Tuesday, December 04, 2012

California International Marathon -- 3:01:32

Not your typical puddle. Photo source: here. Click to enlarge.
This was my fourth running of the California International Marathon, in Sacramento, and it had the most running friends and the worst weather of any of them! This was also my 19th road marathon. The wind and rain were comically bad, and were concentrated primarily before and during my running of it. About 30 minutes after I finished, it stopped raining at the capitol and was basically a nice cool day for the remainder of the day. Funny!

But back to the beginning...

It was great carpooling with my running friend Rachael and her husband, Bob. The Expo had lots of interesting things for sale or on display, as usual, and it wasn't too crowded in the early Saturday afternoon.

Me and Rachael
I ran into my friends Franz and Jen and their son, Max. Franz was aiming to qualify for the Boston Marathon and he had trained very well, successfully transitioning from ultramarathons, including many 100 mile races, to being ready for a 26.2 mile road race, which is basically a 3 hour sprint for him.

I got to meet up with my friend Dana who was also trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I had previously run the San Diego Marathon with her (it was a training run for me).
My training had been about 80% of the target mileage of my aggressive training plan. I had missed a number of runs, including one long run, to try to get over a sore left heel. Plus, life has been extra busy in November. So, I knew that beating my personal record (2:55:52, in New York City two years ago) was not going to happen, but I hoped to beat 3 hours. As the race day drew near, it appeared that the weather was going to be a significant factor.

The night before, I stayed up a bit too late (11pm) but had a fun time at a party with a friend of mine and my wife's, Elise. I even had a glass of wine and did a bit of dancing! (Thanks again, Elise!) I also had the usual pre-race excitement which made sleep difficult. So, I woke up at 4:14am, before my alarm went off, and was feeling rather groggy. I quickly ate some of my usual pre-race foods (banana, oatmeal, and bagel), and was looking forward for the adventure to begin at 7am!

Some other friends from my running club (Mor, Margaret, and Jim) picked me up at 5:15am and we got to near the start area with plenty of time. The rain and wind were very heavy now. I was anxious to get on the bus for a last short 2 mile shuttle ride and then I had plenty of time (50 minutes?) to use the porta-potty and drop off my drop-bag. It was cold, wet, and very windy. I was very impressed that so many volunteers were out there in the rain for us runners. I sought shelter at this gas station...

Looking for shelter wherever we could. The gas station store was packed.

Finally, the start time drew near and I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and shorts and wrapped in a thermal aluminum-foil blanket. Although the air temperature wasn't bad (low 50s), with the wind and rain, I was nearly shivering and was anxious to start.

My plan was to take it easy at the beginning and to gradually speed up and to monitor my heart rate. I found my friend Mor again and we positioned ourselves with the 3:25 (3 hour 25 minute) pace group. This was further back than my previous runs of this race.

The national anthem was awesome, with an exceptionally good singer, and then a couple minutes later, we were off! The first noticeable problem was that so many runners threw away their garbage bags and temporary clothes directly on the ground behind them, right in the path of thousands of runners behind. So, even though only 3 or 4 hundred runners were in front of me, it quickly became hazardous. I bundled up my space-blanket and tossed it far to the side of the road.

It felt good to be running! I wished Mor good-luck and I took it real easy and gradually pulled ahead.

I tried to gradually increase my effort, keeping my heart rate below 150 bpm for the first 5 miles or so. A handful of runners passed me in the first mile, but mostly I was steadily passing people early on. The wind was coming from the south and the course mostly headed west at first, but at mile 6, we turned left on to Fair Oaks Blvd and the headwinds were ferocious. I tried to find other runners to block the wind for me. I hopped from one clump of runners to the next, recovering from the effort when I arrived at a group. My pace slowed down for these 5 miles of headwinds to slightly slower than 7 minutes per mile.

I was steadily passing runners and I caught up to the 3:10 pace group, maybe around mile 11? Another guy caught up to me and was running basically at the same pace, so we ran together for a few miles, steadily passing people. He introduced himself as Tim, from Yuba City, and said he had run a 5K race the day before. (Ouch!) And he said he completed an Ironman triathlon just two weeks earlier! (Double-ouch!) So, I felt like I was running with a super-stud but I also thought there was no way he could do his best in this race. I wasn't surprised when he fell off the pace and I pulled ahead. I looked him up in the results (hi, Tim Mallen!) and he had a great race, finishing in 3:08:01. Congratulations, Tim!

At the half-way point, I felt a bit tired, but overall was in good shape. The time was 1 hour 32 minutes. I wanted to finish the second half a bit faster. I was focused next on getting to mile 16 and gradually picking up the pace a notch. Then get to mile 18 and pick up the effort again, but still have enough "in the tank" for the most difficult miles, from 22 to the finish, and to have a strong finish.

Mile 16 -- only 10 miles to go! I realized that I seemed low on energy, so I ate another energy gel 20 minutes early. (I was eating one every 40 minutes.) I was also consciously drinking more sports drink than in past marathons, to try to combat my typical problems with cramps in the last miles.

I was becoming more and more focused on "keeping it together". The effort was becoming more difficult. My heart rate was in the mid-160s. I was still steadily passing runners and I caught up to the 3:05 pace group. Suddenly my left shoe felt loose. No way! My shoe laces were coming untied! I had double-knotted it! So, for the 2nd time ever in a marathon race, I stopped and re-tied my left shoe. I was quick about it (5-6 seconds) and I soon caught up to the 3:05 pace group and passed them.

Mile 20 -- just 10K to go. Finish strong! But there's still plenty of time to fall apart, so I tried to be cautious, too. "Keep it together" was my mantra. I thought I recognized the runner in front of me. I slowly passed him. It was Franz! I was so on the edge of falling apart that I couldn't really talk much and I focused on keeping the pace and I slowly pulled ahead.

The last miles were getting more difficult and I didn't think I could safely go faster for miles 22 to 24. Getting desperate. Plenty of other runners were struggling around me, but I was still passing everyone steadily.

Mile 25 ticked by in 6:41. A runner behind me called out, "Hey, Ron!" I think I waved, but I couldn't even manage to look back or to say "hi". It was my friend and running club member, Dan. At mile 26, I saw Jen (Franz's wife)! She took this picture:
Almost done, at mile 26! Photo credit, Jen Dill. Click to enlarge.

