Friday, December 27, 2013

Training Reset: Begin at the Beginning

Sabino Canyon with Twirly
After the North Face Endurance Challenge, I took a well deserved break from training. FOMO had my 2013 schedule pretty packed with training; I began the year with six races scheduled, plus a couple of pacing gigs - as the year comes to a close, I have completed ten races plus the pacing gigs, and the injury-causing Zombie run. Not too bad compared to the 2012 schedule, but still more than I had planned. The first half of 2014 is booked solid, and the back half is vacant. I can already feel the vacuum waiting to be filled after Western States.

Red Star Ridge was a bit too icy

Fall Colors
The holidays find Twirly and me in Tucson visiting family. The temperate weather made it easy to get out and explore the craggy desert trails almost every day of our trip. Twirly got her first Garmin from Santa (Twirly's idea, not Santa's) and we put it through the paces. I don't get to run with Twirly very often so I really enjoyed the week of recreational running through beautiful places. The fall colors in Sabino Canyon were bright, and the views from Mt. Lemmon were inspiring.
SFRC on the AT

Our flight out of Sacramento to Phoenix had a layover in Salt Lake City, and as the plane ascended eastward, we looked out the window and found Auburn. The flight path took us directly up the Western States course, giving me a preview of each canyon (they look just as steep as the elevation profile). I was able to identify the course from end to end, finishing at Squaw Valley, which had pitiful snow cover for this point in the season.

Training begins with the New Year, and I am chomping at the bit. The week off and relaxed volume/pace of the holidays has allowed my toes to recover (mostly) and my legs to get heavy. The Pacifica Foothills Trail Half Marathon looms three weeks from now, and I'm eagerly anticipating the plans that Mauka Running has in store. Stay tuned for the year in review and my goals for 2014.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

New Coach: Mauka Running

I am excited to announce that I have lined up new coaching staff for the first half of my 2014 racing season. Jorge Maravilla and Laura Kukta at Mauka Running have agreed to support my bid for a silver belt buckle at Western States 100 this June. We begin in earnest on January 1st. The winter training phase should put me in good shape to break my PR at Way Too Cool 50k in March, followed by three months of States-specific training in preparation for the sub-24 hour 100 mile attempt.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Race Report: 2013 North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco - Gore Tex 50 Miler

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile in San Francisco was my "A" race for the second half of 2013. The race is part of a six race series that includes similar "North Face Endurance Challenge" events in New York, Washington DC, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Missouri. Since its inception in 2007, the San Francisco race has become quite popular, as it incorporates some of the finest trails the Marin Headlands have to offer. A $30,000 prize purse also helps to attract some of the fastest trail runners in the world. The course crosses three separate parks: the start/finish is within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area at Fort Barry while the middle miles explore Mount Tamalpais State Park and Muir Woods National Monument. A nice mix of fire road, single track and stairs (yes, stairs) awaits those willing to toe the line at 5 am on a chilly December morning.

Gore Tex 50 Mile Course

50 Mile elevation chart
My training over the prior two months was spotty. A few quality mileage weeks were interrupted by a bout of food poisoning in November and a chest cold the week of the race. Fortunately, my long runs had been on the race course. I rested in the days before the race, hoping to show up healthy, if a bit under trained. My goal was to break 11 hours, and have fun doing it.

Twirly and David were crewing for me, and Victor Ballesteros graciously agreed to pace me for the last 23 miles. Race morning went smoothly: a couple Picky Bars and a banana for breakfast, and a cup of coffee to bolster that final trip to the honey bucket. Thankfully, the porta-potties were plentiful, and the lines were short. It was cold, around 40 F, but the air was charged with energy.

The scratchy PA system made it somewhat painful to be in the chute, so when my starting wave went off, I was happy to be underway. Four hundred runners trotting off into the dark along a gentle down slope was a nice way to start. The stream of lights stretched out as we began the initial climb. Everyone says it, but it is pretty cool seeing the string of lights ahead and behind. A glance up at the leaders made a fellow runner ask if mountain bikers were leading the pack! A surprising number of people elected to run up Bobcat Trail. I could understand the desire to generate some heat on this bitterly cold morning, but with 48 miles to go, I found it a ridiculous proposition.

That said, a soon as we gained Alta Trail, I picked up a jog. The descent of Rodeo Trail was interesting; I turned my flashlight on its brightest setting (680 lumens) to illuminate the rutted and overgrown dirt road. My light outshone those around me to the point that people were slowing down to let me catch up so that they could see better! I reached sub 9-minute pace on the descent, stretching my legs, before cruising through the first aid station. The constellation Orion hung above the black ocean at the foot of the valley. I was ahead of schedule, but I felt great. My cough had subsided, a body check yielded no niggles, and I was going through the Tailwind I had mixed in my pack. At the foot of Miwok Trail, I opened a Justin's Nut Butter pack and ate it slowly over the course of the climb. The sky was lightening to the east, and I kept glancing over my shoulder to take in the surreal scene of a string of lights coming up the valley, with the scattered pink clouds, barely discernible, hovering above a brightening horizon behind, and darkness and stars ahead. Along the way I met Kyle, from Spokane Washington, who was running his first 50 mile race. We talked a bit about the high desert, and our goals for the race. Kyle said he told his friends to expect him around ten hours.
"In that case, either I'm ahead of schedule, or you're way behind!," I said.
We bombed Old Springs Trail into Tennessee Valley, and I scanned the crowd for my crew. Mrs. CK yelled my name from the side of the timing mat, and I asked her if she'd seen Twirly, which she hadn't. Worst case scenarios began streaming through my head as I continued past the aid station. I finally spotted her at the back of the car, tailgate open, and ran up to refuel. My plan was to refill my hydration bladder, drop off my flashlight, and replace the nut butter I had eaten.

Tennessee Valley 1 split: 1:47/247th
I felt good about having a buffer on my splits, and jogged down the valley floor towards the Coastal Trail and the climb to Pirates Cove. Kyle ended up at my side again, although he dropped me on the climb. The sun was rising, and my headlamp was no longer necessary, even though the descent to the cove is pretty technical. I passed some runners on the descent, only to have them pass me on the climb out, complimenting my descending skills. On one hand, I totally appreciate the confidence boost that comes with other runners recognizing that I do, in fact, have some downhill skills. On the other, what good are downhill skills, if those I pass just pass me back on the climbs?!? I need me some climbing skills!
Pirates Cove conga line
Cresting the climb out of Pirates Cove as the sun rises
From the cove, I kept a steady state through the aid station at Muir Beach and into Frank Valley along the Redwood Trail. The volunteers and spectators were plentiful, and returned every one of my "thank you for being out here" comments with "thank you for RUNNING!" I held my place in a loose conga line all the way up Heather Cut-off Trail. I had wanted to run this climb as I had in training, but it was early and I was gun shy. Once I gained the top of the switchbacks, I did break into a run, and passed Kyle and Coach Ken on the way to Cardiac. The 50k leaders also came screaming by at a 7-something pace, which was cool to see.

Still ahead of my splits at Cardiac, I quickly found my drop bag, swapped packs and stashed my headlamp. A dry hat helped take the chill off, and I resumed an easy jog towards Pan Toll Ranger Station. About three minutes later, I realized I had left my ear buds and the zip lock bag containing my Ibuprofen and salt caps in the pack I had stashed. It was not the end of the world, as I was still feeling good.   I shrugged it off and made a mental note to grab the meds on the second go around in about 12 miles. The ear buds were only there for emergency motivation, and I could tell I wouldn't be needing that today.

Somewhere along the rollers of upper Matt Davis Trail, I realized I had to pee for about the 8th time, so I pulled over and let loose. I was hydrating well; a fine pilsner eluted as a train of runners passed me by. I latched on to the caboose end, and slowly passed each of them by before we took the out-and-back along Coastal Trail above Stinson Beach. The leaders had been through about three hours earlier and had fewer outbound runners to negotiate than us middle runners on the narrow single track. The rains of the night before the race made the downhill edge of the trail soft, and some sections were dicey. Outbound runners were directed to give way to returning runners, and my frustration over the 15-minute mile pace I was reduced to as I stepped to the uphill side of the trail was compounded by a biting, cold wind from the north. I tried to stay calm, finding solace in the fact that on the downhill return trip I would have the right of way and get back into my rhythm.
The leaders on Coastal Trail above Stinson Beach, photo by Galen Burrell
The McKinnon Gulch aid station had hot chicken broth, which took the edge off. I also began eating bananas with my nut butter here, something I would continue for the remainder of the day. I walked out of the aid station, finishing eating and texting Twirly my split and needs for the Stinson Beach aid station:
"Lving McKinnon at 9:50. Need Vit I, tums, hard candy, jacket and gloves"
I still had a 7-minute lead on my goal splits, and looked forward to the return trip along Coastal Trail. Going with the wind made it more comfortable, but the two way traffic continued to frustrate me. It seems about a third of the outbound runners had not gotten the memo about giving way, and it was difficult to determine who was going to step aside and who wasn't. I damn near body checked a couple of runners off the trail, as they took up the center line, forcing me to dance along the downhill edge, dirt sloughing off beneath my feet and shoulders askew. On a positive note, it was cool to see runners I knew, both to lend encouragement and know where I was in the pecking order. My elation at reaching the Matt Davis Trail and the end of the out-and-back bolstered my pace, and the descent to Stinson Beach (my favorite section of the course) felt positively awesome. I set a PR for the Strava segment, improving my best time by over half a minute. It helped that there was little hiker traffic. Either the unsettled weather or the race held the crowds at bay. The trails were blissfully vacant compared to my previous races.

Stinson Beach pit stop, photo by Victor Ballesteros

Stinson Beach aid station felt like a Nascar pit stop. Twirly and David helped me swap out my hydration bladder and clean up with a wet bandanna. Another dry hat, a couple of Tums and a replacement nut butter, and I was off again. The temperatures were so much more comfortable at sea level that I chose not to bring my jacket or gloves. I would rue that decision on the ridge lines for the next three hours. Leaving the aid station, I was still about 7 minutes ahead of my splits, which I knew would dissolve over the course of the ascent to Cardiac along the Dipsea Trail. Victor caught me up on the front runners and local favorites, doing an excellent job of distracting me from the climb. I filled him in on my nutrition and how the day had unfolded thus far. I was surprised by how strong I still felt, and he reminded me to take it easy on the steep climb when the adrenaline of having company had me pushing too hard. I passed a few en route to Cardiac, and remarked that I was feeling stronger than ever on the uphills.

About a mile out of Cardiac, I was passed by a diminutive boy who was just cruising along. Rather than try to keep up, I let him go. We would yo yo over the next ten miles, and I must say that the 13 year old from San Jose was looking fresh all day. It was pretty remarkable seeing someone so young out there crushing the course.

The second trip through Cardiac was brief; I grabbed my meds from the drop bag, and another cup of broth, which was too hot to slam. Victor, being a popular local runner, was greeted by a chorus from volunteers and runners alike ("he's kind of a big deal," says Jorge Maravilla). He flitted like a social butterfly while I added some water to the broth and we headed down the hill towards Muir Woods. Walking the technical downhill felt stupid, so I slammed the rest of the now-tepid broth and got back to running. Victor acknowledged his distraction at the aid station, which I shrugged off. He did an amazing job staying on top of my needs for the rest of the day.

The descent of the Ben Johnson Trail was probably my lowest point in the race. I felt tight, and began scuffing my feet on the technical, rock and root strewn single track. At one point, I caught my right toe and almost went sprawling. Victor counseled me to dial it back a bit, which I did, and try to get some more calories in me.

We hit the valley floor in Muir Woods and once again I found myself in a conga line. The climb that followed incorporated a lot of stairs, and I was able to make a few more key passes as I kept gulping calories from my Tailwind-filled bladder. I had premixed the powder 50% stronger than recommended, as I knew the cold temperatures would decrease my hydration needs. Soon enough, we had crested the steep climb and were clipping off a comfortable but quick pace along the Redwood Trail above Muir Woods. I was trailing a guy running in a lightweight shell, and his hood billowed out behind him like a dragster's parachute. Victor caught some video, and I must say, I was feeling pretty good for 35 miles in.

