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 whatisultra.tumblr.com 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

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Rock n Roll San Jose Half Marathon

I ran the 2013 Rock n Roll San Jose Half Marathon as a training race. My coach had scheduled a mock 13.1 workout, where he wanted me to warm up, run an evenly paced 13 miles at slightly slower than half marathon race pace, and then cool down. As there aren't many flat 13 mile options in the foothills, and the Bay Trail is getting boring (most of my long runs occur there), I opted for an organized race. Over the course of 2013, I have used a few races as training runs, and I feel that I continue to improve my approach; dialing back the effort and focusing on specific goals rather than getting drawn into competition and racing those around me.
Normally, at a race large enough to have a pre-race day expo, I try to do a shake out run on the last few miles of the course. It provides me some familiarity during the race, and helps me figure out when to kick, and how hard. Unfortunately, the final miles of the RnRSJ Half follow "The Alameda" into downtown, and Twirly pointed out that there was no bike path and a 5-way intersection to negotiate. So, in order to stick together, we followed the Guadalupe River path past the San Jose airport and back. It's a nice enough path, but I could have done without the stretch next to the airport.
Race morning was considerably cooler than the previous afternoon, which was a blessing. The throngs of participants stretched farther than I could see, and no fewer than 18 corals were set up in the starting area. I had never toed the line at a race this large; an estimated 16,000 runners would take 45 minutes to cross the starting line as wave after wave shuffled through the chute.
 I had been shooting for a 1:50 finish when I signed up, but an aborted tempo run the week before had me questioning my fitness, and Coach Tim had me dialing back this specific workout. We settled on a MAF strategy for the first ten miles, followed by a 5k kick as hard as I wanted. I ended up lining up with some friends a couple corals back, shooting for sub 2:00.

The start
The party atmosphere of a Rock n Roll event was evident from the get-go as the announcer set each wave free to blaring music. We were at the back of our coral and had room to run right away, and settled into a comfortable pace around 9:30/mile. My friends and I chatted about the race (one was running her 7th San Jose RnR event) and navigated the slower runners ahead of us. True to form, the scientists among us discussed the phenomenon of slower runners signing up for the early corals. Was it high hopes of setting a new PR? Maybe the ignorance of newbies thinking they had a 1:30 half marathon in them after they crushed their sub-60 10k? Regardless, it seems that every race with corals has a large contingent of slower runners at the front, who create a sea of obstacles to the steady runners behind.
Rock n Roll events host music along the course, and there were plenty of San Jose residents contributing their own music, from blaring car stereos, to solo heavy metal guitarists and four piece blues bands. Our pace would quicken as we passed each act, and by the 5k mark, we were cruising along at 9:0x pace.
Around the 10k mark, our little group had begun to spread out, and my pace was hanging around 9 minutes. Twirly caught some video of us as we ran back through downtown on our way out towards the Rose Garden:

A nice aspect of this course is that the elites come running back down The Alameda as the mid-packers are headed out. On pace for a 1:02 finish, the leader (Ryan Vail) elicited a wave of whoops and hollers from us slower runners as we crossed paths. I always grimace a little (on the inside) when I think about the elites finishing while I pass the halfway mark. Ryan Hall was supposed to run the race but withdrew before the start, and it would have been cool to watch our American Record Half Marathon holder (59:43) in action, but I had another 6.5 miles to go, and discomfort was creeping in.
The back half of the course runs through some pretty, wooded neighborhoods. The temperature was rising, and I grew anxious about the ten mile mark. I refilled my water bottle and ate a VFuel gel in preparation for the kick. I wondered what kind of pace I could pull out for the final 5k, and had to consciously hold myself back during the tenth mile.
I really enjoyed those first ten miles. The musicians were spread out far enough to really provide a boost of energy as I passed each act. On top of that, there were teams of cheerleaders filling the gaps between bands, and at the aid stations. I have never even been to the Boston Marathon, but the scream tunnel at Wellesley makes a lot more sense to me now. A chorus of screaming girls does trigger some sort of adrenal response!


2k to go, Twirly catches my attention
That said, the final 5k I had tunnel vision. As I passed the ten mile mark, I shifted easily into my tempo cadence and drifted over to the side of the road so that I could pass the crowds. I focused on running tall and smooth, occasionally glancing down at my heart rate. I knew I only had to push for a little over 20 minutes, and they flew by. I passed Twirly at mile 12, and latched onto a guy running in five fingers who apparently had the same plan, as we were evenly paced and passing hundreds of runners.


