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.