Sunday, June 30, 2013

Trimmed Training

Slacked off on training just a little bit this past week.  Both Monday and Tuesday morning I had a hard time getting out of bed and just slept in.  No running.  Wednesday and Thursday, I took shorter runs than normal.  And Friday, instead of doing speed training, I did a short easy run (we're talking 8:30/mile) with a group at work that goes at about the same time I do.  They're nice people, but I don't think I'll be joining them again.

I weighed myself on Friday, which I usually do before my once-a-week swim (the only time I'm around a scale).  I have gained four pounds in two weeks.  And that included a race week.  And I even went for a bike ride the same weekend as that race!  After that streak of marathons, I've just been "rewarding myself" (eating crap) wayyyy too much.  On a guy my size, two pounds per week is a LOT.

On the plus side, my swim was a lot easier than normal.  So yay!  At least I'm getting better at something.

Saturday I set out for a long run, intending to do about 20 miles and throw in a short ride on my mountain bike (Vanguard?) afterwards.  I kept stopping in the shade, it was a lot hotter than normal out, and California has spoiled me to the point that I'm not used to upper 80's anymore.  I wound up cutting the run short to 17 miles.  But fear not!  The mountain bike ride will make up for it.

Right away, I noticed my rear brake was rubbing  just a little bit.  Ahhhh, I'll fix it later, this is just a short easy ride.  Then it got worse.  And worse.  And worse.  By the time I was a block away from home, I was standing on the pedals and stomping like I was trying to climb a gigantic hill, and that was just to keep moving fast enough that I wouldn't fall over.  What the hell?  The brake pads now had a death grip on the disc.  Hydraulic disc brakes aren't the kind of thing you can fix at home (or at least, I can't), so there would be no mountain bike ride today.

I took it to a Mike's Bikes later that day and they fixed it in less than five minutes for free.  Damn.  The store I used to work at (Performance Bikes) would've charged me $10 and kept my bike for up to a week.  This isn't the first time Mike's Bikes has provided me exceptional customer service (they once let me owe them).  They have permanently earned my loyalty.

Sunday I intended to go for a 61-mile ride, but again, cut it short, this time because I was approaching a bonk (maybe good news if I wanna lose those four pounds back).  I wound up doing 58 miles, but the main thing was I avoided one of the bigger climbs I was going to have to do towards the end.  Upon arriving home, I immediately laced up my running shoes and took off for about 10 minutes. I want my legs to get the idea that they're never getting off easy.

Now my right knee hurts.  Dammit...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

An Interesting Conclusion to a Weekend

So after the San Lorenzo Trail Marathon, I went to a Drum Corps International concert.  If you don't know what that is, it's essentially a league of professional marching bands, quite literally the best marching bands on the planet.  To get an idea, check this out.

The DCI show was at Stanford Stadium, only about eight miles away.  Maybe a 20-minute drive, or...nah, after a race, I don't need to bike there, I should just drive.  But parking might be a problem, and they might charge for it, so should...oh, what the hell.

So I biked eight miles - each way.  And it actually felt pretty good!

Since I had all day Sunday (I really like Saturday morning races since you still have most of your weekend afterwards), I decided to reconnect with an old friend and take Invictus for a ride.  A flatter, shorter one, only 44 miles (but still hillier than an average day on Texas 4,000's Rockies Route; California hills don't mess around).

About two-thirds of the way into the ride, I started feeling hints of a bonk.  I'd eaten quite a bit for breakfast and lunch, so that kind of surprised me.  Luckily, there were basically no hills in the last section of the ride, so I managed to just hold it steady for the last hour or so, though at an unusually slow pace for me.

When I got home, I realized I'd locked myself out.  My roommate was out of town for the weekend.  I could call my landlord, but she doesn't live closeby and is, well, just pretty weird to deal with.  I knew my balcony door was unlocked, so I American Ninja Warrior-ed my way up there (the bottom ledge is about three meters off the ground and maybe 6 cm wide).  That after wearing myself out all weekend.  Then I went inside, had a beer, and watched some Alfred Hitchcock.  What an ending to the weekend.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

San Lorenzo River Trail Run

I guess I haven't written anything since San Francisco last week.

San Lorenzo would be my fourth marathon in four weekends, and on top of that, it was on a Saturday where all the others were on Sunday, giving it a shorter turnaround than normal.  I've gotten into the habit of making Friday a speed run (only three miles) followed by a swim, then a day of rest on Saturday before the race on Sunday.  With the quick turnaround, I felt like that approach, with one less day to work with, would result in not nearly enough running during the week.  So I did normal runs through Thursday, then Friday I swam only.  Enough rest, I hope.

San Lorenzo River is one of the more unique trail runs, considering the waist-deep river you have to cross - four times.  The course has a relatively moderate amount of elevation gain, maybe a little on the high side, but peppered with an obscene hill you have to climb - again, four times.  This marathon was a race of big moments.

As I've started to do lately, I took off strong and got out in front in the early going.  Heard chatter behind me until the hills started getting big, when everyone got quiet.  I led the charge up the hill, and less than a mile in, tripped over a root and fell forward.  Well, that's embarassing.  Got right back up and kept going.

For the majority of the first mile, I wasn't feeling it.  My legs felt stiff and sore, and I was already doubting how well I'd do as the race went on.  I wondered if all the races in the past month were finally catching up to me, and maybe today wouldn't be my day.  Started feeling better when the course flattened out only a mile in.  Alright, this I can handle.

A guy named Pat caught me on a descent (as I've been learning, apparently my weakness).  He was running the 30K.  Very friendly guy, we talked a little while.  He could really scoot!  We arrived at the river crossing more or less together, him in front of me, and just forded it, leaving our shoes on.  The water wasn't nearly as cold as I thought it might be; in fact, it felt great!  I did my best to hurry out and started running again with soggy shoes.  They were noticeably a little heavier.

