Sunday, February 24, 2013

Montara Mountain Half Marathon Race Report Feb 2013

Toshi asked me why I would want to run such a short race.  This is sort of a funny question when you think about it.  A few years ago I would never think about running a half marathon, let alone one that climbed 2900 ft over fairly technical trails at some points.  This course was my first "trail race".  At that time it was put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs and called the Pacifica 21k.  I could write a pretty detailed report about that race and all of the lessons I learned, but that is not what this post is about...

Why race something that is not an "ultra-marathon"?  I believe you get real training benefits from racing shorter distances.  Not to mention it is serious fun.  You get to go fast!  I bring this up because most of my ultra-marathon running is decidedly not fast, but that is just what you have to do.  I could go out for a really hard training run for a "shorter" distance and hope to get the same benefits.  But I know I can not simulate race conditions.  There is something about pinning that race bib to your shorts, and being surrounded by a bunch of other testosterone filled barbarians, and hashing it out to see who is top dog.

It is almost sacrosanct to think of one of these trail races as such a competitive event with people that actually want to win.  Trail ultra-marathons, and trail races in general seem to pride themselves on the relaxed nature of these particular types of races.  You will hear things about how we help each-other out, and offer up encouragement, etc.  This is partially true.  People say things out loud, but everyone knows the truth.  When I say to another racer as he is passing me:  "Good job man, keep it up, you're looking strong", what I really mean is:  Just wait until the downhill, then you're going down!  It is all a front.  When you line up at a race, you paid your entry fee, you did your training (hopefully), and you mean to cash it all in.  I just don't buy it when another racer says something about not wanting to do as well as they possibly could, what's the point?  A race is a race.

So, how did this race go for me?  The guy said go and I basically sprinted off of the line.  Not recommended.  With this particular course, all of the runners start on a pretty wide fire-road and are allowed to settle themselves into appropriate paces before you hit the single-track climb up the mountain.  I have ran this race before where I got stuck behind some slower runners and regretted it, so I made sure that didn't happen.  Unfortunately I may have been a little over-exuberant with my move.  Once I hit the single-track I felt obligated to keep the level of effort up so that no-one behind me would get pissed that I was messing with their paces.  The second-place guy at that time, Sean Handel, was breathing down my neck about a quarter way up the mountain.  He seemed to be moving pretty good and I let him pass.  About 2/3 of the way up a group of guys including Marc, Leigh Schmitt, and some other guys who were actually racing the 50k and marathon came up on me, and I let them pass.  It was pretty frustrating that I was having such a tough time climbing.  I was expecting to push it up the mountain better than that.

At the top of the mountain you grab a rubber band to prove that you were there and then head back down the way you came.  This was where I was finally able to open it up and do my thing.  I started catching guys on the down-hill, basically scaring the slower runners to death as I approached them at break-neck speeds down the rocky technical single-track.  I passed a group containing Leigh, but did not see Marc.  I ended up catching up to him at the bottom of Montara.  We went through the aid station together and then hit the next climb, and naturally he took off.  I did my best to climb it well, but again, some of those other races caught me.  Then on the next downhill to the valley I was able to catch them again.  This is a pretty common pattern for my racing.  Sometimes I wonder how much it aggravates other racers when I'm constantly making these moves because of my obviously skewed trail running strengths...

The final climb up the Hazelnut switchbacks was like it has always been for me, a slow grind.  A couple of years ago I remember running the whole thing, albeit slowly.  This time I was taking hiking breaks.  I noticed that I did not remember how to handle the pain of these type of races.  It is different than the pain of an ultra, or the pain of a 5k.  I was ill-prepared, and let it get to me.  After I finally crested the hill I got to let it all out once again, and ended up having a strong finish in 1:42:something.  It was a new PR for that course.  My A goal was to beat 1:40, but I will take a PR any day.  I got second place in the half (Sean ended up getting 1:35 and setting a new course record!).  Four other runners besides Sean beat me to the 21 km point, but were running longer races.  Insane.  Those guys were cranking.  From what I hear, three of them Leigh, Marc, and Kevin Weil all ran under the old 50 k course record- Leigh and Marc fighting it out till the end, and significantly lowering the record.  Just impressive.

