Wednesday, December 26, 2012

AC 50K Training Run Number One - Winter Storm Run

Squish, splash, squish, splash, splash, squish...

The sound of my footfalls as I slogged through ankle deep puddles punctuated the white noise of ephemeral waterfalls and rain falling into forest. Visibility was reduced to one ridge looming in the mist, downed trees blocked the path occasionally, and the creeks were swollen and cold. Each crossing numbed my legs like a little ice bath, and provided a respite from the aches of four hours on the trail. Each time I crossed I would linger longer in the cold water, only to have to remove my shoes and shake out the pebbles which had accumulated in the swift runoff. David and I happened upon a fawn at the edge of the trail which remained still as we approached.

"I guess we could actually call that a rain deer today, eh?" David remarked, adding a rim-shot.

"So we're at that point in the run already?" I laughed.

Ready to go at Highway 49
We were running the middle 18 miles of the American Canyon 50K course, or at least that was our intention. Beginning at the Highway 49 crossing, we had descended a single track section which reminded me of stream stomping in Alaska. On Kodiak Island there are not many trails, so the easiest hiking was by way of shallow creeks. This trail was flowing ankle deep as we dropped to river level and joined the Quarry trail along the Middle Fork of the American River. We cruised on double track upriver through the heavy rain as David recounted being stalked by a mountain lion on a night run a few weeks prior. He had spotted the big cat's orange eyes reflecting in his headlamp twice over the course of three miles.

"Who knows how long it was actually following me, but I've talked to a few people about it, and most agree what I saw was a mountain lion. They've been known to follow people for up to ten miles."

Stomping a stream, err, trail
Just then a figure leaped from the bushes between the river and the road! A dog bounded towards us as we laughed off the scare, remarking on the timing as the dog's owner jogged towards us from up the trail. We continued upriver along the Quarry trail, then American Canyon trail.

Another runner came towards us and asked how to get across American Canyon Creek. We had forded a few ankle and knee deep creeks already, but she told us that the creek was too swollen to cross. We told her our plans to continue, and she joined us to see if we could cross safely with each other's help.

Hoboken Creek
The crossing did require some hand holding through the deepest section (about hip deep on me, almost chest deep on our new friend), but we daisy chained the lone runner across the creek and continued up American Canyon. Crossing back across the creek above Hoboken Creek was less difficult, as the water was only knee deep in each tributary.

There's a trail in there somewhere...
The next section was really runnable, despite the puddles which lined the trail. I made a mental note that I have to save some leg speed for mile 15, and we clocked off some cruiser miles as the trail wound in and out of the canyons on the south side of the river. We came to the trail head at which the Maine Bar aid station will be during the race, and did some route finding around the area, which is also home to the Auburn Lake Trails aid station in the Western States 100, before continuing down canyon. In an eerie coincidence, we happened upon a small stone bench with a memorial plaque for a local trail runner who was fatally attacked by a mountain lion in 1994 not far from where we stood. "Barb's Bench", as it has become known, is named for Barbara Barsalou Schoener, the first person killed in California by a mountain lion since 1909, and the prior deaths were caused by rabies. Barbara had been at a point in her running career which was very similar to mine and David's. She had just finished her first ultra a month before, and was following the lead of her husband, a Western States 100 finisher.
Needing fuel
We came upon the Brown's Bar trail junction and took a wrong turn down the creek. The American Canyon and Way Too Cool race courses go up and over Goat hill, but we mistakenly went down the ravine back to the Quarry trail and then returned to the Highway 49 crossing via the stream stomping trail on which we had begun. The Brown's Bar trail was severely washed out in places, and required four crossings of the gushing drainage. I later discovered that the route we took is actually the route that the Western States runners follow on their way from Hoboken Creek to the Highway 49 crossing. So our failure to navigate the course provided a small glimpse into what faces the WS100 runners after 85 miles.
While the weather made for an epic run and a good scout of the race course, I was also trying out a new fueling strategy on this run. I took a Vespa supplement at the start of the run, and carried a variety of options in case I got hungry: Gu's, a Bonk Breaker Bar, a Picky Bar, Clif Bloks and hard candy. I took an S! Cap every hour, Sportlegs at halfway and drank about 50 ounces of water. The Vespa worked well, as I took only one piece of hard candy in the first three hours and felt good energy all the while. However, at 3:15, I felt a little low, so I took a Gu, but I never quite recovered my energy. Over four hours and 18 miles on 130 calories! A normal fueling schedule would have resulted in over 800 calories for the same run. I think if I had taken a Gu at 2 hours and then another Vespa at 4 hours, my energy level would have been nice and consistent. I'll try it again in the next few long runs and see if I can get the timing down before the American Canyon race. Not having to carry (or eat) all those extra energy gels sounds attractive. I hope to have it dialed by April for the American River 50 Miler.
Did you see that mountain lion?

Enjoying the abundance of water

Here are the details:

Monday, December 24, 2012

American Canyon 50K Training Week Two - More Rain, With More and Deeper Creek Crossings

The upside of this week was that my Morton's Neuroma niggle is manageable. The pain subsided Tuesday and I was able to get through a tempo run with little problem. The downside: winter brought stormy weather. The worst part is getting myself psyched up and out the door. Once out in the elements, a sense of peace proportional to the weather quickly fills me. Conditions may warrant additional care, or clothing, or precaution, but the serenity pervades. 

Tuesday: 90 minute tempo, 45 @ 8:00

Wednesday: 40 minutes @ 9:00

Thursday: 85 minutes Hill repeats, 8x3:00

Saturday: 60 @ 9:00

Sunday: 4:13 @ 50K pace on American Canyon course in the pouring rain

Totals: 44.17 miles, 6372'/6135' elevation gain/loss, avg heart rate 138

Once again, I skipped a recovery run on Friday (life gets in the way), but felt really good on Saturday. The winter storm brought 3-4 inches of slushy snow to Cascade Shores, and I ran the out-and-back I used to do daily, Pasquale Road. Drymax socks and windbreaker over wool crew kept me comfortable, and keeping a 9:00 effort on the hilly route felt great.

Saturday's weather was good training for Sunday, which was much different. David agreed to join me on a scout of the middle 18 miles of the American River 50K, a lollipop out and back along the Middle Fork of the American River. We set out in a downpour equal to the storm that hit CIM, but colder. I started thinking about the dry clothes stashed in the car as soon as I the flashbacks to stream-stomping in Alaska began.

That run deceives a post of its own - keep your eyes peeled.

Friday, December 21, 2012

2013: Goals, Hopes and Realities

2012 marked my first year of consistent training, and I must credit my objectives for giving me the inspiration, motivation and general stubbornness to achieve 52 straight weeks of training. My goals for 2013 build on this conditioning, but I am dialing back the scheduled obligations and going with more aesthetically satisfying aims. Instead of competing in a race series, I am focusing on trail racing. Instead of trying to lay down a fast-for-me debut marathon, I am simply seeking to complete my first 50 miler. Instead of trying to be competitive in my age group, I commit to continue growing this blog, and becoming more active in the running community. 

2013 Goals

  1. Complete the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run
  2. Race trails not roads
  3. Be injury-free
  4. Grow Wanderplace
  5. Run the Dipsea
The one carry-over goal from 2012 is to NOT GET INJURED. I recognize that 52 weeks straight probably resulted in the general over-trained feeling I awake with on a daily basis, so after the American River 50 in April, I fully intend to take as much time off as my body requires before I resume running. I will hit the gym for some core strength building and weight management to pass the time until I can begin running again with no niggles and good foundation going into the fall, culminating in the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler in San Francisco.

Now that I have subjected myself to being coached, I realize that while the conditioning I gain from training consistently doesn't dissolve overnight, I still need to push through varying levels of discomfort to find the next level of fitness and endurance. Tim has done well to keep me on an ambitious schedule, and although I have not felt able to hit every run on the schedule, I can tell that I can run farther and faster as a result of his guidance.

I am excited to have such aesthetic goals to focus on for the upcoming year. 2012 became more about numbers than the process; increasing my time on dirt and getting away from the concrete jungle should get me back into the experience. Trail running is not the most convenient way to get my workouts in, as I live on the water, but the immersion in nature pays the dividends I seek. And now that the days begin to get longer, I have the time to invest in more varied places to run.

See you on the trails!

Monday, December 17, 2012

American Canyon 50K Training Week One, a Woodside Ramble Aid Station and Morton's Neuroma

Dirt! My mantra for the winter is dirt (or mud). Pavement only when necessary for convenience. Gotta get ready for two trail 50K's. Aches come and go, as if they were tides drawn by cosmic bean-counters. Rest aggravates some areas, and working out causes niggles to speak up. Most of my workouts end in darkness these short fall days, and I'm using more clothes when I run. Bring it on, Old Man Winter! AC50K training week one:

Monday: 45 minutes @ 9:00 pace

Tuesday: 60 minutes @ 9:30 effort on a hilly course (see details below)

Wednesday: 60 minutes @ 9:30 pace

Thursday: 45 minutes @ 9:00 pace

Saturday: 90 minutes @ 9:00 effort

Totals: 30.51 miles, 2907'/3150', avg HR 137

The first half of the week was spent shaking out the residue of the CIM effort. My recovery went well once the ankle swelling was under control, but I had to skip 60 on Sunday due to a new niggle in my left foot! Thursday's run went exceptionally well, as my normal effort had me cruising 8:45 with ease. Having my Garmin tell me to slow down is one of my favorite things.



Bear Gulch aid station, Kristy, me, Mrs. CK and Twirly
After feeling so good on Thursday, I hit the trail for 90 minutes on Saturday with intention. Twirly and I volunteered at the Inside Trail Racing Woodside Ramble 50K, assisting at the Bear Gulch aid station with new friends Kristy and Mrs. CK. The race course did a 15K out and back lollipop with ~1500' of vertical from our aid station, and it would make a good practice run for the start/finish of American Canyon. So, once we had the station set up with holiday swag and in full swing, I trotted down into Bear Gulch. Cedars and redwoods created a tall canopy and the trail wound down some switchbacks to a gravel loop before returning to the aid station near Skyline Boulevard. I passed a couple dozen racers, chuckling to myself how two weeks ago I was cursing the relay marathon runners at CIM, racing past on their fresh legs. I ran the entire four mile, 1500' climb out of the gulch, while the racers, who had done 11 miles more than I with 11 more to go after the aid station, were mostly walking the grade. I couldn't help but think that this hill would make a great repeat training section, it was really runnable. We had a blast at the aid station, and all of the runners were gracious and thankful. It was cool to spend some more time with Mrs. CK, whom we had met at Bizz Johnson but not had a lot of time to hang out.

The niggle in my foot slowly increased over the rest of the day, and by the time Twirly and I went into San Francisco to go dancing, the niggle was making enough noise for me to complain, a little. Saturday night in the city was quite the spectacle. The 2012 Santacon/Santarchy was in full swing; everywhere, and I mean everywhere you looked there were dozens of Santa Claus' reveling. In the streets, in the bars, at the Parov Stelar concert we went to, it was like a drunken Santa coup.


Santarchy 2012
Parov helped me forget the pain for the evening, but dancing probably did not help:




Sunday morning, my new niggle was forcing me to change my gait while walking, so I talked myself out of the 60 minutes on the schedule. I was really hoping to get back to completing a whole planned week, but like a good Lebowski, I must abide my body. Coach Tim suggested I research Morton's Toe, which led me to self-diagnose Morton's Neuroma as my newest ailment. My lower left leg has been such a weak spot for me that I feel like I am just shifting the strain from one area of the chain to the next. It seems I have it cornered in my toes now! I'm hopeful that it will resolve itself without a trip to the doctor, but it appears that there are numerous remedies, such as cortisone injections and sclerifying the offending nerve, so I'll be making an appointment if the pain persists.
The details from my hilly run on Tuesday and Bear Gulch on Saturday:




Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Series Report: 2012 Gold Country Grand Prix

One of my 2012 goals was to place in the top three for men aged 40-49 in the Gold Country Grand Prix race series, running the 10K's whenever they were offered. My previous best, running the 5K's, was 5th place (M30-39 in 2011), and I had not run the last half of the series due to injury. If I could stay healthy, I figured a top three would be an easy goal to achieve. However, my competition for the M40-49 age group was faster than I had anticipated!

