energy dissipates or a little bit of both. I tried to take whatever advantage whenever the wind wasn't directly pushing on me and tried to run relaxed as much as possible otherwise. I thought that the course was a little shy of the standard 31mi, but I wasn't sure and my time was edging closer to that 5 hour limit as I approached the Quarry Lakes again. I filled my water bottle at Isherwood and decided to drop off my waste pack and jacket which I hadn't worn since about mile 4. There were about 3 miles left and I wanted to lighten the load and ease the pressure on my gut which was giving me a little trouble probably pushing into the wind.

The Fattest Ass

I just wanted to survive the mile or so of head wind before entering back into Quarry Lakes for the final run to the start where the wind would be back at my back. At this point, I knew I'd make my goal even if not by a very big margin. I also knew that the course was going to measure up a little short according to my GPS watch. As I came towards the "finish line", it read 30.3 and so I decided I would continue a little further to make sure I knew that I had run a full 50K. If you are going to try for a goal that is just for yourself then you better make sure you actually hit it. As I finished my final little jog back to the parking lot I realized that nobody had actually passed me on the way back. However, there was someone in what appeared to be a Dick Collins jacket waiting at the end. It turned out to be Brian Koo who, after some discussion, realized that he had stayed on the paved side of the path beyond Ardenwood and must have crossed back over in front of me. Oh well, I didn't get to win my first race after all. However, I did get the experience of a lifetime which was seeing a real front runner like Mark Tanaka come into a race finish after me even if he did have to run a few extra miles to make it happen. In the end, I met the one goal I set for myself and finished the 50K distance in a time of 4:57 and change. Looking back at it I think it is possible that in better condition and without the rain I could possible push down to something close to 4:45 and perhaps even wee bit lower if I were rested and in a supported race. However, relentlessly pushing for PRs is not really exciting to me and, given my schedule for the year, it will likely be the last time I try for a while.

Recovery or gear check?
Sunday and the rain returned. I had already decided that I would do a short run on this day partly to recover, but also to hit my weekly mileage goal. With the rain it would also give me an opportunity to test out my new jacket. Also, I did want to get a little hill work in for the weekend so I decided I would do my 5 miles by running up to the Mission Peak saddle and back down. I know, Mission Peak and "recovery run" really don't belong in the same sentence, but I really would be using very different muscles than I had on Saturday. Finally, there was one more bit of gear testing I wanted to do. Since becoming addicted to my new Garmin Forerunner 305 gadget, I have been looking for a way to make it last for much longer runs beyond its rated 10hour limit. Craig Slagel turned me on to the Energizer Energi To Go, portable cell phone charger that included a model with a mini-usb adapter that would work with the Garmin. The disadvantage is that to charge the watch you need to use the cradle and it then doesn't fit on the wrist. I hit on the idea of using my Ultimate Direction Fastdraw Plus hand-held bottle to solve the problem. The charger would fit in the pocket and I could then strap the watch with cradle around the pocket to keep it in place and attachable to the charger.

The parts - hand-held, charger, cradle, watch:
Infinite GPS - Parts

The Full Rig:
Infinite GPS - Full RIg

The jacket held up great keeping the rain (even the horizontal stuff) completely off. After the first half mile or so, I realized that, while my watch was rated as water resistant, I wasn't so sure about the cradle or charger. I took the rig apart and moved the questionable parts into my jacket pocket and the watch to my wrist. I only wore a very thin base layer of Patagonia Capalene 1 below the jacket to test how cool I could stay. I definitely didn't overheat and was actually even cold during parts of the run. I never felt rain getting through either. For longer runs in the rain, though, I would definitely go with two layers as it was a bit cold overall and I did experience some wetness from sweating which might have been better with the traditional base+outer layering strategy. Overall, the run in the rain and wind was perfect test for all my gear. Furthermore, I felt great physically after it and definitely feel like I am back in at least minimal ultra shape.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ill and Ill-prepared

Well, I definitely got the cold bug and it pretty much took me out completely from Thursday through Saturday. I did a paltry 1.5m on the treadmill Friday morning, but that was about it. Saturday I slept and rested most of the day and managed to feel quite good come Sunday morning. In an attempt to salvage some of the weekend (though I missed the one nice weather day), I did get a run in Sunday evening. I kept it on the road and local sticking to one of my routes that has lots of options for turning back short if I didn't feel well. I figured that 8 miles was about the extent I could handle. However, I felt great so just kept on going all the way to the Mission Peak trailhead. The 10.5m route was one I hadn't done in a while and is a pretty nice run as far as roads go since there is a nice view of the bay at the turnaround. I think this run really helped clear all the "gunk" out of my system. There really is nothing better than the post-illness LSD run to really clear everything out. No, this is not a long run, the initials in this case stand for:
  • Lung-butter
  • Saliva
  • Discharged nasal-mucus
This run brought the week's total to just over 32mi which is just about 1/2 of what I had hoped. However, it ended up not being a total loss and I was happy to recover so quickly.

I felt so good that come the Monday holiday I wanted to hit the trails at least for a bit. I had a lot of errands and chores to get caught up on so the run was once again postponed until afternoon. It was no sooner that I announced to my wife my intention to head up to Mission Peak than it started to rain. I didn't remember the forecast calling for any heavy showers so I only brought my light shell though I did add an extra layer of underarmor beneath my running shirt. My timing was once again impeccable as the rain seemed to just pick up the closer I got to the top. On the way up I took my standard route on the Peak Meadow fireroad which adds some extra distance. Being as this trail is not graveled over like the main fireroad the mud added significant time to my run. I was sliding all over and trying to run on the grassy side of the trail as much as possible. Even walking didn't seem to help as my road shoes just have no grip in the mud. This is one of the few times when I wish I could find some trail shoes that fit. I also wonder if anyone has every tried attaching traction devices to their shoes for the mud like they do when running on ice.

Eventually, this meets up with the main fireroad and I was able to pick it up to my normal slow shuffle. When I finally made it to the ridge I was happy to hit the downhill around the back side of the peak. However, this is where the storm really picked up. My shell was useless in the heavy downpour and the cold rain soaked right through all three layers. I could also feel that my legs were pretty worked from all the extra work trying to keep stable in the slippery mud. My intention was just to push on through, make it to the top and head down the main firetrail as quickly as possible. I decided to skip the Eagle Loop as I realized that this was not the best conditions to be running in having just gotten over a cold. As I reached the ridge again the rain came down harder and I could hear and feel it pelting my hood. As I looked up at the mist-enshrouded peak, I realized that this rain was no longer liquid. Even though I was almost at the top, I know from experience that conditions at the peak can be much, much worse than just a 100 feet below. Feeling my muscles starting to tighten up in the cold, I decided the wiser plan was to just turn tail and head back down the way I'd come. This was definitely the smart decision as I was freezing at this point. I kept having to squeeze my hands to keep them from stiffening up and I really just wanted this ill-advised run to be over.

I've never done the "pee on the run" technique in a race because I think it is totally rude and, quite frankly, I'm just not fast enough for seconds to matter. However, to avoid freezing I have to admit that I partook of this moving relief as the last thing I wanted to do was stand still for even 30 seconds. As I made my way back around the peak and to the other side of the ridge all I could think about was the last couple miles of downhill and wanting to get my body moving down it. Normally I can't run too fast down this hill as the ground tends to be quite hard and there are usually lots of other trail users. Both of those conditions were negated by the storm. In fact, the ground was so soft that I was able to just go all out. The last two miles of this run were taken completely at sub-7 minute pace with a top speed (Garmin measured) of just below 6. I was swinging my arms and moving my legs as fast and as much as I could just to keep the blood flowing. When I finally made it to my car and changed out of my wet clothes the temperature gauge read in the low 40s. I can only imagine that it was at least 10 degrees lower up top. Looking back it seems like a little mini-epic adventure. However, I think it was perhaps one of the stupider things I have done in terms of my recent running.

On other running-related notes, Zane and I have had to postpone our Costa Rica trip that was planned for the end of this week. Our main reason for going was to see my wife's nieces. They are not going to make it back into the country in time for us to see them so we decided to move the trip to March. This is actually a much better time. It is during Frederick's spring break so we are thinking to have him bring a friend and join us. We have also been able to extend the length of the trip so it can be a real vacation. It will be the week right after Coyote 2 Moons so it will be the perfect locale for me to rest and recover from the race. What better way to celebrate a tough 100-miler than a vacation trip to paradise?

The change in plans leaves this weekend open. I could return to my original plan and do the Fremont Fat Ass 50K. However, some friends who are also doing C2M are planning a training run up in Marin. If I can work the logistics out that would be a better option in terms of hill training as the Fremont race is as flat as they get. I'm also leaning much more towards the Andes Adventure run in July. I have printed out the form and just need to send it in with the deposit check. With TRT100 out and a desire to do something at higher altitude before heading to the Andes, I am considering doing the Bighorn 100 in Wyoming in late June. It has a similar altitude profile to TRT and while it is nothing close to what I will experience in the Andes, I think it would help make sure my conditioning is at its peak before I head down there. I need to look at logistics and the family summer schedule especially in terms of my son's basketball as he will have school summer league as well as AAU going on. If I do end up signing up I think that fills the calendar for most of the year pending some decisions about the last few months.

With hope for no more illness or ill-advised, ill-planned adventures, it's time to get back to my training ramp up.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Weekend by ear

My attempt to completely avoid the bug that seems to be going around seems to have failed. Right now it is just a bit of a throat/sinus thing that I think I can still run through. I will see this afternoon. As for my weekend plans, I will definitely not be signing up for an organized race. Doing my original plan of a Quad MP is also pretty much going to have to be "played by ear". I to start the run at 7am on Saturday and invite anyone who was interested to join me. At this point, I am going to have to see how my body does over the next couple days.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm it!

I thought now that we were well into January that I had avoided this trail runner blog tagging thing, but apparently Chihping Fu just tagged me so I guess I'll answer the call.

1. Most memorable moment on the trails in 2007.
My most memorable moment on the trails last year has to be the point during Headlands Hundred in the wee hours of the morning when I found myself off course at the bottom of the Pirate's Cove stairs. I know, one would expect that it would be when I crossed the finish line and that realizing I had taken a wrong turn late in my first 100-miler would be the low point and not the high point. However, the question was about "memorable" moments and this one will stick with me for a long time. The most memorable part of the experience was not the disappointment in realizing I had gone wrong, but the surprise at my own mental reaction to it. Once I knew where I was I simply became even more determined. In fact, it was at that very point where I knew I would finish the race no matter what. As my mind became more focused, my body followed and I actually ran a good portion of the rest of that leg even on some of the steep uphills.

