Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Black Toenail Hall of Fame

Ultrarunner Podcast has a "Black Toenail Hall of Fame" on their website. I am proud to announce that a toe on my right foot which has lost the same nail repeatedly (before it has even grown back), has been accepted and is now displayed in this prestigious library of suffering.

The toe in question:

15 seconds of fame

Monday, March 25, 2013

American River 50 Miler Training Week Two: New Shoes and a Sunset Cruise

Only three months into the year and I hit my second falter of the season. Not surprising, considering that I have not taken a break since December of 2011. Wednesday's tempo went horribly awry and ended before it really began. Warming up, I could tell my left leg was more stiff than usual, with some new niggles speaking loudly. After fifteen minutes, I picked it up and cruised along at sub 8 pace, fighting the growing cramps in my leg. High knees, deep breaths, relax, run tall... 

"Remember that half marathon when you ran 20 seconds faster for an hour and a half?"


After a measly mile the top of my left hamstring had had enough, and forced me to a sudden stop. I walked a bit, and then tried again, only to be shut down just as quickly. I have been fortunate that this does not happen more often, but when it does, I really have to fight hard against the pity party. But that's one reason I have a coach, and we had a good talk within an hour of my shower; some fine tuning of the schedule, and by Sunday night I felt like I was back on track.

Here's the week:

Wednesday: Pity party tempo - 30 minutes

Friday: 45 minutes at base pace on the treadmill

Saturday: 90 minutes at base pace on the Bay Trail

Sunday: 5 hours - second hour at base pace

Totals: 47.18 miles, avg HR 134

Cap'n and Junior
My father (Junior) came into town for the weekend, and we took Kuani out for a sunset sail on Saturday to check out the new Bay Lights installation on the Bay Bridge. We had a nice romp across the slot, cresting 8 knots with reefed sails! Give that boat a little wind and she is off like a greyhound chasing a rabbit, I tell you. 

Twirly at the helm

Sailing, take me away...

San Francisco bound

After a reaffirming 45 on the mill Friday, Twirly and Junior joined me on my 90 minutes to the horse track and back, and then we took the boat out with a marina neighbor. On Sunday, the long run Tim prescribed kicked my ass, once again. Junior rode my Pista the whole five hours, providing support like I have never had. I went through over a gallon of water, and with half an hour left, he rode ahead to refill my bladder. Not to mention he got some great pix of me running the training route. My new Montrail FluidFlex shoes performed well on Saturday's ten miler, but at fifteen miles they began rubbing my ankle bone, so I switched to my Wave Riders at Twirly's aid station around mile 17. The hour at base pace really gave me an opportunity to assess what kind of effort I can expect to hold for the last 35 miles of American River. I battled some bonking, which came early as a result of the hour "tempo", but got through the low and finished well.

Berkeley Marina

Berkeley Pier

Cesar Chavez Park

Twirly's aid station

Ten miles to go

My recovery continues to improve, I can walk normally and the cramping is manageable. I got right back to it on Monday, and have a few quality workouts before the taper begins in earnest on Thursday. I'm ready, willing, and slightly off my rocker, to run 50 miles in eleven days time.

Monday, March 18, 2013

AR50 Mile Training Week One: Another Bay Trail Ultra

My recovery from the Way Too Cool 50K went well; much better than post-American Canyon 50K. Continuing amazement at the body's ability to adapt to stress over time keeps providing me the motivation to get out there and RUN!

I had a good tempo run on Tuesday, only two days after setting a PR in Cool. Again, life trumped training on Friday and an hour fell off the schedule, but the miles accumulated none-the-less. Here's how the week played out:

Tuesday: 90 minute tempo

Thursday: 60 minutes easy

Saturday: 4.5 hours on the Bay Trail

Sunday: 90 minute recovery jog

Totals: 50.6 miles, avg HR 138

Wednesday I stopped by San Francisco Running Company to demo the new Montrail FluidFeel, and I promptly placed an order for a pair, hoping for a good daily trainer that I can take off road but still pound some pavement in. The mixed surface of American River has me considering a shoe change, and it is possible these shoes can serve me for the entire race. We'll see next weekend.

Despite a lack of niggles from last weekend's race, I could tell my muscles were still fatigued. Thursday's run felt weak, contributing to the skipped run on Friday. Saturday's long run, however, was great. A marathon plus a mile along the Bay Trail, with Twirly and a friend biking along for company in the first hour. I backed off the pace compared to the same run three weeks ago, trying to dial in a 50K pace I can sustain for the duration. The weather was spectacular, as was visibility across the Bay.
Egret chilling in Cesar Chavez Park, Mt. Tam on the horizon
Twirly set up another aid station for me around mile 16, and I chugged a bottle of Cytomax and another of Nuun before setting out on the home stretch. The kites were out in force at Cesar Chavez Park. There appeared to be a kite fighting contest happening.

Fighting kites in the distance

Likely a result of the slower pace, I felt much better at the finish than three weeks prior (three quarters of a mile shorter, as well). I recharged well, but ninety minutes of recovery jogging with Twirly biking at my side on Sunday felt horrible. Easy pace ended up being 10-11 minutes per mile, and pain in my hips prevented me from enjoying the morning, despite continued nice weather. A fat corned beef and cabbage dinner for St. Patrick's Day was a nice finish though, and I feel good about putting in over 200 miles in the last thirty days.
Bay shore cairn, San Francisco in the distance

I can't complain, really. In the last five months I have raced two 10Ks (here and here), a half marathon, a road marathon, a trail marathon, and three 50Ks (here, here and here). When I take into account that I have been running for less than four years, and I'm 41 years old, the fact that I can walk after such a winter speaks volumes. My coach has me on track to succeed at American River 50 Mile Endurance Run next month, and although the nerves are building, I know I'll be ready. One more long run next weekend (5 hours) and then a two week taper. I'll be ready.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Way Too Cool 50K

NorCal Ultra's "Way Too Cool 50K" is one of the most sought after 50K races in the country. Year after year it attracts ultra running icons such as Ann Trason, Scott Jurek, Geoff Roes and Max King. It is common to see local elites like Tim Tweitmeyer, Gary Gellin, Rory Bosio and Victor Ballesteros, and the infamous Gordie Ainsleigh has become a regular. The race is so popular that upon entering the age of digital registration, race director Julie Fingar had to institute a lottery system in response to the race selling out within minutes. The combination of beautiful single track looping through the Sierra Nevada foothills, parts of the Western States trail, and stellar race organization has made the Way Too Cool 50K a race that should be on every ultra runner's bucket list.
I first learned of the Way Too Cool 50K years before I started running. On a blissfully sunny Saturday morning over a decade ago, I was whitewater kayaking on the South Fork of the American River outside Cool, California. On my way to the river at 7:30 in the morning, I passed a throng of thousands near the fire station. It did not really register that there was an ultra marathon going on, but the name Way Too Cool stuck with me. Fast forward ten years later, and I came to the realization that one of the premier 50Ks in the country happens in my backyard. I knew I had to do this race, and I was lucky enough to be picked in the lottery on my first try.
Fog fills the American River Canyon

Outweighed by a frog
Race morning dawned cool and slightly humid, and as we descended Highway 49 to the American River, thick fog blanketed the canyon. I sipped my coffee, trying to gauge just the right amount of caffeine. Too much and I would have an upset stomach from the outset, too little and that last stop at the porta potty might not be effective.
The event start/finish area was overflowing with runners warming up, and Twirly dropped me at the entrance before going to find somewhere to park. I had about 40 minutes before the main wave started, and there was no line at the runner check-in table when I walked up. Norcal Ultras really cater to the runner, and my pre-race experience went without a hitch.
A beautiful morning, Way Too Cool 50K start, courtesy of Norcal Ultras
I caught up with some friends as the runners congregated in the starting area, and the excitement began to build as the announcer began to call out the names of runners who had won backpacks from Patagonia. With minutes to go, we were encouraged to come forward to the starting line, and then we set off on the adventure. I started near the front, and settled into a nice easy warm up jog as we wound down the asphalt road taking us to the Olmstead Loop and the first 8 miles. Some runners bolted ahead, while some took early walk breaks. Just before we hit the single track, a guy in a banana suit was high-fiving runners, and a gorilla on crutches waved from the side of the road.

A gimpy gorilla and his banana
I could see Gordy Ainsleigh up ahead, and spent some time running just behind him as we descended to Rock Creek. I overheard him scolding runners for stomping through the creek, telling them to stay on the rocks. Good advice, I thought to myself. Why deal with wet feet to gain a few seconds/positions if the course did not require a wet crossing?
Giddy next to Gordie Ainsleigh, grandfather of the 100 miler

Olmstead Loop single track
I kept a steady pace on the rolling single track of the Secret Mine Trail, and fell in behind a couple of volunteer safety runners for a spell, content to continue a pace between 10:00 and 10:30 per mile. We chatted about the race organization, and this year's Western States, which one of them was lucky enough to get in to, and as we turned back towards the firehouse and began to climb, I passed them and picked up my effort a bit. I had run this section in January while the ground was still frozen and the race mascots were but pollywogs; this morning the temperatures were balmy and I had to smile every time I heard the telltale croak of a frog. A quick body check yielded no niggles, and I felt strong on the small hills as I passed runners consistently. A little voice began to whisper things about new goals for my finishing time, but I set those aside, and focused on maintaining a steady effort. I cruised through the start/finish area in 307th (1:17 - well before my goal split) and set out to bomb the descent to the American River.
More Olmstead Loop single track

Gently climbing back towards the firehouse
Cruising the early miles, courtesy of Facchino Photography

I have been somewhat surprised during trail races this year by how many people I can pass on the descents. Granted, during American Canyon 50K, I was passed by many on the climbs, but approaching a technical downhill like a ski run is one of my favorite aspects of trail running. As I caught up to the back of each pack of runners, I would watch for a wide spot in the trail before jumping out to the left and shifting gears to more of a controlled fall, "on your left, thank you" I said repeatedly, picking up speed as I went. A couple runners would follow me as I made the passes, and once in the clear we would chat about where we were from, or how beautiful the day was shaping up to be. I knew I was going to have a good day when I ran through the lower 49 aid station 15 minutes ahead of my split, and set my sights on the runners up ahead along the quarry road. The fog had lifted from the river canyon, the temperatures were just right, and I was still passing people. A couple of runners caught and passed me in this stretch, but I managed to keep them in sight as I ran much more of the climbs than I had the previous month in the AC50K.
The start of the Quarry Road section (not my best race pic), courtesy of Norcal Ultras
Climbing American Canyon

I was in such a groove that I was surprised to return to the single track on American Canyon; the small voice whispered more loudly that a PR was not only in hand, but if I could find another gear on the return trip I could best my goal by 20 minutes or more. I settled in behind a small freight train of runners as we steadily climbed the East side of the creek, and tried my best to out-power-hike the lot of them once the trail opened up. At the top, I was once again caught up in a pack, but the pace was below 10:30, and I knew I could get in and out of the Auburn Lake Trails aid station before most of them. I was having a great time and cruised through the 20 mile wall feeling better than I ever have, even on training runs. As we neared the switchbacks descending to the aid station, I took off my pack and had it open to receive more water, and there were numerous volunteers with pitchers ready to help. I zipped up the bladder, turned around to grab a few extra S!Caps, a couple pieces of potato dipped in salt, and a handful of potato chips, which I munched on while running out of the aid station, clocking 2:14 for the split (I improved my rank on the middle section to 229th). In and out in less than two minutes, and I had a little room to run again. Less than ten miles to go!

Taking Gordie's advice and keeping the feet dry, courtesy of Facchino Photography
I soon caught another pack of runners, and the trail was just too narrow to pass, so I slowed and settled, biding time. An impatient woman in a yellow top was suddenly on my heels, and said "I want by you please, on your left" as she crashed through some bushes. I had to admire her determination. You gotta take advantage of the speed when it strikes you, I guess. Over the next mile she picked her way through the pack of about 12, and took the two I had been shadowing with her. One by one runners would step off the trail, and within a couple miles, I was alone once again. The best section of trail lay before me, a smooth, winding single track descended for the next two miles. A notoriously warm section, but I had plenty of water, and still felt like I had good leg turnover, although I did trip once or twice, reminding me to take an extra gel to stave off the wall and another fall.
I caught up to yellow top, and passed her back near the bottom of the section before the dreaded march up Goat Hill. I knew what was coming, so I jogged up the dirt road on the approach, and passed a few more people along the way. Once on the climb itself, I bent over, hands-on-knees, and focused on climbing steadily. A couple people passed me on the way up, but I held my own to the top, where volunteers held signs and encouraged the runners. Their energy was contagious, and I resumed a steady pace at the top, running straight through yet another aid station, still ahead of my goal splits, but having given back a little of the buffer I had built up. The day was warming up, and I began to feel a little dehydrated. I drank extra water, but my stomach began to slosh, and my pace slowed a bit. I could still attack the downhills, but the uphills were sapping my energy. I yo-yo'd with a woman for the next few miles, passing her on the descents and being passed on the climb. I hoped to find some Tums at the final aid station at Highway 49, and continued to take in water, knowing that I needed more. I was still holding off all of the runners I had passed, and my goal was in the bag, as long as I continued my relentless forward progress.

I was in such a hurry at Highway 49, I totally missed the chance to say hi to Adventure Gretchen, whose blog I read, but I found the Tums I needed (score!), drank some electrolytes and Coke, and set out on the home stretch. Runners around me looked less like racers and more like people trying to catch a train while toting luggage. Gaits were akimbo, and the final climb added insult to injury as we trudged past the one mile spring. I heard many groans as the trail leveled out and runners returned to actually running. The finish area was visible from about a half mile out, and for the first time in an ultra, I actually felt like I had a little finishing kick. I had a little room to run by myself, and enjoyed the throngs of spectators cheering us into the finishing chute. There was a timing board about 50 feet in front of the finishing line, enabling the announcer to call out my name and hometown as I crossed the line smiling at 5:23:15, setting a new PR and besting my goal by almost 8 minutes! I ranked 226th for the final section, which meant I had managed to "negative split" my race in comparison with the other runners.

Watch? What watch? courtesy of Facchino Photography

Still standing!
Having run a strong race is a huge confidence boost. I learn a little more each time, and I look forward to improving on this course in the years to come. I know now that I could have gone out a little faster, and that if I had hydrated better in the early stages, I probably could have avoided the GI issues of the last 5K.
Cool swag

The race was easily the largest trail race I have run so far. It felt like the Super Bowl of 50Ks; everything was extremely well organized and glitch-free. The "Ultra Village" provided stellar amenities: post-race pizza, free massage from Monsters of Massage, a recovery lounge including couches and beer, sponsored by Patagonia, and the famous frog cupcakes. The hundreds of volunteers were all efficient, kind and encouraging, and I could not thank them enough for being out there. I've never seen an aid station with so many people tending to water, and I volunteer at Western States!

Here is my Garmin data:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Way Too Cool 50K Training Week Four: Taper and a PR

Week four found me tapering for Way Too Cool 50K, and work forced an extra day off. Normally that would have bugged me, but it was only 45 minutes lost; inconsequential in the big picture. I have a love/hate relationship with tapering. While I agree that one should be rested going into a race, the truncated training runs during the taper do not last long enough for me to fully warm up. I am not a fan of the first few miles of any run, and when they end so suddenly, I feel shorted. In addition, after weeks of high mileage, it seems my legs feel more sore during the taper, as if the lactic acid never fully flushes out during my runs, and it accumulates more than normal. So, I got two runs in leading up to the race, and put in a solid effort in Cool. In the first miles of Way Too Cool, I found myself running next to Gordy Ainsleigh, the man who started the 100 miler in North America. Star struck and energized, I realized that ultra running is slowly becoming something I want to do until my legs will carry me no more. Here's the week:

Tuesday: 60 minutes at 9:00 effort

Friday: 30 minute shakeout with a friend

Saturday: 5:23:15 - Way Too Cool 50K (PR)

Totals: 39.12 miles, avg HR 150

After the 50K, I updated Wanderplace with the new countdown to the next race, the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run. Seeing it on the countdown, at 27 days and 9 hours, it hit me: I am going to run 50 miles continuously in less than four weeks. Having never attempted the feat before, I find myself lacking the reference to determine if I am ready. Sure, I have been training hard, and I have a good coach supporting me, who ensures me I will have a solid run, but I still have this small, growing knot of concern in my gut. In my brief running career, most new personal best long runs have eclipsed the previous run by a couple of miles, except when I ran Bizz Johnson last fall. In that case I had not run longer than 17 miles, and found myself running 31. It was a lesson in pacing and pain. So having run 31.5 that day, looking running 50 in four weeks, I am anticipating more pain. But it's good pain. Otherwise I wouldn't be so excited about it, right?

NorCal Ultras has race events dialed. My experience at Way Too Cool really impressed me; from the announcement of names at the finish to the complimentary massages by Monsters of Massage, I felt catered to and appreciated. I know I'll be miserable in the latter stages of AR50, but I look forward to the love and support of the organization, and the fellowship of the shared suffering amongst the runners.

Now, to go turn up the temp on the hot-tub...

Monday, March 4, 2013

Way Too Cool 50K Training Week Three: When Did 3000' Become "Altitude"???

The South Yuba River at Purdon Crossing
Week three would have been a good fifty mile week, if it weren't for that damn job getting in the way, but I gots to pay the bills, and a 90 minute tempo on Thursday fell by the wayside in the name of science. That said, the week was productive, and I returned to Nevada City for the weekend long runs. A hilly run on Saturday kicked my ass, and Sunday was spent walk/running with Twirly out and back along Pasquale Road, which will always be my favorite training run. Here's the week:

Tuesday: 5x1 mile cruise intervals at 5K pace (ass kicker workout - thanks coach)

Wednesday: 45 minutes with San Francisco Running Company group along the Mill Valley Bike Trail (ended up being a tempo run - gotta pick my partners better!)

Saturday: ~4.5 hours along the South Yuba River Trail

Sunday: 90 minute walk/run with Twirly

Totals: 42.91 miles, avg HR 142

The mid-week run with San Francisco Running Company was a treat. Brett Rivers and Jorge Maravilla have established a running store in the trail running mecca of Mill Valley. Their shop is mere miles from the Tennessee Valley Trail Head in the heart of the Golden Gate Recreation Area. Before they opened, I had to drive to Palo Alto to get to a decent running store (Zombie Runner), and now I have one just across the San Rafael Bridge. I am blessed to have two go-to running stores within minutes of my split households (Trkac in Grass Valley).

Plus, I have had a runner-crush on Jorge for a long time. His positivity is effusive, and ever since I saw him come into Michigan Bluff at the 2012 Western States 100, I have tried to channel his persona in my darkest times during a race.

Another epic weekend in the Sierra Nevada Foothills produced another dose of humility for yours truly. David took me on his back-pocket long run, as I told him I needed some hilly terrain to satisfy the 4000'+ on my schedule. We left his house and followed rolling dirt road up and over the "Governor's Trail" (passing a former residence of the one and only Jerry Brown) before picking up Torrey and descending to the South Yuba River via Purdon Road.

The South Yuba river Trail
When we got to the river trail head, we grabbed some water from a friend's truck bed, and headed out on the South Yuba River Trail from Purdon to Edward's Crossing. I had imagined a river trail following the bends of the river, but P to E gains a ton of elevation between trail heads, and the beautiful single track shortcuts the ridges between tributarys, tripling the elevation on the 4.5 mile stretch along the river. I had 5 hours on the docket, but after 4:45 I was spent. It felt like an "off" day. I chalked it up to the elevation and hills, but in retrospect, I'll call it  bonk in beautiful country. If any of you have the opportunity, The South Yuba River Canyon has some epic ground to cover.
Edward's Crossing

Headed down river
There are some LARGE Incense Cedars in this canyon
I'm even fantasizing about organizing a 50K down there.

With only a taper to go before Way Too Cool, my legs are already twitching. I have a top 50% in me, for sure, but this will be the most crowded single-track ultra I have started, and the first 8 miles are looking to be a jostling mud-fest. With rain forecasted mid-week and 850 runners on the Secret Trail Loop, it sounds like I'm in store for a Single track Woodstock! 

Bring it, I say.

Here are the details from the Yuba River run: