Saturday, July 27, 2013

Wildwood Trail Marathon

Drove up to Portland on Friday, arriving in town about 11:00 at night, found a (sort of) cheap hotel.  Asked if I could have a later check out, so I could take a shower after the race.  That's an extra $40.  Forget it.

Somehow, I thought the race started at 8:30 instead of the actual start time of 8:00.  Glad I got there early!  Managed to do a little stretching and made my way over to the start area.  Just before the gun, I realized I hadn't put my pack of peanut butter in my pocket.  Oh well, I could probably do without just this once.

Going into this race, I had two goals:
1.  Win.

2.  Finish in under three hours.

This was the flattest course of all the Coastal Trail Runs, so if #2 was ever going to happen, it was going to be today.  Taking a look at the out-and-back course, I saw that it was mostly uphill on the way out, and mostly down on the way back.  I figured as long as I reached the halfway point in about 1:30, I had a chance.  I'd be getting tired at the end, but I'd also be running downhill.

The course was in Forest Park, right next to a road called Skyline.  My eye twitched.  A select number of 2006 Texas 4,000 Sierra riders would remember that hill as the tough one that wiped us out at the end of a long day into Portland.  Maybe the course is harder than it looks on paper?  Would it be as hard as it seemed back then?

Right off the bat, a muscular guy took off up the hill, shot out of a cannon.  He was dressed in all black, like me, only he was wearing knee-high black-and-white camouflage socks.  The start line had been changed from its normal location, so the course now included an out-and-back that was basically a climb straight up a hill and back down.  I'm a decent climber, but I couldn't believe how fast this guy was getting up the hill.  I saw him run through a patch of sunlight and noted the time, then looked at my watch when I got there.  30 seconds had elapsed.  Only three minutes into the race, and he was already 30 seconds ahead.  Damn.

I came around a corner and saw Knee-High standing on the trail next to a cone.
"Is this the turn-around?"
I looked at the cone.  It definitely had a sign on it that included the words "turn-around."  But it was off to the side of the trail, and it had a yellow ribbon on it.  Having run many races with Coastal Trail Runs before, I knew that yellow was never used for the marathon; it's almost always reserved for the 10k.
"Nah, I don't think this is it.  Keep going!"
I felt bad that the guy just gave me a free 10 seconds.  But it was unlikely that either of us would beat the other by 10 seconds or less.

A quarter of a mile later, we found the real turn-around and headed back down the hill.  I think I actually managed to gain on Knee-High on a downhill.  Not common for me.  I suddenly liked my odds.

Two miles into the race, headed back uphill again, it was clear that Knee-High wasn't just a fast starter, but a force to be reckoned with.  I finally passed him 2.5 miles into the race, slowly, on an incline.  It took effort.  I couldn't tell if I was foolishly letting my competitive side get the best of me, or if I was doing a good job of using my best abilities.  Time would tell.

The course was heavily wooded, to the point that no sunshine made it through to the forest floor, even though it was a bright, sunny day.  Probably a good thing, since it wasn't that cool out.  Had we been in direct sunlight the whole time, it would've felt pretty hot.  As it was though, nothing but green.  Lots of it.  Dense canopy and thick undergrowth.  A beautiful course, even if there weren't really any views.  It reminded me of Big Basin.

In fact, the course itself wasn't unlike Big Basin either, due to all the micro-hills.  Aside from the initial out-and-back climb, there weren't really any big hills, but the course just rolled and dipped constantly.  You really had to be paying attention.  The difference was that this course was the opposite of technical.  Firmly-packed dirt the whole way, hardly any rocks or loose gravel in sight.  A perfect surface and a not-horribly-challenging course.  This was going to be a good day.

Had to climb a short out-and-back hill to get to the first aid station.  I downed some Clif Shot and asked the volunteers what mile we were at.
"7.2.  It's 6.7 to the next one."
I looked at my watch.  It showed 6.3.  Clearly, it wasn't working very well.  No wonder it thought I was running eight-minute miles; it doesn't think I'm going as far as I actually am.

Immediately after leaving the aid station,  Knee-High was there.  I finally noticed that he looked familiar.  Maybe I've seen him at one of these races before?  Every time the trail made a switchback or hairpin turn, which was often, I looked back and saw Knee-High not far behind.  My lead was probably only about 10-15 seconds.  At some point, his shirt came off.

Just before the turn-around (the course was an out-and-back), a big hill.  Switched to shorter steps for the first time in the race and plugged away.  This was where I could separate myself.  Made it to the aid station in 1:37.  I now had to just as far, minus the initial out-and-back, in 1:23 if I wanted to break three hours.  It was a net downhill.  Sounds do-able!

As I ran back down the hill, I made a note of how much time had elapsed since I left the aid station.  Knee-High showed up 1:30 later.  I had a three-minute lead, which I'd opened up in about six miles.  I'd been gaining about 30 seconds per mile.  Solid!  Of course, if I could do it to him, he could do it to me.  And with half a marathon to go, he would only need to gain 15 seconds per mile to catch up.  Now is not the time to get complacent.

Knowing that a win and a sub-3:00 marathon were both possible, but not easy, I posed a challenge for myself: never "tap the brakes" running down the hills.  Run through the downhills in all cases, use the terrain to your advantage.  I wound up still having to slow down for some of the switchbacks and hairpin turns, but I felt like I did a pretty good job using the descents on the way back, better than I normally would.

Since it was an out-and-back course, I had to pass a lot of people headed the other way on the way back.  Just about everyone was great at sharing the trail.  Seemed to be a popular trail, since I also saw a lot of people not wearing numbers.  Hey, if I lived in Portland, there's a good chance I'd be running there too.  What a great place to run.

At one point, I was charging up the hill and came across a middle-aged couple walking their dogs.  When there's a dog involved, especially when there are two people, it can be hard to go around just by moving to the edge of the trail.  Dogs can just be unpredictable sometimes.  They moved their dogs off the trail at the last second.  As I passed, the man called,
"Pedestrians!  Yield right-of-way!"
You wanna tell me exactly what vehicle I'm driving?  I'm a pedestrian too.  I'm just faster.

My watch was now showing that I was running each mile in at least 10:00.  I knew that was impossible; it was probably closer to 7:00.  I kept not seeing the turnoff for the aid station.  I knew there were 6-7 miles to go after that.  I would need about 45 minutes to work with in order to finish the race in under 3:00.  When I saw the turnoff, looked down at my watch, and read 2:19, I concluded that it was still technically possible, but unlikely.

I panted between gulps of water and managed to swallow a sticky Clif Shot.  Just as I was finishing, a volunteer told me,
"5.6 to the finish!"
"That's it?!?"
"Rock and roll!"

I had 40 minutes to finish this thing.  Did some math in my head as I headed down the hill leaving the aid station.  If I could run 7:00 miles from here on out, that'll do the trick.  And it's mostly downhill.  I smiled.  This thing is happening.  I reached the point where the aid station turnoff re-joins the trail.  Knee-High was nowhere to be seen.  I was still at least three minutes ahead; he hadn't gained on me at all.  I smiled bigger.  A win was in the bag.

My watch had completely stopped working.  I was stuck on 17 miles permanently.  I charged down the hill, unsure of how far I'd gone, how fast I was going, and how much distance needed to be made up.  At least the time function was still working (obviously, you don't need GPS for that).  The thick canopy cover, great for keeping us cool, must've made it hard to get a satellite reading.  I was never sure if I needed to pick up the pace to make it, or if I should play it safe and run comfortably.  Without knowing how far it was to go, it was impossible to make that call.  I just tried to hold a strong pace.

I was finally starting to get tired.  I kept looking at my watch, pretending I would finish in exactly 3:00.  When the watch read 2:41, I'd think "Just hang in there another 19 minutes, c'mon, you can do this for 19 minutes."  Five minutes later, when it read 2:46, "You only have to run for another 14 minutes.  What is that, two miles?  You can always do another two miles."  Helped me get through the last half-hour of the race.

With less than five minutes to go, I started getting nervous.  I tried looking through the trees to see houses, or flat ground, or any sign that we were near the finish.  I could never see it.  With each minute that ticked away, I got more and more desperate.  How far is it??  Should I just start sprinting?  How long could I maintain that?  I can't remember, is there one last hill?  I finally decided to stop worrying and just run like I run.

Just past 2:58, I finally heard the noise of the finish line.  It didn't sound close by.  Only 10 seconds later, I came around another hairpin turn, still heading sharply down the hill.  And there it was!  I was never so happy to see the bright colors of a flag and a canopy tent.  Elated, I practically sprinted through the finish line with three fingers in the air.

There were still a lot of half-marathoners at the finish area (they started a half-hour after the marathon).  Slowly, people started noticing that my bib number was different.  After a while, about every 30 seconds, I heard "Wait, you finished the marathon?"  My neck got tired from nodding.

While getting some water and snacks, I met a nine-year-old girl that finished her first half-marathon.  Not only that, but it was a trail marathon, not an easy course!  And her time was respectable, regardless of age, sex, or trail conditions.  Holy smokes!  Just imagine being a strong, college-aged young man, thinking you're tough for finishing a hilly half-marathon, and you see a nine-year-old girl already done when you cross the finish line.  Kids like that rock.  Parents that allow them to pursue tough goals like that (without pushing them towards it) are almost as cool.

I waited around at the finish area for a little while, wanting to see Knee-High finish.  15 minutes later, there he was.  We shook hands and congratulated each other.  He laid in the grass; I ate more.  When the results came out, a familiar named jumped off the page.

"CHUCK!  That's the guy who beat me at the Golden Gate Trail Run in February!"

At the time, when this guy beat me by 15 minutes, I figured he was on another level that I may never reach.  This time, I beat him by 15 minutes.  I shook hands with him again.

"Now we're even!"
"Don't say that.  I hold grudges!"
I laughed.  "We'll see what happens next time.  Great race."
"So you do a lot of trail runs?"
"I do now, I guess.  I do most of the ones with these guys."
He shook his head slowly, "You can have 'em."  He started taking off his knee-highs, "I'm not a trail guy at all."

He sure could've fooled me.

When I took a second look at the results, something else jumped out at me.  Chuck is 42!  He looks my age, for crying out loud!  I hope I'm as handsome in 14 years.  Not to mention that badass.  Damn, man...

Since the race was in Portland, I had some wild fantasy that a rep from Nike would be there and immediately offer me a job on the spot as a high-level trail running consultant.  No such luck. :)

After hanging out and eating for almost an hour, I finally made my way over to the shuttle pick-up to head back to my car.  By now, there weren't many people around; the half-marathoners had already left, and most marathoners were still running.  I found an entire school bus trying to turn around on a small residential street, with cars parked on both sides.  It wasn't moving very fast.  I made my way to the door, hoping the driver would let me on.  The door opened.

"Can you check me, mon?"  He had a Caribbean accent.
I walked behind the bus and helped wave the guy into position.  He was now blocking all sides of a T-intersection.  No one seemed to be coming anyway.  I climbed on the bus and plopped into a seat two rows back.  The driver waited for other passengers.  A few minutes passed.  No one else came.

"How many miles?"
I looked up.  He was looking at me in his mirror.  "26."
"Hoooooo!" he let out in a high tone.  "I would die on the way home!"  He shook his head.  I grinned.  "Is the race on a course around the city?"
"No, it was in Forest Park, on the trails."
"Oh, I see.  And you pay to race?"
"Yeah, only about $50.  It's not bad."
"Is there some incentive you get for racing?"
"Well, I got a medal!"  I pulled mine out.  "Actually, I got two medals."
"Two medals?  Why do you have two medals?"

"One everyone gets for finishing, and I got another for winning."
"Winning?  You won?  What do you mean by you won?"
It seemed pretty self-explanatory.  "I mean, I finished first."
"First place?!?  You won the whole race?"
"Hoooooo!" he exclaimed again, with a big, incredulous smile.  "They should be paying you millions of dollars, mon!  I see these Kenyans winning races and you are like them!  You must be a rich man!"
I laughed.  "No, I'm not quite like that.  Not that good."
He fired up the bus.  I was still the only one on it.  "We gonna take the champion home!"  I leaned back in my seat and smiled again.

I got back in my car.  No shower.  Very little change of clothes.  627 miles to Berkeley, CA.  Let's do this thing.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tahoe Training

I've been in Lake Tahoe for almost a week now, running every single day, except the one day I biked around the lake.  It's weird when you run somewhere else, especially more than a couple times.  It's like you have to create a routine that you'll never use again.

In a town that's known for hiking, mountain biking, and all things outdoors, you would think it would be easy to go trail running.  Nope.  Pretty hard, in fact.  At least, from my perspective.  I've always believed that one of the greatest things about running is that you can do it right out your front door, whenever you want.  You don't have to drive somewhere.  You don't have to fit it into a schedule (other than your own).  You don't need anyone else, or any equipment.  You can just go.  It's very liberating that way.  And for that reason, I consider it very silly to drive somewhere to run.  Why don't you just, uh, *clear throat* run there?  Or at least bike there?

So based on where I was staying, it was hard to find trails sometimes.  I wound up having to do a lot of my running on the narrow shoulder of the busiest highway in town.  It wasn't until I only had two days left to go that I found a pleasant section of trail, only about a mile long, that fit in nicely with a reasonably-long loop I could do (which still totaled 13.5 miles, any shorter and I'd have to leave the trail out).

Running on that trail was the best part of training all week.  Sometimes you don't realize what you're missing until you see it, and other times you don't realize what you have until it's gone.  I've mentioned before that I think Shoreline Park in Mountain View, only two miles from my apartment and essentially across the street from my work, is a great place for training runs.  I guess I hadn't realized how spoiled I had gotten.  Every day this week that I ran, I was constantly bordering on infuriation from the noise of the traffic.  I don't think most people realize how loud and obnoxious cars are, because they only time they're around them, they're in one, with the windows up and music playing.

Finally away from the din of the city (and it's sad you can say that even about a town of 21,000), I was in my element once again.  The loose dirt felt good underneath my non-trail shoes, and even fighting up a hill at a slower place, I was feeling better than I would on any pavement.  I looked around at the trees in every direction.  Stillness.  Quiet.  Just me, alone.  Much better.

At one point, I crested a hill where the trail turned out towards the valley, almost in the direction of the lake.  I was more or less pointed directly at the city of South Lake Tahoe.  I stopped for a moment to take in the view.  To the right, the lake, and farther back, the mountains.  Through the trees surrounding town and in it, you could hardly see a speck of human activity.  That's the way it should be.  But even up on the side of this hill, away from everything, you could still hear a constant buzzing of traffic.  That honestly got me a little depressed.  To think that a small isolated town, one that makes significant efforts not to disturb its environment, is still blaring its presence across a huge, wide valley.  For whatever reason, I burst into song from atop the vista.  Robert Earl Keen makes a lot of things better.

Most of my runs have been in the neighborhood of half-marathon distance this week, a little longer than my average training run.  Didn't do hill repeats this week, though.  But the most significant thing (I think) about this week is the elevation.  The lake sits at about 6,200 feet.  About 1,000 feet higher than Denver.  And almost every race I do is essentially at sea level.  I haven't noticed the altitude affecting me, or at least, I've never felt dizzy or out of breath.  But I've been slower, so maybe it's been having a small effect.  What I'm really hoping for is that I'll notice the reverse effect when I come down from the mountains.  Here's hoping.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Other Gauntlet

In June, I ran four marathons in four consecutive weekends.  That was, by far, the most densely-packed cluster of races I'd ever done.  I even went as far as to call it The Gauntlet.  It has now been outdone.  For, I give you:

The Second Gauntlet!!!

Wildwood Trail Marathon:  This one's in Portland, and it will be the flattest trail run I've ever done, and the flattest I'll do all year.  I think it'll be exciting just to run somewhere else, probably see a lot of new faces (you start seeing a lot of the same people at all the bay area races), and I think it's entirely possible that I'll break three hours in a trail marathon.  I've said that before, and it didn't work out, though I came somewhat close.  But this marathon has only about two-thirds of the climbing Big Basin had, so I think there's still a chance.

San Francisco 50-Mile Endurance Run:  This is, by far, the most ridiculous entry on this list.  The farthest I've ever run in a race is a 50k, managed less than a month before this race will take place.  I've "run" 60 miles in one sitting before, but I should point out that I was walking a third of the time and the whole thing was at night, with ideal temperatures, and on a flat track (and it took 12 hours).  This will be on a course that is no less difficult than any of the trail runs I've been doing.  I have no idea what my strategy should be.  I'm not even sure what to wear; the race will go on well into the afternoon, so my signature all-black look may not be the best idea.
If you were to ask me, "Physically, what is the hardest thing you've ever done?" I would be strained to come up with a good answer.  The most exhausted I've ever been was generally on events that aren't as hard as what I do now; the difference is now I'm in better shape.  So it's hard to say a particular marathon is the hardest thing I've ever done, when I now do them regularly, and harder courses at that.  I could say the half-Ironman I did, but I actually felt better after that than I have after several marathons.  Or maybe it was one particularly tough day on a bike tour.  I don't know.  But ask me again in a couple weeks, and this race just might be the hands-down answer.
But you get a belt buckle for finishing.  How cool is that?

Crystal Springs Trail 50K:  What makes me excited about this one is simply that it's one of the closest races to home that I'll do all year.  The race takes place outside of Woodside, a town I frequently bike through.  The area is gorgeous, lots of redwood trees (and hills, of course).  And I feel like I have to defend my stomping grounds.  Kind of the same sentiment I had about Horseshoe Lake.

Cinderella Trail 50K:  This is the course where I got lost - twice - earlier this year, then got passed less than a mile before the finish line.  I'm looking for some serious vengeance on this course.

Hood-to-Coast Relay:  Probably the most unique race I'll do all year.  Hood-to-Coast is a 200-mile relay race, run in teams of 12, where each team member is responsible for three legs of about 5-6 miles each.  Which means I "only" have to run about 17 miles, with a lot of time to rest in between.
Apparently word got around Google that I'm a strong marathon runner (mostly because a Googler named Larry saw me finish at San Francisco).  Google has a few running groups, including an official team with some very strong runners.  They've done this race before, and typically average a pace of < 6:00/mile!  That's about as fast as I go when I do speed training!  Then again, I barely go any slower in a full marathon (if it's flat).  I may be one of the weaker members of the team.
But the idea that I get a free trip to Oregon (Google pays for all accommodations), and all I have to do is go for a run?  Yeah, I could get into that.

So Gauntlet #2 goes: marathon, 50-miler, 50k, 50k, long relay.  Five races in five weekends, three of which are ultramarathons.  Whew!

...Bring it on.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Riding on Cloud Nine

Almost all the training I do, both running and biking, I do a loop.  Out-and-backs are boring.  And de-motivating.  It just doesn't do it for me when I get to the turnaround point of an out-and-back and I know I have to do it all over again - the exact same thing all over again.  And on the way out, it's very tempting to just turn around early.  I mean, what difference does it make?  A loop keeps things interesting, and also gives a greater sense of completion.

So when you're in Lake Tahoe, it's almost a reflex to look at a map of the lake and picture a route that goes around the whole thing.

Just to see if it was do-able, I used to plot a route.  70 miles and 3,133 feet of climbing.  Longer than an average day on Texas 4,000, and with a lot more climbing, but only a little longer than a weekend ride for me, and only half the climbing.  Then my uncle Doug said it was 75 miles.  And upon arriving in Lake Tahoe, I was to learn that where I was staying was a 3.5 miles off the loop and at the top of a giant hill.  Whatever.  Let's do this thing.

I started early, about 6:45, descended the giant hill to get to the main road (getting rather cold in the process), and headed around the southern end of the lake first.  After seeing all the summer tourist traffic the day before, I wanted to get through South Lake Tahoe (the biggest city on the lake) and Emerald Bay (the most popular scenic point on the lake) as early as possible.  Luckily made it through with little traffic.  Saw a few other bikers heading up the hills to Emerald Bay.  Most of them passed me, because I kept stopping to take pictures.

At one of the overlooks, I saw what was probably a middle-aged son and his father.  Apparently the son is also a biker, but it sounded like he focuses more on mountain biking, and both of them were hikers.  They asked where I was headed.

"Around the lake."
"The whole thing??"

"Good for you!"

I explained that I was doing this part early on to avoid traffic.  They nodded; they obviously knew that was a good idea.  The son warned me that I'd see a lot of traffic around Spooner Lake.

"Yeah, that's where you'll be late in the afternoon."  Apparently it didn't cross his mind that I'd be done before 12:00.

"There'll be a ton of cars on 50, so that'll scare the bejeezus outta you."
"Well, doesn't 50 have two lanes, so it's easier for them to pass?"
"And a shoulder?"
"Uh, I think so."
"I'll be fine.  I've gotten pretty fearless over the years.  Well, smart, but also comfortable."

For the next several miles, virtually flat, almost no traffic, and no other bikers either.  Basically a lot of trees, easy moving, and good views of the lake, until I got to Tahoe City.  All of a sudden, the traffic picked up, and I started seeing other bikers too.  Tahoe City also happens to be the location of the dam that holds in Lake Tahoe.

Seems like a small dam for such a big lake
One of the weirder things about the north side of the lake, or at least one of the more unexpected things, was that not only was it a lot more urban/populated than I thought, but there were a LOT of Mexican restaurants there.  Or at the very least, a lot of places that advertised taco nights or something like that.

Unsurprisingly, the second you cross the state border and get into Nevada - BAM, casinos.  It was finally starting to get warm out.  I drank from my water bottle for the first time, more than halfway into the ride.

Coming back down the eastern side of the lake, the shallow water near the shore was GORGEOUS.  The road I was on didn't have much of a shoulder, probably only about 60 cm wide, but I kept stopping for pictures anyway.  I mean, the water looked tropical, for Pete's sake!

The road turned away from the lake, which always means uphill.  It wasn't steep, but the hill went on for probably six or seven miles.  Less than pleasant.  At the top would be Spooner Lake, around which I was warned there would be a lot of traffic.  But you know what?  There wasn't much.  There were a few nice meadows though.

Was happy to see highway 50, knowing that meant the worst of the climbing was over.  Well, almost.  There was still the issue of that gigantic hill to get back to the house.  But I didn't want to think about that yet.  Three miles of coasting later, including a tunnel, I was back down to lake level.  About five miles before I turn off the lake loop.  Right away, a strong uphill.

"Oh, no, it better not be like this the whole way leading up to the big hill!"  Then I managed to remind myself that the big hill started at lake level, so no matter how bad these five miles are, only half of them can be uphill.

Those five miles did have more than their share of ups and downs though, and by the time I reached the turn to start the big hill, my legs were merely going through the motions.  I was slowing down, losing energy.

Four miles.  1,200 feet.  Only 300 feet shy of an average day of climbing on Texas 4,000's Rockies route, and here I am trying to do it in four miles.  Yeah, this is gonna be fun.

I wish I could tell a good story here, but there's not one.  I threw it in my lowest gear (for inquiring minds, that would be 39-27), tried to stay patient, and kept my feet moving.  It was hard.  It was slow.  It was getting hot outside.  Probably close to half an hour later, I was at the top.  And that's how it's done - no glory, no tricks, nothing special really.  Just a lot of persistence.  That's how to get a lot of things done.

In the end, it turned out to be 81 miles, with 5,854 feet of climbing.  I ate some yogurt, drank some water, and took a shower.  And later that day, went back to Spooner Lake and did a hike with my dad.

Maybe the altitude training will pay off?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Working on Weaknesses

One of the things I like the most about my speed training routine is that it's no longer on a track.  I had previously always done it on a track, which is handy because you can keep tabs on how fast you're running each lap and make sure you're hitting your intended pace.  Speed training, to me, has never been about running as fast as I can, but is about learning to maintain a high intensity.  You will never sprint in a marathon, and if you can at the end, then maybe you didn't run your best race.  But being able to push hard at the end?  Hell yeah, that'll come into play.

So now my speed training days are a 3-mile loop over various terrain.  No true hills, but definitely some inclines and declines, and even a few different surfaces.  There's a little gravel, dirt, and sand thrown in, but it's still mostly asphalt and concrete, giving you a nice, firm surface to keep your speed, but the different surfaces here and there throw you a nice curveball, making sure you're ready for anything, even when you're pushing it.

I've got big things coming up (a second gauntlet is on the horizon; stay tuned for a run-down), and a lot of them involve ultra distances.  But instead of increasing mileage, my point of emphasis for the next few weeks is going to be getting back down to race weight and building core strength.  I'm doing a lot more exercises at home than I used to, or at least I'm a lot more consistent about it, and I think it's just barely starting to pay off.  And, of course, getting back down to a competitive weight makes pushing my body up those hills a little easier.

For the next week, I'm staying with my family in Lake Tahoe.  That brings up some interesting issues:

Altitude training!
More flexible work schedule, can get a run in every day
Lots of hills to train on

Don't know the terrain here, no familiar routes, might not get "right" training in
Family around means LOTS of food - might (will likely) gain weight
No swimming pool
No free Google food... :(

Planning on doing a long run Saturday - less than 48 hours after arriving at altitude - and biking a lap of the lake on Sunday.  Here's hoping the pros outweigh the cons.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Post-Golden Gate Trail 50K

Continued from earlier post.

Took the shuttle back to my car.  Knew I was excruciatingly low on gas, so I'd have to go to the nearest possible station, 6 miles away in Sausalito.  I looked up directions on my phone before starting the car (trying not to waste any gas), and by the time I was done, everyone else from my shuttle had left.  I tried starting the car.  It didn't work.  No problem, I'd just give it a push-start.

Rather than turn the car around and do it on the road, I inexplicably tried to get it going down an unpaved slope in the parking lot.  The surface was too rough and I couldn't get it going fast enough, and after giving up, I couldn't push the car back up the slope to the road.  Wound up having to wait about 20 minutes before anyone else showed up in the parking lot to help.  Once we got it on the road, it was easy.

As much as I hate driving through San Francisco, I HATE driving through Sausalito more.  I know pedestrians have the right-of-way, but that doesn't mean it's OK to just step off the curb in the middle of the block in front of a moving vehicle.  And the drivers, even when there's nothing in front of them, move at a speed that's slower than I can run.  I was honestly worried I'd run out of gas on the way to the station due to stupidity.  Once there, the gas cost $0.50 more per gallon than it does where I live.  And I live in California.  I only got three gallons (enough to make it home), push-started the damn thing again, and headed south.

I randomly stalled my car in the middle of Sausalito.  I imagine it was comical for all the local tourists (Sausalito is a popular getaway around here) to see a guy throw on his hazards in the middle of the street, hop out of the car in running shorts, push it for about 20 meters, jump back in the moving car, and drive off.  I honestly hoped they noticed the Longhorn emblem and concluded I'm from Texas.  Damn straight, that's how we get things done!  The funniest part?  Less than 10 seconds later, I was caught up with traffic again.  Actually, that's not funny, that's sad.

I happily took 280 instead of 101 south, enjoying the greater views and lesser traffic.  Yeah, it's five miles longer, but unless I'm in a hurry like I was this morning, I'll take 280 every time.  Got home and just stayed in the rest of the day, arranged some music, snacked constantly, and had a beer over Skype with a cute German.  Not a bad way to close the weekend, even if I wound up with two cars that don't work.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Golden Gate Trail 50K

After a series of misadventures, I made it to the start line less than 30 seconds before the gun, without stretching.  I had wanted to at least try to use the bathroom, but it wasn't urgent, and I saw that there was a line at least 15 minutes long.  I could probably just hold it until the first aid station.

As memory served, the first hill on this course is a doozy.  Learning from past mistakes, I walked up the staircase this time.  And when I say "staircase," I don't mean like on hiking trails when you see a log and a dropoff every three meters.  I mean this was a bonafide man-made staircase, steeper than one you'd see in a house.  Managed to jog up the rest of the hill.  It was incredibly foggy at the top, to the point that I kept my head down because I couldn't see more than about three meters in front of me anyway.

"Cool," I thought to myself, "I remember how this course has some awesome views, but fog makes the world seem a little magical, and it's also keeping us in the shade." (there were almost no trees on this course)  "And by the second time around, I bet the fog lifts, so we'll get to see the course two different ways!"

Trotted down to the first aid station, where the 30K and 50K courses split off.  Thought about the toilet, but still felt pretty good, so I thought I'd wait until after the loop and took off.  This hill...holy crap.  Steep, and went on a loooong time.  I was glad it came early, because taking it on late in the race wouldn't go so well.  Afterwards, I was rewarded with some of the best scenery of the entire course, though it was partially obscured by clouds and fog.  Seemed like there were a lot of non-racing runners on these trails this morning.

When I got back to the aid station 5.6 miles later, there were a ton of people there and a line had formed for the toilet.  "You mean there's a line for this one too?!?"  They turned and nodded defeatedly.  Took in some water and peanut butter and headed up yet another hill.

With the exception of out-and-back courses, this was the most crowded section of a trail run I've ever seen.  Mostly half-marathoners I guess, most wearing hydration packs, almost all walking.  I had done literally twice the mileage to that point.  Different strokes, I suppose.  The half-marathons only cost something like $40, and I can see how going for a great hike, having it all planned for you, getting snacks along the way, a meal at the end, and even a beer or two, would be worth the money and a good way to spend a Sunday morning.  It's still strange to me, but I just accepted that they're in a completely different race than I am.  Sometimes you have to recognize that not everyone does things the same way you do.

I made my way up the hill, 2.5 miles long, trying not to burn myself out less than halfway through the race.  Still, I didn't want to fall too far behind either.  I was out in front of the 50K crowd, but when you are, you never know by how much.  Tried to give a word of encouragement to folks I passed, especially if they said something to me.

Crested the hill and entered a eucalyptus forest.  The wind was pushing the fog into the trees, which were collecting the moisture and dripping onto the forest floor.  It was like it was sprinkling, and the trail had turned to mud.  I laughed and turned to the guy next to me, "Bet you didn't know this was a mud run, huh?"

Upon leaving the eucalyptus forest, the trail turns to narrow singletrack for the first time.  I LOVE running on singletrack, but hate getting stuck behind people.  Guess what happened?  Only about half moved to the side.  I honestly don't like announcing "on your left," because in situations like that, it sounds too much to me like "GET OUT OF MY WAY!!!"  I just jogged easy behind people, hoping they'd take the hint.  When they didn't, I ran up the slope next to them, bounded over shrubs and rocks, and came back down on the trail.  It was like doing tricks on a half-pipe.  Kinda fun, actually!  But I still shouldn't have to do it.

I finally used the bathroom at aid station #3, but with little success.  Bummer.  Waste of a minute, I guess.  Fueled up and headed out for the last 4.5 miles of the first loop, almost all downhill.

Going into the race, I had this fantasy that I'd finish the 50K before the first marathon finisher.  I also had the (more realistic) goal of finishing in under 4:00.  As I crossed the start/finish line and headed out for my second loop, 13 miles to go, I looked at my watch.  2:22.  I'd have to run a half-marathon in 1:38, or in other words, at a faster pace than I'd been running so far.  Yeah, that's not happening.  And that means I'm probably not going to succeed in that ridiculous idea of beating all the marathoners.  But I could certainly still win the 50K.  And as a plus, this loop would only have three major hills as opposed to five.  And it's shorter!

Managed to get up the first hill only walking the staircase again, but this time I could tell it was taking a toll on me.  Coming down the backside, I was having trouble running "my" way.  Still moving at a decent clip, but things felt different; in general, I felt weak.  But now there were only two hills to go, and the worst one was over.  I left the aid station and headed up the long hill with hope and trepidation.

Again, strategy was the same: short, quick steps, even rhythm, keep moving.  Definitely slower this time, but I was still proud of getting up the hill without issue (or walking).  Upon entering the eucalyptus forest, I noticed something: I really wasn't running my normal way.  I was almost jogging.  I sped up for a little bit and noticed that took significant effort.  There were still seven miles to go.  That might not be the best idea.

By now, the wind had really picked up and became a factor that you had to account for.  Coming around a corner the wrong way, or even just descending along a ridge, you had to aim a little to the right to stay on course and hold your footing.  I was beginning to feel a little cold.  I started looking forward to descending more and getting between the cracks of the hills, out of the wind.

Showed up at the final aid station, happy to see it.  Wasn't feeling my best.
"How're you doin'?"
"I'm beat to shit."
"Well, you don't look it!"
I bet I did, but that was nice of them to say.  Took in a lot more than I normally would.  And considering there were only 4.5 miles left, probably more than would be effective in time.  As I stood there chewing, another runner approached.  His bib started with a 5.  Competition.  By the time I could swallow, he left.

I headed down the hill, thinking I could probably catch him.  Every time the trail switched back or you could see ahead a ways, I kept looking for his bright orange shirt.  Couldn't see it.  Couldn't see it.  Couldn't see it.  He was clearly far ahead of me, too far to catch up.  Which I should've expected, considering he caught up to me after a downhill section, he would probably continue running faster than me on another downhill section.  I started wondering if there was anything I could've done differently to make up for the one or two minutes that were costing me now.  Less time at aid stations.  Not stopping for the bathroom.  Having enough time to stretch before the race.  Not gaining those four pounds.  Hell, not wearing myself out push-starting two cars that morning!  But after a while, I realized it really wasn't worth worrying about.

Closed out the last few miles of the race, a little slow by my standards, but not that bad.  Finished in 4:13, slower than I wanted, but still better than the old course record by 27 minutes.  The winner beat me by five minutes.  He had passed me with only 4.5 miles to go.  That meant he was beating me by a over a minute per mile (an eternity), and was running each mile in 5:30.  Downhill or not, doing that with 27 miles and 6,320 feet of climbing behind you is impressive!  All those things I'd wondered about as the cause of my demise; the bathroom break, the lack of stretching, all seemed moot now.  I just got licked.

For my first ultra-marathon, I'm pleased.  A second-place finish, a course record beat (but not held), and a halfway-decent finish.  I never fully slammed into the wall, but I was standing right in front and tapping on it.  And this was a challenging course, even by Coastal Trail Run standards.  Next time I'll probably do better.  Onward!

To be concluded...

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pre-Golden Gate Trail 50K

I was nervous going into this race.  First ultra-marathon.  Tough course.  And I'd been gaining weight over the last few weeks.  Yeah, I know a lot of people would scoff at the idea that four pounds is a lot, or that someone like me is actually worried about their weight.  But on someone my size (especially my height), gaining four pounds in only two weeks is a lot.  And I'm not worried about weight for any vain reason, but just because I want to stay competitive.  And for what it's worth, most good (collegiate or better) long-distance runners are about four inches taller and ten pounds lighter.  I have plenty of room to work with.

I didn't have a lot of good options to stay in San Francisco the night before the race.  There were a few places I could've stayed, but I knew that going to bed by 10:00 and expecting a quiet night of sleep was out of the question.  So I figured I'd just go to bed early and wake up a little early to get to the race on time.  Would have to stop and get gas on the way, but no biggie.  And minimizing the driving in San Francisco is a major positive.

Early in the morning, when I got into my car, it didn't start.  Oh no, not NOW!!!  I knew what might be wrong with it (I've been due for an oil change for a while now), but there wasn't a quick way to fix it.  I ran upstairs to get my bike pump, pumped up the flat on my Volkswagen (yes, I have two cars, and the VW has a tire with a slow leak), and rolled it out to give it a push-start (it's a pretty old car, and if you don't drive it often enough, you have to push-start it).  For whatever reason, it was really slow to be pushed this morning.  Normally, I can do a push-start by myself pretty easily, even without a hill.  But as I rolled it down the slope that leads from my apartment's parking to the road, I couldn't get enough speed going.

Where the alley meets the street, there's a dip, and the car got stuck.  So now not only can I not get the thing started, but I'll have to move it out from blocking the alley, and I can't do it by myself.  I waited a solid 10 minutes before someone went by, and they explained that they were late to work and kept moving.  Would've taken less than five minutes, and I'm late for a race, but hey, you can't always expect favors.  Five minutes later, a jogger went by and helped me out (I think she had sympathy for my late-for-race situation).  We tried to push-start it again, but no success, so we just moved it to the curb.

At this point, the Toyota became my best option again, so I got on Freebird (my bike) and rode to a gas station to buy some oil.  Went ahead and checked the oil before I left, and it looked OK, but I couldn't think of anything else that would be wrong.  It wasn't until I got to the store that I realized there is more than one kind of motor oil; I had no idea what all the numbers meant.  I bought one that had numbers that looked kind of average and headed back.  Only used half the bottle, since I was worried it wasn't the right kind, and half a bottle would probably at least get me there.

Still didn't start.

Finally, I Googled the problem, "Car won't start, fast clicking noise."  More than one source said it was a dead battery.  Well, had I known that...!  I gave the Toyota a push-start, which worked flawlessly on the first try, and headed to the race, over an hour later than intended.  Google Maps said it would take 1:04 to get there.  It was 7:00.  The race started at 8:00.

I decided not to stop and get gas.  I might make it, and if I don't have enough, I'll know by the time I get to San Francisco, and I can just stop there (I'd be off the highway anyway).  I hauled ass down the highway, glad it was still early on a Sunday.  Then I got to San Francisco.

I HATE big cities.  HATE them.  And San Francisco is the ONLY one I know of where you simply can't drive through without getting off the highway.  Think about that again for a second.  For all the times you've ever complained about bad traffic in any city, you were probably on a highway, moving "only" 20-30 mph, with no stoplights.  And that's at rush hour.  San Francisco makes you WISH you were sitting in traffic on the highway.  Because to get through San Francisco, you spend at least 10 miles on a street with a speed limit of 25 mph with stoplights every 1/8 of a mile.

10 miles, 20 minutes, and a lot of screaming at San Francisco later, I was back on a highway, crossing the Golden Gate bridge.  I was very low on gas.  But it looked like I was going to make it to the parking lot before the race started.  I'd just worry about gas - and push-starting the car again - after the race.  As soon as I pulled in, the bus was about to shuttle us to the start.  Perfect timing!  I had just enough time to get my bib, pin it on, and make it to the start area with less than 30 seconds before the gun.

To be continued...

Monday, July 8, 2013

Something New

Didn't really run at all during the 4th of July weekend.  I originally had a thought to do a short bike tour to wine country, but never fully made plans.  Then a different opportunity came along, complete with the perfect partner, and it sounded too good to pass up.  So I spent the 4th of July in San Diego, then the next two days on a short tour into Mexico, to a little beach town called Rosarito.  Good riding, waves, sand, margaritas, hot tubs, and holy-crap-that's-good Mexican food.  Hard to beat that, especially when it's in good company.

Coastal Trail Runs, the fantastic organization that puts on all the trail marathons I do, recently updated their standings in their year-long Blazer Awards.  In short, if you place in the top 10 at any of their runs, you earn some amount of points (the higher you place, the more points, first place gets 25), and at the end of the year, the runner who has accumulated the most points in a category wins.  I have 176 points in the marathon, and the 2nd-place runner has 46.  He would have to win six marathons in a row to catch up.  It looks like winning the marathon is in the bag.

The other interesting part was that the first-place runner in the 50K has only 50 points, or basically two first-place finishes.  If I were to win two 50K races, I would be tied for first.  Three second-place finishes and I'd have the lead.  So with an insurmountable lead in the marathon, along with a very low bar to clear in another category, is it possible to win two categories in the same year?

You know what?  I'm going for it.  Why the hell not?  I'd been thinking of upping the ante to 50K in the first place, and now I have an even better reason to do it.  50K it is.  And if it doesn't work out, I can always switch back to the marathon.  It's not like I'm in danger of losing my lead.

The first one will be this weekend.  Golden Gate Trail Run.  I find it incredibly fitting that my first ultramarathon will be the same uber-scenic course as my first trail run, which made me fall in love with the sport in the first place.  Maybe it'll also make me fall in love with ultra-distance running.  We'll have to find out!