Monday, October 17, 2016

Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Run 10K -- 37:48

It had been five years since I had last run this local 10K (2011 race report) or any other 10K for that matter. It would be a sprint! The weather was cool with predicted rain, but there was just a sprinkle as we waited for the 8am start.

Jennifer and I were entered in the 10K and Claire was entered in the 5K! She had run a 2.1 mile cross-country race the day before, too, as the last race of her cross-country season in her freshman year of high school, so she was going to take this 5K relatively easy.

I decided to wear my green flourescent rock-n-roll wig for fun, since Halloween is such a big deal along the coastside and it's only two weeks away. The wig is a definite conversation starter, which is fun. I wore my traditional bright-orange Coastside Running Club shirt and it was fun seeing so many friends from the club that morning -- Amanda, Mandy, Jenny, Jake, Rachael, Bob, Joey. And I saw Paula and Margaret later on.

The kids' fun run started shortly after 8am and as some kids and their families were still standing in front of the 10K runners, the announcer suddenly said it was time to start the race! (I don't think there was a countdown or much warning.) OK, I guess we'll start running! So we ran around the kids and got going.

I was near the front of the pack, in the top five or six runners. As is always the case with these 10Ks (and nearly every race everywhere, actually) many people start too fast. I glanced at my watch -- 5:25 per mile pace. Oops. Too fast for me, too!

I saw the lead bicyclist make a left ahead of me, leading the first place runner through the first turn. When I and a few others got to that intersection five seconds later, the volunteer motioned for us to run straight! Oh oh! I felt like running straight was the correct direction, so I kept going straight, but everyone else made a left turn.

Well, that sucked. I was trying to remember the course, and I thought I could make a left up ahead and rejoin the others, such that we all ran the same distance, but no, that's not how the course goes. The official route is to make a long u-turn, going out one block, going left for two blocks, and then left again for one block. So, I rejoined everyone else, now behind dozens of runners, since I had just run 0.2 miles farther. (Or, more accurately, they cut 0.2 miles off the course.)

As the familiar coastal trail miles wore on, I wore down and couldn't seem to help slowing down a bit. My average pace settled in right at 6 minutes per mile. It was fun seeing all the other runners on the out-and-back section, including Jennifer! Good job, Jennifer!

Running club member Paula happened to be at the spot where Amanda and I were crossing paths.

Near the end, with two blocks to go, I passed the lead woman and then heard another runner on my heels. I picked up the pace to a near sprint, but this was too early and I still had a long block left, so I had to slow down again and he passed me. I turned the corner and ran hard to the finish line. Yay!

The race got hard, but it was over quickly. My watch showed 37:43, but my official time is 37:48 and I was in 4th place. If I had run 0.2 miles shorter at 6 minutes per mile, then my official time would have been around 36:36 and I would have come in 3rd place.

It was fun hanging out with Claire since she had run a solid 5K in 29:16. She ran the whole thing and was about 6 minutes faster than her best 5K from years ago.

Jennifer finished the 10K in 1:04:42 and seemed happy about it, even though she had to stop once to go to the bathroom and again to tie her shoe.

Somehow, I still managed to come in first place in my 40-49 age group, and I received a nice thermos, branded with the race logo and "2016", and a nice warm cap which came in handy as we walked around the Pumpkin Festival afterwards. My friend Amanda came in first place in her age group, too! So we had identical prizes.
It was a fun family and friends running morning!

Random Data
  • Weighed 168.4 lbs in the morning. Ouch! I guess those three bowls of cereal and two slices of pizza the night before bumped up my weight, temporarily, hopefully! I didn't eat breakfast.
  • Garmin Data

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mountain Lakes 100 -- 23:34:14

Summary

I successfully completed my second 100 miler, covering the 100.95 miles of trails in Mount Hood National Forest in 23 hours 34 minutes. I found this race to be very difficult and I'm grateful to have finished, happy and uninjured.

Mostly, everything went really well -- I had no stomach or digestive troubles; I drank plenty of water and didn't get dehydrated; the weather was cold (40F) in the early morning, but I kept moving steadily and was never uncomfortably cold; my feet held up OK and I never took off my shoes or had to deal with blisters; my pacer, Dan Rhodes, was totally awesome and provided a great uplifting morale boost for the last 45 miles; traveling with friends Rebekah and Alan made the logistics super-easy.

Yet still, this race chewed me up! I became very sore as time went on, and I found the terrain to be generally difficult with tens of thousands of rocks and tripping hazards. Still, I'm happy I did it and I'm thinking I'm willing to give this distance another shot.

Why Mountain Lakes?

Word had spread through my running club (Coastside Running Club) about this race. My friend Norm was going to sign up for it, and then Amanda said she'd run it as a 40th birthday celebration. One of our members, John, ran it in 2015. I was disappointed in myself with my failed attempt at Javelina Jundred the previous year, so, I thought I would give this distance another shot and the race seemed to offer the right amount of challenge -- 100.95 miles long with 10,800' of elevation gain. On the downside, it was not a Western States qualifier, but I was OK with that. As it turned out, Norm and Amanda did not enter the race, but another running club friend, Rebekah, did, which I was very happy about. Rebekah and her boyfriend Alan and I traveled together and shared a rental car, which made the logistics much easier for me. Thanks, you two!

Training

On the positive side:

  • I had a really solid 69 mile race across England called The Wall, at the end of June.
  • I had a decent 50 miler, Siskyou Outback 50 Mile, at the end of July.
  • My peak training week was right around 100 miles for a six day period.

On the downside, I was mostly running only around 60 miles a week, and I was having a difficult time scheduling long runs. My longest training run was 32 miles and it was awful -- I had been attempting 40 miles but came down with leg cramps at mile 32 and (for the first time I can recall) had to call for a ride.

In the weeks leading up to the race, I was quite busy between my paying job and my volunteering. Two weekends before the race, I spent the weekend working Tahoe 200, at the Sierra-at-Tahoe aid station at mile 63. Then the next weekend, I spent pretty much the entire weekend helping out with the Half Moon Bay International Marathon. I was a bit stressed about not being prepared for my race and I was looking forward to having a good long weekend of running, as a way of decompressing!

A couple of days before the race, I put together a spreadsheet with a best-case finish time of under 21 hours. I knew this was an improbably fast time, but I needed to tell Dan (my pacer) the absolute fastest time that I would arrive at mile 55. I wish I had taken the time to work out a 23 hour finish time. I had simply estimated 10 minutes per mile for the downhills and 14 minutes per mile for the uphills, and with a couple of minutes of breaks (for water, food, and bathroom stops) on each leg of the journey between aid stations (about every 6 miles). Oh, well, I printed out the schedule and taped it to my water bottle.


The One Bad Shoe

While standing in the security line at SFO, on my way to catch a flight to Portland, I noticed a problem with my right running shoe. It had a 1" rip in the fabric between the upper and lower parts of the shoe. Yikes!


I had worn these shoes in three big races going back to April, plus plenty of training runs. I got mad at myself for not checking the shoes more carefully before the trip. These were the only pair of shoes I brought!

I imagined what 100 miles of running and hiking might do to this tear -- maybe my whole shoe would fall apart? I texted Rebekah to ask her opinion. She was already in Portland and she asked what size shoe I wear and what brand I wanted. She and Alan were going to hunt for a replacement! Sweet! I texted Dan to get his opinion -- "duct tape will do in a pinch" and I should keep the new shoes in a drop bag just in case. Good advice. When I arrived in Portland, Rebekah and Alan picked me up and she handed me a box of brand new Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2 shoes! (For my future reference, they were size 12.5.) They fit perfectly!

After I took the photo with the flash, later that day, I realized that only the thin fabric had torn, and that the strong supportive straps were fine. The tear didn't grow and the shoe did fine for the whole race. Still, I said goodbye to them in Portland and came home with my new Hokas.

While waiting for my flight, I recognized the prolific ultrarunner Mark Tanaka. We chatted for a bit. He was on the same flight and was running the race, too! Cool!

The Last Night and Morning

Alan, Rebekah, and I found a good restaurant on the third try, after touring Portland for a while. I went with my old standby of spaghetti and marinara sauce. Rebekah had the same except with a bunch of meatballs in order to get more protein. We were still a bit hungry and Alan spied a frozen yogurt shop across the street.... yummy!


We set our alarms for 3:15am, in order to have time to drive 2.5 hours to the starting area in order to pick up our bibs and to be ready for the 8am start. Rebekah offered me an over-the-counter sleep medication that contained diphenhydramine. Getting a good night's sleep the night before a hundred mile race is really important, and I knew I was likely to toss and turn and fret over stupid things. Being sleepy was the worst part of my experience in my first hundred miler. So, I took two pills, thanked her and bid them goodnight. I did toss and turn for a bit, mainly because my legs were restless (I needed to run!) but somehow the 8+ hours slipped by and I was in deep sleep when the alarm went off. I apparently got a solid 7+ hours of sleep! Nice!

We were on our way at 4am, with Alan doing the driving. (Thanks, Alan!) Mount Hood National Forest is quite remote and I had not been able to find any closer hotels. Still, it takes a while for food to digest, and so eating breakfast during the drive, about 3.5 hours before the race start, was fine.

After finding a parking spot (which wasn't easy), I enjoyed the stunning scenery of Olallie Lake with Mount Jefferson in the background. This must be the most beautiful start/finish line of any race. It was just ridiculously pretty with gorgeous pink skies during the sunrise.

I did some last minute planning for my drop-bags. I was concerned about being warm enough during the night, especially if I got injured. I was also concerned about staying warm after finishing. At the last minute, Rebekah encouraged me to put my warm green cotton cap in with my mile 55 drop-bag which ended up being important to helping me stay warm. I didn't end up using my thin jacket or pants. Also, at the last minute, I decided to put both of my headlamps in my mile 26 drop-bag, which proved to be very useful.

I felt a bit thirsty and my Nuun electrolyte tab had fully dissolved in my water bottle, and it tasted so good, I drank the whole thing. Unlike a 50K or marathon or shorter race, I was not remotely concerned about having to pee during the race. In fact, I wanted to be well-hydrated.

The Race

A few minutes after 8am, we were off!

I settled in with Rebekah for an easy run around Lake Olallie. The forest was pretty and I simply tried to enjoy the experience and to be slow and relaxed. We were quick to walk on the gentle uphills, knowing that we needed to save our muscles and energy for the long journey ahead.


At some point, I needed to pee (this would become a ridiculously common need as the day and night wore on), and Rebekah left me behind.

I chatted with others and warmed up as the miles wore on. I eventually arrived at the first aid station, about 3 minutes ahead of my optimistic 20 hour 49 minute goal time. Slow down!

I started feeling a warm spot on the sides of my neck where my vest rubs a little bit. I had forgotten to put Body Glide there! I figured it was well worth a couple of minutes to dig the small stick of Body Glide I was carrying from my pack and apply it. I'm glad I did because I didn't get any chafing on these spots for the rest of the race.

There's a long fast easy decent of 1600' to the next aid station, Powerline. I tried not to go crazy and to take it easy. I averaged 9:14 per mile (moving pace) on these 6.1 miles, which would be the fastest leg of the race for me. I almost caught up to Rebekah but then I had to pee again!

I made another quick stop at Powerline, filling up both 20oz water bottles for the longest and most difficult leg of the race -- 9.35 miles, 2631' of elevation gain, and 722' of decent. I was 8 minutes ahead of my optimistic goal, but I was OK with that considering how easy the running had been.

Rebekah! I and another guy (triathlete, first ultramarathon race!) slowly caught up to her and a couple of other runners. Eventually, the easy running came to an end as we made a right turn on to single track trail. This trail got steep and difficult in a hurry. It was frequently overgrown and frequently rocky. For a while, it seemed we were hiking and jogging up a dried creek bed, full of rocks and tree roots. This section banged up my feet and, in hindsight, took a lot out of me.

Eventually we return to Breitenbush where I wasted a minute trying to identify caffeine free gels. I think there was someone dressed as a giant chicken here, too. I turned around to retrace my steps and head back to Olallie Lake. We got to see some of the front runners and those behind us in this out-and-back section. Rebekah! She seemed to be in a great mood and we stopped briefly to say hello. Onward! I wouldn't see her again until the finish.

Olallie Lake! Mile 26! I was running well and felt pretty good all-in-all. I quickly went through my drop bag and grabbed my headlamps, since I would likely need them before getting to my other drop bag at mile 55. I talked with a guy who was running with his young son and they had stayed at the camp ground the night before. He said if you arrived on a Thursday, you could probably get one of the first-come first-serve sites. I'll keep that in mind if I do this race again!

Over the next six miles or so, my mental state changed quite a bit. I was really feeling how far I had to go -- "OK, now we're starting a 69 mile race, like in England, except I'm quite sore already and the terrain is much tougher here". I happened to end up in front of a small group of runners and I let myself feel pressured to run a little faster than I should have been running. We kept up a steady pace on this gradual incline.

At about the 33 mile point, a third of the way through the race, I took stock of my body. I was quite sore in my feet and ankles and I generally did not feel very energetic. My right nipple was chafing. I felt a couple of blisters forming on my right foot. I thought about how in 2011, when I ran Headlands 100, how I felt pretty good at the 50 mile mark, as if I had finished a good workout but with plenty of energy left. As these miles wore on, I started to get down on myself -- "Why didn't you train harder?" "You're a crappy runner." "How can you be so torn up so early in the race?" Somewhere around here, I took my first naproxen which is an over-the-counter NSAID that reduces swelling and alleviates pain somewhat, but is processed by the kidneys which are also busy processing muscle breakdown, so I have to be careful with this medicine.

Then a funny thing happened. I arrived at Warm Springs aid station, mile 44.5, and I was only 10 minutes behind my sub-21 hour goal. Cool! This greatly boosted my spirits.

The shadows were getting long and the air cooler and I ran alone. One section of the trail was especially beautiful. I must have been near a ridge and orange light from the sunset streamed horizontally through a couple hundred feet of trees, creating a neat pattern of beautiful light, orange leaves, and shadows. I soon got out my best headlamp.

Runners occasionally passed me, as I had slowed down due to soreness. One runner caught up to me and I pulled aside and then she asked if she could run with me until the next aid station because she didn't have a headlamp. She said her crew had tried to give her the headlamps at mile 30, but she refused because she didn't want to carry the weight. But here she was in the twilight, still a few miles from the next aid station. Doh!

I was happy to help and I offered her my backup headlamp. As I was digging it out of my pack, she squatted down next to me to pee. (I think we were all way too tired to care about modesty.) We agreed that she would get it back to me at the next aid station where our drop bags waited for us and where her crew would be. She thanked me and raced off into the night.

Onward... I tried not to think about the fact that I was only a little more than halfway done. I tried to look forward to seeing Dan at mile 55 and getting my warm clothes and a big chocolate chip cookie, thanks to fellow club member Eileen. I was slow and I felt beat up.

Clackamas aid station! A volunteer jogged up and handed me my backup headlamp. Cool! Dan! Alan! As I refueled at the aid station, one of them grabbed my drop bag, and with Dan's help, I got my warm clothes (windbreaker jacket, cotton cap, gloves, arm warmers, windbreaker-type pants) and a big chocolate chip cookie. Yum! I was in good spirits, but I told Dan that I was in preservation mode, and was falling apart. I was on track for a still excellent 22 hour finish, but only if I didn't degrade much further.

The miles passed slowly but steadily with Dan, as we worked our way around Timothy Lake. He caught me up on his life in Bend, Oregon, since he had recently moved there from Half Moon Bay. The Timothy Lake Dam had Christmas lights and a lot of volunteers. (All of the aid stations were great. Thank you, volunteers!) For a minute I thought I was back at Clackamus, but no, I still had 4.7 more slow miles to go before circumnavigating this lake and then heading home.

Returning to Clackamus I made a quick stop to refuel. My feet felt OK, so I didn't think I needed to wear my new shoes. However, my water bottle had developed a significant leak. Someone located a disposable water bottle that I could take and we threw away the old bottle that had served me for thousands of miles. Onward! Less than a 50K to go! It was around 11:30pm and I was roughly on track for a 22 hour finish.

I tried to stay positive, but I was still getting more and more sore. I was eating and drinking plenty, though. In fact, maybe I was drinking too much. I was urinating ridiculously often, like every 30 minutes, and my urine was a clear color. As Dan said, "Of all the problems you could have, peeing too much is a pretty good problem." Quite right! We cheered on the dozen or two runners who were still arriving to Clackamus at mile 55 and so they were at least 16 to 20 miles behind me.

For some reason, possibly because I had a heavier water bottle on my right chest, my right nipple was getting really sensitive. I just held my bottle or put it in my pack. Otherwise, my skin was doing OK. The blisters on my feet seemed to stabilize.

I was getting tired of the energy gels and Dan offered me a chocolate Ensure. Wow, mana from heaven, that was good. (For the record, pacers are allowed to give food and drink to their runners in this race; this was the only physical assistance I got from Dan.)

My nice bright Petzl headlamp died sometime around 2 or 3am. In spite of my best attempts, including watching a YouTube video, I had not put it into its maximum duration mode apparently. Thankfully, I had a backup!

We came into a meadow and I could tell the stars were bright against the dark sky. I stopped and asked for us to turn off our headlamps. I did my one and only tourist stop, taking in the beautiful expansive dark sky with a thousand stars. It felt good to be alive. Onward!

I was slowing down more and more. I was depressed that my finish time was going to be even slower than my 23 hours 18 minutes of Headlands 100. Every step was uncomfortable and my legs were very sore. Doing any kind of unusual movement, like stepping over a log, brought on the beginnings of cramps. I tried to power hike as fast as I could when I wasn't running, but my average pace was slowing down to 16, 17, and 18 minutes per mile. There were times when my shuffle of a run was as fast as Dan's walk. Demoralizing.

Somehow, I thought I had run a lot of uphill to get to Clackamas, and so on the way back I told Dan that we have a lot of downhill on the return. Yet somehow, we always seemed to be going uphill! I swear this course was uphill both ways!

Around the mile 90 mark, my GPS watch died. I didn't need it to tell me that I was slow. The sky was getting brighter. This is supposed to make people feel better and more energetic, but it made me feel slow.

Something is probably wrong with the listed distance between the last few aid stations, according to another runner we talked with afterwards. We were taking forever to get to Olallie Meadows, the last aid station.

Only 3.6 miles to go! People were still passing me. With about one mile remaining, someone caught up to us and Dan asked him, "Do you want to pass?" "No, I'm good." I took this as a signal to put in a hard effort to the finish. We pulled away from the guy and I somehow felt pretty good, on a natural high, I'm sure. Where is the finish line? It seemed to be taking longer than expected. We came across a kid and we asked if the finish line was nearby. "300 yards! You're almost there!" I didn't believe him! But sure enough, we finally dumped out on to the road, I got my bearings, and raced towards the finish. A car was pulling out of the parking lot and I didn't slow down. "That'd be ironic if I got knocked down by a car within sight of the finish line." I started getting emotional. I had really done it! Tears of joy and relief came. Alan! There were cheers. Hands in the air, I crossed the finish line. Wow, that was hard. The race director gave me a hug. :-)


Post Race

I recovered and had some breakfast -- pancakes and bacon, mmmm. I won a raffle for a new Ultimate Direction water bottle which was a nice coincidence to replace the one that broke during the race. And we hung out, waiting for Rebekah, and hoping she was doing OK. Alan let us know that she had fallen early in the race and was sore. We cheered other runners coming in. Elliott, who I had run with at Siskiyou Outback 50 Mile recognized me and said "hi". Cool! Dan was able to get a ride back to his car. Thank you, Dan!

Rebekah! She did it! Read her race report; it's much better written than mine.

There was no cell phone coverage, so I couldn't let family and friends know I was OK. When we got back to our hotel, I slept for over 13 hours. I was tired!

I learned the next day that the live tracking was still showing me out on the course, which needlessly worried friends. I emailed the race director, saying that I and my pacer were OK. And then I was off to the airport for my flight home. Wow, what a weekend!

Thanks

Most of all, I'm grateful to my wife for making it possible for me to get the training runs in. Generally speaking, I spent a couple of hours every Saturday morning (and sometimes much longer) and a few hours every Sunday morning (and sometimes longer) getting in long runs. Also, Tuesday nights and Thursday afternoons, and usually Wednesday afternoons, and sometimes Friday evenings, I did shorter runs. In short, I was running a lot. :-)

I'm super-grateful to club members Rebekah for the good advice and inspiration, and to Alan for crewing, and Dan Rhodes for being my pacer extraordinare, and for Paula offering to crew me (but I thought it was too much trouble for her for me to accept), and to Eileen for the delicious cookies, and to everyone who was thinking about my progress during the race.

What Went Well

  • No stomach issues, really. I got tired of energy gels, but I never felt nauseous.
  • I felt a couple of blisters developing on my right foot, but most of the time, I didn't notice the problem and I never had to take my shoes off during the race. After the race, I had two good-sized blisters, but no (new) black toenails.
  • Didn't get lost! The course was very well marked.
  • Didn't fall, although I kicked a dozen rocks at least and stumbled a couple times.
  • I never felt desperately sleepy; getting a good night's sleep the night before was key.
  • I stayed well-hydrated nearly the whole race. Only once was my urine noticeably yellow, somewhere around mile 30 or 40. Overnight, I kept on drinking about the same amount, apparently, because I was urinating every couple of miles, which felt ridiculous, but as Dan said, "If that's your only problem, you're doing pretty well!". True! This meant that my kidneys weren't getting overwhelmed with muscle breakdown and that I was well-hydrated.
  • No bowel problems.
  • My maximum weekly mileage was 100 miles, which was good, but that was only one week.
  • I finished the race, happy and uninjured!

Things to Improve

  • I ran too fast early on and from mile 26 to 32 or so, given my training. I couldn't keep up that effort and the soreness cost me a lot of time later on.
  • I should have gotten in two or three more long runs, especially 40 mile runs.
  • I should have prepared a 22 hour pace chart and stuck to that for the first half.
  • I didn't check out my equipment very well prior to the race. I should have had new shoes and a new water bottle.

Random Data

  • At SFO, I ran into the KQED reporter, Rachael Myrow, who used to do the Calfornia Report. We had lived in a group house in college for a couple of years. It was good to see her again!
  • Garmin Data
  • Results
  • weight the day before: 163.0 lbs
  • weight two days after: 163.8 lbs
  • I took 5 naproxen.
  • I took about 10 salt pills.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Siskiyou Out Back 50 Mile -- 9:05

Rachael and I were happy to finish!
Summary
It was a rather long 50 miles. :-)  The scenery was gorgeous and the race organization was superb. The weather was cool in the morning, but I felt quite warm for many miles in the second half, and I had to power-hike many of the uphills. No one passed me in the last 28-30 miles, but some runners were closing in. I finished in 9 hours 5 minutes 12 seconds.

Details
I heard about this 50 mile race from my good friend Rachael from the Coastside Running Club, and I checked my schedule and I thought I could fit it in between the 69 mile Wall race in June and Mountain Lakes 100 in September. Adventure calls!

The course is a (mostly) out-and-back trail race that starts at a ski resort on Mount Ashland and heads southwest, mostly on the Pacific Crest Trail. The elevation varies from 5,500' to 7,000'.
Rachael and her husband Bob and I drove up to Ashland, Oregon, on the Friday before the race. The temperatures were warm in the valley, with a predicted high of 90 on race day, but the prediction for the summit where we start and finish was much cooler, with a high of 70.

We picked up our race shirts and did a bit of shopping at the Rogue Valley Runners store and we even got to meet the famous ultrarunner, Hal Koerner, who owns that store.

We had a delicious pre-race meal of veggie burgers and fries in the super-cute downtown area.

We set our alarms for 3:45am and I struggled to really sleep. I felt tired when the alarm went off, but it was time to get going! I normally like to eat breakfast about 2.5 hours to 3 hours before the race start, but I wanted every minute of sleep I could get. But perhaps I didn't give myself enough time to digest breakfast? I had two servings of instant oatmeal (thanks, Rachael!) and a Clif Bar.

Bob drove us to the start as the sun was rising. It was looking like a beautiful day. The thinner air at 5,500' feet was noticeable, but I felt good. They had plenty of porta-potties and fun music and we got our bibs and did our final preparations.

At 6am sharp, we were off!
Photo courtesy of the race
I tried to take it easy, but with the gentle downhill, cool temperatures, and general excitement, it was hard to go slower than 8 minutes a mile. I felt good! Soon, we made a sharp right turn on to single-track trail and I found myself at the front of a fairly large group. That wasn't where I wanted to be, since I prefer to start slower and speed up. I tried not to feel rushed, but I worried about my now 8:22 average pace for the first mile. I gradually slowed down as the trail headed uphill. I noticed the first place woman was right in front of me and I estimated there were about 20 runners in front of me, in total. At about the two mile mark, she pulled aside and let us pass. Maybe she thought we were going too fast? I worried that I was!
Photo courtesy of the race
 A few runners passed me in the next easy miles. I chatted with a couple of guys who were right behind me. One was from Palo Alto and the other, Elliott, was from a small city on the border of Oregon and Washington. The first place woman, Stephanie, joined us and said that this was her first 50 miler and she was from the Bay Area. Cool!
Photo courtesy of the race
The scenery was gorgeous and the miles slipped by easily. I was so absorbed in the conversations and the scenery that I forgot to eat until 40 minutes had passed. Oops. I normally eat about 100 calories every 20 minutes in an ultramarathon.

So, it was Stephanie and Elliott and myself for many miles. Elliott had run the course before but he thought he might be injured from a hike a few days prior. Stephanie was a fast marathoner and had done some 50Ks, but this was a big step up, and she said she expected to be passed by women behind her as the race progressed.

We descended about 1300' from mile 5 to 7. I kept on thinking that we have run up this again!

Then we had our first big climb, from 5700' to 7000'. I think I ran almost all of this. What was more on my mind was the impending feeling of needing a bowel movement. Damn it! But when I arrived at the Jackson Gap aid station at mile 14.5, there was this most wondrous sight -- a porta-potty! And no one was in it! It took a couple minutes, but then I felt much better. Stephanie spent time with her drop bag, so I was still ahead of her. Elliott was behind as well, so I was alone again for a bit.

I noticed this barrier of trees and branches on the road, as the runners were directed to a trail that started going uphill. Unfortunately, I didn't notice a rock or root or something, and I instantly did a Superman on to the ground. It was a fairly soft fall, since I was heading uphill. No blood spilled. Onward.

In the next bunch of miles, I started feeling this groin/inner-thigh problem, especially on the downhills. I guess it was a minor injury from shortly before The Wall race. It was a mild pain on many strides, but it would be tolerable if it didn't get much worse.

Eventually, Stephanie and Elliott caught up to me again. I chatted with Stephanie who seemed to prefer to run behind me. She was two years away from getting her PhD in climate science at UC Berkeley; she was doing work on measuring CO2 in the atmosphere using satellites. Nice! I told her that I would love for my 14 year old daughter to follow in her footsteps.

Somewhere along here the first-place runners passed me, going in the opposite direction on their way back to the start/finish on Mount Ashland. They looked great! I tried to count how many were in front of me, but I lost track. I figured I was somewhere in the top 20.

We happily cruised along when we started seeing large playing cards along the side of the trail -- 8 of spades, 4 of diamonds, etc., in no particular order as far as we could tell. I thought we must be coming to an aid station. Yes! Wards Fork Gap had an Alice in Wonderland theme -- cute! It was the farthest aid station from the start and the turn-around was a mere three miles ahead. This was also going to be the longest section between aid stations, so I completely filled my two 20oz water bottles (with energy drink in one, and water in the other), and quickly got going.

I got through that aid station quickly and left Stephanie and Elliott behind. I ended up running alone for the rest of the race.

I briefly had fantasies of hitting the turn-around in under four hours, but that notion was quickly dispelled. The uphill was steep! I ran nearly every step, though. Then we were directed off trail, to head strait up the side of the mountain to the "big rock" where we were to retrieve a "token" that proved we reached the turn-around. That was a tough hike. There was a woman dressed as a mad hatter who handed me an old-fashioned key.
Proof of reaching the turn-around
The view was amazing, but I was in too much of a hurry to soak it in. She said, "there's a 360 degree view!". "Do I have to run around anything?" I replied. "No, this is it" she said. "Thanks!" And I headed back down. I was on a mission and that mission didn't include much time for sight-seeing!

25 miles and four hours eleven minutes had passed. I was half-way done in terms of mileage, but I was feeling beat-up. I still had a long ways to go.

At the bottom of the steep off-trail hill, I came across Elliott. "Good job!" I said, "And how's Stephanie doing?" "She's right behind me. Have a good race and I hope I don't see you again until the finish" he said. What a nice guy! Sure enough, Stephanie and I passed each other a few seconds later. "Good job!" She seemed strong.

I think I drank all of my water shortly before reaching the Wards Fork Gap aid station again. I partially filled up and was soon on my way.

I was encountering lots of two-way traffic now and we almost always gave words of encouragement to each other.

Rachael! She was running and was smiling and looking good. We stopped briefly to chat. She said she was having "stomach problems" and that she had had to pull off the trail. I interpreted that as meaning bowel problems. Bummer. She seemed in good spirits, though, and we wished each other luck. I think I was nearing mile 29 and so she was a bit past mile 21.

There was a pretty good climb over the next 7+ miles of about 1700'. I felt OK on the whole, except for this inner-thigh problem. I took my first ibuprofen around mile 31. At Jackson Gap again, at mile 35.5, I was directed down a dirt road. Funny, I could have sworn I had arrived at the aid station by coming up the hill on the side of the road. I didn't realize it until I looked at my Garmin data later,  that the race is not a true out-and-back! Funny! It's got a couple of loops where the return is not on the same path, but rejoins the original path later on. I thought I was having memory problems out there!

We had a nice long downhill to the Siskiyou Gap aid station at mile 40.9. I guess the ibuprofen kicked in because my inner-thigh pain went away. I came across a runner who had previously been in the front of the race, but who was walking this gentle downhill. I stopped after passing him and asked if he needed anything. "No thanks, I've got water and I'll drop at the next aid station." Poor guy.

There was a "slasher" aid station...
Photo courtesy of the race
The next four miles felt brutal and were the hardest of the race. We had to climb from about 5,800' elevation to 7,000'. The temperature was ratcheting up. I started dripping water on my head to cool myself down. There was no wind and when there was no shade, I felt very hot. I couldn't seem to catch my breath, between the heat and the altitude and the exhaustion. I still had a ways to go and so wanted to pace myself so that I didn't deteriorate much more, so I walked a lot of this long uphill. For a while, time seemed to stand still. I checked the distance on my watch. I looked at the mountains to my side -- beautiful. I checked my watch -- damn it, not even a tenth of a mile had passed. I took my second ibuprofen. There were the hugest dandelions next to me and I thought about Claire and how when she three years old she said she wanted to be a dandelion picker when she grew up. I checked my watch -- barely a tenth of a mile had passed. I tried silently singing to myself and I couldn't get into it. Another tenth of a mile. It just went on and on and on. I passed some of the back-of-the-pack 50K runners, some of whom were just hiking but others who were struggling worse than me. Finally, finally, I saw signs of the last aid station and heard a bell ringing.

Williamette Meridian aid station, the last aid station, at mile 45.1, meant I was truly close to finishing. By my imperfect memory and lack of studying, I thought I had more of a huge climb ahead. I practically pleaded with the volunteer -- "Do we still have a lot of uphill?" "No, it's pretty much flat and downhill from here." Woo hoo! "And there's one more aid station." What? I thanked them and got on my way, but by my cheat sheet on my water bottle, there was not one more aid station. There wasn't.


Mileage chart that was taped to one of my water bottles
Not long after I left, I heard the bell ring. Someone was catching up! No one had passed me since around mile 18 and I didn't want to be passed!

Thankfully, the terrain was relatively flat or downhill, and I made good speed. I passed more 50K runners. 3 miles to go. 2 miles to go. I recognized the road we had turned off from that morning! Less than a mile left! I made a concerted effort to run every step up this final hill. I wanted a strong finish and I didn't want to be passed in the race to the finish line! Cheers! Applause! I smiled. Bob! He was waiting in the shade with his dog Gossamer. High-five! I felt like I was running strong and moving fast. I ran hard through the last two long parking lots and up to the ski lodge where the finish line was. Woo hoo!
Photo courtesy of the race
I got an awesome mug and a fun beer cozy.

Shortly after, some guy finished. Then Stephanie! Cool! First place woman! I thought about Elliott but I didn't see him finish. (Turns out he finished an hour behind me, so he apparently had much worse troubles than I did.)
Photo courtesy of the race
I felt dehydrated and a bit light-headed for a bit, as I slowly walked around with Bob and Gossamer to the car. We chatted about the race and about my brief chat with Rachael. After an hour or so, I started feeling better. We had lunch with Stephanie and her boyfriend, who works for Google on the Google Wallet project in San Francisco. (Smart couple!)

Rachael's Story
With a yummy veggie burger in my belly and a cup of cold beer in my hand, we walked back down towards where the runners turn off from the single-track Pacific Crest Trail on to the road, to wait for Rachael. I chatted with other spectators. I let Jennifer know that I had finished and checked in on Facebook. We cheered on the other finishers.

Bob and I made a rough estimate of how long it might take Rachael to finish. I looked up the cut-off time for the race -- 7pm which is 13 hours after the start. We were about 0.75 miles from the finish line, but with one short steep hill. If she was walking everything, it could take 15 or 20 minutes to finish by the time she reached that point. It was about 6:20pm. Time was running out.

There she was! Woo hoo! Bob and I cheered and I took some pictures. She was jogging along slowly. At the road, she continued running up the hill for a bit, but then the exertion got to be too much and we all walked together. After the top of the hill, she started running again and the three of us ran together. There were cheers from the spectators who had been camping in the parking lot. She was going to make it!
video

She reached the finish line and there were tears of happiness and relief and gratitude. Congratulations, Rachael!
She reported that she started having bowel troubles early in the race, and from mile 15 onward, eating and drinking immediately gave her diarrhea. Some kind of calories and water must have been getting in her, but it is absolutely astounding to me that she persevered through this race. She also fell twice during the race. You're tough, Rachael, much tougher than me.

What Went Well
  • The race was really well-organized and the course was well-marked. It's a beautiful area and I love the city of Ashland. Thank you, race organizers and volunteers!
  • I finished!
  • I appeared to be uninjured.
  • I didn't get lost.
  • I basically had a solid race, although I suspect I could have paced myself better so that I didn't slow down so much in the second half.
  • I enjoyed the trip and especially enjoyed the first half of the race.
Things to Improve On
  • I should have studied the elevation profile more, so that I could anticipate correctly what was coming up.
  • I probably should have not been so aggressive on the hill at the turn-around, and maybe some of the earliest miles were run too fast. It would have been better if I could have run harder for the last 10 miles.
  • I tripped and fell once, but it was a light fall.
  • I did not need my sunglasses; it was waste to carry them.
Random Data
  • Weighed 164.0 lbs two days before the race. Weighed 164.0 lbs two days after the race.
  • Garmin data
  • Results
  • Race photos
  • I ate a salt pill every hour.
  • I tried to consume about 300 calories of food plus plenty of sports drink every hour.
  • I took two ibuprofen in the second half, which apparently helped a lot with some kind of muscle pull.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Rat Race The Wall -- 11:17:01

The scenery was gorgeous. (Source.)
Summary
What a day! I had a really solid race, running most of the way across England, for 69 miles. The weather was great and the countryside was lush and gorgeous, with the course running along Hadrian's Wall and through pastures and quaint old towns. I'm guessing 80% of the course was paved. I ran well and had a strong finish, taking 11 hours 17 minutes. Shockingly, I came in 7th place overall out of 605 starters. I didn't trip or fall or get injured. I was led off course once and lost 5 minutes, and another time I had to wait for a herd of sheep to cross a road, but otherwise, I had a smooth race.

Details
Well over a year ago, my wife had found Rat Race -- The Wall online. She had wanted to have a family trip to the United Kingdom and thoughtfully looked for a race for me. (Thank you, Jennifer!)

The race course runs west to east across most of northern England, from Carlisle to Newcastle upon Tyne. Much of the course runs along Hadrian's Wall, built by the Romans between 122 AD and 128 AD. We also ran through miles of beautiful pastures and through many small quaint towns. I learned during the race that the course also requires climbing short ladders, perhaps a dozen times, to get over short walls, plus going through a dozen gates that have a variety of latches to figure out. Fun!

I shared this race idea with some friends in the Coastside Running Club, and Mor and Jez expressed an interest. Awesome! Jez was going to move back to Cambridge, UK, and Mor's wife has family in England, so that made the logistics easier for them. Additionally, Mor's brother, Alon would join, too.

A year goes by and all of our training is relatively solid and the trip begins!

In the week leading up to the race,  my family and I were in Dublin and I wanted to shake out my legs after the long flight. I ran relatively hard for 7 miles and felt good, and enjoyed exploring around Dublin.

Then when walking around town that afternoon, I felt what might be a groin muscle pull. I ended up walking about 7 miles, and every time I stopped and then started again, I had trouble walking! Oh no! I tried not to panic, but how could I run 69 miles if I can't even walk comfortably for short distances? The next day was about the same, and the following day was similar but getting better. I tried to do lots of stretching and massaging. I ran a slow mile with my daughter on that Friday morning, the day before the race, and I felt good, but not always perfect.

For my meals the day before, I went all-carb, starting with a delicious "French breakfast" of croissant, baguette, and jam. I had three slices of bread and peanut butter for lunch. And for dinner, I had a tasty pasta along with a delicious chocolate fudge and cream dessert.

On that Friday afternoon, the day before the race, we runners had to check-in at the Carlisle Castle. I had put together all kinds of mandatory equipment that was not required for the many other more remote and difficult races that I've done in the U.S. -- pants, jacket, 10cm x 10cm bandage, roller bandage, gauze, and a headlamp plus extra batteries (even though I was almost certainly going to finish in daylight). The check-in worker asked to see my water-resistant "bottoms" (which I was wearing) and my water bottles. They randomly checked for other items from other runners.

I tossed and turned that night, worrying about ridiculous things like whether or not to carry my bulky water resistant pants in my running vest. I decided to obey the rules to the letter, and I squished them in my running vest, in the morning.

Race day! I woke up at about 4am, well before my 4:30am alarm. There was plenty of morning light already, so I felt ridiculous at having set aside a headlamp. I heated some water and had two cups of instant oatmeal and I felt good! I walked the half-mile to Carlisle Castle where the race starts. Mor! Alon! Jez! I soon met up with my friends. I dropped off my drop bags and we took some photos.
Mor, Jez, and me, in front of Carlisle Castle and ready to run!
I would have liked to go to the bathroom one last time, but there were only about 10 porta-potties for the 605 runners who started the race. The line was way too long and I didn't worry about it; it was going to be a long day with plenty of stops.

Jennifer, Claire, Jess, Lisa, Matt! My various family members took the time to get up extra early and see the start of the race. Awesome!

I ate an energy gel 15 minutes before the start, and topped off my water again from Jennifer. (I didn't see any race-provided water.) There were some last minute instructions from the race director, and at about 7:08am (8 minutes late), we were off!

I wasn't sure what pace I should aim for. I thought 10 minutes / mile on average would be great, and would give me a very respectable overall placement and would take 11 and a half hours. But the initial road and trails were easy to run on and I had a hard time holding back, and I was averaging about 9:15 per mile, as I recall.

We had quite a ways to go until the first aid station -- 10 miles. Furthermore, we were instructed *not* to fill our water bottles or hydration packs at this aid station, which seemed strange and dangerous to me. So, I was a bit concerned about hydration.

A handful of people passed me in the initial miles, and I wondered if I was taking it too easy or if they were going too fast. Since our pace would have us finish in under 11 hours, which very few people did the previous year, I thought everyone else was likely running too fast! I tried hard not to run faster than 9 minutes per mile. Three guys slowly came up behind me and I said hello. One of them said that I looked like I knew what I was doing and they didn't want to pass me. I smiled to myself, but I said I wasn't sure how fast I should be running, but that I was pretty sure that many hours from now, our current speed was going to feel quite fast. None of them had run as much as I had and their marathon times weren't as fast either, so even though they appeared much younger than me, I felt a little more confidence that I was on track. Around the 5 mile park, I finally pulled aside to urinate and they passed me.

The first aid station was called a "Checkpoint" and was at mile 10. The race had two kinds of aid stations -- "Checkpoints" and "Pit Stops". The Checkpoints had only water (no sports drink) and candy and the seemingly bizarre rule that we were not allowed to fill water bottles or hydration packs. Pit Stops were full-service and crew were allowed to help there, too. Also, somewhat bizarrely, the exact location of the Checkpoints was kept a secret and distances between aid stations was not published! I thought this was sort of dangerous because the distances between aid stations was on the long side. I made educated guesses and carefully traced the whole route in a mapping program to figure out the distances between aid stations. I'll update this table with more accurate numbers once I retrieve my GPS data from my watch.
Aid StationDistance (miles)Next (miles)
Carlisle Castle0.010.0
Irthington Village School10.05.2
Lanercost Priory Pit Stop15.24.2
Birdoswald19.44.6
Walltown Quarry24.03.4
Cawfields Quarry Pit Stop27.410.0
Settlingstones37.37.1
Hexham Tyne Green Pit Stop44.48.8
Styford Toll (High Barns)53.33.0
Ovingham56.25.7
Newburn Tyne Riverside Pit Stop61.97.2
HMS Calliope69.1

I arrived at the first aid station and it was tiny and was staffed by a single volunteer. Thank you! She had a large table filled with moderate-sized cups (8 oz of water each, maybe?) and I gulped down two cups and grabbed some "sweets". Lots of runners didn't stop there, which surprised me, since that meant they were going to run over 15 miles carrying 40 oz of water. (The race mandated one liter minimum which is about two 20 oz water bottles.) Onward!

I arrived at the first Pit Stop. Those two cups of water from the previous Checkpoint made my water last. They had all kinds of meat-filled sandwiches which I'm sure would be filling but they sounded way too heavy. I stuck with the sweets and sports drink and the energy gels I was carrying.

There were some climbs along the way that were moderately steep but not very long. I generally ran every step of these because it felt good and reminded me of running up Montara Mountain. I could feel my heart rate rise and my breathing increase, but I thought that it was OK for a few minutes at a time. So, I tended to pass people on the uphills.

Somewhere at the mile 19 mark, I made the mental note that I was now beginning a 50 mile race. Unfortunately, I did not feel remotely fresh for starting a 50 miler!

The scenery was gorgeous. There was no rain predicted for the day and the temperatures were cool. It was really good running weather. The miles were adding up, though, and I was already feeling the initial familiar soreness in my feet. I came upon Walltown Quary Checkpoint at mile 24.0, and there was everyone! Matt, Lisa, Jennifer, Jessica, and Claire! I gave Claire a hug. Matt said I was in 31st place. No way! That sounded too fast. That was super-sweet to see everyone. I didn't linger and I grabbed two cups of water, downed them, and continued on.



Somewhere in the next leg I crossed the marathon mark, at around 4 hours 20 minutes as I recall. I felt good! There was some kind of race sign at this point too.

At Cawfields Quarry Pit Stop we had access to our small disposable drop bag, which contained all the energy gels that I thought I would need until our next drop bag at 44. Unfortunately, I hadn't marked my aid station chart (taped to my water bottle) with which aid station had my drop bag and I couldn't remember for sure. I asked a volunteer if this was the "half way aid station with our drop bag". I don't know why I thought it might be the half way point since I knew it wasn't, and the volunteer corrected me but didn't tell me where the drop bags were. So I went on, and only realized the mistake later that my nice supply of energy gels and Shot Bloks were going to be thrown away. The race doesn't provide any of these maltodextrin type energy gels, just "sweets" that are regular kinds of candy sold in England. Oh, well, the sweets seemed to be working just fine!

At about the half way point, I got stuck on a single-track trail behind a runner who was walking. "Sorry, I can't walk any faster" he reported. There was heavy brush and trees on either side of us, so passing him was impossible. He said he was from Finland and he asked what the name of a plant was that causes a rash. I said poison oak or poison ivy cause a bad rash, but that I didn't see any here on the trail. We came to a small clearing, but then he pointed at a plant and as I examined it, he kept on walking back to a single-track trail, so it took another minute before I could pass him.

Somewhere around mile 30, I encountered something in a field and my family helped me compose a poem:

Ode to the Cowpie

Cowpie, oh, cowpie, how squishy are thee.
I mistook ye for mud, but that ain't what ye be.
Thou wert white as chalk and seemingly sturdy,
Yet my shoe plunged through you on my great Wall journey.
Onward I ran, through pastures of green,
Hopping o'er walls, feeling fast and lean,
But my thoughts return to you, my smelly friend;
You stayed with me 'til the very end.

There was a sign for the half-way point, at mile 34.5. I did an assessment and I definitely felt more than half way used up! I was getting sore, but my energy levels seemed to be pretty good and I was happy that the second half of the race had easier running and more gentle downhills than the first half. I also took my first of three ibuprofen which helped keep the soreness in check.

Running through some cute small quaint old town, the course headed up a steep hill. I hadn't seen any runners in front of me for a while. I came across two arrow signs. One pointed straight to the left and the other pointed up and to the left. It was a three-way intersection of sorts, where you could either continue straight on the road or veer left on to a pedestrian path or make a hard left on to a residential street. I wasn't clear on where I should go! I peered down the pedestrian path and couldn't see any other signs. So, I turned left and ran down the street. It soon made another hard left, heading back down the steep hill I had just run. This seemed very unlikely, but the course had a lot of turns! I ran down the hill and came to a three-way unmarked intersection, so I knew I was off course. Bummer! I trudged back up the hill and got on to the pedestrian path. I fixed the one sign so that it pointed up instead of a hard left. I continued on and a few minutes later there was another arrow sign, so I knew I was on the right path. I had checked my watch and figured I had wasted 5 minutes. Bummer.

At Hexham, at mile 44, I ate my only real food of the race -- a dinner roll. As with the previous Pit Stops, there was a wide variety of meat dishes and "heavy" food, like chicken legs. I was handed my drop bag, and I reapplied sunscreen and got out of there as soon as I could. I passed several runners in the aid station.

For the next two hours or so, I ran alone. I was getting tired and for 5 or 10 minutes I think I slowed down a bit to around 10 minutes a mile. I was surprised when another runner caught up to me. We chatted for a while and introduced ourselves. He was Matt Simpson from London and this was his first ultramarathon. I told him he was doing great! He said that we were in 11th and 12th position! Wow! I was not expecting that. Cool! I couldn't help but to pick up my pace a bit and run with him and we were cruising along at a little under 9 minutes per mile. I thanked him for encouraging me to run a bit faster and he thanked me for pulling him along.

Last aid station! Only 7.2 miles to go! I quickly filled up both water bottles (mistake?) and ran out. I didn't need any food, so I didn't even look. I wanted to put some distance between me and Matt and another runner that we had caught up to while approaching the aid station. I think there was another runner or two in the aid station already, changing shoes or patching feet or something.

I felt pretty good all-in-all. I was sore and tired but still moving well and had no signs of cramps. I increased my effort but I didn't feel like I could go any faster than about 8:30 / mile. The pedestrian paths were very runnable. I'm in the home stretch! I turned a corner and it felt like a Christmas present -- there were two runners walking side-by-side. Then I felt guilty at having felt good at passing them. I wanted everyone to be able to do their best. They clapped for me as I passed and I congratulated them and patted one of them on the shoulder.

I started to smell the ocean air. Getting closer! Finally, I could see the river that I knew we would finish along. I dumped out a full water bottle because I wouldn't need it. A sign said 4 miles to go. Ouch! That felt far. I got down to the river and passed another runner. I spotted another runner about a quarter mile ahead but he was moving well and I just couldn't seem to speed up. I was getting desperate to see the modern artistic pedestrian bridge that we had to cross over to the finish line. 2 miles to go?! Ouch!

Finally, finally, I could see it. I was closing in on the runner in front of me but I wasn't going to catch him. Approaching the bridge, I saw Claire! Awesome!!! I felt tears of happiness and relief swell up. Claire wanted me to finish fast and I started pushing hard on the uphill over the bridge. On the downhill, I picked up more speed and Claire said to run ahead and that she couldn't keep up. Jennifer! Matt and Lisa! Jessica! Woo hoo! 7th place out of 605 starters! 11 hours 17 minutes and 1 second.


Soon after the race, I went back to my hotel to shower and rest and eat a little bit. I was probably a bit dehydrated and I felt "unsettled". I received updates on Jez and Mor's and Alon's progress. They all finished!

Jez took videos during the race and put together a cool movie. Thanks, Jez!


What Went Well
  • Had pretty good energy for the entire race. My "low points" were short periods of a somewhat slower pace, like 10 minutes / mile on level ground.
  • The soreness in my feet and legs seemed to taper off and not get much worse between 35 miles and 69 miles.
  • No injuries.
  • No trips or falls.
  • No cramps.
  • All-in-all, my Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2 shoes did well, although I did get a couple of blisters.
  • My Ultimate Direction AK running vest worked pretty well, although I still got some chafing near my neck.
  • No other chafing.
  • I still feel shocked that I placed so high out of 605 runners; I suspect that many more casual runners attempt this ultramarathon than in the ultramarathons in California or maybe in the U.S. in general.
  • I had no poop problems! (This is a big improvement over my previous race!)
  • I used Nuun tablets for the beginning of the race, which made the water taste great, plus the salts helped me drink more.

Things to Improve On
  • I don't blame myself, but I did waste 5 minutes being misled by the course markings in one spot. I guess if I were to run this course again, I would understand the slightly unusual style of placing arrows. Or if I could have somehow memorized the course, I wouldn't have been misled.
  • I got a couple of blisters. They weren't too bad, but if this has been a 100 mile race, I suspect that I would have had to stop and address the problem. I still don't have the exact right shoes or lace tying techniques or something.
  • I had placed strips of moleskin adhesives to protect my neck from chafing from my vest, but I didn't quite get the spot correct and the two patches eventually fell off anyways.
  • At the last aid station, with just 7.2 easy miles to go, I didn't actually need to fill up on water. This was a slow process because we had to use slow spigots from big containers; there were no pitchers and no volunteers to fill the bottles for us. If I had just cruised through without stopping at all, I would have run out of water in maybe 3 or 4 miles, but I might have caught the next runner who finished just 45 seconds in front of me.
  • Know your aid stations and drop bags! In the heat of the moment, at the Cawfields Quarry Pit Stop at mile 27.4, I forgot which aid station had my disposable drop bag. I asked a volunteer if my "half-way drop bag was here" and he said "no, you're not half-way yet", but really what I should have asked was, "do we have our first drop bags here?" So, I continued on, and my nice little bag of energy gels and Shot Bloks got thrown away.

Random Data
  • Results
  • Garmin data
  • I picked up three pieces of trash off the ground that had come from runners in front of me. There weren't many runners in front of me, so I wonder if one of them thought it was OK to litter everywhere.
Race Review
The organizers put on a really good event. There were some aspects that were very unusual to me, like limiting the amount of water taken at most of the aid stations, but all-in-all, it worked out fine. The course markings were really good and thorough in all the places except the one intersection I mentioned. The course itself was exceptional; the race was truly gorgeous. I liked the easier 2nd half, too.

On the downside, there were no where near enough porta-potties at the start. I understand (having worked on organizing a race myself) that this greatly cuts down costs. They probably should have just said that the bathrooms at the start would be severely limited. I do think they should have had some water at the start, though. Or maybe they did, but I just didn't see it.

The other aspect of the race that didn't work out was the Race Drone software that was offered (for something like $5). It sounded really useful -- it's an app for smart phones that will send updates of my position at regular intervals. In a pinch, I would be able to see my location relative to the course, in case I got lost. Friends could follow me online, seeing my progress in Google Maps with the course also showing in the map. I bought the app, but their servers got overwhelmed during the race and the service was mostly useless. They proactively offered a refund, though, which I took them up on. I chatted with the makers of that software, and they put up the map for my next race, Siskyou Outback 50 Mile, and so I'll try the software again for that race.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Lake Sonoma 50 Mile -- 8:41:12

photo credit: Chihping
Summary
The scenery was lush and beautiful, the weather was cool with occasional light rains, the trails were very runnable, the course was thoroughly well-marked, and the race organization was wonderful. This was my first time running Lake Sonoma 50 (and my 8th 50 miler) and I'm really pleased with how it went.

I covered the 50.3 miles and 10,500' of elevation gain in 8 hours 41 minutes. I felt strong and ran well the entire time, and had an especially good finish. My training was solid, and I think I found the right balance between being patient early on and putting in a hard effort, so that I didn't "bonk" or fall off that performance cliff, where so many of us runners get too depleted and have to dramatically slow down.

The Lead Up
I had heard good things about Lake Sonoma 50 from friends -- that it's scenic, well-organized, and that it draws some of the best national trail runners, thanks to it being a Western States Golden Ticket race. There were 304 finishers this year. The demand is high and so there is a lottery and I was lucky enough to get in, along with three other friends from my running club (Franz, Gary, and Loren).

The race course consists of single-track trails, dirt fire roads, and a couple of miles of pavement at the beginning. The course is basically an out-and-back, except on the outward route, we start on a road, but when we return, we run on a single-track trail that parallels the road. (The road helps us to get spread out and avoids a log jam at the trail head.)

My training leading up to this race was relatively solid:
  • 3/6 -- 73.8 miles for the week, 30.5 for the longest run
  • 3/13 -- 93.7 miles for the week, 30.5 for the longest run
  • 3/20 -- 84 miles for the week, 29 & 16 for weekend runs
  • 3/27 -- 80 miles for the week, 20 for the longest run
  • 4/3 -- 54 miles for the week, 10.5 and 10 for the weekend runs
My long runs had gone well and I was doing a tempo run (racing up Montara Mountain but then coming back down more slowly) every Tuesday, and a track workout every Thursday. My peak week of training ended up being four weeks before the race. I had hoped that three weeks out would be the peak week (topping out at 100 miles), but I wasn't able to make it happen. I was slightly concerned that in my long runs, that I was running them too slowly. For the future, I'm thinking I should incorporate more race-pace miles.

Race Day
My alarm went off at 3:10am and I was out the door in about 20 minutes, having prepared breakfast (2 bagels with peanut butter) and packed my bags the night before. It's about a 2 hour drive from my house to the marina at Lake Sonoma. The light rain was nearly non-stop during the drive. I had a difficult time finding the exact starting area online in advance, but as I got close I was able to follow some cars to the correct parking location.

I'm glad I got there at about 5:30am because the parking lot was filling up fast. There was no line to pick up my bib. "What's your last name?" the guy asks. "Little". He responds, "Ron Little from the Coastside Running Club!" "Is that Stan Jenson?" I asked the man in the shadows. Yes it was! He volunteers everywhere it seems. Thanks for being there, Stan!

There was no line to the porta-potties. Score! 10 or 15 minutes later, the line had about 15 people in it. So again, I was glad to have arrived early.

I didn't see any public sources of water, but I had brought my own extra water, so I had enough to start the race with.

I took a selfie:

I saw Franz and his wife, Jen. Time for another selfie:

At 6:15am I ate an energy gel, drank a bunch of water, and put away my warm clothes in my car. I positioned myself in the starting area, about a third of the way back. Jen Pfeiffer! We chatted for a bit and I knew I should not start the race in front of her; she's fast! Gary! It was good to see him again. I saw Franz again and he soon positioned himself closer to the start line. 6:30am rolled around, and we're off!

The initial couple of miles are on a paved road that mostly goes uphill and I tried to be patient and not run too fast. I walked the steepest section. Even still, I hit the single-track trail with an average pace of less than 9 minutes per mile, which I knew was not sustainable. I kept reminding myself to slow down. Occasionally I caught glimpses of the front runners who were already far ahead, running around 7 minutes per mile.

I enjoyed the scenery and easy miles.
photo credit: Chihping
I had a pace chart taped to my water bottle that listed the aid station distances and time goals for a 8:15 (hours and minutes), 8:30, and 8:45 finish time.
When I reached the first aid station, my friend Veronica cheered me on and filled up one of my bottles. I was about three minutes ahead of an 8:15 finish time. We did just have a lot of downhill, plus the road was very smooth and runnable, so I didn't worry about it too much.

For the next couple of aid stations, I was right at the 8:15 finish time pace. A few of us ran together for a while and the woman in front of me introduced herself as Erika and said she was a contributing editor to Ultrarunning Magazine. Cool! She said she was hoping to break 9 hours, which would be a personal record for her. We compared some race times and I started thinking that maybe I was running too slowly. I was feeling good, so I gradually increased my effort and pulled away from them.

Unfortunately, a faint feeling of having gas started to feel more and more pronounced...

Poop. It's a fact of life for all of us, but it's not something you want to deal with during a race. I apparently still don't understand human digestion because in spite of my best efforts and precautions, I was gradually feeling the urge to defecate. I was hoping that there would be a porta-potty at the Madrone Aid Station at mile 18.8 but I didn't see anything. (Where do the volunteers go?) So, at around the three hour mark, I pulled off the trail and took a dump, trying hard not to make a mess. I wasn't carrying toilet paper, but some leaves on the ground served the purpose. 

Back to running! A bunch of people had passed me, but I tried not to worry about it. A little while later, I had to cross a mud pit. As with the streams I had run through, I just plowed straight ahead. On one particular step, my right foot sank into the mud up to my ankle, and as I plucked my foot out, my shoe remained behind! Wow! I didn't know it was possible to yank my foot cleanly out from my shoe like that with the laces still tied. I stopped and hopped back on one foot to dig my shoe out of the mud, and got it back on while trying not to have a bunch of mud on the inside.

I was sitting in the middle of the trail getting passed by people when Erika came by and asked if everything was alright. "Yes, it is now!" I noticed that she was wisely running on the side, around the mud pit.

From a distance I saw the front runners returning. The lead guy was so fast! Eventually we crossed paths and it's just amazing to me how good the best runners are and what a wide range of human ability there is. I glanced at my watch -- 3:22 (hours:minutes) elapsed time. I wouldn't return to that exact same spot until shortly after the 5 hour mark. And when I did return to that spot, heading back to the start, there were still people behind me on their outbound journey!

As I neared the half-way point, one of the volunteers at an intersection called out my name. Kelly! Cool! I thanked her for being there.

I finally arrived at the half-way point, re-supplied myself quickly, and got going. It was fun running into everyone behind me, who were on their outward-bound journey. Gary! Loren! Janeth! Chihping!
photo credit: Chihping
My quads started feeling sore around the 26 mile mark, on one of the steep descents. I took an ibuprofen, with the hopes that swelling around my joints and muscles would be reduced. As an aside, based on some knowledgeable friends, ibuprofen is cleaned out of the blood by your kidneys, which are also busy cleaning out muscle debris in an endurance event, so it's not as safe as tylenol, which is processed primarily by the liver. But ibuprofen reduces swelling in addition to providing some pain relief, and I seem to be able to handle a small dose easily, so I'll probably stick with ibuprofen for the 50 mile and 100K distances.

I could feel my big toenail on my right foot getting banged up. My toenails were already a mess, so it's no big deal to lose another toenail. No time to stop.

Mile 30 passed. I felt good! I gradually increased my effort.

In most (all?) of my previous seven 50 milers, I've had "low points" during the 30-40 mile range. I was consciously monitoring myself and trying to find the right balance of running as fast as I could without blowing up. I was passing people steadily. And I felt pretty good!

There was a light rain on and off from around mile 20 to 40 as I recall. It felt good.

As time went on, I started running the gradual downhills faster. I felt really good, almost like I was running a road marathon. On the steep descents that required a lot of braking, I didn't feel particularly strong or nimble. On the steep uphills, I could sense my heart rate rising too high and I often power-hiked the steepest sections. Still, I was passing people.

I came across this hilarious and accurate sign:
photo credit: Chihping
The longest section between aid stations was between mile 38 and 45.5. Erika had warned me earlier to carry a lot of water and be prepared for a lot of climbing. My 40 ounces (two water bottles) lasted just long enough for this section. I was so happy to be coming into the last aid station. Franz! This was a short (quarter mile) out and back to the aid station and he was hiking the uphill. His training had been limited and inconsistent, so I was super impressed that he was doing so well. He did a fist bump but I awkwardly did a high-five, so, what would you call that, the "high bump"? :-) And then right behind Franz was Jen Pfeiffer! Cool! We had talked about running some miles of the race together but our paces didn't work out this time.

I made a quick stop at the aid station, just filling one water bottle with sports drink, and I was right back to the race.

I eventually caught up with Franz who said his legs were giving out on him and he had to slow down. We wished each other luck and I pushed on.

A couple of times I felt a brief twinge of cramps in my left quads. I knew I was on the edge. Even with just four miles left, there was ample time to fall apart. I thought of the Western States 100 finish where the first place guy (Brian Morrison in 2006 -- video) collapsed in the final 300 meters. Still, I did not feel desperate and I was still running really well.

I caught up to Jen. She was wearing earbuds and didn't hear me until I called out to her from right behind her. She congratulated me and encouraged me to finish. I pushed onward.

I loved the sign that said "one mile to go". Nice! I increased my effort and felt like I was flying over the rocky ground. But then there were yet more hills. Even with the cars in sight, the course went up another short steep hill. Finally, I saw the ribbons of the finish line and I "sprinted" (compared to the rest of the race, at least). Woo hoo!

I caught my breath and cheered for Jen's arrival. Then I went to use a poison oak cleansing wipe that I had in my car, because I had brushed against poison oak twice during the race, including one branch that caught my face. I grabbed a jacket and my camera and phone and went back to catch Franz finishing.

Gary finished not long after and it was great hanging out a bit with them. We put on our newly acquired race jackets!


The race provided some great free food to the runners and I was impressed with the jacket and shirt and other goodies that they gave to us runners. Thank you, race organizers!


What Went Well
  • I didn't "hit the wall" or bonk. I ran relatively consistently and strong the entire time.
  • I actually enjoyed the run the entire time; I never felt like I was suffering.
  • The race organization and volunteers were wonderful. Thank you, volunteers!
  • No cramps.
  • No blisters, unless you count the big toenail on my right foot, which I expect to lose.
  • No chafing.
  • Didn't trip or fall.
  • Didn't get lost.
Things to Improve On
  • I had to poop during the race. Although I initially estimated that this wasted 4 minutes, looking back over my Garmin data, this may have only cost me 2 minutes. I've done research before, and I tried to emulate the planning of the early astronauts by consuming very little fiber the day before, but I'm apparently doing something wrong. To my running friends, I apologize in advance, but I'll be asking you about your gastrointestinal planning for races. :-)
  • Don't step in deep mud! One of my shoes was sucked off my foot by unexpectedly thick sticky mud. I should have run more to the side of the mud pit.
Random Data
  • I consumed about 300 calories an hour plus whatever was in the sports drink. I had double-checked the recommended maximum amount for long-endurance events -- 1 gram of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight per hour. This would translate into three energy gels per hour, but I also consumed some aid station food (peanut butter and jelly squares) and sports drink.
  • I took one SaltStick capsule every hour except at the end where I went about 90 minutes between capsules (because I had dropped one along the way and didn't have extras).
  • I weighed 164.8 lbs the morning of the race. I let myself go and splurged the day before, eating plenty of carbs. For the previous week, my weight was under 163 lbs. I weighed 163.2 after the race, after eating and drinking plenty. I weighed 162.8 the morning after the race.
  • Garmin GPS data
  • The official results are in. There were 304 finishes and I'm listed as 49th. Considering all of the fast runners this race attracts, I'm totally pleased with my placement!
  • The parking lot entrance (and start line) is here. I couldn't figure this out exactly from the website, but fortunately I happened to follow some cars who went to the right spot.
  • I carried three packets of Shot Bloks in my vest, which provided food for about 2 hours of running. I'm glad I did, because that gave me the option to skip getting food at some aid stations.
  • I picked up two bits of trash that had been accidentally dropped by other runners. We don't want these races to generate any trash on the trails, because then the race may be forbidden to give energy gels (like what happened at Miwok 100K).
  • I saw some ultrarunning luminaries including Gordy Ainsleigh and Ann Trason.