The day was awesome, weather perfect, views out to the pacific forever.  It was a good time.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Double Plump Buttocks Fastpacking

Many ultra-runners take at least some time off during the holidays.  They come back early in the year to find out that all that good eating has affected the size of their hind quarters.  In order to get back into shape for the racing season these runners participate in semi-organized 50 km runs.  There are several popular runs like this that our running club likes to participate in.  It just so happened that there were two of these runs scheduled back to back Saturday-Sunday.  Toshi had the brilliant idea that we should run both of them.  Better yet, he suggested that we run one, and then backpack our way to the other one.  I was game, but I had to one up him, so I suggested we start out on Friday at the bottom of the hills and backpack our way up to the first run as well.

On Friday at 2 p.m. we set off from the Arastradero parking lot.  Joanne and the kids were there to see us off.

The girls escorting us on the start of our journey.
From Los Trancos Trail looking down at Palo Alto
This is one of my classic routes to get up into the hills:  Arastradero through Foothills through Los Trancos, through Montebello up to Table Mountain.
Toshi's GU chomps and Poison Oak Sandwich.

Nice Sunset the first night.
 We picked a nice covered spot near the top of Table Mountain to camp.  Toshi is attempting to hone his light weight backpacking skills and is working on setting up a tarp to protect from the elements.

Toshi's first successful tarp setup.

Smallest toothbrush ever, perfect for fastpacking.

Sunrise the next day.
 We had incredible weather for the whole trip, and actually it was really warm for our run.  We woke up with the sun and then hiked over to the start line at the Saratoga Gap.  There we met up with several other runners including Pierre and Jean from our club and then we were off.
Pierre and Jack.

Awesome day.

Speeding through the forest.

Jean and Toshi leaving me in their dust.
I though I was running pretty comfortably, but it was probably a more aggressive pace than I was prepared for when I tried to keep up with the other speedsters.  The run consists of three different loops from the Gap.  The first loop tours Castle Rock state park, the second follows the skyline to the sea trail for a while before heading back up the hill to the gap, and the third loop visits Table Mountain.  As I was heading back up the hill to the gap on the second loop I ran out of water and subsequently stopped eating.  Running a deficit on my hydration and calories took a toll on me and I had to slow way down.  When I finally made it to the water fountain, I gorged myself and then just waddled around for a while.  It was on this last section that I decided two loops was going to be it for me if I wanted our backpacking plans to work out so I got back to the gap, and got recovered, ate some food and took it easy.  Jean and Toshi did great and finished the run strong, but Toshi was wiped.  I felt pretty bad for wimping out because I knew that the rest of the trip would have an asterisk on it, that Toshi and I would not share in our suffering and ultimately our triumph equally.

The 2nd Saratoga champs.

Having some fun at Castle Rock

Showing some skills.

Check out this cool tree-rock combo.
 Connecting the two runs with the available trails and roads was tricky.  There was no clear cut path to get from Skyline trail through Sanborn over to El Soreno.  Luckily they had started some work on some new trails that will make it feasible, but we had to do some navigating and some bush whacking to connect it all up.  Toshi and I had some difficulties and ended up spending a little more time on this that we had anticipated, but in the end, we did not have to sleep in a swamp, so that was nice...

Another fun "Car on the Trail" pic

Cooling off the feet.
Incredible views from the top of El Soreno.
We slept on a flat section of one of the switchbacks of the fireroad at El Soreno.  It was really pretty.  It was already dark, and our spot overlooked the lights of Los Gatos and it was a clear evening with the stars out.

The next day we got up pretty early because we wanted to get down into Los Gatos to get a real breakfast.  It was heaven: coffee, milk, and a egg, bacon and cheddar bagel.  You have not experienced this level of culinary satisfaction until you have spent a couple of days in the forest with nothing but dehydrated pouches, gu and cliff bars.

We showed up at the start line of our second 50 km run and then we were off.  This was a pretty hilly run through Sierra Azul, up over Mt El Sombroso and then down to Quicksilver, only to turn around and do it again.  I think it is a little over 7000 ft of climbing.  I took it easy on this run and actually felt surprisingly strong for all that we had been through already.  I had a lot of fun hiking, running and socializing with the other runners tackling the mountain.  They have a fun aid station for this one near the half-way point that Sean and friends organize with all kinds of goodies.  It really makes for an enjoyable run.

As I was heading back down from Sombroso to the finish I ran into Toshi who looked like maybe he had a little too much of those "goodies" at the aid station, so I joined him for the final leg of the run.  We finished it in some unimpressive time, but in the end, I think we understood what we were out there to accomplish, and it was good.

Old man Jim is still talking about that "apple juice"

 Some Details:

We did not run the 50 km runs with our backpacks, we stashed those in other runners cars.

I used the same gear as the other trips I have been on and don't have anything remarkable to say performance wise about it.  I really am contemplating getting a better sleeping pad.  The Klymit Inertia X-light is just not getting the job done.  It is only 1.5 inches thick and is not full length.  I am now thinking about getting Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite because it is 2.5 inches thick and full length and only about 6 ounces heavier.  I think I might have to take the weight hit for more comfortable sleep.

I am sold on Curries for dehydrated food option, and I like the organic Mary Janes Farm brand that you can get at REI.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Point Reyes Revisited

Toshi, Sean and I went for a run up at Point Reyes.  If any reader of this blog remembers, Toshi and I had an epic fastpacking trip out here in the fall: Stinson Beach to Tomales Point Fastpack Yo-Yo.  We had some destination/time goals for that trip that prevented us from exploring as much as we would have liked.  This time we had a ton of fun crawling around the interesting formations that this park has to offer.
Ready to Go!
Heading up the hill while there is still frost on the ground.
I can see the ocean...

Gotta love the Point Reyes Views!
The day was just beautiful.  Clear, chilly, awesome light, it was perfect for a running adventure.

Looking down at Wildcat Backpacker camp.

More incredible coastlines.
 The first time Toshi and I visited we had a tough time figuring out how to climb down to Alamere Falls.  We had ran south on the Coast Trail, past the falls, and decided that there was no established trail to get down to or below the cliffs.  It turns out that if we had gone another 100 ft we would have found a unmaintained trail, that was signed for Alamere Falls.  Now we know...
The beginning of Alamere Falls.

This is where the falls cascade off of the cliff, straight onto the beach.

Pretty sweet, huh?

There was a spot in the middle of the falls that I got this picture- this is looking straight down into the beach.

These are the flows before the cliff.

There is a little bit of rock scrambling require to get down to the beach, but it was fun!  Sean is showing us the butt slide technique.

Looking up at the cliff from the beach.

Groovy picture of the Alamere flow as it heads toward the ocean.

Here is some video clips of the Falls:

It is interesting how the sand just seems to suck up the water.
Paradise, right?
 After we were done with the falls, we ran along the beach back to Wildcat backpacking camp.  We had fun playing with beach stuff: the various sticks, and plants, and shells and stuff that wash up on the beach.  Back at Wildcat we ran into some other ultra-runners.  Do you know how we knew they were ultra-runners?  One guy was wearing a Lake Sonoma 50, and the other Dick Collins Firetrails 50 t-shirt.  Both are races that I plan on running this year.  This place is infested with crazy people.
Other ultra runners.
Random yellow flower.  It looked like someone had spray-painted this particular spot.

Top of Arch Rock.

The color is awesome in this shot.

Climbing down to the "arch" of Arch Rock.

"The Arch"
Sean absorbs the impact of his landing off of the rock, but does he keep from falling in the water?
Arch Rock: The Real Thing:

Smaller arch.

Can you guess what this is?

The Ocean washed into these caves.  It would have been interesting to see if they are accessible during low tide.

Can you spot Sean and Toshi?

Bobcat spotting.
 The picture above doesn't do this cat justice.  This was a big one.

Another water fall.
Flows into the ocean.

Toshi's best Leor impression.

We had to wade through that arch to get to the "secret" beaches

Can you guess what that black stuff is? 
Now can you guess?

What we thought was the "Amphitheater"  but it wasn't.  It was still very impressive.

Looking out from the "Amphitheater"

Checking out Sculpture Beach

It's pretty cool how the water flows cut through the sand.

Sea Urchins

More slimy creatures in a cave.
I don't know if the starfish is being worshiped by the clams, or the clams have trapped a starfish, whatever...
Cave with slimy things in it:

Dead forest on the way back to the car.

Mt. Whittenberg, not quite the summit, but this is where you want to take your pictures from.

Descending through a pinewood forest.

All in all it was an awesome day with friends in a beautiful place.  Can't ask for more.  I think our route took us about 22+ miles, with a lot of scrambling and goofing around.  About six hours.

Compilation of various video clips: