Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Evil Business Trip

So, I've developed an iliotibial band problem. It all stems back to that Pumpkin run 10K which I'm sure put a lot of stress on my legs. But then, rather than taking the next day off like I normally would, I ran 8 miles that Monday night because I had a business trip down to Los Angeles for the day on that Tuesday. So, I thought I could go for a run that Monday night and immediately I was sore in all kinds of unusual places. I should have stopped, but I persisted and ran 8 miles. To top it off, that business trip was a complete waste of time, and so I'm trying to blame that! Really, the lesson here is to listen to your body and take steps after a hard race to reduce swelling and stay limber.

Anyway, going forward to today, I've missed tons of training runs. I visited and got a foam roller, a rolling-pin like massage device, and an IT band strap. I also have had an hour long massage therapy session. I think I'm on the mend, but mileage wise, I'm in trouble and the 50 miler on Dec. 6 is seriously in doubt. Here's how this week has gone:

Monday -- hour long massage that hurt so much that I could hardly sleep that night.
Tue. -- pathetic 2 miles. My IT band hurt from around mile 0.8.
Thur. -- 5.4 miles. Pain free, yay!
Sat. -- 5.4 miles, pain free again!
Sun. -- 6 miles. Felt a sudden twinge around mile 5.3 and then again at 5.9. I stopped immediately both times.

So, my plan is to use that foam roller and really loosen up my left vastus lateralis . And my gluts. Just sitting down for long periods makes my butt muscles burn. Sigh. Let's see how this next week goes. I'm thinking that if I can't do a comfortable 25 miles or so in the next two weeks, I'm going to have to pass on the race.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pumpkin Run 10K -- 37:09

It was a cool overcast day -- perfect for running. This is the 4th time I've run this 10K (6.21 miles), I think. I had set a personal record two years ago of 36:46 (5:55 a mile average pace) and I had hoped to do better, but realistically, given that I've done almost no speedwork this year, that just wasn't going to happen.

But first, the kid's run! Claire was a trooper and ran the whole way down two long city blocks and back. I'm proud of her!
Then the 10K started and it had some good runners. Two guys I had met at our weekly club meet just the day before, Thomas and Jose, showed up this morning due to me having invited them. They're fast! They run for the College of San Mateo cross-country team. Jose said he ran a 4 mile race just last Friday in 20+ minutes. Wow. So, he and Thomas burned up the course, placing first (33+ minutes) and second. Then the guy who barely beat me in the half marathon finished. And then another young kid. And finally, me. 5th place. 37:09. Given my training, I'm not disappointed, but I can't help thinking, am I "over the hill"? Have I run the fastest 10K I'll ever run? I hope not! Next year...

Jennifer and her sister Lisa ran the 5K which started shortly after the 10K. They did well and ran the whole thing. Lisa might have caught the running bug -- she wants to do another 5K!

It was fun seeing so many friends from the Coastside Running Club. We had many volunteers, including Ken who led the field on the bicycle, and many others who handed out water at one of the two aid stations.

Thanks, everyone! And a big thanks to Michelle for watching Claire while Jennifer and I ran.

Random race notes:

I weighed on the high side -- 167.4 lbs. It's possible that a bunch of this was water weight. I was mildly sick with stomach problems (ok, diarrhea) this whole week including the race day. Fortunately, I didn't have any problems during the race.

I ate a banana and some bread about 2 hours before the race.

I wore my lightweight 10K running shoes. My left calf started getting sore during the race. I think it's OK, but I ran 8 miles the next evening and was sore all over the place. That might've been a mistake.

Time to concentrate on building up for the 50 miler on Dec. 6.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

UK Trip

I had an enjoyable and productive 8 days in London and Liverpool this week. The presentations and demos went well and lots of people are strongly interested in our software. I missed my family, though, so I don’t want to do this kind of week-long work-related travel too much. Twice a year seems OK, I think. The weather was very good this week and I never needed an umbrella, as the couple of brief rain showers that occurred were during meetings that I had.

This blog post isn’t going to be a travel guide. For that, I highly recommend Lonely Planet’s London Encounter which was very useful and well-organized. The book is small enough to fit in a jacket pocket and the removable fold-out map was great for carrying around on my runs. Anyway, I’ll share a few impressions that might be outside the typical travel guide.