Almost there! I poured on the effort, rounded the corner from L St. on to 8th Ave and made the final left turn to face the capitol building and the blessed finish line. Hard sprint. Woo hoo! 3 hours 1 minute and 32 seconds. I was quite happy with that! Arms in the air!

Me and Franz, at the finish area. Photo credit, Jen Dill.
The sharp contrast between minutes before the race, where I'm running the fastest, and minutes after the race, where I'm suddenly extremely sore and hobbling around, is humorous to me. It took me about 30 minutes to get my drop-bag, say "hi" to Franz and his family, and start watching the race. The rain stopped.

I missed seeing Mor (3:37:02), who reported afterwards that he was on pace for a massive personal record right up until mile 23 when "a switch went off" and he hit the wall and bonked big time. He still set a personal record though, by about 5 minutes. Congratulations, Mor!

I did catch Rachael finishing strong and I took this picture.

Rachael, determined and focused at mile 26. Click to enlarge.
I managed to hobble over fast enough to see Rachael in the finish area and to share that special moment of happy relief at having accomplished a very difficult task. Tears were shed.

It was good seeing friends after the race. I commiserated with my friend Dana, who was bummed that she had missed her goal by just over 4 minutes. And then, it was time to leave, as Rachael and Bob (my ride home) had to check out of their hotel.

What a wild adventure! All-in-all, I'm very happy with how I raced and I did about as well as I could have hoped, all things considered. My left heel started feeling tender again and I had a couple spots of bad chafing, but basically, I survived, happy, tired, wet, and uninjured.

Random data
  • A good photo gallery from the Sacramento Bee is here.
  • Results
  • Weight, two days before: 166.1 lbs. Once again, I failed to lose 5 lbs.
  • My Garmin watch's GPS data, heart rate, and mile splits are here.
As usual, I need to give a huge thanks to my wife, for making it possible for me to train for and participate in this event. And I want to thank Rachael and Bob for the ride and their good company. And I want to thank my friend Elise for hosting me and saving me the hotel expense.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile -- 8:23:44

Ron, Shani, Amanda, Gary, Jill, Prudence, post race
Dick Collins Firetrails 50 mile race is an excellently organized race that's been around forever -- 30 consecutive years! It runs along a series of beautiful state parks, from Lake Chabot's marina, in Oakland, to the northern edge of Tilden Park in Berkeley, and then back. It's got some intense hills, with 7800' of elevation gain, but is mostly runnable and is considered on the fast side, as far as a trail race is considered.
elevation profile

This was my second running of it. Three years ago, it took me 8 hours 10 minutes and was a real break-through performance at this distance. (Race report.) I did struggle for many miles then, so I thought there was room for improvement. My goal for this time was to match that performance or improve on it a bit.

Coming into the race, my training felt spotty. I missed about 5 or 6 training runs due to my involvement with the Half Moon Bay International Marathon, as one of the assistant directors. Plus, for some reason, I just didn't have the mental energy to actually construct a training plan. Strange! Somehow, having a good race at Tahoe Rim Trail 50 mile, also without a training plan, let me off the hook. I tried to get in all the long runs and I mostly did, but I never got over 26.5 miles at once. A 31 mile training run would have been better.

It was a nice treat to have two friends from my running club, the Coastside Running Club, in the race. This was Amanda's first 50 miler and only second ultramarathon. Gary had run many 50Ks and even a 100K prior to the race, so he was certainly ready. This was my fourth 50 mile race.

So, the Saturday comes along and my alarm wakes me up shortly before 4am. I had a couple small bowls of oatmeal and a small banana and then I met Amanda and Shani at 4:45am. Shani was so committed to being Amanda's pacer that she wanted to go to the race start with us. Very nice! Time-wise, this was enough to drive across the Bay and get ready for the 6:30am start. But, we made a couple of miscalculations.
Amanda, with her friend and pacer, Shani looking on, doing last minute prep.
(Sorry for the surprise photo, Amanda! And why wasn't I finishing getting ready?! We're late!)

It was rather a long walk from where I parked to the race start -- several minutes each way. Amanda had to rush to the restroom and I thought that there was no need to bring our drop bags with us. (Drop bags contain everything we might need at some point in the race.) In this case, our drop bags were for the start and finish. So, it's pitch dark and my headlamp was in the drop bag. Doh! So, we walked slowly to the bathrooms. Then the men's restroom had a long line already and only two toilets and the line moved very slowly. After getting through that, I got my bib and racing chip (this was the first ultra I've run that used a race chip and timing strips; nice!) and then rushed over to meet Amanda and Shani at my car. They had been waiting for me. Suddenly, we had only 5 minutes to get to the start line! I rushed and loaded up with energy gels, put on my heart rate monitor, sunscreen, etc., and as I was rushing to the start line, the race started! Doh! Another first -- the first ultra where I wasn't ready at the start! I dropped my drop-bag off and rushed to the start, ran across the start line, started my watch, and I was off!

I was at the tail end of the race, but was far from being alone. I started quickly passing people. I caught up to Amanda and we chatted a bit. I started watching my heart rate and felt like I could safely go faster, so I wished Amanda luck and started passing more people.

It was a cold crisp morning and I felt great! What an adventure! "Don't run too fast," was my repeated mantra. "It's going to be a long day."

I enjoyed chatting with others on occasion and enjoyed the scenery and just kept on moving smoothly and easily. Coming into the aid stations, I tried to be ready to know what I would need. I was quick and efficient, taking maybe 10-15 seconds to fill my water bottles, grab a bite to eat, and get moving again. I noticed that I often passed people in the aid stations, even if they were slightly faster than me on the trails.

The miles ticked by. The scenery was beautiful. I love Redwood Regional Park especially, with its giant redwoods and lush forest and fast soft and smooth dirt trails. There were amazing views of the San Francisco Bay later on, including the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather was gorgeous.
A map of the course, on a poster at the start/finish area. Click to enlarge.
Eventually, we saw the first place marathoner, in the Golden Hills Marathon, running towards us. Fast! And then the stream of oncoming marathoners built up and then dwindled. The trails were wide enough for two-way traffic, so that wasn't an issue.

I was feeling good and wanting to have plenty of energy for the finish. I was looking forward to meeting my friend Prudence at mile 26, as she was going to be my pacer. A pacer keeps their runner company and helps them not get lost and offers advice and motivation.

I saw the front runners in the 50 mile race, on their return journey. So fit and fast. Amazing!

There is a long long descent to the turn-around at the Lone Oak picnic area in Tilden Park. Prudence! Yay! I realized coming into mile 26 that I was behind my time from three years ago. I didn't feel like I could safely run any faster. My heart rate was frequently around 155 beats per minute and I had a long way to go!

We hiked and slowly jogged back up this huge hill. I tried to gradually increase my effort. My hydration and food consumption seemed to be going well. I had urinated three times already, was taking a salt capsule every 45 minutes, and an energy gel or some kind of food every 20 minutes.

I kept up a good solid effort, but I just wasn't as fast as I would have liked. I passed some people but I got passed a couple of times, too. There was one woman, in a purple top, who was especially fast and ran every step of the uphills and she and I passed each other a few times in the first half. We repeatedly caught sight of her ahead of us, but couldn't catch her. She became one of my motivators. (Even though I never caught her, it turns out that I did run the race faster than her, thanks to the chip timing. Good job, Clare Abram!)

After about mile 40, the race started feeling gradually more difficult. When I started feeling that cramps weren't very far away, Prudence reminded me to take more salt and drink more. My stomach felt fine, so I was able to drink more even though I wasn't thirsty. This seemed to work and I kept the cramps at bay.

For 5 minutes or so around this time, my heart started having a "fluttering", kind of like a jitteriness that can be caused by caffeine. I've felt it before and it's benign and was diagnosed as atrial premature complex, to be precise. But still, it's disconcerting to see my heart rate monitor suddenly jump from 155 to 188 or so. I felt fine otherwise and kept on pushing. I mentioned this to Prudence and I wondered if she knew CPR.
heart rate weirdness, from my Garmin data, at mile 40
I made a mental mistake at the Bort Meadows aid station, at mile 44.1. I thought this was the last aid station and that I had only 4.5 miles to go. Not quite right! So the next aid station was a surprise and disappointment, and then I had just 4.5 miles to go. I was feeling more desperate but was still in control and moving fast and strong. Finally, I saw Lake Chabot. Yay! So close! And the finish is fast and paved, with only short steep hills. I started pouring on the speed. I became very focused and had a kind of mental tunnel vision. I didn't smile or look at any of the pedestrians. I stopped talking with Prudence. I was just focused on running as fast as I could without blowing up and falling apart in cramps.

I recognized the marina. So close! I rounded the corner and there was the finish line. Whew!
Prudence and I, shortly after we finished
So, I was about 13 minutes slower than three years ago, but I was in 21st place instead of 23rd last time. Among male runners, I was 20th place this year and 20th place three years ago. So, I had a very similar overall performance but a better execution this year. I never had a real "low" where my energy and speed and spirits fell precipitously. It's very common to go through multiple lows and highs in these long races, so I take this as a sign of decent pacing and race execution.

Immediately after the race, I started feeling light-headed. I got some food and drink in me and kept on walking. No cramps! After an hour or so, I felt much better. I got to cheer my friends Gary and Amanda as they came in. I got to chat with a few acquaintances. Everyone was in good spirits and it was a wonderful picnic-like atmosphere.
Rachael, a friend of Prudence and an acquaintance of mine, finishes

Gary finishes! Great job, Gary! We're wearing matching Coastside Running Club shirts.

All-in-all, I really enjoyed this race. I'm very grateful to all the volunteers and race organizers who worked so hard to put on a good event like this. The course markings were fantastic, with thick lines of chalk to keep us on course. The schwag was excellent -- a nice jacket, tech shirt, and wine glass, all in a nice canvas bag.

Things that went well:
  • My hydration and food consumption seemed to be good. At the end of the day, after dinner, I had gained a half pound since first waking up.
  • My pacing seemed to be as fast as I could handle and I stayed strong the entire race.
  • Didn't get lost.
  • No trips, no falls.
  • Equipment all worked great.
  • No chafing or blisters.
  • No injuries.
  • Carrying two 20oz water bottles worked well again. I put sports drink in one and water in the other. I drank about twice as much sports drink as water.
Things to improve on:
  • Train better.
  • We should have brought our drop bags from our cars when we arrived. We were rushed and I crossed the start line about a minute late. 
Random data:
  • I weighed 166.1 lbs the morning of the race. I could stand to lose 5 lbs.
  • Ate a Salt Stick capsule about every 45 minutes. I took an extra one around mile 44 or so.
  • Race results.
  • Garmin watch data.
As usual, I owe a big thanks to Jennifer for letting me have the whole day for this race along with many hours of training.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Mt. Ashland Hill Climb -- 2:24:27

Claire and Jennifer!

The final climb is crazy. Even hiking is difficult.
Hal Koerner, et al, getting a ride down from the finish area
(I wrote this two years after the race.)
It was a good tough uphill race. The ending really surprised me, when we had to scramble up the side of the mountain.
Time: 2 hours 24 minutes 27 seconds
Bought a pair of shoes from the famous Hal Koerner, who owns the Rogue Valley Runners running store. Hal also ran the race.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Mile

Feeling good at around mile 40.
(Photo copyright Facchino Photography. Used with permission.)
Short Version
I finished this tough but beautiful 50 mile race in 9 hours 43 minutes, and 12th place overall, out of 177 starters. It was a beautiful day with great weather and gorgeous scenery. The trails were very steep in places, including a 2 mile stretch with 1700' of climb underneath a ski lift. I had some tough spots, but am happy and uninjured.

Long Version
I had signed up for the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Mile race long in advance, based on the good things I had heard about it from friends and also because I was looking for a 50 mile race that would keep me qualified to enter Western States 100.

I came into this race with some trepidation for various reasons. Training-wise, I just wasn't getting in as many long runs or as many miles as I thought I should. For example, I didn't manage to run more than a marathon since my fantastic 50K at the end of February, whereas normally I would do at least a couple 30 mile training runs. Also, I train at sea level, but this race goes from about 7,000 feet up to 9,200 feet, and so altitude is a real factor. Finally, it's a relatively tough course with 8,600' of elevation gain (according to Garmin's maps) and all kinds of exceptionally steep and rocky terrain. So, I was bit nervous about this race!

To help acclimate, our little family went camping in Lake Tahoe's Sugar Pine Point State Park for four days, getting back home 8 days before the race. And I came out again, by myself this time, on Wednesday afternoon before the Saturday morning race. All-in-all, these days spent there seemed to help. The weather and scenery were beautiful. Fortunately, I was able to work at the hotel for two days in a dingy room at the Tahoe City Inn. (It's cheap, but I would not recommend staying there unless you're desperate.)

I got in a last 4.5 mile training run the day before the race. My Inov8 trail running shoes were worn out, but it was too late to replace them. And I wish I had gotten new gaiters (a kind of sleeve that goes over the shoe to keep debris out). But otherwise, I was in good health and injury-free and all systems were go!

A couple weeks before the race my friend Prudence L'Heureux contacted me and asked if I wanted a pacer to run the last 20 miles with me. I didn't even realize that was allowed! (All or most of the important information is on the race website somewhere, but it can be difficult to find.) Yes! Excellent! Prudence was one of the top American ultrarunners for a few years and she had asked me to pace her at Miwok 100K one year. A pacer can't provide any direct assistance, and this race calls them "safety runners", but the main benefit is just to have someone there with you for the morale boost and to help with problem solving and to not get lost and to simply give the runner some companionship. These races can get very difficult and very lonely, too. And if a serious problem happens, then it's great to have someone with you because we will be miles and hours away from medical services.

On Saturday, July 21, I got up at 3:30am, ate my breakfast (Grape Nuts cereal, banana, and Diet Coke) and got to the starting area shortly before the 5am start of the 100 mile race.

 I got to see my friends Bryan Bodas...
 and Mike Weston.
(Both members of my running club.)

And I got myself ready and dawn had arrived... which was good because my new $10 flashlight had toppled out of my jacket pocket and into the porta-potty. Doh. (I did not fetch it!)

I had been warned by a friend to be careful about being trapped behind lots of slower hikers and runners because it can be hard to pass people on the single track trail, so I had positioned myself in about the top 20% of the pack at the start line.

6am came around and we were off! The 50 mile and 50K races started together at Spooner Lake and headed towards the Hobart aid station about 6 miles away. I took it easy and monitored my heart rate and started off in the low 140 beats per minute. When we soon got to the uphills and I started feeling the effort, I walked, along with everyone else around me. The weather was perfect, nice and cool, and the scenery was beautiful.

The trails were superbly well-marked. In addition to many multi-colored ribbons, there were arrow-shaped signs and chalk at intersections. I've been on some well-marked race courses, like Western States and Dick Collins Firetrails 50, and the markings on this course were even better. Getting lost is a very real and demoralizing hazard, so I always appreciate a well-marked race!

We runners started spreading out and I got to chat with a few people. I met a young guy, Zach Mapes, who was running the 50K, his first 50K, without a water bottle, which I thought was brave, given the ~6 mile distances between aid stations for his race. It turns out he had forgotten it! Fortunately, I saw in the results that he did manage to finish. At some point in the first 10 miles, I thought I could push the pace a bit more and I passed Zach.

At about this same time, I also ran with a woman for a while who was also doing the 50K. Turns out she is a real speedster with a 3 hour 15 minute personal best for the marathon. This was her first 50K. She asked me my name and I asked her hers (hi, Annie Rutledge!) and after I stopped and peed, I didn't catch up to her again until about mile 17. She finished the 50K in 8th place, out of about 160!

I was steadily passing the slowest 100 milers now (they had had an hour's head start on me) along with plenty of 50K and 50 mile runners.

At the second aid station, Tunnel Creek, we get directed down a super-steep hill, to do the Red House loop. The loop is only about 6 miles long, but it was quite tough at times. The website said that the Red House aid station would not be open this year, but it was. I cruised through, thanked the volunteers, but didn't stop. Somewhere around here, at about mile 15, I noticed that my feet felt a bit sore. Oh oh! I've still got a long ways to go! But the feeling passed.

I saw some of the 100 mile front runners finishing the loop, including an acquaintance, Bree Lambert (who is good friends with my pacer Prudence). I caught up to my friends Bryan Bodas and Mike Weston, said "hi" and passed them.

After arriving at Tunnel Creek again, I headed north towards Bull Wheel. I checked my time and I was about 13 minutes behind my goal pace (which was just a guess and that I applied evenly to the whole course regardless of the elevation gain or loss). Considering the climbs I had done, I felt good about my performance and how I felt.

After more climbing and more beautiful forests, I arrived at Bull Wheel. 20+ miles down. Feeling pretty good. I chatted with another runner or two from here. We remarked that we both felt like we had had a good workout but still had plenty of gas left in the tank. This leg from Bull Wheel to Diamond Peak Lodge is remarkable because it's about 8.1 miles. (Based on the website's elevation profile, I thought it was 9.5, but the aid station volunteer said it was 8 miles and my Garmin data says 8.1.) This leg was the sole reason why I wanted to carry a 64oz hydration pack and I'm glad I did. I ran out of water after about 7 miles. Somewhere along here I took my first ibuprofen, too, as a precaution to reduce swelling in my ankles and feet and knees.

On a long 5 mile downhill, I started pushing the pace a bit. I was feeling pretty good and occasionally I thought I heard a runner catching up to me and I didn't want to be passed. But then I felt my first borderline cramp, in one of my calves. Oh oh! I took more salt and I drank more. Water tasted really good, so I was probably getting dehydrated. And then I ran out of water with about a mile to go.

I got into Diamond Peak Lodge and there were lots of volunteers and a dozen or so spectators. Yay! And my friend Prudence! Yay! It was funny, but I had made up all the time "lost" on the climbs earlier and was within a minute of my goal time (a 9 hour finishing time). I quickly refilled my hydration pack, got some food, and headed out. We didn't run far before we got to the ski slope. Wow. It was hard to believe, looking up the mountain, that we were expected to "run" up that. There was no running to be done, of course. It quickly became a challenge to just walk up underneath a ski lift. One of the course markers had a sense of humor and had written "WTF" and an arrow pointing up the slope. Funny! And true! This climb of just 2 miles, but in mostly soft dirt and loose rock, and with nearly 1700' of elevation gain, took me 45 minutes. Ouch! So much for my goal time now!

Finally we got to Bull Wheel. Then the course retraces its steps back to Tunnel Creek and then to Hobart. About 1.5 miles from Hobart I ran out of water again, even though I had carried about 52 oz. That was bad. I also hadn't peed since about mile 20. That's bad. I started feeling fatigued and having borderline cramps. The race was getting tougher. It seemed to take more and more mental energy just to keep moving. The terrain is quite rocky and you really have to pay attention when running over it. I kicked a couple of rocks but I caught myself and didn't fall. But these stumbles wracked my body and I had to walk for a few seconds to recover, because I was having borderline cramps.

We passed some of the slowest 50K runners. That's a long day for them! I took my second ibuprofen somewhere along here.

Shortly after Hobart, the route changed and we are off onto new territory. The climb to Snow Valley aid station got difficult because it was often steep and at altitude, topping off at about 9200'. A safety patrol on a mountain bike passed us, but then we passed her on the steeper parts. (There were many safety patrol bicyclists with first aid and radios.) I think these were the most gorgeous views, with green meadows and blue skies. Just amazing. This aid station was staffed by a Boy Scout troop. Thanks guys! There were lots of choices of drinks and I grabbed a pitcher labeled Gatorade without really thinking about it. Gatorade sports drink is actually not all that great for endurance events like this because it has a lot of sugar but not the best kind (the long-chain maltodextrin is better, if I recall correctly). So, it didn't take too long before my stomach started getting a bit upset.

Finally, we were on the downhill, all the way to the finish! I basically barely held on and tried not to fall apart. I wasn't a very good conversationalist with Prudence, but I really appreciated her being there. (Thanks again, P!) At some point a guy in the 50 mile race zoomed past me. Bummer! I kept at it.

We passed a woman walking who then called out to us. Bree! She had been so far ahead of us. What happened? She had blood in her urine. I think that means that her kidneys are clogged up with the proteins and waste products from muscle breakdown. Or she could be severely dehydrated. I needed a short walking break (my heart rate had climbed up to the low 150s again) but then Prudence motioned me to keep on running and we all agreed that she should stay with Bree. We were only about 2 miles from the finish.

I had run out of water again, shortly before reaching the Spooner Lake aid station. I confirmed that I had just about 1.6 miles to go. Yay! I saw a glimpse of the guy who had zoomed past me earlier! I quickly drank a cup of water and a cup of sports drink and I tried to hold it together and give one last big push. Prudence had almost caught up to me.

I was cruising along pretty well and quickly put some distance in front of Prudence as I was chasing down these last miles. I was feeling desperate but I thought if I could just hang on for another 10 or 15 minutes, then I would be done. I zoomed past the guy who had passed me earlier. I passed other 50K runners and 100 mile runners. I was moving well on the flats and gentle downhills, but I just didn't have the energy to sprint up the short uphills.

I heard a familiar voice far up ahead calling my name. Franz?! Sweet! I knew he was likely to be at the finish but we were still about a half mile away. He asked how I was doing. "Seconds away from fainting," I said, which I'm embarrassed to say was an exaggeration. I was feeling quite desperate and was feeling twinges of cramps, but I don't think I was going to faint. Franz took this picture. Prudence is chasing me down a ways behind me.

Last half mile dash, with Prudence chasing me. (Photo credit: Franz Dill.)
I've got my finisher's plaque. (Photo credit: Franz)

Franz Dill

Prudence and me, recovering.
Whew! 9 hours 43 minutes. I learned that I came in 12th place out of 177 starters. That sounds good! I basically had a great race, even though it got difficult. I enjoyed the challenge and the scenery and the race as a whole very much. I enjoyed the camaraderie and meeting old friends and making new ones.

I had to drive for 5 hours after the race, to get home, which sucked since I was tired and sore. I finally peed again, with a vengeance! But that's bad that I went from around mile 20 until more than 2 hours after the race before needing to urinate again. I'm not quite sure what happened there with my hydration. I'm guessing I fell a bit behind. Also, my fingers started to feel swollen at one point, which prompted me to take more salt.

What went right:
  • I didn't fall or get injured.
  • I didn't get lost.
  • I'll probably lose one toenail, but otherwise, I didn't have any chafing.
  • My pace and effort were probably pretty good. I got right up to the edge but didn't fall off.
  • Wearing a 64oz Ultimate Direction hydration pack was a big win, versus two hand held 20oz bottles.
  • I had practiced filling my hydration pack in the hotel room beforehand and I learned that I could seal the bag with two folds rather than the more time-consuming way of rolling it up.
  • My calorie intake was probably good. I was able to keep all the food down.
  • The heart rate monitor was very useful, so that I could stay in the mid-140s for the most part.

Things to improve upon:
  • I don't quite understand why I stopped urinating. I don't think I was very dehydrated given the volume of pee I eventually produced hours after the race!
  • Wearing gaiters over my shoes would have been nice. I got some sand in them, but I never had to take them off.
  • I should have worn somewhat newer shoes.
  • I probably should have taken more Salt Stick capsules a little earlier, especially since I was drinking only water until about mile 33. I took about 1 per hour for maybe the first four hours.
  • I should have filled up to 64oz between Tunnel Creek (~mile 34) and Hobart (~mile 40).
  • Train more on uphills?

Other data:
  • Weighed around 166.6 lbs before heading to Lake Tahoe.
  • Weighed 162.4 lbs the day after.
  • The results are here or here.
  • Garmin data.
  • Photos from the race organizers can be found here.
As usual, I owe a huge thanks to Jennifer for letting me take the time to do this.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Avenue of the Giants Marathon -- 3:05:05

I had signed up for Avenue of the Giants Marathon long in advance, even though it was just three weeks after the Boston Marathon. I've heard such good things about it -- that's it's scenic, fast, and well-organized. And it's all true! All things considered, I'm very happy with how this race went. I finished in 3 hours 5 minutes 5 seconds and came in 10th place out of 448 finishers and 3rd in my 40-44 age group. It was a kind of "do over" race, considering how bad things went in Boston. In hindsight, I wish I had just had fun at Boston and not tried to run it fast, and I would have had a possibly much faster race here in Humboldt County, amongst the beautiful giant sequoias and redwood trees.

I ate heartily the night before, practically inhaling a huge plate of spaghetti (for only $10!) at the race-sponsored dinner, put on by a bunch of friendly locals.

And some funny guy from the UK told stories and give us tips about the race.

My friend and running buddy, Amanda, unfortunately had to do the 5+ hour drive separately, but we shared a campsite and hung out a bit with other runners at a neighboring campsite. Her two chihuahuas were well-behaved and enjoyed themselves.

Because of the cold, and not bringing enough warm clothes, and because my phone-as-alarm-clock had a nearly dead battery, I kept on waking up during the night. I didn't want to oversleep, so I kept on waking up and checking if my phone was still on, so that I knew the alarm would go off. So, next time, I should either stay at a hotel or get better at camping!

5am comes around finally and Amanda and I have lots of time before the 7:45am race start. We got coffee nearby at the pretty and quaint Myer's Inn (which the owner, Matt, was supremely gracious by allowing us to use his coffee and facilities). We got the dogs situated. But by the time we got to the parking area for the race, we had run out of time! We used nature's bathroom (aka, trees and bushes) one last time and the race started as we approached the back-of-the-pack runners. Doh!

Fortunately, there were only about 450 runners and it took us just 12-13 seconds to cross the start line. I had decided to run approximately the first mile with Amanda who was shooting for at least a 3:30 time in order to qualify for the Boston Marathon next year. For me, I wanted a "do over" race that went reasonably well. But I wanted to be cautious because I was still mildly sick with some flu-like symptoms plus I was not in peak condition because I had (stupidly) raced the Boston Marathon three weeks prior.

I kept on checking my heart rate, which began to annoy Amanda. "Just enjoy the scenery!" she scolded. My heart rate was low enough, at about 145 beats per minute and after about the first mile I decided to pick up the pace. I said goodbye to Amanda but then not more than a few minutes later, my shoe laces on one shoe came untied! Doh! So this being my 17th road marathon, for the first time, my shoe laces came untied. I double-knotted them this time and by the time I finished, there was Amanda again. She said something about the tortoise and the hare and I said goodbye again, laughing at myself.

I tried to take it easy and enjoy my surroundings. The forest was lush and gorgeous. The temperature was cool. I was running in the shade of these giant trees. These were truly ideal racing conditions with just the minor annoyance that the road wasn't closed to cars and there were a couple dozen cars inching their way through the oncoming runners. And then a race official was driving his pickup truck in the same direction as we were running and I heard him coming up behind me and I had to pull to one side. Annoying!

The course is laid out as a big V, with two out-and-backs. As I neared the first turn-around, I saw the leaders. They looked strong and fast and I wasn't concerned about them. After I turned-around, I got to see who was behind me. I had been counting the women and there was one woman in front of me and so when Amanda and I cheered each other on, I told her that she was 8th place female. I didn't even try to keep track of how many guys were in front of me -- 20? There were a lot.

The miles tick by and sometime in mile 8, I felt the flu-like symptoms that I've had. I felt a bit light-headed and maybe feverish and clammy-skinned. "Oh oh," I thought, "if this keeps on getting worse, I'll be in real trouble." Even though this was a slight downhill, the next mile showed that I had run it slowly, in 7:20, although I didn't feel like it was slower. In hindsight, the mile markers may have been a bit off, because my heart rate and pace were both recorded as being relatively steady. *shrug*

The bad feeling passed and I continued to enjoy the scenery and interacting with the other runners and walkers towards the back of the race. I was still passing runners occasionally and no one passed me.

As I neared the the half-way point, I heard a "bang" that indicated the start of another race. There was a half-marathon, 10K, and 5K all being held. I slowly caught up to a runner who was running basically at my pace and he was wearing hand-made sandals. Wow! That's a hard-core minimalist shoe, straight out of Born to Run.

Soon, the sandal-guy and I plowed into the back of the 10K runners and walkers who had started their race recently. I wasn't blocked, but I did do a lot of weaving back and forth. For the second half of the race, I passed a large number of 10K and half-marathon runners and walkers. It struck me as to how much of a difference there was in human ability. I admired everyone there for getting outside and challenging themselves. But I also had the private guilty pleasure of feeling especially fast and strong since I was running so much faster and farther than them.

At around mile 21, I started feeling bad again -- lightheaded and weak. I sensed that I was beginning to fall apart. The sick feeling passed, but then I started just feeling plain fatigued. I got the sense that this is what it feels like to have run a marathon three weeks before and to not be in peak condition! I just tried to hold it all together. I passed the first place woman and congratulated her. I caught up to two guys running together. My heart rate was in the low 170s and we were approaching mile 23. I tried to be patient and gather my strength and pass them with conviction. I felt like I could do it, and I so I picked up the pace and passed them. I was barely holding it all together and I had slowed down, from about 6:51 pace to just over 7 minutes per mile. My legs started feeling heavy. Suddenly my left hamstring froze up. I could only walk and hobble, trying to get the muscle to work again. I ate another energy gel. One of the guys I had passed earlier passed me. I was finally able to run again, but I felt slow and weak. Finally, finally I had less than a half mile to go. Then I saw the finish area. I tried to pick up the pace. I sort-of sprinted the last hundred meters. Whew! That was tough! I crossed the finish line feeling very relieved, but also very pleased with how the race had gone. I got my medal and slowly walked around.

I wasn't cramping too badly and I found a spot to watch the finishers and I kept an eye out for Amanda. I saw her! Somehow the clock showed 3:24 which would be a fantastic finish for her, but her actual time was 3:19 which was a 5 minute personal record! Awesome! 4th place female, out of 211! I yelled her name and hobbled through the finish area to congratulate her. She broke down sobbing with joy and relief and I was so happy for her, I started tearing up, too. Whew! What a day!

It was a long 6 hour drive back. Jennifer was very happy for me that I was healthy and had a good race. Thank you, my love!

Here are the results.
From my GPS watch and heart rate monitor, here is my Garmin data.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Boston Marathon -- Personal Worst

This was my 16th road marathon and my training had gone very well except for the two weeks prior to the race. My peak mileage was right around 90 miles for the week, I was getting in good long runs, and basically I thought I could do very well here. My goal was to break 3 hours. Instead, I ran my worst marathon by far and spent at least two hours in the medical tent after the race.

 But leading up to the race, I had a great time, seeing friends...

And watching the invitational mile...

And seeing accomplished runners talk about historic moments in this marathon. I heard Amby Burfoot, Dick Beardsley, Dave McGillivray (race director), Kathrine Switzer and others give advice and stern warnings about the heat, which was predicted to be in the low 80s the entire day. "If you don't think you're going too slow, you're going too fast." "Tomorrow is not a day to set a P.R." The race officials allowed the runners to have an automatic entry for next year if they didn't run the race (although the runners would still have to pay).

The friends I was with were smarter, and decided to have fun with the day, and to save their fitness for another race.

But not me! I had trained hard and wanted to run my fastest! Even though I had already signed up for Avenue of the Giants Marathon just 3 weeks after Boston. I could have taken it easy today.

So, I started off on the early downhills taking it easy at just under 7 minutes a mile. I kept on coming in at just under 7 minutes for the next few miles. I had this crazy thought, "What if I could run every mile in under 7 minutes?" I've never done that before, even though I've run many marathons at a sub-7 minute mile average pace. Well, soon enough I hit some hills and I took more than 7 minutes. But basically I was feeling pretty good in the first half. It was hot, though, and my heart rate kept on getting too high.

Of course, I should have slowed down and kept my heart rate low in the first half, like under 160 beats-per-minute or maybe the low 160s on the uphills. But I repeatedly hit the high 160s. I thought maybe I could hold on to this, since I had done so well at my last 50K at Lake Chabot.

I hit the halfway point at 1:33:09 and I knew I was in trouble and that having a negative split for the second half was very unlikely. I just didn't appreciate how bad things could get! I started getting cramps and feeling overheated. And each time I slowed down, I didn't appreciate how much worse it could get. Until it got worse. I started having to walk, to either keep my heart rate down or to work through cramps (calves, hamstring, side).

The race support and the crowd support were amazing the whole time. There was tons of water. Other runners were encouraging. The crowds were encouraging. I saw a fast runner dressed as Minney Mouse, and I've seen him in previous Boston Marathons, too. I saw a guy with painted toenails running completely barefoot. Another guy was wearing Vibram 5-Finger shoes.

For the last couple miles, I was a mess and could barely run. I walked three times within sight of the finish line because various leg muscles kept freezing up. I crossed the finish line in an unfathomable 3 hours 33 minutes. I have a hard time getting my mind around that. I'm in such better shape than when I ran my first marathon in December 2005, and I did that in 3 hours 19 minutes. Although I don't train in heat, I have raced in the heat many times. But perhaps I've never started a marathon with the temperature in the low 80s?

Anyway, I crossed the finish line and immediately started feeling light-headed and nauseous. I felt like if I didn't lie down right away, I was going to pass out. The finish line area is not a place where runners can just hang out. There are too many of us and we need to keep moving. A volunteer asked me if I needed help and I said "No, I just need to sit for a minute. I'm dizzy." A minute later she came back and asked how I was and I told her I need to lie down. She offered a wheelchair and since I wasn't going to be able to get out of there on my own at that moment, I accepted.

As I was being wheeled into the medical tent, my vision started fading and turning to white. It was a weird sensation to be totally conscious and aware of my surroundings yet seeing myself fall apart, teetering on the edge.

So, it took me about two hours of alternating between lying down and sitting before I could get out of there. I was pale and nauseous and drank a lot of water and sports drink during this time. I knew Jennifer would be worried, because of how badly I had run and the fact that I couldn't contact her for so long. (Yes, she was very worried and was one step away from calling all the hospitals in Boston.) I finally got out of there and made a mad dash for the airplane. So much for the planned leisurely afternoon of eating and socializing!

The day after the race, I was down 5.5 pounds from the previous Friday, so it's safe to assume I had become quite dehydrated during the race.

I'm still not quite sure why things went so badly. I've had some flu-like symptoms for a few weeks before this marathon and a few weeks after.

Anyway, the Boston Marathon is an amazing event and I want to do it again some year. The local paper wrote up a nice article about a few of us local runners who were there.

Update on 5/12/2012:
This article says that almost 2,000 runners (of the 22,500 who started) had some medical attention, and that the highest temperature along the course was 89F.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chabot Trail Run 50K -- 4:15, 3rd place

Post-race glow and Gu on my shirt, with Franz Dill and Jen Pfeifer
I raced the Lake Chabot 50K (~31.5 miles) today and it went better than my wildest dreams. It was a beautiful day, nice and cool, on beautiful trails, and Inside Trail Racing did a top-notch job. It was a lot of fun seeing so many friends and familiar faces. I kept up a good hard effort the entire time, had some minor cramping issues in the last couple miles, and crossed the finish line in 4 hours 15 minutes with an average pace of about 8:06 over plenty of beautiful hills (4200' elevation gain). I had to look up my old record at this distance (from 2007!) and I beat that time by about 38 minutes. Wow.

Sometime in January, I was faced with the decision -- do I sign up for a half-marathon or two with friends, or try to get in a good 50K? I feel like I had not had a really solid 50K that was in line with my marathon-running ability. I did well in the Pacifica 50K last year, but it's an exceptionally tough course plus I wasted many minutes dealing with chafing issues. In mid-January, I chose to sign up for this Lake Chabot 50K because my training was solid, the long runs of 20 miles came easily, and I thought I should "spend" my fitness on something bigger and more challenging than a half-marathon. So, I've been looking forward to this race for about 5 weeks. I knew I would have a friend or two there, and I knew I would enjoy the trails at the Lake Chabot Regional Park, and finally, I wanted to try out this relatively new trail racing company, Inside Trail Racing.

My training went well, and I had many excellent long runs with friends. I started pushing myself on my long runs, trying to finish them more quickly. I was able to run 20 miles with a couple thousand feet of elevation gain, in 2 hours 40 minutes, which for me was excellent for a training run. I topped out with just about 90 miles for a week. I've also been doing more core strengthening, by attending a "boot camp" with my wife once a week.

A few days before the race, it was announced that Pacific Coast Trail Runs had cancelled their Saturday races in Pacifica, including a 50K. A friend and running phenom, Jennifer Pfeifer, was entered in that Pacifica race and now wanted to find a different race for the same day and she contacted me, asking if I would carpool with her to this Lake Chabot 50K. Of course! Sweet!

The day before the race, I had a bet with my wife, Jennifer, and 9 year old daughter, Claire, about what time I would finish. I told them my previous 50K race times. Jennifer predicted 4:32 (impossible, I said!), Claire said 4:36, and I predicted 4:45.

So, early this morning, I did my usual routine -- woke up 3 hours before the race, ate about 600 calories (banana, bagel, Clif Bar, coffee), and I picked up Jen and we got to the race site nice and early, at about 7:15am for the 8:30am race start. The race was being set-up and the weather was cool and bright, with little wind. I got to chat with a couple friends from my running club and then we were off!
Jen and I didn't plan on running together, but as it happened, her training pace was right about where my race pace was. My heart rate quickly climbed to the high-150s whereas hers was around the mid-140s, and we have the same maximum heart rate, so she really was taking it easy. She is in much better shape than I am. Impressive! Inspiring! So, there were a lot of people in front of us, in three different races -- the 50K, 30K, and half-marathon (21K). After a couple miles, we started passing people regularly.

The course consists of two loops around Lake Chabot, with the first loop having about a 9K extension. The trails were wide and easy to run on. The lake and the views were gorgeous. The Grass Valley Trail was especially beautiful. Jen and I chatted and stayed together for most of the first 18.6 miles. We were running our own races, and I wasn't hesitant to leave her at the aid stations and she pulled ahead on the uphills, running every step whereas I would power-walk for short bits when my heart rate was getting too high. Still, I think having her there pushed me to run a little faster than I was comfortable with. But I was confident in my training and I thought I might be able to hold on to this pace of about 8:12 per mile instead of my planned 9:12 per mile.

My strategy with the aid stations was to just fill-up on water and only when I needed to. I grabbed food at only one aid station, just because the goldfish crackers looked especially yummy. I stuck to the energy gels that I had brought. So, I was very quick to get through the aid stations and the volunteers were great, with pitchers of water ready-to-go, to pour into my one 20oz water bottle.

At the end of the first loop, at the 30K mark, I grabbed my stash of energy gels from my "drop bag", high-fived Franz Dill (who blasted through the 30K in 2:23) and got moving. A volunteer told me that 3 runners were in front of us. Jen took longer at the aid station but caught me and passed me within two miles. I didn't trail her too far, but I was concerned about lasting to the finish. We chatted a bit and I observed that I was still averaging about a minute faster (8:12 pace as I recall) than my goal pace. If only I could keep this up, I would smash my personal record! Jen assured me that I could do it. My heart rate was now consistently in the mid-160s and I was working hard. I ran out of water twice on this second loop, but thanks to the frequent aid stations, I knew I would be able to refill soon. (The reason I ran out of water was that I skipped a fill-up a few times, going to every other aid station.)

With maybe 4 miles to go, I sensed Jen pushing extra hard and I started to feel twinges of cramps. She slowly pulled out of sight, but I really wanted a strong finish. In the last two miles, I started to feel the signs of serious cramps, like my right foot bending inwards, cramps in quads, and calves. I didn't freeze up or stop running, but I had to slow way down on the short but steep uphills. I was still fast on the downhills and flats, and my average pace for the race kept dropping, getting down to 8:06 or 8:07 by the end.

I was getting desperate to see the finish area at the Lake Chabot Marina. There it was! I turned a corner, raced to the finish line. Whew! I was greeted by Jen, and Franz, and Franz's wife Jen. Yay! The cramps immediately set in and my left hamstring and right calf froze painfully. I just stood there in a weird pose, unable to even hobble over to a tree for a few minutes.

I found out that I was actually 3rd place male and 4th overall, so I got a medal. Yay! And all the 50K finishers received a nice beer mug. Sweet! And finally, when I went to get my shirt, they said they had extra tech shirts and would I like one of those instead of my cotton shirt. Yes! I'll wear the tech shirt frequently, but I rarely wear cotton shirts.

And there you have it, the practically perfect 50K race. Feels great! My wife, Jennifer and daughter, Claire, were very happy for me. Jennifer won the bet about my finishing time and all of us could hardly believe that I could beat my expected goal by so much.

What went well, compared to previous 50Ks
So, why did I do so much better than I expected and why was this 50K so much better than my previous ones?

  • It's a very fast runnable course. Although it has plenty of hills, the hills are either not too steep or they're not too long.
  • I paced myself well, in hind sight.
  • I didn't fall apart (too much) at the end. In my other 50Ks, I had significant slowing down for many more miles towards the end.
  • My training was solid. Having that 90 mile week plus other 70-mile weeks plus some speedwork really helped.
  • I had my friend Jen Pfeifer there with me most of the time, which made me push myself just a bit harder. I think I would have had an excellent race without her, but I would have run it more conservatively.

Random Notes
  • I chatted with a guy, Eric Wilson, during the race who recognized me from my Headlands 100 race last August. Sweet! And I met Mark Tanaka, another accomplished ultrarunner. 
  • I weighed 165.0 lbs this morning. 
  • I got some minor chaffing of my thighs and my right big toenail was rubbing a bit in my shoe, but all-in-all, my equipment and preparation worked great. 
  • My Garmin data:  http://connect.garmin.com/activity/152566501 
  • The official results are here. My official time is 4:15:54.
  • The Chabot Marksmanship Range is a gun range along the Brandon Trail, for about a mile. Mostly, I didn't mind, but some of the higher-pitched cracking gun shots seemed especially nearby and made me jump and set me on edge.
  • I didn't have to make any bathroom stops. I usually have to urinate in these longer races.
  • I ate an energy gel every 30 minutes, and took a SaltStick capsule every hour. I took one ibuprofen at around the 20 mile mark, "just in case".
I want to give a big thanks to my wonderful wife, Jennifer, for watching Claire and letting me do this today.