2. Best new trail discovered in 2007.
This is a tough one. I could pick one of the new trails at one of the races I did such as the beautiful desert at Javelina. However, when I think of new trails my mind automatically goes to some of my training runs. I have run some beautiful trails in a great variety of terrain, but, in my mind, the best trails are the ones that you get to run the most often. Discovering Garin/Dry Creek Pioneer Parks up in the hills of Hayward was probably the best new discovery. The trails are nothing spectacular. They aren't as brutal as my Mission Peak training grounds and offer nowhere near the distance options of the Ohlone Wilderness and Sonol. They aren't nearly as beautiful as the trails further north up at Chabot or in the Oakland Hills. It doesn't even offer the continuous "bit loop" option of Pleasanton Ridge. However, nothing beats finding a new option for running some hilly trails within easy driving distance from home.

3. My best performance of 2007.
This, without a doubt, has to be my finish at Javelina Jundred. I went into that race with one goal and that was to notch a sub-24 hour 100-miler. I did it with plenty of time to spare. In fact, I took the last mile or so easier than I have ever run any final mile of any race, savoring the knowledge that I had reached a goal that I had set for myself.

4. I don't know how I previously survived without...
Oreo Cookies! I love discovering what new foods work for me at different races. For some reason, during the heat of Javelina, those cookies from my childhood just seemed to do the trick. I would have put Ensure ahead of them since I have learned that it really does help me get through those longer trail races, but it just doesn't have the fun factor of two chocolate wafers with white sugary goo in the middle!

5. The person I would most like to meet on the trails in 2008.
I really enjoy meeting new people out on the trail, getting to know them a little, sharing stories and what not. In some ways, trail races have actually become my social life (sad though that may sound). However, all of my most special moments on the trail have been by myself. My solo training runs are my sanctuary and meditation time. Those moments in tough trail races where I just go inside myself and find the means to endure are also very special to me. So, as far as meeting any particular people out on the trail I can't really pinpoint any individual except perhaps one very important person: my wife. She has decided to get her exercise routine back in order this year and has asked me to take her out for some short trail runs. I will be doing some of my Sunday recovery runs with her.

6. The race I am most excited about for 2008.
I probably would have answered this question differently a week ago. With a plan to do 4 100-milers I certainly would have named one of them in response to this query. However, now that I am being encouraged to go for an Andes Running Adventure by both friends and family, I think all of my excitement is starting to focus on July

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Full Purisima

My original plan for this weekend was to do some loops on Mission Peak. I needed at least 25mi for the weekend to meet my mileage goals and I need to start hitting the hills in prep for Two Moons. However, I wasn't quite up for the full 32 miles of my Quad MP concept, yet. My wife had to go into work in San Mateo on Saturday so I decided I would get my run in on that side of the bay. Purisima Creek is sort of the old stand-by as it is the closest serious trail to her office and is also a beautiful park right off Skyline Ridge. It starts from the ridge and goes down to meet the road into Half Moon Bay. There are three main trails that travel from top-to-bottom covering between 3.5 to 4 miles on the trip from the 2000ft ridge down to about 400ft at the bottom.

The Full Purisima...almost
I pulled out the trail map and started calculating to find a route that would give me at least 20 miles for the day on a couple of down-up trips. As I started playing around, doing the math, I realized that, if I planned my route properly, I could traverse just about every trail in the entire park over a course of between 25-26 miles. I would have to leave out the Bald Knob, Irish Ridge and Lobitos Creek Trails as they would add another 7+ miles traveling directly out-and-back from the main preserve area. They would also require that I either carry more than my planned two water bottles or deal with further logistics of an extra water drop off Tunitas Creek Rd. As for the the planned run it could be done with just one drop. There are two main parking areas off Skyline Blvd., one at the start of the North Ridge Trail and the other at the Purisima Creek trailhead. I would stash a water jug and a bag of trail goodies in the bushes at the first area and start my run down at the other area down Purisima Creek Trail. Once I realized the concept, I knew I had to do it. However, I had a time limit and would need to be done by 4:30 at the latest which meant starting no later than 11am.

For those who are impatient or who simply don't want to wade through my long-winded account of the run, here is the full route that I planned (I took one slight variation noted by *'s):
  • Purisima Creek Trail (down 3.1mi)
  • Borden Hatch Mill Trail (up 2.7mi)
  • Out-and-back to Tunitas Crreek Rd. (up-down 0.6mi)
  • Grabtown Gulch Trail (down 1.5mi)
  • Purisima Creek Trail (down 1.2mi)
  • Harkins Ridge Trail (up 3.0mi)
  • North Ridge "Hiking Only" Trail (0.5mi)
  • Get food/water stash, eat, drink, fill bottles
  • North Ridge Trail (down 2.3mi)
  • North Ridge Trail (up 1.5mi)*[1.3mi]
  • Whittemore Gulch Trail (down 2.8mi)*[2.2mi]
  • Harkins Ridge Trail (up 2.1mi)
  • Soda Gulch Trail (mostly down 2.6mi)
  • Purisima Creek Trail (up 1.8mi)
Total: 25.7 [24.8mi] from map values

My GPS-measured distance came to a bit over 24.7mi which seems pretty accurate.