Passing through the Tourist Club was a bit confusing, as we all thought there would be an aid station there. So, we continued on to the Dipsea Trail and the descent to the Muir Woods visitors center, where the Old Inn aid station was actually located. In hindsight, it was actually ironic, as the aid station was marked on the course map as being in yet a third location. I joked with Victor about taking some of the famous Dipsea shortcuts, and rolled into the aid station needing only a banana and broth. I caught and passed the 13 year old there, as he was stuffing candy in his mouth and soaking up the compliments of the volunteers. I quaffed broth on the short climb of Dynamite Hill, and regained my pace along the floor of Frank Valley. The return to Muir Beach passed a trail junction we had seen earlier in the race. It was attended by hundred miler hallucinations.

Cookie Monster and Lego Man guiding the way, photo by Victor Ballesteros
At Muir Beach, I grabbed a zip lock full of banana and another cup of broth. I was feeling good again, and we ran the road to the hill, then power hiked up Coyote Ridge. It was here, hours earlier, that the front of the race was decided, as Rob Krar sprinted away from Cameron Clayton and Chris Vargo. I suffered a similar fate, as the 13 year old from San Jose trotted by going up the steep fire road. Once again, I let him go, as I alternated banana with Tailwind, and popped an S!Cap about halfway up the hill. The wind had built, and anytime the trail turned north I was wishing I had my jacket.

The climb out of Muir Beach. Coyote Ridge rises to the left, Pirates Cove behind. Hill 88 dominates the horizon.

Gaining Miwok Trail was invigorating, and I ran the descent to Tennessee Valley with good pace, although keeping my form for these few miles was uncomfortable; a blister on my right toe had popped, making for a painful push off. Victor told me to stay symmetrical and ignore the pain, it was temporary. I recognized JB Benna hiking up the trail and managed a quick "Hey JB" as we arrived at the aid station.

Tennessee Valley 2 split: 9:46/191st

After quickly changing into a dry shirt and hat and swapping my pack for two handheld bottles filled with Tailwind, I put my jacket on, grabbed another banana and cup of broth. The last climb of the day, Marincello Trail, stood between me and the finish line. Eleven hours was within reach, but I had become apathetic about the goal, and just wanted to have fun while the race lasted. I hiked at a good pace, although I was passed by a couple of people. Once I gained the Alta Trail, I agreed with Victor that I should run it in for the final four miles, which I did.

Alta split: 10:35/194th

The sun was nearing the horizon, reflecting off the Pacific Ocean, as I descended Rodeo Trail for the second time of the day. My pace was considerably slower this second time around, and a couple people blazed past me in search of a sub 11 hour finish. If the race were still a qualifier for Western States, I would have been right there with them, pushing hard. However, the arbitrariness of 11 hours made it an easy call to simply enjoy the end of the race, so we cruised along at a comfortable pace.

Finish: 11:02:49 198th place

I joked with Victor about where I could have shaved 3 minutes off my time as we approached the finish line. I couldn't believe how good I felt after 11 hours of running. The relief of finishing washed over me as I tried to comprehend the fact that I no longer had to run.

I was extremely pleased with my performance; no significant pain or GI issues, and high spirits for most of the day, except for a couple bouts of apathy, which passed quickly. Tailwind performed spectacularly, especially at the stronger concentration. I felt good, steady energy all day long and only needed two S!Caps in addition to the four cups of broth and two bananas. I wish I had grabbed my jacket at Stinson Beach, but I survived.

My crew and I checked into the Marin Headlands Hostel, I got into dry warm clothes and laid down for a fifteen minute massage. The party got underway as we huddled around a warming fire drinking Auburn Alehouse beer and cheering in the remaining runners.
Overall, the day was beautiful. The weather, despite being very cold, provided crystal clear views of the stellar course. The volunteers were numerous and supportive. The race organization was good, but faltered in a few spots; aid stations ran out of salt (I heard it all blew away!) and had no S!Caps, and the finish line festival ran out of hot food at 5 pm, which I consider to be unacceptable. I registered a complaint with the organizers, who somehow managed to produce more roasted chicken, but in the end the food should have been plentiful, especially for the back-of-the-packers.

Finish line with Victor, feeling good, photo by Chris Jones

I finished almost exactly middle of the pack overall and by age group, and was a little slower compared to all of the men. I know I could have put up a faster time, but I am happy with the results of my second 50 miler.
I am not sure if I will return to North Face 50, but I did enjoy the event. Fifty miles has yet to bring me to the edge that I am seeking through ultra running. Either I must find a more difficult event, I must push myself harder through 50, or I must try longer distance. 2014 holds opportunities for all that and more. Once thing is for certain: running is in my blood, and I hope it continues to open my doors of perception so that I may see what lies beyond.

The Garmin Data:

Monday, December 9, 2013

The North Face Endurance Challenge: T-minus One Week (the Taper)

The week's training plan went out the window after I woke up with a chest cold on Wednesday. A hacking cough made it apparent to everyone but me that I should rest up for the big event, and after some gentle encouragement from friends, I did take the week off from running. Not running related events, however! Wednesday night was the Salomon Team community run at San Francisco Running Company, Thursday night I went to the Union Square North Face store for packet pickup, followed by another Salomon Team event at Sports Basement. Friday night was spent preparing with my crew, and of course, Saturday was The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship "Gore Tex 50 Mile" race.
Kilian Jornet is an inspiration to me. His downhill skills are amazing. (photo by Chris Jones)
It was exciting to meet so many talented runners, and the event on Thursday included grub, beer and films documenting Salomon team members Anna Frost, Ricky Gates and Kilian Jornet. I grew my ultra autograph collection and headed home for the all important night-before-the-night-before the race rest.

Knocking out the 50 miler, with pacer Victor at mile 27
The race went really well; I finished within 3 minutes of my goal and felt good all day. No lows, just a little apathy in the early afternoon. I'll have my race report up later this week.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why Run Ultras? Why Not?

Matt the Angry Jogger wrote a post today regarding entering his first 100k. He provides some interesting perspective on running, and life in general, courtesy of film maker Kevin Smith. Check it out here.
In a nutshell: why not run ultras? On his deathbed, he " ... won’t think back and think ‘shit, why did I run that 100k race, it was a complete waste of time!"
I myself am not suffering the same crisis of confidence, but the perspective is welcome. Staring at my first hundred miler next summer does make me question my motives. The notions in Matt's post reflect a lot of my inner dialogue, though in an Irish accent.
On a related note: North Face 50 is less than two days away, and I am suffering a righteous chest cold. The forecast is for freezing temps at the start, and possible snow at the higher elevations on the course. I'm rethinking my time-based goal. Honestly, I'll be happy to finish! It should be an adventure, regardless.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Race Report: 2013 MEB2 Turkey Trot 10k

2013 was my fourth running of the Michael E Bratton II Turkey Trot. In 2009, it was my first 5k; I was elated to go sub-30 minutes. In 2010, I repeated the 5k and dropped my time to 25:43. In 2011, I was nursing stress fractures in my left tibia, but still managed a finish in 34:38. In 2012 I stepped up to the 10k as I ran my tenth race of the Gold Country Grand Prix (GCGP), cementing third place in the race series with a 48:42. I ran my first road marathon a little over a week later.

Pre-trot: the weather was beautiful in the foothills Thanksgiving morning
For the 2013 edition, I came back to the 10k, with a 5k running Twirly in tow. I was in the midst of a taper for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile race in San Francisco, but I had a tempo run on the training plan, so I kept it in the 8:0x range after a nice warm up mile spent running with Twirly.

The MEB2 Turkey Trot is by far the largest race in the GCGP series, and it is always good to catch up with other members of the Sierra Trailblazers Running Club. Word had spread that I would be representing the club in the 2014 Western States 100, so that dominated much of the small talk before and after the race.

We got a late start, likely due to the 500 or so runners registering on race morning (total participants was estimated to be over 2000). A new timing system meant that the start/finish line was narrower than previous years, which actually helped spread everyone out before funneling through the gate as we left the track.

By the time we reached the single track, Twirly and I were cruising at an easy pace. As we climbed towards Sierra College Drive, I wished her well and upped my pace to tempo range, between 8:00 and 8:30. Running uphill felt good, and I began passing people.

I kept my pace steady through the rest of the first loop, and wondered if I should ease up to adhere to the tempo workout on my schedule. I was supposed to do 2 tempo intervals of 15 minutes separated by 3 minutes of easy. After some quick mid race calculations, I figured that 40 minutes of solid tempo wouldn't wreck me. I was feeling good, and having a blast. Maintaining tempo pace on a hilly course was feeling easy, and my confidence for the 50 miler was bolstered.

I wished each runner a Happy Thanksgiving as I passed them, and crossed the line in 51:28. No PR, but a great training race. I cooled down with 25 minutes of jogging on the football field as the back of the pack finished.

When I compare the Garmin data from the 2012 10k to the 2013 event, I can see that I am in similar shape. That bodes well for the North Face 50.

Reno resident Chris Badolato brought his ringer-ness and won the 10k; beating second place by over a minute and a half. I have been trying to coordinate a run and/or beer with Chris for a while now. Alas, it wasn't in the cards this time.

Cruisin' on a Thursday before noon...
And, the details:

Monday, December 2, 2013

The North Face Endurance Challenge: T-minus Two Weeks!

The taper for North Face 50 is in full effect. An easy run, a Turkey Trot and a couple of hilly miles rounded out the week and left me in a weird limbo of confidence. I'm feeling a little under trained, but healthy.

Monday: Easy 60

Thursday: MEB2 Turkey Trot 10k

Saturday: 120 hilly minutes

Totals: 27.7 miles, avg HR 143

8 minute pace felt good during the Turkey Trot. Twirly ran the 5k, so I hung out with her for a mile or so before getting in the tempo on my schedule. I clipped off 1500' in ten miles over two hours on Saturday, keeping my pace about two minutes faster than this Saturday's race pace. I'm fit, and I feel strong. My endurance is the unknown factor. Can I keep it together long enough to pull out a sub eleven hour finish?

I really want to finish in daylight, and I have about an hour to spare if I miss the eleven hour mark. Smart pacing in the beginning and having the support of Victor Ballesteros as a pacer on the back half should make it pretty straightforward to get across the line before 4 pm.

The final week is rich with opportunities to hang out with the Salomon Team, which is a nice consolation prize. The only time I'll get to see the elites this weekend will be in the dark before the start. They'll be finished long before me, and I doubt I will cross paths with them on the out and back sections; I'm too slow to catch them off Matt Davis Trail, and if I see them in Tennessee Valley, it will be because I dropped at mile 12!

So, Wednesday I'll participate in a community run at San Francisco Running Company, where Kilian Jornet will be leading the run, and Thursday is a meet and greet with Kilian and the rest of the team at Sports Basement. I'll pick up my bib and swag at the North Face store in Union Square before heading to the Presidio for some autographs.

I'm nervously anticipating my biggest race to date. Sharing the trail with so many elites is novel, but won't effect my race at all. I go in with a focus on form and energy conservation. If my nutrition plan works well, I feel like I can put in a decent performance.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The North Face Endurance Challenge: T-minus Three Weeks

It's all over but the taper.
My perspective on this upcoming challenge has swayed from anxiety to excitement; from fear of the unknown to an eagerness to put my best foot forward. Meeting my goal of sub-11 hours will be difficult, as I feel somewhat under trained, but healthy. That said, the week was productive, despite travelling over the weekend for friends' nuptials in Tucson:
Monday: Recovery 90
Wednesday: 3 hours in the dark, on race course, 2500' elevation
Thursday: Easy 60
Totals: 30 miles, avg HR 136
Going in, I know my Achilles heel will be climbing. It will be tricky to keep it in low gear for the first half, especially the downhills, where I usually try to make up some time. The first two downhills will be in the dark, on loose footing. My hope is that I can conserve my quads for the middle sections in Mt. Tam State Park, and that my pacer provides enough feedback on my form to keep me moving efficiently on the home stretch.
Wednesday's run was a lot of fun. It had rained all day Tuesday and into Wednesday, breaking just hours before my run. I hit the Tennessee Valley trail head just after dark, and set out climbing Marincello Trail with my headlamp and flashlight. The fog had condensed into a layer about 300 feet thick, which I hiked into, and out of, over the course of the climb. I cruised into Rodeo Valley on Bobcat Trail, hit the porta-john at Bunker Road, and headed up Rodeo Valley Trail to the top, before retracing my steps, sans bathroom break.
My taper begins with a tempo, a 10k turkey trot on Thanksgiving, and two hilly hours to round out the weekend. They say under trained and healthy is better than over trained and hurt. I guess I'll find out the first Saturday in December.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Power of Oxygenated Blood

A short film is making the rounds this week; I've seen multiple sources sharing it. Basically, a crew set out in a UK park with a camera and a cart of some sort. They tooled around the bike paths looking for runners, and interviewed them as they ran.
One of the reasons running is so appealing is that it is akin to therapy. Problems can be solved on runs. I've long held that this is because of the increase in blood flow, and the resulting increase in oxygen delivered to your brain. Like an oxygen bar, the effects cease when the activity stops.
The runners in this film are ordinary people, but they all have one thing in common: they seem to be at peace with their places in the world.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The North Face Endurance Championship 50 Mile: T-minus 4 Weeks
Climbing to the escarpment in Squaw Valley
This week was a momentous one at Wanderplace. Eclipsing a stellar week of training was the news that I had been selected as the Sierra Trailblazers entrant in the 2014 Western States 100 Mile.
I'm finding it difficult to focus on December 7th.

That said, the week kicked my ass into gear:

Tuesday: 60 minutes on the mill

Wednesday: 90 minute tempo

Thursday: 60 minutes on the mill

Friday: A walk with Twirly (I got the WS news near the end)

Saturday: 90 minutes easy

Sunday: 5 hours on the North Face course

Totals: 55.46 miles, avg HR 141

My pacer for North Face, Victor Ballesteros, joined me on Sunday for a scout of the crux middle miles of the course. We got an early start at Santos Meadow, and chased the full moon up Heather Cut off Trail to Coastal Trail. The climb felt good in the cool air, and the clouds were scarce; the moon set and sunrise were invigorating. We cruised through Pantoll Ranger Station and further north along Matt Davis Trail, stopping briefly at the old wrecked car on Coastal Trail for a photo op.
Victor clowning on Coastal Trail above Stinson Beach

Victor is a rock star, with more single digit (and first place) finishes than anyone I have ever shared a trail with. I am fortunate that he agreed to pace me after we met over a discussion about quality in his line of drop bags. If anyone can haul my ass the final 23 miles to an 11 hour finish at North Face, it is Victor. I finished the run having climbed over 4000 feet in a little over 21 miles, which was exactly what my plan called for, but my pace was a bit off. Race day adrenaline don't fail me now.

We talked a bit about Western States along the way, and I grilled him about his finishes in 2009 and 2010. I have always relished the planning phase of race preparation. Gathering the resources and developing a plan lend to the training, and the overall experience almost rivals the actual performance. Having never "bit off this much to chew" (and still experiencing mild shock at getting in), I am finding the idea of 100 miles and more than a day of running too big to wrap my head around. Lucky for me, I am surrounded by talented veterans willing to help guide me. Between Victor, Jorge and Brett at San Francisco Running Company, the vets within the Sierra Trailblazers, and my boss Bruce LaBelle, I am confident I will get the support I need to perform well next June. I am shopping for a new coach, and Jorge's Mauka Running, is, well, in the running...

Finally, an enormous advantage to knowing I am in the race prior to the lottery: I got a sweet room near the starting line at a decent rate. Not too many people reserving rooms yet, and as a greenhorn I want to participate in as much of race week at Squaw Valley as I can muster!


Monday, November 18, 2013

Western States 100 Mile

Crossing the river at Rucky Chucky, source
Finishing up an evening walk with Twirly yesterday, I received the following email from my running club, the Sierra Trailblazers:

"Due to a change mandated by the new WS race director, we couldn't hold our drawing during the club Christmas potluck on December 14. He wants a name for our automatic entry by December 1, which isn't too far off. So we have now held our club drawing and will send the winners name to the race director.

The winner who is now in the 2014 WS100 Miler is:"


So my wait, and the anxious build up to the lottery, has been truncated. Training starts now! I am honored to represent the Trailblazers. I cut my teeth in the Gold Country Grand Prix, and now I can return the favor. This continues my serendipitous progression into ultra distances. After my first 50k, I signed up for my first 50 miler. With one 50 miler under my belt, I am registered for a 100.

While I am excited to begin this next level in my adventure, my coach was less than enthusiastic, pointing out "it's a lot to bite off". As if I wasn't aware of my rapid rate of advancement. October marked one year with Footfeathers, and while he did support and prepare me well for American River 50, the past few months have seen little in the way of support and communication. Moving forward to the challenge of 100 miles will require a supporting team with effusive energy and I need to feel like they are on my side. With that in mind, at the risk of sounding dramatic, North Face 50 will be my last race with Coach Tim Long.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Western States and Wobbly Knees

As the open registration for the Western States 100 lottery winds down, my anxiety is creeping up. Yesterday I calculated my odds of getting picked. I'm assuming about a 7% chance to be chosen in the official lottery, and then I have a 65% chance in my club's lottery, as I have two tickets and the only other entrant has one. Factoring in the odds that the other runner gets chosen in the official lottery (7%), which would mean I would get the club spot automatically, I come up with 79%.

Not bad, eh?

So this morning's Daily News at had a link that hit home:

h/t to Eric Schranz at URP, and to Mr. Trail Safety

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The North Face Endurance Championship: T-minus 5 Weeks

The rumbling in my gut felt familiar but something was not quite right. I tried changing positions, but that only exacerbated the situation, and before I knew it, waves of nausea were washing over me. I broke into a cold sweat, and ran for the rail. The contents of my stomach cascaded into the harbor, causing ripples on the dark surface of the bay. No, I wasn't in the midst of a 50 miler, I was waking at 5 am with what I can only deem food poisoning.
With five weeks to go, this week was to be the beginning of my peak; three weeks of 50+ miles full of hills and some speed work to prepare for the North Face Endurance Championship 50 Miler. The way I was feeling, I'd be lucky to run a step. Soon, the torrent was unstoppable, and I considered setting up a residence on the commode. I was forced to call in sick.
Once I had expunged all that was available, I tried to get some rest. I slept fitfully until mid-day, and tried to keep the nausea at bay with some ginger. I also drank some Tailwind, trying to hydrate; I had lost ten pounds in 24 hours, all of it water. I continued to rest and hope that it was, in fact, food poisoning so that I may be able to get in the 6.5 hours of training I had planned for the weekend.
I woke Saturday feeling much better, but not 100%. I was able to get a big smoothie in my belly before heading out for my usual easy 90 on a winding, uninhabited road in the woods. The run went well, until about an hour in, when my energy level dropped precipitously. Not enough calories in the past 24 hours. That did not bode well for Sunday's 5 hour race sim.
I headed to Auburn for some laps on Cardiac Hill, hopefully followed by a trip to No Hands Bridge, but after a couple trips to the river, I realized I was bonking again, as I could not get the calories into my revolting stomach. I cut the run short and felt miserable for the rest of the day.
In all the week was probably 25 miles short of what I had planned. Not a deal breaker, but the experience has inspired me to kick ass for the remaining four weeks until race day, and I am slowly feeling back to normal. These stumbles still seed doubt in my psyche, but with more experience I am beginning to mitigate that reaction. We all have to adapt as life unfolds, and that is an aspect of ultra running which attracts me. A run long enough to go wrong is an invitation to adventure, and as long as I am able, I'll keep hitting the trails.
 Week totals:

27.75 miles, avg HR 138, elevation 3000'


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Leap of Faith: 2014 Western States 100 Lottery

Could this be my first buckle?
The culmination of my fantastical ultra running career has brought me to this place. Throwing my name into the hat for the 2014 Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run lottery feels surreal. My lizard brain encourages me while my rational brain takes solace in the long odds. I'll get a second go around in my running club's lottery, with much better chances of being selected; fate will decide.

The fact that American River 50 Mile will no longer be accepted as a qualifying run made it a simple decision, but the anxiety which surrounds the 100 mile distance remains. And I think that's healthy. The day I no longer feel a twinge of fear when contemplating 100 miles will be a sad one, for it will signal that what was once a staggering suggestion has become mundane (as if).

Monday, November 4, 2013

The North Face Endurance Championship: T-minus Six Weeks

Recovery from the Stinson Beach 50k was on the docket this week. Fortunately, aside from some scrapes, cuts and bruises from the tumble, I fared pretty well. However, I took a couple extra rest days to ensure complete recovery before I start hammering the hills in preparation for the NFC.
Here's the week:
Tuesday: 45 minute walk
Wednesday 45 minute easy jog
Sunday: 3 hours on the NFC course
Totals: 20.5 miles, avg HR 136
I would have preferred to get a few more miles in, but I think I'll be able to hit my goal of >190 miles for the month of November. After racking up 150 in September, I piled up 175 in October for a gain of almost 17% (I was trying to be a good runner and just add 10%, but that would have meant stopping before the end of the month ;). I don't train on a mileage basis, so in the end it is what it is, and as long as I feel good and keep improving, extra miles shouldn't slow me down too much.
With five weeks until the race, I feel like I have some things to work on; climbing efficiency and overall durability. My weekend long runs are about to become suffer-fests with tons of vertical (the more the better), and to ensure I arrive at the start line healthy, weekly visits to the chiro for ART treatments and a couple of deep tissue massages. Continued core-work in the gym on the off days will pay dividends, hopefully, and keep me out of trouble!
My long run on Sunday was a scouting of the middle miles on the North Face course, including a large section of Muir Woods I had never seen before. I hope to go back in there and improve my pace through the section, as it was a bit slow for race day:

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Science of Ultrarunning

More interesting information found via a study of over 1300 ultra runners examining their running habits and history. "Exercise Behavior of Ultramarathon Runners: Baseline Findings From the ULTRA Study", published in the November issue of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, provides a scientific analysis of some of the trends in ultra distance participation and preparation.
Some statistics that jumped out at me:
  • Average age at first ultra marathon: 36 years old (I was 40)
  • Years of running prior to first ultra (3 years for yours truly):
Apparently the ultra bug bites early
It would appear that people predisposed to running ultras don't waste much time, and jump in with both feet! I can associate with that idea, as once a runner comes to terms with the notion of running further than a marathon, the thought gestates. Soon, the desire to know what lies beyond 26.2 eclipses all rationality.
  • Less than half of those studied perform resistance training. 
  • Active ultra marathon runners tend to have a high annual running distance that is diminished little with aging. In fact, it is the older ultra marathoners who tend to complete the most ultra marathons.
I love that the science surrounding ultra running is flourishing. After all, we may all be experiments of one, but together we are a phenomenon. I'm proud to be part of the spectacle.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Stinson Beach 50k

Matt Davis Trail, photo by Justin Watt

My breath forcefully left my body as I crashed to the ground on the Matt Davis Trail. My right elbow/shoulder and both knees took the brunt of the impact. It happened so quickly that I was already rolling to my feet and trying to conserve my momentum when I realized I had fallen. I looked quickly up the trail to see if anyone saw me go down; no one. Brushing the mud from my hands, I thankfully recognized that I had, yet again, managed to fall on soft ground. That makes me 4 for 4 for avoiding rocks, trees and roots when falling while trail running.

I was at mile 13 of the Stinson Beach 50k in Mount Tamalpais State Park. The race consists of a 25 kilometer loop, repeated, and I was nearing the completion of my first lap. Surrounded by 25k racers pushing hard to the finish, I was having fun keeping up with some and passing others as I flew down the single track, switching back and forth, descending rapidly into Stinson Beach. Technical downhill is my forte, and aside from that one mis-step, I was having a blast.

Organized by Pacific Coast Trail Runs, the event is pretty low-key. They offer four distances: 12k, 25k, 37k and 50k. I chose the race for its course, as it shares a few trails with The North Face Endurance Championship 50 Mile event, my "A" race for the fall.

Steep Ravine Trail
I was in great shape going into the race. My training had gone very well in the preceding weeks, and I had a strategy of keeping it easy for the first 20 miles, and then hammering it home for the final 20k. Everything was going according to plan, until I hit the ground. From the start, I let runners pass me by as I power hiked steadily up the Dipsea Trail towards Steep Ravine. I kept my heart rate reasonably near my aerobic threshold (~140) as I climbed. I had finished this section in just under an hour in the Tamalpa Headlands 50k a couple months prior, but I wanted to cut some time off that, as an even split in North Face would require the same climb at around 37 minutes. I made it to Pan Toll Ranger Station in 45 minutes, and was happy with the compromise.

Cardiac Aid Station

Coastal Trail heading towards Heather Cut-off, Mt. Diablo left horizon

After yo-yoing with a woman  from San Mateo named Allison on the climb, I passed her as I cruised through the first aid station at Cardiac Hill and onto the Coastal Trail towards Muir Beach, the Heather Cut-off Trail and its twenty switchbacks. A body check yielded no niggles, good energy, and now that I was running downhill, my heart rate settled in an aerobic zone. Allison caught up to me, and we ran together for the descent, talking about races and training. It was nice to have a distraction, and someone to help me keep my pace easy. The thick fog of the marine layer hugged the coast, making for an ethereal visage common in the Headlands.

Coastal Trail disappearing into the marine layer; the edge of the world.
After descending the Cut-off, we ran across Santos Meadows and picked up the Redwood Creek Trail. A mild uphill for the next two miles put the damper on our conversation as I steadily plugged away, crossing the bouncy wooden bridges of Frank Valley. I wished Allison well as I ran through the Deer Park Aid Station, and set to power hiking the 1500' climb up Deer Park Trail and back to the Cardiac Aid Station via the Dipsea Trail.
Gaining Cardiac Hill, the fifth place woman caught and passed me, and for the next 5 miles, I would oscillate with the 4th and 5th place women. They gapped me a little after we passed the Pan Toll Ranger Station for the second time, but as soon as the technical descent began, I passed them along with a handful of 25k runners.

Then I hit the ground, and ran the final mile and half of the loop in a mild state of shock. I did not feel any pain from the fall, but I could tell that my energy was low, and hammering the descent had taken its toll on my quads.
I met Twirly in Stinson Beach and swapped out my hydration pack. I had pre-filled my two Nathan packs with Tailwind Sports Drink. I usually require one of these every two hours, but I had stretched the first one to three hours, and I could tell that I was beginning to bonk. I cleaned up the mud and blood from my limbs, and set out for the second loop. I was going to have to pound calories if I wanted to survive the Matt Davis Trail descent the second time around, and so resigned myself to keeping my pace mellow to conserve energy and eat.
So much for a finishing kick.
After the 4th and 5th place women passed me on the ascent of Steep Ravine, I ran alone for about ten miles. I kept pounding calories and ginger chews in an effort to avoid any GI issues, but the energy gels combined with drinking the Tailwind too fast soon had me slowing down to ease my gut. I wasn't feeling like I was rebounding, but knew I had to keep after it or risk having to walk it in.

Shortly before I arrived at the Deer Park Aid Station, I entertained dropping for the first time in my running career. Crossing Muir Woods Road was a point of no return. Once I proceeded, the only way back to Stinson Beach was over Cardiac Hill. I wasn't really in pain, just had low energy. My mind needed sugar and I was becoming apathetic. Once I acknowledged these facts, it was obvious that my only choice was to soldier on, keep eating, and save my strength for the second descent of Matt Davis Trail so that I didn't hurt myself. I ate a little at the aid station before the final climb.
Allison caught up to me at the base of Cardiac Hill. We compared notes: I was bonking, and she was simply out of shape. She promptly dropped me on the steep final climb, and left the aid station while I was still eating. With afternoon temperatures rising, I got ice cubes for my water bottle and some more for my hat, and slogged through Pan Toll for the fourth and final time. The spectators in the parking lot were awesome. Words of encouragement were plentiful and welcome as I crested the course and began the final descent, determined to keep the rubber side down this time.
While I was moving quite a bit slower than the first lap, I was finally feeling better, and once I got into a smooth running rhythm, I began enjoying myself again. The faster I ran the sooner I would be done, and I had to focus on the trail instead of fantasizing about finishing.

Matt Davis Trail above Stinson Beach
The nice aspect to a multiple loop course is that the second time around one has a better understanding of distance and landmarks. By the time I dropped into the switch-backs I could see Allison ahead, picking her way through the gnarly descent. I caught and passed her about halfway down, and she encouraged me to finish strong.
I posted a time of 6:47:09, easily my slowest 50k to date. The first 25k lap took me 3:03, and the second lap took 3:44, so I apparently have some work to do on my negative split approach! My nutrition schedule needs some tweaking, and my ribs are bruised from the fall, but I still consider the race to be a success; I finished and learned some lessons.
The course volunteers were encouraging and helpful, and the course was gorgeous. A big hat-tip to John and Maureen Brooks and all the PCTR volunteers who made it happen. A lot of hard work went into the event, and I for one appreciate their efforts.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Western States Qualifying Races

Today, the Western States Endurance Run Foundation updated the list of qualifying races for 2015. Gone are the 50 milers, one of which (AR50) I am using to get my lottery ticket for 2014. Thus, I find myself conflicted. On one hand, I know that the odds of gaining entry get slimmer every year (less than 8% for a first time entrant this year) and the entrant field needs to be limited without making the standard more difficult. On the other, I have wanted WS100 to be my first 100 miler since I began running. Fortunately, there are still a few 100k's on the list, and they relaxed the 100k finishing time from 13 hours to 16 hours, which is totally within my capabilities. In addition, I plan to run at least one 100k next year if I fail to get into Western States, so in the end, the change will not effect my chances of popping my hundo-cherry in Auburn.
However, I was hoping to gain some inspiration to finish North Face 50 under 11 hours so that I would have my 2015 qualifying race all sewn up on the same day they draw the names for 2014. Now I have to figure out my "motivation" to finish sub-11, when I could phone it in and have a great time, comfortably finishing within the cut-off.
A fool's dilemma, I know.
At least now I won't be tempted to run the 2014 American River 50 just as a qualifier.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Stinson Beach 50K Training Update: The Taper

Since running the Tamalpa Headlands 50k eight weeks ago, my training has really flourished. TH50k gave me the confidence that my injury had healed, allowing me to focus on quality training through September and October. My long runs became more hilly, and my volume steadily increased to bring me here, to this place, with just days until my next challenge: the Stinson Beach 50k.

The Stinson Beach 50k Course

Stinson Beach 50k Elevation Chart
I'm using it as a training race for this December's North Face Endurance Championship 50 Mile; practicing pacing, fueling and climbing. In the past two weeks, my aerobic fitness has returned to a level akin to when I ran the American River 50 miler. My muscular endurance feels like it is at an all time high, so I am looking forward to seeing how comfortably I can negotiate the >6500' of elevation this Saturday.
I'm planning to go out easy for the first 20 miles and then hammer the final ~20k, taking a lesson from my San Jose Rock n Roll performance. That would give me two solid downhills to negotiate quickly, on tired legs. Ultimately, I'd like to finish North Face in under 11 hours, a 13:00/mile pace. I figure if I can maintain 12:00/mile this weekend, I will be in good shape to get a 2015 WS100 qualifier under my belt at North Face, which is on the same day as the 2014 WS100 lottery.

Note: The 2015 WS100 qualifying standard has been changed and no longer includes 50 mile races. As such, a sub-11 hour finish at North Face will not mean a lottery ticket for the 2015 event.
Exciting times at Wanderplace this Fall. Stay tuned for the Stinson Beach 50k race report, and the return of weekly training logs as I prepare for another 50 miler!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Blogroll Addition: What is Ultra?

These gifs at are brilliant. This one hits home, as I am growing out my beard at the moment.

How men feel about each others beards/how men think women feel about their beards: 
How women really feel:

Back to Back Beer Runs and a Bad Back

The theme of the weekend: beer near, photo courtesy of Makie Ohler
Following the Rock n Roll Half in San Jose, my lower back began giving me problems. Before I started running back pain was something I struggled with, occasionally requiring multiple visits to a chiropractor and daily yoga to alleviate the painful muscle spasms. Fortunately, the pain disappeared when I started running regularly, and I have been pain-free for over four years now. Imagine my concern when Monday morning's mild ache became Wednesday's reason to skip a workout. I went back to the chiropractor on Thursday morning, which enabled continued training over the weekend.

The first hash checkpoint, photo courtesy of Makie Ohler
I was bummed about Wednesday's missed workout (3 x 8:00 hill repeats at 5k effort), but I would have been downright melancholy about missing the weekend's planned activities: run a hilly 20 miles on Saturday immediately followed by the tenth Cougar Hash House Harriers run, and the inaugural Great Prospector Beer Run on Sunday.

The hare lays out the plan, photo courtesy of Makie Ohler

On On! The language of the hash, photo courtesy of Makie Ohler
For the first 10k on Saturday, I had to firm up my core muscles to prevent my lower back from collapsing when my left foot struck the ground. Once I was sufficiently warmed up, I felt relatively normal again and rounded out my run with a trip up Banner Mountain. Twirly was actually manning an aid station for a road bike event, and I availed her of a banana before trucking back down the mountain to hook up with the Cougar Hash at Jernigan's Tap House. Deschutes Brewery was sponsoring the run, and I wanted to get in on free beer and a pint glass.
I made it in the nick of time, and enjoyed even more elevation as we ran up and down the hills of Nevada City. I got a down-down for running the furthest, although Mark Ericson, co-owner of Trkac, was planning to run 15 more later that day in preparation for The North Face 50k, which will be his first ultra (outside of pacing for 30+ miles).

Pinky Sorbet won an honorable mention and finally added some bling to the medal rack!
Speaking of firsts, the Great Prospector Beer Run took place for the first time on Sunday, and Twirly and I made sure we were part of the festivities at Ol Republic Brewery. I had her at "there's a costume contest", and they me at "free beer". Win-win. I was feeling pretty stiff from Saturday's effort, so we walk/ran the 2.9 mile course. The event was casual; no bibs or prizes outside of the costume contest. Ol Republic's beer is worth any amount of driving or running. If Budweiser tasted like their Helles, I could save an awful lot of money... We ran into Mark, who was volunteering, and he recounted his misery after the Hash, running 15 hilly trail miles from Foresthill to Rucky Chucky and back with a few beers in his belly.

 Video courtesy of Ol Republic Brewery

Here are the garmin details from the Beer Run:

Over a week later, and my back is still giving me problems, especially in the mornings. I'm used to niggles speaking the loudest when my feet hit the cabin sole in the morning, but I never expected my back to become another niggle. Tomorrow, I try out a new massage therapist, Andrew Ezer. He was the team masseur for Artemis Racing during the America's Cup, so he's got the chops. One more trip to the chiro next week before Stinson Beach will hopefully have me race-ready. 

Nevada City's fall colors coming out during the Hash, photo courtesy of Makie Ohler