Monday, April 15, 2013

Lake Sonoma 50 Mile Race Report 2013

3 a.m.  is early.  But I have a theory that just about anyone can get away with one night of not enough sleep.  The accumulation of not enough sleep is what gets you.  Anyways, I had all of my stuff ready to go.  Grabbed my bag of running stuff: Hydration bladder, gu, technu, body glide, sweats, towel.  Also grabbed my bag of snacks.  Drank my normal pre-race/pre-long run 2 tbsp of soaked chia.  Then I warmed up my breakfast in the microwave.   I usually don't eat breakfast before races because I try to wake up as close to the start time as possible(mostly because I really do value my sleep), and eating too close to the race is a recipe for bad things.  But today I had three hours of digestion before race start, so I went ahead and indulged myself.  Thanks to my wonderful cook/wife Joanne, I had a couple of "breakfast pies?" waiting for me.  I suppose I would call them breakfast pies: pastries with breakfasty type stuff in them.  I was out of the house by 3:15 and on the road, munching on my pies and gulping down some milk.

The driving was nice, I think 3 a.m. is a good time to drive on 880.  I arrived at the parking lot on the south end of Lake Sonoma at about 5:30, a whole hour before race start.  That is probably more buffer room than I really needed, but it is probably good to have some contingency time in there since this was the first time I've been to this race.  I had plenty of time to visit the port-a-poty, get my racing bib and even chill out in my car for a while.

About 5 minutes before the start I grabbed my stuff, tightened up my shoes and made my way over to the start line.  Unfortunately I forgot to apply the body glide, leading to some uncomfortable chaff-age later in the race.  I have done this before, you would think I would know better by now.  I saw a few other Quicksilver team members lulling about and got a little chit-chat in.  I was in no hurry to push my way up to the front of the line because I was planning on taking it out easy, as this usually serves me well at these 50 milers.  Anyways, there were probably 50 people capable of beating me in this deep race, so I knew I didn't need to be too far up there at the start.  The guy said go, and we were off.  You start on about 2.4 miles of rolling/mostly climbing road until they dump you onto the single-track.  This is a fantastic idea for any race like this because it allows people to sort themselves out at the beginning, where the passing is easy.  Once you reach the single track passing becomes more of a chore and would probably drive people nuts if there was a ton of pack repositioning.

I was taking it pretty easy on the road, but every time we hit a downhill, I couldn't help myself, and I would fly down it.  It doesn't take any energy for me to do it, it is pretty much the easiest way for me to cover that ground, long legs have to be good for something, right?  I always wonder whether that is really the best thing for me to do though.  I wonder if running fast downhill takes a little more out of me than I think it does.  Basically I would pass a bunch of people on the downhills.  On some of the steeper downhills I would build up some significant speed and when I go flying past the other runners they must have been sure I was nuts.  Oh well, maybe that is just the way I run.  Once we hit the single track I continued flying past people because it was pretty much all downhill for a while.  I felt a little bad at this point for starting too far back at the beginning, but I have a feeling I would be doing the same thing no matter what group I was running with because that is how I run the downhills.

It was really exciting to be running with this many other racers on the trail.  Usually by this point in a 50 mile race, things have thinned out enough that you might be running by yourself for a while.  Lake Sonoma had such a deep field this year that I was pretty much always passing or being passed by someone.  It makes for a different kind of race experience.  At around 6 miles I passed Rory Bosio, a woman I had read about in the various ultra-running forums, and thought to myself that maybe I was out of my league with the pace that I was doing.  Then I came up on John Burton, my fellow QSURT(Quicksilver Ultra Racing Team), and I knew he was in good shape coming into this race, getting ready for Western States and all, but everything felt so effortless and I was having so much fun that I just kept it up.  A couple of miles later I passed AJW(Andy Jones Wilkins), who is a popular figure in the Ultra-running community and writes for  He was loud.  I knew that much about him before the race, but he also talks non-stop and his voice carries forever.  He must have picked up his pace, or I might have slowed down, but it seemed he was always just a ways behind me, and I knew exactly where he was because I could hear him coming.

I don't have much to say about miles 10-20.  This was pretty much all nice, rolling single-track.  Not very much flat stuff, just up and down all day.  I got to Madrone Point Aid station at mile 20 in pretty high spirits and I knew what was coming up.  At mile 20 they throw some pretty steep hills at you that contain the most significant climbs of the race on mainly exposed fire roads.  This was when Rory caught up with me again.  I was surprised when she just continued to run up the road that I fully intended on hiking, but that seems to be what most of the top runners do- they tend to stay away from walking at all costs.  She pulled away and I was content with just maintaining my effort level with my walk.  The heat wasn't really bad at all at this point, so the exposure didn't get us too bad.  In fact, there was a nice breeze that was constantly keeping us cool and that was perfect for me.  I crested the hill and started bombing down the other side and caught up with all of the runners that had run up the thing including Rory.  Then Rory and I kept trading places for the next 10 miles which was some pretty fun racing action.  On one of the climbs we see the front-runners starting to head back in the other direction.  It was pretty cool to finally see these super-fast guys, that I had only read about, in person.  I saw Marc in this group, probably somewhere in the top 20, and he was looking ok at that point.  I knew he had been working hard and had some great fitness coming into this race, so to see him up there with the front-runners was really cool.

At the turn around aid station I asked if they had any body glide, and one of the volunteers produced a jar of lube.  I am sure this helped me to some extent, but most of the damage was probably already done.  I was in high spirits at this point though because I was actually feeling pretty good.  From the turn-around I continued to hammer the downhills and took my time on the climbs.  Everything was pretty much going to plan.  I caught up with Jonathan Gunderson at this point and knew he was having a bad day.  He is consistently faster than me at these races and to see him walking up the hills, I knew something was up.  He told me he had a knot in his calf and was having a tough go.  I believe he dropped at Madrone.  Going back to Madrone on the open fire roads zapped me a lot more because the heat was starting to go up.  After I made my way past the aid station and back onto the single track that went up and down the hillside above the lake I felt my energy drain.  This was when Rory came running past me for the last time.  She asked if I was ok and I told her I was just catching my breath.  Yeah right, I was toast!  I had a tough time getting the wheels going again and then the legs started cramping pretty good.  So basically at 30 miles into the race I had reached a low that I would not be able to recover from.  I then endured a torturous 20 mile hobble back to the finish line.

At the mile 33 aid station, Greg Lanctot, one of our QSURT members was volunteering and filled me in on some of the action.  Apparently Marc was puking by the time he got there and I would later find out that he had to drop shortly thereafter.  By this point in the race I was taking every opportunity to dunk myself in the streams and horse troughs.  This felt like heaven compared to heat I was feeling while running.  It wasn't necessarily that hot, but the combination of warm temps, 30 some miles on the legs, and the fact that my training was done in mostly cooler weather up until this point, meant that I was running a little hot.  This seems to be a re-occurring pattern for me in April ultras.  The same thing happened to me at American River the year before.  I was in such bad shape by the end of that race that I was involuntarily cramping in just about every spot in my body and could not keep myself under control.  And my brother Josh was there to witness every moment of it.  I am sure he recognized what a ridiculous sport this was at that point, but to his credit, he didn't poke fun at me at the time and just kept me company... good brother.

Those final 20 miles were something I would rather not think about too much.  I got passed a lot, not that I cared at that point.  I remember some grandma passing me.  I'm not kidding.  I know this lady was only 52, but she seriously looked like someone's grandma, not some fast chick in her physical prime, I mean if you saw her you would think she is someone's grandma.  She didn't run with a graceful form, or incredibly fast, she just chugged along.  For a while I was trying to convince myself that she wasn't actually part of the race and that she was just out for a little jog or something, but no, she kicked my butt.

I finished.  This provided much relief.  I was 47th in 8:49:11.  The problem is though, when you finish one of these things, especially if you are in pretty bad shape the was I was at American River, you end up starting your second ultra.  That is you have to figure out some way to make yourself comfortable while your body tries to return to "homeostasis".  At least that is the way I think about it.  By the time I finish, my systems are so out of whack that it is a challenge just to keep from cramping up into a ball.  You can't just stay in one position for too long, or else, cramp.  You have to keep shifting.  You are too tired to stand, you are too tired to sit up, you are susceptible to body temperature swings that become very uncomfortable.  But, if you can make it through that initial phase of uncomfortableness, you might ease into something that feels just a little bit more... normal.  Another issue is, you are generally not too hungry at the end of these things because you are so messed up.  But if you are able to take in calories at this point, it really helps with the time it takes to get back to "normal".  And then what happens?  Then you have to drive your car back home, for 2.25 hours, sitting in one position.  You think about getting out half way and moving around a little, but you just want to get it over with, so you just push through.  Sign up for next ultra, and then repeat.

I have been trying to diagnose what went wrong with this race.  The logical answer is that I started too fast for my current fitness level.  But I have a tough time swallowing that.  I felt fine at the turnaround, and then something went south, fast.  I think next time I am going to try taking more salt in during the race.  I didn't really eat any this race, just gu.  If the salt thing works I might have to rethink my hypothesis regarding electrolyte intake during ultras.  Currently I have been in Tim Noakes' camp with his findings presented in his book "Waterlogged", but I am open to experimentation.