As for elevation gain, all I could say at the end of the run was "lots". Some of these trails were much steeper than I expected. My Forerunner 305 is notoriously inaccurate and gave a reading of greater than +/- 10K ft. Importing the route into various mapping programs and web sites produced varying results. One of them gave even higher numbers than the GPS and another was so low as to be impossible. That particular web site is very inaccurate and has given me elevation measurements in the past that are actually less than the difference of the highest and lowest elevation points. How does that work? The one I am learning to trust the most is from a desktop program called SportTracks that I would recommend for anyone with a GPS watch. You can actually tweak the amount of smoothing that it does over imported elevation and pace values in the 2.0 beta version.

Based on this data the summary for my run is as follows:
Distance: 24.7mi
Time: 5:03hrs (5:13 with stops)
Elevation: +/-6800ft (approx.)

Here are some pictures for those who like visual aids:
Map of the route with start/end at far right

Elevation change over the course of the run

The Full Details
OK, that's the stats. Let's get to the details...

Purisima Creek to Borden Hatch
When running in this park I usually either head down Whittemore Gulch or Purisima Creek. I've done runs all the way down to Half Moon Bay and back from both starting points. Purisima Creek is a wide fireroad that does less twisting and turning but has more distance overall covering about 4.2 miles directly to the bottom. This time I would add an extra loop of trails about 3/4 of the way down. The whole Purisima Creek park is heavy covered with Redwoods and the fallen needles plus the rain soften dirt made for a very plush trail. Even trying to take it very easy my pace on this downhill often dipped below 7 min/mi. It is a beautiful and fun trail to run down as the many little "moguls" (what we used to call "whoop-de-dos" when mountain biking) can be used to catch a little air and a big smile. The one thing I noticed about halfway down was that the entrance to the Soda Gulch Trail was marked as "Closed due to storm damage." I guess I would have to decide how important it was for me to hit all the trails or whether I was going to need to find another route on the way back. I decided to wait and see if the other end of the trail was marked the same as they sometimes leave these signs up well beyond necessity. I eventually reached the start of the Grabtown Gulch Trail and continued down to the Borden Hatch Trail to start the loop choosing to repeat the small section between the two rather than skip it completely.

Borden Hatch - Grabtown Gulch Loop and on
I headed up Borden Hatch which I hadn't been on since my mountain biking days. I remembered it being a pretty tough climb on the bike. As a run it wasn't horribly steep, but I could see how the mud and plethora of tree droppings would make it a very tough ride. It is a nice trail and much more secluded than the main thoroughfares of this park where one often sees hikers especially near the trailheads. I was really enjoyed the quiet and the grade did provide some good uphill practice climbing nearly 1000ft in a little under 3mi. I paused briefly at the Bald Knob trailhead and glanced up it. I've never been up that way and it looks like a nice trail. It would have to wait for another day as I had a time limit today needing to finish up the run in less under 5 1/2 hours. I little further on was the intersection to the Grabtown Gulch Trail. However, before heading down this I took the little .3mi extension out to Tunitas Creek Rd. so as not to miss any trail. This also let me scout out this remote trailhead as another option for a water drop on a future run here. After that it was all downhill and I have to say that Grabtown Gulch was a blast! All downhill and some wonderful twisty single-track to boot. All good things must end and this one did back at the wide Purisima Creek Trail after a mile and a half. Then it was a bit over a mile down to the bottom where the folks from the coast enter the park at Purisima-Higgins Rd. It was less busy then one would expect given the perfect weather of the day due to the fact that the Mavericks Surf Contest was on just above HMB.

Up Harkins Ridge
I don't think I'd ever been on this trail on foot before and it was quite nice starting in the deep trees along the creek. A little ways on it turns and heads up the ridge and out into the exposed sun. It was quite nice out and I was surprised at how warm it actually was given that we are in the middle of winter. Gotta love California weather. Heading up this trail has some really steep hills and it was time to start working on some of my power-hiking skills. I also wanted to preserve some energy in the middle of my run on this trail which is the shortest path to cover the 1600ft climb back up to the road. I did notice that Soda Gulch was closed here too so a decision would have to be made about my return. The last section of this is all open ridge and I could see the ocean from the vantage point. The sun also kept me plenty warm and I drained my water just as I reached the intersection with the North Ridge Trail. No worry as it was only another half mile to the parking lot via the "Hiking Only" trail that I planned to take on the way up. This option is a little longer than the direct route, but is much more runnable and a nicer option for heading up. Taking the direct route down is always recommended for making good time.

Aid Station
At the parking lot I went into the bushes and retrieved my little drop bag and jug of water. I got a couple of weird looks from hikers as I stuffed myself with Pringles, cookies and Ensure as well as downed a bunch of water. I then filled my bottles and re-stashed my goods planning to pick it up after I was done. I took in as much water as I could as the warmer-than-expected temperatures meant that I was going to likely be pushing the two bottles on the return trip which was going to be a little longer than the one I took getting here. Just as I was about to leave a couple of runners came up the trail. One of them was wearing a race shirt from some 50miler I didn't recognize, but he saw my TRT shirt and asked about it first anyway. I turns out he did the 100 last year when I did the 50. I believe he said his name was Mark and he looked like a pretty studly dude so it may well have been Mark Gilligan, second place finisher in the 100. Given that one of his planned runs this year is the 100K national championship race, it seems even more likely now that I think about it. He also told me that they had been on Soda Gulch Trail and that it wasn't too bad. So, my return trip was going to go as planned. I'd wasted enough time at my self-made aid station and bid him and his friend (Kay?) goodbye. I told them about my water/food stash and to grab whatever they wanted as I headed back down the trail.

