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: 
  • 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.