Sunday, December 08, 2019

California International Marathon -- 3:09:43

The weather was cool with some light rain from miles 3 to 5 and then again during mile 20. This being my 7th time running the California International Marathon, I did the best compared to expectations, although it was still the slowest that I've run this race. My goal was around 3:15:00 and I finished in 3:09:43 with my fastest miles at the end. This should qualify me for the Boston Marathon in 2021.

I had wanted to run the Boston Marathon again and so I needed to get my "BQ" or Boston Qualifier. After coming back from an injury in 2018, I never quite regained my speed. Some of the problem was motivation -- running 70 miles a week takes a lot of time and my family and I had moved to Belmont, and I didn't have a strong local running community any more. The other problem was probably my training for Sinister 7, a tough hundred miler in the Canadian Rockies; I just wasn't doing enough speedwork. So, my attempt to qualify at the Santa Rosa Marathon in August failed. (Race report.)

So, for CIM, I did some key things differently:
1. I learned about the Belmont Runners, a local running club, and I started attending the track workouts every Thursday night.
2. I got in maybe 8 long runs of 20 miles, and those were getting better and faster.
3. I paid the most I have ever paid for running shoes -- $275, including tax and delivery -- for the Nike Vaporfly Next%.

On the day before the race, I traveled with my friends Rachael and Bob and their big old dog to Sacramento. Rachael was also running the race and she also wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but without having done any speedwork or long runs for a couple of months, her chances of qualifying were quite low.

The expo was in a new location, a stadium, and it worked well. We enjoyed listening to a panel of interesting speakers talk about their various accomplishments and challenges. I met up with an Excelsior running club member (my newest running club), to pick up a shirt that I would wear during the race.

Rachael and I at the Expo
I stayed with my and my wife's friend Elise. Thank you again, Elise!

Race Day
4:10am -- woke up. Ate 1.5 bagels with peanut butter and drank a Starbucks Mocha. I felt full and didn't want to eat any more.
~5am -- was picked up by Bob and Rachael.
~5:10am -- dropped off at nearest bus pick-up spot. The bus departure time was listed as 5am, but that would just be the first bus. With so many runners and such a long line of buses, we had plenty of time and there were a lot of people behind us.

Catching the one-way bus
I felt thirsty and drank 20 ounces of water on the bus, about an hour before the race would begin.

The weather at the start area was fine -- cool (but not freezing) and without rain. After standing in line for the porta-potties, it was time to drop off our drop-bags and then get positioned for the start! We didn't have time to do a proper jog or any strides to warm up.
Excitement is in the air!
I found my way to the 3 hour 15 minute pace group, which was identified by a large sign. The sign also listed the pace in minutes per mile and I was momentarily worried that I hadn't remembered what the pace would be. I double-checked with the pace group leader and he said the sign had a mistake. My rough plan was to stay with this group and then see how I felt.

Soon, the race began! I hadn't experienced this two-lane start before, but it worked really well. Each large group of runners was instructed to walk up to the start line, and volunteers with ropes controlled our pace. This led to a very smooth start where we could run as soon as we crossed the start line.

The first two miles felt easy and I stayed just in front of the 3:15 pace group. I recognized a bright neon-yellow shirt of another Excelsior club member and I said "hi" to her. She had started near the front, in order to have a "gun time" even though her goal pace was substantially slower than my goal pace. We wished each other luck and I pulled ahead.

I started pulling ahead of the 3:15 pace group and I wouldn't see them again for the remainder of the race. I felt good and at ease, running about 7 minutes 20 seconds a mile.

A light rain occurred for around miles 3 to 5. It was pleasant.

The miles ticked by pleasantly. I ate an energy gel at the 40 minute mark and then the 80 minute mark.

Around mile 11, I felt a twinge of a cramp in my right foot, which felt like a tug on my foot, bending it inwards. Oh oh. I hoped that eating a caffeinated energy gel would help relax my muscles somehow, so I ate that early, at around the 13 mile mark. Otherwise, my breathing was easy and I felt good.

The volunteers were great and the aid stations were well organized, and the volunteers shouted clear instructions about who had water and who had sports drink. I always went for the sports drink, figuring I could use the salt and calories.

The race has multiple categories of wheelchair divisions, but I came across a kind that I had never seen before. It was a three-wheel racing-type wheel-chair, but he had working legs and feet and was pedaling, with gears, and steering with his hands! I was very confused. He was older and heavy-set and all of the runners were passing him on an uphill. Then on the downhill he flew by us, going at least 20 miles per hour, and I never saw him again. How can a running race have pedaled racing tricycles? Maybe the guy was unable to walk but could still use his legs?

My cramps seemed on the edge but under control. Another problem was developing, though. I started feeling both the need to pee and poop! Doh! I kept telling myself to go just one more mile. Argh, stupid body.

I seemed to be passing people more often, and I wasn't being passed by others. Somewhere around mile 17, I noticed another runner keeping pace with me and we were slowly passing people together. At mile 20, I commented out loud, to myself as much to her, "Just a slow 10K left. We do this all the time." I was starting to feel desperate. We reached this awesome cheering section on a bridge, that had a bunch of stationary bicycles with hard-pedaling people and a cheer section and pumping music. It was the best cheer section of the race. We chatted a bit over the next few miles. I was pushing harder and harder. My breathing and heart rate felt under control, but I was "red lining" my legs and energy levels. Around mile 22, she said she needed to slow down to a 7:15 per mile pace and I think we had been running at 7:05 pace. I wished her luck. Onward.
Staying focused while making a left turn in mile 25
Finally, finally, I got to the familiar downtown and I rounded the last two left turns and put in a nice sprint to the finish line in front of the capitol building. Woo hoo!

I wandered over to the women's finish area and waited for a while for my "friend", but we somehow missed each other. I started feeling cold, so it was time to get my drop bag.

In the exit area, the food and drinks were really nice. It was the first time that I've seen them hand out reusable water bottles with optional Nuun tablets.

