Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Jump Start

Today's 16.5 miles marks five days straight running--first time in a few months--the past 4 all on trails covering 47.7 miles and over 9500ft of climbing. It's a little early, but I am going to declare this my first official week of 2010 training. I'll probably do something easy tomorrow and then take Friday off before the weekend. I'm not sure what I'll do this weekend. If I'm feeling ambitious on Saturday morning the Epiphany Run will mark the first official unofficial ultra of the new year. I mainly just want to log a good week of miles to start off the new year.

Today's run was one of those rare sampling of new trails. While looking for someplace to run before doing some errands over in Palo Alto, I discovered the existence of the Bay-to-Ridge Trail. It's an interesting idea even if it does require a start and initial miles on pavement. Once the path reaches Arastrodero Preserve it's pretty much all trail to Skyline Ridge. As a future project, I think doing a "Bay to the Beach" run continuing on from Skyline Ridge through Long Ridge and Saratoga Gap open spaces to link up with the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail would be pretty cool. I was slightly less ambitious today starting in Arastrodero and continuing up through Foothills preserve to Los Trancos. I'd run in this last park before, but the rest of the trails were all new to me.

Arastrodero is mostly open grasslands with wide smooth paths. There are some nice looking single track, but all were closed due to muddy conditions. Foothills is a true gem, but is only open to the public via Arastrodero. It has some excellent winding trails leading gradually up to the ridge through deep tree cover. Very nice. I had a great time on this extremely runnable trails. I took it pretty easy, however, since I had done Mission Peak the day before. I will definitely have to sample these places out some more as there were many side trails leading off in all directions and it isn't too bad a drive since it is right off Hwy 280. Best of all, the experience of cruising along new trails having to force myself to turn around and head back was just what I needed to rejuvenate my passion for running trails in the new year.

Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Perspiration's Inspiration

94. That is the sum total running miles I logged during the month of November. I'm over 100 for December thus far, but not by much. I always take some down time at the end of the year to recover both physically and mentally. This year has been a bit more "down" than normal. A busier usual life on both the personal and professional front has conspired with the usual holiday hubbub to leave almost no time for any weekday running. Well, that, and a near complete lack of desire.

After Javelina, I was trying to figure out what to do with the following month. Given that last year I spent the two months after this race rehabilitating a torn calf muscle, I definitely planned to take it very easy. I didn't want to take the month totally off from running; however, I wanted whatever running I decided to do to be about something. Perhaps I would dig up the heartrate monitor and limit myself to only very easy runs. Maybe I would only run when I could to a trailhead. In the end, I decided it was to be about inspiration; I would run only when I was inspired to do so whether it be by some interesting route, a new trail or just the return of the internal desire to move my feet.

I did force myself to take a full week off. Even though my legs felt better than they had after the previous year's race, I didn't want to tempt fate. The following Saturday, my first inspiration run came to me. Eschewing my watch, I placed my personal journal in my pack, put it on my back and headed out the door. The legs felt heavy, but I just kept them at a very slow pace. I was headed towards the Mission Peak trailhead, given myself permission to walk the whole way back if necessary. I headed up the trail taking the immediate right fork towards the less populated route. I headed up the Horse Heaven single track, but went off trail upon topping the first hill. There, on a rock overlooking the Bay, I took off my pack and sat. I spent the better part of the afternoon enjoying the view and writing. I had no concern for time and decided that I should go without my watch for the remainder of the month. Eventually I shuffled on home.

The next day I had a very odd inspiration, if you can even call it that. I hopped on the treadmill for 2-1/2 miles while watching a football game. I think I mainly just wanted to loosen my legs up after the previous day's run. The next weekend I had to wait for my wife to finish some work and so I went on a "run of opportunity" around the bay trail in Foster City. It ended up turning into a bit of impromptu speedwork as I kept pushing more and more as I ran along the flat path. I had no idea of the pace since I was without watch. The next day's inspiration had me putting the GPS watch back on the wrist, but not for myself. I was planning to visit my parents for dinner, but wanted to get a run in first. Upon learning that they would be watching my niece and nephew, I invited my sister's 10-year old son to join me on his bike. We traveled the flat, paved paths that run throughout Contra Costa County traveling a full 24 miles in about 4 hours. We had a great time stopping for ice cream at the turnaround point. I was glad I brought the watch because I knew the return trip would be filled with questions of "how far?" and "how long?"

The third weekend of the month consisted of just a couple of mid-length road runs that would normally be considered quite uninspiring. However, in each case I simply ran when the impetus struck. The final weekend was, perhaps, a bit more interesting. Having the Friday after Thanksgiving off, I headed down to Grant Park in San Jose. I hadn't run there in a long time, but it was a favorite destination back when I used to mountain bike. With a bit of rain in forecast, I found the park nearly empty. I saw one set of hikers as I headed out and then had the entire 13+ miles of trail completely to myself for the rest of the afternoon. Saturday I did a little 4 mile shakedown and then headed up Mission on Sunday for one of my favorite routes looping around the back side and heading out to Monument before heading over the Peak on the return.

The monthly miles may have been small, but every one was quality.

I'd intended to kick things back into training mode once December hit, but a continued busy schedule along with my old nemesis called "inertia" has kept that from happening. I started off with a descent week of 47 miles including a 23+ mile long run starting in Redwood City and going up to Skyline Blvd which was followed by 12+ miles the next day at Purisima Creek. Unfortunately, once the holiday's got into full swing the only thing that's gotten much of a workout is my liver. I do have this entire week off so I am going to make an effort to get on the trails every day. I'm also going to write a second blog entry this week ruminating on the past year's accomplishments and the coming one's goals.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


On various online forums I can be found posting under this odd pseudonym. It's proximate source is that I used it as my password throughout college until one of my friends (and fellow Unix hacker) snared me with a spoofed password program. Since it'd been made public, I decided to just use it as my public persona. However, its ultimate source goes back much further into my personal history.

I have always had a, I don't want to say fascination, so how about we call it an interest in the number 3. It's possible that it has something to do with being raised on things like this. But, my real appreciation of this integer came about much later. I was aware of many of its unique mathematical properties and an idea of the significance it played in various philosophic and religious contexts. Though, with no Internet back then, the scope of my exploration was much more limited than it might be today. In truth, I was really just a bored public school adolescent with a geeky mathematical fascination.

I made up some sort of "numerology" of my own based around the number 3. While it's possible some version of the full list is still written down on a scrap of paper someplace, lying at the bottom of a box buried in the back of a closet. I really don't know. I do, however, remember something about the initial bit:

1 = Existence (everything that has or will occur will happen at least once)
2 = Coincidence (a second occurrence demonstrates only that the first was not unique)
3 = Evidence (or perhaps even "proof" on my more optimistic days)

From there things went pretty far afield based on various mathematical operations beginning with these first few entries. This is not, thank goodness, a tale about the odd behavioral tendencies of my teenage years, so I'll just leave it at that.

It is a tale about my third time running the Javelina Jundred.


A Charm
I was quite happy when my request for bib number 333 was granted. I talked a bit about my goals in previous posts, but the most important one came down to proving to myself that I really knew what I was doing out there. Despite my passion for events like Plain where I feel locked in that classic narrative theme of "man versus nature", I also like the idea of having a 100 miler where I can actually gain some sort of handle on the distance. Not that I will ever apply the term "easy" to running 100 miles, but the combination of familiarity and the relatively few inherent variables at Javelina allow me to experiment with the other aspects of such an undertaking that are (more or less) under my control. It is the only 100 miler where I've demonstrated success at meeting my time goals. This year was to be the test, the "evidence" as it were.

Pre-Race Haste
It was clearly going to be a bit different this year given that the field was about twice the usual size. They had already enlarged it before Angeles Crest 100 was canceled due to fires and they allowed even more entrants. The check-in, briefing and dinner all felt a bit less low-key than previous years. They even had a guest speaker. Unfortunately, they also had much smaller dinner portions so Beat and I didn't stick around for the talk. We headed right to the traditional giant Safeway for some more eats, snacks and breakfast foods. I probably ate too much and too late, but that was something I wouldn't pay for until very late in my race. The rest of the evening was spent in the traditional manner of last minute prep followed by the early morning wake up call. Apparently, it wasn't early enough as we were forced into the overflow lot due to the larger than normal number of participants. It just meant less time waiting at the start.