Next up: Miwok 100k.  It's going to be awesome!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Windy Hill Taper Run

One week to go until Lake Sonoma 50 mile race.  This will be my first ultra race of the year and I am totally excited.  All of the work from January until now will finally be able to be put to use.  Admittedly this race isn't necessarily the focus of the year, but it is basically the "season opener", and setting the tone at this race will hopefully signal my progress towards my top priority: TRT 100.  Sonoma is going to be stacked in terms of competition.  It is going to be so loaded with talent from around the world that I would be lucky to crack top 50.  It is going to be neat to rub shoulders with the best in the sport.  I have never competed in a race that will include the pedigree of runner that will be present at Sonoma.  Lake Sonoma, as you might have guessed, is located in Sonoma wine country.  I have never been there, but I hear the trails are challenging.  With 10500 ft of climbing, it will be have the most up and down of any 50 mile race I have done.  The out and back course starts near the south eastern edge of the lake and travels up and down the ridges encircling the lake on the south side, then heading north on the western shore where the turn-around is located.  The race director boast that the race has three significant climbs, but from what I can tell from the published profile, the biggest climb is like 750 ft, so it looks like you are just going up and down all day long on roller-coaster like terrain.  I don't know that this plays to the type of training that I have been doing around here, but I welcome the challenge and the new terrain!

So, with one week to go, I decided to get in a nice and easy 4 hour run at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve.  Windy Hill is located in the hills above Palo Alto, north of Arastradero.  It is not the biggest park in the world, and doesn't boast an extensive trail system, but it is a pretty place that is characteristic of what you will find on the Peninsula.  This is one of the few parks in the area that allow dogs, so there are a bunch of them (dogs).   I ran what locals refer to as the "Three Ups".  Actually I don't know if the locals call it that or not, but I call it the Three Ups.  Three Ups is where you connect the trails at Windy hill so that you run up the three different climbs (Spring Ridge, Hamms Gulch, and Razorback Ridge) and run down each of them.  Each climb is about 1000 ft, and each climb has some different characteristics.  Spring Ridge is an open fire road and is pretty steep.  Hamms Gulch is some nice single track with some steep stuff, and some ridge running.  Razorback is a gentle climb with many switchbacks on nicely forested single-track.  

View of the Valley from near top of Razorback Ridge Trail.
Unique horse trough fed naturally by a spring.

Look at all of that lettuce Toshi!  You should never go hungry.

Cool flower that I have never seen before.
At the top near skyline drive it was pretty muddy because of the the moisture from the clouds that were just hanging out up there.  That made it some pretty slow going and also set up the most memorable part of my run.  At the end when I decided to run down Spring Ridge trail I had quite the adventure.  Given the muddy conditions and the steepness of the open fire road I had a tough time getting my footing.  In fact, I started building up enough speed because there was no way to slow down that I decided I should take my chances on the grass on the side.  I thought that anything was better than slipping in the mud, but the wet grass was even worse, so I would try and course correct and then bam! Down I went, while sliding down sideways down the hill, accumulating mud along my backside.  When I finally got back to my feet I saw awestruck hikers as they gingerly picked their way up the trail.  I laughed it off because I felt no obvious pain because of the gentle mud and heavy dose of adrenaline.  So I tried to get things going again only to pick up too much speed and bam! down I went again...  I am sure I must have been a pretty comical sight to behold, big mud-covered guy, running and sliding down the muddy hill, totally out of control.  But I admit, it was the most fun I have had on the trail in a while. Only suffered a few scratches and am fine, so everything is good to go for next week!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Big Bunny and Such

Saturday I had the pleasure of joining friends and family at the "Big Bunny" 5k in Cupertino.  The girls were signed up for the kids race.  Luke Johnson, a friend from church, was signed up.  Jean Pommier, my Quicksilver teammate and track workout partner was going to be there.  So of course I had to give it a shot.  It was a well organized race in a nice neighborhood, and I had a bunch of fun.  But I must admit, the fun was rather short-lived compared to the races I usually do, but the speed is intense and the pain is quickly over, so that is nice.

The start is usually chaotic in these type of races because of the kids that like to sprint off of the line.  You sort of have to just play the dodging game as they quickly fall off of the pace 50 yards down the street.  They also had chip timing in this race, which is great for accurate times and keeping track of everyone, but it also means that everyone is crammed to force them to go over the timing mats.  This makes the start even more crazy.  I took the conservative approach to line up behind the more aggressive looking youngsters and just wait for them to fizzle out.  I saw Jean up at the front, which is smart considering I probably gave up a few seconds with my strategy, but I was doubtful that I could have hung with those guys anyways.

The start went pretty much like I thought, and then I ended up having to pass on the outside down the first street, but was already making it out into the open by the first turn.  I could see the front runners not too far out ahead and decided to just put it in cruise mode because I know what effort level is right for me at this distance with all of the 5k fun runs that we do each month at work.  I notice that I very rarely feel the need to "race" other runners.  What I mean by that is that I never single someone out that I feel like I need to stick with or try to pass.  I usually always run my own race.  This might not be the best strategy for a race result, but it is the way I do it.  

I kept passing a few other people who probably started out a little aggressive and then settled in behind this high schooler that was cranking pretty good.  We kept this positioning for the rest of the race.  I believe I got within 30 ft of him at one point maybe around mile 2, but then he pulled away towards the end of the race, finishing in an impressive 16:40ish I think.  I ran 17:20, so he beat me by a significant margin.  I felt pretty good about my race time since it was only a couple of weeks ago that I just barely ran sub 18 at work (though I was still recovering from Coe...), so this means that I am still going in the right direction with getting my speed back.  I got 5th place.  Jean was 3rd with a 16:20, which is amazing.  He is going to be entering his 50s next year, and I am sure he will be dominating that age group at whatever race he chooses (as if he isn't already dominating the 40 year olds...).  

The "Big Bunny" 5k is framed appropriately among easter egg homes...
I was trying to be smooth in the homestretch here as I was pointing to my adoring fans.

My football throwing buddy Luke Johnson from church had a great race, running 23:32.  That is sub eight minute miles for 3.1 miles for a 14 year old!  I ran the mile in track when I was 14, but couldn't even think about 3.1.  
 I love watching the kids race.  It is just so much fun to watch your child excel at something that they have so much fun doing.  It is also kind of fun to see their show-off come out.  It is their chance to be on the stage with everyone watching, so it takes them out of their comfort zone a little, but that is also what propels them past the point of "normal".  While at play, they might stop and take a break or try and catch some butterflies or something.  But a race is totally different.  This particular even did not keep track of times or distances or placement, probably one of those hippy california things, but it's all good, the kids are keeping track (believe me).  This event was just chaotic enough that I don't think the kids could even keep track of what was going on.  But they still had fun.  Ada was lined up a little far back in the start line (sound familiar?) and ended up having to play catchup the rest of the lap, but she was smokin down the back stretch!  Passing fools like they were standing still.

At some point during Ada's lap around the field they had went ahead and started the 6 years and older group that was supposed to do two laps.  So I am looking around for Hayley and realize that she is already coming through lap one with a bunch of the little kids still trying to finish their lap!  Great race directing...  In all of the chaos and confusion that was ensuing, the race director was trying to figure out which kids were finishing (the younger ones) and the ones that needed to do another lap.  Anyways, Hayley went flying through, knowing exactly what she needed to do and finished her second lap strong with her long flowing strides.

Here is Ada in action with pink dress shoes and all.
Look at that hip-extension!  Other running form geeks will know what I am talking about...

The proud finishers.

I get handsomer with age.
 In other news I believe I know what to do about the mustache now:  Miwok 100k is May 4th.  If I get top 10 in that race I am keeping the stache through TRT.  If not, then it is gone.  An arbitrary decision stemming from an arbitrary decision to grow it in the first place.  I love the word arbitrary, I still don't think I really know what it means, but I heard a lot of professors use the word.

Sunday morning I got in my long run for the week.  Since I was short on time I decided to piece together some of the steepest trails I could think of and try and run every step.  I chose to go up PG&E>connector>black mountain>down indian creek>canyon>up grizzly flat>skyline back (decidedly not steep)> then back through montebello>up indian creek> and back down the way I came.  The forecast warned of possible showers, so I was fearing the worst as I was nearing in on the Black summit (actually I was looking forward to finally running in the rain this spring!)  But it was not to be, the moisture must have gotten sucked off by the time they got to the mountain :-(

Top of PG&E.

Nearing in on Black Mountain Summit, wondering what awaits me.  Those are the clouds getting skimmed off at black as they enter the bay from the ocean.

Last stretch before the summit.

On the other side of Black.  This is a picture of the clouds hanging out in the valley.
Off of the Canyon trail in Monte Bello.

Going back up to Black, things are clearing out.

Other hikers enjoying the summit on this beautiful day.