Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Other Six

taper: ta·per \ˈtā-pər\ (vt): to become progressively smaller toward one end, to diminish gradually

Hit with yet another head cold (how many is that this year?), I certainly haven't gradually diminished my miles. My running after Mt. Diablo could better be described as a cliff than a tapering off. Once again I have to console myself with the reminder that I have been getting some forced rest before my big race as I spent more time in bed than on trail.

How did I come to this sorry state of affairs? What manner of daemon remained at work after my run in with the devil on the weekend?

Keeping with the biblical allusions, my fall was due to something reminiscent of the earliest sin on Monday. I picked up my son from basketball practice at noon and we stopped at Panera Bread for lunch. Trying to avoid the dreaded "I ran an ultra, I can eat anything today" syndrome, I opted for the Strawberry Poppyseed Salad and chose the usually-quite-healthy side option of an apple. The salad was descent, but as I walked toward the car, I took the first bite of the apple. It didn't taste quite right. It wasn't rotten. It just tasted a bit more acidic than usual. I thought maybe it was maybe my taste buds being weird so I tried another bite. Nope, still "funny". I forced myself to eat a little more as the salad left me still a pit peckish and I wanted to deter myself from making bad food choices later in the day. However, the apple started to turn my stomach. I rolled the rest in a paper napkin and put it aside. Well, the rest of the day my stomach just didn't feel quite right. Not wanting to go into nasty details, I'll just say that by that evening, I was making frequent mad dashes for the nearest restroom. Not a pleasant experience, especially in the middle of grocery shopping after work.

The stomach thing was cleared by the next day, but I think the combination of food poisoning and the recent ultra left my immune system in a pretty vulnerable condition. At least this is what I attribute to my coming down with this nasty cold. I'm sure the deeper truth is that I am being punished for my sins. I mentioned hubris during my race, but lets see how I've managed to live up to the rest of the deadly sins over this past week.

Sloth: Well, this one is pretty obvious since I did almost nothing especially in terms of exercise since the race and coming down ill. Furthermore, my son had a basketball tournament on the weekend which meant I spent most of it sitting as well.

Wrath: I could say I that I was angry with myself. However, that's a bit of a cop out and anyone who has seen me at one of my son's basketball games knows that I am prone to the occasional outburst when the ref makes a bad call (please place in your mind an image of my wife rolling her eyes at that bit of understatement). Let's just say I am a passionate fan, OK?

Gluttony: Between the basketball tournament and Father's Day, it wasn't exactly a weekend of eating well. Good habits go out the door when the routine is interrupted. Besides, I'd never seen a carrot cake pancake before. Come on now, what's not to like about that? Carrot cake! Pancake! Still not convinced? Oatmeal-spiced pancakes filled with diced Granny Smith apples, raisins, carrots, coconut and crunchy walnuts. If that doesn't sell it then how about three simple words. Cream cheese icing! Just go vote for it and celebrate IHOP's 50th anniversary.

Greed: Well, I did spend a pretty penny on gear Friday night at REI so I was pretty obsessed with the acquisition of material things. Among other things, I bought a cool insulated bottle, a very versatile piece of head/neck wear, and multiple pairs of the Nuwool Ijnijni Outdoor Tetrasoks. Of course, the greed sin could also refer to the little fortune cookie prediction I have been carrying around in my wallet since Sunday. Usually they are quite general and vague, but this one was very, very specific. It reads, "you will have gold pieces by the bushel." How do you like that? Tell me if that wouldn't have you reveling in wanton thoughts of greed.