"It really is impossible to run that first lap too slow"
I'd given this advice to a first-timer in an online running forum the week before the race. I'd repeated it again a few times the night before. We lined up closer to the back of the pack, knowing that sage advice is rarely taken, especially as it pertains to an event that is all about experience. It's taken me some time to learn this lesson myself. It has only been very recently, where I have started to understand what it really means to go out slow. It's served me quite well at my last three races. However, at your first 100, there is really no way to know. Until you've felt it, how could you know that the gradual slope in lap-1, that feels excruciatingly slow at your sub-12 pace would require enormous effort during lap-5 to even approach 15 minutes per mile? Even after you have felt it, it is difficult to convince yourself that a 1 minute per mile slowdown during the first 15 miles, can actually translate into a 3-4 minute per mile speedup during the final 30. Even with such knowledge, and experience, I still finished the first loop faster than I intended. However, coming in slightly slower than last year, I had confidence it wasn't going to be an issue.

Spectacular Spectating
The great thing about Javelina is that you can be both participant and spectator at the same time. The "washing machine" style loops--changing direction each time--mean that you see everyone in front and behind you on each lap. In the early laps this means you can play a little guessing game about who's going out too hard, who's gonna "reel 'em in" and who's in store for a spectacular blow up. The front-runners always seem to start out at a blistering pace. With fast guys it's hard to tell who can hold it and this year was no different. I watched a couple front-runners who looked "worked" early on manage to hang to the finish. I saw a very experienced ex-winner drop from the competition. There was also some young gun, who'd been holding second place, sitting in a chair mid race with head hung low. Finally, I was privileged to be present for the most incredible crushing of a course record I have ever witnessed. Further back in the pack things are a bit more predictable.

"That should be a clue"
While most everyone finishes lap 1 too fast, it's lap 2 that can be the real game killer. It's possible to smoke the first 15 miles, yet back off enough during the middle section of the race to still finish strong. That is essentially what I did two years ago. However, if you come into the 50K mark and utter, as one guy did to me last year, that you just set a PR for the distance, well, there's only one appropriate response. Lap 2 is where I watched people making their initial mistakes. It's also where I watched myself closely to not do the same. Going up the gradual slope I noticed that I was able to maintain a walking pace of 13-14 minute miles. If I'm walking that well, there is really no reason to run. Beat was chatting with some young girl trotting up ahead. Eventually he backed off and hung back with me. Apparently she was saying how she didn't feel like she was going too fast, a common perception at that stage in the race. The thing is, in the first 20 miles at least, you should really feel like you're going too slow.

This is the transition. I think about this race in thirds of 50K--the final partial loop isn't factored in because it is run purely with whatever you have left. I set splits for each 3rd. The first was 6 hours, but the goal here was "no faster than." I missed it slightly, finishing just under. The next two splits would need to be under their targets. If I was to have a shot at 22 hours, I would need to hit the 100K mark under 13 hours and complete lap 6 within 20--I knew those final miles could be done in a bit over 2. Mentally switching from "stay under this time" to "have to hit this time" does not mean, however, that I had permission to start pushing the pace. Lap 3 is still a time for restraint especially given that it is run in the heat of the day. This year was the coolest of the three I have run this race, but the temps still managed to creep into the mid-80s on parts of the course. My goal allotted me about 7 hours for each of the next two 50Ks. This meant I would need to hit the faster clockwise laps in under 3:30. I finished this one in about 3:25.

"The race doesn't start until lap 5"
If lap 3 is the mental transition then lap 4 is the physical one. At this point, my focus turned to strategy. Monitoring my body closely, the mantra weaving through my thoughts was to stay within a "solid, but maintainable" pace. After catching up with a couple of runners about half way through this lap--just before sundown--I was discussing how lap 4 is where the urge to push can be very strong, but the need to hold something back is still important. The real race hasn't yet begun. As if to punctuate my comment, the two of them took off shortly after our conversation only to drop from the race after the next lap. As night settled in, I was feeling good. Leaving the last aid station, heading to the start/finish area, I could see I was coming in solidly below my 13 hour target. My mind drifted to lap 6. That was my critical slowdown last year. I began running that final loop over and over in my mind. I became fixated on it. So much so that I made my "big mistake" at the next aid station.

One can be "too focused"
As mental acuity dissipates late in a race, I begin needing to remind myself of what I need to do as while approaching an aid station. I usually have a list that I repeat in my head. I almost always end up forgetting something. My hope is just that isn't anything too critical. I had a strong desire to get out of the 100K aid station in less than 13 hours so I set a plan for super-efficiency: drop the bottles off to be filled, head to my bag, grab a few essentials, down the rest of my Frapuccino, quickly grab some eats on the way out and then get back on trail. I thought I'd hit everything on my list. A little over a mile into the loop I was reminded of what I had missed. I'd ran right past the row of porta-johns leaving the aid station. What would have been a quick 2-minute diversion eventually turned into a matter of urgency. I'm won't go into details, but my failure to "take care of business" meant that loop 5 took a full 4 hours with at least 15-20 minutes of it spent off trail. I did manage to get my GI system back in order before finishing the lap. I also switched to gels and soup for the remainder of the race.

As I mentioned earlier, last year lap 6 was my tough one. I don't know if my plan just hit right or if the slow lap 5 was a contributor, but this year I had a great lap 6. I decided to repeat what worked well during lap 4 which was to walk some of the early section out of the aid station, but then shuffle up the gradual slope. I was able to maintain the pace for pretty much the whole way. Not only was my pace great, but I actually enjoyed myself the entire time. So often, as ultrarunners, we have to resort to certain mental techniques in order to get through the more difficult aspects of these long events. Whether you call it dissociation, mind games or simply "phasing out", the effect is the same. You distract yourself and forget the present moments, letting time pace without record. While I've always found this an interesting cognitive phenomena, my most treasured times during an ultra are those where I manage the exact opposite, a state of total mindfulness. To be completely present, in the moment, observing both yourself and your surroundings when expectation would have you entrenched in pain and avoidance, is as close as anything to what I might label a spiritual moment. It's also the best I can come to explaining how I felt during this lap.

3 out of four ain't bad
I finished lap 6 in a just over 20:22. 22 hours was an impossibility, but I felt great and, besides, there were plenty of other goals from which to choose. Heading out 3 minutes later, I knew I could beat last year's time. It had taken me 2 hours and 10 minutes to do the final lap then and I knew it could be done faster. I started off easy preparing for the slow uphill grind. I decided that I was going to shuffle as much as I could, but still make sure I had energy to crush the final downhill. I reached Coyote Camp around 21:45, almost 15 minutes faster than last year. A runner and pacer had left just as I came in. I figured to catch them on the downhill. The first bit is not very steep so it doesn't quite play to my strength. I leaned into it and pushed just enough to keep the breathing heavy, but even. I passed them a mile or so in. I knew there was a short steep section just before it leveled out leading to the intersection. I was looking forward to it. I wanted to let go and put on some speed to help energize myself for the final stretch. Just as I hit this section, another runner/pacer pair appeared in front of me. I barely had time to call out "on your right" as I banked an outside turn to fly on by them. That was all I needed to kick it into high gear. Not only was I guaranteed my 10th 100-mile finish, my 3rd sub-24 hr and a PR for the course, but 22:30 had suddenly come into view. It was nothing but push the rest of the way.

By my reckoning, I ran the final 9.1 miles in under 2 hours and 2 minutes putting my finish time at 22:27:20. Hmm...that's an awful lot of 2's. Maybe it's time to pick a new favorite number?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Quick Check

Words and images are still swirling about in my brain, mostly during times not very conducive to writing (i.e. traveling down the highway at 65). Hopefully, enough will be retained for a report to spill out onto this medium in the not too distant future.

For the time being, here's a quick update on last weekends results from the goals I set for myself:

Finish my 10th 100 miler:
- Check

Keep the sub-24hr streak at Javelina going:
- Check

Beat my 22:41 time from last year
- Check

If the the stars all align, the desert smiles on me and the moon's bright light fills my soul, hit something around the 22 hour mark:

- Not quite.

After losing at least 10-15 minutes during loop 5 due to some GI distress, I had to push hard during loop 6 and the final 9 miles. I still managed to knock 14 minutes off last years time to break 22:30. Finish time was 22:27 and change and, even more surprising, another top-20 finish due to typically high drop-out rate.

Full results are here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Early Departures

This time tomorrow morning I should be at the airport in San Jose awaiting a flight to Phoenix for my final scheduled race of 2009. I like to take the month of December off from races and, given last years post-Javelina calf explosion, I am not planning anything for November either. The season is ending a bit early this year. I'll figure out what to do with the last two months when they show up. For now, I am focused on the final adventure of this excellent year of races.

Javelina is the only 100 miler I have run that just feels like "pure fun." Even last year when I had my eyes set on specific time goals and splits, it was still a consistently enjoyable run with few low points. It will be interesting going into this race for a 3rd time. With just under 15-1/2 miles of trail, I can pretty much envision the entire course in my head, step by step. I always enter races with some specific goals, but I am fairly casual about this one.

It's always possible I'm being a bit too casual. I'll pack my gear at the last minute tonight and training since my last 100 has been minimal. That's not to say that I'm taking the race lightly. I don't think that running a 100 miles could ever become routine. It is still a great adventure and there are so many things that can turn over such a distance no matter how many times you repeat it. From the start, one of my goals in doing ultras has been to bring my mind and body to the state where I could undertake these epic runs with a certain simplicity of intent. Distilling life down to just the bare essentials of "eat, drink, move" is perhaps the most appealing aspect to me.

I mentioned my training--or lack thereof. Since Plain, I have had only two weeks of 50+ miles which included just one 21 mile long run and a 50 mile race. Dick Collins Firetrails 50 is another perennial favorite, though I missed it last year. It always falls near my birthday so I get to participate in the traditional "run your age in miles" thing without having to do much planning. This year I really just wanted to see how my fitness had held up since Plain and get a 50 miler in before Javalina. I was hoping to break 9:30 as I did 9:33 two year past. However, a bigger goal was to practice my pacing, especially my strategy of going much slower in the earlier miles and retaining some push for the later miles.

The night before Firetrails, I was about to charge my GPS watch and breifly considered ditching it altogether. Well, the gods of electronics must have been listening because about 10 minutes before race start, I tried to turn it on and it was "no go." I had go0d success at the Mt. Diablo 50K earlier this year running sans watch so I just smiled and went with it. I've started to really enjoy going slow at the start. With a familiar course, I especially savor the knowledge that there many people ahead of me going out too fast whom I can use as motivation later in the race.

I took things very easily in those early miles. Despite my inability to keep from charging the big downhill on MacDonald or crushing my favorite Golden Spike trail, I still felt very much at ease as I approached the climb up to Skyline Gate at mile 15. I continued to feel good even pushing up the big monster hill to Sibley. I saw the 20 mile slowdown coming and eased off bit heading up to Steam Trains, letting go my old man fantasies of being able to keep up with that woman a decade of younger and a much better climber than me. I was looking forward to the long, gradual downhill to the turnaround, but my hips had a different idea.

Things started tightening up. After the turnaround I tried stopping and stretching, but it was going to be a long slow climb. I hooked up with Brooke Stasiak whom I'd met at Quicksilver, but, unfortunately, my memory failed me at the time and she had to re-introduce herself. I missed her at the finish, but I really have to give thanks as it really helped to have someone to hang with during this low point. After some of the steeper downs and ups, I was moving a bit better, but still felt pretty tight coming into Skyline again at mile 37.

I succumbed to temptation and accepted a couple of Ibuprofen at this point. Whether real or perceived, they helped and after cruising the downhill, I was able to move well along the flat (and least favored) section through Redwood Park. I caught back up with Victoria Folks who had passed me during my low point. She was hitting hers with some knee pain so I suggested the same remedy that had me moving better now. I was now on autopilot planning my strategy for those final miles.

I know the trails through Redwood and Chabot like the back of my hand. I had joked earlier of running all out on mil 40-41 for my birthday since it was on Golden Spike, a trail I pretty much have "wired." My real plan was to start my push there. I would hit that trail and exercise my knowledge of every up, down, curve and bump in the trail to take it at a maintainable push. I knew that the key was to still keep something in reserve for the climb back up MacDonald.

As I headed up the big climb, I had a distinct strategy in mind. Many people are reduced to just walking this entire section. However, if you haven't completely spent yourself, there are plenty of sections to jog or shuffle. These are also key spots to pass people and get that extra mental boost from dropping a competitor late in a race. Over the top and down to Bort Meadows, I felt excellent. I did a time check there and was told it was just minutes until 3:00pm. With 6 miles left, this was it. Time to test the tank. I pushed down the hill and decided that the only someone pushing much harder was going to get an easy pass.

I hit the awesome Stone Bridge and headed into the winding, rolling section heading towards the final aid station. There was a guy right on my tail and I committed to see how long I could hold him off. I knew if I made it to the start of Columbine, there was a good steep descent that would allow me to open it up. I pushed, passing a few others having there low spots late in the race. By Bass Cove, and the final 3 miles, I decided to keep pushing though I had "gapped" anyone behind me at that point. I just had to maintain it over the final couple of climbs before the dam and then see what I had left for the last road section. I caught one more runner down the final hill and then just put it in cruising gear. With less than a mile to go I could see one final competitor in front of me, but I didn't have the wheels or the will to push more.

Without a watch I had no idea the time I was tracking, but I knew I had 9:30 in the bank. I didn't think 9:20 was quite possible. As hit the grass I could see the clock and the seconds ticking towards 9:22. That seemed plenty good to me. Not only had I beaten my goal time, I had also bested my Quicksilver time from earlier this year and, best yet, had run the final 6 miles in under an hour. I guess I accomplished the goal of having something left at the end.


Well, I hadn't intended this post to be a full Firetrails race report, but there you have it. OK, I guess it's not time to focus on Javelina. I don't have much to say going into it, but I'll just lay out the goals I have for this race. In order of priority, here they are:
  1. Finish my 10th 100 miler
  2. Keep the sub-24hr streak at Javelina going
  3. Beat my 22:41 time from last year
  4. If the the stars all align, the desert smiles on me and the moon's bright light fills my soul, hit something around the 22 hour mark.
Well, that's it. Have a great Halloween. If you stumble in from your festivities and want to flip on the computer to check out where all us desert dwellers are, they are supposed to have live results this year.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Plain un-Plain

The next 100 miler after Plain on the schedule is my perennial (3rd time) trek to Phoenix, AZ for the Javelina Jundred. Other than both being listed as 100 miles (and both being longer than said distance), these two races share very little in common. There are so many ways in which Plain stands alone in my racing experience, but none so much as in the preparation that was required. In different ways, preparing for Plain was both more and less than other races. The "more" part seemed almost overwhelming at first.

Weeks out from Plain, I felt like a complete and total newbie. It was to be my 9th 100 miler, but I felt more like I was tackling my very first ultra. The logistics seemed so daunting. My initial focus was on the maps and directions. Packing was just too much to consider until I could glean at least a basic understanding of the course. I am generally pretty good with directions and, for the most part, the times when I've missed turns in races were from lack of focus. There would be no cruising past intersections in this one; zoning out on the run was not an option. Still, I wanted to obtain as much of a feel for the route as possible from the topographical maps. As I followed the contour lines, I imagined the bits where I'd be climbing or descending for long periods and took special care to note the distances of all turns.

Harry sent me a copy of the GPX tracks for the course, allowing me to view it in Google Earth and the obsession was taken to a whole new level. I walked through the entire virtual tour of the course multiple times. The climbs and descents became more real. While I, obviously, couldn't see an exact image from the trail, I could stop at points and rotate the view to see surrounding peaks and valleys. Mainly, I just tried to get an image of the whole thing in my head, envisioning when I would be headed north or south, memorizing prominent features or landmarks. This was as close to a course preview as I was going to get. Once I felt there was a reasonable imagine fixed in my head, I turned my focus to the written directions.

The Plain 100 website supplies detailed instructions on all the trail intersections for the course including warnings about any potentially confusing bits. The directions supply the micro-view to the map's macro version. I divided the instructions into sections and pasted them into an electronic document formatted as a table. Each rectangular cell contained the text describing a single stretch between trail intersections or turns. I then added the mileage estimates at the below the text (overall and segment totals for the second loop). My intention was to cut these up like "flashcards" and put them into a Ziploc bag. I would then keep the current section at the front facing out. When I printed the whole thing out, I discovered that I could actually fold the paper in such a way that a simple unfold/re-fold operation would put the right section in front without the need to deal with dozens of bits of paper. It's a little hard to explain, but if you've ever seen someone read the Times on a NY Subway, you get the general idea.

I could only occupy myself so long with the course before I had to face the fact that I wasn't going to be able to avoid packing until the last minute like I usually do. At other 100 milers, say Javelina with its aid stations every 5 miles and two drop bags per 15 mile loop, you can just throw all the stuff that you might possibly need into a few sacks, plan your water needs between aid and figure it out later. The idea of having to fit everything I would need for somewhere between 55-59 miles--as much as 17 hours--into a single pack, left me more than a little fearful. I'd already decided to stick with my UD Wasp.

I wanted to have at least some "real food" and I knew from my experiment pacing at Headlands that bean burritos worked well for me. I also wanted to have some stuff that I knew I could handle and so Clif Bars and some gels also easy choices. Beyond that, I went in search of foods that were both compact, but calorie dense. It was weird to be counting calories on the back of packages, but looking for the highest values possible. Bonk Busters were a good choice and would replace my PB&J staple. I also added in some Promax bars, flattened bananas from Trader Joes and some beef jerky. This last is actually not very calorie dense, but I knew that sometimes it is exactly what I need late in a race. I didn't make a list of everything I took and now I wish I had. My goal was to carry around 3000-4000 calories for each loop.

My UD Wasp was about as fully packed as it can be. I filled all of the front pockets with food and other immediate needs (electrolytes, etc.). I attached an external storage pouch to the back with more food. I stuffed my lightweight shell and gloves into the mesh pocket on the back and strapped a second water bottle to with the cinch straps. I filled the back compartment with some more reserve food and backup supplies (extra batteries, etc.), but that space was limited by the 100oz bladder I was going to need to fill with water for the long stretch. I had another handheld I would carry for my NUUN mix. Basically, the pack was stretched to the limit. I only planned to completely fill the the bladder once at mile 30 so I figured some of the supplies would move from the pack to my gut by then.

For a drop bag it was a bit easier. In fact, easier even than for a standard 100. If I couldn't survive on what I could hold in my pack for the first loop, there was no point having much more in the drop bag for the shorter second loop. The drop was basically a resupply of what was in my pack with a few extra options. I threw in a change of clothes including a few warmer options if needed. I also figured to put in some special items that I would eat during the break. Beat and I agreed to split a pizza and I figured I'd make it my one risky food items. I'd had mixed results with pizza, but couldn't think of any other real food to put in there.


Well, that about sums up the prep I did for Plain. I started this post some weeks ago and, due to a busy work schedule, am just finishing it now that Javelina is less than a week away. I'm back to my usual procrastinator self. I'll put it all together some time before Thursday night. I'll also make sure to post something about my race goals such as they are. It seems such a casual race after Plain. Which is probably why I'm having a hard time getting motivated for serious goals. Well, that and the fact that my training has been, to use the vernacular of my father's homeland, complete shite. No matter, it's gonna be a load of fun.

Monday, August 10, 2009


As the pain seeps slowly from my memory, the image of this race and what it means to me will continue to take shape. It's been a full week since I was traipsing about the North Cascades with a pack full of food, taking water from mountain streams. The Plain 100 is a different type of race. It's difficult to be sure--a course that measures somewhere between 106 and 108 miles, 21,000+ feet of elevation gain/loss, no course markings, no pacers and a single aid station after the first of two different loops, somewhere north of mile 55. Everything else is only what you carry with you including map and directions because, despite a few Search and Rescue checkpoints set out on the course, only your fellow runners are allowed to help you figure out which way to go.

My schedule is pretty busy right now so I'm not sure when I'll find the time to write up a full report, but I would like to give some sense of the race and how I feel about it after being one of only 10 people to finish this year (out of 32 starters). The course itself is difficult enough what with the added distance, very technical trails and three major climbs up and over 6500+ft peaks. However, it's the format that adds another level of complexity and more than just a little bit of time to the trip. Course directions must be checked at each intersection (doubly or triply so during the night) . Filling up water and diffing food from one's pack are additional sources of time. Finally, there are the almost inevitable mistakes to be made in terms of managing hydration, nutrition or both. There is no next aid station where some kindly volunteer will suggest and then hand you "just the thing" to help turn your low around. Certain foods, such as fresh fruit or hot soup, are pretty much off the menu. If you don't like what you packed, you need to just deal with it.

While it may sound a bit miserable--and, indeed, it had its moments--I also found it quite wonderful. The area where Plain is held is absolutely gorgeous. In my personal race experience, it's natural beauty is rivaled only by Bighorn. Despite the fact that the trails are shared with motorcycles, they are narrow, challenging and surrounded by a pristine alpine environment. The guys who ride here are absolute experts and probably as passionate about the outdoors as any trail runner. The course traverses streams, runs alongside crystal clear lakes, through expansive meadows, into deep forests and over mountains that provide 360-degree views of the surrounding summits. Even with all this, what really sets Plain apart from other races has little to do with its setting. There's something I find just immensely satisfying about being able to traverse great distances through remote areas with only the pack on my back for support. It strikes at the core of why I fell in love with trail running in the first place. It's why many of my long training runs in the hills often best my race accomplishments in supplying fuel for the soul.

There's more than one tale to tell about a race that took more than 34 and half hours to complete. I sincerely hope I will find the time and inspiration to unfold at least some of them here. But, there are a couple moments that are key to explaining how special this race was to me. Some time during the second loop I remember saying that I was motivated to finish just so I would never have to return and do loop 1 again. I was thinking of that loop's pinnacle climb up Signal Peak--an arduous beast that goes up 4600ft in total with the initial 4200 ascended in about 4.5 miles all while carrying enough water to last 15 (for me this meant 145oz). However, even as I was saying it, I felt that it wasn't quite true. Confirmation came hours (and hours) later upon finishing. Despite the immediate feeling of having completed perhaps my most difficult race to date, I was never more certain that I would be returning to do it all over again. It usually takes at least days, if not weeks, before I want to give an event another try. Plain, however, I knew to lay in my future as well as much as my past even before I'd finished my first post-race drink.

Pacing and Chasing

The week after Skyline Beat, Harry and I got together for dinner. This is where Beat put the hammer down in his efforts to recruit us to join him at the Plain 100 this year. Despite my totally slacker month of July, I was easy to convince. Plain's ethic of self-reliance has always attracted me. Harry was a bit harder sell as he was still beating himself up over his DNF at States. By the end of the meal, we were all in. I did have one condition. I wanted Beat to let me pace him for the last 50 miles of Headlands the following weekend. I wanted to get a 50-miler in before I signed up for another 100. Since Harry was already pacing someone at the same race, we would all be out there on the course together.

Truth is, I had a twinge of guilt about being a pacer for someone who really didn't need one. It was almost as if I'd be sneaking into the race for free. Not only would I get to run the loop course once in each direction (the full race repeats each twice), I could sleep in Saturday, get some weekend errands done and run all through the night (which I love). To assuage my conscience I decided I would not partake of the aid stations. Harry and I had discussed how carrying our own food for the 50 miles would be good training for Plain where we would have to carry our own supplies on loops of 55 and 45 miles.

Saturday afternoon and I'm tired of waiting around so I call Harry to see if he wants to carpool to the race. After a little bad decision making, a lot of traffic and some more time spent waiting for an accident, we finally made it to the race. We missed the 50-mile race leaders coming in, but would still have plenty of time to wait for our mid-pack 100-mile runners. Or so we thought.

There was Beat standing around at the start/finish area. Only one possible scenario would have him there at that time in the race. His off-kilter walk and immediate attempt at explanation confirmed that he had dropped from the race. His knee had been giving him some trouble since his finish at Hardrock. When it started to act up during the race, Beat opted to not push it. He decided that making it to Plain in one piece was more important than hobbling to the finish of Headlands. I was bummed, but knew he'd made the right choice. Besides, I figured I'd be able to find someone else to pace if I just hung out for a while.

Jon Burg is someone I have known casually for a couple of years. He's generally quite a bit faster than I am so I don't see him much in races. For example, he ran Headlands as his first 100 the same year I did, but finished more than 3 hours ahead of me in 23:33. When he came in at the 50 mile split this year I went over to say hello and see how he was doing. After a brief conversation and explanation of my situation, he invited me to join him for the second half of the race. Like Beat, he certainly didn't need a pacer, but welcomed the company. I'd be heading out a little earlier than planned and also pacing a bit faster than expected.

The new course is a 25 mile loop that is repeated 4 times, twice in each direction. Like Javelina Jundred, the "washing machine" style loops add variety to the repeats. Reversing directions each lap turns climbs into descents and vis-versa. Then, as day turns into night, the familiar once again takes on a another new dimension. The modified course is very nice, covering most of the best trails in the Marin Headlands. As challenging as it is beautiful, the modifications add significantly to the overall elevation gain/loss. However, the familiarity and increased contact with other runners on the trail help to distract from the difficulty.

It was nice joining someone with whom I wouldn't otherwise get to run. Jon is a really nice, down to earth guy as well as a fairly talented runner. He's an even more talented walker. Pacing is always a unique challenge as it forces one out of the comfort zone matching someone else's cadence rather than running your own. It is generally compensated for by the fact that your runner is overall much slower during the second half of a race. While this was definitely true for Jon, I could tell right away that his long legs and ability to walk at a running pace were going to become a challenge for me as the night went on and miles accumulated.

With a 9:47 50-mile split, Jon was on pace to easily beat his sub-23 hour goal. However, as we headed out on the first loop after an extended aid station stay, he expressed some concern over how he was feeling and then complained of some stomach issues as we later on. Of course, this is a guy who can walk 15 minute miles uphill and 12 minute miles on the flats even when he isn't feeling well. I found myself constantly shuffling or jogging to keep pace with him. The weather was perfect and we had some very enjoyable conversation getting to know one another. Despite his issues and continuing to slow throughout the loop, Jon still knocked it off in a little over 6 hours.

Jon's stomach started feeling better during the final loop. About half way through he started upping the pace again (or at least it felt so). A key scene for this loop was when we were coming out of Muir Beach. Jon was striding up the steep climb while I was fell behind. A couple runners heading down the hill gave me a "good job" encouragement. I immediately responded by explaining "No, I'm a pacer trying to catch his runner. I need to do a better job." I managed to catch him, as expected, on the next downhill and pushed to keep up with him the rest of the loop. Jon ran a great final stretch passing one final runner in the last 2 miles to capture a top-10 berth in a time of 22:46.

I am very grateful to Jon for allowing me to "pace" him as I think I may have gotten more out of it than he. I bagged a 50 mile run for my training, managed my own food supply for the full course and, while I was hoping for a little more time on my feet, I definitely had a good workout covering the distance in well under 13 hours. After congratulating Jon and watching a few more runners come in, I hit my car for a nice nap. I spent the rest of the day hanging out at the finish line, cheering in runners and waiting for Harry. He ended up getting "the full meal deal" as his runner struggled with some problems. However, she was one tough woman and ended up giving Harry a lesson in the fine art of never giving up.

In the end, I think the race was a success for us all. Well, maybe not for Beat, but I guess he didn't have to learn about his knee problem somewhere in the Cascade mountains in the middle of an unmarked course. How much this run will help with Plain, I'll have to see. My training over the weeks that followed it wasn't exactly what I had hoped...

Skyline Byline

As I hinted at in my previous post, I decided to jump into a 50K race in order to kick-start myself back into training mode. Similar to last year, I was able to add the Skyline 50K to my schedule at the last minute. In fact, I added it at the very last minute signing up on race day. It sort of felt old school handing over a check and signing the waiver that morning--well, except for the fact that I had contacted the RD on Facebook the day before to make sure there were openings.

Skyline is a classic race that has been around in one form or another for 28 years held on the 1st Sunday in August. It was originally a point-to-point course starting from Tilden Park in Berkeley, but now begins and ends at Lake Chabot in Castro Valley. It travels through Chabot and Redwood parks sharing as few trails on the out and back sections as possible making it more or less a loop course (really a figure-8 to be exact). It has a lot of similarities to the beginning and ending sections of the Dick Collins' Firetrails 50. In fact, it is probably an excellent training run for that race if you are approaching it as your first 50 miler.

Despite all of this as well as the fact that it is part of the PA/USATF Ultra Grand Prix, the race does not fill up. I think that this has as much to do with timing as anything. By August, most experienced ultra-runners are just recovering from or preparing for their big summer races. Most people in the area new to the sport have chosen one of the popular early season 50Ks as their first race and/or may now be focused firmly on the 50 mile distance. It is popular among long-timers in the sport--long being a preferable adjective to old now that I am closer to 60 than 20. At my count there were 15 (of 122) finishers over the age of 60 at this year's race and one finisher, Bill Dodson, finishing 74th at the age of 74. With a finishing time of 5:52 he bested a few folks half his age.

My personal goal going into this race was not much more ambitious. In fact, since I hadn't run longer than 14 miles in over a month, I stated that anything under 6 hours was fine with me. Just as I did last year, I started out slow on the rolling paved section along the lake. In fact, I continued keeping the pace easy just cruising and chatting. Starting my races at an easy pace is something I have been working on. Ohlone was a good test earlier this year as I noted that each year I have run it, I have tried to go slower up the initial ascent, but always ended up reaching the peak around the same time. It is difficult to convince oneself of it mentally, but the fact is you loose so much less time taking it easy in the early miles of a race than you do if you are forced to slow down in the latter miles.

I look at it this way. Slowing just 30 seconds per mile during the initial miles can feel like an easy jog yet will only add an extra few minutes to the first hour or so of running. However, late in an ultra, the difference between an easy pace may and a solid one may end up being many minutes per mile. Not only will this eat up much more time, but it the mental impact of being forced (rather than choosing) to slow down creates a cumulative effect. This fact becomes more important the longer the race. However, it is still difficult to slow youself abnormally when everyone around you is blazing out of the gates. It takes practice.

This strategy paid off well for me in this race, as I ran well behind my normal pace at start hanging way back in the field. As the race went on, I passed more and more people, but my paced remained as close to constant as possible. A look at the splits reveals some interesting facts. At the first aid station there were more than 20 people ahead of me who would eventually finish behind me. By the last aid station, there was pretty much nobody behind me who finished ahead of me. My average pace at the first aid station was just over 9.5 minutes per mile, my average pace at Skyline Gate (mile 14.4) was 9.86 and my final average for the race was 9.79. I believe that is as consistent a race as I have ever run.

Once again the Skyline 50K was an excellent addition. I went in just planning a training run, but came out with my third fastest 50K time at 5:10:28. It was a beautiful day with cool, cloudy conditions for all but the final 2 miles around the race when the sun came out and stuck around for the BBQ. I had a great time and the race topped off my first 60+ mile, post-States week. It definitely served its purpose of putting me back on the training track.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Looking back, catching up

I intended to have written some further thoughts about Western States by this point.A busier than normal work and personal schedule combined with the fact that I find it difficult to write about running when I am not actively doing so, have left this space rather silent. As might be expected, the weeks after my race have not been especially active. I am focusing on recovery. July, like December, is a month when I generally "plan not to plan" as far as my running goes. I still hope to do some sort of retrospective on the different phases of my Western States race at least before my next race--whenever that might be. However, I'd first just like to get back in the flow of running and writing. Below are some of the "opportunistic" runs that I've managed to fit in over the past few weeks.

Lodge Run
I took the full week off after States. The next weekend was the 4th of July. With no plans, I started looking for last minute trips near the end of the week. I discovered that the Tenaya Lodge just south of Yosemite National Park was available so I booked a room for my wife and myself. We had no plans other than to relax and enjoy the weekend in a beautiful setting.

There really isn't much to tell about the trip, but I did get in my first run since the race on the fireroad (and a bit of single-track) behind the lodge. I wore my Vibram FiveFingers and clicked off about 7.6 miles. I have been using the Vibrams for my recovery runs and to see if they can help with the plantar fasciitis that I've been fighting most of this year. This was the longest run I've done in the them and was terrifically enjoyable.

The fireroad behind the the hotel went for quite a ways, but a few miles up there was a nice little singe-track trail that led to a small waterfall. In an uncharacteristic turn, I actually remembered to bring my camera on this run and snapped some photos along this section of trail.

Birth of a Trail Runner
Edgewood Park is an unassuming bit of open space especially given that it sits within one of the greatest expanses of publicly accessible land around. Between the 17 San Mateo County Parks and the 26 Mid-Peninsula Regional Openspace Preserves there are more than 72,000 acres of land and countless miles of trail available on the southwest side of the bay. However, it is within the relatively small expanse of Edgewood park where my love affair with trail running began.

I believe I've told the story here before, but to be brief, it was during my time working at an Internet start-up company in Redwood City. I had switched from mountain biking to running as my main form of fitness. Mostly I would just run on roads around work, but discovered the idea of trail running and wanted to do more of it. Mission Peak is my local park, but with an initial mile that climbs more than 700ft, it wasn't exactly beginner friendly. Besides, being in start-up mode, I was spending more time at work than at home. Discovering a local park with a variety of trail options was just the thing I needed to get me off the pavement back in touch with my love for the outdoors.

For various reasons, I've recently found myself back in the neighborhood of my (literal) old stomping grounds. My first Edgewood Park run in more than 6 years was a Tuesday evening romp wearing the Vibrams. The first thing I remembered was how much I used to hate the initial 1/2 mile of uphill. While it is still a bit of a climb, relative what I am not used to I actually had to keep myself from pushing the pace during this initial warm-up. The other memory that came back was the first time I was actually able to complete the 5-1/2 mile loop. I was set to repeat it on this day, but on the way back I decided to add a little bit more climbing going around one side of the Ridgeview Loop. Finally, on my way down I was reunited with my final (and perhaps fondest) memory.

The switch-backing singletrack trail in this park has just enough twists, turns, rocks and roots to be considered moderately technical for a new trail runner. I remember how I used to try and take the final downhill mile faster and faster each time I ran here. I remember learning the practice of scanning the trail up ahead of me, anticipating my foot placements and the excited, staccato breathing pattern following my footfalls along the uneven surface. This is where I learned that trails are run with the entire body, using arms and torso to control both speed and balance allowing me to eventually glide easily down trail where I had previously only tentatively tread.

Running this trail again in my nearly-bare feet was like a return to those days as I felt much more in touch with the ground and had to relearn how to move fearlessly at speed without the extra support of a traditional running shoe. Of course, I am a much more skilled trail runner now so it really was like the best of both worlds; a renewed sense of excitement and discovery combined with the confidence of experience.

