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 Ultrarunnerpodcast.com 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 ultrarunnerpodcast.com: 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.