The drop bag pickup area had moved from previous years (it used to be on part of the lawn on the capitol grounds) but was now on a street. It was worrisome that there was quite a crowd around each sign that listed the bib number range for that area. I was four rows back. I'll try not to exaggerate -- it seems like a drop bag was delivered over the fence about every 45 seconds to one minute, and it took from 15 to 20 minutes for me to get mine. We runners were all holding our bibs above our heads, so that the volunteers could see our numbers. As one arm got tired, I switched arms, back and forth. The volunteers were earnestly scanning the crowd of runners, and occasionally searching the bags on the tables in front of them. Other volunteers had bags in their hands and were occasionally calling out the numbers of runners who weren't there. Some bags seemed to be passed up from far back and were piling in a heap near us. We runners cheered every time a bag was delivered to us. The race organizers later acknowledged that this new process had problems. I've never seen anything like this in prior years or in any other race!

I found Bob and then Rachael finished and on the drive home we stopped at Ikeda's in Davis for some fresh-from-the-oven pies. Mmmm. What a wonderful day!

The day after, Monday, I didn't really feel any muscle soreness. I sensed a deeper kind of soreness, like in my joints and bones, but otherwise, I felt quite good. I commuted to San Francisco as usual. To catch a train, I was even able to run down a flight of stairs. I went right back to running with the Belmont Runners on Tuesday and Thursday.

What went well
  • I was 10 minutes 12 seconds faster than my recent Santa Rosa Marathon and I will almost certainly get in to the Boston Marathon for 2021.
  • The Nike Vaporfly Next%, according to a careful analysis by NY Time's Upshot, probably gave me between 4% (7 minutes 37 seconds) and 5% (9 minutes 25 seconds) of the improvement.
  • My training was better, too, and gave me, statistically speaking, the additional minute or two of improvement. It was helpful running with the Belmont Runners, as I was more consistently doing speedwork.
  • Moleskin (from a new roll) on my nipples stayed on well and prevented chafing that had crept in from recent training runs.
Things to improve
  • Before the race, maybe I should have drank more water closer to when I woke up rather one hour before the start.
Random data

Sunday, October 20, 2019

HMB Pumpkin Run Half Marathon -- 1:26:47

I ran the inaugural Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Run half marathon this morning. I finished in 1:26:47, according to my watch, which was about as fast as I was a year ago, so I'm happy for that. The race was well organized and it was good seeing so many friends either in the race or volunteering.

GPS watch data.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Waterdog 10K -- 40:51, 3rd place

I had fun at the Belmont Water Dog 10K. It was a well-organized small race (200 runners?). It was good seeing some friends from Pacifica Runners (Kendra and Ami, above) and from my newest running club, Belmont Runners. The local Rotary Club made pancakes for everyone afterwards. Yum! About a third of the course is on a dirt out-and-back trail, up and down a fairly steep hill.

I live so close to the race start, that I just jogged the mile or so there as a warm up. They told me that they required ID to pick up my bib, but I managed to convince them to let me run. (The website did not mention this requirement.) I said "hi" to a couple other runners from Belmont Runners and lined up near the front.

They announced that a bicyclist would lead the 5K, but not the 10K. I thought that was unusual. The national anthem was sung beautifully.

Soon, we were off! I tried to take it easy early on and I found myself in 4th place. Around mile 1.5, as we're heading uphill on Ralston, I knew we had to make a left turn into Waterdog Park, and I was surprised that the two guys a ways in front of me (100 feet?) made a left turn, but the first place guy far ahead had continued straight. Oh oh. Looks like someone went off course. As I approached the turn, the left turn was clearly marked with chalk on the ground and lots of cones. A guy was walking to that spot with a child in tow and he said something like "I got here a bit late." He was a course monitor, to help people stay on course. Oops. It would have been much better if he had arrived there about a minute sooner. So, now I was in third.

The climb up the steep dirt trail felt difficult, and I was looking forward to turning around. The guy behind me was slowly catching up, but I couldn't do anything about it. He passed me shortly after the turn-around and now I was in 4th. We both passed the former 2nd place runner, so now I was in 3rd.

Heading back downhill on Ralston Ave., I tried to keep a good fast pace. I merged with the 5K runners and I had to go into the car lane once, after a quick glance over my shoulder, to get around the joggers.

I was getting desperate to finish and I put in a surge towards the end, just staying in front of the former 2nd place runner who was on my heels.

Shockingly, I was awarded 2nd place overall and I received a $45 gift certificate to a local gym. Cool! A day or two later, they corrected the results. Apparently, the first place guy who crossed had been ignored somehow. So, the official results have me being in 3rd, which is correct. The original 1st place guy, I learned later, ran a long way up Ralston Ave., going far off course, and never rejoined the race. I think he had been following the cones that were keeping cars out of the lane and that he had not studied the course and had not looked for the chalk course markings.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Santa Rosa Marathon -- 3:19:55

I had not regained my speed since recovering from plantar fasciitis in early 2018, so my goal was a hopefully achievable 3:17:00. I was on pace until about mile 20 and then I started feeling borderline cramps, so I backed off the pace a bit. And then I was gradually losing energy ("bonking") and the miles were getting slower and slower. Strong twinges of cramps in my lower legs were hitting me. I dug really deep for the last 1.2 miles to sneak in just under my Boston qualifying time of 3:20:00, but I think my chances of actually getting into the Boston Marathon are really low, since each age group bracket fills up with the fastest runners first. (Update: I didn't get in.) But anyways, I enjoyed the experience and the challenge, and I thought the race was well-supported and well-organized.

Other random info:
* I didn't have to use a porta-potty.
* Three times I wanted sports drink, but the kids handing out drinks didn't make it clear who had water or not, and some aid stations apparently didn't have sports drink. I wonder if I would have cramped less or had more energy if I had drank a little more sports drink instead of water. One runner near me, shortly after running through the winery, carried his own sports drink in a hand-held water bottle and I wonder if doing that would have been better for me. Earlier, a woman running in front of me remarked aloud, complaining about the lack of sports drink. As always, I'm grateful for the volunteers.


Saturday, August 10, 2019

Pacifica Tiki Trot 5K -- 19:30

Claire and I had fun running the Tiki Trot 5K in Pacifica this morning, put on by Pacifica Runners. I started off too fast and finished in 19:30, which was good for 2nd place and a $25 gift certificate at Runners Mind. Yay!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Sinister 7 -- 26:39:44

I finished! It took me 26 hours 39 minutes and 44 seconds to cover the 99.4 miles of this very difficult race course. I also got a bonus of about 0.6 miles when I went off course along with two other runners in the middle of the night. What made this race so especially difficult was the steepness of the trails combined with so much mud and water. I have to rank this as the toughest race I've ever been in, more so than Tahoe Rim Trail 100. Only 69 of the 208 starters finished the race; that's only 33%! I finished 17th male (out of 164 male starters) and 19th place overall.

