Monday, February 25, 2013

Way Too Cool Training Week Two: Back to the Bay Trail

This week marked a return to volume. The first few runs were weak and timid, but mid-week I found fortitude, and finished strong. It feels good to get back to training hard and recognizing the payoff of miles to go before I sleep. Although Way Too Cool is the next race on the docket, 50K's are becoming old hat, mere training runs. My focus is shifting to the American River 50 Miler in April.

Here's the week:

Tuesday: a 90 minute tempo cut short. I was so exhausted I had to walk a bit during my cool down.

Wednesday: 60 minute MAF run. The numbers told me I wasn't 100% yet.

Thursday: 90 minutes @ 9:00 effort

Saturday: 28 miles on the Bay Trail

Sunday: 60 minutes @ 9:00 effort

Totals: 60 miles, Avg HR 141

I still felt the effects of the American Canyon 50K at the beginning of the week. Something wasn't quite right. I couldn't hit my pace, I felt lethargic. My coach called me "fragile" (in a non-offensive way). My motivation to get out there was totally absent. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that I have a 50 mile race in seven weeks. But I stuck with it, putting in the workouts Tim prescribed, and things turned around, as they often do. 

Running is like golf, sort of. For me, at least. Golf keeps me coming back by infrequently providing that rare shot where everything happens exactly as I intend. I pure the strike and the ball flies through the air as if controlled by my thoughts. It lands where I intended, and rolls to a stop where the next shot is set up perfectly. Sometimes, I play an entire hole that way: Tee shot, approach shot, putt for birdie. It doesn't even matter if I make the birdie putt (I rarely do). The execution gives me the satisfaction that I seek, so I continue to play the game. Running plays out the same way.

After a mediocre beginning to the week, I crossed paths with Topher Gaylord, CEO of Montrail/Mountain Hardware, on my daily training route. The headquarters of M/MH is on the other side of my marina; apparently he runs the Bay Trail from the office a few days a week, but I had never noticed him before Tuesday. I looked up to see the pure stride of an elite runner coming towards me; the effortless, high cadence of someone who doesn't know how to run without good form. He greeted me like a trail runner (which is rare on the Bay Trail), and it took me about a mile to figure out where I had seen him before. He made a bunch of headlines a few years back when he got the CEO position, but is an accomplished ultra-runner in his own right. I confirmed his identity on the return trip, and for some reason sharing the trail with him provided some seed of motivation.

Thursday's base-pace 90 minute run turned out to be one of those "pure" runs. Effortless. Light. A little bit of runner's high. My pace was 15 seconds faster than normal and I still had room in the accelerator pedal. It was a beautiful run. If they were all like that, Twirly would start to feel neglected, because I would easily be up to 100 miles a week toot-sweet. But they aren't all like that, and Saturday's 28 miles along the Bay Trail was a good example. Twirly ran the first three with me as a warm-up, and then drove into Emeryville to do some shopping before setting up an aid station at mile 16. I slogged a steady pace along the waterfront, spying egrets along the way, and felt a twinge of the ecstasy as I neared the midway point, clicking off sub 9:00 miles. I noshed on macaroons and Nuun while I recounted the Cactus League Giants game I had on the headphones to Twirly, and set off for the final 12 miles. On the return trip, I finally caught sight of a Burrowing Owl in Cesar Chavez Park. I put in many miles there last Spring, and never saw one. I finished the run strong, and recovered well, putting in another 60 minutes on Sunday at 9:00 effort without too many niggles.

