Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wine Tour, Day 1

I'd had the thought to do a short bike tour through wine country for a while now.  I had first planned to do it over 4th of July weekend, but at that time, an even better opportunity presented itself, and I did that.  So the wine country bike tour was still on the table, just waiting for the next long weekend.  Labor Day arrived, and I took it.

This was a short enough tour that I wouldn't need to pack much, and since I found WarmShowers hosts for both nights I'd be gone, I really didn't need to pack much.  No tent, no sleeping bag, no cooking supplies.  And since it was only a couple days, I figured I'd make it with only one shirt, to be worn both on and off the bike, one pair of shorts, one pair of bike shorts, and two pair each of socks and underwear (and I probably could've gotten by on one).  I only needed my smaller front panniers (which I carried on the rear), and they were still only about 2/3 full.  Quite heavy though, since the majority of the luggage was tools, a U-lock, and enough dry food (and that means dense) to last three days.

Originally, my plan was to take the Google bus up to San Francisco Friday night, then leave from there on Saturday morning.  Otherwise, I'd have to spend almost a whole day just getting out of the San Francisco Bay area.  And navigating a city on a bike SUCKS.  A bike tour is meant to get you away from the city, out into the open, and give a sense of unrestrained freedom, something that hardly happens in the confines of concrete, steel, and glass, along with a few hundred thousand loud, over-sized vehicles rumbling inches away from you.

I couldn't find anyone to host me on Friday night, so I wound up just taking Caltrain that morning.  Only cost $7 and an hour and a half, giving me a start time of around 9:00.  I prefer to start earlier, more like 7:00, but at least I got to sleep in my own bed the night before.

The first ten miles or so were entirely in San Francisco.  It's been said many times, but I don't like San Francisco.  Does every intersection need a stoplight?  Would that be "unfair" to all the other ones, and so we have to stop every 1/12 of a mile?  Not to mention it was actually cold at 9:00 in the morning in August.  The sun has been up for two and a half hours, in Summer, and it's still cold.  I don't know how people live here.  I really don't know how people justify paying so much to live here.  When I'm in San Francisco, it's like I can feel the place being over-priced around me.  When I saw people advertising one day of parking for $50, like that was a good deal, I almost threw up.

I made my way to the Golden Gate Bridge, and thankfully, away from the city.  Quickly pedaled through Sausalito and found myself down at water's level again.  On a hike-and-bike path, I spied a water fountain and stopped for a drink.  Merely carrying two water bottles was pushing it, so getting water where I could was a good idea.  Nearby, there was a runner stretching.  I noticed his shirt had the name of a race on it.
"When is the Marin County Marathon?" I asked.
"Oh, it's in April.  Held around here."
"Cool!  I've done some trail running in Marin County.  It's hilly here; I bet that race is a challenge!"
"It sure is!  There are some trail runs around here, like there's one called Golden Gate.  You should try that one!"
"I have!"
We wished each other a good run or ride, as it was appropriate, and I pedaled off.

Heading up towards and past Mt. Tamalpais would be technically the most challenging part of today's course, by enough that I had noticed it well ahead of time.  Starting up the long, long hill, I shifted low and tried to stay patient.  Here and there, I noticed that today's ride shared some miles in common with the Waves-to-Wine MS 150.  That was a fantastic ride, one that I'd do again, and the MS 150 is well-organized and a great time.  But I'm becoming less and less interested in events where I have to fundraise to participate.

The hill never got quite as bad as I thought it might, and even though it took a very long time, it still seemed to head downhill before I expected.  Mental preparation can go a long way.  It's those hills that come out of nowhere, the ones that you didn't expect, that really get to you.

After coasting down from Mt. Tamalpais, I wound up riding alongside Bolinas Lagoon for a few quick, flat miles.  The wind was kicking up, but appeared to be heading straight inland from the water.  As the road twisted back and forth, the wind favored me about as often as it slowed me down.  I took what I could get until the road headed away from the water, back up a hill and into the woods.

The hill leading away from the lagoon was much less difficult than the one by Mt. Tamalpais, but went on a lot longer than I had thought.  Maybe only a mile, but somehow I hadn't expected to have to put out a sustained effort at all for the rest of the day.  I went ahead and took a quick break in the middle of the hill and had a bite to eat.

Still on Highway 1, I rode through a mostly-quiet eucalyptus forest for about another half-hour before I turned off and found myself in a much more sun-dried area.  Dry, golden hills, dotted with the occasional scrubby green tree in the drainage creases on the side.  It was just past noon and getting warm.  After some time, mostly pedaling uphill, I found myself at a reservoir.

Normally, water is at a low point.  When you see a body of water, it means you've been heading downhill for a while, and now you're going to go back up.  If you see water after going uphill, it means you're in for a rough time.  This generally only happens when there are dams involved; you were below the dam, and now you've pedaled up to lake level.  Such was the case.  Riding across the reservoir (there was a bridge) was no problem, and surprisingly, the next couple miles weren't too bad either.  But after that...

My directions took a turn and I headed somewhat west.  By now, the wind was fairly strong, probably 15 mph, gusting to 20, out of the west.  It was hot out.  There were no trees around, meaning no shade, and no respite from the wind.  Oh boy.  After a few miles, I took another quick break.  I looked at the map.  This wasn't going to get any easier.

There didn't seem to be any direct path north, which was mostly the direction I wanted to go at this point.  Instead, I had to zigzag my way north, using several different roads.  I was heading west about half the time, north half the time, until I turn and do a significant amount going west, then practically make a U-turn and come back, and finally head north to Santa Rosa.  When the roads make no sense like that, there are usually hills involved.

Already tired, the next several miles were not easy.  I don't remember much but moving slowly, sore legs, and heat.  Thankfully, the roads were nice and quiet.  They'd been that way about since I'd put Mt. Tamalpais behind me.  I guess most of the weekend crowd wasn't going much farther north.

Finally, with most of the hills behind me, I turned onto a flat road that would take me due west for about seven miles.  Shouldn't be too bad, right?


It was worse.

The road was down in between two ridges, making it a veritable wind tunnel.  Despite being nice and flat, I was probably just barely staying above 10 mph.  And the noise.  My god, the noise.  When you've got tailwind, you're moving about as fast as the air around you, which makes everything very quiet and still.  But in headwind?  The air whooshing past your ears, added on to the speed you're moving yourself, isn't a pretty sound.  I want you to say this aloud:


OK, now picture that for an hour at a time.  If you're somewhere you can't say that aloud, just imagine the horrifying sound a cappucino machine makes.  Add on the fact that I'm unusually bothered by loud noises, a lot more than most people, and you might start to get an idea the mood I was in.

I saw a guy riding in the opposite direction and managed a wave.  He waved back, smiling.
"Look at that jerk, riding in the tailwind and smiling at me.  HE knows I'm miserable.  HE knows I've got five more miles of this crap.  What a..."
I managed to calm myself down and tell myself that he might not know what I'm dealing with, and if he did, he was just trying to be nice by waving and smiling.  Sometimes we forget that others are humans and we take our frustration out on them, even when they're trying to be nice.

I mercifully made it to where the road turned north again and pedaled easy for a few miles, trying to get my legs back.  The road turned once more and put me in the tailwind.  Now this I could get used to.  After what seemed like an unfairly short amount of time, my turn in the tailwind was up and I headed north to Santa Rosa.

There was one last hill standing in the way.  I could've slowed to a crawl once again, but I managed to convince myself that this was the last challenge of the day, so I should push myself through it.  Once on the other side, a flat straight shot into town.  I felt like I was flying, even on tired legs.  Maybe I had just forgotten what it was like to ride without hills or headwind working against you.

Found Jon's house, my host for the evening.  He wasn't there yet.  I gave him a call, and he told me that he was volunteering at the community bike shop, and would still be there for a few hours.  No problem, that would give me some time to ride over to a sports bar and try to catch the first half of the Texas game.  They claimed to have every game, and had a TV at every table, but still didn't have this game.  Oh well.  I pedaled over to Jon's shop, hung out there, then rode home with him.

After that, an evening of pizza, a couple beers, and a Star Trek movie.  That's pretty awesome.  A good ending to a tough day, and overall, a good start to the tour.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Struggling with Weight

I can hear "Cry me a river" already.  Bear with me.

Normally, my weight tends to fluctuate between 140 and 145 pounds.  I've been roughly that weight since high school.  The few times I've been significantly outside that, once I had a 105-degree fever (and dropped seven pounds in four days), or I had just started new medication that caused me to lose my appetite (and dropped to 135 pounds), or amazingly enough, when I rode my bike to Alaska, I gained about 10 pounds, and very little of it was muscle.  Texas 4,000 has an unfortunate history of its members getting fat.

Me, after riding 4,000+ miles and gaining 10 pounds.
In the interest of being a lighter, more competitive runner, I'd like to drop to a "race weight."  135 pounds is my goal.  And while that may seem too small, most good college-level cross country runners are 4-5 inches taller than me, and yet lighter than my target weight.  I certainly don't consider myself fat, but I do have something to lose.

For the last several months, I've generally been just under 140 pounds.  The lightest I got to was 137, just before I ran the San Francisco Marathon.  At the time of this writing, I'm back up to 139.  At one point, I was up to 141.  Four pounds might not seem like much, but go pour yourself a full glass of water.  That is one pound.  Now hold three more of them.  That is four pounds.  Imagine you could either run up a hill while carrying those, or while not carrying anything.  Think it would make a difference?

If the races I did weren't all over the ridiculous hills of California, I might not care so much.  But, well, my races are in the hills.  And I don't want to change that, because I like the challenge, I like the variety, I like the scenery, I like the lower-key races, and they're fun!  I'd just like it to be a little easier.

No, I'm not going to pretend that losing 3-4 pounds is as hard as dropping 30 pounds and getting in the best shape you've been in 20 years.  Nor am I going to pretend that weighing an extra four pounds hampers my lifestyle or is a greater difficulty than carrying around the equivalent of two Thanksgiving turkeys at all times.  But when you're already at a low weight, those last few pounds are tough pounds.  Your body doesn't burn much energy naturally to maintain a smaller body, so you have to eat even less.  It gets to the point that I eat little enough that I'm worried I'm simply not getting enough of all my food groups.  And that's even considering that I have to eat a little extra to keep up with all the training I do.  And if I undershoot by too much, I won't have any energy to keep up with my training.  It's a delicate balance.

Throw in the fact that I work somewhere that provides three restaurant-quality hot meals a day for free, along with fully-stocked break rooms with shelves full of snacks, and even has free beer and wine at least once a week (usually twice), and it's hard to stay away from temptations.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Post Hood-to-Coast Relay

Continued from an earlier post

We wound up placing 3rd overall, higher than Google ever has, but came in 2nd in the corporate division.  As it turned out, a semi-pro team from Nike registered as a corporate team, since Nike is their employer.  Regardless, I don't think there's anyone on the team that wasn't proud of what we accomplished.  Google's best placement ever.  15 minutes under the time we thought we'd have.  Oh, and there's that little thing of running 198 miles in less than 20 hours.

A good chunk of us ran down to the ocean, wanting to finish running from Mt. Hood to the coast.  Most actually dove in.  Knowing how cold the ocean is off the coast of Oregon, I just got in up to my knees (for you Texans, it's about 20 degrees colder than Barton Springs).  Hung around the finish area a little longer, talking to other teams, asking them how their race went.  And just enjoyed the bright, warm, sunny morning we were treated to once the sun came out.

I slept almost the whole way back to Portland.  I'm not even sure how long it took.  After wearing the same running shorts, socks, and shirt for the past 24 hours, I took a much-needed shower and put on a nice, soft cotton shirt and a pair of jeans.  We walked to the Deschutes Brewery and had lunch.  I don't know if their corned beef sandwich was that good, or if I was just craving real food that badly.  No matter how much money you pay, nothing will ever taste better than your first hot meal after a tough race.  The world's richest man will never live the good life like us runners.

Walked back to the hotel and the entire team collapsed.  We seriously set an alarm for 8:00 at night so we could wake up and go out to celebrate.  Four hours of sleep and a Rebel must've been all I needed.  Spent the rest of the evening dancing up a storm, singing at the top of my lungs, and having a great time with some new friends.  Didn't get much sleep that night either.  Oh well.  Worth it.

Had a mostly quiet Sunday after all that transpired over the weekend.  Wound up making a makeshift breakfast taco scramble: eggs, turkey bacon, fried sweet potato, and tortilla chips.  Almost as good as the real thing.

Even though this race wasn't "my event" and didn't always play to my strengths, I thought it was an absolute blast.  It was fun to do a race as a team for once, especially being a part of a team that's not only this talented but also a bunch of great guys.  Off and on, we talked about whether or not we'd do this same race next year (this discussion took a major turn after that one astonishingly bad exchange point), and what other races we might wanna do sometime.  I think I'm gonna start looking into races in Hawaii, or the Grand Canyon, or anywhere else I'd like to visit for free.

And if this team wants me to run with them again?  Hell yeah, I'm in.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Hood-to-Coast Relay

Continued from an earlier post

I finally took my place at the start.  By now, the announcer guy with the megaphone had been there for seven hours, and he was going to be there for five more.  It would be hard for me to stay excited for that long, and to do it so outwardly.  I introduced myself to a few people near me and actually got jacked for a start.  I've gotten to the point that I normally don't anymore.  A good sign, because I was worried I wouldn't get off to a fast start.  Maybe the adrenaline would work in my favor.

I'd say the gun sounded, but it didn't.  I kinda thought a big race like this would have a siren or something synchronized to a timer, but it boiled down to a guy with a megaphone looking at a clock and saying "Go!"  I'm used to that from trail running, but it seemed out of place at this one somehow.  I took off like a light, making an attempt to get out in front.  And I didn't!

