Saturday, July 06, 2013

Western States 100 -- Hoped for a Miracle

Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, the big daddy of ultras, the one I read about in Dean Karnazes' inspiring Ultramarathon Man many years ago -- I was in! I had gotten into it on my third attempt six months ago, thanks to my running club, the Coastside Running Club. This race has a long rich history, and was a horse race until 1974, when the first runner, Gordy Ainsleigh, did the race on foot, in under 24 hours. This race is superbly well organized with a small army of volunteers supporting the runners from Squaw Valley to Auburn, CA.

For the week before the race, to help acclimate to the altitude, I rented a house with my friend Franz and our families stayed there. It rained for the first few days and then it got hot. We all had a good time and Claire played well with their two boys. There was a nearby lake that we all enjoyed.

We went on some nice hikes...

Me and Franz, laughing about something

Sadly for me, I was coming into the race with an injury, illiotibial ("I.T.") band syndrome, that I got apparently at the Miwok 60K (race report). With 8 weeks before Western States, I thought there was plenty of time for the injury to heal itself, and I did stretching and strengthening exercises and massage with very little running. Yet, as the date approached, I was still as injured as ever and couldn't run more than a mile pain-free. I could bicycle and use certain gym equipment like the StairMaster or an elliptical machine, and even run up steep hills, but running on level ground and especially downhills quickly brought up the pain and caused me to stop. If I persisted through the pain, I felt like the side of my leg was having spasms and that I was losing control and would fall over.

I told my chiropractor friend, Dan Rhodes, that I would do a test run three days before the race, and if I could run one hour pain-free, then I would start the race. Well, the test run went pretty well going uphill, but on the descent, I could only run a few minutes before the familiar tightening feeling came and then pain, and after that I could only run downhill for a few seconds at a time. Still, my overall average pace was just under 15 minutes per mile and for the race, I only needed to average 18 minutes per mile, so I thought there was a chance I could finish the race and I decided to go ahead and start it. That was Wednesday. The race was on Saturday.

On Thursday, my sense of optimism took over and I thought I would do another test run, hoping for a better result, and it was much worse than the run the day before. I couldn't run for more than a few steps at a time on level ground or downhill, with 3 or 4 minutes of walking in between each attempt. But I could still run up steep hills and I could still walk fast pain-free, and my average pace for that "run" was around 15:10 per mile, if I recall correctly.

I also caught some kind of cold and my throat hurt on Thursday morning. Oh no! It was much much better on Friday morning, though.

We visited the race center at Squaw Valley to do some shopping, see some celebrities...

Hal Koerner and Franz and Franz's son, Max

...and take a Gondola ride. Fun!

Thursday night, I had an excellent night's sleep, but on Friday night, the night before the race, with my alarm set to wake me at 3am, I tossed and turned and I couldn't relax or stop thinking about my likely impending doom. I think I had a nightmare about having to drop out of the race.

Race day! I ate a couple of small bowls of oatmeal with half a banana and an English muffin with some peanut butter and jelly. Franz and some of his crew (Jen and Hao) and I hurried over to nearby Squaw Valley. A few minutes after we left our rental house, I asked if we had brought everything. Franz's water bottles were left behind! We had plenty of time to go back and get them and get to the race start for our final weigh-in and to pick up our bibs. My race weight, with shoes and running clothes was 170.6 lbs. All these weeks of not running have added on around 5 lbs, unfortunately.

We met up with Mike Weston, the third member from our running club. Everyone is in good spirits. Finally, 5am comes around, and with the traditional shotgun blast, we are off!

For 95% of us, the first few miles consists of hiking, due to the steep climb up to the Escarpment aid station. The dawn light and bright lights under the ski lift illuminate our way -- no need to carry headlamps. With a fast hike, my heart rate quickly got up to the mid 150s. Take it easy, I kept on telling myself. There's a very long ways to go!

The views of Lake Tahoe were gorgeous. I wish I had a camera. There was lots of excitement at Escarpment at mile 3.5. I got my two 20oz water bottles filled and then I was on to the first serious downhill.

I decided to jog down, nice and easy. After a few minutes, the familiar tightening sensation began, on the outside of my right knee. But it didn't become painful! I was hoping for a miracle. What if I was cured?! I tried different ways of orienting my right foot and I found that if I rotated it outwards a bit, like 10 degrees, that the sensation was totally tolerable. If it didn't get any worse, I could absolutely put up with this all day and night. I was so happy! I was on a serious runners high. This was the most running I had done in 8 weeks. I even had dreams of finishing in under 24 hours. My average pace so far became an absolutely blazing 14+ minutes per mile. (Considering my low expectations, this was fast!)

In anticipation of the intense 100F heat later in the day, I got on top of my hydration early. I ate a salt capsule every 30 minutes and an energy gel every 20 minutes. Due to all the drinking and my slow pace, I ran out of water 20 minutes before reaching Lyon Ridge at mile 10.5. No worries. I kept on eating on schedule (thinking to Miwok and how I stopped eating when I ran out of water and how that was probably a mistake).

After filling up and leaving the Lyon Ridge aid station, within a hundred meters I had gulped down half a water bottle. Oops. I thought of turning around and refilling, but I didn't want to go back down this hill and I thought it would be OK if I ran out for another 20 minutes before the next aid station. Well, I ran out of water for 33 minutes before the next aid station! Worrying! The day was warming up. I had some good conversations with a couple of other runners. I was passed by a handful, when I took it easy on some of the downhills. Be patient, I told myself. I kept on trying to imagine being on these trails 12 and 20 hours from now.

At Red Star Ridge, I had my drop bag waiting for me, which would contain a special ice-holding bandana and two water bottles. I wasn't originally planning on filling the bandana with ice here, but the aid station volunteer suggested it and so, sure, why not. I'm glad I did! I guzzled a full 20oz while in the aid station, refilled it, and left now carrying 60oz of sports drink and 20oz of water. I was wearing the Ultimate Direction AK race vest which holds two bottles in the front and can carry two more in the back. Comfortable and convenient!

The day was getting warmer and I was becoming very grateful for the ice cold bandana around my neck. I was hiking fast on the uphills and running slowly on the level ground and downhills. I was so happy!

Then, for no apparent reason, within a matter of a handful of strides, my IT band starting hurting. Don't panic. I told myself I would simply walk fast for 20 minutes and then try running again. 20 minutes go by. I tried running and there was no difference at all. Then walking started hurting. Oh no! I stopped to do my special stretches (the pigeon stretch from yoga), which required getting on the ground, with one leg stretched straight behind me and the other leg folded in front of me, and leaning over on the folded leg. Other runners asked if I was OK. One woman said "I can't stretch like that on a good day." No improvement. I stopped again. Stretched again. Took off my shoes and applied more Body Glide. (I was feeling some hot spots in my left foot.) Tried again. No improvement. Stretched again. No improvement. Many more people passed. Every step with my right leg hurt a lot. Damn it! I'm guessing these last few miles were taking 20+ minutes each. My average pace for the day fell greatly, like to about 16.5 minutes per mile. I was still comfortably ahead of the cut-off time, but how could I possible hobble for over 75 miles?! I was seriously worried that I would end up stuck somewhere on the trail if I continued for much longer. I decided I would have to drop at the next aid station.

photo credit: Chihping Fu

photo credit: Chihping Fu

I finally arrived at Duncan Canyon aid station, staffed by the Quicksilver running club from the Bay Area. They were great and had a western theme going. I explained what was going on...

photo credit: Chihping Fu
I was sooo disappointed. Tears were shed. The aid station workers tried to convince me to go on. Chihping tried to convince me to go on. If we were at mile 80, then sure, I could try hobbling for 20 miles. But with 76 miles remaining, it just seemed ridiculous and even dangerous to try to continue. I got my yellow wristband cut. It was over.

I hung out in the shade, and got a good tip for another kind of stretch to do. I got the radio operator to call in a message that could be delivered to Jennifer, letting her know that I had dropped and would meet her at Foresthill. I met Loren from my running club who is also in Quicksilver. He offered me a ride to Foresthill when the aid station had closed. Thanks, Loren!

I got to see the remaining runners come through, including the guy who started it all, Gordy Ainsleigh. Cool! Mike Weston came through, struggling with a stress fracture in his foot. He continued on, even though he thought he was unlikely to finish. I got a nice sandwich at the aid station, helped clean up a bit, and painfully walked down a long hill to Loren's car.

I finally got to Foresthill and by sheer coincidence, Jennifer had driven all the way to Yuba City (to drop Claire off) and returned within minutes of me arriving. Nice! I hung out with Franz's crew, let friends and family know what had happened to me, via Facebook. I got to see the lead male runners come through (Timothy Olson, with Hal Koerner just minutes behind).

Jennifer and I said goodbye to Franz's crew and left to go to my running club's aid station at Auburn Lake Trails, mile 85.2. I at least wanted to say "hi" to everyone. Even though I was quite tired and was probably sick again (people told me I looked pale). I decided to spend the night here and hang out with my buds and let Jennifer off the hook. (The original plan was for her to volunteer while I ran the race.) Jennifer took off to get Claire and then our dog and head home.
Coastside Running Club's Auburn Lake Trails Aid Station

Amanda waiting for the next runner. It's Christmas in June!

Franz Dill comes through! And he's given the Halleluha Goat by Eric Vaughan.
I took two one-hour naps, but otherwise was pleasantly busy the whole night and morning. I got to see Franz come through! Great job, Franz!

Finally, it was time to clean-up and head home. Good job, Captain Margaret! This was our second year staffing this aid station, and I think it was a resounding success. I hitched a ride with Norm, Mor, and Amanda, and tried to stay awake for the three hour drive home.

So, all-in-all, it was quite an active eventful weekend. I started the race hoping for a miracle. It didn't work out, but I made the best of the situation that I could.

The Good
  • The Ultimate Direction AK Vest worked quite well
  • The Hoka One One's were comfortable, in terms of running on rocks and rough terrain, but my left foot developed several blisters. Perhaps the shoe laces weren't tight enough?

The Bad
  • Had to drop at mile 23.8 due to my IT band injury.
  • The Nathan 20oz water bottle dripped a lot unless the nozzle was pushed in. It was new to me, and several runners behind me warned me that I was losing water. I prefer the Ultimate Direction water nozzle style instead.

The Random
  • 170.6 lbs weigh-in on race morning, after breakfast and with my clothes on. I felt fat.
  • I accidentally packed two caffeinated energy gels in my running vest, which gave me some bad heart palpitations later that afternoon. I can't take caffeine any more!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Miwok 60K -- Too Short and Too Far

Well, I finished!
It was supposed to be the Miwok 100K, and I was really focused on it. Perhaps too focused. I had a lot of difficulty sleeping the two nights before the race. Then on the morning of the race, we discovered that due to danger of fire, that the race would be shortened and start three hours later.

So, it wasn't the 100K race I had planned for. My friend Franz and I decided to run 7+ miles right away, to get in more miles for the day. Mentally, this wasn't a race any more, but a supported training run. I got in touch with my running club members who were staffing the Rodeo Valley aid station, and with my pacer, Amanda, to let her off the hook. The race time arrived.

So, was it a race? Or was it a training run? I switched back and forth. But when the going got hard, and I was dehydrated and slowed down, I just lost heart. I gave up mentally and just cruised in to the finish. It was a long slow unpleasant slog.

Coming down the Dipsea Trail, a couple miles from the finish, I felt a weird tightness around my right knee.It wasn't painful, but it was strange. Two days after the race, I couldn't run even a mile without my IT band in my right leg painfully tightening or inflaming or whatever. Injury. Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run at the end of June was now in jeopardy.

Why did things fall apart so badly? Well, my weight came down suddenly the day before. I forgot to take food when I needed to and I didn't keep up with my salt intake and water. I think mentally, being so tired really affected me. I got in around 44 miles for the day, but at a high cost. It's been three and half weeks since the race and I haven't been able to run more than two miles at a time.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Oakland Marathon -- A Turn Too Far

Early in the morning, before the race
This was my second running of the Oakland Marathon. Three years ago, I ran the inaugural event and I was really impressed by the overall organizational effort and attention to detail. It was a top-notch event with a varied and interesting course through many diverse neighborhoods of Oakland. My positive memories were also helped by the fact that I set a personal record at the time and came in 9th place out of 946, with a 3rd place age group win.

This year was excellent, too, except for one particular intersection. The race was very well organized and considering the complexity of the course route, they really did a great job. There must have been a hundred intersections that had police or volunteers or cones. Unfortunately, all it takes is one problem with the course to seriously derail a race.
"I think here is where I missed the turn."
Yes, out of 20 road marathons and almost as many trail ultramarathons (I've lost count), this is the first time I got seriously lost in a race. I would expect this to happen out in a forest, far from crowds, where it would be easy to miss a small colored ribbon attached to a bush, that indicates a turn. But in a big-city marathon, with nearly a thousand marathoners, I was quite surprised to find myself at mile 26.7, according to my watch, and in theory a half mile beyond the finish line, but with no finish line in sight!

Here's how I described what happened to the race officials, in an email later that day:
Good afternoon,
I had a good race in the marathon this morning and I really enjoyed the experience, except for the very end. I want to thank your team for pulling off such a complicated event and giving the runners a first-rate experience. The volunteers and police and the whole community were great. Thank you!
Unfortunately, I and a small number of other runners (full marathon and possibly relay) accidentally left the course at around mile 25.7. I'll report the facts as best as I can and I'm hoping I can receive a timing adjustment.
After mile 25, and thinking I was on track for a 3:01:30 finish or so, I put in a last burst of effort but I never saw the finish line. Instead I was surrounded by much slower full-marathoners. When my watch showed 26.7, with no finish line in sight, I suspected that something was wrong, but I know that the reported GPS distance is always more than the certified distance. When I saw the mile 18 marker, I knew I had somehow gotten way off course. I stopped and turned-around and worked my way back, at a slow jog (I was cramping and exhausted and despirited). I asked directions and a policeman pointed me to the shortest route to the finish line. I crossed the line in 3:19:05 (the reported net time), with my watch showing 28.2 miles.
Here are the facts as best as I can tell.
1. I left the marathon course around mile 25.7. If you take a look at the attached "missed turn" picture, or if you look at the map of my run on Garmin Connect, you'll see the route I ran. You can compare it with the "correct route" attached picture, which is a zoomed-in portion of the nice PDF map you guys provided.
2. At the point of this missed turn, I was following cones and I and a few other runners near me and another guy a couple hundred meters ahead all believed that we were on course.
3. Crossing 14th St. at this point was "weird" because traffic control seemed strange. Another runner and I remarked about this. So, in hindsight, that was a clue.
4. Immediately after crossing 14th St., a course monitor on bicycle passed me and I told him that something was wrong about the way we had to cross that intersection. He slowed down and spent some time on his phone, texting or entering data or something, and then he took off, in the same direction I was running. He never said anything to me.
5. I started coming across much slower full-marathoners.
6. Eventually, I figured out that I was off course and that I was running with people who were about 8 or 9 miles behind me.
7. I made my way back to the finish line by asking directions, and explaining that I was off course, and taking the shortest possible route.
I then went on to ask for a timing adjustment and explained what I thought went wrong. Their response was:
I apologize for the course mistake at Sunday's Oakland Running Festival. Unfortunately our course marshal it seems didn't show up and the person who laid out the cones made it confusing.
I thought I covered the marathon distance in 3:01:10, but they offered 3:02:07, which was fine. Close enough! As of this moment, a week after the race, that gives me 2nd place in my age group. Cool!

So, other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? :-)  No, seriously, I did have a good time and I enjoyed the race overall, and I would run it again. The crowd support was less than I remembered it being three years ago, but there were some great moments.

Even if I had stayed on course, I would not have beat my time from three years ago of 2:59:03. I'm probably not quite in as good as shape (over the hill!) and I also ran the first couple of miles a little bit too fast (7:04 and 6:57) whereas three years ago, I was a bit more careful and stuck to a plan better.

For a terrific race report that shows what we marathoners experienced, please check out Scott Dunlap's blog here. The first-place woman, Devon Crosby-Helms, also wrote a great race report and she had troubles with the same intersection I did.

Jessica filmed me at nearly mile 6. Do I always look this slow? 

I found the finish line! I tried to put on a good show, but I was wiped out and demoralized.

I got my finisher's medal and I feel pretty good physically.

Hanging out with brother-in-law Stephen. Thanks for being there!

Thanks for being there, sis!
Stephen and Jess, after the race.

Me and Stephen, after the race

Random data:

  • Weight on race day morning: 165.6 lbs.
  • It was fun seeing the 1st place half-marathoner pass me. It was as if he was sprinting. A long while later, the 2nd place half-marathoner passed me. Those are the only two half-marathoners I saw.
  • My Garmin data is here. Compare to the 1st place woman's, for example: here.
Update 5/27/2013:
I received a nice trophy, "1st place male marathon masters" for finishers over 40 years old, and a check for $150! Cool! I should point out that I was actually the 2nd place masters finisher, but Scott Dunlap got into the top 5 and so received a cash prize for that and was thus ineligible for the masters award.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Lake Chabot 30K -- 2:20:17

I had a good race at this Lake Chabot 30K, put on by Inside Trail Racing.  The organizers listed the distance as being 18.4 miles, with 2800' of elevation gain, and the course goes around the beautiful Lake Chabot in Oakland, CA.

This was a repeat of last year's 50K in many ways, including carpooling with my very accomplished running friend, Jen Pfeifer. But unlike last year, I wanted to run a shorter distance because I have the Oakland Marathon just a month away, and I didn't want to have to go through a longer recovery that the 50K would entail.

Jen picked me up at 6:15am, which was plenty early for the 8:30am start. (I think we were parked at 7:05am or so.) I saw several other friends, the air was cool and crisp, and soon enough, we were off!

The course was very well marked, including the novel practice of using a special colored blue ribbon to mark trails that we are *not* supposed to run down. For the first couple of miles, I hung with Jen and my friend Dan Rhodes, from my running club. I thought we were running a bit on the fast side, but I didn't have the pace information showing on watch. (I got a new Garmin 910XT, and hadn't configured all the screens yet.) Jen informed us that were running right around 7 minutes per mile. It felt a bit fast, but doable.

Dan was in the 50K and said he would treat this race as a supported long run. Yet, after a couple of miles into it, he started pulling away from me and Jen. He's a fast runner, but even for him, this had to count as a race, and he had a whole half-marathon to go after I would finish!

Somewhere in the hills, near the gun range (which wasn't so annoying as last year for some reason), and perhaps on the Brandon trail, Jen continued going straight up a steep hill, not seeing the pink ribbons on the trail heading to the left. I called out to her to get her back on the course. Close call! So I got to return the favor from last year, where she pointed me in the right direction when I was about to miss the trail markings.

I made a special effort on the short but steep uphills, to run every step. Last year, for the 50K, I "power hiked" on the steepest sections, to keep my heart rate down. I also let loose on the downhills. On one of the miles, Jen called out "6 Oh 3". I didn't quite understand her and she explained, "we ran that last mile in 6:03". Oh, wow, OK, that was a bit fast for me. My heart rate was high, but I felt in control.

Jen's plan was to run 8 miles on the easy side and then pick up the pace for the last 10 miles or so. So, I'm huffing and puffing and in total race mode, and she puts in her ear buds and gently pulls away from me. (Or maybe I was slowing down a bit or both.) My heart rate seemed high and I was only half-way done, so, I didn't want to push too hard. We passed some runners who were either in the 30K or 50K.

Eventually, I started running into the half-marathoners, who didn't take this 10K extension that the 30K runners did. I was starting to feel cramps coming on and was really feeling the effort, so it was a nice mental boost to be passing other runners. I tried to drink more. I was eating an energy gel every 45 minutes. I was looking forward to seeing the lake again, because then I knew I would be just a few miles from the finish.

My legs started feeling heavy and I couldn't sprint up the short steep hills any more, and my heart rate fell a bit, and I fell further behind Jen and could no longer see her up ahead. I passed Colleen, from my running club, who was in the half-marathon, and we yelled encouragement to each other. I recognized that I was nearing the finish and there was a helpful "1 mile to go" sign, but I couldn't really sprint, as I was very close to having bad cramps. Finally, I rounded the corner. *whew* I was glad to finish!

All-in-all, I'm happy with the results. There were some strong competition in my race, but I got 2nd place in my age group of 40-49. And I finished just about a minute behind Jen, which I take as a good sign. (She was first place woman by about 17 minutes!) My friend Dan was about 45 seconds in front of me at the 30K mark and he went on to have a strong 50K finish.

So, for my first race of 2013, I'm happy!

What went well:
  • No trips, no falls, and I didn't get lost.
  • I averaged about 7 minutes 27 seconds per mile on some hilly terrain, for about 18.4 miles.
  • No chafing or blisters, except relating to my new heart rate monitor. (See below.)
  • I had a good time!
  • My new Garmin 910XT watch seemed to work great. (I had broken my Garmin 310XT in a fall a few months ago, and the super-glue gave way.)
Things to improve:
  • I got some cramps and I probably pushed a little too hard in the middle of the race. I think I would have had a slightly faster time and a slightly better experience if my hardest effort were towards the end.
  • I may not have drank enough or had enough salt.
  • I dropped my water bottle once.
  • The Garmin 910XT's heart rate monitor band really dug into my chest. I knew it was likely to cause chafing and I had used Body Glide, but not enough and not in all the right places apparently. The strap wasn't too tight -- I started the race with it too loose and I had to tighten it shortly after the start. I have to go back to using the Garmin 310XT's heart rate monitor for anything over an hour's run.
Random data:
  • I don't know how much I weighed because my scale's batteries went dead, but I think I was between 164 and 165 lbs.
  • Ate an energy gel every 45 minutes.
  • Results are here.
  • Garmin data is here.

nice shirt & mug!