Simple City
As the crow flies, Club Sport is about a mile and a half from my house. Driving generally takes about 3 miles, but on foot has required something more along the lines of 5 as the only pedestrian passable roads have required going far out of the way. That is, until they finally finished the 880 overpass. Now my gym is exactly 2 miles from my house by car, bike or on foot. As soon as it was open, I of course had to give it a try. The convenience of being able to run to the gym and back is great. It also puts the Baylands trail within accessible distance if I want to hit up a nice flat piece of dirt. Mostly, I just like the idea of using my feet as my vehicle of transportation. It is probably the only type of road running that I really enjoy.

Legs and Feet
A new road route is fine, but nothing is more satisfying than discovering new trails. Two weeks post States and jonesing for a real trail run, I found myself once again heading to the other side of the bay. I wanted to get in at least 12 miles or 2+ hours to test my legs so was looking for something more than Edgewood could offer. However, none of my mainstay openspace preserves were really enticing me. Then I noticed Pulgas Ridge. It was literally right across the street from Edgewood Park. I could do a run there, fill my water bottle at my car and then head across the street for some more miles in Edgewood.

New trails and old combined with a checkpoint in the middle to see how I was holding up. Aside from running more in my Vibrams, I had recently switched from my venerable Brooks Adrenalines to the more neutral Defyance shoes. A podiatrist on a mailing list had mentioned that he puts people in neutral shoes after they have been fit with custom orthotics. I have been wondering if getting "too much support" has been part of my foot problem. Besides, I never liked the idea of pronation control when running on trails. The stop in the middle would also let me see how my feet were holding up as well.

To make this short, I will just say that the trails in Pulgas were a blast. It started on an uphill, but after attaining the ridge it was about a mile and a half of fun rolling hills before the descent. I then went back up on a paved road and down another single track before heading back to the car. I got in about 6 miles and covered just about every bit of trail in this wonderful little park (skipped half of the Hassler Loop if you must know). I would definitely recommend this place with one caveat. If you don't like dogs, stay away. They have an off-leash area here and, for the most part, it extends de-facto throughout the park. This means there are a lot of people with a lot of dogs out there on the trails. After Pulgas, I headed over to Edgewood and did my standard loop with an option of going all the wait to the peak of Ridgeview trail. Came out with just under 14 miles and everything feeling fine, though my foot would start hurting later.

And, Now...
Since weeks have now past since I started this post and I am actually considering a race this weekend to kick myself back into training mode, I will just give a quick summary of the rest of the weeks. That second week summed up to a grand total just over 25 miles. The following week I was in West Virginia with my son for a few days for a basketball tournament, but still managed to get in a 38 mile week that included 12.5 miles of rail-trail and a 14 miler on Mission Peak once I returned home. Last week we were in Vegas for a tournament and between basketball, staying on the strip and temps that bested 105 degrees, I managed all of two whole treadmill runs for an 11 mile total.

Finally, this week, I feel like I am back into some sort of a routine. Back at work. Running in the evenings and my foot feeling better. Still, with just barely 100 miles for the entire month and a longest run barely over 14, it may not be the wisest thing to jump into a 50K. We'll see how I feel when Sunday morning rolls around. It's not like I am diving into a 50 or 100 miler on a whim. Then again, Headlands is next weekend...

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Short Report

Apparently, I am a mid-packer as much in writing about my races as I am in running them. A week out from Western States and I've not even started on anything resembling a race report. A quick look at the results will verify that it didn't go quite to plan. However, with a finishing rate just under 60%, I believe those triple digit temperatures helped to soil more than a few plans.

In my case the numbers tell the tale. Not only was I on target, even ridiculously so, all the way to the top of Devil's Thumb, but my pre-race statement that I may need to toss my pace chart at the bottom of El Dorado Canyon turned out to be prophetic. The chart below shows my planned times along side the actual results as well as the differences between. The finishing data comes mostly from the event webcast with gaps filled in from my GPS data. The early anomaly of Miller's Defeat is due to that aid station being moved back 0.8 miles to 35.2 on race day.

From Western States Prep

Here's the brief summary of events. I felt as if I ran the first part of the race well, running my own pace, putting forth a strong but sustainable effort. I felt surprisingly strong going up The Thumb and felt bad for the number of people I saw in trouble there, especially since most were much faster runners than I am. Despite the heat, I never actually felt hot which I believe is a testament to my training. However, heading into El Dorado, definitely was warm and, while I felt fine, the temperature clearly had a cumulative effect on my pace. Even though I was only 15 minutes overtime at Michigan Bluff, I'd pretty much given up on my sub-24 effort. I knew my early times were tight and I would've needed to be well below these limits in order to make a go of it. I decided to take the pressure off myself and just enjoy the rest of the race.

At Foresthill, I was still not too far behind pace. Even if the night cooled significantly, I didn't think making up 20 minutes down to the river was feasible. After that, the course wouldn't favor my particular skills and making up additional time would be near impossible. However, rather than taking my earlier advice to just go easy and enjoy the rest of the race, I got it in my head to see how long I could keep pushing. A sub-25 seemed a good goal. That's 24-something, isn't it? After a bit too much time in the aid station, I headed down California Street looking forward to crushing some more downhill singletrack. I continued making good time down to Cal 1 though the visibility of dusk and a slight feeling of dizziness slowed me some.

My mind was set on the river's cooling waters as I continued reminding myself to focus, dusk giving way to dark. As mile 70 approached, I felt myself struggling a bit and just as I could hear Peachstone aid station approach, it hit me. Not more than a couple hundred yards out, a sudden wave of nausea stopped me in my tracks. Leaning against a tree, I began retching uncontrollably. Nothing ever came up, but each time I tried to get going, my stomach would go into spasms. It was a number of minutes before I was able to pull it together and stumble my way in. Kate Morejohn was there waiting for me having been warned by a couple of runners who passed me.

I spent close to 20 minutes sitting in that aid station being waited on by amazing volunteers while I waited on my stomach to get back in order. I was eventually on my way, but the next 10 miles would be the same story over and over. I would get myself moving for a bit, but eventually too much effort would put my stomach over the edge and I would be forced to stop and then go easy for a while. Between mile 70 and 80, I lost over an hour's time both on the trail and in aid stations. The cooling waters of the Rucky Chucky seemed to help a bit and by the top of Green Gate my stomach felt somewhat better. However, I don't think I kept my nutrition up to what it should have been and was hit with one or two final convulsive spell along the Auburn Lake Trails.

I didn't feel close to normal until around Brown's Bar by which point I just wanted those final 10 miles done. I think the section between Highway 49 and No Hands Bridge was the only part of the final leg that I actually enjoyed. With nothing left over mentally from that tough night, I just had no push in me to do anything but just walk the final climb to Robie's Point. As I was finishing (and relatively enjoying) the last big downhill, I remember thinking that the difference between 26:10 and 26:30 no longer held any meaning. There would be no sprint to the end just a nice easy jog with a big smile for finishing and for being finished.

As usual, I bit longer than originally planned. I will probably still write some more details later as inspiration comes to me. There is still plenty of post-race analysis and interesting bits to ponder. The only thing I will say is that I am very happy and proud of how I ran this race. I pushed myself like I wanted to and managed to race hard for a good solid 70 miles. In the end, I may have just run a 100 mile race at a 70 mile pace or I may have been done in by a heat that took more than I realized. Like all of these races, it was a great learning opportunity and a unique experience that will always be mine.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sitting, waiting, wishing

Well, I am finally packed up and ready to go.

This morning, I turned this:

From Western States Prep

Into this:

From Western States Prep

After a few last minute charges to the store, I am ready to head up to Squaw Valley. I have a couple of hours until my ride shows up.

In other news, the weather looks like it will not be giving us the respite that recent days may have led us to believe. The current weekend forecast is for 102 in Auburn on Saturday. People in the know have said that it is generally a few degrees warmer in the canyons. I've been heat training in the sauna and by bundling up for my runs, but I still have no idea how my body will respond on race day. I may just be figuratively tossing my time goal into one of the rivers along the course while I literally toss my pace chart.

Here is the chart as it stands today:

From Western States Prep

If you want to follow along and see how close (or how far) I manage to get from these once hopeful goals, you can access the webcast on the race website. Apparently, you can even sign-up for email alerts that will send a notice every time I arrive at one of the checkpoints. It's kind of funny to think that I can be running through an area designated as "wilderness" and, yet, people can receive an email telling them exactly when and where I am.

Oh, and for inspiration, I'll be singing this in my head. It should probably be "Run" rather than "Swim", but it's an awesome song nonetheless.

Swim - Jacks Mannequin

Have a great weekend. See you on the other side.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Western States Race (p)Report

After running a 100-miler, I am inevitably beset with a certain level of ennui. Having just accomplished a big goal, it generally takes me at least a couple of weeks for any sort of inspiration to work its way back into my psyche. That, combined with the time it takes to recall, sort and make coherent the myriad of fading memories from the race means that my race reports are generally late, long and rambling. So, with Western Sates less than 4 days away, I came upon a brilliant idea. Why not write my race report BEFORE the actual race?

