Tuesday, June 24, 2014

San Lorenzo River 50K -- 5:10:47

I had a really good race on this beautiful and somewhat difficult course (5,175' of elevation gain and descent) in the mountains near Santa Cruz. I covered the 50.5 kilometers (31.4 miles) in 5 hours 10 minutes and 47 seconds (9:54 per mile average pace), which was good for 5th place overall out of 37 finishers. The weather was cool, and the trails were mostly shaded. The four hip-deep river crossings were actually rather fun! The approximately 2-3 miles on sand was different and unexpected and very slow. I think my hydration and calories and electrolytes and pacing were good, on the whole. I struggled a bit around miles 23 to 26, feeling tired and sore and having borderline-cramps, but I ate a lot and got through it. I also had some moments of tightness around my IT band on my right leg and although I felt good otherwise, the problem was getting worse and I was happy to stop when I reached the finish line.

It had been a long time since I've run the 50K distance -- over two years since the Lake Chabot 50K. The San Lorenzo River runs through Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, in Santa Cruz, and my wife suggested we sign up for this race, the San Lorenzo River races. Jennifer originally signed up for the half-marathon, but decided to do the 10K at the last minute. We were able to stay at a friend's house in Santa Cruz, which was very convenient. Jennifer's sister Lisa and hubby-to-be, Matt, ran the 10K as well.
My headband keeps the sweat out of my eyes, but it's got a certain dork factor.
The course consists of two out-and-backs, with a 4.6 mile extension half-way through the first out-and-back. We had to cross the San Lorenzo River on each out-and-back, so that would be four river crossings. Intriguing!

Race morning finally came around. I rested for about 8 hours, but I can't say I slept very much. My alarm went off at 5:30am, which gave me time to eat a quick breakfast (whole wheat rolls and an energy bar) in time for the 8am start.

It was going to be 6.9 miles from the start to the first aid station, so I went with two hand-held 20oz bottles that can be carried in my lightweight Ultimate Direction AK running vest. Parking was easy and there were three porta-potties there at the starting area. (I heard there were more restrooms nearby.) I met up with my friend Chris from the Coastside Running Club; he was doing the 30K.
Chris from Coastside Running Club

The race director, Wendell, gave us some instructions, including something about 50K runners needing to pick up a rubber band somewhere. (I think I missed a key sentence.) All of us 50K runners were asked to raise our hands and there were a good amount of us -- 40 maybe? Most people were in the half-marathon. Finally, promptly at 8am, we were on our way! Woo hoo! We had to do a little parade loop around the grass, to sort ourselves out by speed before hitting the single-track trail. 

I noticed a familiar form ahead of me, a short egg-shaped guy (sorry, that sounds unkind, but he has a distinctive shape) wearing Vibram 5-finger shoes. He had run in the last trail race I was in, in February, and he did the same thing -- sprinting to nearly the front of the pack and then a couple minutes later slowing down dramatically, making lots of people behind him try to get around him. Strange! Anyway, I got around him OK and I was in no hurry at the beginning, and along with a large number of half-marathoners and some 30K runners and marathoners, we made our way up the first steep climb.

I felt good and at ease and after a few minutes, I started checking my heartrate regularly, on my Garmin watch. The watch seemed to take an especially long time to "latch on". And then after it was giving good numbers, it started reporting garbage again (like 40 or 80 beats per minute, while working hard up the hill!). I soon realized that the battery must be dying on the heartrate monitor. Bummer! It was fine in the my last run with it. I should have replaced it about a month ago, just in case.

The miles ticked by and the scenery was really pretty. I love the redwood trees and the lush forest. There were lots of turns and intersections, but Coastal Trail Runs did a great job marking the course. I never had any confusion about where to go.

Around mile 3.6 came the first river crossing. I was curious! I had imagined that I might take a big jump and try to run in it, but that wasn't going to happen. The water was quite muddy on this first transit, probably because of the runners in front of me. There were many large slippery rocks, so I just marched across, holding the rope. The water came up to around my hip. The river was slow at this point, so I didn't feel any danger. It was fun!

A while later I saw the first place 50K runner heading towards me. He was fast and he made it look easy! There were a few more 50K runners in front of me, including the first place woman. The first place man and woman were a couple from Norway -- neat!

Nearing the first aid station, there was a long steep descent. I had some runners behind me and I'm sure that caused me to push extra hard. I kept on reminding myself that I was going to be back in this same spot several hours later and that I had a long ways to go. This section around mile 5 was hard on my quads and in hindsight, I think I should have taken this a bit easier.

Next came the "orange loop" -- a 4.6 mile extension for the 50K and 30K runners. I was quite surprised to soon find myself running on soft sand! There were stairs of sand climbing up to the peak and it felt really slow. I kept looking for where I was supposed to grab my rubber band, that would prove that I had done the orange loop, but I didn't see anything. I ran by the observation tower at the top, and I heard voices up there, but I didn't think to look up. I learned afterwards that the rubber bands were up a short flight of stairs. Oops!

Another runner caught up with me and he was in the 50K. He said he had run another 50K the previous weekend and that he was training for some kind of 12 hour "run with the devil" race. So, to Daniel Gallo from New Jersey, congratulations on your back-to-back weekend races and good luck on your goal race! He pulled ahead and soon was out of sight.

We headed back to the previous aid station (Henry Cowell Picnic Area) and then finally returned towards the start line. I caught up with Daniel again, who was pulling rocks out of his shoe. I was thinking, "You should use gaiters!" but I just said "hi" again and passed him. He would end up finishing just 19 seconds after me. He should have worn gaiters and he would have beat me! (I love my Dirty Girl gaiters.)

Somewhere in the next half hour or so, I felt my first tightness around my IT band, on the outside of my right knee. Oh no! It didn't hurt yet, but I knew from experience that this was the start of something bad that could get much worse, eventually causing loss of control of my leg and making running impossible. I started wondering if I was going to be able to finish the race. Fortunately, I made it to the next steep uphill, which is a lot easier on my leg. I also took a naproxen (an anti-inflammatory pain medication). The problem seemed to stabilize.

It was admittedly uplifting to be steadily passing the slower runners in the other races. Many of us gave encouragement to each other. I especially called out to 50K runners that I encountered.

I got back to the starting area, where there were lots of cheers for the 30K finishers and half-marathon finishers. It was a little bit dispiriting to have to head out again, for another 13+ miles. I made a quick stop, grabbing 5 energy gels from my drop bag (the race seemed to only offer caffeinated energy gels, which can give my heart a harmless but uncomfortable arrhythmia). I dropped off my useless heart rate monitor, too.

Onward and upward! I was heading north again. I felt reasonably good and I think I ran this uphill about as fast as the first time. It was pleasant covering the same pretty trails again. But eventually I noticed a sudden drop in energy and an increase in soreness. I felt borderline cramps, too. I slowed down a bit and became more cautious, to try to conserve my energy. I made sure to eat and drink and take my salt pills (about one per hour). I took a second naproxen.
I'm about to cross the river again, around the 3.5 hour mark.
Maybe two miles before the Henry Cowell aid station I came across the first place runner again. The Norwegian guy was still in first. But the shocker was that his girlfriend/partner was not far behind him. She was second overall! Cool! I didn't see them again until after the race, but she caught up with him and finished practically at the same time as he did, smashing the women's course record. Apparently, Malene Blikken Hauk√ły is a world-class skier and a superb endurance runner.
The first place woman, when she's not running.
I made it to the Henry Cowell aid station again, turned around, and steadily but carefully made my way back. For example, there was a low fence that we had to get over. This second time, I didn't try doing a running jump like I had the first time. There was a downed tree that we had to crawl under, and I didn't try to do a squat, but instead got my hands dirty, to save my legs. I walked more of the steepest uphills.

Eventually, I crossed Hwy 9, where the 10K turn-around was. There was an unofficial aid station there which I took advantage of and began to count on, so that I didn't have to carry as much water. I started feeling good again and soon I realized that there was only about 3 miles left! Woo hoo! I started to push the pace. I sometimes felt my IT band and I would back off the pace a bit, but otherwise I felt really good and the rest of my body felt like it could run much farther! I passed plenty of people in the other races, but us 50K runners were quite spread out by now.

As I descended to the finish line, on the last final steep hill, I couldn't sprint due to my IT band. It was having spasms and I couldn't have kept running for much longer. I let out a whoop as I saw the clearing. I heard some cheers and someone yelling my name! It was Matt and Lisa! That was so sweet for them to come back and see me finish.

Yay! I felt pretty good. I didn't have any cramps and my stomach felt good. I ate a big cup of soup and chatted a bit with Matt and Lisa. I picked up my medal for my 2nd place age group finish. It was a good day!

What went well
  • I had a good solid race!
  • My shoes and equipment mostly did very well.
  • My training was decent, with two four-hour runs that had nearly 5700' of elevation gain. So, I was quite prepared for the hills.
  • I started getting one minor blister at the end of my long toe of my left foot, but otherwise, my feet were in good shape.
  • Coastal Trail Runs put on an excellent race, with thorough and easy-to-follow course markings.
Things to improve
  • It was a bummer that my heartrate monitor's battery was dying, and so I didn't have that feedback about my effort that I'm accustomed to in races. Next time, I should replace the battery before a race.
  • I probably should have held back a bit more on parts of the first leg, on the toughest descents.
  • I got some bad chafing around my neck, due to the running vest pressing against my shirt. This didn't happen during my training runs, so I think it was bad luck that this particular shirt didn't work well with the vest.
Random data
  • I estimate that I drank 200 oz of water, mostly (2/3rds) as sports drink.
  • Ate 11 energy gels and a few handfuls of boiled potato chunks dipped in salt.
  • Ate about 5 SUCCEED salt capsules.
  • 2 naproxen
  • Weighed around 167 lbs the morning of the race.
  • Results
  • My Garmin data