North Ridge Trail
The North Ridge Trail is the main fireroad leaving the parking lot and is the most common route down. However, most people either head down Whittemore or Harkins as the North Ridge continues on to a dead end at the park boundary. I'd never been down there and new nothing about that trail section. What I learned was that it was steep. And, then, later on it is really steep. And, then, still further it is ridiculously steep. Before I get to that part, though, I had a surprise waiting for me on the trail. Just as I headed up the first uphill on the way to the turnaround I saw a guy coming down cleaning branches off the trail. He looked very familiar, but before I could call out to him he yelled down "Steve!" It was local ultrarunner Chuck Wilson who has probably run more races than I have miles. He was doing some volunteer work on the trail so I stopped and chatted for a bit. He said that the trail wasn't very runnable even with his cleaning job, so I better get going if I needed to make time. I learned pretty quickly that he wasn't kidding. The final downhill (and return back uphill) was crazy. I honestly don't know how the rocks stayed on that steep loose trail. Luckily it wasn't very long, but in the end the whole steepness of this trail up-and-down was more than I had planned. I decided to alter my return just slightly and take the short-cut over to Whittemore Gulch Trail. While this would mean missing 0.6mi of trail, it would take almost a full mile off my return trip and given my water situation as well as my time limit, I decided it was necessary. I could see Chuck up above me as I headed over to the cutoff. I decided not to yell up to him as I didn't want to waste too much more time. However, before going through the gate I paused and took in the vista. It was such a clear day I could see the ocean and Half Moon Bay perfectly. If I'd have brought binoculars I probably could have watched the surf contest from up there.

Down and back up
Whittemore Gulch is a wonderful with lots of twists and turns that I remember having a blast on when biking. However, today it had so much down tree foliage that it was actually hard to keep the momentum. My pace barely dropped below 9min/mi as I was constantly having to jump over branches or watch my step through brush. It was still a reasonably quick downhill through lush woods that helped keep me from draining too much more water. I hit the bottom at about 18.5 miles just after my GPS watch complained about low battery. I accidentally left it on the other day so I wasn't able to fully charge it before this run. I wasn't sure it would make it for the rest of the time as I headed up the long grind back up Harkins Ridge. I had decided I was going to take Soda Gulch and my mind was focused there. I knew that once I reached that intersection it was over 2 1/2 miles of flat to downhill running. I pushed it a bit up Harkins shuffling up whatever I could. I made it to the intersection in about the same time from the bottom as before despite being much more tired being 20 miles and 4 hours into the run. I also knew that my water was just about gone and that I would be making the final climb to the road bone dry.

Flying towards Hell
Soda Gulch wasn't bad at all in general. The trail was in decent condition and relatively clear of debris allowing for lots of running along its gently winding downhill path. However, there were a few downed trees that required climbing over or dipping under. A couple of these left nice trophy slashes on my legs. Also, there were two spots where the trail was washed out, but both were easy to bypass with careful navigation. Other than that it was a classic single-track that I had previously only taken in the opposite direction. Going down this beauty was definitely the recommended way. However, at the end that meant that I had just that much more climbing up the final trail of Purisma Creek to my car. It was just under two miles and about 1000ft to the top. I had no water and, without water, couldn't really take in calories either. Those last couple miles were over a half hour of slow painful grind. Each of those fun little bumps that I enjoyed so much on the way down just added insult to injury on the way back up as each one require a few extra steps of even steeper climb for barely a half step down on the other side. I shuffled as much as I could figuring this was all good ultra training as in a real race there would be aid at top of this "bad spell" to refuel and keep me moving relentlessly forward.

I made it to the top and my watch read a little past 24.5 miles total. I felt like I had done much, much more than a marathon. With all the climbing, I felt easily as worked as in many of my 50K races. Looking back now, it is clear why since this shorter run had as much or even more climbing than many races of much longer distance. However, the elevation gain and the distance are both about 1/4 the distance of the Coyote Two Moons 100 which is a pretty scary thought right now. There is no way I could have done that route 4 more times! However, I will be ramping my training and will definitely start much easier come race day. Of course, if I run the first 25 miles of a that hundred miler anywhere near 5 hours time, I will be headed for some serious hurt later in the race. I drank up and ate up at my car and headed out as I had to pick up my wife and then get home to take my son to his basketball game. I stopped at the other parking lot first to clean up my stashed drop bag and water. Just as I was about to head out I saw Chuck coming up the trail. I stopped and chatted again with him briefly. However, I realized how much time I had wasted as it was already 4:30 and my son had to be at his game by 6 so I high-tailed it out of there and managed to just get him there on time.

Looking Forward
I followed up Saturday's run with a nice easy 4.5mi recovery on Sunday night. I am learning to use my Garmin and heartrate monitor to do "real" recovery runs. I put the watch in a mode where I it shows my HR, but not my pace or distance and then I run a known route trying to keep my HR in the 70-75% zone. With that final run my tally for the week comes to 54 miles which is right about where I should be in my ramp up. Had I been further in my training I might have done a 10 or 12 miler on Sunday and gotten closer to 60. To get my mileage up much beyond that I am going to have to figure out how to get a few extra mid-week miles along with some longer Sat. runs.
As for my race schedule, there are some potential changes. I definitely dropped Zane Grey from consideration as it is just too much with Diablo and Miwok. I may decide to do the Pacifica 50K next weekend if Freddy doesn't have practice. In which case I would save the Quad MP until Feb. As for the races in that month they are all up in the aid. Woodside seems unlikely as it is now on the 2nd and Freddy has a game that night and the night before. While I believe I could get the race done in time, I don't know about getting there after a later than desired Fri. night. Sequoia will also be a "wait and see" as that will be during the likely time of basketball sectional playoffs. Feb may just be lots of self-planned long runs. I am committed to Skyline Ridge for March as my last training before Two Moons. Diablo and Miwok are confirmed, but the rest of the season is still a bit spotty. I may actually end up bailing on TRT100 in July. Chuck was trying to convince me to join him and Beat at a "once in a lifetime" opportunity of a running adventure in the Peruvian Andes. It is the last time the organization will be doing this particular run and it looks quite simply amazing. I love South America and my wife is actually encouraging the endeavor. The amount of altitude is a bit scary, but perhaps I can find a high-mountain 100 in June to help prep me. I do have to admit, my it looks amazing!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Opportunistic running

The first week of the new year has come and gone. I did a lot of what I term "opportunistic" runs meaning that most were planned last minute and worked around various other (work and/or family) plans. My son's high school basketball season has started so that will eat up another couple evenings a week. I am still in a re-building phase as far as mileage goes, but I did still manage my second 45+ mile week in a row so things are progressing. In a way, I really like managing a week like this as I like the idea that training for and running ultras doesn't require outrageous time commitments or sacrificing everything else in one's life to fit it in. My week basically went as follows.

Mon 12/31/07
As mentioned previously, I ran an 8.1 mile figure-8 route up on Mission Peak this day. We were planning to drive down to Arroyo Grande to spend New Years Eve at our new vacation home, but had to leave a bit late as my son had a 4-hr basketball practice. I did the run while he was at practice and we made the 3+ hr drive south that afternoon/evening. The route is what I am planning to use for my "Quad MP" run where I will attempt to do this loop 4 times for a bit over a 50K training run (or "Fat Ass" race if anyone wants to join me). The elevation gain should be over 9000ft. The link above only shows each loop as a little over 2000ft, but that is not accurate as the simple difference between the peak and start is more than 2100ft and there is a bit of up and down in the route. My other mapping software shows it as at over 2300ft per loop.

Tue 01/01/08
After spending too much time just sitting around the house in the morning we needed to get out so my wife and I hopped in the car and went for a little drive. I decided to head up to Los Osos to check out Montaña de Oro State Park. We parked along the road and took a long and very sandy path to the beach. We were joking about how difficult this was going to be going back up, but when we reached the beach we found that there was a much easier path that led back through a parking lot. However, this meant we had a bit of a walk back to our car. My wife surprised me by starting to run back as we headed up the hill. We ended up jogging all the way, a bit over a mile, mostly uphill, me in my sandals and Zane in her casual shoes. We must have looked a sight to the passing cars, but we had fun.
Zane wanted to get in another 20min of running in. I plotted a little route around the residential area near "The Village" where the house is. It was a little under her desired time due to her picking up the pace (honestly, without any urging by me) near the end. It was fun and a good way to learn the lay of the land as this older residential area has a little confusing layout.
I wanted a bit more mileage before dinner so I went off on my own and did a longer loop around some local farms. Having looked on the map, I knew that the country road I was on would eventually intersect with a cross street to let me cut over and head back. However, the road kept heading in the opposite turning away from where I wanted to go. Eventually I found where I needed to be and ended up with a nice loop of about 5.4mi. I also discovered some other backroads that will make nice long road runs if I ever need them while down there.
Total for the day was about 8.1mi. Not bad for no planning.

Wed 01/02/08
We got up at 4am in order to make it back to the Bay Area in time for work. The drive north and to both our offices was over 4hrs. Being tired and Frederick having a basketball game that evening meant there would be no running on this day.

Thu 01/03/08
I decided to go to work late as Freddy needed to be dropped off at practice at 11am. This allowed for a rare morning run. A simple 6mi on one of my standard routes around our neighborhood.

Fri 01/04/08
A busy work schedule, a brewing storm and the need to get Freddy to his game in SF by 6pm meant that this would be another day sans running. Furthermore, the storm coming in looked to be a monster. I had already given up on my original plan to join the Epiphany Ultra up in Oakland as I didn't feel ready for the distance or the conditions on the trail. However, I wanted to find some way to fit in some running over the weekend despite the weather.

Sat 01/05/08
My wife had to meet a colleague for breakfast meeting in Castro Valley so I decided that I would head over to Lake Chabot. I planned to get in about an hour mostly on the paved path and the flat parts of the dirt trail around the lake. The morning had been pretty mild so it was possible some of the Ephiphany runners might be hitting the turnaround when I was heading out. Leaving at 11am the next wave of the storm was apparently just getting going. My run of a little over 6mi was done almost completely in the rain and, as I learned later, was pretty much right during the worst part of the storm. On the way back the thunder and lightening started and one near simultaneous flash/crack race followed by the skies just opening up and completely dumping. I was drenched. While trying to change at my car, none other than Chihping showed up heading down towards town. He had started at 5am and was on his way to completing his full run. He said things were much nicer earlier in the day. However, there was no way I would have been up there at that hour to run with my local ultraholic!
Zane needed to head to work over in San Mateo after her meeting. I had brought more running clothes in order to do another run over on the Penninsula while she worked. My original idea was to do another run on the paved Sawyer Camp Trail at the Crystal Springs Reservoir. However, first I needed some new shorts as I discovered that I had only brought one pair and the ones I had used in the morning were still soaking wet. I headed to the local REI only to find it closed due to storm damage. Luckily the Road Runner Sports store was just around the corner. After buying some shorts I headed straight to the trailhead off hwy 280. However, that was also closed. I knew that the north end of this trail connected with the San Andreas Trail further up so on I drove trying to remember which exit would take me there. I eventually found the trailhead that begins on a short dirt/gravel single-track section for a bit over a half mile. This first section was pretty much a stream on the hilly parts so my shoes that had been drying under my car heater were immediately soaked. The rest of the trail is paved and about 2 miles long. The storm had mostly moved through this area so it was actually nice weather relative to my earlier run. I decided to do run the paved section out-and-back twice in order to get some decent mileage in. The total came to around 9.3 which summed up to nearly 15.5 for the day.

Sun 01/06/08
This day started out at about 4:30am with a family crisis which, luckily, only resulted in the fatality of a car. Circumstances necessitated that we not receive the full details until 9am so the morning was spent sipping coffee in a daze of worry and sadness. Yet another bad decision in my older son's life with repercussions that will, no doubt, reach far beyond the day that was still to come. The only positive that came of the morning was that I happened to be up and online at 8am so I went ahead and signed up for the Miwok 100K. After things were eventually dealt with as much as they could be until insurance adjustments, police reports and court appearances eventually unfold, my wife and I spent the rest of the day simply wandering both in body and in thought. We both decided that some exercise at the end of the day would be a good thing so that evening my wife headed to the gym and I planned a final run for the first week of the new year on the nearby levees. 8.1m on flat, soggy dirt as night sank in and rain continued to drizzle. The same distance that started the week, but on a very different terrain and on a very different emotional note.

The final running tally for the week was a pretty reasonable 45.7mi, all things considered. It's always nice being able to integrate my running in and amongst my other life commitments.

Welcome to 2008
On other running related fronts, I have decided to join my wife for a couple of days at the end of the month in Costa Rica. She is going to visit her brother and his family who live there. I was previously on the fence, but getting away together even for a short trip will be good after all the other things going on in our lives. This means that I won't be joining the Fremont Fat Ass 50K, but I will be planning my Quad MP the weekend before. I will post more details on it later. Also, my wife said I could sign her up for a local 5K so I will also be looking for one of those as well.

For better or worse, 2008 is under way. I have lots of plans for my running and lots of things going on in other areas of my life as well. Meeting goals as well as commitments, having fun while dealing with responsibilities and integrating work and play are the things that keep life interesting. Here's to a very interesting year (though, hopefully, not too interesting).

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Themes, Goals, Plans and Aspirations

There are a slew of races listed over there on the right side of this page in the "Under Consideration" category, far more than I could reasonably do this year. With so many ultras, both classic and new, these are only a fraction of the full list that I have really considered. To get through the myriad options I needed something to guide me at least into the first part of the year. If Western States had happened that would have set my initial plan for the year. Now, that will be 2009. My initial conception was to maybe go for some fast times to start things off. Establish a more serious marathon PR, do a sub-5 hour 50K and then try for under 9 at AR50. However, somehow I allowed myself to be talked into signing up for the Coyote Two Moons 100 in March. This race with over 28,000ft of climbing and a very unique format sort of sets both the underlying tone as well as the plan for the start of the season.

So my theme for the start of the year will definitely not be "fast" with the Two Moons ultra as the initial target. I have therefore decided that the theme to start the year off will be "hard". This also fits with one of the other ultras that I definitely wanted to put on my schedule which is the Diablo 50-miler. In general, I think going for difficulty rather than speed sort of suites me better anyway. I will never be a super fast distance runner, genetics has assured that. However, strength and perseverance are more up my alley. I love the idea of events with unique and/or interesting challenges. So the start of my year will be about hard runs and difficult races.

I got a good start on this theme during my final run of 2007. I had a few hours to kill before our planned trip to the central coast for New Years Eve so I decided to get my final run of the year up on Mission Peak. I also wanted to measure the distance of a particular route for a run idea I have. It was a windy day, but I didn't realize just how windy until I was out there on the trail. Luckily, I wore some extra layers, but the Underarmor and running vest weren't going to help running into those incredible breezes tearing down the hillside. At times I could barely move at all. Mostly it felt like trying to run on a treadmill set at 30% incline with the air-conditioner on full blast. I don't think I've ever worked so hard getting up that climb. At the top of the peak the wind was so strong I felt like I was going to be blown off. I had to hide below the peak from the wind in order to get my camera out. The main reward for all this work was that the wind left the entire Bay Area as clear as could be.

With my theme being one of difficulty, I thought I should try and challenge myself this year in my goals as well. One of my major goals is to try and complete four 100 milers this year. I did two last year and want to up the ante. Also, I like the idea of doing one each season of the year and sort of wrapping everything else around them. I also want to do some tough 50 miler or shorter runs including maybe one or two of my own design. Another goal of mine is to get better at the uphills. I want to increase my speed and efficiency especially when power-hiking. I would also like to up my weekly mileage to maintain more consistently around 60mpw with a few key weeks in the 70+ range (not including 100-mile races). Of course, most importantly, I would like to run consistently throughout the year keeping injuries at bay or at least under control.

