Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Jed Smith 50K 2015 Race Report

There is a debate in the ultra running community about whether a 50 k is really an ultra or not.  I mean, common, it's only five miles longer than a marathon, right?  The thing is, most all of the 50 k races that I have done have been over pretty hilly terrain, mostly on trails.  A road marathon and a 50 k trail run don't have much in common - they really are different events.  But, there might be an argument against Jed Smith 50k.  This is a flat race that is mostly on bike paths and dirt roads, and hence, is very similar to a marathon.  Except five miles longer.  This is the first race of the year for the PAUSATF MUT series of races that our Quicksilver running club racing team competes in.  We had a few cool dudes wearing blue in Sacramento to race along the bike paths of the American River to kick off 2015.

In the three weeks leading up to the race I had been focusing my training on flat, fast running to get the legs used to the repetitive, same cadence, same stride length, always pushing nature of this race.  You see, in a trail race, you get many opportunities switch up your running approach and end up stressing various muscle systems while attacking various terrain.  The muscles and form you use during a technical descent will be different than the form you use on a steep climb for instance - and this allows you to stress some systems while letting others recover.  But the flat races don't allow for such strategies and therefore it can become quite painful and debilitating if your muscles decide that they are tired of repeating the same movement over and over again, and instead decide to cramp and save itself from an over-cooking.

I think there is a misconception in the ultra-running community that a flat 50k is easier than a hilly 50k. I would argue that they are both the same difficulty - if you push yourself to your limits in both races.  Sure, on paper the hilly race looks much more daunting: 50 km over 7000 ft of climbing might take you 6 hrs to finish, but the flat 50 should take you 4.5 hrs...  But I assure you, the pain that you face, and therefore the mental games that are employed, are virtually the same between the two events.  I guess it might come down to what completed race sounds more spectacular when recounting your adventure on Monday morning around the water cooler at work.  The hilly race usually wins out, because the average person has no idea what the finishing times for these events mean in terms of mastery of the skill.

Well, enough dibble-dabble.  What happened at the race?  I caught a ride with running buddy (and super-fast 50 yr old runner) Jean Pommier.  We got there nice and early so we could watch the 50 mile runners(those who don't believe 50k is an ultra), get started.  Then at 8:30 we lined up with over 100 other poor souls looking for some early season torture, and we were off!  I settled into a pre-planned 7 min/mile pace and tried to relax as much as possible while jostling for position with the other runners.  At the beginning of these races it can be quite chaotic when everyone is full of adrenaline and hopeful dreams.  Generally there is a good proportion of runners that start off way too fast (mostly of the male variety).  What I mean by way too fast is that they are starting with a pace that they know they can't sustain and it will come back to haunt them in the not too distant future.  I have been guilty of this on many occasions and I still can't quite figure out why we do it.  Intellectually it makes no sense at all, but I guess when you combine testosterone with jug-heads, sense takes a back seat.

After a while the runners get strung out along the path and you start to really size up your competition.  It isn't really time to race yet, there is no reason to try to "beat" someone this early in the race.  The primary goal of the early going is to keep as calm as possible - don't loose any unnecessary energy to tenseness in your body.  Let it flow and cash in on all of your hard-earned aerobic fitness.  But I like to look around and try to spot the usual suspects.  Those other runners who I have faced in these races before and know we might be duking it out at some point.  It is fun to observe the way they are tackling the race: are they trying to stay with the leaders?  are they carrying water and food so they can skip aid stations? Do they look as fast as usual?  Etc.  These are the silly thoughts that occupy my mind at this stage of the game.

I chose not to carry anything.  I thought with two aid stations on a five mile loop that I would be fine just grabbing something quickly and then running unburdened by any extra load.  It is an interesting study, to figure out which method is faster.  When I stopped at an aid station to chug some cups of gatorade and water, whoever I was running with would put a little gap on me, let's say 5 seconds.  If I wanted to get my place back in the race I would have to speed up just to catch him.  But I was sticking to my game plan of 7 min effort.  And who knows?  Maybe if I was carrying that load I wouldn't be as efficient trying to maintain that effort and therefore not done as well.  Whatever, I always train by carrying water and food, so it is a novelty to be able to just fly unhindered with all of that support.  I mean, what are we paying for with the race fees anyways - I was getting my money's worth.  The bums who were carrying their stuff were probably making the aid station volunteers feel sad.  See, I care about people...

In the first couple of laps (there are six laps) I had been trading positions with a man named Chris Eide.  Chris is an impressive athlete.  He is not very tall in stature, but he is built like a tree trunk.  Barrel chest with sturdy frame supporting an impressive physique, he looks like he can pick up a car.  But here he is, running 7 min miles with the intention of running a sub 4 hour 50k.  Talk about versatility.  He would pass me, holding his big arms up high near his chest - not wasting any energy swinging those muscles around, powerful quick cadence, it is pretty cool to see.  I thought to myself that he must have been doing some really good training lately because I really didn't expect to see him in the mix.  I stopped at one of the aid stations, looked up, and he was gone.  I figured good for him, either he can keep it rocking, or I might see him later...

As I left the aid station, yet another runner was catching up with me.  I started getting doubts about my strategy.  Why are these people catching and passing me?  What's going on?  Mystery man in blue came up beside me and then put on a nice surge of pace and opened up a gap.  I decided enough was enough and momentarily abandoned my race plan to see what this guy was made of (this is stupid racing by the way).  I caught up to him and trailed is every step.  Then I decided to to move to his shoulder, just so I hope he didn't think I was being a jerk.  After a while he backed off of his pace and dropped behind me.  I kept the effort going and noticed that I was pulling away.  On one of the straight aways I looked behind me and he was nowhere to be seen.  Don't know what that was all about.  Was he trying to write a check that his body couldn't cash?  Don't know, but he never made another appearance until the finish line...

Beginning the fourth lap, about 17 miles into the race, I started doubting myself.  I wasn't really hurting yet, but I could see it coming.  It's a tough time in the race because you still have a long way to go and you start getting glimpses of what you are about to endure.  You have been there before, and the thoughts start creeping in:  You know, I could just stop/ There isn't a really good reason to finish this race/ nobody will care anyways/ I will probably end up in a death march...  The negative thoughts can wreak havoc on the confidence.  But in the end you have to make the decision and let's face it, you don't want to wuss out, so you have to keep moving.

I grinded out that fourth lap and then beginning lap five I thought I could spot a white singlet off in the distance.  I got a little hope that maybe I was catching Chris.  Turns out I wasn't the only one starting to hurt.  The chase was on.  I was trying to speed up, but the body wasn't cooperating.  Every time I tried to pick up the pace a little I would get the little twitches that were the calling cards of potentially pace destroying cramps.  It is a delicate thing when you get to this point in the race.  You have to ride that edge.  The edge between destruction and potential victory.  In this case it was a very distinct line that I have learned over the years not to mess with.  Regardless of my troubles I was still catching Chris.  I finally caught up to him right before Guy west bridge.

I was trying to think of something clever to say and came up with: Shot your wad a little early, didn't you?  Funny this came out of my mouth because there is a preacher at our church (who shall remain nameless), who delivers sermons on sunday, who will throw that phrase into his messages every now and then.  Every time I cringe.  What did he just say?  Yeah, anyways.  Chris then explains the cramps that are forcing him into a hike on the pathetic little hills that are interspersed on the course.  I know what he is talking about.  Then he said yes, he did in fact shoot it a little early...lol.  I then pulled away and tried to keep the pedal to the metal.

On the final lap I caught up to Chuck (that famous Chuck from the 4 mph challenge last year).  He was running the 50 mile and deep in the pain cave at that point as well.  I told him I wouldn't mind slowing it down to about 4 miles per hour right then.  We shared some laughs and then I was off to finish this thing!  I crossed the final bridge, sped down the off-ramp and hit the final straight away at full speed:

My face is hiding the truth.  I am in complete agony, well, mixed with a lot of joy with almost being done.  Thumbs up down the final straight away!  (photo credit: Jean Pommier)
I ended up running 3 hours 45 minutes, with a 3:08 marathon split.  I'm not sure what place I came in, I think maybe somewhere between 6 to 10.  I think I was top ten, so I was happy.  I was especially happy that I was able to keep it together for the whole race and finish strong.  My buddy Jean ended up in second place after almost chasing down a fading Chikara Omine and holding off the charge from a determined Karl Schnaitter.  Our arch rivals Excelsior (who Chikara, Karl, and Chris run for) did us in pretty good this race with a fantastic showing of some super fast dudes, and they got some women to scoop up some mixed team points as well.  It's going to be another competitive ultra season!

I guess I could end this post by attaching some interesting music video sorta like ultra-hipsters like Anton Krupicka does, but I can't imagine anyone besides like eight people who think that Grimes is a genius, Fleet Foxes is tops, and Mountain Men is real music (not just backup vocals for Feist).  But I digress.  Time to start hitting the hills!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Henry Coe Fastpacking 2015: Conquering Stakes

I was at work the other day and saw a three day weekend coming up.  The thought occurred to me that I had not been on a fastpacking trip in quite a while.  Where to go?  Well, there was rain in December, January is a cool month here in the bay area - this might be the perfect time to hit up Coe. Henry Coe State park can be a tough place to backpack when conditions are nice (check out my prior trips from 2013 and 2014).  I would imagine it could be downright miserable if conditions are not on your side.  Early spring is probably the most ideal time for this park. 

I sent out an email to all of my buddies who I knew to be fastpackers to solicit some company for my adventure, being pretty sure that I would get no takers a week before the weekend because, well, people have lives - and not everyone gets MLK day off  (thanks government!).  Fortunately my buddy Sachin was looking for the perfect opportunity to get away from work and crazy hill training and get some nice time in the backcountry.  So we packed our bags and headed out for adventure:

The obligatory start picture.  Henry Coe Headquarters.

Great pic opportunity at Frog lake on the way to Blue Ridge.

Climbing Mt Sizer.

Sachin and I were curious about the bunches of vegetation in the dormant oaks.  Still need to look into that.
In deep contemplation on the summit of Sizer - 3216 ft. (Photo credit: Sachin)
Sachin and his sweet solar charger.  Kept his garmin humming all day - great Strava data. (Photo credit: Sachin)

Sachin ascending Hat Rock.

Views from Hat Rock.  Sachin shows off his toe socks.

Other views from Hat Rock.  I swear, I did not buy this shirt.  It was given to me at a race last year - but it did make a great hiking shirt!
Hat Rock.

Descending Rock House Ridge.  In my opinion one of the most beautiful sections of trail.
Observing the Newt activity. (Photo credit: Sachin)

Waterproof camera really paying off about now.

These guys are pretty impressive in the water.

Really - this is underwater.

I show Sachin the trail up Bear Mountain.

Cooling off my feet before we tackle the big climb.
 We ascended the steep trails of Bear Mountain and then entered the Orestimba Wilderness.  As we descended a ridge on the chaparral trail we stopped on a grassy ledge a couple hundred feet above Red Creek to camp for the night.  It's always a nice feeling to start setting up your sleeping quarters as the sun is setting because it gives you that warm and cozy.  Cooking up our freeze dried meals and snacking on pepper-nuts (yummy nickel size cookies that Joanne's family makes), we recounted our day and scouted out the map for the next days route.

That night some pretty crazy dreams came to both of us.  Usually I can't remember dreams at all, but oddly enough, on these trips, they come quite vivid.  Sachin dreams he was being carried off by a mountain lion - and I believe him because I heard his frantic voice speaking some gibberish in the middle of the night.  I dreamed that my youngest son Blake had taken a fall while under the care of a friend from church.  He was returned to us without any mention of the fall, and he started to deteriorate before our very eyes - his hair started falling out, he was gibbering all of his words, and he had a constant look of confusion on his face.  It was one of the most disturbing dreams I have every had.

Anyways, we awoke the next day and laughed off our frantic nights sleep and continued on into the upper Robison Creek area - a section of the park that I had never explored before, but had been told that I need to go there.  It did not disappoint:

Lion?  What Lion?

Incredible morning.

The ridge: On the right is the Red Creek valley, on the left are the headwaters of Robison Creek which will eventually flow into the Orestimba.

The valley of Robison Creek.

The wild flowers abound.
 From Robison creek we started keeping our eyes open for the mt stakes trail.  The thing about the trails in the Orestimba wilderness is that they are basically old farm roads that have long since been overgrown and are now there in concept only.  There aren't even any trail signs.  There are some lines on a map though - which helps.  We tested a deer trail that went up a ridge only to find out that the actual trail was one ridge over.  You would never have been able to spot the trail from the creek though, it was only through surveillance from our current vantage point that yielded the find.  So we contoured our way over and then made our way up to mount Stakes - the highest point in the area.

On the way up Stakes.  See the tuft of clouds in the middle of the valley.

Sweating pretty hard now... (Photo credit: Sachin)

Sachin's solar charger is going at full capacity!

On top of the world!
 You get done with most of the climbing to top out on a false summit only to find that you still have to travel another half mile down an old dirt road to get to the real summit.  We made it to the summit of Mt Stakes at 3804 ft and sat down and some some eleven-sees.  I whipped out my tin of mustard herring (thanks Santa!) and was in heaven.

On the way down the mountain.

This hillside reminded me of some kind of wild Savannah.
After descending back down to Orestimba creek, we decided to follow the water south until we hit the Orestimba corral, where we planned to spend the night.

(Photo credit: Sachin) 

Horny Indian.

The "Rooster Comb"

Picnic table?  Seriously?  This was true luxery.  The Orestimba Corral.
Sachin woke up this morning with a terrible discovery: He had a tick feeding on him!  The tick had been on his hip the day before, but he thought it was just his hip belt rubbing the wrong way.  This being his first experience with ticks, he freaked out and ripped out what he could and threw it away.  It turns out that he probably got the tick off soon enough and is in the clear, but it did kick off our morning with some worry.

We were able to enjoy the mystical quietness of the fog for most of the morning.  Here I am eating a "Joanne" Bar for breakfast. (Photo credit: Sachin)

The "Tie-down" trail was a fantastic little jaunt through the hillside where there wasn't actually much of a trail at all, but a bunch of ribbons tied to some branches.

The barely visible spire to the left was Tie-Down peak.  We got a stiff scolding from Toshi for not climbing that thing...

Following Pacheco Creek to get home.

Descending Willow Ridge to reach Los Cruzeros - one of the pretties parts of the park.
When we reached Los Cruzeros we finally started seeing people again!  We hadn't seen a soul in the last day and a half.  This boy caught himself a newt.  He and his dad were bombing around the trails with their mountain bikes.

Wow: people.

The "narrows"  Great fun.

Sachin - having a little bit too much fun.

Soaking in the views before finishing up our trip.

Awesome old oak on the way back to headquarters.

The End picture.
Sachin's data turned out pretty sweet.  Here is our route through the park as evidenced by his GPS readings:


Day 1 – Distance 20.0 miles, Vert 4945 ft, time 08:13:41
Day 2 – Distance 24.9 miles, Vert 6050 ft, time 10:14:35
Day 3 – Distance 21.7 miles, Vert 5400 ft, time 07:55:46

In terms of equipment and food it was pretty much same old stuff.  I think I have my preferences nailed down.  Gear lists have been provided in previous fastpacking posts.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Hello 2015

As has become tradition at our house, we closed the 2014 running season with the girls trail race: Sanborn Summit Rock 5k.  Joanne and Hayley have been running this race for the last couple of years, so this was year number three for them, and they were joined this year by friend Kassandra, who would be experiencing her first trail race ever!

Ada says: Ha, ha, I don't have to run...
Blake says: "climb tree"
The gals: Hayley, Joanne, and Kassandra, ready to rock, I mean Summit Rock. Joanne sporting her customary cat-in-the-hat injinji trail socks - she has a knack for trail fashion.
Hayley, smelling the barn
Doing her best to ignore the cute little boys handing out medals
Umm, so when is mamma getting here?

There she is.
Uhh, that hurt.
That really hurt.  Ada empathizing.
Kassandra, blowing kisses to the crowd.
Great way to close the year!  As for my thoughts on how my year of running went, it was a mixed bag.  I thought I had a fun early season with some laid back races, fast-packing, then culminating with a satisfying win at the 4 mph challenge.   But then I floundered in my spring races, hit the reset button, and had an awesome summer of big time training, and racing mixed in too.  It seemed like it was all for nought though when I failed to finish my hundred mile goal race.  Then I had an unfocused, but satisfying late fall-winter where I didn't really do any real racing, but experienced some new adventures and reset my mind to figure out what I wanted to accomplish in 2015.

2015 Saratoga Fat Ass Race Report

Actually I don't really "race" fat ass events.  To me these things are more like semi-organized group runs.  To the best of my knowledge, fat asses were introduced as way to put on a race or run, for no cost.  You would ideally keep the participant number below the threshold that would require you to get a permit for the event, and there would be no medals, t-shirts, etc.  Aid would be sparse as well, although I have known some fas ass organizers to be pretty generous.  Around here these races are predominant in January and February - the thinking being that most runners take some time off around christmas doing a lot of eating and sitting and replenishing fat stores.  But then the fat has to come off before we get into real racing season.

The Saratoga Fat Ass is one of my favorite courses.  It is a course that I repeat in training year around because of what beautiful terrain you get to experience.  I've run it in both directions, the 50 mile version, when it was hot, when it was raining, it never disappoints.  This year was no different as we had pretty much perfect trail conditions with perfect running weather.  Also, this year marks the first that the race was organized by the generous Keith Blom, who has probably been running this thing since it was invented.  I love that in the ultra-trail community there are so many people that decide to give back to the sport, and I've seen Keith volunteer at a bunch of the stuff around here and he is always high-energy, thoughtful and on-the-ball.

I talked my new trail running buddy James into joining us for the race this year and we also hooked up with local trail star Jean Pommier (his account here: http://fartherfaster.blogspot.com/2015/01/2015-week-2-two-ultras-already-yeah.html).  

Mingling before the start.

Beautiful morning.

I mean really beautiful morning.
Jean, hammering the downhills.

James practicing some new downhill technique.
Jean, leading the way across slate creek.
I took a few more pictures but they all kinda had this blur to them.  You know, that blur that you might have if sweat got all over your camera.  Because sweat got all over my camera.  

Kristina Irvin was out and about - good chance to catch breath...
We had a pretty relaxed early pace, but Jean would push us pretty good on the climbs, and then wait for us to catch up.  We did do a lot of chatting and catching up on things.  Keith's aid station at china grade was fantastic.  Bananas, chips, gu - the works!  The next miles were kind of a blur as Jean pulled us all the way to waterman gap about 6-7 miles from the finish.  At this point I talked him into going after a "strong finish" i.e. go ahead and leave us in your dust...because I was pretty much toast.  James didn't seem like he wanted to chase Jean either, so he stuck with me until I spotted a nice soft pile of pine needles and leaves to lay down on, and then James went ahead as well.  I continued to death march myself to the finish, relishing every "scenic view" bench that I came across.  It took me a while to finish the thing, but I managed a 5:45 for the 29 mile course which included like 6200 ft of climbing.  I guess I got a lot of work to do until I'm in racing shape - but thats what these things are for, right?  I think I lost a little bit of my ass yesterday.  I hope.

Other happy finishers - I'm so sorry I didn't remember your names!
It's not every day you come across equipment like this on the trail!  Apparently these guys are working on something like a google maps street view, but for trails!  Pretty cool.