Hotels – not surprisingly, they vary a great deal in cost, services and quality. What did surprise me was that even the most expensive hotel, at about 220 GBP (~$400) per night charged a whopping 15 GBP ($30) for 24 hours of internet access! I mean, come on, that seems like extortion. Well, Uncle Sony paid for that at least.

Westminster Abbey – I was expecting this beautiful old church to be mostly well, a church, but its function was just as much a mausoleum and national monument storehouse. It was packed-full of monuments, coffins, and honors to various important Brits from King Henry III to Princess Diana. Many poets and writers are buried under the floors or honored with granite stones, or in the case of Shakespeare, a magnificent statue. What surprised and disturbed me a little bit was that thousands of people every day were walking on the stone inscriptions, gradually wearing them away. Many of the grave markers were entirely worn away, leaving just smooth black marble. On others, say from World War II, I could see the progress of wear showing how the stone was carved to different depths using some kind of narrow round chisel, with the deepest parts still visible and the shallow parts having been worn away by the foot traffic. I tried not to walk on the tiles that had writing on them. There was a door that had a sign saying it was the oldest door in Britain, dating to 1050! The Abbey was magnificent, inside and out. I only wished they allowed visitors to take photographs.

“Mind the gap” – The Underground is the subway system that can get you just about anywhere in London and there’s this phrase that is broadcast at every station, “Mind the gap”, that is practically a trademark phrase. It simply means to be careful about stepping over the space between the platform and the train car as you enter or exit. But it’s just so British that it’s cute.

“Look Left” – At nearly every intersection in central London there were messages on the asphalt indicating to the pedestrians which way to look before crossing. Since the cars drive on the left side of the road and since many visitors have presumably looked the wrong way and got flattened by a double-decker bus or speeding taxi, these notices are life savers. I gradually got used to being better aware of which way the cars were coming.

Running-wise, it was a mixed visit, and every single run was mostly at night, sadly.

Sunday -- It started off great, with a good strong 25.6 mile run immediately after I got to my hotel from the flight from San Francisco. I described this in my previous post.

Monday – rest day, as is normal.

Tuesday -- went well, except it was an evening run, which meant that the remaining runs for the week were likely to be in the evening, too. 8+ miles.

Wednesday -- To help build personal relationships with clients and spend some time with my coworkers, I skipped my run. Argh! I hate doing that.

Thursday -- I got in a good 14 miles in Liverpool on Thursday night in 2 hours, skipping dinner with coworkers and clients.

Friday -- I really blew it. I was so exhausted from traveling and not getting good nights’ sleep and visiting the British National Museum that I decided to sleep instead. Mistake! For one thing, I woke up at 2:30am and couldn’t fall asleep again for an hour. And then I was really off my running schedule.

Saturday – spent about 8 hours walking or standing. Visited Westminster Abbey, rode The Eye (135m tall Ferris wheel), and visited the National War Museum. My feet and knees were sore! But I had to get in a run. My plan was to run 4 hours (max 20 miles) Saturday night and 3 hours Sunday morning. Yeah, right! I did 20.4 miles, but I was sore and it started getting difficult and my left knee was bothering me. I adjusted my patella strap a few times (a strap that goes around the leg just underneath the knee cap) and took two short walking breaks in addition to my check-the-map breaks, find-a-place-to-pee breaks, and buy-some-water-because-there-are-no-public-drinking-fountains breaks. 3 hours 45 minutes later, I finished.

Sunday – As I’m typing this in the London Heathrow Airport, I actually feel fine and I did feel pretty good when I woke up. I’m mad at myself for not trying to run! Oh well, at least I got a really good night’s sleep. I don’t recall waking up at all from 1am to 8:30am and then I fell back to sleep until 9:30am. Yay, 8+ hours! This night and last Sunday night were my best night’s sleep. Maybe I should run 20 miles every night! Ha ha.

From Monday to Sunday, that’s a paltry 42 miles. However, in the 7 days from Sunday to Saturday, the total is 66 miles, so that’s not so terrible. I have to get back on track though and get in a couple of 70+ mile weeks for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile race on Dec. 6.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Unintentional Long Run in London

I had an unusual and good long run last night in London. I'm here the whole week on a business trip plus a couple of days at the end for myself, as a tourist. So, dear Diary, I thought I should share....

My plan was to run 18 miles. I asked the concierge at my hotel if he had any ideas of where to run and he pointed to Hyde Park on a map. But he added, with a warning, it is a little ways to get there, about 1.8 miles. I told him that was fine and thanked him. Starting at about 6pm on a Sunday evening, the streets were packed with shoppers and tourists and cars. It was slow going and I was only able to run in short little bursts. Finally, I got to Hyde Park. It was only 1.2 miles.

Hyde Park has miles and miles of trails criss-crossing it and it's a very lovely place. I ran around it and across it a couple of times when I started feeling unmotivated and tired and bored. Hyde Park has a lot of trails, but the park itself doesn't feel very large after 45 minutes of running back and forth. I had gotten almost no sleep during the entire 10 hour overnight flight. I had gone straight from the airport to the hotel, immediately got dressed and was out the door for the run, so I was feeling tired to start with. I was thinking as I got to around mile 6 that I would be lucky to make this a 12 mile run. It was just going so slowly.

I thought I might do another lap around the park and then see how I felt. I put on my head lamp as twilight was coming on and the sun had set. I was wearing my hydration pack and long-sleeve Boston Marathon shirt. (Sorry, Coastside Running Club, it was a bit chilly to be wearing the short-sleave club shirts!) There was a really nice public restroom that was well-lit and had video cameras at the entrance; I only had to find a tree once all night.

Finally, I decided to go exploring. There are many helpful maps stationed around Hyde Park and I picked an adjacent park. I think I saw St. James's Palace that had a Queen's Guard (with the big furry hats). Moving on... I saw another street map showing that I was close to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Cool! I head off in that direction, take some photos. Things are looking good mileage-wise -- I'm up to 10. So, I decide to run down the Thames River for 2 miles, turn around and head back, and it should total to about 18 by the time I got to my hotel.

The Thames River was lovely at night with plenty of pedestrians, lovers, bicyclists, and even a few police. It felt safe even as I got into an industrial area. I was drinking pleny of water, taking a salt capsule every 45 minutes or so, and eating an energy gel every 45 minutes, too. I was feeling good and not running too fast. I stopped to use a restroom at a gas station and he replied, misunderstanding me, "restaurant?" I corrected myself, "Do you have a toilet I could use?" 'Lavatory' also would have worked, but they don't call them 'restrooms'. Business taken care of, and I was off again. I finally turned around at some small park.

At mile 16, I suddenly felt a blister and it hurt. I don't often get painful blisters, but for some reason my left little toe got pushed against the next toe and had already lost a layer of skin. It was red, raw, and angry. It took 3 stops to get it taken care of, but I was lucky that I could transfer a bandaid from one of my big toes. (I sometimes put bandaids on my big black toenails, getting tired of explaining them to guests at our house.) The pain went away and I was comfortable again by mile 18.

Feeling good, I get to a corner of Hyde Park that I thought I recognized and I only had 1.2 miles left to go. So, it should be 19.2 for the night which was longer than planned, but fine. Around mile 20, thinking I was very close to home, I stopped at a convenience store and bought some food for dinner -- a box of healthy cereal, soy milk, and two bananas. Everything just fit into my running backpack. Yay. I continue on. 

I start thinking that I don't quite recognize where I'm at. I keep looking for a street sign to verify that I am really on Oxford St., but dang it, I could not find any. They just don't do street signs here like they do in California. I stop and ask someone. He looks at my map that I was carrying and points to a spot in the air about six inches off of the side of the map in the wrong direction of where I wanted to be. Doh! He asked where I was going... I said "Great Marlborough St. eventually, but if you could get me to Oxford St., that would be great." Oh, man, how did I do this? I had somehow wrapped around Hyde Park instead of going straight. The guy thought it might just be 3 miles away. I thanked him and continued.

I still felt fine and was drinking plenty of water and not running too fast. I would have liked another Gu, but I had eaten all 5 that I had brought. Another 15 or 20 minutes later, I still don't see Hyde Park and I had taken a "short cut" to get there. Fortunately, I hadn't gotten off track yet and another helpful pedestrian pointed me in the right direction.

I came across an Underground Station (subway) and probably would have used it except I couldn't see a way to pay the fare of 4 GBP ($8) except by coin or credit card and I only had cash. It turns out that the machine takes the paper bills but with an unusually wide slot that wasn't labeled; I thought it was for a pass card of some kind. I saw that my destination was only 3 stops away, so I continued. I ran out of water but the night was cool and I felt fine. Finally... I made it to my hotel, feeling good and tired, but not particularly sore. 25.6 miles in about 4 hours 18 minutes of running. That doesn't count the bathroom stops and the grocery store stop.

Today, I felt great and did plenty of walking. It's a confidence booster that I was able to cover that distance pretty easily. Let's hope the rest of the week goes well and I don't get lost any more!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Pillar Point Half Marathon - 1:24 PR

Has another year come and gone already? I really enjoy this local race and this was my 5th time participating. My main goal was to set a personal record and to run faster than an average pace of 6 minutes 30 seconds a mile for the 13.1 miles. And I did it!

Another guy showed up who was nearly exactly as fast as I was and we stuck with each other the whole race. I gradually sped up and so did he, with him running slightly in front of me for nearly the whole race. He definitely pulled me along and perhaps I pushed him, as well, since I was breathing down his neck for many miles.

Around mile 10 I was a few steps behind him when we both grabbed a cup of water. For some reason, drinking the water interrupted my breathing and running and I slowed down briefly, but then I felt especially tired. The guy in front of me pulled away to at least a hundred feet. I put in a couple of surges of effort in the last two miles and I nearly caught up to him, but he must have increased his speed as well.

As we finally approached the finising area, I felt like I was "red-lining" my heart and I put in one last big push for the last quarter mile, but I just wasn't quite able to catch him. He sped up as I got closer and I finished about 20 feet behind him. My average pace, according to my Garmin watch, was 6 minutes 26 seconds a mile and I hit my highest heart rate I've ever seen -- 184 . I'm happy! I'm not sure of my official time yet, but my watch showed 1 hour 24 minutes 26 seconds.

Thanks to everyone who showed up and I really appreciated the shouts of encouragement during the race.

My 6 year old daughter, Claire, successfully ran the entire 3K course! It was wonderful seeing her at the finish line. Thank you, Jennifer for being there for us and for watching Claire for so long.
Thank you, George Miller, for sharing all of these photos, for supporting the Coastside Running Club, and for holding my keys! Thank you, Ken and Dave B. for coming out and saying "hi" even though you weren't running. Congratulations to my friends, Julie and Dave, Jenna-from-Pacifica, Lynn, and new club member, Margaret. And it was great seeing Franz and his family, who ran the 3K.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Headlands 50 Miles -- a difficult 9 hours 47 minutes

Yesterday, somewhere around mile 30, I found myself thinking, "What am I doing out here?! I have bad cramps and 20 miles left to go." It's true, I was seeking more of a challenge and had trained for and entered my first 50 mile race, the Headlands 50 Mile whose course runs a tortuous route up and down hills in the beautiful Golden Gate National Recreational Area in the Marin Headlands, just north of San Francisco. But I'm still fighting the demons of dehydration and electrolyte deficiency.

The good news? I did successfully complete my first 50 mile race, mostly running and oftentimes walking for 9 hours 47 minutes, coming in 17th place out of about 120 runners. There were an additional 60 runners or so entered in the 100 mile race, which was held simultaneously.

Back to the beginning of the long day...

The weather was cool and foggy in the morning, with the sun coming out in the afternoon with a predicted high of 72. I had carpooled with my friend, running club member, and prolific ultrarunner, Eric and his very supportive family. At the race site, I met two more running club members, Franz and Mike. So, that's 4 of us from the Coastside Running Club in a 50 mile race!

We got to the starting area around 6:15, giving us plenty of time to get our bibs, put on sunscreen, use the bathrooms, and otherwise get ready for the big day. After some instructions about how to follow the course, the race director started the race at 7am. And we were off! How was the day going to go? 50 miles! Yikes! I tried to start out nice and slow. It was going to be a long day and I wanted to last!

The nice thing about ultramarathons is that you have to run slow and typically walk the uphills and so there are plenty of opportunities for socializing, especially early on when people are bunched together. I chatted with my running buddy Eric for a while until his heart rate monitor told him he was going out too hard.

Then I slowly caught up to a gregarious woman named Meredith from Austin, TX, who said "hi" and we talked for a few miles, mostly about how our spouses don't like to run with us. She said her husband runs a marathon in 2 hour 35 minutes!

My friend Eric passes me, flying down a hill around mile 8. "Crazy!", I thought.

The first aid station came quickly and easily at mile 8.6. My watch read 1 hour 20 minutes. I can't reliably report on any other times past this point since I only realized afterwards that my friend Eric's watch that I was borrowing (I had sent mine to be repaired) was set to pause when not in motion. This meant that at every aid station, or when I took a pee break, or walked too slow, or stopped for any reason, the timer stopped. At the end of the race it reported 9 hours 25 minutes whereas my actual time, as I learned this morning from the results, was 9 hours 47 minutes. Did I really spend 22 minutes not moving?

After the first aid station, I finished off my Gatorade Endurance that I had brought with me and began using the sports drink provided by Pacific Coast Trail Runs. It tasted like lightly flavored water. I wondered if it was not mixed to the recommended concentration. Hmmm......

Somewhere from mile 10 to 14 or so, I chatted with an older guy, Mike Nuttal, who ran the challenging Big Sur Marathon in 3 hours 5 minutes at age 57!

After about mile 16, I felt like I could pick up the pace a bit. Part of me wanted to catch up to my friend Eric, which I finally did and I was feeling great so I kept on going, passing maybe 5 or 6 more people.
Finally, I slowly caught up to the first place female at the time, Beth Vitalis from Livermore. She was also passing slower runners and we started passing people together. She was breathing hard and really pushing herself. A little voice in my head said, "maybe I shouldn't pass her just yet; I'm probably running too fast right now." We chatted for a while, learning that we were both friends with the amazing runner, Prudence L'Heureux. We broke through the fog together and were both very impressed with the beautiful coastal views of Muir Beach. She offered me a Clif Bar that she said she wouldn't need, which was very generous of her, but I declined, not wanting to take a chance with unfamiliar foods. Eventually, she recognized one of the few bystanders along the course and stopped and gave him a hug and I passed her.

Coming in to the Bolinas Ridge Aid Station at mile 28, it was great being cheered on by Eric's family again. I may have been in 5th place overall. I was feeling good, but had some warning signs. I had a very brief feeling of a cramp in one of my calves. Leaving the aid station, returning back on the trail, I almost immediately felt much worse. I had to step over a log and one of my hamstrings locked up agonizingly. "Nooooo" I thought. "This can't be happening! I have 22 miles to go!" I slowed down a lot and completely walked all uphills, even slight ones. I took another salt capsule and ate some more food and drank some more water. A couple of runners passed me. Beth passes me and wishes me luck.

It took me maybe 4 miles to get the severe cramps "under control". I had stopped several times. Once, to pull a pebble out of my shoe, the cramps set on immediately. It was like if I did any unusual movement or even if I simply stopped running or walking, the cramps would hit. Weird! I shuffled along, much more slowly than before.

The miles ticked slowly by. At the next aid station, I met Eric's family again and I told his wife, Denise, that I was having lots of cramps. I badly wanted to lay down. I was feeling hot and my breathing was heavy even when I stopped. I kept on going. I would hate myself if I quit!

The miles went by agonizingly slow. I kept on glancing down at my watch to see how far I had come and sometimes I was terribly disappointed to have gone only a tenth of a mile since the last time I had looked down. I was constantly on the edge of cramps in my legs. My side started to hurt. I tried to force myself to drink and eat salty food. I worried about the fact that I hadn't peed since about mile 16.

I had become noticeably more clumsy. At least twice, I saw a rock poking out from the ground and I intended to step over it, but instead I directly kicked it, stumbling over it instead. Another time, I intended to rotate my body around a branch sticking into the trail, but instead I solidly connected with it, which caused my whole right side and shoulder to go into a spasm of painful cramps. Finally, while turning a corner, I somehow managed to firmly step on my left big toe with my right heel. Ouch! I thought I might laugh about that later, but it hurt my toe and it was a dangerous maneuver since if I fell, I could've toppled down the hillside. Although I had several close calls, I managed not to fall to the ground. I saw a couple of other runners who had tumbled, one of whom had a big bloody bandage on his elbow.

Finally, finally, after walking up one last huge incline in between the last aid station and the finish line just 4 miles away, I started slowly trudging downhill and the finish area was in sight. I was having a major sense of deja vu, too. I felt like I was reliving both my recent Mt. Diablo ordeal plus I had recently, last May 3, paced my friend Prudence for the last 20 miles of the Miwok 100K, which covers many of the same trails. Even though I ran only 20 miles that day, again, I suffered from bad cramps over the last two miles and I couldn't even finish the race with her.

It was wonderful seeing Eric and his family at the finish line. They cheered. I was so relieved and somewhat emotional. We waited a short while for Franz to finish. Eric had just a fantastic race, finishing in 9 hours 16 minutes. Franz had great execution and was strong at the end, finishing with a sprint. Here we are in our Coastside Running Club dry-weave t-shirts.
What went right:
  • I finished my first 50 miler.
  • I don't think I'm injured.
  • No chafing and only one small blister that I didn't feel during the race. Yay, Body Glide!
  • My shoes, water bottle, hat, shorts, etc., all did well. No equipment problems.
  • I didn't get lost. At least a couple of others did, though, including one of the top runners.
  • No digestive problems. Yay. I tried not to eat very much fiber the day before and I got up early enough (4:15am) to get everything "cleared out" before the race.

What went wrong:
  • Yet again, I've done a long run and got dehydrated and didn't take in enough salt. I suspect the sports drink provided during the race was not at the recommended concentration.
  • Given that I wasn't taking in enough salt, I was running too fast in the first half. I think this might be two sides of the same coin, but I'm not sure.
  • I only peed twice in the race, both times prior to mile 16. I didn't need to pee after the race either. Finally when I got home, nearly 12 hours after the race began, I had to pee and my urine was a dark yellow. I weighed myself afterwards -- 160.4 lbs, down 5.0 lbs since before I ate breakfast early that morning. So, weight-wise the day went: 165.4 + breakfast + coffee + sports drink - 50 miles + lots of race-provided "sports drink" + 16 oz chicken noodle soup + 12 oz diet Coke + 8 oz soy milk + ~12oz of my own sports drink = 160.4 lbs.
  • I had borrowed my friend Eric's Garmin GPS watch, but hadn't double-checked all the settings. However, it was still very useful to have during the race. (Thanks, Eric!)
  • I had attached a piece of tape to my water bottle and wrote on it with a permanent marker the distances between aid stations and my goal times for each one, but it rubbed off immediately at the beginning of the race. Someone showed me the idea of using a laminated card instead. Or if I had put another layer of clear tape on top of the writing, I think that would've done the trick.
  • I should get a pair of "gaitors" that are not socks. These are sleeves that go on the ankle and then wrap down over the shoe so as to not allow trail debris to get in. Twice I stopped to pull out a twig or pebble. I didn't want to wear the gaitors that I had because they contributed to me losing a toenail on one of my middle toes about 3 months ago.
My feet, post-race. Sheesh, these black toenails take forever to grow out. One was from Boston and I think the other one was even earlier. My left middle toenail I lost in May due to pacing my friend at Miwok 100K. So, basically, my feet look as bad afterwards as before. :-) I got one blister on the right side of my right middle toe which I never felt and didn't know was there until I took my shoes off.
Thoughts on the future...
I'm just not getting a handle on these really long runs. I can't seem to take in enough fluids or salts or something. Am I also running too fast early on? It's been getting frustrating. Also, while training for this race, I did two 30+ mile runs, a bunch of 20 mile runs, and a top week of 78 miles. This takes a lot of time. It took me 5 hours 45 minutes to run 30 miles in 90 degree weather in Walnut Creek. It took me 5 hours 25 minutes to run 30.8 miles in the cooler coastal climate, going from Montara to Daly City, and back. Including recovery time, that's about an 8 hour process. That's time not spent with family. So, in addition to the execution problems of the race itself, I'm struggling with time and motivation issues. Things to think about.

As usual, all this running wouldn't be possible without the support of my wonderful wife. Thanks, Jennifer!
A big thanks to Eric and his wonderful family for giving me a ride to and from the race and cheering me on at various aid stations along the way.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Mt. Diablo 50K -- Run, Walk, Crawl

About a week and a half ago, I decided to go for this 50K race as a training run. (I was prodded by my friend Prudence who then bailed on me. Doh!) This event is put on by the Pacific Coast Trail Runs company and they do an excellent job organizing races around the Bay Area and they're expanding to other areas of California, too. I'm building up for my first 50 miler sometime this year, I hope. I've been real careful about increasing my mileage and I'm doing almost no speedwork, because I've been concerned about my left knee which gets tight and sore and uncomfortable at times since last November or so.

The weather was predicted to be warm -- 86 degrees F. The elevation gain is severe -- 4450' on each of the two 15.7 mile round-trips to the summit. The total mileage was around 31.4.

The race started at 8:30am and things felt easy at first. All 175 or so runners of the 25K and 50K races were soon on a single track trail. I think I was about in the top third of the pack. The trail was so steep and narrow that I was forced to walk behind those in front of me. In hindsight, I'm grateful that I was forced to walk because otherwise I would have run the first half even faster and been in worse trouble later. The trail was so steep for these first 3 or 4 miles that running was practically impossible and would have been very inefficient anyway. Finally when we hit a fire road I started passing some people and running more. It took me one hour to run the first 5 miles. At the time I thought, "how slow!", but if I only knew....

I breezed through the first aid station, having gotten some food (PB&J sandwich, Cliff shots) and my two 20oz bottles re-filled with sports drink. I drank all 40 oz in that first hour. I was running faster on the flatter portions and even many of the uphills. The views were spectacular and I wish I could have carried my camera to the summit. We had to climb all the way to the top of the observation tower where there was a sign with a message, proving that we had reached the summit. ("I made it!" it said.)

Now the real mistakes began. There was this very powerful looking guy running around my pace. He looked like a younger Dean Karnazes and was very friendly, greeting everyone and thanking them for stepping aside as he charged down the hill. I stuck with him. We clocked many 7 minute miles going down hills that required constant braking. We had one 6:49 mile. My right toe was jamming up against the front of my shoe, making me consider the possibility of losing yet another toenail. (I think I've lost 4 in my running career so far.) Towards the bottom of the trail as we are nearing the start/finish line and with the first loop nearly complete, I take a bathroom break and slow down a bit, and DK, Jr. disappears. As I get to the aid station at what is now my half-way point, I pass one of the 25K runners who is struggling. 2 hours 40 minutes have gone by. Time to refuel and head out. Sweat and salt start streaming into my eyes causing me to put my face under a faucet. More time wasted. I head out at 2:44 on the clock.

Disaster strikes within about 25 minutes. Tinges of cramps around my hamstrings start to lock up my legs. I'm feeling very hot and my breathing is fast and heavy. I slow down my uphill walking. I start stopping in the shade at regular intervals. I look at my GPS watch -- I've only done a little more than 18 miles. I have over 13 miles to go and I'm getting bad cramps. This sucks. I decide to continue on to the next aid station which is about two miles away. It takes me almost an hour. At one point, I feel the overwhelming urge to sit down because the cramps, now in my quads, are so bad. I plop down in the dirt, not even able to get completely in the shade. My right leg is frozen with my quads clenched painfully tight. This isn't fun; I plan on calling it quits when I reach the aid station. The spasms pass and I clamber up on to my feet and start walking again.

My watch beeps at the mile markers, giving me my time since the last mile. 22 minutes for one of these miles. 28 minutes for another. Other runners are trickling by me. This sucks so bad. By the time I got to the aid station around mile 20 or 21 and I got some food and the cool wind was blowing over the top of the mountain, I felt much better and thoughts of dropping out disappear. I think I can do this and I and jogged / walked onward to the summit.

Deja vu. Except now it's warmer, there are swarms of thousands of pincher bugs who must have hatched (?) in the last couple of hours and their squished bodies are everywhere. Some apparently are falling on me from trees. Or do they fly and then lose their wings? Don't know! I reach the summit. Finally I'm able to jog slowly on the downhills. I guess my uphill muscles are fried, but I can move somewhat downhill at least. I still have to stop and walk regularly and I still freeze up completely a few times, but I manage to clock a 13 minute mile here and maybe a 11 minute mile there. That makes me 4 to 6 minutes slower per mile on this second loop. Argh.

Finally, finally, finally I get closer and closer and closer and the feeling that the finish line is getting farther away as I'm slowing down gives way to the feeling that I'm really going to finish. The finish line comes into view. There are a smattering of claps and cheers. Various random muscles start freezing up again, giving me a good painful-looking stagger as I hobble across the finish line.

The results are in. I finished 19th of 62, taking a whopping 6 hours 55 minutes. My worst race ever, by far. Or, a really good training run! A bit of both?

It was fun chatting with these elite runners afterwards -- very friendly folks.
Here are Jean Pommier, left, and Jasper Halekas. I saw Jean recently at the Miwok 100K and he's training for the Western States 100. He ran the first half of today's race in 2 hours 13 minutes, almost setting a course record for the 25km loop. Whoops! He had to slow down significantly on the 2nd half, finishing in 5:11:21. (Nothing compared to my disastrous positive split of 2:40 versus about 4:11.) Jasper did incredibly well, winning the race in 4:48:48, with an average pace better than that of the winner of the 25K!

I got to chat with the talented and prolific runner and blogger, Scott Dunlap. He's a really nice guy and he's training for the Western States 100. This week ended the highest mileage week ever for him -- 140 miles! Way to go, Scott!

Other random notes:
  • I ate a lot of whole wheat pasta and drank plenty of water the night before. On the morning of the race I weighed 169.2 lbs. Wow, that's high, but maybe OK since it must be mostly water gain from my more normal 165-166. The morning after the race, I weighed 162.0. Hmm...
  • I ate a bowl of steel-cut oatmeal with a banana, 2 hours 45 minutes before the 8:30am race start.
  • My left knee felt great during the race. Yay! I seem to be injury free. I didn't have any pain or signs of injury.
  • No blisters. There may have been the beginnings of blisters but there's nothing now. Thank goodness for Body Glide.
  • My right big toenail feels a little funny. We'll see if I can hang on to it after these repeated abuses.
  • I used two packets of this Vespa supplement that is supposed to allow a person to metabolize fat better. I didn't feel like I was suffering from fatigue so much as battling cramps, heat, and high heart rate. So, maybe it's working? Maybe it's a placebo effect? I mean, I certainly didn't have a miracle run, so the effects must be somewhat subtle if any. The only way I can think to really prove that it works is to have a large double-blind study. Let's put it this way, I'm confident that Vespa is not a substitute for proper training! My 40-55 miles just didn't cut it given the way I ran that first half. I really should have run that first big downhill at more reasonable slower pace.
My feet actually came out pretty well, looking about as bad afterwards as they did before! Did I mention I got a little dirty out there? :-)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Boston Marathon -- 3:09:44

The weather was essentially perfect for the 2008 Boston Marathon, my 2nd Boston Marathon and my 7th marathon (or longer) race.

I've been having a knee tightness problem on and off since sometime late last year. It bothered me a lot last December in Hawaii, after the California International Marathon. So, I had missed about 1/3rd of my training runs at least. I had one week of 54 miles and I think 4 training runs this year of 18 miles or longer. That's just not enough to maintain my fitness.

3 hours 9 minutes 44 seconds was my finishing time. Yeah, I'm disappointed with that. In the grand scheme of things, I know that's still a relatively fast time and that I am qualified for next year's Boston.

I really should have stuck to a 3:05 goal at the beginning but instead I was on a 3 hour pace. Given how many training runs I've missed, that was a mistake. I started fading around mile 20 and got a bad cramp in my left hamstring and right hip that I never quite recovered from, so I felt like I was shuffling along for those last 6 miles. It was difficult and dozens and dozens of runners passed me.

On the positive side, my knee didn't bother me. I felt it from about mile 2 to 9, but then that feeling of tightness and soreness went away and never came back. It was never uncomfortable even when I did feel it.

My Garmin GPS watch gave me some trouble during the race. I didn't realize how close it was to being full of data. (There's no indicator.) Around mile 2 it started warning me that it was going to get filled and then the display was nearly completely filled up with a warning for the rest of the race, making it unusable. It also started beeping at me every 10 or 15 seconds which was extremely annoying. I also forgot to turn off the auto lap timer, so that was user error.

I loved watching the women's Olympic Trials on Sunday.

It was wonderful having my parents there. It felt like it took me a day to recover from my overnight flight on Friday night and then I didn't feel like doing anything after race. Thank you, Mom and Dad, for being there, and to Jennifer for watching Claire.

For breakfast, I had a bread roll, banana, and Cliff Bar. I weighed 167.2 lbs on the Friday morning.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Inland Empire Half Marathon -- 1:26:53

I ran this half-marathon this morning in Ontario, CA. The course was laid out in the industrial urban environment. There were some nice views of Mt. Baldy and the nearby snow-capped mountains, but mostly, the scenery wasn't very inspiring and there were almost no spectators. The course was on a closed road with lots of police helping to keep traffic off and there were lots of volunteers and overall the race was well-organized.

How did I do? I didn't feel real strong and felt like I struggled the second half. At least I was slowly catching people and passing them, rather than the reverse, so I guess that was a good sign that I didn't run the first half too fast. My time was 1:26:53 (6:38 per mile pace). That's almost two minutes slower than a half-marathon I ran last September. What happened? I've missed a lot of training runs since the marathon last December and there was a noticeable elevation drop and gain with this race, so those are my excuses! I'll hope to do better in the fall again. The results are in: I came in 13th out of 536 runners, 5 out of 44 in my age group. There were a couple of really fast world-class athletes who competed for the $500 prize money.