Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Miler

I’ve had a hard time this summer and fall trying to decide what to do next, what to commit to.  My initial plan earlier in the summer was to run Mountain Lakes 100M up in Oregon in late September, but it turned out the date didn’t work out.  My running has been as consistent as it’s ever been including six 20 milers and a 50K, and several weeks with 5K-10K of climbing, continuing even without a race on the calendar.  What has been lacking without that focus race has been my diet and nutrition, so I knew I wasn’t in peak shape.  But I still wanted to get in one big effort before the year was up, or I kind of felt like I would be “wasting” the endurance I’ve been building all summer.  So on the last day of registration and six days before the race, I finally pulled the trigger and registered for the Firetrails 50M.

This race was my second 50 miler back in 2013 so I knew it has five good climbs but nothing too steep, and being in the East Bay in early October that heat would be a factor.  It’s an out and back and the biggest climb is coming back out of the turnaround – a 4 mile, 1,250’ slog up mostly exposed fireroad in the heat of the day.  Heat, climbing, exposure, dust – sounds awesome, right?  And it was all exactly what I was looking for.  With my ultimate focus being Western States, opportunities to continue to experiment and gain experience with heat management, long climbs, nutrition, aid station management, etc., were really what pushed me to sign up.  My time in 2013 was 10:55 so I set a stretch goal of 10:00 (that I knew was unlikely with my lack of focus this summer), a backup goal of PRing the course, and as always with an ultra, the ultimate goal of just finishing still upright.  I put together my pace chart with the 9:59 and 10:55 Aid Station splits, assembled drop bags for the turnaround and the finish, and had the gear all ready to go.

Trying not to overpack
Race morning I drove out to Lake Chabot Marina about an hour away while sipping on a coffee and a slurry of UCAN Superstarch and chia seeds, picked up my bib, took care of pre-race bathroom business, and waited for the 6:30 AM start.  It was still a little dark as we gathered near the start, but the first couple of miles are on bike path so I didn’t bother with a light and just settled into an easy pace.  Things felt pretty easy as we hit the first 500’ climb, and I chatted with a few other runners as the sun came up.  It was really muggy, actually foggy and in the mid-60s, so from the start I worked on keeping up on hydration.  I was wearing my Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest with one bottle of sports drink (Tailwind to start, refilling with GU Brew on the course) and the other with water so that I could use it to help keep cool.  My nutrition plan was to aim for about 200-250 calories an hour, and to keep it limited to sports nutrition products for as long as I could to see if that helped prevent the late race stomach issues I’ve had in the past.  This race has 13 aid stations so I figured on one GU gel at each one, take 2-3 more during the few spots on the course where it would take more than an hour to get from one aid to the next, and to just keep drinking sports drink out of the one bottle throughout the day.

Runners in the mist

Things really went according to plan for the first half.  I was moving comfortably at a pace right between the two splits on my pace chart, so I knew that the sub-10 goal wasn’t going to happen.  But that didn’t really bother me as I stayed focused on trying to manage effort, manage heat, manage nutrition, and move efficiently up the trail.  As we made the climb up to the high point of the course in miles 19-22, the leaders in the marathon that started at our turnaround started streaming by.  It’s always inspiring to see those guys and gals at the front of the pack fly up and down the trails.  Up and over the top and down the fireroad to the turnaround was a steady stream of encouragement both ways, and the leaders of the 50M coming back up the hill, running something that most of us would be power hiking.  I’ll never know the fitness it takes to do that.

Singletrack heading up to Steam Trains
I got to the turnaround at Loan Oak at about mile 26 at just under 5:23, a few minutes ahead of my pace from 2013 and feeling good, with my IT bands and quads holding up great down that 1,250’ downhill.  The Aid Station here is a fun Western-theme with a ton of great energy.  Even though it can be hard to appreciate the themes when I’m trying to get in and out quickly, this race has great aid stations and volunteers throughout.  I am always sure to thank everyone, as they put in a ton of time and effort to support the runners.  I haven’t yet done this, but I will be volunteering at a couple races next year to experience that side of things and give back to this sport that I love so much.  I didn’t have crew for this race, but a volunteer brought me my drop bag and I got to work cleaning and re-lubing my feet with Run Goo prior to changing socks.  Pouring water on myself all day to this point had me dealing with wet feet all day, but the Run Goo did a good job of keeping my feet in decent shape.  I refilled the bottles, put ice in my bandana, in my hat, and in my rolled-down arm sleeves, downed a gel, and began the long climb back up to Steam Trains.

Still feeling good early on (photo by Facchino Photography)
I passed probably a dozen runners as I just kept grinding it out for an hour, all while trying to stay cool as the temps were in the 80s by this point.  I got to the Steam Trains Aid Station just shy of the 50K mark in about 6:32, still ahead of my 2013 splits. I loaded up on more ice, popped another gel, filled the bottles, and down the trail I went still feeling good.  About three miles later I hit one of the steeper climbs of the course, not brutal but a good 450’ in about a mile, and for the first time all day I started to struggle.  I was barely managing a power hike, but my breathing was really hard.  I poured water on my head, water on my arm bands, took some GU Brew, but it kept getting worse.  I bent over and put my hands on my knees, and all the people I had passed on the big climb out of Loan Oak came streaming by, with every single one of them asking if I was ok or needed anything (did I mention I love this sport?).  “Yeah, I’m good, just struggling, thanks”.  By the time I reached the top I was lightheaded, and was even experiencing almost a tunnel vision where things in the periphery were a little fuzzy.  I popped an S-Cap thinking it might be electrolyte related, kept pouring water on myself, and kept sipping calories.  But even going downhill I was struggling now, with an almost 16-minute mile split there.  My head started to come back a little as I focused on just making it to the 37-mile aid station at Skyline Gate, where I would either regroup and figure this out or I would have to drop.   To make matters worse I caught my toe and went down, tumbling through the dirt.  I got up and checked to see if I had any injuries and not seeing any blood kept moving.  I finally stumbled into Skyline almost exactly on my 2013 split of about 8:21.

I cooled myself with the ice/sponge bucket, wiping down my face.  I grabbed some Coke and another S-cap, and just sat down for a bit trying to regain composure.  I knew a course PR was now out the window, but after about 10-15 minutes of just sitting there and getting some sugar and salt back in me, my head felt pretty clear so I decided to continue.  I figured if the light-headedness came back, I could either turn around or just drop at the next aid station 4 ½ mostly downhill miles away.  So I got back on the trail and headed down the hill.

Good to be off the ridge lines and back in the shadows of the trees

After my 100 miler last year my buddy Jim put together a race video that captured well the experience and the struggle I had out there.  The song he picked for the second half of the video, covering mile 50 to the finish, was Surrender by Angels and Airwaves.  I had never heard it before, but it’s obviously become one of great meaning to me (just watch from about the 4:50 mark).  Sure enough, 30 seconds after I left the aid station my iPod shuffles a five hour playlist and lands on that song.  “No I, I will not surrender.”  You can’t make this stuff up, and I instantly teared up - followed by laughing out loud and smiling for the first time in a couple of hours.   I knew then that it was going to be a slow time, but I was finishing this thing.

The rest of the race was really pretty uneventful, it was just a matter of moving forward for another three or so hours and getting it done.  I was moving slowly but I was moving, and I was able to keep hydrating, eating, and slowly hiking the ups and slowly running the flats and downs.  The last couple of miles of rolling bike path on pavement kind of suck, and as I was for probably a good third of the race I was completely by myself for most of it.  I actually passed two runners for the first time in hours in the final mile, and tried to run it in strong and crossed the finish in 11:38:45.
Relieved to be finished (photo by Facchino Photography)

I laid down after I crossed the finish and gathered myself for a few minutes.  I got up and took off my shoes (just one small blister), cleaned my feet, changed out of my wet shirt, and kept sipping water and walking around.  My stomach wasn’t ready to partake in a burger or beer yet, so I had some broth that seemed to go down ok.  I gathered my stuff and started to walk toward the car, and all of a sudden the light headed feeling came back and I immediately laid down on the ground.  A volunteer came over to check on me and then brought over a medical volunteer who talked to me for a bit.  As I sat up, out of nowhere I started puking, first the soup I had just put down but then completely emptying my stomach.  Medical brought me some Sprite and a couple of S-caps, and stayed with me for a good twenty minutes to make sure I was ok.  After another ten minutes or so I felt good enough to stand up, and slowly walked the 15 minutes back to my car for the drive home.

So while the race didn’t go as planned, I had seven great hours out there before having to gut out the rest.  My best guess on the problems I had are around electrolytes – I was cramping pretty severely all over when I got home, and I kept taking S-caps for a few hours (along with some pickle juice) until that finally stopped.  I didn’t really take any early in the race, relying upon the GU Brew to get what I thought would be enough.  As a salty sweater, the research by Tim Noakes would seem to indicate that I have plenty of electrolytes on board and don’t need to supplement, but I just don’t think that works for me on a warm day – next time I’ll be doing one per hour from the start and up that to two in the heat of the day.  I also think that as my diet hasn’t been on point the past few months with too many carbs, my fat burning has been suppressed a bit.  This leads to the 200 calories or so I was taking in being probably a little low, so blood sugar may have been a factor as well – especially considering Coke (during) and Sprite (after) both seemed to help.  I think getting back into a more metabolically efficient state and ramping my fat burning back up where it was last summer will make the biggest impact there, as when I try to go above 250 calories per hour during the heat I tend to have stomach issues.

Thanks to Julie Fingar and NorCalUltras for another great event, and a special thanks to all the volunteers out there!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Time to Get Back in a Race - Mt. Diablo 50K

My training has been a little aimless lately without a race on the schedule.  The positive of getting my Western States 100 qualifier done in May was that I could do anything I wanted the rest of the year.  The negative has been that with my primary goal for the year out of the way it's been tough to get motivated to keep everything clicking.  While I'm still pretty much getting in my normal miles and hill workouts, I haven't been climbing as much as usual, and more importantly without that goal in mind my diet/nutrition have suffered and I'm carrying 15 more pounds than I was this time last year.

Last year I ran five races in the build up to Pine to Palm 100, with all but the first a trail marathon or longer.  But this year I've had just Way Too Cool 50K in March and then Quicksilver 100K in May, with nothing since.  That's been bothering me lately so I knew, despite not being in great condition, that I needed to get myself back in a race.  I put myself on the waitlist for the Tamalpa 50K a couple of weeks ago, but as of Thursday I knew that wasn't happening.  I had the Coastal Trail Runs Mt. Diablo 50K on Sunday as an alternative, but I honestly didn't commit to it mentally until Saturday afternoon.  I can thank a morning of online tracking of friends and athletes I admire running the UTMB 100M (the de facto world mountain 100M championships in the Alps) on Saturday for giving me that little motivational push to get out there and tackle something tough.

As close to real mountains as we get in the East Bay

With so many people I know racing or spectating at either UTMB or the 50K here in Marin on Saturday I didn't really expect to know anybody at Diablo.  So it was a nice surprise to see a few people I have run with before including Paul, who I finished the Firetrails 50M with two years ago (we pushed each other to get it done just under eleven hours) and Eric and Leah Harold, great people that seems to be at every race around here.  I had never run Mt. Diablo before, I just knew that 100 degree temperatures are pretty normal in August, at 3,848' it is the tallest peak in the East Bay (about 1,300' taller than Mt. Tam East Peak) and judging by the elevation chart it looked to be pretty steep as well.

Two summits = 7,990' of total elevation gain

The race was about what I expected - hot and hard.  We actually got lucky with the weather as I don't think it got above the high 80s - plenty hot but not stifling.  The climbs were as expected - hard and steep, mostly pretty smooth but a few small technical sections, particularly on the trail up to the summit.  I actually climbed pretty well up to the first summit, passing people along the way. At the top is an observatory area, and up the steps we went to the top where I took a moment to take in the view.

View from the highest point in the East Bay 

Watch where you step, one of two tarantulas I saw

We turned back down the hill and the 50K runners veered off on to another trail (there were also 10M, 1/2 marathon, and marathon races).  At just over the 13 mile mark, we hit a section of downhill unlike anything I have ever seen before.  It was a smooth fire road, but it was so steep that it was actually scary -  a drop of over 500' in about .4 miles, with a grade ranging from -20% to -43% according to Strava!  I tried to move my feet as quickly as I could, trying to stay under control, but after a bit I felt like I was going to wipe out so I veered off into the soft side of the fire road to try and slow the momentum, eventually coming to a stop.  I did that one more time on the way down, but that was something that was way out of my comfort zone!  My Hoka Stinson Trails had enough grip to hold on the dirt, but it felt like the soles of my feet were going to shear right off!  Thankfully we didn't have to go this way again at the end of the race, as I don't know how I would've gotten down that again 25 miles in on tired quads.

Exposed single track on a warm day
The climb back up to the top is where things really fell apart for me.  It was heating up, I was working so hard, and just didn't have enough power to even hike well.  This is where the extra weight really hurt, lugging it up 3,800' with 15 miles in my legs already.  It was a brutal slog, and I was actually passed by 4-5 people which doesn't happen very often to me on uphills, but as I pretty much expected I just didn't have my climbing legs. I was so beat up by the time I got to the top that on the way down I had to resort to a run-walk strategy, going downhill!  I was moving ok (miles 27-30 were 9:20, 9:49, 9:20, 10:20), but I should've been able to finish stronger than that.  At least I didn't get caught on the downhill by the several people I had seen just after the turnaround at the summit, but it wasn't the finish I was hoping for, and I finally hit the line at 7:32 and change.  So while this was definitely the toughest 50K I've done, it was my slowest by a full hour.

So really it was about what I expected - I struggled on the climbs in the 2nd half of the race and didn't have enough in me to finish strong.  Two big positives, though.  First, my stomach was largely fine.  I've had trouble in the past after about the six hour mark in the heat, and while I did get a little nauseous at one point right as I hit the peak the second time, a ginger chew settled it right down and it never kept me from eating or drinking.  I stuck with mostly sports drink (Tailwind in my bottles to start, then Cliff Shot electrolyte drink from the Aid Stations), with four gels and then a few cups of Coke at the last couple of aid stations.  The other positive was that my IT bands held up just fine, and with all of that descent there was plenty of opportunity for them not to.  While I haven't been as consistent as I should be with my strengthening routines (band walks, lunges, reverse lunges, etc), I have been doing them and combined with a few focused long downhill sessions the past couple of months and continuing regular maintenance electrostim/laser/Graston, I'm hopefully getting that weakness addressed.

It feels good to have gotten it done, while at the same time reinforcing what I need to do to be able to meet my potential at these things - namely get back to climbing more on long runs and get my weight back down.  I need to increase my power, and losing some weight is like free power I don't even need to train for.  And I'm still not sure what I'm going to do the rest of the year - a couple more 50Ks, or a return to Firetrails 50M on 10/10, or Rio del Lago 100M in November.  This was my eleventh ultra, and I've still got a lot of work to do in figuring these things out - let alone deciding what my twelfth will be.

Props to Wendell and the Coastal Trail Runs volunteers, they always put on a great event.

Strava Data

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Crewing and Spectating at Western States, and the Greatest Finish Ever

Western States 100

Crewing and pacing two college buddies in the 2012 and 2014 editions of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run has fed my obsession with this epic event, making it number one on the race bucket list.  While I'm hoping the third time is the charm this December in getting in via the lottery, I wanted to head up and be a part of the 2015 edition of the race in any way I could.  I'm all out of fraternity brothers that run 100 milers and didn't have any luck with my Bay Area network of finding a runner to help, so I was planning on either just spectating or trying to volunteer.  But about two weeks prior I threw up a post on the event Facebook page, and within an hour had a response from a UK runner that was coming to Squaw by himself, happy to have some help.  So there I was at the track in Auburn on the last Friday in June picking up my runner and heading up the mountain to Squaw.

But let's first jump to the end of the race.  From 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM and the thirty hour cutoff on Sunday has been called "The Golden Hour" and "The Greatest Hour in Ultrarunning".  And this year more than lived up to the billing.  I sat by the entrance to the Placer High School track for the last 90 minutes or so, watching the runners that had been out there through two sunrises and a full night enter the track with their pacers, crew, and families.  I found myself getting teary eyed more than once as people celebrated this amazing accomplishment on their run around two-thirds of the track to the finish.  As time wound down, legend Tim Twietmeyer came over to where a few of us were anxiously awaiting any final runners, and said that there were two runners still on the course that had a chance, with the second being 70-year old Gunhild Swanson.  Just before 10:58 AM a runner named John Corey hit the track with all of us exhorting "Go, go, go!"  About 30 seconds after him in came Gunhild, accompanied by winner Rob Krar who had gone up to Robie Point in his flip-flops to help run her in.  Those assembled were now screaming, "You gotta go, you gotta go!  Go!" Several of us ran across the infield to the finish to see John cross with 30 seconds to spare, and then Gunhild hit the finish line at 10:59:54 - SIX SECONDS TO SPARE!  The crowd exploded, strangers hugging, people crying and cheering.  Western States released a great video of it, and I captured it from my spot as well:

A moment that no one there will ever forget, to be sure.

And now back to the start for a quick recap of the prior 30+ hours......

Saturday morning saw 371 brave souls take off on the 100.2 mile journey.  I took off to Robinson Flat to meet my runner, arriving a few hours before he was scheduled to arrive to spectate and watch the race unfold.  I missed the top 10 or so men but saw the women's leaders and then about two-thirds of the field come through waiting for my runner, who struggled early with the heat and arrived just 45 minutes ahead of the cutoff.  We got him in and out of there fairly quickly, and I headed back down to Foresthill to watch the front of the race.

Foresthill is what I imagine the big European trail races to be like - people lined along both sides of the road cheering runners along, drinking beers, and ringing cowbells.  I ran into some fellow Pine-to-Palm 100 alums and posted up in a shady spot near them, and was able to see both the men's and women's leaders come through with leads they would hold all the way to Auburn.

Rob Krar on his way to Cal St. and keeping his M1 bib for 2016

After several hours at Foresthill it was off to Michigan Bluff to meet up with my runner again.  From the online tracking I could see that he was losing time to the cutoffs, so after resting for a bit in my mobile crew station, I headed down into the aid station.

Trying to stay off my feet
Michigan Bluff is another big Aid Station, and a key point as runners struggle up out of the canyon on a pretty rough climb.  As time ticked toward the cutoffs, crews and pacers anxiously awaited seeing their runners come down the fire road.

Awaiting runners at Michigan Bluff Aid Station
My runner finally came in at 9:30 PM, just 15 minutes ahead of the cutoff, and left with just 3 minutes to spare.  We decided I would start pacing him at Foresthill instead of Rucky Chucky, and I told him he had to pick things up a bit if he was going to make it.  I drove back to town and changed, filled my hydration pack, and tried to rest a bit before pacing 38 miles to the finish.  Unfortunately, as the 11:45 PM cutoff neared and with no runner in site, I knew I was all dressed up with nowhere to run.  I headed out toward Bath Road to meet him, and brought him in to the aid station about 13 minutes late, his race over at 62 miles.

The silver lining was that I was able to get back to the finish line in Auburn to catch several runners coming in sub-24.  Most notable for me was my friend Erika Lindland moving up from her 11th place finish two years ago to finishing 9th this year!  So excited for her, what a smart race she ran moving up the field and making up around 50 minutes on the women ahead of her from Foresthill to the finish.    I then took a nap in the car for a bit before heading back to the track to watch runners trickle in, all the way until that incredible final two minutes.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Quicksilver 100K - Western States Lottery Qualified!

Aside from my third Way Too Cool 50K back in March, Quicksilver 100K has been the only race on my 2015 calendar.  While I have plans to run other ultras this year, most likely including a 100 miler in the Fall, the focus was solely on Quicksilver as it was, quite literally, my ticket to the 2016 Western States 100 lottery in December.  With a limited number of qualifying races and with many of them hard to get into (I'm 0-2 in the Miwok 100K lottery), what I choose to do the rest of the year was really dependent on getting this race done in the States-qualifying standard of sixteen hours or less.

Unfortunately, some knee pain that started in mid-March really kept me from hitting the key 50-60 mile hilly weeks I had planned for this training block, and over a three-week period from March 16th through April 5th I struggled to get in just under 20 miles per week.  I ramped up the visits to my secret weapon and self-proclaimed soft tissue geek, Chappy Wood, for electro-stim/lasers/Graston/chiropractic work, and a couple of 15ish mile runs and a relatively hilly 20 miler in April gave me a little confidence going into a two-week taper.

This was just my fourth race at 50+ miles, and unlike the previous three I was on my own.  My girlfriend/crew chief extraordinaire took a pass on this one as her mother was coming into town that weekend from out of the country.  I considered putting the word out to some local ultra friends to find a pacer, but decided to take on the challenge of doing this one solo.  So after a week of putting together my pace charts, drop bags, and octuple-checking my gear list, I headed down to the South Bay on Friday afternoon to get checked in to the hotel and the race.  After picking up my bib and swag and running through my gear one last time, I put down the salmon and rice I brought with me for dinner and tried to settle into the hotel watching some of my favorite ultra-themed YouTube videos (thanks Sage Canaday and Billy Yang!).  Unsurprisingly I was super-antsy, so I walked over to a local restaurant for a vodka soda to calm my nerves, and found distraction in encouraging someone I met that was getting ready to run the 50K as her first ultra the next day.  I'm sure that someday I'll be relaxed enough to get a good nights sleep the night before a race, but this was not to be that night.

I got up before my alarm at 2:30 AM and put down my chia/coconut milk/UCAN shake, brewed some coffee, and headed off to the start.  I was there in plenty of time to check in, mill about, talk to a few friends and then get ready for the start.  It was a low-key event, with the RD backing us up into a field that served as the parking lot and then saying, "This looks like a good place to start."  After earlier signing two additional waivers, we were once again appraised of the three mountain lions that had been recently seen around the course, and then at 4:30 AM we were off! 

#quicksilver100k #ultrarunning #trailrunning
Low key start, old school ultra style
Per usual I started at the back, and as it was already comfortably warm I threw my long sleeve shirt on the trunk of my car as I went by, and up the trail we went with headlamps bobbing.  The race starts with a 1,200' climb over 3.7 miles, some rollers, and then another 1,000' climb into the second aid station at mile 12.  I settled into a power hike, passing several people on the climbs (easy since I was the last person to hit the trail head) and running a bit where I could.  The knee was feeling fine, I was hydrating and fueling with Tailwind, Bonk Breakers, and banana chips, and things were going really well.   I had set the Virtual Partner on my Garmin for a 15 hour pace, my B-Goal, and I was easily gaining time on that mile after mile.  I cruised through the Hicks A/S at mile 7, and hit the Bald Mountain A/S around mile 12 in about 2:38, or sub-12:00 pace, which was well ahead of my 14-hour A-goal pace of 13:30. The sun came up and we were running through the fog and clouds, really comfortable.

Runners in the mist
The miles continued to tick off pretty well - 10:11, 10:33, 11:29, 10:36.  Then into mile 16 we hit the climb to the highest point of the course, a steep 1,200' up to Kennedy A/S over two miles.   As this was an out and back section I started to see some of the leaders, and as always the elites and the mid/back of the pack encouraged each other.  Then it was a 2,200' drop down into Lexington A/S, and my old nemesis started to make itself known on the downhill as my right IT band began to hurt a bit.  
What goes up must come down

I regrouped a bit at the bottom knowing I had to turn around and climb right back up that 2,200', and it was 13:21-21:20 miles as I hiked as best I could.  It was a loooong climb, but coming into Kennedy A/S for the second time I was encouraged to have the biggest one out of the way at the 50K mark, and I was still well ahead of 14-hour pace.

I was surprised to see my buddy Tony sitting in a chair at the A/S, as he's a much better runner than me.  Turned out he was having a tough day already with some Achilles pain and stomach issues.  He got up and left with me and we hiked for a bit, but he was resigned to dropping at the next A/S - there was no good way to get him out at the last one, so he had to hike 5 miles just to be able to drop.  I wished him well and shuffled off again, knocking out four more sub-11 miles despite the worsening pain in my IT band.

Back at Hicks A/S and my drop bag at mile 36 I took the time to re-lube my feet and change socks. 
Still feeling good. It's Early!  Photo credit Chasqui Runner
Other than the IT band I was feeling pretty good, still eating and drinking, still moving alright, and dousing myself with ice water from my handheld insulated bottle to try and keep cool.  We hit my least favorite section of the course here as we rolled into Hacienda A/S at mile 43, but I was still moving ok.     

I got a good laugh out of a great sign at the A/S, and then it was down and then up a short, steep climb into Mockingbird Hill A/S at mile 42, and my pace continued to slow due to general fatigue and my IT band making it tougher to run the downhills.

About 7 hours in I had switched from Tailwind to water in my hydration pack, and was nursing GUs regularly a nip at a time, trying to almost chew it and use saliva to kickstart the digestion.  My nutrition and hydration had been really good and my energy was great....until it wasn't.  As the day started to warm (it hit low-80s I think) and we hit the last major climb of the course at mile 43, my stomach simply shut down.   

We hit a section of trail around mile 45 that was basically crawling and climbing up loose rocks, and I struggled up. 
Those houses below have no idea of the struggle happening above them.  Photo credit Shiran Kochavi
I kept taking sips of water and nips of GU, but I could tell nothing was moving through.  I tried S-caps to change the osmolality of my stomach, I took some Coke at aid stations at miles 47 and 53, but things were just backing up.  As I started to dehydrate and run low on calories, I just got slower and slower.  The Enriquita A/S at mile 57 was an out and back, or rather a down and up, and I hit a serious low point.  My stomach was done, my IT band was shot, and when I got there they were out of Coke.  I filled my bottle with water and hiked back up the hill, running into volunteers coming down with a 12-pack.  They offered me some, I took a few ounces, and kept hiking.  But as I hit the top, I knew I was in trouble.  So I bent over on the side of the trail and puked and puked and puked.  Three to four hours of fluid and calories came gushing back out.  A runner asked if I was ok, I said, "Just hitting the reset button," and he replied, "Hit it hard!"  Totally fitting.

From then on, it was full death-march mode.  And my Garmin had died, so I was running blind a bit in terms of time.  The sun was going down, it was cooling off and I was taking sips of fluid, but calories weren't going in very well.   

Started in the dark, and now the sun is going down
It was 15-20 minute mile pace, but at the Bull Run A/S at mile 59 I confirmed that I had plenty time to get in under 16 hours.  I shuffled and shuffled, finally hearing the cowbells of the finish line.  I managed to put together a jog as I came into sight, and finally crossed the line in 15:17:13, and literally collapsed fifteen feet later, not moving for probably twenty minutes.  Not the sub-14:00 I thought I had a chance at earlier in the race (and I know I'm capable of), but well ahead of the 16:00:00 I needed.  Most importantly - I'll be in Auburn for my third straight Western States 100 lottery this December!

Exhausted but satisfied!
Huge thanks go out to the Race Directors and Volunteers, Quicksilver is a first class race all the way.  

Run Goo (no blisters!)
Ultimate Direction AK Race Vest (original version)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Work Trip to Boston Provides an Opportunity For Something Different

The life of a business traveler is oh so glamorous.  Wednesday was nearly 12 hours door-to-door from home to my hotel in Mass, complete with an extra 90 minutes sitting in the plane at SFO while they worked out being re-routed around the midwest weather and then having to add more fuel (shouldn't they just top off anyway?).  It was a rainy hour-long drive on winding back roads from Logan out to the hotel, and the expected restaurants on the way never materialized.  By the time I got there after midnight the only food within miles was a cold steak wrap in the hotel's mini-mart fridge, which I was assured had been made "this morning...or maybe yesterday".  I washed it down with a trio of Sam Adams, only because they didn't have anything stronger.  The time zone change managed to keep me up until 2:00, which was ok as I was finalizing my presentation for my two hour onsite meeting Thursday morning.  I almost fell asleep at that point but something startled me awake, and for some reason I wasn't able to sleep at all after that, finally just getting up at 6:00.  Fun day and night, for sure.  

After my meeting I headed back towards Boston and stopped on the way to get some real food.  I had planned to run on the Boston Marathon course in the afternoon, but I was so tired that I passed on the ahi salad I knew I should order and went instead for a french dip, sweet potato fries, and two vodka sodas that I hoped would facilitate the nap I had planned once I got to the hotel.  But by the time I had navigated Boston traffic and was checked into my room, I decided I needed that run.  My knee has been bothering me for the last month, which has been cutting into my training pretty significantly.  Since I wasn't sure how it would feel after my chiro/PT threw Graston, electro-stim, lasers, different lasers, some pneumatic thumping device and maybe voodoo at it two days prior, I decided to keep it simple and run the mile from the hotel to the finish line and then head up the course until I felt like turning around.  To keep up the Perfect Storm of stress, shitty food, booze, and sleep deprivation, I threw down the complementary warm DoubleTree chocolate chip cookie and headed out into the cold, misty New England afternoon.

As I trudged up Boylston toward the finish line, I got some odd looks.  What, you city people and tourists have never seen a dude running down the sidewalk in dirty Hokas carrying an Ultimate Direction handheld and rocking an irunfar hat?  It's not like I was wearing my calf panties or anything.  I did have a  woman tell me I had nice calves, and that she wished hers were like mine.  I thought it was strange she wanted oversized, hairy calves, but I'll take the compliment as my PT just calls me Popeye or Fred Flinstone while he works on them.  Once I got there I stopped for a few minutes at the finish line and took in the scene.  The bomber had just been found guilty the day before so there were a few news trucks doing live shots from there, and I reflected for a moment about that day two years ago and the stories of friends and strangers that were there.  

Boston Marathon Finish Line on Boylston Street.  #bostonstrong

Then it was time to keep moving. It was inspiring to be running on this historic course, no doubt, and my normal disdain for the pounding of pavement was absent.  I was thinking I'd be happy with 10 miles, but I just kept cruising up Beacon St until I hit Chestnut Hill.  At that point I knew it wasn't too much further to Heartbreak Hill, so I carried on through Boston College and down the hill before turning around.  While the infamous hill didn't seem like much 7 miles into a run, I'm sure it's a bitch after 20 miles of hammering at marathon effort. 

As I headed back toward the finish I actually started thinking that I might want to run a road marathon again some day.  Maybe even really focus on the training and see if I might even get fast enough to qualify for Boston, or what I like to call "The Western States of Marathons".  But those unlikely thoughts were interrupted by the unholy trinity of french dip, sweet potatoes and vodka that had decided they were done with me and wanted to return to hell.  Every runner has had that feeling, a mile from home, of a rumbling from the bowels that has to be audible to cars driving by.  I know some trainers say to focus on "activating the glutes" while running, but I don't think they mean squeezing them together to keep your insides from becoming your outsides.  But I managed to get back to the hotel, up to my top floor room (really?) and avoid having to explain the laundry fee on my expense report.

It was a full day of travel on Friday back to the Bay Area, and Saturday I went out and tested the knee with my first hilly effort in a month.  While it's still not "right", I was able to knock out 16 miles with no pain or discomfort, which was encouraging!
Singletrack in Olompali, Diablo in the distance

As inspiring as knocking out some miles on the Boston Marathon course was, it was even better to be back on the home trails of Mt. Burdell in Novato.    

View from the top of Mt. Burdell

Four weeks from today I'll be lining up at Quicksilver 100K attempting to finish in under 16 hours and qualify for my third straight Western States 100 Lottery.  But this week a quick work trip to Boston provided me with a great experience and continued inspiration and appreciation of the opportunity I have to just keep moving.