Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tamalpa 50k Race Report 2014

The Tamalpa 50k is probably my favorite 50k race course.  It is a well run event with some of the best mix of trails and running weather that you will come across.  It takes place in the Marin Headlands on the north side of the golden gate bridge and traverses trails that snake along the coastline, up and down open hills with terrific vistas, and through technical rooty or rocky rainforest like single track under giant redwoods.  Along with this there is between 6000 and 7000 ft of climbing.  You can count on foggy overcast in the morning, basically perfect running weather.

My lead up to this race necessitated a cautious approach.  After the Skyline 50k, which I raced pretty much all out, I had to incorporate more recovery than I was planning on, feeling pretty fatigued for several days afterward.  But I knew that week of training was crucial to maintaining my fitness for IMTUF because of a business trip to Houston the following week that was going to have to be a "down" week of training for me.  So as soon as I thought I could handle it I started putting in my Black Mountain morning runs (my standard route for getting ready for IMTUF is PG&E trough Quarry trail to Black Mountain trail with plenty of power hiking practice - 12 miles with about 3300 ft of climbing on varied, steep terrain).  Then on Saturday I did my first summer edition of CTTS (Cypress to the Sea), where I run from my house to the Ocean, about 50 miles with 8000 ft of climbing.  That run ended up being much tougher than anticipated, never having run that route with warm, sunny conditions.  It really took a lot out of me.  Getting in some early morning runs in Houston wasn't exactly easy either as I was totally out of my element with the heat and humidity, even in the dark at 5 a.m. in the morning.  I would get back to my hotel room and squeeze out an improbably volume of sweat from my clothes.  And then I would put on my soaked, squeaky shoes the next morning and repeat.  Those runs were also kind of nerve wracking as I kept my head on a swivel, trying to spot the alligators before they could catch me off guard in the dark.  Four weeks out from IMTUF, the Tamalpa 50k race week represented another key period of training for me, so I couldn't let off the gas.  If I was going to give my best shot at Tamalpa, it would have been prudent to do a little mini-taper to be rested for the race, but I had my eyes on IMTUF, basically the reason I have been putting in huge miles this summer.  It would have been foolish to jeopardize all of that work.  So I kept hitting the trails hard.  And then it happened:  I started noticing the tell tale signs of over-training.  I knew I was fatigued after my wednesday morning run when a normal route that I always do felt like a never ending slog.  I had the toughest time cooling down afterwards too, and felt a little silly when walking the girls to their first day of school being all sweaty and out of breath - what's the point of being in awesome shape if I am so broken that daily tasks become difficult?  Ridiculously I woke up at 5 a.m. the next morning to hike up Black Mountain once again, going a minute a mile slower than usual and feeling pretty weak, I'm not sure what I was thinking.  Then on Friday, the day before the race, went out for an easy 5 miler in the morning, and every time I upped the intensity just a little, or ran up the slightest incline, my heart rate spiked through the roof.  I knew I was in dangerous territory and the Tamalpa 50k might have been a terrible idea.

I decided to give it a try anyways, already having paid my entry fee and knowing that it is a super fun event with a great party afterwards.  My plan was to take it easy and see how I felt.  If I could tell that I was going to be ok, I would pick it up a little bit and just shoot for a solid training day.  I rode up with Jean in the morning and we arrived with plenty of time to proceed trough the usual pre-race rituals.

The man himself: Jean Pommier, getting ready to set the new 50+ age group record.  I suggested a fold-away chair might be a good addition to his race prep gear.

And we are off!

The early miles.
 I have to apologize for the quality of the pictures.  The dampness got on the lens and screwed things up.
Rodeo Beach
 One of the neat things about consciously letting off of the gas and taking it easy was that I got to enjoy the course and the camaraderie much more than usual.  I brought the camera along, soaked in more views than usual, and tried to interact with other runners as much as possible.  It was great fun.  I got to meet a whole host of great guys that seemed less concerned about whether they were getting beat or not and therefore were more inclined to share in the experience.  Or maybe that was just my imagination.

Brian Boyer, a Quicksilver newbie who claims he gets his muscles not from pumping iron, but from dealing with his kids.

William Dai

Greg Frye, the construction worker who gets up at 3 a.m. to get his miles in.

John Gieng, a strong Pamakids runner, nice guy.