I know, it's a bit unconventional to "report" on something that has yet to actually happen, but think of all the advantages this approach has. Not only will people be able to read it immediately after I finish the race, but they could read it section by section as I am running. The report itself should be much more entertaining as well, unburdened by all those pesky memories. Some may lament the lack of authenticity of an account that precedes the events of which it reputed to tell, but, really, most of the best race reports are mostly fiction anyways. Heck, that whole fact/fiction distinction really looses its meaning somewhere around mile 82.347 anyway. I've even heard rumors that some famous books about ultrarunning might contain one or two truths that were slightly stretched, bent, contorted or at minimum received a small session of massaging.

Finally, think of the great boom writing this report now, days before the race, has for me. Not only will I be freed from the burden of recounting every excruciating detail of yet another event where I beat the crud out of myself for some time goal that will land me yet another entry in the annals of obscurity. I will also have a bit of insurance should my race produce less than desirable results. In such an event, I can just drag my beaten and battered body in front of a computer screen and pull up this report. Then, upon reading it, I can simply imagine that the ideal results described herein were the actual events that took place. Given my typical mental state at the end of a 100-miler, I can probably make a darn good go at convincing myself that the description below is actually what transpired. At minimum, I will a nice detailed account of the race I'd hoped to have run.

So, without further adieu, I give you my 2009 Western States race as it could and aught to (and hopefully, to at least some small extent will) be.


I headed out of the Bay Area with Harry and Martina who had scored us a condo right in Squaw near the race start. Thursday night was spent lallygagging about meeting up with people, Friday was more of the same with the pre-race briefing, check-in, weigh-in, etc. [Wait, why am I putting all this mundane detail in here? Certainly not in the name of completeness.]

Saturday morning, 4:40am, Olympic Village enshrouded in darkness, the climb up to Escarpment looming over us like a gathering storm. [Oh, that's good!] The runners are all huddled together near the start, a quivering mass of anticipation, like a single, giant organism held together by some unseen force, ready to break apart at any moment. [OK, now I think I've overdone it a bit.] Suffice it to say, the race eventually started. The front-runners took off in a howl, the rest of us an overexcited jog.

I have a rather complex spreadsheet that I used to calculate my splits. It breaks each section down into the major climbs, descents and rolling/flat sections. It allows me to estimate paces for each, add in time spent in aid stations and then it calculates the race time and time of day I expect, plan or at least hope to arrive at and depart form various locations. I'd given myself a pretty decent amount of time to complete the initial climb. Despite every effort at constraint, I was ahead of schedule at the first aid station. Its always difficult for me to hang back too much in an initial climb because I know that I tend to be faster on the downhills than 98.6% of the people who are the same speed as me on the uphills. That would probably be a more impressive figure if I wasn't such a piss-poor climber.

The whole initial section of the trail before Robinson Flat was new to me so the descent down to Lyon Ridge was a special treat. [Hmm, I just realized that there may be some difficulty providing a compelling description of a section of trail that I have never seen. Oh well, give it a go...] I flew down that narrow (or broad) section of smooth (or rocky) trail as it descended strait (or switch-backed) down the exposed (or densely forested) mountain. The scenery was amazing in the early morning light [I can safely say that, right?]

I had to pass a lot of people on that descent and I figured I would be ahead of my estimated 7:25am arrival time. I, had [watch those tenses] splits for all of the aid stations, but for the early section my focus was just on getting to Robinson Flat before my reasonably conservative 11:45am time.

I knew the next section to Red Star Ridge was a place to really try and keep my enthusiasm bridled. [hey, if it can be unbridled it can be bridled, right?] It's all rolling terrain, but it is also at 7000ft which makes a good recipe for toasting ones legs early on. My idea of restraining myself to around 12 minute miles (1:05 split) might have been a bit much to ask given that it is right around where I would be warming up. But, I never do that well at altitude and this race would be no exception. I lost a little time here.

I was still within my zone as I headed into Duncan Canyon with my slightly aggressive 1:22 estimate. However, it's downhill and trying to bridle [there's that word again] my downhill early on generally hurts more than letting myself go a bit fast. From there, I had a well-padded 1:42 to make it to the bottom of the canyon and up to Robinson. I was on target here and well in time for lunch, but worked hard to not use the full 5 minutes I had allotted myself at this aid station. I knew the next section from the training camp and was looking forward to all the downhill as well as getting out of the high country.

Miller's Defeat (12:45pm), Dusty Corners (1:25pm), Last Chance (2:30pm), the trail was familiar, but some of the aid stations new. I focused on running easy, smooth, effortless and fast on these downhill sections. Properly run downhill not only gains you time, but can also let you recover at the same time. I came upon the descent into the canyon well ahead of splits and reminding myself to try to keep my abandon just short of reckless on what was my favorite section of trail in the training camp. Reminding myself over and over that I didn't have 38 miles on my legs last time I ran this section. Also reminding myself that the climb up to Devil's Thumb was deep anticipation of yet another soul to devour.

The focus on the climb was simple. Step, step, drink. Step, step, drink. This worked during training until it turned into: step, step, suck...suck...dry! On race day, I made sure to have plenty of water up this climb especially since this was the hottest part of the day. I had myself arriving at the Thumb at 3:45pm, but with all the downhill and having handled the climb well, I was well ahead of target. I knew the next descent was going to be just a blast. Not only was it perfect running terrain down El Dorado Canyon, but the lure of getting to 50 miles was pulling me hard. So, I let it go, stayed focused and prepared my mind for the climb up to Michigan Bluff as I arrived at the creek.

This climb was actually easier than I expected during the training run. Often that ends up meaning that I underestimate it and fluck [that's right, I said "fluck"] it up on race day. I had until 5:30pm to arrive at Michigan. On the climb I just worked on a steady hiking pace and didn't let myself slack on any section that flattened out even a bit. This would be a mantra for the second half of this race. If I lose time anywhere it is in slacking on those gradual climbs late in a race. I also told myself to get in and out of this aid station quickly. It is such a nice locale, but there is no time to daly. Spending more and more time at later aid stations is also a race killer in these long events.

I was still looking very good on my time splits and looking forward to the next descent. However, that climb up and over to Volcano Creek is a bit sneaky and just the sort of thing that gets me. And, so, get me it did. This is where the padding in my splits came in handy. I made some time back up on the descent, but then there was that last climb up to Bath road and the road itself. Aaargh! I really wanted to be ahead of splits coming into Foresthill, thinking that if I beat 7:00pm, to the 100K mark it would be a huge boost. There I was coming into the school and my watch read exactly 7:08pm, just as it was writ in my spreadsheet. I knew from past splits that most sub-24 hour finishers are in and out of here before 7. I figured that the ones who weren't were much better at the flat, runnable stuff that would be coming than I was.

So, for me, this was all about making up time down to the river. Harry and I had run this section like mad men in training including pushing hard on all the rolling sections. With 62 miles on my body, it would simply be up to my indefatigable quads to carry my as fast as possible on all the downhills. I would just have to see what I had available for hte rest. I just focused hard on hitting those splits: Dardenelles (7:56pm), Peachstone (9:08pm) and then arriving at Rucky Chuky at 10:47pm.

I gave myself 10 minutes to get across the river and start heading up to Green Gate. This was again new territory and staying focused here was going to be key. I knew that there were two main dangers as far as my race goal was concerned. This climb and then the section along Auburn Lake Trails. The climb because I could totally smoke it and fall way off my splits, trunching my spirit and then just slag my way to the finish. [I am trying to add some authenticity here by making up stupid sounding words to represent my mental state this late in the race. It's not really working.] My goal was 11:33pm. I'm generally a strong finisher, but even that was going to be cutting it close. So, close cutting it would be as I pulled in right around my target.

Next was a bit of up and down to get to ALT. The small downhills after Green Gate were small respite. As the rolling terrain hit, I knew I was going to have to push and resist that temptation to walk the small uphills. Where's my shuffle? Where's that granny gear? With struggle, I arrived at ALT just before 1:00am. This was going to be tough. The rolling section to Brown's Bar was net downhill, but it sure didn't feel like it. This was the section where fatigue and the desire to just walk were like chocolate cake to a diet. [Boy was that a lame analogy] The impetus to give in was almost irresistable, but giving in was giving up. Leaving Brown's at 2:10am, I was hoping to recover something on the downhill. I knew there was a climb up to Highway 49 and I was not looking forward to it. I slugged it out making it to the road in an hour.

From there, I just had to make it up another short climb and I could run my ass off to No Hands Bridge. My ability to run hard downhill, all day, all night, is the only advantage I really have. Arriving at No Hands at 4:00am meant that it was really going to come down to the wire. I was going to have to really push it hard up that final climb. I called on everything I had, recallng every training run, every race, even the time spent on the treadmill. I tried to find the most painful memories to remind myself of what I had pushed through.

I arrived at Robie Point breathing hard. I paused only breifly to ask someone how far to the finish even though I knew it was 1.3 miles. I didn't know if I had the time. I didn't know if I had it in me. I put my head down and just ran, litterally, with my eyes closed. When I opened them again, I don't know how long it had been. I don't know how I had gotten there. I was entering the Placer High School track and somehow my legs were still moving. However, the last minutes before 5:00am were ticking down. Oh gawd! Was I gonna be one of those people who misses the finish time by seconds? My legs were burning, but I called on my latent sprinting ability and ...


Of course I'm going to leave you in suspense! Do you really think I was going to let someone else know how my race finished before I do? If you want to know how it turns out, your gonna just have to show up at the finish, with a little luck and a lot of hope before 5:00am, with a little less of each not too long after. I have no idea if the race I will actually run on Saturday will be anywhere near as good as the above. However, you can rest assured that the description you just read [assuming anyone actually read the whole thing] is the race I will be running in my head, over and over, until then.

OK, now I really do have to start packing...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mind. Set?

A decade of dreaming.

Fantasies of something that seemed so unreachable. But, dreams beget inspiration and inspiration, desire. With the wanting comes the choice: take those first steps and then the next. Years of building the endurance to even consider the distance. Years of turning myself into something I thought I could not. Eventually, the unfathomable seems almost conceivable. Step upon step, plodding the trails for hours, days, months, more and the dream grows legs, becomes a goal. The well-tempered goal inevitably spawns a plan.

The original plan was modest, perhaps too much so. Year one, a 50K, 50 miles the next. Perhaps with a 3rd year's experience I'd make a 100 by my 40th birthday. Western States was dropped into that cloudy bucket labeled "someday." Momentum is a marvelous thing; add a bit of energy, it becomes acceleration. I qualified for the lottery running a 50-miler my first year in the game. The second year, I ran 2 hundreds and was back for the draw again. Year three, I ran 4 and would be an "automatic" for States the following year based on the two-time-loser policy, perhaps among the last to be granted such honor.

With the 2008 fires, the plans, goals, dreams (and perhaps even a few hopes) of a couple hundred runners went up in more than just proverbial smoke. Then cancellation spun into postponement and those of us who'd expected to run the following year knew what it meant. Back to dreams it was. The original source of inspiration would, in all likelihood, have to wait another year, maybe two. A small handful would be given respite to fill some vacancies, but never did I imagine myself among them. Well, imagine is a bit of a strong word. Certainly, I didn't allow myself to fully believe until I sat at my desk, staring at the acceptance email.

Suddenly, plans became schedules--months of training plotted out. Schedules were executed. Base building, heart-rate tracking, long runs, tempo runs, all of it logged and analyzed. Races were run; one building upon the next. My biggest mileage ever, completed just in time for a proper taper. Now, with the big day finally looming near, times are being estimated, past results studied. Fiddling with an elaborate spreadsheet calculating splits and aid-station arrival times has become a near obsession. The final pieces are being snugly pressed into place.

Something that was once only a thought will soon become real. A decade of dreaming, years of building, months of training, and weeks of planning to execute on a well-devised strategy.

Yet, for some inexplicable reason, I will still, most likely, pack at the very last minute.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

May, I

Its the last day of May. I'm laying on my bedroom floor, feet propped up on the dresser, staring at the ceiling. The buzz of exhaustion still coursing through my body, I watch idly as my mind creates patterns in the acoustic texturing. I love this feeling. Eventually I will get up, clean up and perhaps cool off in the pool, washing away the last evidence of Ohlone trail dust from my legs. I've just capped off my biggest month of running to date.

The race itself went well. I entered on very tired legs, with no intention to push the pace, but still likely to attain a PR for the course. I'd run the Ohlone 50K two times previously, last year in the oppressive heat and 2006 as my very first ultra. I fared better with the heat than the lack of experience. Running a personal best was not really the goal. I was much more interested to see what sort of load my body could manage as the four week countdown to the big race begins. To assure I didn't start the race with too much enthusiasm, I'd done 12-1/2 miles the day before with about 2200ft of climbing, covering the first few miles of the course. I told myself that if I ran all the initial hills Saturday afternoon, I wouldn't be tempted to do so Sunday morning. Those previous day's miles as well along with the many miles preceding them weighed heavily on my legs throughout the race. A good chunk of those were done at the Western States training camp the weekend before.

I haven't yet written about the training camp. It was definitely a worthwhile experience. I drove up Friday afternoon with Harry Walther and stayed in Auburn. I'd been fighting a bit of a sinus cold so I wasn't sure how the first day's run, which started at 7000ft, would feel. Luckily, after an initial hike up through a snow field, it was a downhill start. The first day covered about 32 miles and included the canyons infamous for their climbs/descents as well as their their tendency for race-day heat. Harry and I would spend Saturday night up at Donner Lake, trading the full camp experience for a real beds, returning to Foresthill Sunday for the second run. Day two was around 20 miles and covered the part of the course from that descends to Rucky Chucky river.

I don't have time for a detailed report, but I will give my general impression. Basically, the downhill, especially the single-track into the canyons, was excellent. In fact, I would rate them up there with some of my favorite downhill trails anywhere. The climbs weren't nearly as bad as I expected. I think I had Coyote 2 Moons in mind and put myself into the mindset of "climbing for hours" once we headed up. None of the major climbs are that long or steep. Devil's Thumb is a good grind. I was handling it really well until I ran out of water. The training runs had only half the number of aid stations as the race. Most of those in the know filled up at the falls before the climb. I was not in the know. Other than the crazy downhills, I tried to take it easy, even took a dip in the river at Duncan Canyon for a spell. Overall, the canyons weren't too daunting. Of course, with triple-digit temps it would be a very different story.

The second day also started with a downhill section, including some narrow singletrack. We started in the back and it was a bit tough being caught behind lines of runners, not being able to run my normal pace. It almost always hurts more going slow downhill as I'm forced into continuously braking. Eventually the trail leveled out a bit, but it was obvious there was going to be more ups and downs so I pushed to get ahead. As I was heading up a gradual hill I thought back to a conversation Harry and I had the day before. I'd mentioned that there was a lot more flat or gradual slope trail on the course than I expected. Knowing myself, one of the biggest challenges to a good time in the race will be continuing to run these sections late in the race when I am tired. Since I wasn't going to run on Monday, I decided I would push during this training run.

After catching Harry on the last big downhill, I mentioned this to him. From there on out, the two of us stuck together running hard on the rolling hills. He pulled me up the hills and I, him, down. We cruised along making really good time. In fact, we made it down to the river in about 2-1/2 hours including the slow start. Probably an hour or so more than I expect to do on race day, but it was good to practice pushing on tired legs. The funny thing was that when we went down to take our dip in the river, it was pretty much all front-runners relaxing and cooling off there. I felt like I had snuck into a private party where I didn't really belong.

The last part of day 2 was just a climb out of the valley that isn't part of the race. Most people just treated it as a good hike with a nice BBQ at the end. We headed back to Donner after that and just chilled the rest of the day, feet up, enjoying the sensation of tired bodies. I ended up driving home that night in order to catch my son's tournament in the morning. They lost the game, but I got to spend the day at home with my wife until she had to be dropped at the office that evening. I got in a little 3-miler recovery run. I continued the tired leg running the next two days and then had to take a day off on Thurs. Friday I knocked off an easy 6 and then the aforementioned 12.5 Saturday. The Ohlone 50K would top off the week around 67 breaking my streak of 3 straight 70+ weeks. Still, it ended May as my biggest month ever. I was still just a smidge under 320mi for the month so, despite being wiped from the race, I did one more little two miler with my wife Sunday night. I really am a slave to the numbers.

Perhaps 320 a month isn't huge by some people's standard, but for me it represents very big numbers. With 5 weekends in May it was a bit easier to obtain especially since I don't get in a lot of weekday miles. For me, it's mostly about the weekends anyway. I managed four straight with 45 miles or more. The totals (with long runs in parens) were as follows: 50, 48(32), 52(32), 45(31). In fact, going back further, I've maintained a streak of weekend long runs of at least 29 miles for six weeks: 31, 29, 50, 32, 32, 31. Actually, since its taken a full week to finish this post, I've extended the streak an extra week finishing the Mt. Diablo 50K yesterday. I ended up taking two full days off last week so its clear the cumulative mileage is having an effect. The body's tired, but holding together. I'll do a recovery run today and then figure out how to structure the next 20 days.

May is done. June is here. I'm ready to start my taper. I'm ready to focus on the race. I'm ready.