Envy: Hmm. This is a tough one because I don't see myself as a particularly envious person. I have a pretty darn good life so what's to get all torn about? I told my son that all I wanted for Father's Day was to watch him have a good tournament. He played the best he has in some time and his team ended up winning the whole thing. I could say I was envious of those who actually got some running in this week. But, even there, my wonderful wife insisted we do a little run on Sunday evening when we returned home. A nice easy 5 miles on the levee trail. Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the most Aristotelean of Christian philosophers, described envy as "sorrow for another's good". While I am, in fact, a confirmed atheist, this particular sentiment certainly expresses something that, in my personal philosophy, I would rate as one of the highest moral sins. Especially since I tend to see "hatred of the good" in many areas of our society where our predominantly egalitarian-obsessed culture does not. But, this is not a post on philosophy, it is about confessions. And, truth be told, I catch myself in envy, in many small ways, all the time. Perhaps its envy of those people who can eat the stack of pancakes and never gain weight despite lack of exercise. Maybe it's wishing the other team messes up rather than just wishing my son's team plays better. In whatever its manifestation, it is so easy to get caught up focusing on others rather than being at peace with all the good that exists one's own life. The reminder of Disiderata has always hung on a plaque in my family's bathroom since I was a kid and it always reminds me of my father. Happy father's day, Dad. Sorry I couldn't spend it with you.

Well, there you have it, my sins. Huh? What's that you say? Lust? I forgot lust? Come on now! This is a family-friendly blog. I suppose I could post some barely-safe-for-work photos of myself nude on the trail like my friend Catra. Somehow, I think the feelings they would evoke in my readers would be anything but covetous. I'll just stick to good old "gear lust" as something with which I am a bit more comfortable. I also bought a new Nalgene resevoir for my Ultimate Direction pack. These are my favorite replacement reservoirs and the smaller size should be perfect since I plan to carry one handheld as well. We also purchased a Silva Tech4o accelerometer watch for my wife. She thought the GPS units were a bit much for her. We haven't tried it out yet, but it claims 95% accuracy and I'll report on it once we test it.

OK, that's enough about gear for now. I'm getting a little warm just talking about it all :-). Speaking of warm, I really need to figure out my drop bag strategy for Bighorn soon. I will be taking Wednesday off to make sure I have everything together. Besides just having to deal with the expected cold, wet, muddy conditions, we have now been informed that the course has been changed. It turns out that they still have quite a bit of snow up in the higher elevations so the planned turnaround point has been altered and we will be doing an extra loop to Riley Point (8500') early on as well as an extra out-and-back at Footbridge and another trip up the steep 2.8 miles to Riley on the way back. Also, the final turnaround point has been up to Leaky Mountain since the snow starts where that final climb would have been. I think a picture will say much more than any of this description ever could.

Aid Station Closed:

Am I worried?
A little.

Am I excited?
A lot!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Certain Symmetry

Mt. Diablo 50K 6-8-2008, Elevation - Distance

By many standards, Mt. Diablo isn't a particularly large mountain standing a little under 3900ft. However, the 7 mile course from that Sarah and Wendell have plotted from the bottom to the peak entails well over 4000ft of climbing with more than 1600 of it coming in one relentless 2 mile stretch of single-track that encountered before you are even warmed up. After that you have only a very short, but extremely steep respite downhill on firetrail that leads to a more moderate climb to the first aid station. After that you get to enjoy the short tease of the only rolling section of the course before the final 1000ft grind to the in a little over 1.5 miles, much of it on loose gravely trail that you get to share with those faster folks charging towards you on their way down. The return trip to the start avoids the bottom single-track and opts for the more bone-jarring, hard-packed firetrail.

On most courses that have multiple loops there is a familiarity aspect that makes the second trip seem a little bit easier than the first. This is definitely not the case here. Everyone I know who does this 50K for the first time absolutely swears that the hills are longer, steeper and more technical on the second trip to the top. In fact, I think it is almost a tradition to go out too hard thinking "this isn't so bad" on your first leg only to pay for it dearly on the second as the heat of the day sets in. This was certainly the case for me last year when I did this race. This year I was smarter. I knew what to expect. I also wasn't entering this after a stomach virus like last year. So, I took it easier on the first loop. I did more power-hiking. I monitored any potential cramping closely and also used my recent Ohlone experience to make sure I handled the growing heat well and stayed hydrated. Even being more conservative on the first loop, I returned to the start more than 5 minutes faster than the previous year.

