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.