Thursday, January 23, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Pacifica Foothills Trail Half Marathon

Montara Mountain beckons
"Pacifica Foothills 50k kicked my ass last weekend," a coworker told me one Monday morning in early 2013. And so, the grueling but beautiful trail race was on my radar. In mid October, bolstered by a successful strategy in the San Jose Rock-n-Roll Half, I signed up for the Pacifica Foothills Trail Half Marathon. I was in excellent half marathon shape, and wanted to find out how fast I could push myself on rugged terrain. It would be six weeks after North Face 50, giving me plenty of time to recover. The half marathon is my favorite distance to race; far enough to warrant a strategy, but short enough to blow up and still finish well. A rare opportunity to go all out.

That was before I had gained entry to Western States. Race day came smack at the beginning of a solid base building phase, and my coaches advised me to keep it mellow. "Power hike the first climb, and keep the heart rate in zone 3 for the remainder", which I executed flawlessly. I could have finished quite a bit faster, but I likely would not have been able to train very well in the days that followed. Instead, I finished feeling fine, and training continued as planned. These 'training races' are getting easier to wrap my head around.

The weather was gorgeous, just like the course
The event, offering five distances (10k, half marathon, 30k, marathon and 50k), attracted over 200 runners to San Pedro Valley Park in Pacifica, a quaint seaside town just minutes south of San Francisco. The weather was outstanding, if a bit warm; record temperatures were predicted. Waves of warm air washed down the mountain and across the cool, dewy park as runners began to assemble for the start. It was a strange sensation, and foreshadowed warm temperatures approaching. The 50k, marathon and 30k runners went off around 8:30, and the half marathon began 15 minutes later. The 10k, using only the second loop of the course, started sometime after I had left the area.

Pacifica, and the Pacific
I jogged with the herd for the first half mile, along a gravel footpath. Soon, the trail constricted to single track and began ascending. I followed my coaches advice and power hiked as much as possible, only opening up my stride when the grade became obviously runnable. I did an okay job holding my place in the conga line, but let dozens of runners pass as they huffed their way up the hill. My right calf cramped severely during the climb. Never having cramped while running before (I usually cramp after finishing) I was unsure why it happened or how to fix it. I knew salt might help, and I had some dilute Tailwind in my bottle, but no S!Caps. I chalked it up to starting cold, and tried to leave my heel on the ground as long as possible in each stride to stretch out the muscle group. Short spells of running did not loosen it up, but overall it didn't slow me down much. By the time we gained the ridge and the trail opened up into a dirt road, I had forgotten about it all together. I'll have to remember that trick.

Two way traffic made for some dicey passing opportunities

Some upper sections were steep
The views from the summit of Montara Mountain made the climb worthwhile, but I was looking forward to the descent! Three miles of semi-technical downhill lay before me, and as I had kept it easy on the way up, most of the two way traffic I had to negotiate was above the single track. I had one parade of about eight runners to pass on the narrow trail, and then it was off to the races. I got my cadence up around 190, and clicked off effortless seven minute miles on the way back to the park, and the second loop.

The upper sections were nice and wide, allowing easy passing

The views were hard to appreciate on the downhills!

After following a train of runners who missed a turn at the bottom of the hill, I regained the course and ran confidently into the aid station. I felt great: no niggles since the calf cramp, I'd finished 20 ounces of Tailwind, and I was ahead of my goal split. I refilled my bottle, got a quick kiss from Twirly and set out on the third of the four climbs with just over five miles to go. The temperature seemed to climb as the wind out of the East brought the heat from inland.

I'd been oscillating with a small group of runners who would pass me, slowly, on the climbs. Only a few of these runners made it out of the aid station fast enough to catch me, and I caught all but one of them on the next descent, a short downhill back into the valley. Then, the final four miles was a grunt up a series of switch backs followed by a final fast descent through Eucalyptus groves to the finish line. I had been shooting for a modest finishing time of 2:45, but ended up crossing the line 37th out of 131, at 2:29, just barely edging out another 40-49 age group man at the line (for 8th in my AG). I don't usually kick in a trail race, but I had lots of gas left in the tank, and, well, sometimes the urge to compete can overwhelm, right?

This race course is absolutely stunning; views of the ocean, Pacifica, San Francisco and the Bay all compete for your attention. Fortunately, there is enough climbing for one to appreciate them, because on the descents, taking in the view is a recipe for bloodied knees or worse! The volunteers were supportive and helpful, and the course was well marked (I would not have taken that wrong turn if I was leading - the trail was obviously marked).

My favorite part about running this event was that it was free for me! I used a volunteer credit I had earned at the 2012 Woodside Ramble. Twirly and I followed the spectacular morning with lunch at a friend's house on the beach, where we grilled up some Gorilla Barbecue chicken, and soaked up the sun. Despite the brutal elevation, I'll be back for this one, if only for those screaming downhills!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

More Media: Journeyfilm Prepares a Webseries

Journeyfilm, maker of Unbreakable: The Western States 100, is gearing up for a weekly web series covering ultra events and culture. The trailer is classic Journeyfilm's footage of trail running at its finest. At just 47 seconds, it has the uncanny ability to make me want to go run!

Monday, January 13, 2014

New Year's Resolutions: Running Goals for 2014

2014 holds the promise of running Western States 100, which blows my mind, to be honest. One event eclipses everything in my training. But before I get too deeply into the coming year, let's revisit my 2013 goals:

  1. Complete the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run
  2. Race trails not roads
  3. Be injury-free
  4. Grow Wanderplace
  5. Run the Dipsea
I did complete AR50 in under 10 hours, thereby punching my ticket to States via the Sierra Trailblazers administrative spot. Succeeding in my primary goal was satisfying, although I left something out there on the course. I'm still learning how to cross the line with nothing left.

Racing trails not roads? I crushed this goal, only racing 19 out  of 300 miles on the hard stuff. 2013 was the death knell of my taste for road racing. I may have another road marathon in me, but it will be along the lines of the Mount Lemmon Marathon ("the toughest road marathon in the world"), Pikes Peak, or to run a fun one with family and friends. I can see myself going for a BQ in my fifties or sixties, but those years are decades away.

2013 might have passed without an injury, had I been training to be a corner-back leading up to the Run For Your Lives 5k. All the juking and jiving I did while chasing those poor bastards resulted in a derailed summer and a reset of my endurance. I cannot afford a mistake like that in 2014.

Wanderplace has grown by leaps and bounds, thanks in no small part to the automated bots and indexing sites which seem to bombard the site every time I put up a new post. I'm fairly certain there are some actual people who visit, aside from my parents (even Twirly admits she doesn't really stop by that often). So a huge thanks to the 7 or 8 of you out there who find value in these pages.

Dipsea continues to elude me. This iconic race is tough to gain entry to, and the jury is still out as to whether it belongs on my calendar this year. The debate has been set, but I will leave the final decision up to the coaches.

That brings us to my 2014 goals and aspirations:

  1. Finish Western States under 30 hours
  2. Finish Western States under 24 hours
  3. Set a new 50k PR at Way Too Cool 
  4. Be injury-free
  5. Improve my hill climbing performance via cross training and MORE TRAILS
Obviously my primary goal is to get across that finish line in Auburn before 11 am on the 29th of June. Anything else will be unsatisfactory. That said, I want to shoot for a sub-24 hour finish. A new 50k PR will be a big confidence boost heading into Lake Sonoma 50 mile and the crux of training for States, and remaining injury free will be necessary for all of my goals to be met.

Thanks for reading, as always. See you on the trails!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Year in Review: 2013

2013 turned out to be a very satisfying year at Wanderplace, despite interrupted training by a mid-spring groin pull. I did not see the volume I set out to complete, but I did finish all of my races, and I ventured into new territory via a couple of fifty milers. Here are the numbers:

  • Total miles run: 1499
  • Average week: 28.8 miles
  • Total miles raced: 300.25
  • Elevation gained: 154,553'
  • Avg HR: 139
  • Total calories burned: 172,108 (about 49 pounds worth!)
  • Longest run: 49.88miles
  • Avg run: 8.56 miles
My total mileage for the year was a bit low (only 125 miles more than 2012) but within my goal of keeping it under 2000. Too much too fast has gotten me into hot water more than once, and upping the distance raced in lieu of total volume worked well for me in 2013. In fact, I doubled my total distance raced from 2012, despite participating in only 10 races, compared to 16 in 2012. Elevation gained increased 50% and my average run rose 33%. The numbers are trending in the right direction.

2012 provided me the opportunity to get to know my body and how it feels under exercise stress. My daily training impulse graph (TRaining IMPulse (TRIMP) = Avg HR zone * minutes) illustrates my progression from running Bizz Johnson 50k (Zone 2 * ~400 minutes) at a much lower TRIMP than CIM (Zone 5 * ~225 minutes), to fully realizing how hard I could push, and for how long, in the Tamalpa Headlands 50k and NFEC 50 Mile. Ironically, it was my Garmin that was holding me back. I raced Tamalpa Headlands 50k and NFEC 50 Mile without looking at anything but the time of day and using a heart rate alarm to let me know when I was nearing my lactate threshold, and my resulting effort was much higher. I was letting my watch tell me I was going too fast, when I actually had another gear (or two).

Daily TRIMP Chart
Finishing the year with a strong and comfortable day at the NFEC 50 Mile was the icing on my ultra cake for the year. All of my GI woes were mitigated by using Tailwind for calories and electrolytes. This simplified my fueling and allowed me to focus on my performance instead of reacting to my discomfort. Of course, just when you think you have everything figured out, everything changes.

2013 also brought Nevada County's first Hash House Harrier club, the Cougars. Twirly and I have really enjoyed getting out for fun runs with like minded beer drinkers. The hash runs are just the thing to break up my regimented training schedule. They remind me how fun it is to run with no expectations. Speaking of expectations, after employing Footfeathers as a coach for a little over a year, I had to let him go after NFEC 50; we just weren't aligning anymore. The feedback had become scarce, the support failed to materialize in my darker moments, and Tim held the opinion that States was "a lot to bite off" for someone in my position. Obviously, that attitude was not one I cared to have in my camp while preparing for my first hundo. Fortunately, Jorge and Laura at Mauka Running have stepped in to support the next six months of training.

Last but not least, 2013 brought me my first Western States 100 entry. This follows a rather smooth progression into longer distances, and despite feeling a deep-seated anxiety about the distance I am eager to experience such an epic and prestigious event.