Thursday, February 20, 2014


Well, it's been another winter of fits and starts. Since the "Fear and Loathing" race, I've had a setbacks on a number of fronts. With almost no training at all the rest of December and a single 50K race in January, I decided to go ahead with my plan to attempt a repeat at the Arrowhead 135.

It went well enough for the first 24 hours or so, toughing it through temps down into the -40s. Leaving the 72 mile checkpoint Tuesday afternoon my lungs weren't feeling great, but I managed to convince myself it was just the lack of sleep and it would work itself out if I could sneak in a bit of rest the next night. However, it didn't take long to realize that my hacking and coughing was not going to clear up so easily especially given that I only had a single hour on the cutoff time. After 2-1/2 miles I made the decision to turn back rather than risk a potentially more serious illness along with my plans for returning to the Iditarod Trail Invitational 350 mile race less than 4 weeks hence.

Given my past history, friends of mine have always predicted that my first DNF would either be because I was dragged kicking-and-screaming from the course or carried off in a stretcher. In the end, it was actually a fairly easy decision. Every now and then I like to make the smart choice, but I don't generally make a habit of it. After around 90 ultra-marathons and 27 of them of 100 miles or longer, it was inevitable that I would eventually not finish one.

And now, since my main motivation for accepting those three letters was for a larger and more fulfilling goal, I am about to head north to Alaska. I don't feel at all prepared and trail conditions (though quite the opposite of what we experienced in Minnesota) are not looking great. Alaska experienced a significant melt down in January followed by a re-freeze the course is more ice and frozen ground than snow. However, the Iditarod trail is never the same any two given years anyways so one simply has to take it in stride.

Despite significant reservations, I'm looking forward to being out there on the trail, moving forward through the last great frontier. At least the time pressures won't be what they were at Arrowhead and I'm excited about returning to the "expedition mentality" that is an integral aspect of this event.

Updates will be infrequent, but available here:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fear and Loathing in the dead of night

The Hunter S. Thompson Fear and Loathing 50K/50M is one of those classic ultrarunning events that's been on my "to do" list for some time. It's been around for around 30 years and follows the San Francisco 49 mile Scenic Drive as it winds it's way through the city. Running 50 miles on roads certainly doesn't sounds like it fits in my wheelhouse. However, I really love events that have a certain "organic" aspect to them and the idea of a long race that tours the city I've lived near most of my life, is simply irresistible. Now that I live in the San Francisco and the route goes right by my place, I had no excuse not to join the fun.

Well, I actually did have one excuse. I wanted to run the entire course, but I had some things I wanted to do in the afternoon and didn't want to kill my entire Sunday. Not only would it likely take at least 9 hours to run the course, but I would have to travel to and from the start at Twin Peaks which is about 5 miles from my house and an hour by public transit. So, rather than opting to just run the 50K route, I hit upon the somewhat crazy idea of starting my run in the middle of the night from home so I could finish there the following morning.

Leaving my house near Fort Mason right around midnight, it was interesting to be running such common paths while dark and empty. Coming out of the Presidio I saw a coyote running in the middle of the street with something in its mouth. Further on the path in a residential neighborhood heading towards Ocean Beach, I was surprised by a group of raccoons that came tumbling around a corner in the midst of a fight. A bit more wildlife than I expected especially since I wasn't even in the park.

The path along the beach and up and over The Great Highway was quite peaceful with nary a bit of traffic which would be impossible in the daylight. After that it was out and around Lake Merced and then on towards Golden Gate Park. The normally-crowded Sunset Blvd also devoid of vehicles in the wee hours of the a.m. However, once the route took me into the Park, the solitude turned from pleasant to creepy. Its one thing to not see another living thing that isn't scavenging for leftover morsels. It's quite another to be continuously haunted by the thought that that emptiness might just be an illusion and you may just wake someone sleeping in those bushes next to the path. I opted to run in the middle of the street instead.

I was glad to finally be leaving the park and heading up towards UCSF Medical, but looking at the route to the "start" had me a wee concerned. The official race began at 7:00am. It wasn't even 5 yet and I was only a few miles from the base of the final climb up Twin Peaks. It was around 5:30am when I arrived at Portola Drive. It was Sunday and I imagined myself cowering in a doorway for the next hour. Then I noticed the Starbucks across the street with a light on and someone going in the door. I hustled across and smiled as I headed inside. A much better venue to spend my waiting time.

Despite overnight temps in the 30s, I hadn't really been cold for the entire run. Taking over an hour break and then heading back out took care of that. I cowered at the top of the hill with everyone else anxiously awaiting the start. It was good to get caught up with old friends though once we were underway, the extra miles on my legs kept me far in the back of the pack. No problem. I was still enjoying running solo as the morning came upon us and we headed mostly downhill through Dolores Hights to Cesar Chavez and towards the bay.

I knew the night was taking a toll when I was running along the Embarcadero and needed to use a bathroom. I stopped at one of the little public stalls, but then read the sign reading "vacant", uttered a "damn it" to myself and ran on. It was about 1/2 mile before I realized that my brain had translated that to "occupied". Of course, every other one I came upon either was occupied or out of order. Figures.

Just as I was really starting to feel the fatigue, I was lucky enough to hook up with another runner, Billy McCarty, who is a really interesting guy and helped pass the time as we wound our way through the shopping district, Japan Town, China Town and then up to Coit Tower before descending down to Fisherman's Warf and then back towards home.

I finished up about 11 hours after I started with my GPS registering around 48 miles for the full 49-mile Scenic Drive. I'm not sure if I'd do it again, certainly not in the same fashion. However, it was probably the most fun I've ever had running that many miles on road. My legs definitely felt like they do after a normal 50 miler, but my feet hurt much, much more.

In the end, the goal was accomplished. I got in some solid miles and made it back home in time for a nap before the start of the 49ers game :-)