The weather was much better than expected, and the predicted thunderstorm came in the evening and I only experienced a few minutes of intense downpour. On the other hand, I experienced more heat than expected, with a high of 86F in the afternoon.

The race organization and the course markings and the volunteers were superb. The Canadian Rockies are just gorgeous and the locals are just so polite and friendly and upbeat. "You betcha!"

I think I'm going to lose five toenails (update: I lost six), but otherwise I'm happy and uninjured, and I'm grateful to have been able to participate in this event.

My friends Rebekah and Alan told me about this race, and it seemed like a good worthy challenge, running in a gorgeous area in a well-organized race. My family wasn't able to go with me, and I thought it would be fun to travel with friends.

Only two days before I was due to fly out, I realized what a low finish rate this race had, of like 36% for 2018. Was the race culture different in Canada, with maybe a more casual approach to finishing? Or was the race just incredibly difficult? The answer is, both! Plenty of very experienced people are forced to drop each year and there are some who were just not prepared.

This race is not a Western States qualifier, but Miwok 100K already served that purpose for me. I still very much wanted to finish, and I told myself to not be too concerned about being fast and to earn that belt buckle!

The race starts and finishes in Crowsnest Pass and it's in the mountains and has some stunningly beautiful views, but almost no hotels or house rentals. I was able to find an affordable apartment on Airbnb in Pincher Creek which is 35 minutes away.

Sinister 7 has a large relay race that goes on the same course at the same time. The relay is broken up into 7 legs. With 220 relay teams and 208 "soloists", that's a lot of people! So, the expo for picking up our bibs and dropping off our drop-bags was fairly large and busy on the Friday afternoon.

I thought it was cool that each drop-bag was tagged with the right Transition Area, too, just to make sure nothing was misplaced.

They served us a dinner of pasta and salad and sweets as well, which was included in the race admission. The race director gave us some more details about the race, like describing what the course markers look like and talking about large wild animals. He said that every year a bear or cougar is sighted, and that only one encounter with a bear was "negative". What does that mean?!?

Getting some good sleep is really important before a race of this length, since we'll be running and hiking all night long. On Thursday night, I took one melatonin and one Gaba supplement (thanks, Rebekah!) and I slept really well. On Friday night, the night before the race, I took one melatonin and one Benadryl. I didn't sleep quite as well, but I think I still got 6+ hours of sleep before my 4:30am alarm woke me up.

The three of us had a quick breakfast. For me, I had an 'everything' bagel with peanut butter and honey, two slices of raisin bread with butter, and a cup of black coffee. On the drive to the race, I checked the weather and there was still a thunderstorm predicted for Crowsnest Pass, from noon to 7pm.

We met the race shuttle at the Crowsnest Sports Complex and there was plenty of parking, and indoor bathrooms. This is where we would finish the race many hours later. At 6:15am, I think there were only 20 of us in the bus, and we drove a little ways (15 minutes?) to the start line. Apparently all of the other soloists and relay runners had crews to drop them off at the start and pick them up at the finish.

We milled about on the cute main street. Excitement was in the air!

Rebekah wanted to use a bathroom one last time, but the porta-potties were no match for the crowds. I could have gone one more time, too, but with this being such a long race, I wasn't concerned with having to stop during the race.

As the start time drew near, the race director warned us to stay off the railroad tracks. Hmm.
Photo courtesy of the race.
And we were off! Woo hoo!

I took it really easy and enjoyed the scenery. We started off on a road before getting over to a trail that runs along a railroad track. At one point, the trail basically merges with the tracks and we were forced to at least run on crushed rocks underneath the tracks. A few runners ran on the tracks. Maybe 30 minutes later, I heard a train come down those tracks, so it was definitely a live track!

I chatted with Rebekah while Alan ran a short ways in front of us. We jogged through a residential area and then eventually got on to a dirt road. I tried to be at ease and walk the uphills, to conserve my legs for the second half of the race. I had a long long ways to go.
Running with Rebekah on Leg 1 and trying to keep our feet dry. Photo courtesy of the race.
At some point I was feeling good and I turned up my effort just a notch and pulled ahead of Rebekah. I wouldn't see her for the remainder of the race.

Alan and I traded places back and forth, going up the steep hills, sliding in the mud, and rock hopping on the descents. At one point I looked up and saw Alan far ahead in mid-leap, like an acrobat. "Careful, Alan!" I thought to myself.
Alan and I, a few hours into the race, on Leg 2. Photo courtesy of the race.
The race has two types of aid stations -- "check points" and "transition areas". The check points are smaller and offer fewer services and fewer food and drink choices. The transition areas are much larger and are where our drop bags are, and where crews can meet their runners, and where the relay team members hand-off. All the aid stations were staffed by friendly helpful Canadians, from the 1-person mini-station at mile 95.7 to the giant TA5/TA6 campground station.

One thing about the course started to really hit home -- most of the ascent and descent was being done by directly running up and down mountains on straight steep trails or rutted dirt roads. There were not a lot of switchbacks. With the frequent long mud patches, this meant that that we were spending a lot of energy to deal with slipping and sliding. The descents were rough on my toes, too, as my feet were repeatedly jarred with hard braking. I started to feel a hot spot on my left foot's toes, and around mile 12 I decided to address this problem early before it got serious, and I sat down on the side of the trail and applied some Nut Butter anti-chafing cream. A relay runner stopped and asked me if I needed help, in that friendly lovely upbeat Canadian accent. She offered to take a look at my foot, so I thought she might have been a nurse. So sweet! I thanked her but declined her offer. I got going again and my toes immediately felt better, so it was worth the stop.

There were frequent gorgeous views in the late morning.

Photo by Rebekah

Photo by Rebekah

Photo by Rebekah

Photo by Rebekah
Photo courtesy of the race.
Somewhere around mile 17, I'm guessing, on a steep muddy downhill road, I thought I was going to step on firm dirt, but instead my left foot plunged past the ankle and slipped forward and I landed on my butt and right side. At least it was a soft landing!

TA2! It was 11:30am. I rolled in and there were dozens of cheering spectators. I stopped briefly to resupply. A helpful volunteer asked if I had a drop bag (no) and I was quickly out of there, to climb back up the mountain.

I was ahead of my optimistic 25 hour pace goal by about an hour, but I knew I would slow down at night. Even with careful pacing and staying hydrated and well-fed, just navigating the rocks and puddles at night is slower for me. Maybe I need a better headlamp or light source?

In the early afternoon, I started to wonder, where is the thunderstorm? I sometimes felt an increase in humidity or something, which I thought was a sign of an impending storm, and there were some dark clouds nearby, but still no rain. Hmmm. Instead, Leg 3 was fairly bright and exposed and I was getting warm. I miscalculated my water needs for one section and went 20 or 30 minutes without water.
On Leg 3, with a huge wad of licorice stuffed in my cheek. Photo courtesy of the race.
Around mile 30, I came across a man, maybe in his mid-50s, bent over and throwing up on the side of the trail, with another runner by his side. He was a relay runner and said his name was Darcy and that he was dehydrated and over-heated and wanted help. I said I would tell the next aid station. I soon forgot his bib number (765? 752?) but I remembered his name and I tried to remember the mile mark. I got moving again and a couple minutes later, I glanced back to check on him and he was walking, so I didn't think it was an emergency. Maybe 1.5 miles later I arrived at the next checkpoint (CP3b?) and told the aid station volunteers what was going on.

My watch recorded a temperature of 86F. I was getting dehydrated. My urine was a pretty dark yellow. Damn. I was feeling weaker, too. I was getting an abdomen cramp that I interpreted as being from the candy, since the smaller checkpoint aid stations didn't typically have energy gels. I knew I needed to keep eating, at least every 30 minutes, plus drink plenty of sports drink, in order to get about 300 calories an hour. I started taking an S-Cap salt pill every hour, to help me drink more water and to hopefully keep cramps at bay.

TA3 at mile 41.2! I had finally finished this difficult leg 3 loop. I'm at the same physical aid station as TA2, and coincidentally I was with the same relay runner I had departed with so many hours ago.

I heard my name being called. Pete Briggs! Sweet! He's a member of my running club and I knew he had contemplated running this race, too, and that he was vacationing in Montana I think, but it was a total surprise to see a familiar face here. I asked him if Alan had already come through and he said "no". I probably had passed Alan without realizing it at TA2. Thank you so much, Pete! That was a real uplifting moment!
Arriving at TA3, mile 41.2. Photo by Pete.

At TA3. Photo by Pete.

Alan at TA3. Photo by Pete.

Rebekah at TA3. Photo by Pete.
On to Leg 4. A light misty rain started falling as I was leaving the aid station. Is the thunderstorm near? I think I started hearing thunder and got some rain in the next couple of hours. There were more big climbs, with another 3200' of gain and 2900' of loss over the next 14.6 miles. A young relay runner matched paces with me and he seemed to want some company. He was a University student, studying drama, and we chatted about life in Canada and politics and health care. We came across a barbed wire fence with three orange pool noodles covering the strands of barbed wire. Yes, we were supposed to squeeze through it. I went first and held the wires apart for him. We laughed. It reminded me of all the ladders I had to climb to get over fences in my race across England. T?here were two more barbed wire fence crossings like that.
Leg 4. Photo courtesy of the race.
We finally arrived at the next transition area, TA4, and we thanked each other for the company. I think his name was Nathan.

TA4 -- this is my one drop-bag stop.

The volunteers were super helpful. There was a whole tent section for "solo runners", although I plopped down in a chair next to the cooking station. I probably had a small bowl of soup, but I can't remember for sure now.

I got my two headlamps, nighttime clothes (wind breaker, pants, thermal shirt, gloves), and applied bug spray. I also planned on switching GPS watches. Coincidentally, the low battery warning came on for my main Garmin watch just then.

It was time to get moving again. On to Leg 5. 

The start of this leg is a gentle uphill on paved roads and dirt trails. In theory, this should have been easy running, yet my energy level seemed to be steadily dropping. I was walking more and getting passed by more relay runners and probably a soloist or two, too.
Leg 5. Photo courtesy of the race.
I was going over in my mind the logistics and equipment, and it occurred to me that I had really jammed my pack tightly, and that there was a chance that I had accidentally turned on one of my headlamps. I mulled whether or not to stop and check and finally I did, and wow, good call, Ron. My main headlamp was on, shining brightly in the late afternoon. Whew. My backup headlamp isn't as bright. I repacked and moved on.

The hills were green and pretty and eventually I was back into a forest and I started using my headlamp for the first time.

There was plenty of climbing and descents and a lot of muddy rutted puddle-filled dirt roads. I tried to keep my feet dry by walking around the puddles when possible.

At one point, while delicately walking on the rim of a giant lengthy puddle (or small pond?) the muddy slick clay just gave way and my left foot plunged up to my knee and my chest slammed into a jagged broken branch. "#$@!" That hurt. I pulled up my shirt to check for blood and I didn't see any. Damn, that could have been bad. I regrouped and carried on.

Sometimes I couldn't see a way around one of these road ponds, so I just plowed through.

A while later I arrived at a big T-intersection where my muddy pond filled road merged into a wider road. There were no course markings. "#$%&**@!" The course was so well marked that there was no way that this intersection would not be marked. I was off course. I looked back and there was a runner not far behind. I waited a bit. The runner ahead had chosen one of the directions and he came back. We all agreed that we had gone off course. We worked our way back and it turns out that there was a smaller road intersection that we had all completely missed. All of the course markings had been on our left side and there had been no "wrong way" sign. In daylight, there would have been no way to miss it, but when focused on these huge puddles at night, I had not even realized that there had been an intersection. I estimate this added 0.6 miles. Maybe if I had had a brighter light source with a wider beam, I would have caught it.

I finally got to the second and final checkpoint for this leg, CP5b. They had some thumping music going on and flashing lights. Thank you, volunteers! While there, the first place solo runner came through on his leg 6. Wow. He was moving well, and had a super-bright chest light and head light, and was using hiking poles, too. I was only at mile 68.2 and he was at 88.0. I got moving again and he soon got ahead of me and was out of sight.

I finally slowly arrived at TA5. This is a huge campground with lots of tents and services. It was time to do a "reset". I was telling myself that I really needed to get on top of my hydration and energy levels. I thought maybe warm food would help. I asked what they have. "Meatballs and potatoes." "Both, please!" I replied! I normally don't eat beef, but I was getting desperate to feel better and warm "real" food sounded good. Yum. Those meatballs were so good.