Of course, I didn't take a nasty fall this time during that first loop. I actually made it a goal. Last year I was focused on getting close to a 7 hour finish (before I got ill). This year, I stated my goal as to "just not draw blood." Of course, anyone who knows me realized there was a time goal in the back of my mind, but I wanted a stated goal of a different type in order to avoid the dreaded overconfidence of a good first loop. The second loop was definitely harder, especially the top part of Back Creek. But, I was mentally ready for it. I powered through and made it past that typical 4-hour low. The heat was definitely raising and I popped an extra S!Cap and drained both my bottled before the aid station, but not too far back. Things went well and I found myself back at the peak at just over 5:30 race time.

An hour and a half for the final stretch of less than 8 miles.

Mostly downhill.

All I had to do was 10 min/mi average and I had a sub-7 hour in the bag.

This was SO going to happen.

I flew down the steep single track from the peak. Focused and cruising, huffing out "thanks" and "good job" to those coming up.

It levels out a little and there's a face I recognize.

"Good job!"

"You too!"

What was her name again? Darn it, can never remember. Check the list when I get to the bottom. Man, I'm moving. Wonder what time I'll make it in. Can I break 6:50? 6:45? Maybe...




I get up from the dirt as quickly as possible and hope awkwardly around the trail trying hard to keep my left calf from seizing up. I manage, but just barely. It is going to be an issue the whole way down. Beautiful! Nice job, Steve! Patting myself on the back before I'm even half way down the mountain. Isn't hubris one of the seven deadly sins? The devil strikes again!

My penance came shortly as about 2 minutes further down trail, I come upon the runner in front of me, a young triathlete doing his first ultra, lying on his back in the dirt. I stop and offer a hand up. He looks up for a few seconds in confusion before accepting the assistance. I ask if he's OK and give him the once over. He seems fine with just a minor cut on his palm. I think he was maybe confused by the very different competitive ethic between triathlons and ultras. I stick near him for most of the rest of the way to the aid station and have a bit of conversation. When I know he is being taken care of I make haste out of there. It is about 6:05 and I have some business to finish here. I know it took me a bit over 40 minutes from here the last time and I am figuring 45 for this trip so long as my calf behaves.

I am very familiar with this fireroad down having run and/or biked it more times than almost any trail other than Mission Peak. I am even prepared for the last mile and a half which just doesn't seem to be downhill even though the elevation profile assures you it is. I roll into the finish in a little under 6:51, dirty, scrapped and bloody, having once again paid my dues to the Devil's Mountain.

Despite the fall, it was a very good race overall. I finished on the other side of the 7-hour mark than I did the previous year. I should now have a nice scar on my left thigh to match the one I acquired on the right side last year. And, just to complete the symmetry of the repeated event, to go along with last years pre-race stomach virus, I managed to acquire a nasty little case of food poisoning or something the day after the race this year. Luckily, it was nothing that lasted, but my defenses do feel a bit more weakened. With Bighorn just a week and a couple of days to come, I think that my taper is going to look a lot more like a cliff. No worries here, a week of rest will be good.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bulking Up

Monday was Memorial Day (yes, I am way behind in my reports) and Freddy's team had the potential for a full day of games if they went all the way in their tournament. Unfortunately, they only made it to the quarter-finals. It did however, let us enjoy a bit of the nice weather we had on this last day of the long weekend. After some errands, I did a 4 miler with my wife and then headed right back out to knock off another 8 miles on my own. My legs definitely thanked me for the two days of rest I'd given them and I was very happy to start the week with a nice 12 mile day. Since I wasn't going to get a 50 miler in before Bighorn, I decided that this week would be a big mileage week followed by some standard mileage going into my 50K the following week. I had the idea in my head to bulk up my miles and shoot for a 70+ week. I don't know that I have ever notched greater than that number in a pure training week (i.e. not including weeks with 100K or 100-mile races).

The remainder of the week progressed along fairly normal lines (3 miles w/Zane Tue, 8.5 Wed, 8.5 Thu., 5 Fri) and I was heading into the weekend with 37 miles. My wife's schedule called for 8 miles on Saturday morning and I figured I could knock off another 8-10 easy miles in the afternoon. That would put the 70 mile goal within fairly easy reach without the need for a crazy long run on Sunday though I did want to hit some good hilly trails. Once again, my wife continued to impress me (while continuing to ignore my conservative advice) and went on to do 9 miles on Saturday even battling through a side stitch late in the run. However, she said her legs and everything else felt fine and the coming week was a planned "back-off" week for her. I had not pre-formed idea about where to run in the afternoon and just figured that wherever I could get it in would be fine as long as I brought my miles up over 50 before Sunday. Zane was heading to Miami in the morning for work and needed to head to the office in the afternoon to prepare. That gave me the idea to head over to my default Penninsula location of Purisima Creek. A nice down-and-up there would give me 8-10 miles as well as some good hills. I promised myself to take it easy, but would allow extra miles if I felt it (that would just be less required of Sunday).

