Sunday, October 27, 2013

Hilloween 2013

 Hilloween is a challenge to the participant to achieve the most elevation gain, by foot, in a 10 hr period of time.  Location and route is up to the participant.

I chose Mission Peak because I like it.  This has to be one of my favorite loops in the Bay Area.  I knew it would be pretty good for this event too because it is steep.  And the steeper the better for this competition.  But, I didn't know how my body would respond given this is not exactly the normal type of thing that I tackle in training.  I was relying on my aerobic fitness at this point.

Google Earth rendering of the "loop".  Up Horse Heaven + shortcut on the right hand side.  Down Main trail (Ohlone Wilderness and co) on right side.

Google Earth profile of the "loop"
I started out pretty early.  Visibility was an issue.  I didn't carry a light, but that was ok because I could make out the edges of the trail in the light available.  The fog was intense though providing maybe a few feet of visibility.  As I climbed with my trusty hiking poles in hand I was reminded of the old car racing video games that I grew up with.  The ones where they present you with maybe 20 ft of oncoming road that changes faster as you build up speed and you have to react to the obstacles.  Good thing I wasn't going too fast.  No danger there.

Start at 6:13 a.m.
 Unfortunately about 50 ft up devil's twinky, one of my poles snapped.  I stood there for a second completely dumbfounded.  The way these poles usually break is that you accidentally put a moment on it and the bending force breaks the fibers because the poles were designed to transfer force straight from your hands through the poles to the ground.  Mine just snapped with a normal movement.  I still haven't diagnosed the failure, even in post examination.  No fibers broke, it seems one of the between pole fixtures failed in some manner.  Anyways, at the time I was trying to figure out what to do.  I was on the steepest part of my climb with little to no visibility, and without the aid or steadying help of hiking poles.  I continued to stumble up the hill and at one point thought about turning around and going home.  But I decided to at least stumble through one loop.

Sun starting to come up just as I approach summit one.

Peak in background.  Trust me.  Real smile.

As more light became available things got easier and I felt pretty good, so I decided to jog down the mountain and throw the poles back in my car and then continue on the loops.  It was fun.  I was having a blast.

7:38 start for loop 2.

Still a real smile.

8:51 start for loop 3.
 Basically, while I was still fresh, I was averaging a 50 minute climb and a 25 minute descent and it was a really relaxed pace.  I will admit that the steep sections of the climb, such as devil's twinkie, took a lot out of me as my heart would really start to race during these sections.  There were plenty of people asking whether I was going for my second summit, etc as they had seen me a couple of times.  When I explained I was on loop three and planning on going for ten hours, they gave me one of those looks.  The kind of look where I can't tell if they are impressed or they think I am crazy.  Probably a little of both.

Half smile.

10:07 start for loop 4.
Loop 4 was tough.   I definitely felt the cumulative effect of the day so far and had to collect myself a few times on the climbs to allow the heart rate to come down some.  By the time I reached the last ridge to the summit my legs were getting weak, I was getting dizzy, and started having some out of body type of experiences.  I remember sort of feeling detached from my body, kind of staring down at it from above as I stumbled along.  I got some nice views though, you know, the kind of views that you are treated to when you are no longer confined to the line of sight from ones own eyeballs.

Now I am just lying to the camera.
After my forth assent, I collapsed at the summit and decided to eat my AB&J (almond butter and jelly, for those of you not in the "know").  I enjoyed the views and just chilled.  I decided there if my legs weren't very snappy on the descent that I would call it a day.  At Firetrails I promised myself that I wasn't going to induce any running related suffering the rest of this year and return to the heart of my running, which is having fun.  Predictably I was pretty wiped and was content returning to the car.  All in all, I enjoyed the adventure and learned a few things as well.  For instance, it is no coincidence that the only terrain that was causing me issues was the kind of stuff that I don't spend that much time on.  If I could train myself to keep my heart rate down on a steep climb, this sort of thing, or any of the big "mountain" ultra races will be much more within my grasps.  I think.  My totals for the day were 8850 ft of climbing in 5 hours.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2013 Dick Collin's Firetrails Race Report

Confidence was high for this race.  I had put in some good miles in the leadup.  I had completed some focused training.  I had tried to repeat things that had led to past successes in this race.  This was Firetrails after all.  My first 50 mile race.  I have completed this race the last two consecutive years and had done well.  7th in 2011 and got the Dick Collin's award, which is awarded to the fastest rookie 50 mile competitor.  5th last year with a time that was significantly improved from 2012.  I had no reason to believe that I couldn't do any better this year and that success would find me again.

As we started off in the pre-dawn darkness on the bike-paths around lake chabot, I did what I always do.  Pay no attention to the competition.  Run my own race.  Run easy.  Pay attention to my breathing.  Just chill.  Couldn't care less who was running by me on the easy first flat miles.  We hit the first climbs on the firetrails that lead up into the hills.  Again, just take it easy, hike when it's steep, concentrate on nice even effort.  During this climb I catch up to Bree from our club and have a little chat.  She informs me that a lady named Roxanne had taken off fast.  They were good friends who compete against each-other often in these PA races.  She also said she expected to catch her later.  As we parted ways I told her I would try and play some mental games with the other women as I caught them, see if I could get her a little help...

As always I was running the downhills aggressively.  This time, however, things were a little different. There seemed to me more guys around running just as tough as me and even passing me.  I just figured there were some overly ambitious guys that I would reel in later.  I covered the wide open firetrails with ease and thought that I was feeling better at this point that last year.  At some point during those miles a lady named Shawn had passed me on a climb.  We had a little bit of small talk.  She probed me about how fast I was expecting to go, past performances etc...  She was definitely trying to gauge how she was pacing herself for the race.  There is a steep downhill section before we hit the single track where I went flying past her.  I guess all of our cards were on the table at that point.  It was just up to who had the better hand.

As we climbed the wind-y single track she passed me again, and then when we hit the technical descent, she actually heard my big plomping size 13s flapping against the trail as I was bombing down and she stepped to the side for me...

This was a repeated pattern for the next 10 or so miles and we had a pretty predictable convo going with the typical banter of "nice" trail racers.  Why I mention Shawn and not some of the guys that I passed was because she actually talked to me.  There were a couple of guys in the mix during these miles, but it seemed as if they were totally absorbed into their own world and were not interested at all in socializing, or whatever.  Shawn and I were hiking some steep single track and we caught another woman.  We were catching women before this point, but those women were the early starters -  the ones who were allowed to start at 5:30 a.m. and who were probably looking at 11-13 hour finish times. When I first saw this lady hiking as Shawn and I were catching her (while also, just walking up a hill), I assumed she might have been one of the early starters.  I got no indication that this lady was an elite woman runner.  But out of curiosity I asked her her name, and she replied "Roxanne".  So this was her.  The tough woman that I had heard stories of before.  Roxanne is 50 and is usually in contention in these races.  She was huffing and puffing and I couldn't imagine her keeping up what seemed like an obviously painful, excessively fatiguing, pace for another 35 miles.  The three of us were passing along pleasantries and I was bugging Roxanne about Bree coming for her, etc.  But I was pretty sure this woman was toast at this point.  Shawn was the first to start to open a gap on Roxanne and I followed.  Then we hit a downhill and I put a gap on both of them.   I felt so good that I decided to go ahead and stretch the legs a little bit and opened up a nice lead.  I was pretty sure I would not see either of them again until after the turnaround when I was already climbing the "big hill".  After I passed the last aid station before the descent down the "big hill" to the turnaround, I heard a huffing and puffing behind me.  I thought to myself: "no way".  I turned around, and sure enough, Roxanne was hammering this last hill before the big drop and was looking strong.  She passed me with ease and talked a little smack along the way.  I was like, ok, just wait until the down and I will put her away for good.  Much to my dismay she destroyed the downhill and actually put a gap on me.  She was definitely in beast mode.

I had started dealing a little bit with cramping in my calves at this point and was a little tentative on the downhill, trying to regain my composure.  I had even taken a salt capsule at each of the last two aid stations.  I thought I was doing everything I could to control the cramping for this race, but nonetheless, it was still affecting me.  As I was going down the hill I was counting the guys coming back up to gauge where I was in the race.  Oddly I was seeing the guys coming back up in pairs.  At some point I even realized that one of the runners in each of the pairs didn't have a race bib.  I was pretty sure that they didn't allow pacers at the halfway point in this race so this confused me a little bit.  I messed up my count because I couldn't resolve this weirdness in my head for some reason.  Whatever was going on, it seemed like I was farther behind than I usually am in this race at this point.  But no matter.  Just keep doing my thing.  I grinded out the climb while fighting the cramping and was feeling good about myself when I finally got back to the downhills.

The next miles did not go easy for me though.  I was really fighting the cramps.  Every time I tried opening up me stride a little bit my legs wanted to seize up on me.  I was acutely aware of what might happen to me if I pushed things, with the memories of TRT still fairly fresh in my mind.  Basically I was slowing, and there was nothing I could do about it.  People started passing me.  Shawn caught me with about 10 miles to go, and then things got really tough.  Basically about five miles out my legs were toast.  I couldn't even run the downhills.  One time I forced myself to try, and with every stride, pain shooting up through my legs brought me to the edge of my resolve.  I walked it in from here.  Got passed by lots of people, which is generally how these things play out when someone "blows up" at the end of a long race like this.

About a quarter mile from the finish Joanne and the kids were out on the bike-path looking for me.  I was happy to see them.  We exchanged high fives and then I determined to let the girls pace me in at that point and put together a little jog to finish out the race.  I finished 41st in 8 hours and 48 minutes.

I've tried to diagnose what went wrong with my race, but it has stumped me.  I have no idea.  In fact, this year of racing has been strange to me.  I had had two good years of racing before this year where everything was clicking well for me.  And then this year has been disappointment after disappointment. My effort has not been in vain though.  I would have to say that this year of running has also been one of the most fulfilling with a mix of adventures and new experiences and good, disciplined training, that I enjoy.  A bad year of racing is not the end of the world.  For now though, I am planning on backing off of the racing (and the focused training that racing requires) and chill and have fun with the family.  It is time to re-balance.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Tahoe Rim Fastpacking: Echo Lakes to Tahoe City Yo-Yo

Day 1: Lower Echo to Dicks Lake. 15 miles.

I was going stir crazy sitting around at home thanks to the government shutdown, so I had to get out!  My original plan to explore Kings Canyon National Park was out of course, so I had to look around for something fun that didn't require national park access or whatever.  I have wanted to explore more of the mountains around Lake Tahoe and found that a short 3.5 hour drive from the bay area brings you to a trailhead off of highway 50 at Echo Lakes.  The mountains traveling north along the tahoe rim trail (TRT) looked pretty interesting with a cool name like "Desolation Wilderness".  So the initial plan was to do the TRT to Tahoe City and back, about 100 miles.

I started from Lower Echo Lake at just before 3 p.m.  It was a pretty nice day, maybe a little windy.  I found the travel pretty easy.  Not very big climbs or descents.  Some rocky, technical stuff on day 1.

Lower Echo Lake

Upper Echo Lake w/Talking Mtn in back
 The sun was starting to set and I had made up my mind to get up and over Dicks Pass before calling it a day.  I underestimated the climb, and the wind was crazy.  By the time I crested the pass the wind was blowing so hard I was walking sideways and freezing, shivers and all.  The sun had set at this point and I was dealing with a little bit of twilight.  I decided to run the descent down to the lake to try and get some warmth in my body.  I was so cold that I didn't even bother getting out my headlamp and was bombing down some rocky, technical trail (I found out how rocky and technical it was on the way back) in the darkness.  I think I was lucky not to wipe out horribly.  By the time I got to Dicks lake I was still shivering pretty bad.  I got out my headlamp but still couldn't find the lake until I heard the waves crashing.  I fumbled around trying to filter some water and then setting up camp with fingers that were barely working.  Fun times.  I then sat in my sleeping bag, cooking some dinner, and then wore most of the clothes I had inside of my sleeping bag.  It was still pretty cold, tough time sleeping...  The wind was so crazy that the waves were crashing all night.  I had visions of bears splashing around in the water, just to torment me.

Packing up the next morning was pretty much just as fun, but I got this pic of Dicks Lake:

Dicks Lake, Pass, and Peak

 Day 2: Dicks Lake to Page Meadows/Tahoe City. 33 miles.

Friday was cold and windy.  Still, the views and trails were pretty fun until the TRT leaves Middle Velma Lake and enters a deliriously long stretch of forest trails that all look the same, with basically no views.  I will dub this stretch "Sherwood Forest".  I had visions of Robin Hood jumping me in the middle of nowhere and taking my titanium spork.  To make it worse, I just never could warm up much. Here is a picture of a "stream" during this section:

Then I reached Barker Pass, and things got better.  Well, at least the views and trail got more interesting.  It was still windy and cold.  I couldn't hear myself think.  There were cool ridges, peaks and volcanic rock formations to check out:

Lava Formation

Reminded me of Devil's Postpile

Twin Peaks

Right before you reach Twin Peaks the trail splits: The Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) goes north into the granite chief wilderness, and the TRT goes east, down the ridge to Tahoe City on Lake Tahoe.  I was tempted to explore more of the PCT and see some more high alpine landscape, but the thought of staying up on the ridge in the cold put an end to that plan pretty quickly.  I decided to decent down to the city, but purposefully stopped two miles short to camp in the forest.  You don't know how many times I considered walking straight into town, sitting down to a steak dinner at the brewery and getting a hotel room for the night.  But I decided that that would not fit my goals for this trip.  I find that "roughing it" in the wilderness allows your mind to reset, to humble yourself, and to make yourself thankful for the things that are in your life, including warm beds and steak dinners...among other things.  Dropping down off of the rim helped with the wind and the temps.  The night was a restful one.

 Day 3: Tahoe City to Susie Lake.  37 miles?

I had decided as I was descending to Tahoe City that I didn't want to go back on the TRT.  The thought of enduring Sherwood forest yet again numbed my mind.  I drafted a new plan.  Go to Tahoe City, and then head south along the bike trails that line the lake until Meeks Bay where I would pick up the trail back to the rim and reach the "Tahoe Yosemite Trail" which by the looks of the map looked really enticing with multiple high alpine lakes to explore.  This trail would then hook back up to the TRT at middle Velma, where I could return to my truck on the "fun" trails.

I woke up and walked the final two miles into town and then headed south, sure to make a stop at this bakery that my wife was a big fan of when we visited here this spring.  I decided one little luxury wouldn't quite spoil my wilderness experience...

Tahoe City

Coffee, Bacon and Cheddar Scone, and a fireplace.  Roughing it!

Views of the lake from the bike path
 The Tahoe Yosemite Trail did not disappoint.  It was fantastic.  Nice and steep and rocky with awesome views.  If Sherwood forest gets a rating of 1 out of 5 stars, I would give this one a 4 (with 5 being reserved for the SHR at Twin Lakes, which isn't even a trail at all)  Even better, Saturday was basically perfect from a weather standpoint.  It was like the calm after the storm...

This is what I did with my shutdown.  Thanks Government!

View down to Grouse Lakes and "the bowl"

Tahoe Yosemite Trail Rocks!

Lower Velma and Middle Velma Lakes.  Eagle Lake is just on the other side of the ridge to the left.

As I headed back along the TRT I was treated to some wonderful reflection shots like the one above.  I got up and over Dicks Pass as the sun was setting once again, but this time the weather was wonderful and I timed it a lot better.  It got dark just as I picked out my camping spot at Susie Lake.  The only downfall was that there were a bunch of more hikers out and there was a fair amount of racket at Susie. Sleep was so-so.

 Day 4: Susie Lake to Lower Echo Lake.  10 miles.

The final stretch back to the car was ok, but I felt like a zombie marching.  It seems to happen to me on the last day of these adventures sometimes.  It's almost like the body realizes that you are about done and meters out the exact amount of energy that you need to get it done, even though you know you could keep this up for days.  Another calm and wonderful day for pictures:

Reflections off of Lake Aloha of Pyramid Peak, Mt Agassiz, and Mt Price.
That last picture is probably my favorite from the trip.  

Small world: about a half mile from my car I run into Jason Reed.  He is in his running setup and all and I just assume he is around to pace Victor Ballesteros in his TRT FKT attempt.  But instead, his race at the lake got cancelled and he decided to bag Echo peak instead.  Small World.

Video clips:

Gear and Food Notes:

  • I think if you see a forecast for a low of 25 at night at lake level, you need a sleeping bag rated lower than 30.  Live and learn.
  • I used basically everything from the previous trips and it all worked well.  No significant issues besides the bag not being warm enough.
  • I could have used some warmer bottoms.  Running shorts just didn't do it.  I did have some arm sleeves that I used on my calves (runners can get away with this...) and they helped a little bit, but some sort of wind pant would have been nice.
  • I replaced my normal round of clif bar products with some home made bars that my wife prepared, they were delicious and I will definitely keep those on my list.
  • I added chocolate to my goodie list.  Keeper.
  • I had an Epoch bar.  It was okay, but I prefer normal jerky, or the salmon that I brought along on this trip.  The salmon was delicious.
  • New thing I did that would almost certainly freak out everyone that gives advice for these trips:  I put my food bag in my bivy while I slept.  If any animal wanted my food, it would have to deal with me first.  And I have a beard.