Immediately after the river crossing is the big hill.  I passed Pat fairly quickly and headed up in my trademark fashion, quick short steps and an even rhythm.  At one point where the trail switched back, I looked for Pat.  I didn't see him, but through the trees, his navy blue shirt would be hard to notice.  It was entirely possible he wasn't that far back.  Or he could be walking up.  Not that it mattered too much as far as my race was concerned; he was in a different one.

After a grueling uphill with a couple of false summits, the trail finally headed back down, steep enough that you had to stay on the brakes more than the gas.  As I headed down, I thought to myself, "Man, that hill was pretty tough!  Glad it's over.

...oh mannnn, that was only the first time!"

After nearly a mile of descending (I'm surprised Pat didn't catch me), the course flattened out and ran along the same river for about a mile before I arrived at the first aid station.  The volunteers, sweet as could be, apologetically told me they didn't have cups yet for one reason or another, so with a smile, I took my water out of a bowl, thanked them, and headed back.  Noted the time on my watch and waited to see the first runner headed back the other way.  About three minutes had elapsed, making me six minutes ahead.  A handful more passed soon thereafter.  Then I realized I hadn't been noting anyone's bib number, so I had no idea how close the nearest marathoner was.  Oh well, I'll have another chance at the halfway point, and with twice as much data.

This course being an out-and-back, I wound up having to pass several people for the next three miles.  Just about all of them were great about sharing the trail, and the few that weren't were mostly just caught off-guard, not being a jerk.  Gotta say, I really love the people that come out for these; the level of kinship is greater than you'll see at almost any other outdoors/sporting event.

After crossing the river again, I didn't see anyone else on the course, until I got near the end and found people finishing up the 10K (they started later than us).  I'd forgotten that there was a section that must have pointed downhill for a while in the early going; it seemed like I was running up an incline for miles (because I was).

Hit the downhill to the finish, ran strong again for a mile.  Took a little more time than normal at the aid station, eating a little slower and chatting with a volunteer.  Apparently Wendell had come by just 30 seconds earlier and specifically asked if I'd made it through yet.

Made myself move back up the hill.  This time, a little slower.  Just like last time, I made a note of the time when I left the aid station, but this time I remembered to look at people's bib numbers.  The first few, predictably, were only doing the half marathon.  When I saw the first marathoner, seven minutes had elapsed.  I was 14 minutes ahead.  Over one minute per mile.  Pretty hard to make up.  Barring disaster, it looked like I had this one.

The river crossing was a lot more busy this time around with people coming the other way, so I wasn't able to use the rope.  It was only waist-deep anyway, and hardly moving, so going around wasn't really an issue.  Heading up the big hill for the third time, I wasn't sure how long I'd last before I'd have to start walking.  Only one way to find out.

There were still quite a few people on this section of the trail, but much more spread-out.  Since the 30K and 50K routes had an extra loop that they had to tackle right in the middle of the race, that resulted in the runners all over different points of the course at all times.  That has the notable benefits of making it easier to pass and also means that there's always someone nearby on the trail, so it's hard to get lost.  The only downside (and this is nitpicking) is that it's hard to tell exactly how far ahead or behind someone is, or how well they're doing, when they did a different amount of mileage than you at some point on the course.  It doesn't matter really, but I'm curious by nature, and doing math about pacing and gaps gives my brain something to do during a long run.

After cresting the hill, I was noticeably having more trouble with the downhills.  Not a problem really, better to stay in control than risk anything.  When the course flattened out, I saw a few people riding horses.  I'm not sure if their "Howdy!" response to my typical "Mornin', y'all!" was meant to be humorous or if that's just how they talked.  One of 'em was wearing a cowboy hat, after all.  At one point, I got stuck behind a couple horses, and they were kind enough to move off the trail to let me by.  I just walked past; I had no interest in spooking a horse.

After hitting the aid station and turning around, I noticed I wasn't running "my" way.  It was much closer to a jog.  Considering this was one of the few flat spots on the course, I considered that unacceptable, even 19 miles into the race.  I picked it up and ran like a man.

Took on the hill for the fourth and final time.  Not having walked yet, I was resigned to make this a no-walk marathon.  Coming up from this side was a little shorter anyway, so I figured it should be do-able.  Concentrated on short, quick, even steps, like always, and didn't mind moving slowly, as long as I kept moving (walking would take twice as long).  On my way up, I saw two guys with marathon bibs on.  They were now 20 minutes back.

"Jesus Christ, man!"

They were actually looking really strong, running down the steep, technical hill with confidence.  Probably faster than I did.  In no way were they having a bad day.  Still, with a 20-minute gap, they would need to make up nearly four minutes per mile at this point to catch me.  Not happening.

Managed to get up the last big hill without walking.  Nice!  Had this race taken place a few months ago, I'm not sure it would've worked out that way.  More and more, I can count on finishing these trail runs without walking.  Which is probably my greatest strength.  I'm not that fast really, and I often get caught on a descent.  But I keep moving, no matter what the Earth has to say about it.

Coming down the hill again, for the first time in over a year, I had that feeling I used to get with my old, half-a-size-too-small (but damn sexy) racing shoes.  Where towards the end of the race, it feels like my big toenails are getting shoved backwards into my toe.  In a few cases, that resulted in toenails going entirely black and very nearly falling off.  I still hung onto those shoes for a while though, because I always ran so fast in them, and, well, they were sexy! (I like bright-colored running shoes).  I think that big toe effect tended to happen when my form got sloppy at the end of a race and I didn't roll through properly; I was just plopping my foot down over and over.  Luckily, this stopped when the downhill did.

I started smiling real big when I crossed the river for the last time.  By now, it was just getting fun.  Got out and trudged my soggy behind up the last big hill of the race.  Some parts of my thighs were now getting pretty irritated from running in wet shorts all day.  I wondered if I should've worn something more spandex-like or neoprene-y.  Like a pair of running shorts I have where the liner is more like boxer briefs, or almost like tri shorts...

Tri shorts!!!  Why the hell didn't I wear tri shorts?!?  Or even my whole friggin' tri suit??  If there was ever a time to do that (and some runners do all the time), this would be it.  Oh well.  Next time, I guess.

Of the last four miles, three of them are uphill.  Two of those three are a slow, mild incline, but 22 miles into a race, you feel that.  I actually did alright coming up the steep hill that kicked it off, but in the flatter section that went on for two miles, I was really feelin' it.  Almost wanted to stop and walk.  One thing that kept me going was seeing other folks on the course, either walking in the end of their half, or jogging easy, slow enough that I was still able to pass them, even as tired as I was.  If I'm still passing people, there's no way I'm so tired I need to stop.

The turn downhill thankfully came a little earlier than expected, though it still seemed to take forever to get there.  I'm not sure why, but not long after I turned downhill, I started getting light-headed.  My eyes had trouble focusing, my head just felt...weird...and my arms were tingling.  I think it might've just been that running easier caused a rush of blood from my legs to my head.  Or something.

"You know," I thought to myself, "Maybe it'd be OK to just jog easy to the finish."

The first time around, I was able to charge down the hill, but I didn't see how that was necessary this time.  A first-place finish and a course record were completely assured, even if I walked it in.  But I still wanted to finish this thing without walking, and I figured with only one mile to go, all downhill, a light jog would be just as easy and would get me there faster.  Even at my deliberately slowed pace, I still managed to pass a guy.  Crossed the line to applause from a bigger crowd than normal and sat down for a while.

The second-place finisher turned out to be the guy who previously held the course record.  For the race, he had three goals: beat his old time, break four hours, and defend his title.  Hated to make him only succeed in two.  He was a great sport though, and a really nice guy.  He managed to find the only beer in the cooler, probably left there by accident (this park didn't allow public drinking), and shared it with me and the third-place finisher.  I looked around for Pat since I wanted to congratulate him (he wound up winning the 30K), but it looked like he'd gone home already.  Somehow, it seemed like a lot of the race organizers had heard about my performance at San Francisco the previous weekend.

In the end, I wound up breaking the course record by 40 minutes.  Not bad!  Was a pretty challenging course, but again, a fun and unique one, with the killer hill you have to conquer repeatedly and the river crossings to make it interesting.  That guy certainly could've chosen an easier course to try and break four hours...

I should also mention that there was a group of at least a dozen 12-14-year-old girls all wearing lavender, doing the half marathon.  I never got the whole story, but they're apparently all from Milwaukee, WI, in town to do this thing together.  I guess they were a cross-country team and wanted to toughen up for next season?  After running 13.1 miles on this kind of terrain, a flat 5K would seem like nothing.

So the end result of The Gauntlet: Four marathons in four weekends, two outright wins (both course records), a second-place finish to an Olympic marathoner (by only five minutes), my fastest trail run ever, and my fastest marathon ever.  I have seized the month of June and throttled it.

I think next weekend, I'll do a nice, long, moderately-difficult bike ride.

Monday, June 17, 2013

San Francisco Marathon

The Dallas Marathon begins at 8:00 AM.  The Austin Marathon begins at 7:00 AM.  I always complained about that; 7:00 AM in February is about the coldest possible time and day of year, and in February, the sun isn't even up yet by 7:00.  And since Dallas starts at 8:00, why can't Austin?  Boston, which has a lot more weight to throw around, starts at 10:00 AM, giving you enough time to sleep in and even get a full meal down.  Most of the Coastal Trail Runs start at the decent hour of 8:00 AM, except Big Basin, which started at 9:00.

San Francisco inexplicably starts at 5:30 AM.  Holy schnikees.  I guess they really wanna get those roads re-opened early.  I was staying with a friend that wanted to wake up at 3:45 AM, even though we were only taking a 10-minute cab ride to get there (she likes a long morning routine).  I managed to get enough sleep (maybe just enough), having gone to bed while it was still just a little light out.  I may have eaten just a little too much the day before.  I put down a somewhat smaller amount for breakfast and hopped in the cab, still very dark outside.

San Francisco had plenty of port-o-potties (which I needed), but didn't make it very clear exactly how many there were (they just kept going all the way down a long street).  Meant you either had a long or short wait, depending which line you found.  Got everything done that I needed to do just in time, lined up, and started off in the second wave.  San Francisco has multiple starts, depending on your expected finish time, so you don't have to shove past slow people that lined up in front for no good reason.  Take a note, LA.  And almost everyone else, for that matter.

Despite starting with a fast wave, I was mostly passing people early on.  Even when I got stuck behind someone for the first half-mile, we were at least moving.  We started spreading out just as the course rounded a corner and headed almost due west, along the ocean.  Headwind.  I made it a point to hang out behind tall people for a moment when I caught them, rather than passing them immediately.  Stay outta the wind, save your strength.

I dunno why, but I felt a little odd in some spots in those early miles.  I couldn't tell if I felt like I was running harder than normal or too easy.  Looking at my watch, my pace looked OK (though since I almost exclusively do trail runs, what's my "normal" pace, anyway?).  But it almost felt like I was running in a body other than my own.  An in-shape one, but I just didn't feel the same as I always did.

Here and there, the route got off the road and onto a walking path, only about two meters wide, thinner than a lane of auto traffic.  That was fine in the crowd I was in, but when the masses came through?  I dunno how they expected a few thousand to run on that path together.

Five miles in, we headed up a hill to the Golden Gate Bridge.  First main hill.  I passed a number of people.  Hills must not bother me as much as others, at least after taking up trail running.  During the hill, we saw our first fans on the course.  Five miles and no spectators until now.  But that's what happens when the race starts at 5:30 in the morning.
"Good morning!" I chirped as I approached.  They laughed.  I guess that's an unusual thing for runners to say to spectators.

I always forget how long the Golden Gate Bridge is.  When you first start across, it doesn't look that far.  One mile later, you're still only two-thirds of the way across.  Felt good running across the bridge though, especially as you make it towards the end, as it bows back down.    A turnaround in a parking lot, complete with a solid cover band, and back across the bridge the other way.  Looking at how many people had already passed me going back across the bridge, it looked like there were about 50 in front of me.

Heading back across the bridge, I got to see all the people behind me.  Goodness, there were a lot of them!  6-7 miles into the race, and they still hadn't separated much, still bumping elbows.  I'd hate to be in that mess.  Now back in the headwind, I did my best to follow tall people again.

Felt good to break off the bridge and be alone again.  A tough uphill almost immediately, then a great downhill.  And when you looked to the right, outstanding views.  My stomach started to act up.  Almost immediately, I saw an aid station complete with port-o-potties.  Should I?  It wasn't affecting my running yet, just discomfort, so no.  But I would probably have to later.  No biggie.

A few rolling hills later, we were in Golden Gate Park.  Closing in on the halfway point, I was well under 1:30.  Not bad!  I had noticed that to this point, I was much better in the hills than other people around me, both going up and down (trail runs, how adaptable you have made me!).  Just at mile 13, another aid station.  This time, I took the opportunity to use the toilets.  Cost me a minute, but it would probably pay back later.  Felt great getting back on pace.

Hitting the halfway point, I looked at my watch.  Pace was 6:22/mile.  Considering that included a bathroom break and the "tougher" half of the course, not bad!  I'd probably slow down in the second half, but maybe not by much.  A couple miles later, my average pace improved to 6:20/mile.  So halfway into this thing and I'm getting faster?!?  Yeah, I'm OK with that.

Miles 14-19 are a gradual uphill.  In some spots, you get a decently challenging uphill, though never a long or a particularly steep one.  In other spots, it gets pretty flat.  But it's certainly never downhill, and it's an incline a lot more often than not.  Every mile, I kept checking my lap time.  Every mile was between 6:10 and 6:20.  Seriously?!?  My PR was at a pace of 6:29/mile.  Breaking that not only seemed possible, but...likely!  I'm still running better than that, and while running uphill!  I was almost exclusively passing people at this point.  My feet were starting to hurt.

There were bands dotting the course in the second half, probably at least one per mile.  A number of them were only two people, just a minimal drumset and an acoustic guitar on a street corner.  Just shy of mile 19, I saw another one.  There may not've been anything particularly special about them, but, well...
For one thing, they were playing a type of music you don't usually hear from a band at a marathon.  Low-key, easygoing acoustic music.  Again, it was just two people, a guitarist and a drummer.  The guitarist was a cute blonde with a very pretty voice.  She was smiling. Just after I rounded the corner and they came into view, she turned, looked at me, and smiled bigger.  I kept looking at her and smiling back.  Maybe she was just smiling to see any runners paying attention to them, or maybe I looked like hell by that point.  But who cares?  I just liked how she was smiling at me.  She was singing in some foreign language, I couldn't tell what.  I have no idea what she was singing, nor in what language, but it was awfully pretty.  I kept running.  Was only able to take them in for about four seconds, but for one reason or another, understated as the entire fleeting experience was, her face and her voice stuck with me for another mile or so.

I hadn't fully realized how much time is spent in Golden Gate Park, but it wound up being over six miles.  About a quarter of the course.  Upon exiting, the course flattened out quite a bit and headed east, smack in a solid tailwind.  Better conditions!  The sun was just now coming out and we were pointed right at it.  Not only that, but the street had that perfect shine to it, causing everything in my field of vision to be nothing but glare.  I kept my face scrunched for the next several miles.  The streets were completely empty.  Silent.  A ghost town.  I hadn't noticed so much in Golden Gate Park, since I'm used to being surrounded by serene nature.  But when it was silent streets and empty, unlit buildings, it was very noticeable.  There were still virtually no spectators to speak of, maybe a group of four or so every half-mile.  The cops directing traffic outnumbered them by far.  This is clearly not a race you run for crowd support.

This might sound strange, but probably the worst part of the course was a downhill.  At mile 20, and then again at 21, there was a short, steep downhill, the kind that's enough you have to hit the brakes to keep from losing control.  I had hoped that all the uphill we'd gone through would give us a downhill we could really use.  But no.  Coulda been worse, but I'm not a fan of steep downhills.  At least my feet were feeling better, probably just from hitting the ground a different way for once.

Still holding strong, I kept looking at my watch to get an idea when I'd finish.  Apparently my watch was off by a little, over-estimating how far I'd run, and I'd actually be crossing the finish line when my watch read about 26.4.  It looked like setting a PR was a given!  And was 2:45 possible?  Every time I looked at my watch, it looked like maybe just barely, but no.  But every time my watch beeped to tell me my last mile's time, it kept getting faster, until I was running sub-6:00 miles.  Holy crap!  What the hell was going on?!?

The toughest spot in the last stretch was probably mile 23, when the course turns south for at least half a mile, finally into the wind again.  Slowed you down, but not so bad.  Turned back out of it and headed down to the water.  Hitting the water felt great, just a little flat to go, all tailwind.

Rounding AT&T Park (where the San Francisco Giants play), you now know there's exactly one mile left; you're at mile 25.2.  I turned around the stadium and saw a long straightaway.  2:45 looked like it was in the bag.  Where the hell was the finish line though?  It's only a mile...
Half a mile to go, I still couldn't see it.  Really??  I started worrying that my watch somehow got off by even more and I wasn't as close as I thought, maybe 2:45 wasn't happening after all.  I finally rounded a corner and saw the finish almost right there.  Crossed the line strong and started walking.  Unlike usual, somehow, my legs didn't cramp up right away.  I actually felt...good!

Saw Larry at the finish line, a guy I've run with at work.  He looked genuinely elated to see me that early and to learn I set a PR.  I gave him a high five, smiled, and kept moving.  A banana, scone, yogurt, chocolate milk, beer, and popsicle later, I was feeling even better, dancing through the bag pick-up area.  Grabbed my drop bag and my SF-LA Challenge medal, stretched, and waited for my friend to finish, then took a cab home.

My official time wound up being 2:43:52 (which I'm just calling 2:44), a PR by six minutes on probably the hardest urban course I've ever done.  And not only that, but I ran my first-ever negative split.  And to think that all included a friggin' bathroom break; my day could've gone even better.  No point doting on that though.  There's hardly a thing I can feel about this race aside from happiness (OK, pride too).  After worrying about beating my BQ time by more than one minute and hoping to beat it by five minutes, I beat my BQ time by a solid 21 minutes.  Yeah, that might be enough to go to Boston.

Went to visit my aunt for the rest of the day, and we wound up going for a bike ride all over Golden Gate Park (oh, the irony).  A great meal, a good beer, and some good times.

So far, the Gauntlet has gone fairly well: a dominating win at Canyon Meadow, a decent second-place finish at Big Basin (second to an Olympian, I might add) that was my fastest trail run ever, and now a marathon PR by a wide margin.  Can't wait to find out what the San Lorenzo River Trail Marathon has in store next week.

Boston, this one was for you.  I hope I did you proud.

Pre-San Francisco Marathon

I've had a very productive week of training, or at least a fairly consistent one.  My times are down a little, and here and there, my joints hurt.  That tends to go away after a few miles though, which is a good sign (if it keeps getting worse during a run, you really oughta stop).  And my left arch hasn't hurt one bit all week.  But I actually trained every single day, including speed training and a swim on Friday, which is more than I can say for at least a month.

Only downside to that is that it's possibly worn me out right before one of the few races where I really care about my numbers.  I'm really hoping for 3:00, if not better, in hopes of securing a spot in Boston for next year.  Boston has started a rolling registration, so that the bigger gap between your time and your Boston-qualifying cutoff time, the earlier you get to register, until it sells out.  Apparently there's been an absurdly high number of Google search queries for "qualify for Boston Marathon" ever since the bombs went off, so one could assume that more people will try to sign up, requiring you to have a pretty good time in order to register before it sells out.  Beating my qualifying time by only one minute in LA probably won't be good enough.  Time will tell if I should've taken more than just one day off before the race.

So I rode the Google shuttle up to San Francisco after work on Friday and stayed with a friend for the weekend.  I forgot how cold it always is there, only 40 miles away from where I live.  Saturday in June and I had to walk around wearing long pants and a jacket, and somehow that still wasn't enough.  It's summer.  How do people live here?  And they're willing to pay so much to do it!  Give me the sunny South Bay any day of the year.  Less people, too.

The expo was pretty cool, not as large as LA, well-organized, easy to navigate.  Lots of free samples, but a little short on athletic gear and shoes.  Not that I ever buy any at these events, but I still like to look at all the new stuff that's out there, get an idea what my next pair might be.  There didn't even appear to be an official apparel sponsor; there were a few small kiosks of different companies, as opposed to a gigantic area dedicated to one company (Asics in LA, Adidas in Boston), and no others.  Different way of doing things, I guess.

After breakfast, I didn't have a "real" meal all day, but snacked like crazy throughout, and basically felt full since the expo.  I almost never have a "real" meal for dinner (and the one time I did recently, I had all kinds of stomach complications during the race), but this is a slightly different approach.  Even without a full meal, it was kind of a lot of food.  Let's see what happens.

Ever since some jerk decided to desecrate the most sacred temple of running, I've been pointing to the San Francisco Marathon as the race that I would run "For Boston."  Two months in training, I'm ready.

For Boston, I will.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

More Joys for Runners Only (Illustrated)

Continued from an older post.

12.  Being athletic enough to hold your own in a pick-up game of anything.

13.  Saving money on beer by having the tolerance of a three-year-old.

14.  Never getting hangovers because you didn't even drink much.

15.  "I have to train" is an easy excuse to get out of unappealing invitations.

16.  Never forgetting to take a shower.

This has never happened.

17.  EVERYTHING tastes good after a long run.

18.  Freaking out anyone that takes your pulse.

19.  You always know what the weather's gonna be for the next few days.

20.  You get a tan and your exercise at the same time.

Especially if you run shirtless like I do

21.  You can get excited about shoes without sounding hoity-toity.

Possibly more to come.  Leave your own in comments!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Not quite running-related, but related to one of my cooler adventures lately.

Last May, I did a six-day bike tour with my dad in Central Texas, riding town-to-town with the goal of sampling the best barbecue in the state.  Along the way, we listened to a lot of blues music.  We called it "Bikes, Blues, and Barbecues."  After getting home, I started re-writing my trip journal as a book, and a year later, it's done!

Not only done, but featured on Texas Barbecue Posse, the semi-official barbecue blog of the Dallas Morning News.  And it's available for download as an eBook on Amazon and Google Play.  You don't need a Kindle or dedicated device to read them; Amazon has free apps for any computer, tablet, or smartphone.

So if you're into biking, music, travel, food, outdoors, family, or just need a good cheap gift for Father's Day, check it out.  It's sendable as a gift and it costs less than a coffee.

Big Basin Trail Marathon

The Big Basin Trail Marathon is unique in a few ways.  For one, it's a well-established course, very popular in the area, on a very popular (and scenic) hiking trail, the Skyline-to-Sea Trail.  For another, it's a marathon and 50K only, no short options.  Also, it's a point-to-point, as opposed to the usual double loop, and the occasional out-and-back.  And finally, as the name "Skyline-to-Sea Trail" might imply, it's a net downhill.

Like always, I studied the course's elevation profile beforehand.  It looked like there were really only three hills, and none of them even looked bad.  The course information indicated 3,000 feet of climbing and 5,000 feet of descent.  I looked at the elevation profile again.  I figured they might be exaggerating.  Only three hills, none of them bad, and the majority of the course is downhill?  Sounded pretty easy.

Since this was a point-to-point, we had to drive to the finish line, a solid hour away even with zero traffic, and take a shuttle to the start, a full hour-and-a-half.  That meant I had to get up early.  I had the thought that I might sleep on the bus, but I wound up talking with the friendly guy behind me practically the whole way.  The ride reminded me of Boston, the way you're shuttled from the finish to the start, and the length of the ride can be intimidating, knowing you have to run all the way back.  But one comforting aspect was the fact that we were consistently going uphill.

This race had about the same number of participants as most Coastal Trail Runs, but since everyone was doing either a marathon or a 50K, that meant they were all good runners.  At least, that's what I had thought.  Both on the bus and as I stretched and went through my pre-race routine near the start line, I heard an unusually large amount of people repeating the mantra "I'm just trying to finish."  One couple in particular snuck off and started the course 20 minutes before the gun because they were worried about making the eight-hour cutoff.  They were doing the marathon, not the 50K.  26 miles in 8 hours means only 3.25 miles/hour.  Walking speed.  Which meant they were worried they couldn't essentially go for a hike, even one that's mostly downhill.  At the risk of sounding elitist, if you're not sure you'll even finish a race, and you don't think you can jog at least half of it (in a marathon, that'd have you finish in about six hours), you might think twice about signing up, for your own health.

The conditions could hardly be more perfect: temperatures in the mid-50's, overcast but not dark, and plenty of canopy cover on the course.  I lined up near the front and took off strong at the gun.  Right away, I was out in front.  Might be another lonely marathon.  The course started off largely downhill, and I was actually doing a good job taking advantage of it, running most of my first few miles in only about six minutes each.

Less than a mile into the marathon, I heard footsteps behind me.  No heavy breathing, just footsteps, probably about 5 meters back.  I kept wondering if I'd be passed, but that never happened.  Only about a mile in, I saw the couple that started early.  Not only were they already not running, but they weren't walking either.  They were standing off to the side, taking a break.  Wow.  I'd never sign up for something I was so wholly unprepared for, but I guess I partially admired the fact that they were willing to put themselves through a loooong day.

I kept listening to the footsteps and noticed that they would get a little louder at the end of a good downhill and softer after an uphill.  Sounds like the guy is good at downhills.  No good, considering that's appeared to be my weakness, and there's an awful lot of them in this course. About four miles into the race, he finally moved past me on one of the longer downhills to that point.  I managed to keep on his tail.

This course, I gotta say, might've turned out to be one of the hilliest courses I've ever seen.  Not that there were any long hills.  Nor even many steep ones.  But the majority of the course was almost entirely made out of micro-hills, the ones that go up and down every 20 seconds.  There were essentially no breaks, and no chance to settle into a groove and start pacing well.  This course forced you to make an effort with every step, physically and mentally.  No auto-pilot today.

About a mile after I got passed, I managed to catch up with the guy and run side-by-side with him when the course widened to a fire road (at least 80% of the course was singletrack).  He kinda glanced over, like he was gonna say something.  I beat him to it.
"Good morning!"
He smiled.  "Good morning!"

Turns out he was running the marathon too.  Dammit!  Was hoping he was in a different race.  I moved ahead of him (barely), with him staying right on my tail.  Again, I could manage to get away from him slightly on uphills, but I could tell he was holding back on downhills.  I wondered if that was to my advantage: maybe he had to push harder than he was comfortable with on uphills, and on downhills, he was unable to use his best assets.  At least, that's what I was hoping.  The guy didn't seem to have many chinks in his armor.

Eight miles in, the steps behind me suddenly stopped.  Not another sound.  I kept running, but after a minute, paused.  Did I miss a turn?  After Cinderella, I'm still paranoid about that.  Since he was right behind me, and seemed like a nice guy, I had my doubts that he'd let me go down the wrong way without saying something.  Besides, there wasn't even an intersection.  There was nothing for me to miss.  I concluded that he probably just stopped to pee.  I kept running again, hoping this was my chance to put some distance between him and myself.  One minute later, I saw a pink ribbon.  Yessss, not lost!  Another minute later, he was behind me again.  Dammit!

11 miles in, we crested the second of the three hills of the course, followed by a long downhill section that might as well have been a friggin' obstacle course.  Rocks, roots, stairsteps, and scrambling over sheer rock.  Never a dull moment.  I started feeling bad that I told someone on the bus that California trails rarely have any rocks or roots, they're mostly well-groomed packed dirt.

The other guy slipped in front of me again around the halfway point, just as the downhill was bottoming out.  I managed to keep him within sight, in striking range, and even started closing the gap after a while.  At mile 14.2, we reached the third aid station.  I looked at my hand again.  It was supposed to come at mile 15.8.  What the hell?

"What mile is this?"
"It's uh, I dunno.  8.5 to the next one.  10.4 to the finish."

Yeah, that'd be 15.8, but my watch says 14.2.  Was the watch off by that much?

I took off hard from the aid station, determined to stay right on the guy's tail.  He'd stopped for less time than me, opening up the gap again.  I knew that my only chance to win was to stay right on his tail until the last strong hill, blow him away on the climb, and manage to hang on from there.  I caught up to him just as the trail started turning upwards.  Nice!  Now just stay where you are and wait till he slows a bit and make your move...

At mile 15.6, the trail headed back down.  Wait.  That...that can't be the big hill already...?

It was.

Miraculously, I managed to close the gap on a downhill.  I still don't know how.  But about as soon as I did, he hit the afterburners.  I'm guessing he had the thought that once he got on the downhill, he'd drop me easy, and when that didn't happen, gametime was over.  He effortlessly opened up a huge lead as I struggled with a long, technical downhill.

While this was maybe the hilliest course I've ever done, at least in some ways, it was by far the most technical.  I struggled with that, especially towards the end.  Here and there, my left arch gave me a twinge.  Nothing hugely concerning, but enough that I was thinking about being careful.

The course bottomed out around mile 19 and it was a mostly flat fire road for several miles.  Somehow, it was still technical.  Probably the rockiest, most uneven fire road I've ever run on.  My pace still sagged.  I was just worn out.  I probably overdid it in the early going to stay competitive, and was paying the price now.

I started noticing something odd about my watch: the mileage would freeze for half a mile at a time, then jump ahead.  Since it was cloudy AND we were in tree cover, was it having trouble getting a signal?  If so, it was probably connecting dots with straight lines, ignoring all the twists and turns in the trail, and there was no WAY it was accounting for the extra distance created by all the micro-hills.  So THAT'S why everything was coming two miles too early.  I've actually run farther than I think.

As predicted, the last aid station came two miles early.  Hurting and resigned to coming in second, I stopped completely and helped myself to a lot more than I normally would.  Not that it would kick in before I reached the finish line, but I was already thinking about recovery.  I trudged off with 1.7 miles to go, but feeling a little better.  At least, for about 20 seconds.

I'd noticed the last hill on the profile map, but hadn't bothered to note it (I write the mile markers of all the peaks on my hand in permanent marker).  It just seemed too small, too insignificant.  As I ran up, I knew this wasn't even steep, nor did it even go on that long, but it was forcing me into a comically slow pace, like I was heading up the type of hill that I would normally debate walking.  At one point, I crested the hill and heard a familiar sound.  I looked up.  The ocean!  And no hills between me and there!

Or so I thought.

The trail continued to snake along the side of the hill rather than running straight down to the water, and it went ahead and went uphill just a bit just to mess with us.  Soon enough, I charged down the last hill and through the finish line.  The other guy was already sitting on a park bench, drinking a coke.

The other guy, whose name I finally learned was Jussi, finished five minutes ahead of me.  I finished in 3:05.  My fastest trail run so far, but also with the least climbing (even with all the micro-hills), and a net downhill.  Somehow, I had the notion that I might even break 3:00, but that just wasn't happening.  Jussi and his wife Paulina, who won the women's marathon by over half an hour, were both on vacation from Finland, found out about the race a few days ago, and decided to run it.  And not only did they run it, but they beat the pants off everyone else, and Jussi never even looked tired, not during, not after.

"Holy smokes, you're fast!"
He smiled.  "Well, it wasn't easy."

He sure made it look that way.
(note: I would later learn that Jussi is an Olympic marathon runner.  He was probably just humoring me.)

Still, I'm pretty happy with running my fastest trail run ever, and I did beat the old course record by eight minutes.  In fact, when I got to the finish, the support still wasn't set up, so I helped them put out all the snacks.  Stuck around for a little while, took in some food and beer, and headed home.

As much as I describe the course as technical, difficult, hilly, and obstacle-course like, it was also beautiful, unique, and fun!  Even for a trail run, this felt like a different kind of challenge, and I can see how it's a very popular hike.  While the course was lacking in vistas, it was still absolutely gorgeous, running through the deep, silent, and occasionally foggy woods, surrounded by thick ferns on the forest floor and tall, ancient redwoods all around you.  And at one point, if you actually looked up, you got a great view of Berry Creek Falls, good enough that I actually stopped entirely for about 10 seconds to take it in.  If you ever get the chance, it's a great hike, and I'd say it's worth it even if the 26 miles takes you a full weekend.  Lucky me, I got to see it all in three hours.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Little Joys for Runners Only (Illustrated)

Somewhat of a repost, but this just sounded too fun to pass up.

1.  Passing someone who isn't a kid or overweight, riding a bike that isn't a mountain bike, cruiser, or comfort hybrid

2.  Feeling better in the last two miles than the first two

3.  Never having to get in shape for swimsuit season

4.  Running fast enough to notice the Doppler Effect

car alarms never sounded so good

5.  Eating all the carbs you want

6.  Being encouraged to eat all the carbs you want

7.  Instantly having at least an hour's worth of conversation when meeting other runners

me normally:

me with other runners:

8.  Farting on the run

There is no more physically relieving sensation.  None.

9.  Staying in great shape without buying a gym membership or expensive equipment

10.  Watching horror movies, thinking "I could outrun that guy"

11.  Thinking "I'm so glad I ran today" only an hour after "I really don't wanna run today"

one hour later...

I am clearly not a good artist.

More coming soon (really).  Leave your own in comments.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tough Training

Monday, for whatever reason, I just felt like crap.  No training.

The first training run after a marathon, whether I wait a day or not, is always rough.  I guess I'm just rusty and need to shake it out.  If I go for a quick run the day after a marathon and wimp out in the first two miles, I'll run much better the next day than if I just took the day off entirely.  That makes me wish more marathons were on Saturday, so on Sunday I could do a long bike ride for recovery (somehow, biking in weird circumstances is much easier for me), and I'd be right as rain on Monday, starting a new week fresh.

So this Tuesday, not having run on Monday, I started out rough.  Normally I do my tough hill repeats training n Tuesdays (14 miles and a crapton of hills, basically my hardest training run), but wisely decided to make it more like a normal training run, "only" 12 miles and a lot less climbing.  I probably stopped about four or five times in the first few miles, those random pauses I sometimes have despite not being tired or out-of-breath.  My joints felt tight and sore.  But I just toughed it out and kept going.  After a while, I felt a lot better.  Joints loosened up and I apparently got my head together too.

At the end of the run, I only had an average time (at best), but the second half of the run was pretty solid.  I need to get better at pushing through the tough times like that.

Wednesday's run might've been OK like that, but I just had a late start going that morning, and honestly didn't have enough time before work to finish the run.  That and I just felt weak.  Intending to do that long hill repeats run, I cut it down to only eight miles.  Not a bad training run, but I was pretty slow, and I just nixed the best training run of the week.  For the rest of the day, that left arch I tweaked last week was hurting.  That's not a good sign.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Canyon Meadow Trail Marathon (reprise)

After doing pretty well at this race two months ago, the main goal I had was to do better.  Technically, I did not hold the course record for this race; for races held twice a year, Coastal Trail Runs keeps those records separate.  So I could also break the course record without beating my previous time.

The sun was already up and it was almost warm by the time we got started.  I seemed to recall shivering at the start last time around.  Still early in the summer, I better get used to the idea of dealing with heat.

It's a pretty easy course, with the exception of a very strong hill for the first half-mile.  Some people go ahead and start walking first-thing.  I had lined up at the front and only a few people followed me at my pace, and by the end of the hill, only one remained, actually a little bit in front of me, managing to take long steps even going up a hill like this.  He looked like a teenager.  As the hill flattened out at the top, I started passing him.

"What race are you doing?" he asked.
"Oh, wow!  I'm only doing the half!"
"Good luck!"

The rolling hills for the first five miles were a bit of a nuisance.  They weren't too hard, and I was still holding a great pace (especially considering those miles are generally uphill), but it was hard to get in a groove.  At mile 2.5, where the five-mile course splits off, it wasn't clear where the course went.  There were no ribbons, and only an ankle-high sign marked the marathon course, though it pointed diagonally, halfway between straight and a right turn.  If I hadn't run the race before, I woulda had no idea.  I continued straight.

Remembering my experience at Cinderella, I got nervous anyway.  I kept looking for ribbons and didn't see any.  A couple minutes later, I found a couple hikers and just to be sure, I asked them, almost desperately,
"Have you seen any pink ribbons?"
They looked confused.  "Any, uh, what?"

"Pink ribbons!  Have you seen any on the trail, or on trees or bushes?"
I could tell they were wondering what the hell made me so interested in pink ribbons.  One of 'em suddenly had a light bulb facial expression, "Yeah, I did!  I saw some a few minutes ago."

"GREAT!  Thanks!"

The aid station volunteers acted like I caught them by surprise when I showed up.  "We don't even have every- uh, what do you need?"  I couldn't tell what they were talking about; it seemed like they had their typical full spread to me.  I just took a couple cups of Clif Shot and headed out, but first asked,
"What mile marker are we at?"  Sometimes my GPS watch is a little off, so I wanted to know.  It currently read 4.6.
"Uh, I forget exactly, between 6 and 7."
"You sure???"
"OH!  I mean, 4.7."
"Yeah, I know I'm not that fast..."
As I left, I figured we were probably between 6 and 7 kilometers out.

Right after the aid station came the second-hardest hill of the course, short but nasty, followed by an almost-nonstop downhill for almost six miles.  A guy could get used to this.  Did my best to hang tough in the few flat spots, and the one random short hill in the middle.  Bottomed out at mile 10.  One last hill, then a flat out-and back section to finish off the first loop.

What's funny was the last hill wasn't nearly as hard as I remember, and the out-and-back was not only harder, but seemed like it went on a lot longer than I remembered.  And this time, there were several people camping along the out-and-back section.  I hadn't realized you could.  Every so often, there'd be a clearing with half a dozen tents in it, each time it seemed like it was one large group.  For the most part, the folks seemed calm and friendly, didn't seem to mind that a race was going on through the middle of their campground.  Except for one group.  It's not that they were mean, it's that I could hear them literally from half a mile away.  In either direction. So I had to listen to them for a full mile.  Their kids were out of control.  The entire woods had this beautiful serene tranquility, except for these little balls of noise running around, constantly screaming at the top of their lungs.  The parents were watching all this and appeared to not only tolerate it, but were amused.

"God damn," I said aloud as I ran past the parents.  I wanted to stop and ask, "Are you gonna be here in an hour and a half?  Because I have to run through here again, and I don't come out here for the noise."  I kinda get the idea that you wanna give your kids a chance to do that kind of thing somewhere, and in crowded urban settings, around a bunch of people, isn't good either, but how about a playground or something?

Finished the first loop in about 1:30, ahead of any and all half-marathoners.  I still felt good and wondered if I could run up the entire first hill this time.  Only one way to find out.  I started up the thing and deliberately took small steps, planning on walking if I felt like I had to.  And I never did.  At the top of the hill, I smiled.  Not only could that be the difference that makes me beat my previous time, but this could be a no-walk marathon.

On the big hill, I managed to catch up to a mountain biker that had passed me just before the start line.  I always feel bad for mountain bikers on these courses; they're probably just trying to go out for a normal quiet Sunday morning ride, and they wind up having to deal with 500 people on the course.  This guy gave me some encouragement up the hill, then rode alongside me for a minute when he passed me again after the trail had flattened out a little bit.

"So how many loops are you doing?"
"Two.  I'm doing the marathon, so you do a half-marathon loop twice.  But some people are doing a 50K."
"Well you're doing it in style, man, racing up those hills.  Are you the leader?"

"Yeah.  Was there anyone close behind?"
"Nnnoooooohohohooooo!!  Naw, not even close.  You're winning by a mile."

Good to hear.  He was starting to pull away from me.  "Have a great ride!"
"You too, man, good luck!"

When I arrived at the aid station this time around, there was only one volunteer there, and a half-marathoner, just leaving.  As I did my best to quickly chew Shot Bloks, the volunteer explained that she'd arrived late to the start and was having a frustrating day.  I forced the sticky blobs down and headed out for the last tough hill of the course.

After the short, steep uphill, I actually had some trouble maintaining pace on the downhill.  There's always a part of these races that's much harder than you remembered the second time around, but it's almost always a minor hill; I'd never expect it to be a downhill section.  Still, I was making good time, even if I felt like I was starting to run outta gas.  The scary thought was that when that happens, you're usually able to think about just getting the tough part over and making it to the easy downhill section.  Problem was, I was already on the easy downhill section.

On the flipside, the last hill of the course wasn't as hard as I recalled this time either.  As I was approaching it, still feeling pretty good, I kept hoping it would show up so I could get it over with.  "Hill, reveal yourself!  I want to dominate you!"

I crested the last hill, came around a corner, and found the final aid station before the finish.  Two miles to go.  I looked at my watch.  15 minutes to spare if I wanna beat my own record.  Yeah, I got this.

Even more so than on the first loop, it felt like the out-and-back went on forever, and the short hills in the woods seemed tougher than ever.  On the profile map, they basically don't appear at all, but I get the impression that's only because they don't go on long enough to be measured.  In any case, that section of the course is hardly flat.  I felt enormous relief when I hit the turnaround, knowing there was less than a mile to go, and the path back was much flatter.  I looked at my watch again.  It's in the bag.

Six minutes later, I crossed the line in 3:07 and walked over to hang out in the shade.  By now, it had gotten pretty hot out, but thankfully, almost the entire second half of the course is in the shade.  When the results came out, not only had I beaten my previous best by four minutes and the summer course record by twelve, but I beat the second-place finisher by 43 minutes.  A while later, I realized that by Boston's old standards, this would've been a qualifying time, had it been a certified course (it's not, and trail runs almost never are).