Driving up Skyline the fog grew ever thicker as I watched the temperature gauge creep down into the 40s. There was certainly not going to be any heat training on this run! I brought my moeben sleeves (Miwok) and gloves as well as my windbreaker (Firetrails). I also decided to use my hydration pack on this run to test a different bladder in it. I have some new gear updates/changes recently, but I'll leave those aside for another post. At first I headed out with only the sleeves and gloves, but as soon as I entered the deep trees it was not only extremely cold, but I was getting wet from tree drippings. I immediately headed back to the car and donned the jacket that I ended up keeping on the entire time. As I headed down trail, I realized that, while I wouldn't get any heat training in, I might actually get a little mud training as things were quite wet over here. It made the trails very soft and added to the always enjoyable running in this park. For those in the know, I started on the North Ridge Trail then headed down the wonderfully switchbacky (?) Whittmore Gulch Trail. This descends about 1500ft in just under 4 miles. Always a good way to start a run. The original idea was to head back up Harkins Ridge and back over to North Ridge with maybe a little extra mileage for 8 total. However, I was feeling so good upon reaching the bottom that I decided to head up the Purisima Creek so I could cut over on my favorite Soda Gulch Trail and get more like 10 miles in. In fact, I was feeling so good upon reaching the Soda Gulch intersection that I continued climbing for another mile or so before turning back around to head back to my start point on the wonderfully rolling single-track. Despite the cold, I had a great run and managed to take it easy on the near-3000ft of climbing. The final tally for the run put me at right around 13 miles. This made my weekly total 59 and put an audacious idea into my head.

Sunday morning I had to be up at 4am to get my wife to the airport. Unfortunately, I didn't get to bed early and 3 hours sleep was not what I wanted to finish my big week of running so I went right back to sleep upon returning home. It was that good, deep, Sunday morning type of sleep and it was lovely. I finally rolled out of bed around 11 and took my time getting things going. However, I eventually got my act together and 2pm found me in Sonol running across the bridge onto the Ohlone Wilderness Trail. The goal was distant Rose Peak, the high point of the recent Ohlone 50K and one of the highest peaks in the area at just under 3800ft. I basically followed the path of the recent race, but took a few exploratory excursions onto side trails both to satisfy my natural curiosity as well as to add some extra mileage. The weather was the opposite of what I had experienced on the other side of the bay just a day earlier with clear skies and warm air. It wasn't quite as warm as my last trip here two weeks prior especially with the nice cooling breeze. I worked on my uphill pace and just enjoyed being out there on the trail alone. I don't think I saw another soul beyond the first 45 minutes. I reached the peak after about 10 miles in under 2 1/2 hours then headed down to Maggies to refill my pack and start the trip home. I took a few more short excursions on the mostly-downhill return trip. I was really in no hurry as I was so much enjoying the trail. But, I did get a late start so eventually I had to pick things up and get home to take care of dinner for Freddy. After a little more than 4 1/2 hours of running, I returned to the parking lot feeling exhausted and fulfilled, about 21.5 miles and over 5000ft of climbing. Just as I was heading out, my phone rang. I knew it was Freddy and he was probably wondering about dinner. However, rather than his usual query of "what's for dinner" he immediately asked, "can we go to sushi?" Hmmm....fish for protein, rice for carbs and a nice muscle relaxant to wash it all down. How perfect is that!

Oh yeah, and my weekly mileage total....80.7 miles. A new PR! The farthest I've gone in a week that didn't include a 100 mile race.

This week I have been taking it fairly light, but not too light. I don't plan to race hard at Mt. Diablo so I am still targeting close to 60 miles for the week including the race. I expect to be running on tired legs, but then it will be taper time so this is the final training push.