Training Plans
I've already started one bit of training that I think will be key to meeting a few of my goals. In order to increase my mileage, become better at uphill pace and not spend more time away from home, I am going to start hitting the "dreadmill" more often. While taking time off from running recently I started doing some fast-pace walk training on the machine. Basically, I try to see how high an incline I can maintain a 4mph pace or how high a pace I can maintain at the top incline. Right now I can keep the 4mph pace at 12% incline. At 15% incline, I can keep about 3.6mph. I'd like to try and increase my 15% pace and make 4mph feel easier at the lower inclines. I figure doing a few hours a week of walking between these inclines, working my pace will give me an additional 5-10 miles per week. It should also help my walking efficiency and, finally, it is something I can do at home or at the gym with my wife.

Another thing in the training category that I want to do more consistently is cross-training. My wife is starting to get back into swimming and we went together the other night. It was a great recovery and full-body workout. I'm going to do yoga once a week and do more active recovery as well. On the weight and nutrition side, I'll just say that I want to be "better". I want to seriously try and keep the sugar under control and keep my energy, health and weight consistent. I'm hoping that keeping consistent mileage and workouts should help with this as I generally eat better when everything else is maintained. However, I am going to try to stay away from the "white stuff" meaning, white flower foods, white rice and sugar. These are my two downfalls in terms of nutrition.

Well, I already mentioned that I am going to try and focus on one 100-miler per quarter so I will look at my runs/races in those units starting with the next three months from Jan-Mar. I am really still in a re-building phase right now so that is what January is about. Right now I have the Fremont Fat Ass on schedule as my first actual ultra, but that may change. My wife will be in Costa Rica for a short trip and I may decide to join her. Other than that, I am planning a self-designed Quad-MP (Mission Peak) run that will do 4 loops up to the peak and back. I will work out further details and post here for anyone wanting to join me, but it will either be on the 19th of Jan or sometime in Feb (perhaps both). This should be some good hill training as the route I am looking at will be a little over 32 miles and have over 9000ft of climbing. Speaking of Feb. I currently have two PCTR 50K events on the list. I will most likely only do one of these seeing as they are less than a week apart. However, that might be a good challenge in-and-of itself. I am definitely going to put Skyline Ridge 50K on my final list as it is 3-weeks from Two Moons to be the perfect "last long" training run. However, I am thinking that maybe I will show up early and do some extra miles to make it more like a 40-miler or something.

I've decided that my second quadrant of training will be geared towards the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-miler in July. Right now April through early-June are dominated by some of the tougher 50K and 50-mile ultras. Diablo 50 is a definite. Hopefully, I can recover from Two Moons in 3 weeks and be ready for that beast. I read about this race years ago and having grown up on the mountain, it has always been a desire of mine. It was too close to Miwok last year for me to do it. This year it is a priority. If I get into Miwok again I will do that, otherwise I think I will shoot for Zane Grey 50-miler in Arizona which has even more elevation gain that Diablo. I also want to do Ohlone which I had to miss last year and want to return to Mt. Diablo 50K which seriously kicked my butt last year having been ill the week before. Other than that, I think I will need to find some way to get out and do some runs at altitude during late June and/or early July. I want to be better prepared at least mentally for higher elevation of TRT.

I think that repeating Headlands 100 is not in the cards this year. If I do TRT, I expect to need at least a full month before running a second 100 miler. However, I really like the looks of the Cascade Crest 100 in Washington. It looks beautiful and challenging. It's the only west-coast 100 that fits my schedule for Fall other than Angeles Crest in Sept. I don't think I am ready for Plain 100, though it seems like my kind of race and will likely be on my 2009 list. I want to run the Monta
ña de Oro 50K near my new place in the central coast, but I think it is likely too close to CC100. It looks like the Skyline-to-the-Sea 50K is going to be in Sept and that will definitely be on my list once it is finalized. The later in the year I look, the less definite things appear. However, I will definitely return to Dick Collins as I like the idea of having one race that I do every year and this one happens to fall right around my birthday so it will be my first race as a 40-year old. Wow.

For my final 100-miler I am thinking either San Diego or a return to Javelina. San Diego's date isn't finalized, but it is usually in late October. I like doing new races and having the final big race in October gives lots of end-of-year recovery time. The other option is to go back to Javelina which was a lot of fun. It will be later in the year this time and likely not as hot. If I do this one, I will have to shoot for a sub-23 to better last year's finish. This would likely to keep me away from either the Quad Dipsea or the Santa Barbara 9 Trails as a final race. However, all of that is so far in the future that anything could change. I could end up mixing everything up near the end, I could end up wanting to do less races and more solo runs, I could get caught up in the fever doing more 100's than planned, or I could end up injured. Who knows. Right now the most likely case has about 11-12 races on the schedule. This is about the same as last year, but more of the longer variety.

It's time to get down to training. I've got a new GPS watch and custom orthotics and I just did my first week with greater than 45mi since October. While the storms look to derail my original plans for this weekend, I am focused and ready to get back on a training schedule. Stay tuned for reports and details...