Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Winning in Vegas

OK, so it was actually about 30 miles outside and a couple of thousand feet above Vegas proper and I didn't win any money or anything, but I did manage to come in 3rd.

Having missed the Diablo 50 again and with plans to head to Las Vegas for my son's basketball tournament, I turned to the good old reliable run100s website to see if there might be a race to run in the area. It turned out I was in luck as I found a link to a local running series held by Calico Racing:

The very weekend I was planning to be there, they would be holding the Labor of Love 50K event (along with a marathon, 1/2 marathon and 10K). I signed up even though it was mostly run on roads. I needed a good long run to jump-start my plans to have a big month of May. Despite the course looking pretty tame (22 miles paved and 9 of dirt road, only about 3500ft of climbing, etc), it did start around 4500ft elevation and top out around 6800ft so at least I would be giving my lungs a good workout. While not exactly steep, the road was gradual uphill the whole way and I didn't plan to do much walking along the course. Finally, the location of the race was Lovell Canyon in the Spring Mountains which is sort of the back-side of Red Rocks Canyon. While not nearly as dramatic as it's neighbor over the hills, the high desert was definitely a beautiful setting for a race.

The 50K race started at 6am, but there was a short shuttle from the parking area to the start and we were asked to get there early to allow plenty of time. With the very early (3:40am) wake-up call and quick snack for breakfast, I was in the rental car and heading west towards the hills. As I began to climb, I watched the temperature gauge go from 50s to 40s to low 40s. I was glad to have packed my Moeben sleeves and Brooks gloves, though I was still thinking things could get warm later in the day. When I stepped out of the car, I was greeted by a blast of freezing wind that turned out to be foretelling of things to come.

The bus was waiting so I hopped on and soon a number of others did as well. This bus was all 50K runners and it wasn't long before conversations began. This is the first race I have been at in a long time where I didn't know anyone, but everyone seemed friendly especially given the size of the race. It was a very small group with a number of runners going for their first attempt at the distance. It was definitely strange to feel like one of the veterans. I guess we really are spoiled in the Bay Area having such a huge array of races from which to choose.

From Labor of Love

Once we arrived at the start, it was clear that there was not going to be any sort of early respite from the cold. We would have to wait until at least the sun came up, but the clouds looming over the hills in the distance didn't give one much confidence. At the start, one runner took off like a rabbit at what looked to be around a 7-mpm pace. Pretty much everyone else went out much more casually. I was trying to take it easy, reminding myself that I was training and not racing. My only goal was to finish under 6 hours since I needed to make it to my son's game, but I figured something around 5;30 should be pretty easy given the course. However, the desire to keep warm meant that I was going a little fast than I should have. Besides, other than the one speedster, I was basically bunched with what could be called the frontrunners. A nice treat for a perennial mid-packer.

It never really seemed to warm up. In fact, as the day went on and we headed higher into the hills, it just got colder. At one point I was running along with another guy somewhere around mile 6 or 7 and I noticed these white things floating in the air. I thought to myself: pollen? Then one of them hit my face and melted. What the heck? I looked over at the guy running next to me and he just said, "Is that...?". Yep, snow. It was just a few little flurries, but we were about to head up about another 1000ft once we hit the dirt.

Eventually the final road aid station arrived and I was very happy to be heading off the asphalt. Many people stopped to change shoes, but I just filled my bottle, grabed some grub and headed on up. Suddenly, it seemed that the course was tying to make up for all that smooth road I'd been running. The firetrail was relatively rocky and it started to become steep enough to be considered a real climb. Finally, just as I began the final ascent to the peak, the snow came on for real. Between the wind and the snow, I actually had to keep my head down as I pushed up the slope. I could see white stuff accumulating on the hairs of mu legs and I started to feel the altitude for the first time. I was definitely pushing harder than I should have, but dang it was cold!

The snow let up just before the final peak which I was glad to summit. The last couple of downhill miles to the turnaround felt very nice. It was here that the leader passed me going to other way and he was still pushing hard up that hill. I estimate he was at least 4 miles ahead of me at this point and showed no signs of slowing. Nothing like a good reminder of where you stand in the world. As I came into the aid station, the second place guy was only ahead of me by about 5 minutes. However, I knew I was going to pay for the pushing I'd done to get through the snow and the climb back out would not be particularly fast. I ran what I could, but focused mainly on my powerhiking.

I was starting to let up and rest when I noticed someone behind me and ego got the best of me. I wanted to keep my 3rd place position and knew if that if I could just make it to the downhill, I could hold this guy off...at least for a while longer. I made it and had fun flying down the hill. Alas, it was back to the road and while it was mostly downhill, it was really too gradual to use gravity to my advantage. I figured that folly of holding my spot would disappear about 5 miles from the finish where there was a nice little hill upon which I would likely be passed. Ah, well.

The road was now filled with marathoners and 1/2 marathoners which helped distract from the pain beneath my feet. I chatted with a few people and was very surprised to come upon a runner who was actually from Fremont! He was running the marathon distance and came out to Vegas specifically for the race. I guess there's that whole "small world" thing for ya. At this point I was still in 3rd, but the hill was coming and I was pretty sure 4th place was not far back. As I hit the aid station before the climb, I was told that the guy in front of me had just left. Midway through the climb and I could see him just ahead of me. Then I turned around and saw the guy behind me. I turned to him and told him to "hurry up and pass me so I could stop pushing."

As expected I was caught, but we both passed the guy in 2nd who was beginning to stuggle with some fatigue. The two of us ran together a while. He was from Utah and running his first 50K. He took it very conservatively in the beginning and I told him how strong he looked. Eventually, I told him that 2nd place was all his and let him push on ahead. I would be more than satisfied with 3rd and really had no conceivable reason to push for a faster finish. The lead guy was at least an hour ahead of us. I was nowhere near a PR for the distance and I was supposed to be taking it easy anyway. I spent the last miles just working on my mental game as running the road, especially one where you can see a few miles ahead, can be really taxing on the mental state. I was ready to be done. With one last little "kiss goodbye" the course turned in the last half mile and presented a tremendous headwind all the way into the finish.

In the end it was a fun race and a different sort of challenge. The race organizers did a great job combining the best elements of a road marathon (frequent aid and support) with an ultra (decent challenges, snacks at key stations and a finish line buffet). We received some very cool technical shirts along with a medal for our efforts.

From Labor of Love

Oh, and lest I forget, I received the most unique award for my 3rd place finish. I little bit of the desert to take home with me:

From Labor of Love

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Changing Plans of Mine

As I type this, the last runners are still making their way down the final miles of the Diablo 50. This is my third year in a row of not running the race. In 2007 it was only peripherally on my radar as I had my sights on my first 100K at Miwok that year and Diablo was less than a week prior. Even now that would be a big stretch. Last year, as this, I signed up for the race. I didn't really check the schedule first and it turned out to fall on a weekend where I was to celebrate birthdays for 4 different family members. This year, I thought I had it set. My son was supposed to be heading to Colorado with his basketball team for a tournament. I wasn't planning to travel with them so I would be able to run the race. A little over week before race date and the coach switched the schedule up on us. Given the expense of going to Colorado he decided to switch it for a local (Sacramento) tournament this weekend and head to Vegas next weekend for a bigger tournament. With the tournament in Sac, I couldn't miss it so Diablo was dropped once again.

In a way, its probably not a bad thing. My running has been very sporadic since C2M having spend 2 of the 5 weeks ill. My mileage has basically been as follows:

3/15-1/22: 0 miles (sick)
3/23-3/29: 40 miles
3/30-4/05: 12 miles (sick)
4/06-4/12: 52 miles
4/13-4/19: 32 miles

It's been sort of fits and starts without a single week reaching my 60 mile goal. I had a chance this week as I reached my mileage by Friday. However, I've been dealing with a bit of Plantar Fasciitis lately and opted try to let it heal this weekend rather than try to squeeze the mileage in around all the driving. The PF is due to a problem with my orthodicts that I put off dealing with for far too long. After I got them adjusted and re-covered they feel a lot better during my runs, but I don't think the foot is going to heal itself without a bit extra rest and TLC. So, instead of 50 miles of steep climbs and descents in the scorching heat, I did an hour on the exercycle and lots of time on ice.

Boring injury and winey lack of running post aside, I have made some new plans that should still keep me on target for a big month of May before the taper towards States in June. I decided to join my son in Vegas next weekend and will be getting up early Saturday morning to head to the west for the Labor of Love 50K. Unfortunately, it is mostly on road, but it is out near Red Rocks so it should be beautiful running. While it looks relatively tame in terms of climbing it does start at 4500ft and top out around 6800 so it should give my lungs a descent workout. Also, it will be fun to try something totally new in a different locale. I am also planning to run the Quicksilver 50-miler. This has been on my radar for a couple of years, but has been too close to Miwok for me to put it on my schedule. If I keep to my schedule that will be a good forcing function to get my mileage up. After that it is two weeks until the Western States camp. I only signed up for two days of running allowing me to spend Memorial Day at home and not overdo it before the Ohlone 50K the next weekend.

That is a pretty big month of May. After that I may do the Mt. Diablo 50K as a last ultra training run before States. There are still some unknowns in the equation as my son's basketball schedule is not set for that month. I will definitely have to miss some games, but I'll be taking the month of July off which is when the big tournaments are. After that, my race plans are pretty much up in the air. I have some things in mind, but that will wait for another time as right now I just need to focus on getting into perfect health and preparing to up the mileage.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Nothing to see here

Well, I had intended to eventually write up a "real" report of my experiences at the Coyote 2 Moon 100 miler this year. I generally set myself the deadline of "by my next race" to write something. However, with my upcoming race plans being altered (more on that later), I don't know if I will ever get around to writing anything meaningful. Furthermore, it is still hard to put a positive spin on the race since I spent a full 2 of the 4 weeks after the event sick. So, in order to just get something up here on the blog and move on to other topics, I am cutting and pasting some stuff that I posted on the Runner's World Forum after the race.

The good news is that this will be the first time I truly meet my goal of not writing up a report that is almost as long as the race that inspired it. Enjoy!


OK, here is my full-fledged race report in pictures. I'm following the maxim that if you don't have something nice to say, say it with cute little yellow emoticons. All times are approximate.

Please excuse the lack of normal post-100 miler whitewashing since I am still fighting the chest-cold that hit me mid race, I've yet to convince myself that all the misery was actually a fun and challenging adventure. I'll write up a more revisionist, positive and exciting report next week when my overactive imagination has recovered and is able to cover up the actual memories.

Fri. 7am - Arroyo Grande:

Fri. - Ojai:

Fri. 11pm - Start:

Sat. - top of Horn Cyn:

Sat. 1:30am - Sisar A/S:

Sat. 4:00am - Top of Topa:

Sat. 5:00am - Descent to Rose:

Sat. 7:00am - Ascent from Rose:

Sat. 9:00am - Lion A/S:

Sat. 10:00am along ridge:

Sat. early afternoon - steep descent to Rose:

Sat. afternoon - steep ascent from Rose:

Sat. late afternoon - Rose to Howard:

Sat. later - Howard to Gridley top: Help

Sat. evening - Gridley Top:

Sat. 7pm - Cozy Dell:

Sat. 7-11pm - Cozy to Gridley:

Sat. 11pm - Gridley Top:

Sun. 12:30am - Gridley Bot:

Sun. 1-3:30am - Climb:

Sun. 3:40am - Gridley Top: Thanks Carol!

Sun. 3:40-6:30am - along Ridge: Freezing!

Sun. 6:45-7:54 - Final descent:

Sun. 7:54am - Finish:


Oh, and here are a few more snippets posted in response to questions/comments by others. Maybe shedding a little light on the more cryptic messages hidden within the emoticon jungle above...then again...maybe not.


I'm not really sure if I actually "picked it up" during the race, if I didn't totally recover from the cold I had a week before or if something nasty just got into my lungs. All I know is that starting around 10am Saturday morning I felt like dung and then began coughing up chunks of lung cheese (it was too solid to be lung butter) from about 7pm on.

I think the only saving grace at that point was that, having been awake for 36 hours already, I didn't have the mental capacity to properly talk myself into dropping from the race. However, I do remember at one point wishing that I would trip and fall before the next aid station so I would have a legitimate excuse to DNF. Alas, its not logically possible to "will" oneself into an accident--at least not for me. The 4 hour trip up Cozy Dell is not one I want to repeat.


On the climb up from Gridley Bottom, my mind was pretty much complete mush. I mean, I couldn't focus my brain or my eyes and the things running through my head were completely random and out of my control. I was literally dreaming awake as I stumbled and weaved my way up trail.

As an example, one of the tidbits I recall was some sort of infomercial for a fake product called "New, Industrial White". I don't know what it was supposed to be, but apparently it is "better than blue or red!" Get an idea of the sort of state of mind I was in here?

At any rate, about 1/3 of the way up, Carol Cuminale comes up behind me and offers to stick with me up the hill as I sounded like I could use some company. She took the lead and I followed trying to keep up a coherent conversation so my brain wouldn't feel the need to create one of its own. With her help, I finished that climb in around 2-1/2 hours--much better than the 4-hour nightmare coming up from Cozy Dell.


Unfortunately, as I sit here with a nasty cough and stuffed up head thinking I should really be back in bed, I am afraid it is closer to the latter. At least it will force me to rest for a while and let the rest of my body recover.

Actually, I'm a little surprised I finished as well. I think its partly due to the dishonesty of friends who refused to tell me how bad I really looked during the race. A couple of people told me after the race that I had looked pretty bad. However, what really got me was when my two buddies BOTH called me on Monday morning to "check up on me" and make sure I hadn't keeled over in the middle of the night.


I promised myself if I had any inclination to return to that event it would be on the other side of the table.


Unlike most races where I swear off repeating them immediately after only to come back around after a few days to wonder how I might do it differently next time, I can still hold to my sentiment for this race. If I want to head down to Ojai next year, I'll volunteer. If I ever feel the need to put myself through a similar experience to this, I will just keep myself awake for 48 hours straight and then see how many times I can run up and down Mission Peak. I think it makes about as much sense.