Having not run the final mile the day before, I was assuming the finish line would be after the turn off The Alameda, but it was a few blocks further. I finished strong, and for the first time in my memory I realized I didn't have to run anymore after I had stopped. Usually I have the carrot of the finish hanging in front of my face for that last mile, but this time I was so focused on my form and tempo that I almost forgot to stop as I hit the crowd at the finishers area.
I regrouped with my colleague, and grabbed up as many recovery items as I could carry (chocolate milk, Gatorade, Powerbars, bananas, etc.). I could see that Twirly was still out on the course, so I got in line for a beer and enjoyed the finish line band. I had covered the final 5k in 23 minutes, only 90 seconds off my 5k PR. I think the strategy of going out so comfortably will be something I incorporate into my ultras. Obviously, a negative split has been touted by many as the easiest way to a PR, but I'm still learning. Putting knowledge to practice is an art I have not yet perfected.

Overall, the event was well organized and fun. The volunteers were effusive with their support, and the musicians really do break up the monotony of a road race. To top it off, I do believe the finisher's medal is my heaviest to date! After the fiasco that was the Rock n Roll Las Vegas marathon in 2011, I was skeptical going in, but happily surprised at the efficiency of the San Jose race. I'd consider doing it again. Maybe San Francisco next time? We'll see.
For the data nerds, the details:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Training Update and Jaybird Earbuds: Confidence and Customer Service

The last few weeks have brought a breakthrough in training. I feel like I breached the initial obstacle of regaining my aerobic and muscular endurance. In the weeks since Tamalpa Headlands 50k I have steadily increased my volume, and after training racing a half marathon yesterday, I feel like I am healthy and fit enough to pursue some more quality workouts.

That said, it has been a bumpy ride. A few weeks ago I had to abandon a tempo run halfway through. My tempo pace (8:00/mile) should produce a heart rate between 150-160, but after ten minutes ~95% (177), I felt like my chest was going to explode. I scaled it back to a cool down jog and commenced the pity party. I talked to the coach, and he prescribed base pace running for three weeks, with the exception of the hill workouts. This was disappointing, as I had signed up for the Rock n Roll San Jose Half Marathon to simulate a hard tempo run on the schedule, and now I was back to the basics.

Fortunately, I ran a MAF test a few days prior to the race, and my pace settled in around 9:0x, which duplicated a test I performed in February in the midst of preparing for the American Canyon 50k. I bounced it off Tim, and we came up with a decent race strategy: run MAF effort for the first ten miles, then hammer the final 5k as hard as I want. In retrospect, that strategy should be the framework for every race! I was very happy with my performance. It left me with a renewed confidence that I can continue to improve as a runner.

While at the race expo on Saturday, Twirly and I shopped a bit. I picked up some inserts with the hope that I can get more than 500 miles out of my daily trainers (Mizuno Wave Riders), and I spotted a booth slinging wireless ear buds designed for endurance athletes. My wired headphones had just begun shorting out on one side a few days prior, so I stopped and checked them out. Jaybird ear buds are sweat proof (lifetime warranty) and have a little rubber fin that locks them into your ear holes, making them perfect for running, and an 8 hour battery life sounded adequate. My wired pair had a ring that went round my ear, keeping them stable, but the wire always required attention to keep it out of the way. Jaybird also touts itself as the official training headphones for the USA Triathlon, so I knew they would be a good product.

I purchased a pair of the Blue Buds X, at an expo discounted price of $40 off. Twirly and I finished foraging for swag and went to meet a friend for lunch at Rock Bottom Brewery. On our way home, I went into my swag bag to get the ear buds, only to discover that I had been given the "Freedom Sprint" model instead. These were a little bulkier, had a 4.5 hour battery life and retailed for the same amount I had actually paid at the expo.

Monday morning I called the company and explained what had happened. Low and behold, Pete told me he would replace them without hesitation. We set up an RMA, and he told me he would send me the correct ear buds without delay. I was to put the "Freedom Sprints" in the box and mail them back. No Problem. Easy peasy.

An hour later I get an email from Pete. I figured it was just confirmation of our conversation and maybe the RMA code, but what I read was totally unexpected:

"Since we gave you the wrong headset, I am going to send you the Blue Buds and have you keep the Freedom Sprints.  We don't want you to have to go through the hassle of sending the wrong headphones back to us.  Once again, we are sorry for our mistake.  Have a great day."

Once again, my faith in humanity capitalism has been restored, and Jaybird has gained an advocate, marketing asset, and customer for life. So go check these ear buds out, they rock!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Great Prospector Beer Run

Another race added to the calendar last minute: the Great Prospector Beer Run in Nevada City on Sunday, October 13th. The ~5k race is held at the Ol' Republic Brewery, and comes with lunch, a beer and a logo pint glass! It appears to be sponsored by The Union newspaper, and organized by the Sierra Trail Blazers.
Despite the five hours I have on my training plan for Saturday, and the Cougar Hash House Harriers run I am tacking onto the end of it, the thought of running such an event had me dashing for my credit card. Supporting my two favorite activites (running and drinking beer) in my own community is too convenient to pass up!