The harmony of running is what piques my curiosity the most. Those fleeting moments when stride, rhythm, cadence and effort congeal into a pure experience and provide a place where I almost have an out-of-body experience, yet I am totally concentrated within myself. They tend to be so fleeting I hesitate to call it "runner's high", because I associate that more with the delirious feeling I have immediately upon completion of a hard run. It is more of a synchronicity. A perfect storm of endorphins and pain. Whatever it is, those moments are what I yearn for on the trail, and any time spent in pursuit of them is well spent, in my opinion.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Way Too Cool 50K Training Week One: Reset, Repeat

A reset week following the American Canyon 50K entailed a lot of rest, a massage, and just over three hours of running. I felt like my legs recovered really well in the days following the race, only feeling a mild case of DOMS, but when it came time to hit the trails again, I felt lethargic, my heart rate was running high, and my effort level was too high for the pedestrian paces I was achieving. I talked with Coach Tim a few times, and decided to cut out a 45 minute run on Friday, and cut Saturday's long run short as well. To top it all off, Twirly came down with a nasty cold over the weekend, and now I fear my health may be a contributing factor as well. So training ensues, albeit at a modest pace, paying close attention to how I feel.

Here's the week:

Thursday: 60 minutes at 9:00 effort (HR ~10% high)

Saturday: 75 minutes at MAF (pace suffered, HR still high)

Sunday: 60 minutes easy

Totals: 19.12 miles, avg HR 135

Three weeks left before Way Too Cool 50K, and I feel like if I can get back to some volume (i.e. 50+/week) for the duration, I'll be in great shape to break 5:30 on that fast course. That will position me well for the heavy volume I expect Tim to throw at me in the final four week push to the American River 50 Miler. With only 7 weeks until my first 50 miler, my anxiety levels are beginning to creep up. A healthy dose of confidence from two 50K tune-ups will create a cocktail of courage to get me all the way to Auburn.

Friday, February 15, 2013

I Think I Can

After a satisfying birthday dinner at my in-laws last weekend, we retired to the family room to relax and continue our dinner conversation. A copy of "Where the Sidewalk Ends", by Shel Silverstein was lying on the coffee table, and Twirly picked it up and began to read selected poems aloud. The book was a favorite of my youth, with its squiggly line drawing illustrations and quirky, rhythmic verses, but I have not thumbed its pages in quite some time. Sitting there listening to Twirly showcase the poems like no one else could, a day after the American Canyon 50K, she read one that was serendipitously appropriate, and I would like to share it with you here.

The Little Blue Engine

by Shel Silverstein

The little blue engine looked up at the hill.
His light was weak, his whistle was shrill.
He was tired and small, and the hill was tall,
And his face blushed red as he softly said,
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
So he started up with a chug and a strain,
And he puffed and pulled with might and main.
And slowly he climbed, a foot at a time,
And his engine coughed as he whispered soft,
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
With a squeak and a creak and a toot and a sigh,
With an extra hope and an extra try,
He would not stop — now he neared the top —
And strong and proud he cried out loud,
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!”
He was almost there, when — CRASH! SMASH! BASH!
He slid down and mashed into engine hash
On the rocks below... which goes to show
If the track is tough and the hill is rough,
THINKING you can just ain’t enough!

While it is romantic to believe that "I Think I Can" is enough to persevere in life's difficult moments, I know that it took more than determination to get me to the finish line last Saturday, although determination to succeed helped tremendously to motivate my training. The sweat equity was really what got me there. The hours upon hours spent meditating on the trail, using all that super-oxygenated blood to do some of my best musing, were what I needed when the track got tough, and the hill got rough.

So, while thinking you can is a prerequisite for success, it takes hard work too. And some might say that the glory lies in that effort, in the long road leading to the goal, instead of the goal itself.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Race Report: 2013 American Canyon 50K

Yummy single track!
The American Canyon Trail Race, organized by Sierra Pacific Endurance Sports, holds a special place in my running history. The 2012 event coincided with my 40th birthday, and I entered the 15K to mark the occasion and tune-up for a half marathon in San Francisco that Spring. I had not raced further than 10K at that point, and the course contained more hilly and technical terrain than I had encountered in the 5K's and 10K's in the Gold Country Grand Prix. In spite of my lack of experience, I placed second overall (out of a dozen or so) and the support and camaraderie of the trail running community made a huge impression on me. This race will easily become a birthday tradition. The course is beautiful from start to finish, following the Western States Trail. Sierra Pacific Endurance is cultivating a top notch event on an infamous stretch of trail. The chili at the finish is a nice touch, too.