Chasing Whit Rambach to Cardiac Aid station.
I kept a steady effort, never pushing it, and I actually felt pretty good.  None of the noticeable fatigue.  Could I have recovered enough already to run a hilly 50k without drowning myself even more in fatigue land?  I thought it improbable, but everything was just clicking along nicely, so I went with it.  After reaching Cardiac Aid station for the first time, and knowing that I had a fun, technical downhill, one more slog of a climb, and then one last long downhill to the finish, I felt confident and let the legs unwind a bit.  I "danced" down the fun Matt Davis trail, probably the funnest part of the race for me, and then started the long climb back to Cardiac.  This was where I set my eyes on my motivation to keep pushing the last miles: Alan Reynolds.  This guy is a heart rate runner: meaning his pace is dictated by a heart rate "zone" that he wants to stay in.  The idea is that your bodies use of fuel and accumulation of fatigue is largely due to how hard the heart has to work to maintain your pace.  If your heart has to pump harder, let's say to climb a hill, then you will burn more glycogen than fat - glycogen being a precious commodity in endurance events because of it's limited stores in the body.  The tell tale sign of a heart rate runner is the relative easy effort they put into climbing hills, but then the ferocious way in which they hammer the downhills.  A skilled downhill runner has a tough time keeping the heart rate up because you are basically cashing in on all of the potential energy that was accumulated on the climb.  Less energy expended = less energy required from the Kreb's Cycle = less oxygen required from the blood = less pumping required from the heart.  I knew he was a heart rate runner to because we had a conversation about it.  We were going back and for pretty much all day long and I spotted him on the final climb up Steep Ravine and decided to just keep my eyes on him, run when he runs, hike when he hikes and if we could hit Cardiac at a similar time, I would let it loose and get a nice little downhill tempo run to finish off the workout.

It just so happened that I caught up to him before we crested the climb and then we paced each other to the aid station.  I was bantering with him, feeling him out on whether he was going to stop at the aid station one last time before the final four mile descent to the finish.  I wanted to stop to chug a cub of coke (don't ask me why something like a cup of coke can so capture every thought towards the end of an ultra, but I had been fantasizing about it for the last couple of miles - ultra running is weird like that)  If he was going to skip the aid station, there was no way I was going to stop!  Finally he dropped a hint that he would like to indulge in a soda beverage himself - perhaps I planted the seeds of his destruction with my not so subliminal obsession with the sugary cocktail.  We rolled into the aid station, I quickly chugged my heavenly nectar, and then took off!  I decided that the only way I was going to keep him from trying to pace with me down the hill was to drop the hammer right away and try to open up a gap.  The plan seemed to succeed and pretty soon I was running by myself, dropping some 6:40 ish miles to finish off the race.  Arriving at the finish line I walked over to the coolers and discovered ice-cold coke - a seemingly endless supply!  I was a happy camper.  I finish in 5:15, 30th runner out of 200.  It was fun to watch the other guys finish, and then we continued to chow on some great fire-baked pizza and trade war stories.  The sun came out at exactly the right time and we soaked in the nice rays and enjoyed the beautiful day.

I feel a lot better now.  And now that the most crucial part of my preparation for IMTUF is in the bag, from now on it just about soaking in all of the training and filling up my mental stores.  This caps one of the must fulfilling summers of training and racing that I have ever had.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Skyline 50k 2014 Race Report

"Dude, why are your shoes wet?" - Greg Lanctot.  Me: "Because I sweat a lot".  Him: "Oh, do you have hair growing out of your toe nails?"  Wha?

So I got roped into this race sorta last minute: seems to be a reoccurring theme.  All of the sudden 50k's became important to the Quicksilver Racing Team in our quest of PAUSATF MUT (mountain/ultra) team title.  Usually it's the longer races that are worth more points and get less team participation that end up being key in the season standings, but this year it is coming down to maxing out our 50k points. There is a lot of complicated math and scoring rules that had to be considered, but the gist of it is that we wanted to have a good showing at the Skyline 50k against some rivals.  I looked at the calendar, considered my fitness and decided to give it a shot.  It could be a good training run if nothing else, and I knew the post race party was going to be superb with the twenty QS runners that were going to finish.

A little intro for the Skyline 50k:  The race starts and ends at Lake Chabot in the east bay hills.  It is a pretty hilly run with perhaps 4500 ft of climbing, but consists of a mix of terrain from miles of flat bike path, to hilly dirt roads, to twisty single-track.  A very runnable course where some fast times have been put down over the years.  Winners generally go under four hours.  This is one of the oldest ultra's around with results being recorded back 33 years.  It uses a lot of the same trails that the Dick Collin's Firetrails 50 uses.  I have done good at Firetrails so figured I might be a good fit for this race as well.

I lined up with the front group and we were off.  The first couple of miles along the edge of lake are flat and fast with everyone venting their nervous starting energy.  I was running with Johnny B. for a while trying to prod him into some convo, but he would have nothing of it, maybe because he just finished hardrock three weeks ago, or maybe because he had been puking his guts up because of food poisoning, whatever: cowboy up man!  I started inching forward on the random downhills when I asked him one final question: Yellow shirts are the badguys?  He sounds annoyed when he had to confirm that the yellow jersey's did in fact represent the reason I was out there.  I started zeroing in on them.  There were so many!  As we hit the dirt I passed a couple of them that I didn't recognize and then came up on Jason Reed.  I harassed him about his unlawful trespassing ways and why he punked out on Toshi when Toshi wanted to crawl through some thorns and poison oak to climb a random rock.  After a while he made up some excuse about wanting to "enjoy" the bbq at the end of the race and then let me run ahead.

I locked onto my next target.  It was going to be a chore.  The guy had a decent lead on me and I knew we were mostly climbing up to skyline gate.  And I don't like to climb.  I just decided to gut out the climb and figured I would make a move on the most technical part of the course: the french trail.  By the time I hit the aid station at skyline I didn't know where he was, but I knew it was time to rock!  The French trail is fantastic.  Up and down single track, rocks, roots, giant trees, ferns, it is one of the gems of the bay area.  It was on one of the downhills that I found him again.  I closed in on him and ironically was able to power past him on an up-hill hike.  Dan Rhodes and I made our greetings.  We actually shook hands as I hiked past him.  That is a first for me in a race...  Nice guy.  I knew there was a possibility I would see him later.  The older runners seem to be a little better at pacing themselves and I knew there was still a lot of ground to cover.  I continued to blast the hilly single track, loving every moment of this stretch.  Eventually I hit some flattish dirt roads that just seemed to go on forever, and I wasn't seeing anyone.  Basically out for a run by myself in the forest.  I somehow held it together for this stretch, but as soon as I got dumped out onto the blacktop for the last three miles around the lake to the finish I was spent.  I couldn't see anyone within striking distance and didn't have anyone pushing me from behind, and in my glycogen deprived state didn't even consider that it was my finishing time that might decide whether Quicksilver wins or not.  Basically it is the top three times turned in by the racing teams that get added together and compared.  I had my mind set on keeping my position, so I pretty much went into survival mode for the final stretch.  About a quarter mile from the finish line I glanced over my shoulder and saw Dan closing, so I sprinted it in, lol.  In retrospect it probably isn't the most honorable way to race, but when you are that toasted you will take almost any reason to let off the pedal.

I ended up finishing in 4:18:20, good for 7th overall.  We ended up losing to the "bad guys" by about ten minutes.  It was an epic battle up front where there were some seriously close finishes.  Quicksilver top dawg in this race, Jean Pommier basically put on a late charge to take second place.  Young Stephen Wassather (only 24!), was battling in the front of the race all day and then faded a little at the end, but still ended up fifth.  Big Johnny B rounded out the top ten (I think he made all of that stuff up).  Between the two rival running clubs we put together a vast majority of the competitive performances on the day.  It was quite a meetup!  Lot's of fun.

The post race BBQ was that much better because of the fun stories coming out of the friendly rivalry and basically just great hang-out time with friends.  I knew I pushed hard in the race, but I actually didn't feel too bad afterwards.  I am still trying to decode what the ingredients are to being able to "enjoy" these things.  It seems that for me it is really putting in the mileage and paying my dues with the long training runs.  It sounds pretty intuitive, but I have been experimenting with other ways of attaining the "ultra" fitness, because I always perceived big mileage as being unsustainable.  The more stories I hear of the older runners who claim to only run 30 to 50 miles a week, and the fact that I don't hear of very many "mileage monsters" still running ultras into their 60s and 70s, the more I want to find another way, because I do want to be in this for the long haul.  It's all a fun experiment.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pacifica 50k Race Report 2014

So my buddy Scott drops me an email during the week before the Pacifica 50k to see if I wanted to run it with him.  Initially I was pretty stoked because those are some of my favorite trails.  The Pacifica 21k (half marathon) was my first trail race ever and I have been back several times because there are nice sustained climbs (followed by nice sustained downhills of course) and really agreeable runner weather right by the ocean.  So initially it sounded like a good idea, and then I realized that the race was like five days away, and it was on my "big" training week where I was aiming to run 126.5 miles.  The way I planned my week I knew I would be going in with 82ish miles and near 9000 ft of climbing already on my legs monday through friday.  It was unexplored territory for me in terms of attempting a hard long run on that kind of built-in fatigue.  To add to my concerns, Scott was aiming for a 5:15 finish time on a course with about 7000 ft of climbing involved, a rather stout time for me on a good day.  I also never ran a race with someone else before, but I knew we were pretty well matched considering we shared several hours worth of running around the lake at Ruth Anderson.  So I resolved to take on the challenge and just try to stick with him for as long as I could and let the rest take care of itself.

The week of training actually went really well.  I ran up Black Mountain three times during the week (the long way) and fit in other flat easy runs to fill out the mileage.  Strangely enough my Black Mountain ascents kept getting faster all week and I seemed to be getting stronger, instead of the run tearing me down.  I went into the Saturday race with some pretty good confidence and decided to just try and have as much fun with it as possible.

I met Scott and the starting line and pretty soon we were off.  Scott and I settled into a pretty relaxed pace going up Mount Montara, just chatting away.  Conversations went all over the place: kids, work, training, etc, it is great to have a peer with similar world views and goals because conversations flow so effortlessly.  We passed a few runners but were not even keeping track of place or whatever, but we knew as we neared the summit that we would see the leaders coming back down towards us and we could get a feel for who our competition was.  To our surprise there was only one guy: Kermit Cuff, a 56 year old dude, tiny in stature, but fearsome in competition.  The guy looked fit: veins bulging out of his legs, no fat, total look of determination.  I was impressed.  The little guy was flying down that mountain!  As Scott and I grabbed our rubber bands (to prove that we made it to the top) and started our descent I was pretty confident we were going to catch him.  I always assumed that tall guys had an advantage on the downhills and I did not expect the guy to keep up his great pace down the hill.  We were in no hurry though and knew this was a long race, so we cruised.  We rolled into the main aid station and prepped for the "Hazelnut Loop".  We never saw Kermit, so that was my first clue as to what kind of a runner he was.  Pretty similar to me I think: Survive the climbs and fly on the descents.  The Hazelnut Loop always gets me.  You get done with the big climb up to Montara and almost take this loop for granted.  But it is tough.  A teaser hill at the beginning, basically a speed bump coming off Montara, and then a prolonged ascent up many switchbacks before a bomber downhill back to the main aid station.  Again, Scott and I were still in chat mode, but I was putting in a lot of effort to keep the pace up on the climbs.  We flipped back and forth to share lead duties and basically worked ourselves pretty hard - keeping each other honest.  I was pretty spent by the top of the switchbacks, but the downhill brought me back to life.  We neared the aid station and Scott made a remark that we were pretty well ahead of goal pace.  Which could be a good thing or a bad thing.

Again, no sight of Kermit, but John Brooks (the PCTR race director) filled us in and let us know he was maybe a couple of minutes up on us.  So not much had changed from the top of the mountain.  So now we headed out for Hazelnut Loop #2.  I think we took this loop at a similar intensity to the last one and there was a little less talking towards the top of the climbs.  The miles were adding up.  On the way up the switchbacks I came across Greg Lanctot, the Quicksilver RC president: He was running his first race (the half marathon) since his pretty serious injury that has kept him off of the trail for basically a year now.  We exchanged hi's and he tried to fill me in on our positions.  I was feeling pretty spent by the top of the hill again, very thankful for the cruise to the bottom.  As we flew the downhill I spotted him.  Kermit was moving strong, but we were cruising just a bit faster.  I caught up to him and he asked if I wanted to pass.  I replied that he was setting a nice pace and that I would just try to keep up with him for a while.  I think somewhere in there he got tired of me breathing down his neck, so he let me pass and I lead the three of us into the main aid station again.  He was definitely in a hurry and was in and out of the station in no time to make the final climb up Montara again.  Scott and I got our refills and snacks and started back up the mountain, chasing the rabbit who we now knew was running scared!  It was at the bottom of the mountain that I felt it.  That setting in of fatigue that is not fun to deal with.  I tried to keep up with Scott on the climb, but my legs were just not responding anymore.  I told him to keep it up and go catch Kermit and let him know that I was in survival mode at the moment.  He kept clicking off his pace and got just out of sight of me, and I kept pushing as hard as I could.

Just as Scott would get out of sight, I would start catching him again because he would start to hike, careful not to leave me behind.  Even when he had a good lead on me he would turn to me and try to start up a conversation.  I realized that he was going to stick with me and he was just trying his best to motivate me up the mountain.  I felt conflicted, but just rolled with it.  As we neared the summit again we were greeted with a nice flowing fog that cooled me down, and I got a second wind.  We made good progress towards the summit but I expected Kermit to be flying down the trail any moment because I was just sure that my slow climbing had killed our changes of catching him.  Again, to our surprise, he was basically right there, maybe two minutes ahead of us!  This put some more pep in my step and we got up to the summit, and started the glorious descent.  We knew that was the last Montara for the day.  I was on cloud nine during the descent.  All of the sudden the cool foggy breeze and effortless flowing of the downhill allowed me to peek out of the pain cave for a while, and it was fantastic!  I am pretty sure I was annoying Scott by this time because I was almost giddy with chatter.  We pushed the downhill really well, but never caught Kermit.  It was really nice to know that this was the last time we would be leaving the aid station before the finish though.  Maybe four miles to go, one more set of Hazelnut switchbacks (no speed bump this time).  It was around this time that Scott let me know just how far ahead of the his goal pace we were going.  I didn't know what was going to happen over those final four miles, but I knew we could keep it together enough to finish with a pretty nice time.  After the final death march to the top of the switchbacks (actually, we ran probably 90% of it - slow of course), we cruised down the hill without a sight of Kermit and decided that he had just ran a really strong race that day and deserved the victory.  It is always a relief to hit the final bike path at the bottom of the hill, because you know you are almost there.  Scott and I paced ourselves over the finishing mat with Kermit right there.  4:41 was our final time.  It blew away our expectations and Scott was ecstatic about setting a new 50k PR on his home course - a tough course.  It turned out that Kermit beat us by about 50 seconds.  So he was right to run scared.  We were on his heals all day long and he never faltered.  Just a gutsy old guy.

I was expecting to hurt pretty bad after the race considering the strong effort that we put out, but oddly enough the pain never materialized.  I don't know if it has been all of the volume I have been doing in the training lately or what, but the 50k just didn't beat me up too bad.  I was very thankful.  Scott's wife and 10 month old girl met us after the finish and it was fun to see the couple in that "first child" stage, and seeing the cute baby, which made me nostalgic for those days since I know they are over for me.

I put in a nice Mission Peak double with a bonus to the radio towers the next day to finish the week with 126.9 miles, 19.5 hrs of training, and 21000ft of climbing.  Basically my biggest training week ever.  Confidence is high.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Volunteering at Duncan Canyon Aid Station. Western States 2014

For the third year in a row I have had the opportunity to volunteer at the Duncan Canyon Aid station at mile 24 of the Western States 100.  Our running club, Quicksilver, has the privilege of running this aid station and it is a blast to drive and hike out to our little slice of heaven above French Meadows reservoir on Friday before the race, camp out, and generally just have a great time in the mountains with our like-minded friends.

In the morning we set up our tables replete with water and electrolyte drink, snacks and sandwiches of a dizzying assortment and provide a jolly atmosphere complete with music and costume to amp up the runners as they pass through on their way to a very long day out on the trail.

Campsite just above French Meadows Reservoir.
 My buddy Sachin just got a car and was excited to show off his creative driving skills.  He had the dubious honor of being crew for a pacer.  You see, my usual order of business for this weekend is to help out at the aid station, and then "pace" a runner from somewhere after 62 miles(the first point that pacers are allowed to run with racers), to the finish.  The thing is it can get tricky with car situation and rides for a point-to-point race, and Sachin was kind enough to play chauffeur for me this day.  He also had a sweet costume.  This year the theme of our aid station had something to do with cowboys(or hicks in my case), I don't know - I am just glad my self tailored outfit that I got from the Goodwill store for a cumulative $3 from last year, sort of worked for this year too.  Also, I should give credit for ALL of the pictures to Tanya Perme who did a fantastic job of providing professional photography service for the aid station.

Sachin(left), the Indian Indian.  Jean(center), the Western States buckle really pulls the outfit together. Harris(right) showing off some killer farmer tan with the AWESOME WS volunteer shirt.
 I was a "runner handler".  We do it up right at WS.  Basically, as the runners come in, they are assigned a "handler" to take their bottles or hydration vest, get them filled with whatever the runner commands, point the runner to the food, and basically cater to every whim and need for that runner.  Whether guiding them to the med tent for blister fixing or worse, or making sure they have their salt and gu for the road, and showing them the "sponge off" station to get a nice cool down before continuing into the heat of the day.  I got to "handle" a couple of icons of our sport and decided I really needed to show off the pictures:

"Here, fill this with water you strange looking man"  Karl Meltzer, winner of 36 hundred mile races.  Legend.

This is John.  This is his dream race and he was having a blast.  John works with me and was one of the first people I knew who was into "ultras".

Gordy Ainsleigh, 67 years old.  Back in 1974 he decided to leave his horse behind and complete a hundred miles from Squaw Valley to Auburn under his own power, pioneering the concept of a 100 mile footrace through the mountains and becoming the icon of the most sought after ultra marathon in the US.  He is still going.  And I got to fill his water bottles.  This guy just LOOKS larger than life in person.

Here Gordy, go this way.  LOL - how many times has he done this?

I just really like this picture.  I don't know who she is, but there is a pure joy that she is getting out of this race.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

San Lorenzo River Half Marathon Race Report 2014

I knew I was only aiming to run about 28 miles this week (recovery week), but I wanted to get a couple of high intensity efforts in as well, so one of the runs was the monthly 5k at work (I got beat by the old man again - Bruce Storms (great runner name) has never lost a race on the grounds of Moffett Field in the 20+ years that he has worked there and he is turning 50 any day now).  My legs just didn't have much zip in them - could be the product of a 110 mile week the week before?  Oh well, I pushed it hard and ended up with a 18:12, pretty much par for the new course for me.  I used to run in the low 17s on the old course (known as the red course) before Google moved in and took a chunk of our space.  I am not sure if I was in better shape, if it was a shorter course, or just a faster course (less turns, etc), but I am mainly comparing times these days to the new era, mostly so I don't get discouraged about how fast I "used" to be.

Anyways.  I spotted a weekend trail race that covered some terrain that I hadn't seen before and it looked like I could combine it with a quality family beach trip.  I signed up for the San Lorenzo River Half marathon put on by Coastal Rail Runs (CTR).  The race starts at Harvey West Park in Santa Cruz and travels up to Henry Cowell and back.  I really like Coastal's events and really like what they do.

They started us off with running around a field on a side-walk.  Interesting idea, so all the spectators (family) can check out the runners and get plenty of photo opp.  I got a feeling the runners really didn't know what to do with themselves though. Actually, maybe that was just me.  We just sort of galloped around the field, strutting our stuff in front of everyone, but no one knew how fast we should run, and nobody wanted to be in the lead.  So I got a little antsy by the end of the loop and decided I could at least get ahead of everyone before we hit the single track.

Scoping the field that they wanted us to run around.  Obviously a little confused.  Or maybe I was trying to figure out what "No Dumb Ports" means...
(credit: Joanne Johnson)
 There is a pretty stiff climb off the start and I had a couple of guys breathing down my neck, but they never made a move to go for a pass, so we just lumbered up the hill at my "big guy" climbing pace.  Once the trail leveled out a little bit though, I picked up the pace and my pursuers dropped off a bit.  Great!  I thought I had lost them.  I ran alone for a good stretch, already wondering whether this was going to be a "lone" training run when I happened upon my buddy Sean from GoDogz out for a jog with a couple dozen dogs, or maybe just two.  I gave him my greetings and he discovered I was winning so far, so he left assurances with me that he would stick his dogs my chasers to give me time.  I think he failed in that endeavor though as a couple of guys chased me down on the second big climb after the river crossing.  It was clear that they were stronger climbers for the day, but I kept doing my thing, thinking maybe my downhill would be the equalizer.  Sure enough, we crested the climb, hit a steep downhill, and I let er rip!  I caught up to them by the bottom of the hill where we start a flat stretch of running along the river to the turnaround point.  I decided to keep them in sight and go for the kill later in the race if I still had legs.  After the turn-around I was able to scope out who else was chasing and felt that we had things pretty well in control.  The issue was that once we hit the climb again, they put enough distance on me that I lost sight of them and then lost a little bit of confidence.  I kept hammering though.  Crossed the river, then started the last significant climb.  Unfortunately Marco (third place guy that would eventually beat me) splashed into the river just as I was getting out of the other side (I decided to do a full body dive - it felt soooo good), when I started hiking up the climb on the other side, water squish, squishing out of my shoes, he caught up to me in no time.  We shared some running along the flatter parts, but then he was just too strong on the climbs and I lost sight of him.  I hammered as much as I could in the final miles, not really trying to catch anyone, since I couldn't see anyone else, but just hammering.  I finished 4th in 1:44 and change.  The winner was at 1:40, so the four of us were actually pretty bunched, and I have a feeling I was making up for my slow climbing with my suicidal down hills after all, but it matters little when you loose contact with the other runners.  Overall, I had a blast.  There was a fun mix of trails.  Open dirt roads, rooty single-track, flat and steep.  Perhaps one issue if I did have a slow race was because these pitches are considerably different than what I have been training on at Rancho.  At Rancho you have a lot of nice gradual gradients to grind out on the climbs or fly on the descents.  There was enough steep stuff to induce me to a hike and the downhills required a good amount of breaking, not allowing me to convert all of the accumulated potential energy into pure speed.  And too much flat.  But I can't complain, that is the fun part about these trail races - they are all so different.

Well, I'm glad that is over.
(credit: Joanne Johnson)
And we got an awesome beach trip!  I had maybe the best chai latte I have ever had at "The Buttery". Sat outside while a couple did some strummin on their instruments.  Then took a nap on the beach while the kids played in the seaweed, while listening to a band playing some mellow tunes by the pier.  Chowder in a bread bowl.  The works.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Running History Part 1: Austria years 0-12

Long time no blog.  One issue is my running camera has been dysfunctional, and really, no wants to read a blog that just has a bunch of words, but that is exactly what I am going to do today.

A little update on how the running has been going lately:  After Miwok I had a really tough time with deciding where to go with my running.  It seemed that ultra-marathoning was just not working with me and that maybe I should switch it up a little bit, maybe get to some shorter stuff so that I can feel fast and strong again.  This didn't last long though as I started healing mentally from the failure at Miwok.  Pretty soon I was back to dreaming about my next ultra adventure.  I don't know how to really explain why I gravitate towards these races, so let's just assumed that I am hooked.  The running has been exceptional lately.  I am trying a new training plan and am really enjoying the process and feel that it is working so far.  I am exited to see where it brings me.

Since I am just training, I have not felt compelled to share about my running, since it is all about getting it done.  I put the photography to the side for now (thanks to bad camera).  But I still want to contribute to this blog so I am taking a page from another ultra-runners blog that I like and am going to share about my running history and how I got to this point with being "hooked" on ultras.

Austria (0-12)

I was born in Vienna, Austria.  My parents are from Kansas and Missouri and were missionaries in Austria for the first twelve years of my life.  I was a largish baby with an even larger appetite, and quickly grew into a rather fat toddler with pigeon feet and crossed eyes - basically flying under the radar of children with athletic potential.  Corrective shoes and coke bottle thick glasses seemed to fix things a little bit, and it seemed after I hit two years old, my weight shifted from fatness to tallness.  Who knows how these things work?  But then I was a pretty normal, skinny four year old.

I don't have a ton of memories of adventures from these early years in my life, but I do remember playing free, roaming where I wanted and getting into as much trouble as I could handle.  I don't know if it was just the way that kids were raised in Austria at the time or because of a laissez-fair approach that my parents took, but boundaries were almost non-existent from my memories.  I remember exploring the neighborhood, hills, various playgrounds, basically as far as I could go and still feel confident that I could find my way home.  Some of my fondest adventures were escaping into the hills with my best buddy Lauri where we would build forts, set traps (play traps), and do imaginary battles.  Running was playing.

Most of my time in Austria my family lived in a house sort of on the boundary between city and country side in a small town called Pfaffstatten.  I did ride my bike a lot in those days.  That was my principal means of transportation.  I remember spending a lot of time on the bike path that ran along the canal near our house, and venturing up into hills so I could get the thrill of a fast downhill.  In terms of early aerobic development I am sure all of that time on the bike contributed to an early trend in my life towards endurance rather than speed and power.

My lack of speed and power became apparent as soon as I hit school years and we had regular recess and PE classes where the various games or tests were being conducted.  I was always one of the biggest kids in class and fairly athletic, but I would consistently loose in sprints, or in contest of throwing a ball a long ways, or wherever fast twitch muscle fibers might have given me an advantage.  But as soon as we hit the long runs, I was usually unbeatable.  Being fiercely competitive probably contributed to this outcome as when you are young, it is generally a question of will in terms of winning those long races, because few children are trained towards such an event, it is basically who is willing to put up with the most pain to win.  I was competitive to a fault, but that is another story.

A vivid memory I have from my running during those days was when my parents left me in charge of my two younger sisters when they went on a date or something.  I might have been nine or ten (it was different back then, I guess).  They told me that if I had an emergency to get ahold of our friends who lived nearby.  Well, at some point that evening, the three of us were rough-housing, and my youngest sister cracks her head on the corner of a piece of furniture and starts bleeding.  I didn't know what to do, so I tried to get ahold of the friends.  I don't know if I tried to call them, or what the process was, but at some point I decided I needed to go to their house to get help for my sister.

I think they lived maybe half a mile away, but when I took off from our house, I was flying.  I remember basically running as fast as I could and thinking in my head when I might slow down because I was pretty sure I couldn't keep it up.  It must have been the adrenaline or something but to my surprise, it just seemed effortless, I was running at maximum speed and there was no pain.  Long story short, the friend drove me back to our house, did something with my sister (it wasn't such a big deal after all) and everything was fine.

I also remember gym class at the Vienna Christian School when I was in fifth grade.  There was about a 1.5 mile jog (that is as best as I can guess the distance to be) from the school to the track where we did our classes.  Of course it was just supposed to be a warmup or whatever, but the most competitive among us made it our goal to be the first ones to the track.  I remember having some epic battles with this german kid name Mattheus.  The "jog" ends with a quarter mile uphill and I remember trailing just behind Mattheus and then he "trips" and hits the pavement.  I was 100% confident that he faked the whole thing because he knew he couldn't keep it up and would rather fain injury than let me have the satisfaction of passing him.  But I ran right past him, basking in my glory as soon as I hit the track.  He made a big deal out of the fact that I didn't stop to help him... it didn't faze me.

In 1993, when I was twelve years old, our family moved to the US.  I was a skinny, tall kid with decent athletic ability, and a definite competitive streak.  What that would mean for my athletic involvement in Salina, Kansas (population about 45000), was going to be an interesting adventure.  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Miwok 100k 2014 Race Report

"You know, Jeremy, you have to be careful about your decision to drop.  It is all too easy to drop out of one race, then do it at another, and then a pattern emerges.  It is something that is hard to recover from if you want to finish these races."

These were the wise words from the race official that was trying to talk me into finishing the race when I wanted to quit.

Mile 56.5, only had one more thousand foot ascent and then descent to finish the thing off, 5 to 6 miles!  And I couldn't/wouldn't do it...

So I recorded my third DNF in two years and the negative thoughts start creeping in:

Am I cut out for these long races?

I'm pretty fast, maybe I should just concentrate on the shorter races where I do pretty good.

This is just your body trying to preserve itself, don't you want to live?  Maybe these ultras are for weirdos who don't care anymore.

Etc, etc.  And yet, almost a week removed from my disaster and I'm already thinking about what I can possibly do to make a comeback.  What can I change to become a better ultra-runner.  There is something about this sport that keeps me coming back.  Maybe it's because it's like a puzzle that I haven't solved yet.  Or it's the awesome community.  Or it's whatever.  But I'm drawn to this crazy stuff.

So what happened?

Flyin.  Is there any space between my shoes and the ground?  LOL.  Technically I think this is called "walking".
credit: Marc Laveson

Obviously I didn't last.  At mile 56.5 is when my leg cramps had gotten to the point where I knew it was probable that my next hill was going to throw me to the ground the way it did at TRT last year.  And in an act of self-preservation (cowardice) I decided I wanted NO part in a half hour painful session on the side of a trail, quite possibly in a poison oak patch, where I was reduced to curling up in the fetal  position, wishing I was dead.  And so it seems, I probably set too hot a pace for myself.  Some people say electrolytes, others say specific leg strength.  I am of the opinion that the cramps are just the muscle saying that they are done.  And that is ok.  The body really is a wonderful machine and that is the way mine works.  What that means from a practical stand point is that I need to pace myself better.

You know:  The ego can really be a pain in the butt.  The three DNFs (and numerable awful racing results in my last couple of years) really prove it.  I used to be fast.  I used to be competitive.  I used to beat a whole bunch of people that just jog past me now while I wallow in my own self-pity, limping to another "finish" (if I'm lucky).  The ego is what keeps me trying to match my old self, when my new self just is not in the same league.  And that has bad consequences.  Why I'm not in the same league is a story for another blog post.  But I need to come to grips.

What about the 4 mph challenge?  The 4 mph challenge really is a genius ultra race format.  It is a fantastic learning tool.  The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that this race is like grade-school for an ultra-runner.  The ego shouldn't kill your race.  You pick a strategy for the best outcome.  Obviously you want to win, so you don't run too fast, there is not reason to.  Then it really is about endurance, and the mind.  Sometimes.  I guess at some point, even 4 mph may just be too fast for the degraded state you might find yourself in.  Maybe this is just rambling and I can't really decide what needs to change.  Definitely rambling.   I probably just did good at this race because everyone else was just sick of running through puddles.  Oh well, for a little while I was feeling better about myself.

What else can I say about Miwok?

I really liked the course.  They are beautiful, challenging, trails with incredible views.  I liked the various out-n-backs and loops where you could see front-runners, back-runners, and everyone, and offer/receive encouragement.

I really liked staying with other ultra-runners in a beach house in Stinson beach before and after the race.  Seriously, the house was on the beach.  The dining/living room windows had a straight shot across the sand to the ocean.  Last year they woke up on Sunday morning and watched whales swim by.  I fell asleep to the crashing of the waves.  It was sweet!

Quicksilver had some incredible performances that have already been covered in other blogs/news.

I saw a bunch of people from the 4 mph challenge (nice job on the finish Tim L.!)

I actually really enjoyed most of the race.  Even after the fatigue was settling in and I slowed waaay down, I have a vivid memory of running up on the ridge with a big smile on my face, because that was all that I had left in me.  It was either a smile, or letting negativity get the better of me.

I think that was one of the reasons the race official was really probing me on my decision to quit.  I had a smile on my face.  I was making jokes.  I seemed to be in good spirits.  So why on earth would I quit?  But it is what it is, and I do not regret it.  Just like I do not regret any of my other DNFs, or any of my stupid race performances.  To me this is all part of the journey, and I am having a blast!