Monday, May 17, 2010

Coming Attractions

I hope to write a full report next weekend, but wanted to get the highlights (or lowlights) out while still fresh. If you don't like spoilers then you'll have to wait, but the results are already posted including my personal splits. From those splits, you can clearly see that something happened between the Gap Creek and Visitor Center aid stations. However, the real story started just below Bird Knob.

Despite being totally unprepared for the warm temperatures and, especially, the humidity, I was running well. Oh, I'd taken a few spills; nothing out of the ordinary from what I was told. The super technical trails were a blast on the downhills, but on this course, you can't just let your mind wander once it levels out. On the plane, I'd put together some splits for a 26 hour finish. It seemed aggressive, but Beat had finished this race in 26:22 so I wanted to see what it would look like. I certainly wasn't planning to kill myself for the time goal given my 2 upcoming 100's in the next two months.

I didn't think much about time until Habron Gap, just before mile 50. I was supposed to arrive around 6pm. I was an hour-fifteen early. I took it easy on the next long section as I could feel the heat build-up in my core. I still ended up at the next aid station an hour ahead of schedule. I iced myself a bit and then tried to take it easy some more on the way to Gap Creek, hoping that the promised cool night temps would sweep in to offer a bit of respite.

Mile 68.7 and I am only 16:20 into my race. Ten hours to go 33 miles. It still seemed within reason. I was feeling pretty good, but what is it I've said before about 100-milers? "Nothing you do in any shorter race can prepare you for what may happen after mile 70."

My only real concerns at the time were trying to cool down and a bit of constipation. Shortly after leaving the aid station, the course turned onto a gravel road. I decided to duck into the trees on the right side to see if I could take care of at least one of my worries. With little success, I continued on down the road. I was feeling good on the easy, rolling, non-technical terrain. I didn't see any course markings, but since I hadn't seen any side trails, I figured there was no need. After a while, it occurred to me that someone should have caught up given my little break. I started to get worried and did a stupid thing; I sped up. Since I was feeling strong, my thinking was that I would either be putting some time in the bank that would come out on the upcoming climb or it would help me find out sooner if I'd missed a turn. When I entered the road, there was another runner ahead of me. Surely he would be heading back by now if we were on the wrong path.

The road ended. No flaggings, no reflective strips, no trail, just a dead end. I won't put the curse words here in writing, but, believe me, I said them all. I then did another stupid thing. I ran back. I checked my GPS so I could see how many bonus miles I was logging. When I reached the trail head it had been 1.8 miles from the end of the road (3.6 round trip). The trail was exactly on the opposite side of the road from where I had ducked into the trees. What kind of dumb luck was that? And, speaking of dumb, I continued to push the pace as I headed out on this trail.

Once I reached the climb, I was forced to slow up allowing a couple of runners to pass me and allowing me to regale in my stupidity. I eventually hooked onto a couple of them and made it to the Visitor's Center aid station, mile 77, mostly in tact. Despite what the official chart says, I actually did those 12 miles (should have been 8.4) at an 18:20 pace. According to my calculations I still thought I could target something in the 27 hour range. So, I went ahead and topped off all my stupid acts with one final display. I sucked down an Ensure, took some caffeine, ate some and then grabbed some chips to go for the steep climb to come.

My stomach was sloshing and I still felt warm despite the cooler temps, but I pressed on. The climbing was becoming difficult and a few people passed me as I took a couple of breathers, feeling a little dizzy. After clearing the rockiest section and heading onto a bit wider trail, I checked my elevation to see that I was nearly done with the climbing. I stopped once more to catch my breath before the final push. That's when it hit me.

I went from hands on my knees, to on my hands and knees...retching, then gagging, then vomiting my guts out. I know there were at least a few people who got to enjoy my display as I answered the "you alright?" question more than once. After--I'm not sure how long--I finally got the convulsions to settle, but I had gone from being too warm to now shivering and chattering teeth. I got up and put on my jacket and headed up the trail. In shades of Western States, anything beyond a slow walking pace sent me right back over the edge.

I sat down on the side of the trail, then I laid down and closed my eyes. As if to punctuate my condition, it started to rain. Wallowing in self-pity, I knew my race was over. I eventually got to my feet and started the slow slog to the next aid station, the beginning of a longer, slower slog to come. My "race" was over, but the epic had just begun...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Black Rose for my taper

I’m not the biggest fan of the whole back-to-back weekend long runs. I prefer one big push followed by sweet spoils savored in a day of rest. However, this year's build-up has been all about more consistent running and a reduction of "zero" days (only 4 total in April and 2 of those were before/after our 100K effort). Thus, when the suggestion for dual long runs for the coming Saturday and Sunday was shot across the ether by friends, I thought it sounded like the perfect way to top off my last week before tapering for Massanutten.

All weekend runs begin with a strong dose of caffeine and chin-wagging. The caffeine is the host's responsibility; we each supply our own fuel for the bull session--a sort of BYOBS, if you will. Saturday's plan was to start from Beat's place. Beat makes an excellent cappuccino.  The intent was to head through Ranch San Antonio up and over Black Mountain. Heather came over from Modesto to join us on this trip. As well as being a Black Mountain virgin, she was also nursing a chronic leg injury. Or, rather, she wasn't nursing it though she probably should have been. Either way, it was all the excuse we needed to temper our plans which had grown more ambitious over email exchanges throughout the week. That is the usual trend: leading up to the weekend, the mileage goals wax large, then, we meet in the morning and exchange our excuses for doing something a bit more moderate with final adjustments being made out on the trail.

The original goal was to repeat the start of our 100K route from the previous weekend. Instead, we took the more direct route up and agreed to decide on a final distance after reaching the peak. Upon seeing Heather limp off the singletrack, it was agreed that she and Martina would head immediately back after Black Mountain while Harry, Beat and I would continue on to Page Mill Road to get in at least 20. The rest of the run was fairly uneventful except that Harry was complaining of not feeling well – some stomach distress. Apparently, in Harry-speak this means that he will push the pace up the hills. I figured it was my last big weekend so I worked to keep up and then took the lead as we headed back downhill. It was a nice warm day bringing hope that the much-belated California warm season might finally be on its way.

I continued to push all the way back, arriving alone at Beat's apartment. I called upstairs expecting Heather and Martina to have arrived well ahead. No answer. This was unfortunate as they had Beat's keys. As Harry and then Beat arrived, we began to worry. We were also all a bit toasted from the 21 miles of warm-weather running with a bit less fluid than required. Luckily, a call to Martina verified that they were fine and on their way back thanks to a ride from a friend. Heather was expectedly bummed especially knowing that she was going to have to suffer stern words from the lot of us, most of which were various expressions of "rest, rest and more rest." Sometimes a person's innate toughness tends to work against her.

Sunday, the coffee was my responsibility. We were going to head out to Sonol and see how close to Rose Peak we could make it before turning around. Since Harry and I ended up turning back around ¼ mile short of the top on our trip earlier this year, I was focused on getting there. In order to better our chances, I offered that we should take the shortcut fireroad from Backpacker’s Camp on the return. That would also allow us a dip in the water at “Little Yosemite” on a day that was expected to be a bit warmer than the last.

In her usual fashion, Martina insisted that Harry, Beat and I go on ahead of her. The plan was to turn around after about 2½ hours of running regardless of how far we had gone. Inspirations were waning so after Backpacker’s we started to separate, going each at our own pace. Harry took his normal position up front as we climbed the initial hills. I managed to catch up to him on a short downhill during the mostly-uphill route to the peak. On this final long run, I decided another day of pushing the pace was warranted.

I felt pretty strong on the climbs so I turned my hike into more of a shuffle. A cool breeze sweeping the hills fueled me to press on. The more I pushed, it seemed, the better I felt. Not long and had surprisingly dropped Harry. We had discussed turning back just before the steep downhill that marks the beginning of the final grind up to Rose. However, by the time I arrived there I was committed to the full trip. Since I was going to be missing the Ohlone 50K the week after Massanutten, I knew this would be my last opportunity to summit for a while.

I could see Harry arrive at our agreed turnaround from across the vale. I tried to beckon him on, but he waved me off. A few more hills and I could see Beat arrive to meet him. It appeared he was up for the final trip, but I was not in a waiting mode. It was one of those rare days where I felt I could climb forever. I was either hitting my stride in training or simply peaking 2-weeks too soon for my race. Only time would tell. I figured I’d hit the peak and then meet Beat on the return. My made it at 2:15 in. When we met, Beat convinced me to join him on a second trip up which we timed right on target for our original goal of a 2:30 turnaround.

The trip down, I led us a bit astray trying to take an alternate route which caused us to have to crawl under a couple fences and shoot across some private land. After that, I had a blast cruising back down the route we came up. I caught Martina just after the camp heading to the fireroad. A mile later we found Harry waiting for us under a nice shady tree. We played in the water for a bit and then all headed back to finish up together. I came out with 19.5 miles for the day, 40 total for the weekend and 75 weekly miles to top out my 100-mile buildup. I felt good.

With a satisfying final weekend, I was mentally ready for a nice easy week. I just played it by ear and came up around 30 miles. Work was extremely busy and it was very tight taking this time off. The past week has been a mad rush to tie up loose ends. I guess the advantage is that it has kept my mind completely off the race, helping to minimize that dreaded “taper madness”. The down side is that the lackadaisical spell that always seems to settle in the final few days before a big event has been even further pronounced. As I sit typing this on the plane, I’m not even sure of all that I threw into my bag late last night. My shoes, a pair of socks, shorts, shirt and two water bottles are all safely in a sack above my head. My checked luggage is basically one big armful of “here’s what I usually bring to a 100” thrown into a duffel.

I guess I’ll stare at the map and elevation chart for a while to try and get my head in the game. In the end, I guess it doesn’t really matter because it’s all about being out there. Sure, my obsessive nature loves the process of visualizing the race, estimating splits, and analyzing past results. However, more than anything else, I enjoy most the experience of figuring it out on the course, making adjustments and taking whatever the day has to offer.

Sunday, May 02, 2010


The days until my first 100-miler of 2010 ticking down and I hadn't a single run over 50K. I generally like to peak with a 50 miler in the final month leading up to a 100. Poor scheduling conspired with a bit of bad luck to have me facing April without opportunity to cover such distance in an organized event. I skipped the Miwok lottery altogether this year, but was excited about finally being able to fit the Diablo 50 in my schedule. Unfortunately, by the time I learned that the event had been cancelled due to state budget cuts, my scramble to find another local 50 miler of substance was too late. The Lake Sonoma 50 had filled both race and wait-list before I even checked the website. I briefly considered either American River or Ruth Anderson, but all that road left me feeling uninspired. That's when I hit on the idea of a Skyline-to-the-Sea double.

My original idea was to drive out to the race-finish at Waddell Beach in the wee hours of the morning and then make my way up to the start following the main trail. When I tried to recruit friends Harry and Beat to join along in my little adventure, they suggested another idea. Beat lives in Los Altos a couple of miles from a trailhead that could easily be used as a starting point to link a series of trails and bring us to the race start. It wasn't long before a route was devised and plans were firmed up. We settled on the goal of completing a full 50K in advance of the race start. Harry wasn't quite "all in" for this plan, but with three people, only two have to really agree on the route if everyone is going to stick together. While I agree that hitting the big, round 100K number was ultimately arbitrary and offered no significant training effect over slightly shorter mileage, it did offer a bit of field leveling amongst the three of us. Harry is definitely faster than Beat and I, but the difference tends to diminish over greater distances. Besides, we thought it would be funny to be able to answer anyone who asked one of us during the race whether we were running our first 50K with: "no, it's my!"

Roll forward to the night before the race when Harry and I show up early at Beat's with the ill thought out plan to try and catch a few hours sleep before our agreed upon 1:30am start. I'm pretty sure that I almost, sort of, dozed off for at least a couple of minutes before it was time to get up. With the addition of sleep deprivation, it appeared that this might offer some additional training effect for a 100 miler beyond just the miles. Beat brewed up a couple of rounds of double-espresso laden cappuccinos for each of us before heading out. The wisdom of that particular choice would be questioned shortly after hitting the trails, but nothing about this little stunt of ours had anything to do with wisdom in the first place. Add jitters and frequent bio-breaks to the list of the evening's festivities. 

We had a couple of offers from other local ultrarunners to join our party, but we opted to keep it small both for logistic reasons and due to the fact that the first park through which we would travel was technically not open at the time of our entrance. Now some may question the morality and/or legality of traipsing through a county park in the middle the night that has signs clearly posted that it closes at sunset. I really don't want to dwell on this point, but you need to understand that I had the powerful tool of rationalization on my side. Sure one could point out that the intent of the posting clearly implied that the park was not actually open again until after the next sunrise. But the sign we ran past contained no mention of any sort of rising, it only said "sunset" and 2:00 in the morning is long, long before the sun would set on Sunday; it wouldn't even rise for another 4 hours.

We kept the flashlights off and nearly tip-toed along the first couple miles of fire-road. Not only were the trails of this park the closest we would be to civilization, but we intended to get a good portion of our miles done here by traversing a particularly non-linear route and even including an extra loop in the mix. By the time we passed out of this park, topped out over our highest point and hit the water stop, we had already covered nearly 17 miles. Not much longer and the sun came up, Shortly thereafter we acquired the ridge, crossing the Skyline Blvd. with about 10 miles to remaining of our planned distance. We were still feeling relatively good, but I think the lure of having the first part of our run complete and getting a little rest was starting to hit us. There were many options for cutting it short or making the run longer on the trails through the Skyline Ridge, Long Ridge and Saratoga Gap preserves. It became a sort of game that consisted of pitting our waning motivation against our best estimates of time and distance remaining. In the end we settled on one extra detour of about 3/4 mile and finished at the race just about a klick over 30 miles. Close enough to 50K for commercial grade GPS.

Timing-wise, our arrival at the check-in couldn't have been better. It took us just under 7 hours for the run which gave us a 1/2 hour before race start--just enough for a rest, but not too much. We even beat the bus by a few minutes so we didn't have to stand in line to get our numbers. Harry's girlfriend Martina was kind enough to bring us some extra snacks and we even convinced Sarah, the RD, to allow us each a can of coke before they headed off to the aid station. Standing around, socializing before the race we all felt good. Heck, we even looked pretty good considering.

(picture courtesy of Rick Gaston)

The hardest part was actually the last few minutes before "go" as legs were begging to stiffen. We lined further back than would normally have us, but didn't have to try too hard to take it out easy the first few miles. I focused on relaxing and just accept the slow moving "conga line" even on the downhills. However, about 3 miles in, on a steep section, I couldn't take it any more and shot past a row of people in my normal, nearly out-of-control fashion. I figured I would pay for it later. However, for most of the first half of the race, I still felt pretty good. I walked more uphills than I might have were I fresh, but I was having a great day.

Coming through the first section of the infamous Gazos Loop, I was a little less happy. The constant rollers combined with a lot of mud in this section added to my mental psych-out of knowing that I would be repeating it after another 5 miles or so. However, once I made it through the aid station and joked with all the friendly faces about how this "seemed like a good idea last night," I actually felt better. The big climb actually went fine as a just put my head down and resigned myself to just walk it at my own pace after Harry went ahead. Neither of us had seen Beat in some time, though he was chatting with some woman last I saw so he didn't seem in a major hurry.

The climb was not as bad as I expected, and before I knew it, I was heading down the steep descent to catch back up with Harry. We entered the aid station around the same time, but I wanted to get back out and up the last climb before the long descent to the Berry Creek Falls. I figured Harry would catch me going up, but I somehow mad it to the crossover first. From there, it was trails I know and love leading down, down, down to the creek. Over the creek, I knew a slog lay in wait. The final miles, while still downhill overall, were all on fireroad that was basically flat with some little ups-and-downs. I remembered how this section seemed to take a long time when I ran the race two years before so I tried to stay in the right mindset. The toughest part was about 5 miles out when I realized that, by this time two years ago, I was just finishing the race.

In an attempt to distract, I started a few conversations during those final miles, but most people were focused on the finish. It was hard to motivate myself with a time goal given that I was over 55 miles into a 31 mile race. After the final aid station they told me it was only a mile and a half. I saw that I could finish the official race in under 6 hours and that gave me just enough of a target to push through to the finish. I was especially happy to discover that the finish line had been moved a bit closer this year in order to have a nicer locale. I came in at 5:56, finishing the two runs in 12:54. Even with the total a mile or so short, I was more than satisfied.

In the end, I think it was a great training run. Starting at night and running through sunrise helped simulate the mental challenge faced in a 100 miler. Dozing off in the back of Martina's car (thank you for making the whole thing possible!), I definitely felt like I'd finished a one. Even though we often say that 100K--and not 50miles--is actually half of a 100 miler, this run with nearly 12,000ft of climbing and more than that of descent, certainly felt like more than half way.