This year, I entered the 50K as a tune-up for Way Too Cool 50K and the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run in April.  Coming into the race, I had tapered more than usual, having spent the previous weekend skiing in Tahoe. I had run only 31 miles since the Steep Ravine Trail Marathon two weeks prior. My legs were ready to run, and I was rested. Coach Tim told me to hold on to the chase group in the initial descent from the start to the river, and see where I was after the climb to Highway 49. He had set the course record at 4:23 in 2012, so I took his Garmin data and created splits for each aid station at equivalent 5, 5.5 and 6 hour efforts. He encouraged me to go strong, and said that I was capable of a top ten if I could finish in the low 5 hour range (10:00/mile pace). It was time to race!

My friends David and Torrey were entered, and brought along another Nevada County runner, Andy. The morning was brisk, with temperatures in the mid thirties at the start of the race. Many people were bundled up, with gloves, tights and arm sleeves or long sleeves, and some runners warmed up in the parking lot as final registrations and check-ins occurred. I wore arm sleeves with a merino wool t-shirt and gloves along with calf sleeves and gaitors. I spotted a few other runners I knew from work and other races, and by 8 am sharp, Race Director Harlan Reymont had given instructions, and counted us down. The Third Annual American Canyon Trail Run was underway.

Dropping into the river canyon
The field of over 100 runners funneled into the single track leading to Robie Point, assuming single file as we descended. Passing opportunities were limited, and the possibility of the occasional pile of horse manure made it necessary to give the runner in front of me enough space so that I could maneuver. The trail opens up within a couple miles of the start, and the traverse around Robie Point on rolling fire road allowed everyone to find their pace and place in line before a short technical descent to the floor of the canyon and more fire road to river level. 

Climbing towards the quarry

I kept a decent pace down to the river, arriving at No Hands Bridge over six minutes faster than I had at the 15K the year before, on pace for 5 hours. I ran through the aid station and began the power hike up to the 49 crossing aid station. A quick body check yielded no niggles, although I had experienced mild cramping on some of the short climbs in the first section, so I took an extra S!Cap and decided to consume some Gu Brew at each aid station to supplement my electrolyte intake. My nutrition strategy was to consume a Vespa before the start, and every two and a half hours, supplemented with energy gels halfway between Vespa doses and whatever aid station food looked good. Sportlegs every two hours also helped keep the muscles loose. I took the gloves off as I climbed the trail, employing a steady power hike. I was passed by a few runners on the ascent, and Torrey and Andy jogged slowly by, following a runner wearing Tarahumara style sandals. I crested the hill about a half hour after the No Hands aid station. Rolling into the 49 aid station at 5.5 hour split time, I realized a top ten was not in the books, and committed to a steady effort, shooting for a 5.5 hour finish.

I drank a Gu Brew at the aid station before crossing the highway and setting out for the river. David and I had run this stretch the weekend before Christmas in a pouring rain, and I bombed the technical downhill, passing a few runners who had passed me on the climb, including the sandals-wearer. He picked his way down the rocky trail cautiously, while I flew in my Hokas. I picked up Torrey and Andy on the descent and we ran together up the Quarry Road along the Middle Fork of the American River. I got to know Andy a little more as we ran, and asked about his training base.

"Oh, I walk the dog a lot, I have a Malamute, and they're a handful, believe me"

I laughed at his response and wished him well, warning him about trying to keep up with Torrey. We were running under 8:00/mile, and I let them go ahead, as that was faster than I had intended for the Quarry Road leg, hoping to save some leg speed for the return trip after climbing up American Canyon itself. Andy said he'd probably see me again, and they slowly ran out of sight along the old miner's road.

The trail was in great shape, and the creek crossings were all navigable, unlike December when David and I scouted the back 25K. Look at the difference in Hoboken Creek:

Hoboken Creek in December

The same crossing during the 2013 race

Climbing up American Canyon
The rest of the leg along the river went by smoothly. I ate a Gu Roctane, and recalled landmarks from my training run with David as I neared American Canyon. A few more runners passed me along the way, and I steadily hiked my way out of the canyon after rock hopping the creeks. At the top of the climb, the trail became runnable for the majority of the return to the Highway 49 aid station, and I had intended to put in a good effort on this stretch of trail. I managed to click off a couple of sub-9 minute miles to the Maine Bar aid station.

Coming into Maine Bar aid station
Twirly was helping out at Maine Bar, and her cheers always brighten my mood. I got a refill of my hydration pack, and drank another Gu Brew while munching on boiled potato with salt and pb&j. I dropped off my gloves, popped an extra couple of S!Caps and got a kiss from Twirly before continuing down the trail. I managed a low nine minute pace over the next couple rolling miles, as the trail wound in and out of the tributaries to the river. In the eighteenth mile, I tripped and fell for the second race in a row. It seems 'the wall' manifests as a tendency to trip over small obstacles on flat trail for me, and I can only be thankful that I have not fallen on the rocky stuff yet. I may have to increase my calorie rate in an attempt to ward off the lazy feet syndrome that seems to strike as I approach the twentieth mile. I brushed off the mud, and soldiered on. If I had a low point I would have to say it was in this stretch. I felt like I could not put in the effort I had planned. I was supposed to cruise this section, but I struggled to keep pace. I did hold back a little, trying to save some energy for the final 4 mile climb to the finish, but when I envisioned the race in preparation for the day, I was always running faster in this stretch.

Vistas from the Western States Trail
Awesome, runnable single track around mile 18

Single track, and more single track
That said, the trail is gorgeous. Views of the river canyon alternated with trips into the tributary ravines, and sunlight swapped with cold, mossy smelling breezes as the frosty slopes began to thaw. I found myself looking forward to climbing Goat Hill, a climb of 500 feet in a half mile stretch in the 21st mile. The climb provided a welcome break from running, and as I climbed the steepest section, David caught up to me. We crested the hill together, and I gave him a ViFuel gel. He had inadvertently run through the Maine Bar aid station without grabbing any gels, and the sections between Highway 49 and Maine Bar are long enough to warrant extra fuel and water. Shortly after, I pulled over to let David and another couple pass, and David was off like a shot into the rolling grasslands between Goat Hill and the Quarry. I repeated my mantra, "easy, light, smooth, fast" as I cruised along more beautiful single track. As I ran through "Grandfather's Stand" I slipped on an off-canter, muddy stretch of trail, but caught myself, straining my right hip abductor in the process. Again, my mantra helped me calm things down as I continued hiking the ups and running everything else.

A beautiful day, a beautiful course

Soon enough, I rejoined the trail leading around the quarry, and began calculating my split. My estimation that I was behind 5.5 hour pace did not provide very much motivation to run the climb to the aid station at Highway 49, and I felt like I still needed to save something for the last 4 miles. I rolled into the Highway 49 aid station about 5 minutes off 5.5 hour pace, and had my fill of Gu Brew, potato/chips and pb&j. As I set off up the gentle incline out of the aid station, I spied David ahead, walking with a pronounced limp. I soon caught up, and gave him an Ibuprofen to help straighten out his hitch. As we crested the hill and began running, I felt a resurgence of speed, and cruised the downhill towards the No Hands Bridge aid station. David slipped in some mud, and fell. "Hang in there David!" I shouted as I hauled ass down the trail, clocking sub 8 minute pace and feeling great.