Right away, I was in third place, even though I actually tried to put myself in first.  And they kept moving away from me!  I was in unfamiliar territory.  Then a few people passed me!  What the hell?

The hill was as steep as advertised.  In normal circumstances, this would be a "tap the brakes" hill.  But this was a race.  And I knew it wasn't going to get any different.  I ran through it.  It didn't hurt my quads or knees the way I thought it might (and was warned it would), but it took some serious effort from my core to maintain good form going down that thing, and moving that fast.  It didn't take long before I got tired.

My watch beeped.  One mile had passed.  I looked down to see my pace.  4:43?!?  Should I slow down?  Probably not.  If I did, I'd have to slow down drastically; any slower and I'd be hitting the brakes.  The hill was doing most of the work to pull me forward.  It was all I could do to move my feet fast enough to not slow myself down.  I did what I could to keep up.  Only a mile in, and I was already ready for this thing to be over.  The air was just noticeably thin.  I hadn't thought of that.  6,000 feet does make a difference.

Basically the entire rest of the run was a grind-it-out.  Normally, that term is reserved for doing slow, tough miles, often uphill.  But somehow it still applies to this situation, even though I was moving blazingly fast.  It was a different kind of endurance battle.  My heart racing, my core working overdrive, and just moving my feet with that kind of speed.  For that long.  I kept looking at my watch, watching each quarter mile tick away, getting closer to the end of my leg.  And that's when I noticed something.

Normally, when I've got four miles left in a trail run, and I'm running at a 7:30 pace (which is pretty good in most trail runs), I'm thinking to myself,
"OK, just hang in there for half an hour.  You can do this.  You can do anything for half an hour.  That's all, in half an hour, you'll be done."
This time, I looked at my watch, saw that there were four miles left, and told myself,
"OK, just hang in there for...20 minutes?"
I smiled.  OK, so maybe this kind of running isn't so bad.

In the last couple miles, I started passing a few people that had passed me right at the beginning, even though I was slowing down just a bit.  Maybe they had even more adrenaline pumping than I did at the start.  Then I passed a few people that I hadn't seen before, moving much slower.  They must have started in the wave before us.  Our team was already 15 minutes ahead of a few other teams, before the first leg was finished.

The hill finally reached a flat spot, then the course went up an incline towards the exchange.  Everyone else slowed to a crawl, adjusting to the different terrain, waking up their climbing muscles.  I annihilated the field for a quarter mile.  Seriously, trail running, I love what you have made me.  Suddenly, I saw volunteers and a ton of cars.  This must be it!  The volunteers guided us through a twisted path through a parking lot, in such a way that I could never tell how far away the actual exchange was, so I never got to a full sprint.  When I could finally see it coming, there were a ton of spectators all over the place, mostly other runners, also wearing singlets and running shorts.  I couldn't pick out which ones were actually waiting for the baton, and definitely couldn't tell which one was John, until it was essentially too late to bother sprinting.  I just ran hard to the finish, finally spotted him, and passed it off.  He took off with astounding speed.  I turned around and started walking towards where I figured my teammates were.  I finally noticed I was sweating.

"Dude!  You were rockin'!  Was that a 5:00 pace?"
I looked at my watch.  "Uh, I've got 4:59."

"Holy crap!  We told you to take it easy!  How do you feel?"
"Not bad!  A little tired, but I'll be good."
"Well we had you projected for a 5:30 pace, so we're already a few minutes ahead.  Nice going!"
I smiled big.  Until now, I had been worried about letting my team down.  I no longer was.

"I passed about five runners that must've started at 1:15..."
"Five kills, huh!" Nick brightened.  "Not bad!  We oughta keep track of those."
"No way," Larry answered, "Those are so hard to count and keep track of as you're running, and besides, we'd just have too many."

It turns out keeping track of your "kills," or how many times you pass someone, is a time-honored long-distance relay tradition.  Some of the other teams' vans had a tally going for all the members of their team.  Five didn't seem like a big number to keep track of, but it was only that low because all my potential kills had a 15-minute head start.  After only one or two exchanges, people would be mixed up enough that you might get a kill less than a minute into your leg.

My van contained runners 1-6 (the other had 7-12), meaning we were support for the first three hours.  Every 30 minutes or so, we'd pull in to an exchange station, fight for the meager parking, prime the next runner for his leg, he'd get the baton and take off, then we'd walk the finished runner back to the car and chase our guy to the next aid station.  If it was a long enough stretch, we'd stop in the middle to give him support, basically hand out a water bottle.  My first leg was a little too short, and there wasn't anywhere good to pull over either, so I didn't get it.  Not that I needed it for a 25-minute run.

Three hours later, my van's first shift was done.  I was surprised at how fast it went by; the whole thing just seemed like a whirlwind.  Our last guy passed the baton to the other car's first, and they took off down the road.  We stuck around in the parking lot for a little while, re-organizing some of our stuff before we headed out to our next checkpoint, six exchanges down the road.  We didn't need to be there for at least three hours anyway.

Headed down the highway and into Portland, where we'd meet up with the other van.  We were making an attempt to get there early, since we figured on traffic in Portland in general (a big city at 7:30 on Friday night), and a solid amount more around the big exchange point.  It was a good thing we'd planned for an least an hour of down time, because upon arriving at the exchange, it took us 45 minutes to get into the parking lot.  Read that again.  I'm not exaggerating.

It turns out there's another relay called "Portland-to-Coast," intended as a walking relay.  It was starting at this exchange point, right now.  Why the race organizers felt that having the two races run simultaneously, I'll never know.  I'll also never understand why they felt the need to start the walking relay right as the bulk of the running relay is passing through the same exact spot.  Nor will I understand why the spot they chose was also sharing a parking lot with a traveling carnival and a roller derby match!  FOUR events sharing a parking lot at the same time!  Whose idea was this?!?  Could they not have the walking relay start somewhere else and merge up?  Or at another time?  Could they maybe have found a parking lot that wasn't already crowded from two other concurrent events?

While we were stuck in line, we found a rep handing out free cans of Rebel energy drink.  No, not Red Bull, Rebel.  See, it sounds imperceptibly different.  Never mind it's in a nearly identical blue-and-silver can.  It does have more caffeine though.  We picked up about a dozen.  I intended to have one much later, after the race and after we've taken a nap, before we go out to celebrate tomorrow night, so I can perk up and actually enjoy myself.

Rather than wait for the van to park, I just got out and walked over to the exchange point (I was the first to go in each round).  I only had to wait about 15 minutes before Angie charged in with the baton.  Meanwhile, our van never bothered parking and just got in the equally long line to get out, and also told the other van not to bother coming by; we'd pick up Angie and get them to meet up later.

Shortly after I took off with the baton, it got quiet.  I was running on a paved bike trail, with the Willamette River on my left, the sun setting behind it.  There were barely any bikes on the path.  I was mostly alone, except for a few other runners.  I started counting my kills.  After a mile, I stopped.  Larry was right.  11 already.

The first three miles were mostly the same: flat, quiet, scenic, and fast.  I ran my first three miles in 5:54 each.  I was aiming for a 6:00 pace for this leg.  After three miles at 5:54, that meant I had 18 seconds to play with.  But it also meant I still had 4.5 miles to go.

I approached a more urban part of the river.  There were now streets nearby, and multiple paths to choose from.  Volunteers started dotting the course, but not everywhere they were needed.  Here and there, I had to guess which way to go.  It was usually an easy guess, and got ever more obvious once you ran down the correct path for about 100 meters.  But it was still a little unsettling.  What if I do go down the wrong path?  How far would I go before I figured it out?

Some of the volunteers were very helpful.  Others weren't.  A lot of them had a habit of waiting until I was about 2 meters from the turn before they bothered telling me which way to go.  Some of them didn't do anything until I asked (many of them were looking at their phones as I approached).  Seeing a pattern, I started shouting "Which way?" long before I got there, so I wouldn't have to slow down until they told me.  One particular forced slow-down came right before I had to climb a ramp to get on a bridge.  The combination of hesitancy and uphill slowed me down until my average pace skyrocketed to 5:58.  Just like that, two-thirds of my "buffer" was gone.

As I crossed the bridge, I really started feeling it.  My core tightened, then weakened.  It was getting harder and harder to maintain pace, until it started slipping.  A lot of people out on the riverwalk though, most of them encouraging me, lots of "You're killin' it, man!"  I wondered if that's what they said to everyone, or if seeing someone fast got them excited.

Just as I wasn't feeling so great again, one spectator, wearing running gear, made very direct eye contact with me, and started to lean forward like she wanted to run with me.
"Are you Rob?"

She started running alongside me.  "I'm Jeff's friend.  Kelley.  You're lookin' good!"
I wasn't feeling good, but I smiled.  "Thanks!"

"I just thought I'd run with you a little bit and cheer you up.  I dunno how long I can hold your pace though!"
"I dunno how long I can either."
"Oh, you're doin' great!  Keep it up!"  We ran together for another 10-15 seconds.  "Alright, I'm gonna let you go!  Good job!"
She pulled up and I ran away from her.  She did pick up my spirits a little bit.  A thought crossed my mind.  I turned around and shouted over my shoulder,
"I-E or Y?"  No response.  Maybe she didn't hear me.  Guess I'll never know.  (Jeff told me later; the above spelling is correct)

For whatever reason, I feel the need to add that between miles 1 and 4, I smelled pot on at least three separate occasions, two of them in a very public area.

Not long after Kelley left me, I saw three volunteers standing ahead, near another fork in the walking path.  They were on the ball; before I got a chance to ask, they called out,
"Stay to the left!  Left!  Left!"

Well, that's easy.  I waved and took a left.  100 meters later, just out of eyeshot of the volunteers, there was a T-intersection.  No volunteers.
"Well, they said 'left' three times," I told myself.  "I know that's basically back the way I came, but they kept saying 'left'..."  I didn't want to stop and backtrack; I was trying to finish this leg as fast as I could.  Seconds counted.  I took a left.

I ran about another 100 meters.  There were no other runners in sight up ahead.  Then the sidewalk promptly ended.  OK, this can't be it.  I turned around in place.  I could still see the last corner I rounded, but no runners coming from there.  Where was it?  My level of frustration was at least a 9.2.  I knew this couldn't be the right way, so I just headed back.  Halfway back to the corner, I saw runners coming past, turning right where I turned left.  My frustration turned to anger, then increased.  I was livid.  Three friggin' volunteers and not one of them could provide decent directions.

As I passed the turn again, still out of line-of-sight of the volunteers (but within earshot), I turned and cupped my hands,
"YOU NEED TO SAY 'LEFT, THEN RIGHT!'" I shouted as loud as I could.  "AND PUT ONE OF YOU HERE!!!"

All told, the detour probably cost me close to one full minute.  My anger started to turn to disappointment.  I was upset that I had let my team down.

My pace still sliding, my core hurting worse and worse, I slogged down a sidewalk in front of a line of shops and restaurants (as much as a 6:05 mile can be called a slog).  It was starting to get just a little dark.  I could feel my pace sag, then I'd force myself back up to speed, only to wear down again.  It was very hard to stay consistent anymore.  My form was a little sloppy.  Things just weren't going too well.

The one good thought I had, if you can call it that, was that it was possible the team hadn't made it out of the parking lot and to the next exchange, so it didn't matter that I was slow.  Or that instead, they'd made it there, but a lot of other teams hadn't (at the messy parking lot, probably a third of the arriving runners had to wait for their team at least a little).  Maybe the horrifying parking lot was hurting everyone else but us.

I got away from the row of shops and found myself on a mostly-empty road near railroad tracks.  It was now definitely dark enough that the head lamps and tail lights were coming in handy.  I kept looking ahead for lights, hoping to see the exchange.  Every time I thought I saw it coming, the lights turned out to be something else.  It seemed like it was never coming.  And then finally, it was there.

"JOHN!" I called as I approached.  After last time, and with it being darker now, I figured audible cues might help me find where I make the handoff.
"RIGHT HERE!"  I saw an arm raised.  I sprinted the best I could and handed it off.  Put my hands on my knees.  Just like last time, I finally noticed how much I was sweating.  My team was slightly less excited compared to last time.  I dunno if it was because my time wasn't nearly as good, or just because the excitement of the first leg had worn off.  As we walked back to the van, I explained the missed turn.  They were sympathetic.  No one blamed me in the slightest.

It was dark now.  I was already getting tired.  And after the poor showing I had in my leg, I was physically tired, too.  Each time we met a runner at an exchange, I stayed in the car at least half the time, often laying down across the seats in a weird position to try to stretch out my abs and my back.  At one exchange where I actually got out of the car, Nick came over and gave me a quick massage as I stood up.  Felt pretty good, and I think it made a significant difference (thanks Nick!).  It might not be a bad idea to ask a teammate for another one before I run again.

By the time our van finished up their second legs, just shy of midnight, I was exhausted in every way.  But our team was 20 minutes ahead of our projected pace!  Just about everyone on the team had chipped off a minute or two, even me, due to the unexpectedly fast time I had on my first leg.

For whatever reason, John picked up some kung pow boneless chicken wings at a grocery store.  If I tried running fast after eating fried chicken, I'd either be too slow or I'd throw up.  He admitted that he knew it wasn't the best idea, but that the morale boost would make up for it.  He may have been right; it did smell very good.  I was craving hot "real" food strongly by now.

We now had to drive over an hour on tiny, twisty country roads through the woods.  The roads had no lights and were obscenely dark.  I volunteered as a navigator and Jeff took the wheel.  We tuned in to a 90's mix XM station to keep us awake and rocked down the highway as every other member of the team fell asleep for the entire ride.  The clouds and the woods were thick enough that we kept losing the radio signal, even on a satellite station.

At long last, we arrived at the next major exchange, just some field in the middle of nowhere.  It was now drizzling.  Our team collectively decided to get some sleep.  We only had about an hour before I should be awake and warming up.  Dick's Sporting Goods oppurtunistically was renting out tents by the hour, complete with pillows.  Most of us just found a spot in the car, but John and Matt slept on sleeping pads on the ground just outside.  I claimed the driver's seat and reclined it.  I shut my eyes, expecting to fall asleep immediately.

I never did.

I'll never know why I couldn't fall asleep despite how tired I was.  I never managed to get completely comfortable in that seat, but still, I have a history of falling asleep just about anywhere.  I trotted around the parking lot, trying to loosen up again.  With about 10 minutes to go before Angie was due to arrive, I put on a vest and lights and made my way over to the exchange and waited.

My stomach turned.  I looked at my watch.  Only three minutes left.  I turned to my teammates,
"I'm taking a crap.  Now."
I ran over to the port-o-potties and got in the short line, practically jumping up and down with impatience as I waited.  Finally, I got in one.  Dropped my pants, unloaded, wiped, left.  Elapsed time in port-o-potty: 20 seconds.  I jogged back over to the exchange.

"That was fast!"
"More than half of that time was in line."


When you gotta go, you gotta go.  And running when you need to do #2 is no bueno.  Even if I kept Angie waiting for 30 seconds, it would probably still be worth it.  Especially when I'm having problems with my core to begin with.  Upon my request, Andrew gave me a 20-second lower back massage, even though he repeatedly stated he didn't know what he was doing.  Seemed to work for me anyway.  My teammates ruled.

Angie showed up, looking awfully strong.  I grabbed the baton and took off.  I wasn't sure how to pace.  I knew what time I wanted, but how would it feel by now?  Running fast and on pavement is foreign enough to me; doing so in six-hour intervals just makes it weirder.  How tired am I, exactly?

When you do trail runs, you don't pace by your watch at all.  You can go ahead and think you're going to run each mile in 7:30 or whatever, but the hills are going to say "No you won't, you're running this mile in 6:10, and that mile in 10:40, and you'll like it!"  But in this case, my watch would probably be a more reliable indicator than my own general perception.  I looked at my watch probably about every 10 seconds for the first half-mile, making sure I was establishing the pace I wanted.

If it was dark when we were driving, it was nothing but black now.  My headlamp was the only source of light.  It was nearly a full moon that night, but the clouds obscured it completely.  As I ran, my headlamp illuminated flecks of drizzle in front of me as I ran into them, making it look like I was running through the stars.  Compared to the previous leg, it seemed like there were a lot less other runners around.  It was even quieter.  The road was slick, and every now and then, I stepped in a puddle.

Halfway through, the drizzle finally stopped and my breath turned to fog, which just like the drizzle, was lit up in my face by my headlamp.  I looked around.  If I left my eyes in the same spot, I could see outlines of trees, and the landscape around me.  I could tell that it was a beautiful area, or that it would be if I could see it.  I couldn't help but think that it would be a great place for a bike ride.

The last two miles had a few rolling inclines.  I handled them with ease.  I wasn't running any faster than I had in the first two miles, but I felt better.  With less than a mile to go, I saw what would be the last hill.  I dug deep and charged up the thing.  My pace probably only improved by a few seconds, but on an uphill, that's not bad.  I crested the hill, saw the exchange, passed to John, and smiled.  After my second leg, I was glad this was a short and easy leg, but I had  still been worried about how well I'd hold up.  A strong finish, maybe not a fast one, but a strong one, had me in a great mood.  I probably could've kept going, but probably not for very long.  My teammates all patted me on my drenched back.
"Good job!  You're done, man!"
I sweepingly gestured at them all.  "Suckers!"

Going first had made me nervous, but I knew that it would be nice to be the first one done.  I got in the car and ate a cookie.  My spirits high, this time around, I got out of the car to cheer on my teammates every single time.  Astonishingly, each one of us was still putting in impressive times.  According to John, he was feeling those chicken wings bouncing inside him the whole time, but he also claimed they were the reason he did so well.  At this point in the race, hey, whatever works.  Probably about half of the other runners we saw on the course were now walking.  We were at the point in the race that some were just running out of gas, but our team was still going strong.

By the time we made it to our van's final exchange, the dawn was just starting to break.  A lot of my team was hungry.  Somehow, I wasn't.  The bulk of my teammates stopped for biscuits and gravy for breakfast.  I took a catnap in the driver's seat.  Why was it suddenly so comfortable this time?

My teammates got back from their breakfast.  Already in the driver's seat, and now a little more rested than the rest of them, I volunteered to drive us to the finish line.  Jeff, who had driven while I navigated last time around, navigated for me.  Once again, everyone else slept the whole way.  Roughly an hour later, we were in Seaside, OR.

We cleaned up the car for about half an hour, then hit the beach.  Mostly devoid of energy, we didn't do much of anything.  Just hung out until the rest of our team showed up in their van.  Meant that Angie was less than 20 minutes away.  We slowly migrated towards the finish line.

"298!" a volunteer cried.
"She's coming!"  We lined up in a chute, and two minutes later, saw Angie blazing down the boardwalk.  Seemed like she just kept getting faster and faster as she went.  She crossed the timing pad, turned to her left, and held on to a rail, panting.
"ANGIIIIEEEE!!!  OVER HERE!"  We kept waving her over.  She took her time; obviously, she hadn't left anything in the fight in her last mile.  We grinned.  She finally shuffled over to us, and we jogged through the symbolic finish line in the sand as a team.

To be concluded...

Pre Hood-to-Coast Relay

I feel like I need to explain this one before we get started.

Four months ago, after a couple of jerks desecrated the most sacred temple of running, for some reason, I felt compelled to round up a few folks for a group run "For Boston."  So I posted on the "Run" board at work, and on short notice, I was only able to get two other people together.  One of them was named Larry.  We did maybe four miles or so at a moderate pace and called it in.  During the run, of course, we just talked about running and marathons and stuff, what got us into it, what races we've done before and what we're doing these days.  I didn't see either one again after that.  I almost always train alone.

Two months later, at the San Francisco Marathon, Larry recognized me at the finish line (he was there to watch a friend run).  Seeing what time I finished in, he realized I was pretty fast.  About a week or so later, he was recruiting me onto Google's "Google1" running team, which does group races every so often.  And Google pays for the registration, the travel, the hotel, and even a bit of the food.  In particular, the team wanted me for the Hood-to-Coast relay coming up in August.  So I get a day off work and a free trip to Oregon, and all I have to do is run in a race I didn't pay for?  Yeah, I'm in.

Hood-to-Coast, the self-proclaimed "Mother of all Relays," is a 200-mile relay race stretching from Mt. Hood to Seaside, OR.  As you might imagine, the course is a net downhill, but it should be pointed out that the overwhelming majority of the downhill occurs in the first 20 miles, and it's mostly flat after that.  About a third of the way into the race, the course passes through Portland.  The race is done in teams of 12, with each member running three legs of the course, usually about 5-6 miles each.

For me, this is very different.  I'm used to maintaining a good clip for 3-4 hours and doing it over difficult terrain.  Now I'm busting my hump for only half an hour at a time on flat pavement.

But what makes it REALLY different is the logistics of a long-distance relay.  As you might guess, running 200 miles can take a while.  More than 24 hours for a lot of teams.  And since there are over 1,000 teams in the race, each with 12 members, the race has multiple wave starts, with a handful of teams starting every 15 minutes, spread out over a span of over 12 hours, the earliest leaving at 6:30 AM and the last at 6:45 PM.  Even then, the exchange points can get a little hectic, with several teams all trying to park their support vehicle on the side of some small country highway, get out of the car, and wait for their runner to appear, then get back in the car with their exhausted, sweaty runner, pull out of whatever makeshift parking lot has been thrown together, and speed down the highway to the next exchange.

And this goes on for many hours, including all hours of the night.

Google had won the corporate division of the race three years in a row, last year by only 2.5 minutes.  Last year Google also placed 6th overall, the highest they ever had.  One hell of a team I was walking onto, and with high expectations.

In the weeks leading up to the race, Eddie, our team captain, asked us all to describe our running background and give him our 10k pace so he could make assignments based on that.  Obviously, you want your faster runners doing longer distances, because if they can shave off 15 seconds per mile, running an extra two miles means shaving off 30 seconds for the entire team.  I told him that I'm better in longer distances, but also not the fastest (I even had to guess what my 10k time is because I never do anything that short), so he could decide what that means for what distance I should do.  But I added that I have a trail running background and I'm a good climber, but not the fastest when it comes to downhills.

When the leg assignments came out, I noticed that I was running leg 1.  As in the one that starts at Mt. Hood and does nothing but run down an incredibly steep hill.  It was now only two days before the race.  I emailed Eddie, asking if it was too late to switch with someone.  It's not that I didn't want to be given a hard leg, it's just that I felt like giving it to a better downhill runner would be in the best interest of the team.  I didn't hear back (more on this later).

I went ahead and looked at what kinds of times people were putting down for their 10k.  They ranged from 33:00 to 38:00.  Pretty darned consistent.  And it meant that I would merely be an average member of the team, if that.  Wow.

Very early on Friday morning, I biked to Google and got in a carpool to the San Francisco Airport.  I met a few of my teammates for the first time.  Previously, I had only met Larry and Nick, one of the two guys that did the LA Marathon with me.  Met the rest of the team at the airport.  Eddie spied me.
"Hey, you're Rob, right?"

"Yeah, I got your email.  See, the thing is, I'd run that first leg myself, but I did it one year and got a herniated disc in my back, so-"
"Oh great!  I get to look forward to that!"
"Well, uh, you know, you do the trails and stuff, so I thought maybe you were tough enough or something, instead of having me or someone else get injured in the first leg of the race."
I still didn't like it, but I'll take that as a compliment.

After a short and uneventful flight, we rented a couple large SUVs, stopped at a grocery store for race food (I was rather bullish on granola and trail mix), and headed straight for the start line.  I napped most of the way and woke up when we got there.

I stepped out of the car and into the sunshine.  I looked up at the summit of Mt. Hood.  I had to bend my neck to do it.  I hadn't really realized it, but Mt. Hood is an impressive mountain.  There was still snow on it, enough that people were actually skiing in August.  Thankfully, we weren't starting from the summit, but from some ways below it, near the ski lodge.  We were still 6,000 feet up.

We had about an hour and a half before our wave would start, with me leading the way.  Mostly just walked around the parking lot/starting area, got some more free granola.  Decorated our SUVs with car chalk.  Pinned our bibs on our jerseys.  Relaxed.  Got a kick outta some of the other team names.  The things people come up with...Puke and Rally, Slug Hunters, Great Bowels of Fire, Van Full of Pervs.  Ours was just "Google1."  Boring by comparison.

As our start time drew nearer, I did a quick jog around the parking lot and went through a short stretching routine.  My team kept rallying around me, making sure I was ready to go, asking if I needed anything.
"You're acting like I'm the whole team!"
"Yeah, well, we'll get our turn.  Right now, you're our man!"

My team repeatedly told me that I didn't need to worry about "winning" my leg and chasing down the other runners.  If I were to try and go all out on a hill like this, I might hurt myself and not do so well on my later legs.
"Yeah, don't worry about hitting a 4:50 pace or anything like that," they told me.  "Just take it easy."
I have never run so much as a 5:30 mile.  Running a 4:50 hadn't even crossed my mind as physically possible.  These people might have a different definition of "take it easy."  But it was good to know that I wasn't necessarily expected to go all out.

Oh, and the the baton we pass in the relay?  It was a slap bracelet.

To be continued...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cinderella Trail 50k

You know, we never really find out what happened after Cinderella wound up in a relationship.  How did she get along with the Prince?  And I'm here to tell you: Cinderella be a harsh mistress.

Going in to this thing, my main motivation was last time, and improving on that.  I basically figured that not getting lost would be the difference.  That and I think I'm just in better shape now.  When I first ran Cinderella, I had only been doing trail running for about three months, and by now, that number has more than doubled.  And a weak core had been my biggest problem last time.  I've been doing lots of core strengthening exercises for the last month or so, and they've been getting much easier, so I figured I'd corrected a major weakness.

I stayed at Athan's place in Berkeley on Saturday (thanks for the spare key!).  Allowed me to keep from having to wake up so early.  I still got there a little later than I wanted, and had to park on the road nearby.  Not too far away though, I guess.

Before the race, I bumped into Maxime, the guy that finished second at San Lorenzo River, and a very good trail marathon runner (and the guy that shared the only beer with me!).  I asked if he'd break four hours today.  He laughed and said no way.  But I wasn't so sure.  He broke four hours in that one, and it has about the same amount of climbing (at least, officially).  I thought he had a good chance.
"You'll probably be done with your 50k before I'm done with my marathon!"
"Ahhhhh!!!" I waved dismissively at him.  Really, I didn't see that happening.  I thought he had a realistic shot at four hours, and if I finished a 50k in exactly four hours on a much easier course last week, that simply wasn't happening today.

As we lined up, I found myself next to the guy that finished second in the 50k at Crystal Springs last week.
"Got any competition today?" he asked.

I had no idea.  "I guess I'll find out!"
"I saw you had a great training run this week!"
Eh, kinda.  11.5 miles, all flat and all paved, at a 6:05 pace isn't that great.  I was actually aiming for 6:00 and couldn't do it.  But I thanked him anyway.

Lined up and ready to rock, I smelled something funny.  It turned out there was a sewer grate right on the start line.  It was unpleasant.  Once we noticed what it was, the crowd shifted noticeably to the left.  Wendell went through his routine of explaining the course markings.  For whatever reason, I still like listening to it, I guess just because I like his casual approach, light sense of humor, and he usually says something out of left field.  And even the corny jokes he says every time still get a smile out of me.

With only a few seconds before the gun, the second-place Crystal Springs guy wished me luck.  Sort of.
"Enjoy, Tex!" he chimed.
I smiled, and heading up the first hill, my smile gradually turned into a laugh.  Yeah, it's a cheesy moniker, but any good Texan takes it as a compliment any time someone references your status as a Texan.  I overflowed with pride.

The course starts off with a tough climb in the first half-mile, followed by a steady incline for the next two miles.  It didn't take long before I separated myself.  Made it to the first aid station in no time and headed down the hill.  Only one person was close to me.  I found the turnoff that I missed once last time and headed down a ridiculously steep, technical trail.  Upon reaching the bottom, I was now entering the first of many challenging parts of the course.

While this course has a famously long, steep, difficult hill at the end, I think it's the middle miles on each loop that really take a toll on you.  There are some parts that are at least as steep as anything else on the course, and there is no part that is flat.  Even in the downhill sections, which seem rare (even though this section is a net downhill), it feels like you're working hard.  The half-marathoner behind me passed me on a steep, tricky downhill, and I passed him a mile or so later on one of the more challenging climbs.  I probably never got too far away from him.

Leaving the middle miles, I was still feeling alright, ready to take on the big one.  After one last steep, technical descent, the kind that gives you no reward for your climbing, the course flattened out for almost a mile before the aid station.  I made it pretty quick, but still got caught by the half-marathoner behind me.  We set out to take the big uphill together.  It was already warm out.  I was surprised how well he was holding up wearing a long-sleeved shirt, and a black one at that.

Honestly, it felt great to take on the toughest challenge with a partner, whose name I finally learned was Alex (he won the half-marathon, by the way).  That didn't last long though; about a quarter of a mile up the hill (which lasts about three miles), I managed to get away from him on one of the steeper sections.  One of the few pleasant things about the hill is that the steep sections get a little more spaced out as you go.  I was still beat to crap by the end, and it didn't help that this is one of the more exposed parts of the course, baking you in the sun.  I was sweating like crazy.

There is no absolute top of this hill, it breaks into rollers, with some parts just as tough as any other on the hill, and gradually has more downs than ups.  Once you reach the aid station though, it's almost all down from there.  I got there and ran into some familiar volunteers, including Lukas.  He's never been a volunteer before, but I bumped into him at Horseshoe Lake (he won the 50k), and later saw him at the San Francisco Endurance Challenge, where he won the 100-miler.  He recognized me instantly and saw my bib number.
"50k?  You can't do that!  That's my event!"
"Actually, last I heard, your event was walk 25 miles at a time and puke your guts out."
He laughed hysterically, then quickly composed himself, "Yeah, yeah...that happened."
"I heard you won by-"
"Eight seconds!"
"Did you have to sprint to the end to win?"
"I had no idea anyone was there!  I just walked across!"
"Penny didn't look back and go 'Hey, there's someone there, maybe jog the last 100 meters,'?"

"Naw, she just kept saying 'No one's there; you're doing fine.'"
I was finally done taking in snacks and water.  "I'd smack her for that.  See you later!"

The course had changed a little bit; instead of going straight down a very steep, technical descent, it now wound around a little more on the way down, adding 500 meters to each loop.  I had to do this section three times.  That sort of played to my advantage, only the extra part actually had a little bit of uphill involved.  That didn't sit well with me.  Still, I ran in the last part decently well.  As I approached the finish, a few 5-milers and 10k-ers were still finishing.  At least five times, I heard "Hey, go over there!" accompanied by pointing at the timing sensor.
"I'm not finishing!" I kept telling them.  Somehow, I thought that saying "I've only done the first loop of a 50k," would sound too much like "I'm eight miles ahead of you!" or "I'm literally twice as fast as you!"

I was the first long distance-er to the start/finish, ahead of anyone running the half, 30k, marathon, or 50k.  1:45.  That was actually slower than last time, even though I didn't get lost!  But I think I felt a little better.  Maybe I was just pacing better, not killing myself in the tougher parts.  I headed back up the first hill again.

After the initial tough part, during the following two miles of incline, I mostly felt great!  Even though I was consistently running uphill, it didn't even feel hard.  I wondered if I just hadn't used my "normal" running muscles in a while, or even the ones for inclines.  For the longest time, it had been either climbing hard or descending fast.  I was in my element, gaining ground without having to dig too deep.  I arrived at the first aid station (same as the last one before the start/finish area).  All the same volunteers were still there.  A lot of long-distance-ers were there, about to finish their first loop.

"You only got about five ahead of you now," one volunteer said with a straight face, in a deadpan tone.  Obviously a joke; I was in front, and when you're in front, you know.
"They must be really skinny, because I don't even see them when they passed!"

With all the half-marathoners only doing one loop, and everyone else behind me, this would be a very lonely part of the course.  Or it would've been, if there weren't a ton of hikers, many of them with dogs.  Hard to blame them, this area was beautiful, peaceful, serene, quiet, scenic, exactly the kind of place you'd want to escape to on the weekend.  And tough enough to give you a challenge, even if you're just hiking for an hour or so.  I delivered my trademark chipper "Good morning!" to all the humans I saw, and if I encountered a dog separately, usually greeted them with "Hey, buddy!"  All of them were friendly and well-trained.

Blazed back down the hill again, and headed deep into the woods once more, ready to take on some tough miles.  Hit the bottom and braced myself.  I wound up never walking in this section (I did in the very steepest parts last time around).  That made me feel pretty good.  This time was going better.  And as I approached the end of the deep woods part, I tried to think about how bad I felt last time.  I definitely felt a little better, most notably my core.  It was getting tired, but wasn't gone.  I kept expecting a downhill, then the flat section leading up to the aid station.  It never seemed to come, but as the miles ticked away, I knew I was getting closer and closer to finishing up the toughest parts of the course.  Once I got to mile 24, the top of the big hill, all the worst would be over.  And I kept getting closer and closer, without getting completely pooped.  Sounded good, even if I was slowing down.

I reached the bottom of the hill and did the easy mile to the aid station.  I knew it was about to get ugly.  Only one volunteer was there.  I stuck around a little bit and chatted with him, mostly because I didn't want to head up that hill just yet.
"You're way ahead, aren't you?"
"I think.  I don't know.  When you're ahead, there's no good way of knowing."
I finally headed out.  Time to do this thing.

A miracle had happened.  Clouds were in front of the sun.  Not thick ones; only a thin veil, the kind that allows you to still see shadows, but only just barely.  Had that not happened, I don't know what would've happened to me on that hill.  My stomach had been unhappy for miles, and it would be too long before I got back to the start/finish.  With no shame, I moved barely off the trail, only behind one tree, and took a crap in the woods.  Then I kept going.  I had to walk some of the steeper parts this time, but less than I did back in May.  I took that as a good sign.  As I approached the top, I kept thinking I had to stop and pee.  I didn't really.  I was just looking for an excuse to stop.

I was elated when I made it to the aid station, not so much because I wanted food or water, but because I knew it was mostly downhill from there.  At least for now.  There were seven miles to go, and only one hill.  A hill I felt good on last time.  The worst was over.  Right?

One of the volunteers told me that last time I passed through this aid station, the nearest 50k-er was 5-10 minutes back.  If that was still true, they would have to gain about a minute per mile on me.  But the way things were going, I knew that might happen...

I trotted down the last two miles, not feeling my best.  But it was almost all downhill.  Almost.  In the flat-to-incline last half-mile, I actually stopped once or twice and put my hands on my knees.  Then I got it together and ran again.  C'mon, don't be a wimp.  This isn't even the hard part.  Finish.

I arrived at the start/finish, still ahead of the marathon and 50k pack.  Just under four hours, again, slower than last time, despite not getting lost.  I finally realized that the extra 500 meters on each loop was almost exactly making up for the extra distance.  So I was nearly on the same pace, just a little slower, but feeling a little better than the absolute misery I was in last time.  Probably the best position I could hope for.

As I passed through the meadow, I kept looking over to the right, where people were eating food and drinking beer.  I felt like crap.
"Don't look over there, Rob!"  A volunteer rushed over to the aid station.  "Don't look!  Keep going!"
I took an unusually long stop at the aid station.  The volunteer did nothing but encourage me, though I don't know if it worked.  I trudged off for the last hill, unsure of how much I had left in me.

One thing worth noting: this was the first 50k where I reached the marathon distance and still had a significant hill to climb.

I was almost glad the hill was steep because now I had an excuse to walk, even though I didn't use that excuse either time before.  I wasn't even power walking up, just walking.  The steep part leveled off into a gentle incline.  I walked for another 30 seconds or so, hoping to get my legs to regain something before I started running.  Starting up again wasn't easy, but I found my legs soon, and even though I was slow and hurting, I was able to keep going.

For a while.

It was only about a mile up the hill before I was gone.  Done.  My core had no strength left whatsoever.  I think my legs had just a little more (they weren't doing well either), and my heart and lungs, maybe just barely a little more.  But my abs and lower back were done for today.  Even a pathetic slow jog wasn't happening.  I slowed to a walk; not a power walk, a walk.  Every so often, I tried starting up again, telling myself that for every mile I walk, I'm going to give 10 minutes to the guy behind me.  But it never lasted long.  I wondered to myself how I managed to keep going in the 50-miler.  I didn't feel this bad 30 miles into that race, and it supposedly has more climbing, too.  What was going on today?

A few 30k runners, 13 miles behind me, started passing me.  Most of them asked if I wanted some of their water.  Though I refused, I finally developed an appreciation for those that carry something with them on the course.

I got passed with about 3.5 miles to go.  He looked strong.  I might've been able to chase him for a while, but not for long.  I let him go, and even encouraged him.  Today just wasn't my day, and I wasn't earning a win.  Someone else deserved it.

My watch finally beeped.  I had done another mile.  In 21:53.  It's official: that is slower than walking speed!  I felt like a failure.  I kept walking.

A full hour after I left the start/finish area, I finally made it to the aid station.  I immediately plopped into a canvas chair.  A volunteer repeatedly brought me water and oranges.  These guys rock.  I may have been dehydrated, so I made it a point to drink more than I normally would.  I stayed there a while, and felt better when I finally stood up.

I finally moved out of the area, leaving with a marathon runner.  He walked and talked with me for a little while.  Turned out he was only that far back because he stopped to help out a guy who took an incredible fall and lost skin to the point that bone was exposed (but thankfully not broken).  He walked with the guy and helped him to the next aid station, where they called an ambulance.  After telling me the story, he trotted off.  I waited for a downhill.

Now heading down the last hill, I gathered what strength I still had and resumed a slow trot.  A few stronger 50k-ers passed me.  I encouraged all of them.  As one passed, I felt a tap on my behind.  Huh?!?
I have to mention, I never played football (I was a band kid!), and in soccer, no one really does that.  I think this may have been my very first sports butt-pat.

With effort, I navigated the steeper parts of the last descent and finally found myself on the last half-mile of fire road before the finish.  It's such a tease; you're so close, and you have to run up one last incline before you finish.  I kept up my slow jog in the flat sections, and upon reaching an incline, pushed through it.  Hey, not bad!  It felt like I was waking up something I hadn't used in a long time.  Only a couple steps later, I realized why.  Yeah, that's not happening.  I didn't slow to a walk; I stopped entirely and put my hands on my knees.  A few deep breaths later, I started walking again.

With only a quarter-mile to go, I finally took up a slow jog again and managed to hang on to it, even through the uphill inclines.  As I approached the finish, a few people hanging out in the park applauded, and I shot them a weird look, raising one corner of my mouth.  This was not applause-worthy.
"And he's still smiling!" one of them said.  Haha, no.  That's a look of incredulity, not joy.  I am far from happy.  Except maybe glad that it's done.

Across the finish line, I took in some water and laid down on a bench.  Only a little later, another 50k-er came through and laid down on the other side.  I looked over,
"Right there with ya, buddy."
A volunteer laughed.  He groaned.

I spent a solid two hours there, making sure I felt OK before I got in the car to drive home.  Cake, s'mores, chicken, sausage, and beer.  And a conversation with a guy from the Yukon.  He has run a marathon in -40 degree weather.  He said this race was harder.  I felt a little better.

Without a doubt, this was the worst race I've ever run.  I've been less prepared, and there have been days where more things out of my control went wrong.  And I've done courses that were technically harder.  But today, wow.  It just wasn't happening.  It's astonishing to think that with 3.5 miles to go, I was still winning, and I wound up placing fifth, 45 minutes behind the winner.  I crashed that hard.  I didn't hit the wall, I was thrown into it by a catapult.

There were a few parts where I'm sure I could've dug deep and found a way to keep moving, but once I knew a win was out of the question, and a respectable time probably wasn't happening either, I saw no point.  Especially considering I have another race in less than a week, and a team is depending on me in that one.  I would hate to let them down because I killed myself for no reason today.

After doing so well in three consecutive races, one of which was much tougher than this, I'm still struggling to figure out what made this one so different.  I ate about the same.  I tapered the same, if not a little extra.  And this race, while a little tough, wasn't necessarily anything special.  What happened?  After getting my behind kicked by this course twice now, I'm inclined to think that it might have more climbing than advertised, especially in those middle miles in the woods.  I think the steep downhills just mean that you never get any easy miles.  And maybe The Second Gauntlet is starting to wear me down.

But more than anything, this course is my nemesis.  I came in wanting to show it who's boss, and I got put in my place.  For now, I can't decide if I should come back again next year to give it another try, or if I should accept it and move on.  But who knows what'll be brewing by next May.  Time will tell.

In only five days, I have another race.  I think I'm taking tomorrow off.