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:
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.