I also was getting chafing with my shorts, so I wanted to take care of that before it got worse. I asked around and a medic had a tube of some kind of anti-chafing cream. I walked behind the tent to get some privacy, but a car's headlamps were shining my silhouette on the tent. I didn't expose myself, but we all had a chuckle, like I was giving a burlesque show.

Onward, to the most difficult leg, Leg 6. This leg has the highest elevation on the course, at 7500', and 4600' of elevation gain and 4600' of decent.

All that sitting around chilled me and I had to stop and bundle up. Slow moving relay runners with their hiking poles passed me. People asked how I was doing, and I sometimes replied "Slow, but I'm hanging in there." I still had about a marathon remaining, and I was tired, sore, and low on energy.
Leg 6. Photo courtesy of the race.
I think it was CP6a, at mile 77.7, that was staffed by two people, seemingly in the middle of nowhere and in the middle of the night. I was very grateful for them being there. I was maybe a little too chatty because I forgot to fill up one of my water bottles. I realized the mistake a bit later, but I wasn't going to go back. It worked out OK, and my one water bottle lasted until the next aid station. I had stopped getting sweets from aid stations, but potato chips tasted pretty good, and my supply of energy gels from TA5 were lasting.

I was trudging uphill and I got to a long section that, as usual, shot straight up the mountain. The muddy dirt was slick with small plants scattered about. I could take about 10 steps at a time before I had to catch my breath. Other runners with their trekking poles passed me regularly. I would typically slide back a little bit on every step. At one point, I had to get on all fours to keep myself from slipping, by using my hands to grasp the plants so that I could keep my feet in place. It was ridiculous. I was hating it. "Why on earth did I sign up for this race?" "I don't want to run the Santa Rosa Marathon in August." "I wish I were in my comfortable home." "Wouldn't it be great if the race were cancelled and I was forced to drop?" These were some of the many negative thoughts I had.

Finally, finally, finally, the trail leveled out a bit. The descent was steep and hard on my feet as usual, but it felt good knowing that the worst was probably over and the pink glow on the horizon meant the dawn of a new day and that I could see better. I thought back to my first hundred miler, Headlands 100, and I was grateful that I had not become desperately sleepy. The combination of good nights' sleep and some caffeine was keeping me in a decent mental state, and I hadn't had any hallucinations.

I finally rolled around to the same physical checkpoint that I was at so long before, CP5b/CP6c, at mile 88, with the music still pumping. I asked if I was in last place. "No!" they laughed. "There are lots of people behind you. You're doing great!" Well, I didn't feel great, but I felt better now. I was finally well-hydrated and my urine was relatively clear.

I was passing familiar territory on this shared section between legs 5 and 6 and I rolled into TA6 (physically the same as TA5). Wow, I was getting actually sort of close to finishing. Someone asked if I was finishing leg 5 or 6. Definitely 6! I guess there may still have been poor souls out there on leg 5.

I got resupplied quickly and was on my way. Yay!!! The last leg!!! Only 6.8 miles to the finish!!!

Boom. Another steep incline. Someone was running downhill towards me. I asked her if she was in the race. "No, I was just escorting one of the boys." There was a relay team composed of middle schoolers, if you can believe it. I had passed one of them early on, and another had passed me later. So, as a team, they were still ahead of me, and they finished ahead of me, too. Impressive!

I slowly hiked up the steep rutty dirt road. I noticed that some of the mud had dried up a bit. Nice. I looked back and I saw one of the soloists that I had switched places with a couple times already. This was his second attempt at the solo race, he had told me. He had tried it last year and it was his first trail race ever! Not surprisingly, he had to drop last year. But this year, although he said he wasn't able to run, he was a steady hiker and he hadn't gone off course on leg 5, but I probably passed him at this last aid station. I yelled out, "Great job! We're almost there!". And then I privately told myself to grit down and push hard to the finish.

As soon as the trail leveled out and I could run, I started to really move. I didn't want to be passed by the hiker. I let my heart rate rise and I took more risks with jumping over rocks. "Careful!", I warned myself, "You still have a ways to go and you don't want to twist an ankle." I wondered if there was going to be another steep downhill to match the steep uphill we just had. Yes. I was moving much faster and my toes and feet were complaining. My little toe on my right foot suddenly had a sharp pain around the toenail. "I'm so sorry toes. Just hang in there.", I told myself.

I was red-lining. I took another energy gel. I still had 4 miles to go which was plenty long enough to bonk or get cramps.

I saw another soloist on an incline. I kept running while he was hiking and I slowly caught up. I was breathing hard. I congratulated him as I passed and I tried to push a little extra. There was one last checkpoint, CP7, at mile 95.7, and I decided that I didn't need to stop.

There was just one volunteer at this last checkpoint and I waved and said I had enough supplies. She dutifully entered my bib number into her phone and told me to cross the river, go uphill, and make a right. OK! The river had no way to cross without getting wet. It wasn't too bad -- a couple inches past my ankles. What's one last foot soaking after everything? No big deal!

3.7 miles to go. There was some sweet single track trail for once, with a gentle downhill. I was moving well but getting desperate. I passed two relay runners. 

At mile 97, I came to a connector "trail". Standing above it and looking down, it looked a lot like a cliff. It wasn't very long fortunately, maybe 30 feet. I aimed for a tree and lept down one section at a time and placed a hand on a tree trunk to stop myself. I repeated this a few more times to get to the bottom. No problem! In San Mateo County, where I live, a trail like this would be shut down and closed off!

Finally, I saw signs of civilization. The end was getting near. I knew we had to run on city streets for a bit to get to the Crowsnest Sports Complex. I glanced behind to see if anyone was getting close; I didn't want to be passed! Finally, finally, finally, hands in the air!
Finished! Photo courtesy of the race.
Then I saw Alan. Oh, no! He must have dropped. We hugged. Someone asked for my timing chip and I dug it out of my pack and handed it over. Rebekah came over; she had dropped, too. No!
Photo by Alan.
The race director, Brian Gallant, came over and handed me a belt buckle and a bottle of beer. "That was soooo difficult," I cheerfully blurted out. Brian seemed pleased. We chatted about the course a bit and he mentioned the crazy connector trail at mile 97; he said it had a 30% slope.

The swag! I bought the mug.

The bottle not only had the Sinister 7 label, but a custom printing that was done at the finish line, with my name, bib #, and finishing time! Nice! The beer wasn't bad, either!

I'll let Rebekah and Alan tell their own stories, if they want to share their experiences publicly. I just want to say that I'm very proud of them and they tried very hard. Lessons were learned.

What went well
  • I finished!
  • I never got particularly sleepy. It's so important to get some good sleep before the race.
  • My legs, core, and muscles generally stayed strong enough. I didn't have to slow down due to extreme soreness. Maybe the weight-training class I took this year helped.
  • Carrying two 20oz bottles worked great.

Things to improve
  • Hiking poles would have been super-useful.
  • I needed a bigger running pack.
  • I went the farthest off course that I've ever gone in a trail race -- around 0.6 miles in total. I could have used more light at night, and then maybe I wouldn't have missed that left turn on Leg 5. I noticed that the first-place soloist had a super-bright chest light and headlamp, along with hiking poles, too.
  • I needed more anti-chafing cream. I should have started with at least a half-stick of the small trial-size Nut Butter.
  • I don't know how to avoid blisters on these longest runs. Maybe I should try Injini toe socks.
  • I wish I had a GPS watch with a longer battery life than my Garmin Fenix 3 HR. I got the low-battery warning after just 13 hours.

Random data
  • My weight on the Thursday before the race: 171.2 lbs
  • GPS watch data for the first 55.8 miles.
  • GPS watch data for the second half of the race, except a big chunk of location data seems to be missing.
  • I took 3 ibuprofen, all in the second half of the race.
  • I took one S-Cap salt pills about every 2 hours in the cooler temperatures and every hour for the hottest part of the afternoon, which was 86F according to my watch.
  • Official results.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Miwok 100K -- 12:49:58

I had a solid run at Miwok 100K. The weather was great and mostly things went well. I was just kind of slow and felt sluggish with heavy legs for most of the race. I ran and hiked the 62 hilly miles (11,800' of elevation gain) in about 12 hours 50 minutes. It was great seeing so many friends volunteering or in the race. I'm especially grateful that my wife and daughter volunteered all day for the race and then surprised me at the finish line!

This race was important to me because I needed a qualifying race for Western States 100 and also I felt ready to revisit this challenging but beautiful and well-supported local race. I ran it previously in 2010, 2011, and in the partially cancelled version of 2013. If I'm not running it, I'm volunteering there, with my friends and family at my running club's aid station at Bolinas Ridge.

Leading up to the race, my training was light on the miles -- I'm not sure I ran more than 55 miles in a week. Fortunately, I had three consecutive weekend runs of 26 miles or longer and I had a bunch of mid-week 12-20 mile days which rounded out my training. Meeting friends on Tuesday and Thursday helped motivate me to get some more hilly miles. Also, I have been taking a weight-training class at the local community college on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. I have gotten measurably stronger.

The race was due to start on Saturday, May 4, at 5am. So, my last chance for a good night's sleep before the race was on Thursday night. I fell asleep easily shortly after 10pm, but I woke up around 3:30am and I'm not sure I ever quite fell into a deep sleep. I probably should have taken a melatonin and/or an antihistamine to make sure that I slept through the night. I got out of bed feeling sleepy on Friday morning. Doh!

On Friday night, I took one Benadryl capsule, but I still tossed and turned a lot. I thought about my finish-line drop-bag and how I had not written my bib # on it. I finally got up around midnight and got duct tape and a marker, and wrote my bib # on it. My alarm woke me up at 2:20am. I was sleepy.

Saturday morning: it's Go Time! I tried to be efficient with making breakfast (2 English muffins with peanut butter and jelly) but I was still about 3 minutes late out the door. I met my friends Rebekah and Alan in their car at the Colma SamTrans Park and Ride shortly after 3am. Soon, we were off! Rebekah handed me some homemade doughnut holes. Mmm. Thank you, you two! It was nice catching up with them, but I was still kind of sleepy.

We got to the Stinson Beach parking lot just after 4am, and we had plenty of time to do last minute preparations, get our bibs, see some unexpected friends (Eric Vaughan, Jr.! Bryan!) and expected friends (Rachael! Mike!). I had enough time for one last porta-potty visit, took some photos, ate an energy gel (15 minutes before the 5am start time), and then we were off! Woo hoo! I was positioned about in the middle of us 444 starters.

A bunch of us laughed as we ran around the corner and then had to stop in about 20 seconds, due to the back-up of getting on to the Dipsea Trail. "Was that the race?", "Are we done yet?", people joked. Even though the trail was wide enough for 2 people side-by-side, there were so many of us that it must have taken a few minutes for the back of the pack to get on the trail. I jogged ahead of people when I got the chance, to try to reduce the crowding behind me. At one hill crest I could see the long snake of bright lights and colored clothes of all the runners in front of me, against the black of the night. It was a beautiful serene scene. Fun!

It was only 2.8 miles to the first aid station, Cardiac, which was at the top of the Dipsea trail, and as dawn slowly broke, I heard a bagpipe player! Cool! I thought he must be at the aid station. I looked around as we all started descending again and as time went on, I wondered where the aid station was. I finally checked the distance on my watch -- 4.2 miles. Doh! I had unknowingly run right past the aid station! I wondered if those around me had intentionally or accidentally done the same thing. There was no pop-up tent or any obvious indication to me that there was actually an aid station back there. It turned out fine. In the cool air, I wasn't drinking much and my 35 oz or so that I had at the start lasted until the Muir Beach aid station at mile 8.

Another runner noticed my Boston Marathon branded shorts. (They're really comfortable and they're my favorite long-distance running shorts now.) She said she had run the Boston Marathon this year and that this was her first 100K. I thought later, "Wow, that's impressive because I would not want to run these two races so close in time." The two races are less than three weeks apart.

At Muir Beach, I mentioned to a volunteer that I was going to use the restroom and someone said "to go in the woods" because the rangers hadn't unlocked it yet. I had to pee! Onward!

Shortly after leaving the aid station, I wanted to check my aid station mileage and timing chart, but it was no longer in my vest pocket. It had my predicted times for an 11 hour and 12 hour finish. Apparently, it had either fallen out along the trail or maybe I had accidentally thrown it away at Muir Beach. Well, it wasn't a critical error. I knew I could ask at aid stations how long it was to the next aid station.

Heading back out, on my way to Tennessee Valley, I crossed paths with those entering Muir Beach. Rebekah! Rachael! Mike! Chihping! They all looked good! I turned off, heading up for another big climb. I pushed a little harder on this climb and ran long stretches of uphill. Then we descended into Tennessee Valley and I arrived at the aid station at mile 13. I felt good. Janeth! Stan Jenson! Kelly Haston! I knew several people volunteering. Janeth handed me my drop bag as I arrived. Wow, what service! I stashed my headlamp and grabbed my 6 energy gels in a zip lock bag. This would be my only drop bag stop. I hung on to my arm warmers because I was enjoying having them around my wrists so that I could mop my face. Onward!

After another big climb, we were on our way to Bridge View. True to its name, there were sights of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sweet! Then we came across the front runners heading towards us! Wow, they were moving fast. I didn't feel very energetic. My legs felt heavy. Somewhere along the way, I stepped funny and an old hip / groin / thigh tightness problem surfaced in my right leg. It slowed me down further. Annoying.

Bridge View (mile 18.6) came finally and the crossing guards at the street were dressed up in costumes. That was fun. I quickly refueled, filling both 20oz bottles completely, because I knew this next leg was a long one, at 7.4 miles, with a big climb.

A quick note on food -- the race wasn't allowed to provide energy gels or energy blocks (Shot Bloks) due to trash problems of the past. My plan was to bring my own for about 100 calories per hour, and then have an additional 200 calories per hour of aid station food and sports drink. I brought along a ziplock bag to carry aid station food with me.

Heading back to Tennessee Valley was a slog. It was interesting to be asked by a polite volunteer that I needed to walk through the ranch, in case horses came by. OK. There were no horses near me. A tenth of a mile later another volunteer said I could resume running. I did. Finally, I arrived back at Tennessee Valley aid station. Kelly! Janeth! Stan! Thanks, everyone!

I hit the marathon distance (26.2 miles) right around the 5 hour mark, which felt good psychologically. I tried not to think about how far I had to go. Just get to the next aid station.

I sometimes felt like I was on the verge of cramps in my thighs, in the same place that hit me in the Woodside Crossover 50K that I ran recently. I slowed down.

The bluffs above Pirates Cove and Muir Beach were just gorgeous. I was grateful to be there and able to be running this race. I was grateful for the relatively cool weather with gentle winds and no rain.

The course dropped down into Muir Beach for the second and last time, at mile 30.3. I quickly refueled and was on my way again, munching on yummy potato chips.

Although it was only 5.2 miles, the climb into Cardiac (mile 35.5) was a slog. I was on borderline cramps again. I kept on eating and drinking. I tried to remember to take a salt pill every hour now, as I was getting warmer and sweating more. I think I took my first ibuprofen around here, to try to help with my right leg. A short while later (5 minutes? 10?), my hip tightness disappeared for the rest of the race. Nice!

There was more climbing and I was feeling warmer. I ran out of water and sports drink for maybe 20-25 minutes. I saw the front runner coming up the hill. Nice! He was about 14 miles ahead of me. Amazing. Finally, I heard some cheers from my friends at Bolinas Ridge! I was close! I descended into the aid station. Paula! Franz! They were working as crossing guards. Jen! Jennifer! Claire! They quickly took my bottles and got me refueled. I was so thirsty that I drank about 15oz of water on the spot and got refueled again by my daughter. Thank you, Claire! My wife handed me a stack of BBQ Pringles. Yummy! I said "Goodbye" and started jogging away when Jen Dill shouted that she still had my other water bottle. Oops! That's important. OK, with 40oz on me, it was time to go! Michaela! She was tracking the runners and she recorded my bib #.

I felt sluggish again. I think three runners passed me on the next section. I saw more of the front runners coming towards me. Finally, we made our left turn off of the Bolinas Ridge trail and on to Randall. There was a volunteer sitting at this left turn all day, to make sure we didn't miss the turn, even though the gate was heavily marked with pink ribbons. "Thank you! You're a saint!" I told him.

I still had a long ways to go, so I tried to hold back and preserve my legs. This was a steep 1.6 mile descent to the Randall Trailhead aid station. Someone shouted my name. Loren! Cool! I refueled. A growing sensation became too much, and I decided it was time for a longer porta-potty visit. Oh well, it happens. So, this was my longest aid station break. Time to go back up that huge hill. I remembered that the distance from here to the finish was exactly 13 miles. I'm getting close to finishing! I walked almost all of this steep uphill and drank a lot.

Jill Cole! She was making the left turn onto Randall. A short while later... Rebekah! She looked great and was running well. Rachael! She was running well and was far ahead of the cutoffs which caught her last year at the finish line. Mike! Looking good! Chihping! He was bringing up the tail of the race. He was in good spirits, but I wondered if he was going to finish in time. (He didn't, unfortunately.) I slogged along. I ran out of water for 25-30 minutes and wondered if I should stop eating if I didn't have any fluids; I continued eating. I did appreciate the shade and the lushness of the redwood trees here. It's a beautiful forest. It's so beautiful and the trails are so clean, that when I saw a piece of litter that could have come from a runner, I picked it up. I picked up 6 or 7 pieces of trash throughout the race. I enjoyed seeing my running club's inspirational signs as I neared the aid station; ours is the only aid station with signs like this. Somewhere around here, I took my second ibuprofen.

Finally, on a bit of a downhill into the aid station, I put on a good show and was moving well and was greeted by cheers. Yay! More BBQ Pringles! More water and sports drink! Ana! Jennifer! Claire! Jen! Franz! Paula! Bob and Jaymes! (I know others were there, too, but I'm forgetting who I greeted.) Thank you, my friends, for being there! I had forgotten that it was 6.2 miles to the finish line. When Franz told me, "It's just 10K to the finish", that was actually a let down; somehow I thought it was more like 5.5. Onward!

Maybe it was the Pringles, or maybe it was ibuprofen kicking in, or getting more fluids, or getting closer to the finish, but I started having more energy and was running the gentle downhills much faster and was generally running all of the uphills, too. I was catching up to another runner. I passed him. And then another. And another. I felt pretty good. My legs were fine and my limit was more about my heartrate. I didn't want to blow up and I still had a little ways to go. I passed another runner and another. I was starting to get desperate for that final right turn on to the Matt Davis Trail, which is a very steep technical trail with lots of roots, rocks, and steps. Finally, finally, I saw the flags marking it. "Holy $@#! It's the Matt Davis Trail!" I exclaimed to myself. I was so happy to see that.

I knew I had about two miles to go. I felt great. I ate my last energy gel. I passed another runner. And another. I hopped over roots, skipped down stairs, and raced along any smooth trail there was. I felt fast. It's moments like these that are such a huge reward, to be running strong and easily at mile 60. I caught up to another runner. Being on a single track trail can make it difficult to pass someone. "Hi there", I said. She said her knee was hurting and that she couldn't stop. She waved me by, but there wasn't enough room. Another bend in the trail came up and she waved me by again. I skipped past her, thanked her, and poured on the speed again. I was so close to finishing! I recognized the last bridge! Pavement! Cheering! I made the sharp left and got in a good sprint to the finish line. Woo hoo!

Tia Bodington! The race director put a finishers medal around my neck. I thanked her for putting on such a great event.

Jennifer! Claire! I was *not* expecting my family to be here. Nice! My muscles started stiffening up and they walked around with me as I hobbled. I got my finish-line drop bag that had my clothes and phone in it. I got some food -- a plate of fruit and some mac 'n cheese. Yum. I got my finishers shirt. I was expecting to stay there and wait for Rebekah to finish, so that I could get a ride back to my car, but I was grateful to get a ride from my wife and daughter and to talk about our day. Thank you, you two!

What went well

  • I had a solid run, albeit not as fast as I used to be able to do.
  • I didn't fall or get lost. Had a couple of stumbles on rocks, but it wasn't too bad.
  • I didn't become too dehydrated or too low on glycogen. I didn't "bonk".
  • I never became too sore. My feet were getting tender, but my legs stayed strong until the end.
  • Carrying two 20oz water bottles worked well.
  • I didn't wear gaiters on my shoes and I didn't need them.
  • No real chafing. I was forming a blister in one place that I felt on the final descent with about 2 miles to go. It wasn't bad; I ignored it.

Things to improve

  • I may have done a Thursday night work-out too hard -- I ran 5 slow hilly miles and then did an hour-long strength-training workout. I didn't feel "fresh" for the Saturday morning start.
  • I lost my aid station and mileage chart at some point during the race. I should have taped it to a water bottle rather than tucking it in a pocket in my running vest.

Random data

  • Friday morning weight: 170.4 lbs.
  • Saturday night weight: 166.4 lbs.
  • For food, I consumed 12 energy gels, 1 package of energy chews, lots of potato chips, and some quesadilla quarters.
  • I took 2 ibuprofen and about 8 S-cap salt pills.
  • I drank about 2/3rds Tailwind sports drink and about 1/3 water.
  • Garmin watch data
  • Preliminary results

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Woodside Crossover 50K -- 80% Racing

Today's race was supposed to be a training run, to see some friends and get in about 31 miles of trails and 5750' of elevation gain. My main upcoming goal is Miwok 100K (62 miles), four weeks away on May 4, which is a beautiful challenging race and also a Western States 100 qualifier. I did not taper for today's race, having done a long slow 27 mile run the previous Sunday and a 10 mile tempo run on Thursday.

However, with the excitement of all the other runners, I knew that I would push the pace a bit, so in the end, I'm going to say that today was 80% race and 20% taking-it-easy. I successfully finished, without tripping or getting lost or struggling too much. The weather was great, the course was fun and interesting and well-marked, and the trails were great for running except for the frequent mud patches, but those were fun, too, in their own way. I covered the 30.8 miles in 5 hours 21 minutes. I started getting cramps with about 2 miles remaining, but I just slowed down and didn't have to walk. It was fun seeing a few running friends and so many other runners on the two out-and-backs.

I had one very sweet unexpected encounter. When I went to pick up my bib at the check-in tent, I gave the volunteer my last name and then when she saw my first name on the list, she looked me in the eyes and said "Ron Little?". I said "Hi?" but I didn't recognize her. "You wrote a comment on my blog." She grasped my hand. "You are such a special wonderful person and I love the ultra community so much." She started crying. I remembered her blog post being a loving race or run report, but with a very sad mention of the loss of a good friend of hers, so I think I reminded her of her friend. She wasn't there when I finished the race, so I didn't get a chance to really talk with her. I do agree, though, that we have a wonderfully supportive community amongst ultrarunners.

A short while later, I saw my friend Margaret from the Coastside Running Club. She was going to run the half-marathon and she was volunteering, too. Nice!

Shortly before the race to begin, my friend Rachael, also from my running club, ran up to me and gave me a hug. She was in the 50K, too, and it was fun seeing her along the course on the two out-and-backs.

The race started right at 8:30am and my allergies kicked in, and my nose was like a leaky faucet for the next 5+ hours.

I pushed a bit too hard heading up out of Purisima to Skyline Blvd, running nearly every step of the way uphill on the Purisima Creek Trail. Shortly after the aid station at mile 16.2, I felt extra fatigued, and I slowed down, and two runners passed me.

The first place woman passed me a bit later, around mile 20, but I was faster at the aid station at mile 21.6 even though I chatted with another friend there (Chihping!) and so I got in front of her. Then she passed me on one of the flatter sections, but I was more confident on the steeper muddier downhills, so I passed her again. I was feeling much better (having eaten a couple of energy gels and drank a lot of Tailwind sports drink and taken a salt pill and an ibuprofen) and so I really picked up the pace with about 5 miles to go. But then I started getting cramps in my calves and thighs. I was very close to not being able to run at all, so I slowed down and kept eating and drinking. The last two miles seemed to take forever and there was one final climb to the finish line, which I had to walk.

Finally, finally, I hobbled towards the end and crossed the finish line in 9th place overall, out of 71 runners, having taken 5 hours 21 minutes 4 seconds. Whew!

Random Notes

  • Woke up before my alarm, at 6am.
  • Arrived about an hour before the 8:30am race time, which was great for finding parking in Huddart Park and doing some stretches and chatting with other runners.
  • I got some chafing on my thighs and nipples. I was drenched in sweat for almost all the race.
  • I weighed around 171 lbs. Too much. :(
  • There was quite a bit of mud, but I plowed through it with confidence in my Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 shoes, which worked great.
  • I didn't trip or fall or get lost.
  • Results