 The 2012 Gold Country Grand Prix Race Series, organized by Sierra Trail Blazers Running Club, concluded with the Michael E Bratton II Turkey Trot in Grass Valley. Traditionally ten races, this year's Grand Prix was expanded to eleven:

          1. Daffodil Run 5/10K
          2. Spring Run 5/10K
          3. Community 5/10K
          4. Harmony 8K
          5. Freedom 5K
          6. Bear River 5K
          7. Kellerman 5/10K
          8. Hunger 5/10K
          9. Cystic Fibrosis 5K
          10. Falling Leaves 5/10K
Points were awarded to age group finishers in each distance as follows:

      • 1st place - 10 points
      • 2nd place - 7 points
      • 3rd place - 5 points
      • 4th place - 4 points
      • 5th place - 3 points
        • All other places - 1 point 
A runner's top ten races were counted; the low race was discarded if they ran all eleven. The top three in each age group received awards, and everyone who ran ten races received a free voucher for one race entry in the next year's Grand Prix.

The series began with the Daffodil Run, a street race in Penn Valley, which takes the runner along a flat out and back road run surrounded by pastures. The race begins and ends at Western Gateway Park. I skipped the 2012 event to run my first half marathon in San Francisco.

Second is the Spring Run, a street race incorporating dirt roads along Deer Creek in Nevada City. The Spring Race has more vertical, and forces the finishers to climb 100 feet to the finish at the top of Broad Street in downtown Nevada City. I felt strong in this 10K, taking 3rd place (out of three).

The Community Run starts on the street, but spends most of the race winding through a hilly orchard and along an irrigation ditch before returning to finish at Twin Cities Church outside Grass Valley. My fitness did not serve me well on the hills in this course, but I finished in 3rd place again (out of six). At this point, I began recognizing that the second place finisher in the 10K's, Kevin, was a step or two faster than I, and my competitive juices began to flow. If I was going to crack the top three, I was going to have to start finishing in front of him.

The Harmony Run is a road run in my neighborhood near Scott's Flat Lake outside Nevada City. The course follows my favorite training route for a five mile (8K) out-and-back including rolling hills and not much flat. Once again, I finished in 3rd place (out of six), and Kevin once again beat me. The competition for second place began to take shape between Kevin, Machen and myself, with Rob running away with first place, having won 10 points at every event.

The Freedom Run is held on the cross country course at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley. I set a PR at the 2012 event, and took sixth place (to Kevin's fifth, grrr). At this point in the series, I realized that if I could not begin finishing in front of Kevin, I would end up on the bubble (4th place) at the end of the year.

The Bear River Fun Run was an "A-Race" on my 2012 schedule. The course follows pavement and trail around the grounds of Bear River High School. I had set a 5K PR there in 2011, and had trained hard all summer to improve my leg turnover and aerobic fitness. A new PR and third place provided a boost, as I finished in front of both Machen and Kevin. Kevin pulled up with an injury at this race and would not compete in the rest of the series. In hindsight, I had my top three locked up at this point, but trying to best Machen for second place filled in the drama for the remainder of the series.

The Kellerman Batwa Challenge  was held in Nevada City and incorporated paved and gravel roads rolling through an old mining claim before looping through Nevada City. Rob and Machen both ran the 5K, allowing me to get an age group win in the 10K. I broke in some new Hoka One Ones in this race, using their extreme cushioning to bound down the steep paved hills on the course.

The Run to End Hunger  follows surface streets in Nevada City and along Deer Creek. I took second place in the 10K, and Machen took second place in the 5K. Our point totals were close enough that all I needed was a position or two better than he in the remaining three races to grab second place from him, but ties would secure second place for Machen without contest.

The Cystic Fibrosis 5K was a tear through the trails of Empire Mine State Park, and I managed to pull away from Machen early for a second place finish. With two races left in the series, only 3 points separated 2nd and 3rd places in the Men 40-49 age group.

The Falling Leaves Run once again followed the surface streets of Nevada City and along Deer Creek. Rob ran, and won, the 5K, once again leaving the 10K open for my second age group win of the series, and Machen took 2nd in the 5K, leaving us tied with one race remaining: the ringer-filled Turkey Trot.

The start of the 2012 Turkey Trot, source
With so many unknowns from out of town, the Turkey Trot could have gone either way. Apparently the masters runners like the 10K's these days, as I do, because there were 10 M40-49 runners in the top 50 finishers of the 10K, leaving me in 9th place. Machen took 5th in the 5K, beating sixth place by 15 seconds (I think I could have beat him head to head, but I stuck with my goal of running the 10K's instead of changing strategies to accomplish a goal I had not set - 2nd place). In the end, Machen bested me by two points for the second spot on the podium.

I set out to place in the top three, and I ended up third in my age group. I really appreciate the motivation that participating in the series provided. To do well, an average runner simply needs to stay healthy and consistently participate in the races. The fact that the 5K and 10K racers are competing against each other adds a layer of strategy and potential for variety in your race calendar. Machen, Kevin and I fostered a healthy competition which evolved over the year, which doesn't come easy for us middle-age guys, short of going out for a softball team. Second place came down to 15 seconds after an entire season of racing!

Looking at the final standings for the 2012 Grand Prix, one can see that some other age groups are fairly competitive as well: first place for men over 70 beat second place by only five points, the top three women aged 60-69 were separated by only four points, and second place in the women's 19-29 age group was decided by two points. Whatever your age, the Gold Country Grand Prix offers healthy competition on some absolutely beautiful courses. The foothills offer awesome weather, varied terrain and small town hospitality. If you have the opportunity, please consider one (or more) of the races offered in scenic Gold Country. I do not intend to compete for the series in 2013, as my sights are set on cutting my teeth at ultra distances next year. I will, however, be selecting a few convenient weekends to compete. The races are all for a good cause, and the terrain and scenery are well worth the trip.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Way Too Cool 50K Lottery

Exciting news:

I was selected in the lottery for the 2013 Way Too Cool 50K this morning! I am very excited to have the opportunity to run in this legendary trail race, which has become one of the most sought after 50K's in the country. Held one month prior to the American River 50 miler, it will be a great tune-up race and should provide some opportunities to really lay down a stout time, as the course is mostly runnable.