Climbing out of the river canyon
I crossed paths with Andy at the No Hands aid station, and he took off across the bridge to stay ahead of me as I drank more Gu Brew and noshed on more potato and salt. I set off to pursue him to the finish, a long 4 mile climb back to Overlook Park. I trotted steadily up the trail, smiling for the Ultrarunner Magazine photographer who had camped out on this section all morning. I kept Andy in my sights, but never made much ground on him. I power hiked the steep switchbacks up to Robie Point, and resumed my trot, counting down the distance as I passed the mile markers. Recalling the 15K finish from the previous year, I kept my momentum up each rise, anticipating the crest of each climb. As I entered the final ravine, and could hear the spectators cheering at the finish, David called out behind me.

"This is where I thought I was gonna die last year", he said, which lit a fire in my stride, and despite his efforts, I managed to beat him out by 3 seconds at the finish, only 40 seconds behind Andy. Torrey had finished about 15 minutes before us, and cheered us in with Twirly.

Race bling!

Happy to be finished, the Nevada County crew
At the finish I got my allotment of chili, and threw a handful of potato chips in for good measure. They had Chocolate Smoothie flavored Gu Recovery Brew, which was freaking awesome! I picked up my dog-tag finishers medal, and changed into some dry clothes as we decompressed and traded stories with other runners. I thanked Harlan for a great event, and soon after we were feasting at Auburn Alehouse in celebration of another epic adventure on the trails of the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Sierra Pacific Endurance put on a great event. The aid station volunteers were enthusiastic and supportive, the stations were well stocked, the course well marked and provided stellar views of the river canyon. I look forward to celebrating my birthday with a run on this course for years to come.

The details:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

American Canyon Training Week Nine: A Taper, a Race, and Beer Worth Waiting in LIne for...

American Canyon 50K organizer
Week Nine brought race day, and my legs twitched from the taper. Last weekend in Tahoe bled into Monday, and work forced me to the treadmill for another couple of workouts mid-week before a shakeout jog on Friday and the American Canyon 50K on Saturday. Finding myself with some extra time on my hands, I invested a long wait in line at Russian River Bewing Co. in Santa Rosa to get my ration of Pliny the Younger, a seasonal beer which is rarely seen outside the brewery, and is only available during the first two weeks of February each year. "The Younger" is a Triple IPA, and contains 10% alcohol. It is not your average beer. Like a good scotch or wine, it is both extremely complex and perfectly balanced. An awesome brew, in spite of being a little light in the aroma department, but that's just my opinion.

Pliny the Younger, in its natural environment
Here's the week:

Tuesday: 60 minutes on the treadmill (8:40 pace, 10x60 second strides)

Wednesday: 40 minutes on the treadmill,  8:30 pace

Friday: 30 minute shakeout, 8:40 pace

Saturday: American Canyon 50K

Totals: 46.4 miles, avg HR 144

I definitely got anxious about all the rest days I had taken as a result of the ski weekend, but when my legs began to feel neglected, I took that as a sign the taper was working. I was encouraged by the pace on the shakeout jog, which felt comfortable and strong. I got good rest in the days before the race, and I felt good at the start. David and Torrey had made it, and brought another Nevada County runner, Andy. Knowing so many people at the start played a role in the evolution of the race, and in the end, Andy, David and I would finish within a minute of each other. Torrey easily beat us by 15 minutes. Twirly worked the Maine Bar aid station at the half-way point, providing great support for all the runners. We hit the Auburn Alehouse for a well deserved feast after the race. They had their Triple IPA, ZZ Hop, available on cask, which was another rare treat. Wednesday is cask night, and I just don't find myself in Auburn mid-week anymore. The cask ales don't often survive the night.

New home for the bling
On Sunday, I took a hot tub and got a massage from Twirly, and she gave me my birthday present, a proper rack for the race bling I am accumulating. It has some room for the next few years, I hope. I enjoyed yet another beer worth waiting in line for, Westvleteren Twelve, from the monks at the Trappist abbey of Saint Sixtus of Westvleteren in Belgium. As recently as 2005, the Westvleteren Twelve was rated as the "Best Beer in the World". You must make a reservation to purchase at one of the two official selling locations, and as of 2009, the limit is one case per license plate number every 60 days. People wait in line in their cars to get their hands on this one. Last year the Abbey needed a new roof, so for the first time in their 175 year history, they distributed a select number of six-pack "gift packs" to North America. My birthday present to myself this year is a glass of this exclusive brew. Now - how to acquire another bottle...

The American Canyon 50K race report is in the works. Stay tuned.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


I found this animation this morning, via UltraRunner Podcast.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The North Face Endurance Challenge - San Francisco, 2013

My 2013 race schedule is taking shape, as I have registered for my second fifty mile race of the year (or of my life), The North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco, Gore-Tex 50 Mile. I've jumped the gun a little, as I won't have a fifty miler under my belt until April, and (knock wood) I don't know if I'll be healthy, but I figure eight months is long enough to recover and train for another, albeit harder, fifty. The strength I feel going into the last eight weeks of training for the American River 50 Mile has given me the confidence that I can make a solid effort in December.

Golden Gate Recreation Area

I know quite a few runners who participated in last year's truncated and muddy TNFEC San Francisco. It was held the same weekend as CIM, and the mud-fest that ensued forced organizers to cancel the Sunday race docket. Last year's course was altered due to the weather, resulting in two loops within the Golden Gate Recreation Area. The 2013 event will revert to the originally planned course, which takes the runner from the south end of the Marin Headlands up to the shoulder of Mount Tamalpais before returning to the start area, hitting a variety of trails along the coast and the ridge lines inland, combining a small amount of single track and miles and miles of fire road rolling through the Headlands. 
Pirates Cove, Coastal Trail

I absolutely love these trails, and I am looking forward to training on them as much as possible this summer and fall in preparation for this spectacular event.

Now I back the calendar out from December 7th, and begin considering some tune-up 50K races in the fall. Anyone have suggestions?

Monday, February 4, 2013

American Canyon 50K Training Week Eight: Two Runs and a Ski Weekend

Found on Facebook, comes to mind mid-run occasionally and makes me laugh
Week eight began with an extra day off due to DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) from last week's trail marathon, and ended with a ski weekend instead of back-to-back long runs. Every February, I take a long weekend in Tahoe to ski and indulge in comfort food. The menu has taken a decided turn towards European peasant food in recent years. Braised meat, on the bone, cooked for hours, and wine, whiskey and chocolate make for a Saturday night dinner worth skiing hard all day. Throw in a little marrow on bread (mmmm, meat butter) and late night poker, and you get the general idea. If the 49ers had managed the greatest comeback in Superbowl history, this year's trip would easily have ranked as the best ever. As they did not, it still equals every year I have gone.
Tahoe views from the deck at the cabin

The week:

Wednesday: 60 minutes, treadmill hill repeats (10x60 seconds at 12 degrees)

Friday: 90 minutes at 8:30 effort

Saturday: 21K vertical feet snowboarding at Homewood

Sunday: Casual walk with friends to Paige Meadows

Totals: 16.49 miles ran, 5.6 mile walk, ~24K elevation change

Happy to be back in Tahoe
I could tell on Saturday that my legs are in great shape. Absolutely no soreness or fatigue all day. In the years since I began running, my skiing fitness has steadily increased, but not until this year have I felt that I was this fit on my first day of resort skiing. It feels good!

By Sunday, my legs were twitching to get some mileage in, but I opted to hang out with friends I have not seen in a long time, and walking to Paige Meadows provided a little bit of relief. Next week's taper into the American Canyon 50K will be difficult, as I have only a couple of hours to get my ya-ya's out before the race. All this bodes well for the race, but it is always foreign territory to my increasing fitness and body-awareness.

Paige Meadow snow angels
This training cycle has provided so much more confidence than those in the past. Going into CIM, I felt unprepared and nervous about my ability to reach my goal. Despite American Canyon being a tune-up race for the fifty miler in April, I feel ready to attack the course with solid effort, and it feels like I am making progress in huge leaps as I stretch my long runs and weekly volume up month by month.

Homewood has the best Lake views

On Rainbow Ridge at Homewood