Monday, June 02, 2008

The Downward Spiral

OK, so I had this crazy idea that, after having such a good race at Ohlone, I could launch right back into a normal 60-mile training week. I've been wanting to "bulk up" my training leading up to the Bighorn 100. It will be the first 100-miler without a 50-miler within 3 weeks of the race. I will be doing the Mt. Diablo 50K as my last long run before I taper. I plan to run Saturday before Diablo and to keep a normal training week leading up to that. However, my idea (I can't really call it a plan) after recovering from Miwok was to maintain my weekly mileage in the 60+ range integrating both Ohlone and Diablo without missing a beat.

I took Monday off and then did an easy 3 miles with my wife on Tuesday night. On Wednesday I did my lunchtime run. Normally, I would wear my heart-rate monitor on my first "regular" run after a race to assure I kept things at recovery pace. I think that I figured with the Tuesday's run at such an easy pace I could skip the whole "recovery run" thing. This was probably not a great idea as I felt a bit more fatigued after my Thursday lunch run and certainly wasn't going to argue when my wife decided she needed to cut her evening run short. I'd make it up later in the week.

Getting out of work early on Friday before the long weekend was an opportunity to add a few extra miles before a busy weekend. Now that the Guadalupe River Trail is completely open north of the Airport, I decided to take it all the way past 237 and back. This trail offers some interesting long (though flat) run opportunities for me as it hooks up with the Highway 237 Bikeway which I can take all the way to Milpitas on the way to my house. It also ends close to the Alviso Marina which has some nice levee trails at the south tip of the bay. At any rate, I started this run off at a fairly easy pace for a medium distance run. However, by the middle of the return trip, I got that sensation where my legs just took on a mind of their own. Everything just kept slowing down and there didn't seem to be anything "there" to make them go any faster. I finished the run feeling wasted. But, with 32 miles for the week, I still figured that a good night's rest and I would be able to fit in 30 miles on the weekend.

The weekend miles were going to be a challenge as my son was playing basketball in a big memorial day tournament called "Rumble in The Bay." It was local and he had a big break in the Saturday schedule with a first game at 8:45am and a second game at night. That gave me some time, but there went the whole sleeping in idea. After his first game it was time to do my wife's long run. The plan was to do 6 miles, but she felt good and insisted that she be allowed to do more. OK, really she just ignored all my blathering about increasing mileage slowly and training schedules and blah, blah, blah... She simply turned left onto a path before we got to the car and kept going. It's not like I can really tell her what to do anyway. Besides, I knew that 7 miles was a big milestone for her as she used to do 7 mile runs often as a teenager. Unlike me, she is really quite good at pacing herself and never goes out too fast so I try not to worry about her adding miles if she feels it.

As the day wore on, I could tell that my body really wasn't recovered as well as I would have liked from the previous weekend's race. I kept thinking back to Wednesday's run and how I have felt as though my body had been in a slow, downward spiral since that run. I kept re-adjusting the math in my head from my planned 12-14 Sat. afternoon followed by 10 or so on Sun. If I only did 10 today, I could maybe do 12+ tomorrow...If I only did 6 today, perhaps I could find time for 15 tomorrow...if I just rest the rest of the day, can I fit it in tomorrow? Perhaps 2 runs tomorrow? Perhaps only 50 miles total?

During one of my brief lapses into sanity, I admitted that I really needed the rest and decided to just see how I felt the next morning. The morning brought my wife and I to the gym for some cross-training on the stationary cycle. I was reading an article in "Marathon and Beyond" by Joe Henderson talking about common training errors. When I arrived at the one titled "Don't be a slave to your running log", I just sort of stared at it for a while. It was clear what the right thing was for me to do. Even though my legs felt great after the time on the cycle, I decided that rest was what this weekend called for. I had Monday off and if I felt recovered enough I could at least start the next week off with a descent count.

It's funny, with all my worry and obsessing over my wife's miles, she was really the one listening to her body whereas I was the one locked into some arbitrary concept of a training plan. Her body was simply telling her to go further. Mine was saying "enough!"