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.