That sets my schedule for the next six months, with the American Canyon 50K in February, Way Too Cool 50K in March and the American River 50 miler in April. I think, maybe, I might take a few weeks off after American River. We'll see...

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Reset Week: Whose Legs Are These?

After an unforgettable debut marathon at CIM, it was time for a break. Not too long though, as my plan is to roll my fitness from the marathon training into a strong winter building up core strength, getting back to race weight and hitting the trails hard in preparation for Spring 2013: two 50K's and my first 50 miler.

So I took four days off ;)

Coach Tim had me easing back into training this week. 30 minutes on Wednesday got skipped, because my left ankle was still swelling while I sat at my desk at work. Sitting all day makes it difficult to elevate, but I brought my new cold roller to do some PT/icing during a break here and there. The swelling stopped on Thursday. Here's how my reset week played out:

Friday: 30 minutes @ 10:00 pace

Saturday: 30 minutes @ 9:00 effort (a return to my old training route on Pasquale)

Totals: 6.36 miles, 285' elevation gain, avg HR 135

Easily my lightest week of 2012! Friday's run left me feeling like a new-born deer, asking "whose legs are these?"

I have to be happy with my results for the year. I managed my first full year of injury-free running, although I have been battling some recurring niggles. I have learned a lot about my body, nutrition, and training. I even met some cool new friends along the way. As I sit down to formulate my goals for 2013, I realize that this sport allows me to frame my goals in many different ways. I can shoot for performance goals, or quantity goals, or even aesthetic goals. Each provides motivation, confidence and the satisfaction of achievement.

I signed up for the Way Too Cool lottery this week; the selections happen tomorrow. I am excited at the prospect of running this race. I'd love to have an excuse to train on the course!

Next week will mark the beginning of American Canyon 50K training, and upcoming blog topics include a Series Report on the Gold Country Grand Prix, a 2012 year-in-review and my 2013 goals. So keep watching Wanderplace this winter.

As always, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Race Report: 2012 California International Marathon

The first big  storm of the 2012 winter season was a warm one. So warm, it melted the pre-season snow at the ski resorts around Tahoe. The California International Marathon (CIM) in Sacramento, California coincided with the peak of the storm.

Thanksgiving day's 10-day forecast revealed jellyfish-shaped storm-cloud icons, with rain cascading from them like nematocyst-saturated tentacles, marching across race weekend as if it were "War of the Worlds". Five to seven days of rain and flooding expected; the heaviest wave was probably going to hit on race morning. I'm sure those runners who had signed up for CIM as a replacement for the cancelled-due-to-weather New York City Marathon felt that fate and Mother Nature were conspiring against them.


CIM is an impressive event, with over 14,000 participants and thousands of volunteers, but run so efficiently it feels like a "hometown" race. Founded and organized by the Sacramento Running Association (SRA) in 1983 (then the Sacramento Long Distance Running Association), the CIM has become famous through endorsements by the likes of Bart Yasso and is a favorite for those seeking a Boston Qualifying time. Boasting beautiful weather (most years) and fast times, the individual marathon attracted 9,300 entrants in 2012, and reached the limit of open registration (8,000) two months earlier than it did in 2011

Historically, the weather has been beautiful (better than 80% chance of dry weather). Just don't look at 1987 or 2001. The legend of 1987 is reputably as the worst weather CIM in history. They called it the "Stormathon".

"It rained over four inches and we were kicking fish out of our path" claimed Denis Zilaff, one of the CIM Streakers. Runners were seen hiding in phone booths. 2001 was a drizzle in comparison, as it lacked the high winds, according to most.

2012 was Stormathon Redux.

I wouldn't have wanted to sail in those conditions. Most of the mile markers had either been flogged to pieces or blown away. Twigs and branches were coming off the trees: Force 9 on the Beaufort Scale! Running in such a storm, with the support of the organizers, the other participants, and truly awesome spectators, turned out to be an epic experience. Out of the 9,300 entrants in the full individual marathon event, almost 6,500 started and less than 300 did not finish.
 
The warming tent was prone to flight in the gusty winds


The crest of the storm approaches
I stayed at Lake Natomas Inn, about two miles from the start. Nice digs. The room had a fridge for my smoothie, and free wifi. Plus, all the hotels in Folsom come with a perk: a VIP warming tent at the starting area, reserved for hotel guests. It was crucial to have a warm place to stay out of the driving rain, and there was a private corral of porta potties, so no one had to stand in line in the rain. I spent an hour commiserating with the other runners, looking at doppler images and forecasts on our smart phones. I finished my smoothie and hit the john with plenty of time to relax and stretch in the tent. Outside the tent thousands of runners huddled beneath the gas station pump island roof trying to stay dry. That warming tent was worth every dime I spent on my nine hour stay at the hotel.

Here are some details about how the storm progressed through the morning (you know how I like details):
  • Both the American and Sacramento Rivers rose more than a foot during the race
  • The flow (cfs) of South Fork American River rose by 500% on race morning:

South Fork of the American River at Kyburz
  • On race day, over an inch of rain fell on the course
  • A wind gust of 139 mph was measured at Ward Peak, 60 miles WNW of the starting line
  • The storm crested an hour into the race, then conditions slowly improved
  • Wind speed at nearby Mather Air Base averaged 19 mph and gusted to 40 mph
At 6:50, I donned my dress-sized garbage bag and headed to the sweat check vans to drop my bag, which contained only my smoothie bottle.


This outfit was short-lived, but functioned in spades. I took it off 15 seconds before the race start
I jogged up and down the starting area identifying the pace groups for a few minutes and settled into the crowd the to do a final shake-out, relax and eat a ViFuel. The wind drove the rain hard so hard it felt like little pebbles hitting my face, and the Race Director's voice washed over the crowd carried by waves of wind and water. Think: the teacher from Peanuts, only wet and windy.


Conditions at the start of the 2012 CIM, photo by Paul Kitagaki Jr.

The start, photo by Paul Kitagaki Jr.

OK, enough about the storm. It was wet. It was windy. But it was not cold, so it was bearable. I would even call it exciting. Bill Bowerman's words about weather rang in my head:

"There is no bad weather, just soft people"

No soft people on the start at this race. At 7 am sharp, we were cast off into the tempest.

I crossed the line about a minute and a half past seven. The large pack of runners in the first mile cut the wind, and the majority of the runners were still wearing their garbage bag ponchos. It was quite the cacophony! Some wore a grocery bag on each foot, which I found rather foolish. Everything would be soaked soon anyway, why risk slipping? The first mile was like a haute trash Tough Mudder obstacle: lawn and leaf bags, grocery sacks and dime store ponchos alike were flopping through the field of runners like tumbleweeds.

Slowly we gathered steam, and made the first turn onto Oak, which made the headwind more of a variable wind, sometimes coming from the side, and even swirling around behind us at points, eliciting whoops from the crowd as we were suddenly pushed along. Room to run started opening up, and by the end of mile two my pace had settled around 8:05/mile. As long as I found someone larger than me that I could draft off, the wind was not as bad as I had expected. The problem was finding a blocking lineman that was running at my pace! At times, breathing was as simple as opening my mouth and pretending I was a Goat with a blower.

Open wide and breathe DEEP

I suppose I should tell you what my strategy was for the race before we get too far along. Coach Tim set a goal of 3:40 (8:20 pace) for the race, my first marathon. I felt that it was a perfect pace to challenge me, yet comfortably slower than my 'flat' half marathon PR of 7:44. I was eager to attempt an even pace/effort for the duration of the race.

A body check at mile four yielded all systems go. No niggles, no chafing, everything soaked but warm. In hindsight, I did not think about my gear for the rest of the morning (I'll include a gear list after the details at the bottom). I kept the gloves on until about two hours in, when it simply got too difficult to put the sopping wet things back on after removing them to get into my zip-lock bags (note to self: put S-caps and other supplements in pill organizers inside baggies). Everything else stayed on for the duration. The KT Tape held up through the finish.

As soon as the crowd thinned out enough to see where I was going, I began watching for manhole covers, painted lines and road reflectors. When I found myself negotiating traffic, I wanted more than just proprioception on the rain-slicked road surface. Staying alert became a theme of my race experience.

The spectators along the rolling horse pastures were scattered, but enthusiastic. A big roar came up for a young boy running next to me. "I think they're cheering for you!" I said as I passed the boy and his father. Those first five miles were really spectacular. The rain was building, and the road before me rolled just enough to see the thousands of bobbing heads, a carpet of humanity bridging each little valley, like downtown Manhattan during rush hour. The conveyor belt was moving, and it felt effortless.

Then the 3:40 pace group caught up to me. At first I just heard a couple of voices saying extremely encouraging things, like "relax on the downhills... cruise control the flats" and "remember to drink... and take short steps on the uphills".

Soon, the spectators began yelling "3:40, looking good guys!".

And so it began... the push from behind. With only 21 miles to go, my race went from a surreal, effortless, thought-provoking, beautiful meditation to being chased by a support, err... pace group.

Just before the 3:40 pace group began encroaching, in the middle of the 5th mile, a strong gust of wind blew a dead palm frond out of a 60 foot tall tree. The branch flew through the air, landing amongst the runners about 50 feet in front of me. No one was hurt, but the road was littered with palm fronds in front of that tree. There were branches down in many places along the course, but that palm frond was the only obstacle I actually saw come down.

Through the 5.9 mile split in 49:31 (clock time), my average pace was 8:15. I wanted to slow down, but the chase continued. It perturbed me a little, that the pace group was 30 seconds ahead already. Banking time in a hilly first half sounded like a bad idea. But banking time is a bad idea. I should have just run my own race, but I could not bear to let them pass. I did eventually appreciate their banter, continually reminding everyone to relax, drink, relax, cruise the flats, short strides on the hills.

At six miles the course turns onto Fair Oaks Boulevard and heads south to begin meandering, as if it were a river of runners (and rainwater), across the Sacramento Valley towards the Capitol. The spectators at this turn were thick, as it was the first relay exchange. The crowd was dense, and excited, in a downpour. In fact, spectators throughout the course gave copious amounts of energy to the continuous stream of runners slogging through the storm.

The storm peaked around 8:20 am, as I entered Old Town Fair Oaks and the low point which marks the start of the San Juan Hills. I had seen the famous "Fair Oaks Free Range Chickens" crossing the road in front of my truck during my scouting drive the day before, but they probably had been swept away like rubber ducks in a duck race by the time I ran through on race day. The roads were flooded with water flowing ankle-to-shin deep in places. This was my first opportunity to truly test out the Drymax socks, and they worked as advertised. Despite feeling saturated and squishy upon leaving a large puddle or flooded corner, they would feel dry again within a few hundred yards! 

BIG kudos to the spectator handing out orange slices just past Sunrise Blvd. Right at the bottom of the steepest hill on the course, there was this little blast of fresh fruit. I was at the top of the hill before I finished the slice. And freshly showered to boot, as the pouring rain began to reduce visibility. During the long downhill that followed, I returned to focusing on my form, trying to relax, run tall and balanced.

Soaked and focused
I continued my pace through the hills, staying just ahead of the 3:40 group, through the half marathon point at the intersection of Fair Oaks and Manzanita. The crowd at this relay exchange point was double or triple that of the first. As we hit the timing mat, I looked at my watch: 1:48.

The pace group was two minutes ahead of their intended pace (1). I confirmed with one of the group leaders that they had gone out fast, and then let them go. I cursed myself for going out too fast with them and not running my own race, but those negative feelings melted away as I came upon Twirly just after the turn. She was wearing her sailing foul weather gear, and took up a jog along with me for a hundred yards or so. It was good to see her at that point. I was still feeling strong, and I was happy to have her support. She wished me well, we blew each other a kiss, and off I went to chase the 3:40 group.

At the half: 1:49:07 by the clock; average pace: 8:19

The storm dumped one last bucket as we rolled along down Fair Oaks Blvd towards Carmichael. I saw my favorite sign of the race near Arden and Fair Oaks:

"Watching you run is making me wet" - held by a woman in full rain gear and rubber boots

With most of the hills behind me at that point, my plan going in was to start picking it up and see how fast I could finish. The first half had gone really well: no gait-altering niggles (my ankles and feet were beginning to ache), no anaerobic bouts, my heart rate was under 160 (except on the climbs). The hills had not seemed to take too much out of me; I had recovered well when I could. It was time to pick up the pace.

Or so I thought. As the rain lessened, my pace began creeping up. It was not a catastrophic bonk-type of event, as my fueling was going really well: ViFuels every 30 minutes and an S! Cap every hour. I felt I had good energy, but my turnover was lacking. I took another dose of Sportlegs and tried a few strides. My cadence started slipping, and miles 13-15 went 8:06, 8:17, 8:30. Suddenly I was ten seconds off pace, when I wanted to be twenty seconds ahead! 

I put in some extra effort, focused on form and smoothness for miles 16 & 17.

8:28, 8:25

I had stopped the bleeding, but the effort had sapped my energy. I should have taken an extra gel. At mile 18, I started rationalizing with myself.

"Hey, this is my first marathon. No need to set the bar too high, just finish the damn thing"

"Finishing was never in doubt. I could walk it in from here. DON'T LEAVE ANYTHING OUT HERE!"

"Just finish. That's all you have to prove in the first one. Just finish."

And so I talked myself out of pushing against, and into cruising through, the wall. My pace dropped to the high 8:XX range until I got to mile 20, at which point my form was ugly, and I was all arms. My spirits remained high though. The rain was finally letting up, and the course was flat as a pancake.

Smelling the barn
Lo and behold, suddenly there are photographers on ladders in the middle of the road. Sold American. Gimme that photo.

After crossing the American River on the H-Street Bridge, the spectators took on a different tone. They congregated near bars and began sounding more rowdy than earlier in the morning. One man stood on the median offering free beer to the runners! I briefly considered it, but passed it up. The cross streets began counting down from the high 50's to the finish at 8th street. I had been counseled not to look at them, so I pulled the brim of my cap down and focused. I could still make 3:40 if I could get back on pace...

20 mile split: 2:48 by the clock, average pace: 8:20

Mile 21 was my first over 9:00 pace. I tried to latch onto people as they passed me, but my legs felt like lead. I couldn't find the speed. I kept reminding myself to relax, run tall, stay on my fore-foot, swing my arms.

My pace continued creeping slower and slower. We made the jump from H Street to L Street at the freeway, and it was then that the 3:45 pace group caught up with me. With a mile and a half to go, I had to find some way to stay in front of this guy and his damn red sign.

I don't think I have ever swung my arms as hard as I did those last fifteen minutes. Once we were downtown, and I began recognizing the landmarks I had scouted during my shakeout jog the day before, it really hit me. I even got a little emotional. The crowds grew thick, the rain stopped, the clouds parted and blue sky filled the air above the course. I caught a glimpse of the Capitol Dome glistening in the fresh sunlight. I had arrived.

Those last three blocks from 11th to 8th took FOREVER, and will be ingrained in my memory for longer than that. I gave what little kick I had coming into the finish. Twirly caught some video. It isn't pretty:

video


Finish: 3:45:04, avg pace 8:38

I crossed the line with a triumphant heart, arms raised, and as soon as I stopped running, I could not walk! The pain below my waist was not constrained to any one joint, muscle or tendon. The fire burned from the soles of my feet to both hips. I was handed a space blanket, chocolate milk, a medal was hung round my neck. It was over. Nothing illustrates Newton's First Law like the end of a long hard run! I shuffled into the finishers photo line, which was still blissfully short, and then went looking for another chocolate milk.



CIM 2012, in the books (note the damn red sign behind me)

The signage at the finish was a bit confusing, especially for my addled mind. Things were too spread out. Fortunately, Twirly helped me navigate to the food, and more water, and ultimately my gear-check bag. The grounds around the finish area were a muddy mess. I changed into the dry clothes Twirly had brought for me while wrapped in my space blanket on the Capitol steps. I can imagine the finishing area on a good weather year would be a sea of grass and runners recovering, stretching, etc., but 2012 was beginning to look like Woodstock in places.

I'll have another. As soon as I can walk.

I needed some help getting down the steps, and then shuffled towards the parking garage. We had to cross the course to get there, and timing my ferry across the runners was comical, given my inability to move. My Facebook wall suddenly provided just the comic relief I needed:

 




Gettin' naked at the Capitol
I really do struggle for the words to summarize this experience. Setting aside the fact that this was my debut marathon, the race was top notch. From the plethora of porta-potties at the start (not to mention that VIP warming tent), the thousands of volunteers, to the course itself, the SRA knows how to put together a world-class event. Factor in the weather, and the spectators, and I'm not sure any road marathon could ever compare to the 2012 CIM. Despite having some trepidation going into the race Sunday morning, I had an unforgettable time, pushed through the boundaries my body presented, and never once doubted myself. I may not run CIM again, but it will always hold a place in my heart. It took my marathon cherry amidst a maelstrom, and gave me a life-long dose of confidence in return.


And now, the details:

 

Gear list:

  1. Update: The 3:40 pace group was almost perfectly paced for a gun time 3:40
     




Monday, December 3, 2012

CIM Training Week Fifteen: The Storm and the Taper

The 30th annual CIM was an epic experience. I write this the morning after the marathon, between trips hobbling to the kitchen and trying to elevate my legs as far above my head as possible. The Ministry of Funny Walks has nothing on the morning after a marathon:



My taper went well, I could feel pent up energy accumulating as race weekend approached:

Tuesday: 40 minutes at 9:00 effort

Wednesday: 30 minutes at 9:00 effort

Saturday: 25 minute shake-out jog on the home stretch of marathon course


Totals: 37.26 miles, 3665'/5397' elevation gain/loss, avg heart rate 150

I skipped 30 minutes on Thursday to attend a screening of The Dipsea Movie by Sam Lueck at Sports Basement. The film detailed the 2010 event, where a young girl battled a veteran and outlasted the field in the handicapped, staggered start race. I enjoyed seeing the race footage, and hearing Frosty and Nikki Kimball talk. I spent some time talking running with friends, and got a good night's sleep.

On Saturday I drove the marathon course on my way to the expo in downtown Sacramento. It ended up helping tremendously during the race, as I had a good idea of what laid ahead. Once in the expo, I got my bib and swag, talked with someone I had met at the Dipsea screening, who happened to be the Vespa Rep. We talked training and race nutrition and he gave me some samples. I have been curious about the product since Timothy Olsen won the 2012 Western States 100 while using the supplement, which claims wasp extract and royal jelly can tune your metabolism to burn more fat and need fewer carbs/calories. It is one of the more expensive training supplements, which is one of the reasons I have not tried it yet, but I look forward to trying the samples.

Fleet Feet had some good deals. I got 20% off a Trigger Point Cold Roller, which claims to be an adequate ice bath alternative. Since Kuani has no bathtub, I figured it would be a good addition to the PT equipment on board. I also bought some arm warmers for race morning. I broke them in on my shake-out jog.

Running the last mile and a half of the course was great advice from Tim. Especially since the pouring rain returned while I was running. It gave me an opportunity to accept the weather and also provided some landmarks to motivate me during the home stretch, noting where I could first see the Capitol Dome and such. I ran past one expo attendee who was jogging through the rain with his jacket pulled up over his head. "Planning on running that way tomorrow?" I asked. "This is great practice right now!"

The race itself was a tremendously satisfying experience. Although I missed my goal of 3:40 by five minutes, the whole event was a surreal journey I will never forget, and I was at peace with my performance well before I finished. It was obvious, amongst the crowd of runners at the finish, who had been able to come to that conclusion and who had not. I am still turning over the memories and collecting my thoughts for the race report, which should be up later this week.

In other news, I signed up for the Way Too Cool 50K lottery this morning. Yesterday, on the way home from the marathon, I cursed the fact that the lottery opened the day of the marathon. I could not bring myself to think about it, but this morning, I realized it was silly not to sign up; once the pain wears away, I will be ready to hit the trails hard. Way Too Cool has been on my radar for a long time.

So, my marathon training cycle comes to a close, and with it, my 2012 racing season. I met most of my goals and stayed healthy enough to give them an honest attempt. The year was a huge improvement over my first two years running. Coach Tim has me easing back into training this week, and I am anxious to get off the pavement for a while, although I'll need be able to weather another "road" marathon in the first half of the American River 50 Miler in April.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

California International Marathon Preview



When I first read that Bart Yasso quote about the California Inernational Marathon course being the best course to attempt a Boston Qualifying time (BQ), I had not yet considered running 26.2 miles. His words stuck in the back of my head for a year or so, more so because of the race's proximity to my home than because I have any designs on getting my BQ any time soon. So when I decided that 2012 would be the year I ran my first marathon, CIM immediately rose to the top of the potential races. It will be my 16th race of 2012, which was my first full year of running injury free.


This year marks the 30th annual CIM in Sacramento. From the CIM website: the course "[traces] an historic route used by the gold miners during the 1849 Gold Rush. It begins at the Folsom Dam, passes through semi-rural suburbs into bustling midtown Sacramento, and has a spectacular finish in front of the California State Capitol."


CIM Course Map
Organized by the Sacramento Running Association, the CIM has become a world class event, and is often a regional or national USATF Championship event, as well. I have talked to many repeat participants, and not one has had a negative opinion on the race organization or course. However, there are a few stories of carnage that I uncovered. Some years the heat is unbearable, some years the latter half of the course is enveloped in fog, resulting in chilled runners wishing they had not discarded so many layers at the beginning. Many recount how the whole "net-downhill" aspect is over-hyped. The hills in the first half can easily roast your quads if you let them. "Don't plan on walking any stairs on Monday", said Mike Buzbee, a fellow Sierra Trailblazer. Mike is one of 12 CIM streakers, planning to run his 30th this year.


Race Day forecast from Accuweather
This year's event will be a soaker. The forecast for Northern California is predicting a "Pineapple Express" storm system to move slowly through from Wednesday through next week. This "river of storms" is the West Coast's version of a hurricane. As I write this, the rain and winds have already begun in the Bay. Some areas will receive up to 18 inches of rain, and flooding is anticipated for race day. On top of that, there will be a stiff SW headwind for most of the course!

In situations like these, I look to the coach for guidance. First, my favorite quote from the legendary Coach Bill Bowerman:

"There is no such thing as bad weather, just soft people"

I bet I'll be feeling pretty soft, water-logged, prune-skinned and squishy at the finish line!

and Coach Tim provided positive anecdotes:

"I've run some of my fastest races in the rain! Positive attitude! ... Don't forget to wear your rubbers."

CIM has a tradition of having dozens of musical acts along the course, which I have been looking forward to, as I think they would break the miles up and provide some energy. I wonder how many of the scheduled acts will actually brave the elements? Plus, will the rain keep the spectators away? As I have absolutely no power over these outcomes, I am not getting too tied up in the answers. My main concerns at this point are what to wear, and how much Body Glide should I apply on race morning!

So, as the rain continues to build, I make plans to drive the course Saturday morning, hit the expo to stock up on swag, and jog the final miles of the course so that I know where to kick, if I can...

Finally, this weekend will be the first race I am attending solo. Twirly's company Christmas party is the night before the race, and she is organizing the event. So, I will make an appearance, and then drive down to a hotel a couple of miles from the race start. Race morning I'll take a shuttle bus to the start line, and my epic journey to marathon-dom will begin. I hope that Twirly will be able to make it down to the Capitol in time to see me finish, but I know how company Christmas parties go, so I have already decided to let her off the hook. Her support of my running seems boundless, and I would really like her to be a part of my first marathon, but if she misses it, it will not change my accomplishment.



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Race Report: 2012 MEB2 Turkey Trot

The 2009 MEB2 Turkey Trot was my first race. Looking back, the motivation that came with signing up was the tip of an iceberg I have yet to fully discover. My sights are set farther than 5K now, but the excitement of participating in organized races continues to pay dividends and provide motivation to keep getting out there and training hard. Plus, racing seems easier than training. It might be the company, or the competition, but a 7:00 mile just seems easier when others are nearby.

The final Gold Country Grand Prix event of the year, the Michael E Bratton II Turkey Trot is a fundraiser for the MEB2 Foundation. The foundation was created in 2006 to provide sponsorship for "Anew Day, local youth activities & suicide and depression awareness", in honor of Michael E Bratton II, who took his own life. 2012 marked the seventh year of the event. Attracting over 1000 participants, the Turkey Trot is easily the largest field in the Grand Prix.

My schedule called for a pretty rigorous cruise interval workout consisting of 5x5 @ 7:00 pace. Tim gave me the go ahead to race the Turkey Trot in place of the interval workout, and I knew I would need to work hard to place high enough to garner the points I needed to secure second place in the Grand Prix. Machen MacDonald and I were tied for second on race morning, and with such a large field of unknowns, I had no clue to what place I would finish.

My training had been unsatisfying in the weeks leading up to the race: missed workouts due to illness and fatigue, and legs feeling like lead accompanied by labored efforts were frequent. I decided to use the hilly course as pacing practice for the marathon which followed the race a week and a half later. I would go out at marathon pace for the first 5K (8:20/mile), and then use the last 5K as a tempo run (7:45/mile), making up for a failed tempo run earlier in the week. This strategy would both give me a negative split and a good shot at a top five (I hoped), which I would need to earn more than one point towards the Grand Prix standings.

The race director, Mike Bratton Sr., gives an emotional introduction to the event every year. Depression awareness and suicide prevention are the responsibility of a compassionate society, and the Foundation does what it can to help the cause. Mike and his family put on a top notch event and promise every dollar goes back to the community. As the race start neared, Mike asked for a show of hands from people who were running their 7th Turkey Trot, of which there were a few. But when he asked how many were first timers, the hands shot up all around the track at Nevada Union High School. Easily a majority of the participants were first-timers. There were so many people at the starting line, I couldn't see anyone I knew!


Then we were off. The course exited the track through a gate, which bottle necked the 1000+ runners, and then looped around a parking lot before funneling onto single-track trail. I managed to start near enough to the front, and by the time we hit the single-track, the crowd was mostly manageable. There were occasional slow downs, but my pace was a little faster than intended, so I went with the flow.

The first mile went by: 8:07

As the course left the high school grounds, it began climbing up Litton Hill, first along a gravel path and then along the street. this was where the runners began to spread out. The leaders came screaming down the other side of the street as they passed the halfway mark while most of us were trying to maintain some momentum heading up the hill. An aid station at the turn-around was staffed by eager youths cheering on runners, always appreciated.

On my trip down the hill I had a shoe come untied again! Two races in a row my double-knotted laces have come loose. I have to get to the bottom of this issue. Breaking stride, pulling over and then restarting throws off my rhythm and puts me in a bad place. Especially on a downhill where I was trying to stride smoothly. I managed to avoid sprinting to regain my place in the pack this time, which is an improvement on a bad situation.

Second mile: 8:15


The hill bottomed out as we returned to the Litton Trail , and I slowly started picking off runners who had either begun walking or slowed due to a slight grade coming back to the woods in which we began trail running. I knew the 5K runners around me would split towards the track as we entered the school grounds, so I did not assert myself in the latter part of his trail section, saving some steam for the climb ahead, where the 10K course leaves the school grounds along Ridge Road.

Third mile: 8:08


MEB2 Turkey Trot Course Map

As I crested the hill, Twirly was there cheering on the runners. I gave her a so-so sign in response to her query, and began focusing on catching whomever happened to be in front of me. Have you ever used the old "rubber band" trick? Imagine a rubber band pulling you towards the runner in front of you. It works! The fourth mile had another climb along Ridge Road, after an out-and-back along Sierra College Blvd. I passed three runners in that section, wishing each of them a happy Thanksgiving as I went by.

Mile four: 7:41

The fifth mile had the runners return to trail running along the Litton trail. I passed another along this stretch, again expounding holiday wishes. I have run this section of trail before, but it seemed to be more uphill than I recalled. Another runner was in my sights, and as we completed the out-and-back to cross Sierra College this time, I finally reigned him in.

As I passed and blurted my blessings, he said "Hey, your pace looks good. I'll run with you."

The fact that he had headphones on and likely had not heard me was not lost. I picked up my pace a bit, as no one I had passed had taken this tact.

"Your first time?" he asked.

I shook my head and added some more steam. I was not in the mood for conversation.  The last small climb was ahead, and the trail had few foes before me.

Mile five: 7:49

The last mile coming into the school grounds felt great, although I slowed my pace a little once I ran out of people to pass. I managed a little kick coming into the stadium and finished strong.

Mile six: 7:58

I finished in 48:49, in 44th place out of 229 runners. 9th place in my age group meant I only received one point. I knew there would be a lot of competition for the age group points, but I was still disappointed. Ten runners in the top 50 were 40-49 year old men. Ironically, if I had raced the 5K I likely would have garnered more points, as Machen MacDonald took 5th place with a 24:40, earned 3 points and beat me for second place in the Grand Prix series by 2 points! I could have run the 5K, but two of my season goals were met: a top three in the Grand Prix, and run every 10K in the Grand Prix. So no regrets about a successful season. It was my first full year of injury-free running (knock wood).

As always, the event was run well by both organizers and participants. The refreshments were plentiful and the community was out in force. I chatted up some club members, while we waited for results, about the CIM experience. My racing year culminates in next weekend's marathon, and having met most of my goals for the year, I am looking forward to a strong showing.

Here are the details from the Turkey Trot: