Saturday, October 06, 2007

October 6th - -Looking Forward

I'm about to start my fall streak, and I'm reflecting on where I've been and where I'm going. I thought that by now I might be injury free for the first time in 5 years. I'd looked forward to perhaps doing some real training vs the rehab/crosstrain/"race" routine that has got me here.

Alas, while working on our new deck I reinjured my knee. I still have hopes that the new rehab stuff I've been doing will put it to rights again, but for the next month or so it's the same old thing I've always had. This shouldn't prevent me from doing any races, but the chance that I'll get any faster is slim.

I write this on the eve of the Portland Marathon, which starts a streak of 4 races in 28 days. The next week is a 100K, then after a week off my first 100 at Javelina, then the 50 miler at Autumn Leaves. To some extent my running schedule is on hold until after Javelina - all signs suggest I'll really really like hundred milers, but I need proof. I'm debating entering the WS100 lottery (I have a fistful of qualifiers) but I'll wait to see how Javelina goes.

So beyond 2007, my plans are really up in the air. The only thing I really know is that I'll be avoiding trail 50Ks. For some reason, that's a really discouraging distance for me: I've got poor trail speed and seem to have trouble getting into the groove. As a comparison, my road marathons are 3:30 - 3:40, my 50Ks are around 6 hours, and my 50 milers are around 9 hours. That means the marathons are at 8 minute pace, my 50Ks are at 11.5 minute pace, and my 50 milers are at sub-11 pace (actually faster than 50K!) I've decided to just take a break from the 50Ks, maybe do a road 50k or two in an attempt to transfer my marathon pace to that distance. If Javelina goes well, I'll be busy enough with 50-100 milers.

So I'm taking a deep breath before tackling the next month. 238 racing miles between now and Nov 5th. That may not be much to some people, but it's all new to me.

Friday, July 06, 2007


Well, I was right to worry about going four weeks with no races. That sort of long interval is clearly not good for me, particularly my emotional health. June was a wasteland of nothing after Newport and even with all the extra time to train I didn't seem to make that much progress. Without the focus of another marathon or ultra within the next week or two, my life loses its anchor - its metronome. I haven't gone more than 3 weeks without since Boston '06 and after this past month I'll do my best to avoid this nightmare ever again. My self-absorbed mental funk really spilled over into the rest of my life too, leaving me disorganized and introverted.

Almost everyone who ran the Foot Traffic Flat on July 4th complained about the heat and race organization. I'll skip that and just complain about my own mental and emotional failings: I was not ready to race (see "too much time off" above.) Even with the heat, all the ingredients were there for me to run a 3:20 or 3:25, I just couldn't put the focus together and let the inevitable little things that come up in a race get me down.

I planned to run at 7:30 to 7:40 pace for the first 10 and then make my usual call to push for a good time or ride the fade down. This had me starting out at a pace just barely slower than fast maniacs Annie and Chris. I'm sure everyone else thought I was going out too fast again. I had a nasty gastric emergency at mile 2 that had me off the course for about 3 minutes, then forced me to pass about a third of the field to get back to pace. This was followed by a bout of pain and cramping in my medial tibialis (like shin splint muscle) that forced me to shift my gait a little to take the pressure off. At this point it seemed like real work to hold even a 7:45 pace.

What I should have done is to focus, even out my gait and make the best of things. What I actually did was to wallow in all sorts of negative conversations with myself and spend a whole lot of energy trying to make myself miserable. Well, I succeeded. By mile 6 or 7 I was spending a lot of time planning to drop out at the halfway point when the course goes past the start/finish. I almost never think about dropping! My 10 mile time was about 78 minutes, which including the 3 minutes off the course meant I had held the 7:30 pace but by then the race was over for me. I downshifted and just decided to jog it in from that point.

Fortunately, that put an end to all my thoughts of dropping and I was in a slightly better mood as I went through the halfway point. My time here was a little over 1:45 so I had already slowed to about 9:00 pace, which I pretty much held through to the finish. This is "fast ultra" pace for me, so I slipped into that mindset. That not only made my run more enjoyable but it made me stop at each of the poorly organized water stops and make sure that I drank enough even when I had to grab a water jug and hold it over my head to get a drink (they ran out of cups.)

Other people probably have stories about how grueling the last sunbaked miles of the race were. I passed a number of people, including maniac founder (and very fast runner) Chris, who were struggling badly or in a deathmarch. For me, this part of the race wasn't so bad; I'd already checked out mentally, and I was just hanging out in my "fast ultra" place and trying not to beat up my tibialis too badly.

My final time was a little under 3:44. My shin is extremely sore (hopefully not a stress fracture) afterwards but of course nothing else really got much of a workout. Hopefully I can patch things up by SOB on the 14th.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Newport Marathon: Back in Business

I repeated last year's arrangements by staying in a hotel about a mile from the start, then walking to the start and back after the finish. The day was cool and overcast as we gathered at the little state park for the 7:00 start. As expected there were lots of familiar faces and I spent the minutes before the race doing my usual manic socializing. Newport always limits the field to 750 so there was little need to worry about start position or a crowded start.

My training has gone well for the last month, and I'm down a few pounds so I felt like I could default to my standard "hard marathon plan" of the last few years, shooting for a 78 to 80 minute 10 mile split and then seeing if I could hold pace. It became clear how long it's been since I did this successfully when I got all kinds of comments like "Hippo, you're going out pretty fast today" from various maniacs like Marc, Christel and others. This reminded me how much I want to get back into fast marathon shape and stay there.

I managed to cure myself of the over-socializing that slowed me too much at Capitol City, keeping conversations friendly but short and going back to concentrating on stride efficiency and pace. By mile 10 I was right on pace, a little over a minute under 80 minuutes, without any warning signs of trouble to come. I'd fallen into position in a field with Jon and Sherry Mahoney about a half mile ahead, Marc and a couple of his friends near them, and Christel a little closer at about a minute ahead. This really didn't change through the turnaround near mile 15 at which point I was still on pace, though no longer opening up any seconds on an eight minute flat pace.

I got surprised by the normal slowing of the field which happened a mile or two later. Since everyone slowed down in unison, I missed it until I remembered to pay attention to my splits. Everyone had slowed by almost a minute a mile, and when I looked at my watch at 18 I'd not only lost the minute-plus I had on eight minute pace but had gone a minute over. I realized that I would have to start passing people pretty regularly until the finish but I really never got these minutes back. I think in the future I'll plan to really pay attention to my Garmin from 15-19 and plan to start a little surge there so that I don't get tricked into slowing with the crowd.

In the next few miles I steadily picked people off in little clumps, as my respiration climbed steadily towards threshold. As mile 20 neared I realized that I really had few warning signs of impending trouble, other than a few lower-GI twinges. The only person who passed me was a young bodybuilder-looking woman who just flew by and then settled in ahead of me about 100 yards ahead.

I slowed a little as I started to reel Christel in. I really hate to pass people and then get passed back, and Christel is so strong in the late miles. When she slowed at a waterstop around mile 21 I finally blew past her. She yelled a slightly surprised but friendly greeting and I (sadly) didn't even have the breath to respond other than to raise one arm. I never got to apologize to her later either.

All this time I had gradually been reeling the bodybuilder woman in. I still had a little breath left so I tried to notch it up a little at mile 23, only to feel an asthma attack coming on. I slowed down and fumbled out my inhaler, then managed to get back to previous pace, but I really didn't have the guts to make another try for that extra little bit. This was a bit of a downer as I saw my chance at 3:30 creeping out of reach, along with any chance of catching the woman in front of me.

The end of the course loomed, along with the final uphill stretch and the sharp downhill to the finish. Somehow this seemed shorter and easier than last year and I powered over it only to find the woman that I'd been chasing in a total barfy meltdown at the top. She had pushed it to the limit to the point that she literally melted down and had to stop 100 (downhill) yards from the finish. I blew by, still straining to see if I could get a 3:30:59 BQ but missed it by 11 seconds, finishing in 3:31:10. No matter, at this point I'll still probably get a BQ in the next few months, and I'm not sure I'll be interested in Boston '08 anyway. I had to admire how hard the woman I passed had pushed it, and congratulated/commiserated with her. It was her first marathon.

I wish I could tell you about the course, or what the day was like, or about other people. But honestly I spent most of the race with my gaze focused on a spot on the pavement 15 feet in front of me. While this left me feeling awfully self-absorbed, it served the purpose of getting me back to the sort of marathon time I was running two years ago. I don't feel like I really left much time on the table, the race was nearly flawless, clean, and just a little uninteresting. Other than the little bobble between miles 15 and 18 I ran virtually dead-even splits. As I get a little faster over the next months I may use this race as a mental template for future races, while gradually increasing my opening pace.

Surprisingly, I needed almost no recovery and was able to start training again the following morning. With a huge 4-plus weeks until my next scheduled race I really hope to continue bringing my marathon times down before I head back to the trails. However, in a change of plans I decided that I'll go back to trails two weeks early and entered Siskiyou Out n Back (SOB) on July 14th.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Catch up: Bits and Pieces

I've been even more of a flake than usual about posting here. My "retirement" this Thursday has been a distraction. I'll try and do a little catch-up.

Ultrarunning has made me want to seek out new challenges, and after 26 years of working for the same employer my work environment has started to feel stale and toxic. So when a general offer went out that some of us could choose early retirement and a substantial buyout I jumped at the offer. I've had no second thoughts since making the decision over two months ago.

At 47 I'm too young (and too poor) to truly retire, but starting June 1 I'll be taking a complete vacation for 4-6 weeks. Afterwards I'll have to decide what I want to be when I grow up, and find employment. I hear that there are positions open holding a cardboard "need money - God Bless" sign at the freeway offramp, and that the pay is pretty good.

On May 20th I ran the Capitol City Marathon in Olympia as the start of my "road marathon vacation." It was great to see all the familiar marathoner faces again, along with all the people who run every race be it marathon or ultra. A pleasant surprise was to see James Varner! This was his first road marathon in seven years, though he is one of the stronger ultrarunners in the Pacific Northwest. He turned in a very respectable 2:52 on the somewhat slow Cap City course.

I had plans to use this race to start working on my marathon speed, but it was not to be. I thought (and still do) that I probably had a 3:40 in me that day, and had planned to start a little slowly and then gradually accelerate through the finish.

The early miles saw me running with Linda B., always a joy to run with and talk to. But after mile 5 I should have probably picked up the pace a little more than I did, I was having so much fun chattering away. The constant rolling hills of the early-mid miles of this race took a little more energy, but the few times I shut up and concentrated on stride efficiency I found I could speed up by 30-45 seconds per mile without effort. So around mile 10 when Linda needed to stop for a minute, I apologized and let her know I was abandoning her to push some kind of speed record (I beat her to the finish by about 3 minutes - ::rolls eyes::)

So I'd cut loose and am starting to pass people and move up in the field, but within a mile or two I fell in with a new marathoner named Zeb and started to talk to him. He had an interesting story, having been a bit of a couch potato until February, when he decided to up and train for Tacoma City Marathon. He had run that race the week before, having gone much of the way with Kurt Lauer and Steve Supkoff who had paced him to a sub-4hr finish. He had decided he liked marathons so much that he was back to run his second marathon at Olympia a week later, and was a very engaging guy to run and talk to.

At first Zeb was running at about the 8-flat pace I wanted to maintain, but as the middle miles progressed he started to fade a little. Every time I shut up and ran at pace, he would come with me, but with all the chattering we were off (my) pace more than on. Finally at around mile 20 he fell off pace and surged ahead again. I'll roll my eyes again: Zeb finished in nearly the same time as Linda, not far behind me.

So now I started a 20 mile push. I knew my time was going to be off a bit, but at least I could see if I could pick off a bunch of people in the last miles. The only problem is that the first person I picked off was Mike Wakabayashi, who was having a bad day. I slowed for a minute to cheer him up, which made him feel better so he came with. The only problem was that now I was back to chattering away and not running so fast... and so it goes. I finished in 3:50 and clearly had a lot left at the end.

So the lesson I learned was that I really can't run and talk at the same time. So much of my motivation for running is the friends I make, but for road marathons I need to make a choice at the start and either run with friends or push the pace. I feel a bit abashed that on two occasions I blew somebody off to go fast and then didn't follow through and actually run faster.

I'll make a few remarks about volunteering at PCTR's Forest Park run on Sunday. This was the first time I'd volunteered at an ultra and since Wendell and Sarah (the PCTR guys) have fewer Oregon connections than they do with Californians I found myself alone in the "boonies" of Forest Park at the top of Salzmann road as the sole proprietor of an aid station. I was a little worried that I'd spend six hours standing by myself waiting for runners when who should show up but Tom R. and his giant zoom lens to get pictures of everyone. Any day I get to hang out with Tom for a while is a good day for me. He stayed around for several hours until he left to go pace Kiley M. in for the last six on her first run back after her horrific hamstring tear.

Despite the smallish field in the 50K I saw a huge number of familiar and welcome faces come through. Olga - all smiles as usual, Sean M and Bryce were in the lead, Local blogger/maniacs Sarah and Bret came through, as did Linda B. (who is everywhere) and Jessica M. There was the usual contingent of the Oregon ultra crowd but perhaps the biggest surprise in familiar faces was Georgia from Minnesota who I ran with at Lean Horse last year. I learned that PCTR has a very loyal following of devotees that follow them around the country.

I'll be running the Newport marathon on Saturday. Maybe I'll learn how to shut up there. Then I have nothing scheduled for June. Four weeks will be the longest I've gone without a race in 15 months. I'm a little worried that between that and being out of work I may go a bit crazy.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Well that was easy!

Recovery went even better than I'd hoped this week. I was able to get back to a full training schedule by Wednesday and even spent some time Thursday doing a lactate threshold workout. I think I'll be able to get my weight down to the low I hit in late January by next Monday or Tuesday. I'm excited that I'm getting such a flying start on the 12-week "intermission" I've planned. The only little issue I had this week was the sores on my feet. I was tweezing nasty little chunks of gore out of all the holes until Wednesday or so, but all the discomfort is gone now.

So now I need to get my sorry butt back in shape, maniac-style. I've been bashing myself up with the trail races so far this year, so I'm calling a hiatus until PCT50 at the end of July. A few easy short trail days, consistent knee-friendly low intensity volume, and a bunch of threshold and interval stuff to get my "speed" back. As usual no real long runs, just hang out at a road marathon every other week. Am I the only person who finds road marathons recuperative? Everybody else seems to gripe about them so.

The only exception to all of this is that I might go out for some long days in June when I'm not working. To stay on theme I'll do them as mostly hikes, with a tiny bit of running to keep my legs loose.

This is a big change from my schedule of the last few months, but I really need it. I've been consistently slowing down as I devote too much of each month to knee-recovery. Miwok was the first time I've ever had a back of the pack finish, and even though there's an excuse for it I really didn't like being there. Plus, I really don't want to be sweating the cutoffs at Waldo, and at my current speed that's likely. 18 hours sounds like a lot, but....

So I'm getting used to a new schedule, just as I'm getting used to my looming career change. But there's a sunny weekend ahead, the days are long, and I can spend a lot of time outside. What more could a simple guy ask for? My only misgiving about all of this is that I'll really miss the trail crew while I'm gone. I'll have all the road-maniacs to keep me company but ultra people are special to me.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Miwok 110K

My concerns about Miwok were misplaced. It really didn't seem difficult as I ran it, and other than major superf
icial damage to my feet, I feel fully recovered the day after. This took less out of me than any ultra yet this year.

I found a last minute carpool to the beach from some other runners staying at my hotel. They were a little disorganized so we didn't get there until about 15 minutes before start time. It was full dark as everybody milled around getting organized but I managed to check in and find the piles to leave my drop bags. Thanks to a suggestion from an experieced Miwok runner I started near the back of the pack with hopes of gaining ground later. We ran a short way across the beach, then balled up at the entrance to a singletrack trail. The course spent a surprising amount of time on steep paved roads, and I had to resist the temptation to run the uphills. I amused myself by talking to people around me at this point - an amazing amount of them were from near Auburn, including a woman who has run the Rucky Chucky Aid Station at States for years. We were all treated to some jaw-dropping sights down onto the Golden Gate below us, and gradually wound our way high on the headlands to where we could see the bay laid out below.

I spent almost an hour of these early miles chatting with Jill, a stunning and engaging woman from San Diego. She had just won a lottery spot to compete in the Ironman Hawaii, and was looking forward to adding this feat to her already impressive ultra resume'. I almost wanted to write down everything she said as she made suggestions relating to how I might tackle my approaching career change. I couldn't resist a picture or two: she was just too photogenic, and she returned the favor.

I felt fresh and rested as we pulled into the second aid station at Tennessee Valley (about 12 miles.) It was great to have a drop bag here so I could dump my long sleeve shirt, gloves, and headband. Despite being at a solid 14 hour pace, I felt as if I was overdoing the slow start thing. I decided to notch it up a little and left the people I had been running with behind. From here my pace stayed below 13 hour splits for the next 4 aid stations.

We took a long steep dirt road pull out of Tennessee Valley and I found myself realizing the full truth of what I'd been told about Miwok. The elevation profile looks intimidating, but the easy nature of the fire roads and non-technical trails makes this an "easy" and runnable race. The only real difficulty is that the views are so astounding that it would be easy to forget to look at the trail, which would be a mistake on some of the stretches where the narrow trail is cut into a very steep hillside.

After the climb out of Tennessee Valley the trail stays high on the grassy bluffs overlooking the Pacific for a few miles. I was running alone at this point, passing another runner every once in awhile. Of course my pace slowed a bit as we took the steep descent down to Muir Beach. I was determined to save my bum knee early in the race, an effort which was completely successful.

From Muir Beach we ran for a couple of flat miles through wooded bottomlands (which would be my debacle on the return) and then a long steady climb up to the Pan Toll aid station. Again I was surprised at the runnability. If I hadn't been saving my strength I felt like I could have run major sections of this climb, the biggest in the race. Two things intimidated me here: that I would have to descend this grade after mile 50, and the giant redwood log across the trail we all had to scramble over. I cringed thinking of scrambling back over it with ultra-stiffened legs.

Pan Toll aid station at mile 22 was a beehive of activity. Everybody scrambled for their drop bags; I changed into a light singlet and refilled pockets with shot blocks and perpetuem packets. Sadly I left my camera here - it was acting up and thus not worth the carry weight. I started running again feeling fresh, below a 13 hour pace, and eager to start pushing. My only concern was that the day was getting warm which is a condition I dread.

The traverse to Bolinas Ridge started well. I fell behind a woman with exactly my strengths and weaknesses, she ran the gentle ups, and took downs and technical sections more easily. There wasn't a lot of chatter at this point, just steady running as we overtook several others. This success was shortlived as the trail got narrower and off-camber, almost a rough track through the steeply sloping meadows. Our legs got tired as we tried to adjust to the broken sloping surface. I heard lots of complaints (some from me) and started to dread having to return across this section. Like all of my fears of the day, this one failed to materialize.

I started to see frontrunners coming back from the turnaround about a mile before pulling into Bolinas Ridge. I was surprised first at how spread out they were, and second that some familiar and famous faces were farther back than I would have expected. All this was forgotten at the aid station (28+ miles) as I got pampered by the volunteers. Still surprised at the pace I was setting, I started running along the rolling forested ridge toward the turnaround.

This section was where I saw most of the field, both ahead and behind me. Even though I felt like I knew almost no one at Miwok, it was gratifying how many I recognized and all the encoraging comments and smiles we exchanged. Even though I was feeling really good at this point, I got an amazing boost from Stacey B. who recognized me and let out the most outrageous war-whoop. I later talked to a couple of strong women runners who both told me "and Stacey completely kicked my butt" -- my thanks and congratulations to her.

This was the best part of the race for me, but it came to an end when I started the steep descent into the turnaround aid station. I'm always terrified that big descents will stress my knee to the point that it will lock up and throw off the rest of the day, so my slow and cautious descent really took my confidence away. Returning up the grade after the aid station didn't improve things since the slope was too steep to run and I'm not a strong walker. It was at this point that I also noticed my wrists and fingers were puffy. I assumed this was mild hyponatremia, and it turned out this was a harbinger of bad things to come. I tried to take more salt tablets on the return up the ridge, but started to feel the heat as well and slowed my pace a little.

The second time through Bolinas Ridge aid station was a sorry contrast to the first time. The staffing had changed, and all the volunteers seemed to be from Junior High and more interested in flirting with each other than the runners. Much worse was that they were completely out of Gu2o and much of the ultra food. I was solidly in the mid-pack at this point, so this seemed like it was avoidable. I tried to take as much straight salt from the potato-salt dish as I could stomach, but I knew that with only water in my bottles, a limited supply of tablets, and a long sunny stretch ahead of me that I wouldn't gain any ground on my hyponatremia.

Surprisingly, the return over the off-camber trail through the meadows was not the struggle that I feared, but I still lost place to a half-dozen runners who seemed less bothered by the heat than I was. Things seemed hopeful though, as I was still well ahead of a 14 hour pace and felt like I would be able to allay my electrolyte concerns at Pan Toll.

Late in this stretch was where I first met Nicole, a pretty blonde and accomplished ultrarunner from Arizona who had just finished Ironman AZ a few weeks before. She had just passed me when she bonked her head loudly on an overhanging tree, then after staggering around for a few seconds proceeded to trip over a couple of rocks and look like she might fall off the trail. Always willing to be a gentleman where stunning females are involved, I offered to make sure she was OK for the last mile into Pan Toll. Apparently her brains were addled by the encounter with the tree, as she slowed down and accepted my offer.

We pushed through Pan Toll as quickly as possible, with that sub-14 hour finish still well in hand. I briefly got to say hi to Addy - a future ultrarunning star - before tackling the long descent. We were warned to be careful about the turn onto Miwok trail, as people get lost every year there. We didn't listen very well.

All my fears of the descent were misplaced: it and the nasty redwood tree climbover all went easily. I started to realize that my bad knee wouldn't be a factor in this race: we were past 50 miles with most of the difficult descents behind us. For some reason Nicole chose not to pull away and we chattered on endlessly about every topic on earth. Sometime during that conversation we missed the Miwok turnoff, and only realized this when Nicole pointed out that we hadn't seen the pink trail marking ribbons for awhile. We stopped and bumbled around in a confused muddle for a little while, then started to retrace our steps. I was against this, as I clearly remembered the trail we were on from the morning. My memory was endorsed by a couple of hikers we ran across as we retraced our steps. They said they had been seeing pink ribbons the whole way, and had seen them the whole way as they had started out in the morning from their B&B near Muir Beach. This, plus my memory caused us to turn around again and head to Muir Beach. What we didn't realize until much later is that the Miwok trail junction is where the return course splits off from the route we took out in the morning. All our memories of "but we came past here this morning" were leading us farther from the course.

We came out on the highway several miles later still having not seen any trail markers. Things still looked familiar so we bumbled around on the roads hoping to find the aid station. We convinced ourselves that someone misguided or evil had removed all the trail marking
tape, but at this point we were badly lost and starting to panic. Nicole's background in Law Enforcement asserted itself and she planted herself in the middle of the highway and flagged down every car that passed, demanding that they tell us of any pink-ribbon sightings. By now an hour had passed, and with it any hopes of a good finish time. Our bottles were empty, and we had to beg water from the inn, who didn't have any knowledge of how to get back on course either. Finally we were rescued by a race official who found us still bumbling around on the highway. One of the cars that Nicole had flagged down had later passed an aid station and reported a couple of dazed, crazed, and filthy runners wandering around Muir Beach and terrorizing the population!

I bless the race official for not even offering us a ride, instead patiently explaining exactly how we had to backtrack a couple of miles and not miss the Miwok Trail this time. We were crushed at how badly our finish time would be thrown off, and a little worried that we would have to sweat the cutoffs. This is also where the hyponatremia finally caught up to me. All the times I had been forced to resort to drinking water had caused my feet to swell with fluids and blisters started to form all over the balls of my feet and my toes. Still, we felt really strong and were able to maintain a solid pace up a long grade on the Miwok trail to the Highway 1 aid station. Here we got the pleasant surprise that we were still over an hour ahead of the cutoff. We passed on the Pizza we were offered and pushed on at a solid pace to the last aid station at Tenessee Valley while the sun sank into the sea.

Nicole showed her character and loyalty at this point as my witty conversation ended as I gritted my teeth against the blisters. I knew I could finish on them and decided against trying to take shoes and socks off to drain them. With the lingering effects of hyponatremia still causing new blisters to form I wasn't sure it would do much good, but at least I got good training in how to suck it up on the painful descents. Nicole, bless her, refused to leave me as I straggled and
managed to take my mind off my feet by continually returning my attention to one of the world's best and longest sunsets that stained the sky and stark landscape an ever deepening shade of crimson. Even with all this struggle, we were passing runners pretty steadily (which delighted Nicole.) We were a couple of mid-pack runners, still in good condition, who had been transplanted to the back of the pack and so were running at a faster clip.

Tennessee Valley aid station in the fading daylight and we knew we had the finish in hand. I grabbed my headlamp from my drop bag, we both pulled on long-sleeved shirts, and we pulled out again determined to make time to the finish. I've never run on trails at night before, so this was a new experience. The headlamps threw the trail into odd perspective, and the glowsticks marking the trail looked eerie. Long before the finish we could hear the cheers as other runners finished ahead of us, and the last mile of descent into Rodeo Beach gave us a view of the brilliantly lit finish area. Nicole and I finished together in 15:25, delighted with the support and
companionship we had provided each other.

Friday, May 04, 2007


I don't know how I got so blessed, but I really treasure my mental and emotional state before a big race.

I'll stop and point out that I'm completely not ready for Miwok tomorrow: undertrained, slower than I was in January, and generally not ready for the rigors of my first 100K after having spent the last few months really doing nothing but beating up my knee and then spending weeks rehabbing it back to minimal function.

So I should be nervous and frightened, dreading the ordeal and worried about the chance that for the first time in my life I may have to sweat the cutoff times, right? I should be worried that I may batter my knee so badly that I may have to give up running for months. I should be feeling bereft as I go to an unfamiliar place with less than a half-dozen people I even know a little bit, and face a challenge alone.

But that's not how I feel at all, it never is. I'm bursting with anticipation, dreaming pleasant dreams of the Marin headlands I've never seen and smiling faces that will soon no longer be strangers. This is what I live for, almost as much as facing the challenges on the trail that are sure to come. I have no idea where this response of mine came from. It is not how I am in "real life." All I can do is embrace it as a blessing, and try to learn how to make every day like today.


I got guest pass tickets from my airline brother in-law; the first time I've done that. He even met me at the airport before takeoff where he was waiting on reserve status. Today will be a lazy day, flying to Sacramento then driving down to Mill Valley and knocking around the area for the day.

Ken Ward was gracious enough to send me his Miwok pace chart and an admonishment to start out slower than I did when he saw me at Peterson Ridge Rumble. I'm sitting here trying to muster the discipline to take the first couple of aid stations at the far back of the pack, then gradually let myself speed up a tiny bit before hitting Pan Toll at about mile 22. From there I should just let the rhythm of the trail dictate, and will probably be able to start moving up a little. I've always had a burst of strength starting around mile 37 in 50 milers that carries me all the way to the finish. I'm anxious to see if that late strength will carry me an extra 12 miles.

My anticipation is overwhelming me, I can't wait until tomorrow!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Mt. Si 50 mile

Despite the intimidating name, this is a very flat ultra, held on an easy (rails to trails) course and is thus very hippo-friendly. I had a fairly good day with no mishaps other than some moderate GI problems. I got to try out a few new things, including using Perpetuem (which works really well despite tasting like dishwater.) Despite the fact that I seem to have lost a lot of fitness over the past few months, I finished in 8:56 which is a scant 4 minutes off my PR - that's 5 seconds per mile.

But almost the entire story of my day was all the people, old and new friends, that I got to interact with. I'm still in a fantastic mood from all the smiles, hugs, and great conversations I had. That despite missing most of the night's sleep before the race (to drive there starting at 2:00 AM) and the night's sleep afterwards (because my bad knee was P.O.'ed and wouldn't give me peace.)

I ran most of the first 15 miles with Linda B. who I've known since running the Victoria Marathon with her before she became a Maniac and got on the marathon-a-week plan. This was her first fifty, but she has the soul of an ultrarunner and the talent as well. Soon I'll get to tell everyone that "I knew her before she became famous and faster than anybody else." We chattered away for hours about everything, particularly her recent Boston exploits. She had a fan and pacer to carry her through her last 22 miles so i felt privileged to be able to give her some company in the early going. I think our incessant bubbly chattering may have annoyed the other runners though.

Throughout the early miles we kept running across Stevie Ray, Arthur, and the Barb B / Janet combo. Barb was feeling all guilty that she'd borrowed ten bucks from me at the Yakima finish line and didn't have it on her to return. After hearing this guilt trip several times and really wanting more smiles from her instead, I decided to tell her to send the money to charity (from Stevie Ray's pink "breast cancer sucks" singlet) but by then we'd parted ways and I didn't get to pick on her.

I came into one of the middle aid stations only to run into Eric B. who jumped into the role of ultra crew catering to my every need and providing this huge emotional lift. He was there to support wife Michelle, but somehow managed to be all over the course playing guardian angel to almost all of us. I know that there are many of us who are eternally grateful and will remember how supportive and gracious he was for a long time.

Not long after I saw Michelle (and her friend Michelle) coming the other way while running the 50K. Their smiles and friendly greetings went into my "smile bank" along with all the others - I'm going to be on cloud nine for weeks! Both Michelles will now be Maniacs as this was their third outing in the last few weeks.

Near the turnaround I caught up to Diana (slug) and Stacy and rn with them for a few miles. Diana was one of the people who got me into the Maniacs, and I've never really had the chance to thank her so I took the opportunity. Of course, spending time with that pair is always like crawling into a basketful of puppies. I was sad to leave them but wasn't able to resist the usual temptation to push the pace in the last dozen miles.

The one thing in the race that made me a little uncomfortable was our interaction with the relay runners. There were teams of 5 runners who ran the race as a relay. Most of these people were accomplished athletes and many were undoubtedly better runners than I've ever been. Yet they all treated us ultrarunners as if we were gods descended from Mt. Olympus! I wasn't prepared for this and didn't know how to take it. I think of all fellow runners as part of "us" to be encouraged and appreciated so somehow being put on a pedestal without really deserving it left me wondering what to say. Does anyone have suggestions?

Unlike a lot of my races this year, this one left me feeling like I'll need a 1-2 day recovery. That means I should be able to get some training in before Miwok in two weeks. Scheduling a 50M and 100K two weeks apart now feels less daunting (more like slacking actually) but I'm still going to resist the temptation to squeeze a race in next weekend.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Peterson Ridge Rumble: yet another learning experience

I had thought this race would be one in which I really came into my own, it is the perfect terrain and distance for me. That clearly didn't happen, but I had a great day and learned a lot of lessons. Best of all I collected a lot of incredible smiles from the fantastic people who show up at ultras.

My wife and I decided to make a family mini-vacation out of this race. We stayed up on Mt. Hood on Friday night, had a fantastic dinner at Timberline Lodge, then spent the day skiing together at Mount Hood Meadows. It's been ages since we spent the day skiing together, just us. After skiing we drove down and stayed in Bend. Despite all my encouragement, Sweetie was completely uninterested in showing up at the race: she doesn't like running, or running people {shrugs sadly} so she dropped me off at Sisters Middle School at 7 AM and then went back to sleep in.

Upon arriving I was welcomed by all the usual hugs and smiles and hellos from everyone. Despite being new at this, I really feel like I know so many people already. It's hard not to love the whole lot of them to death. I spent a little while chatting with James Varner (who I'd not met before) and found what everyone had warned me about was true: James is an exceptionally warm and gracious person who stands out even among the ultra crowd.

As the race started I made my usual mistake of taking the first few miles too fast. This hurt me as much as it usually does (which is not at all) and gave me the benefit of getting to talk with a lot of people as they gradually passed me. But I learned my first lesson of many for the day as I realized that all of my working around injuries all winter has taken its toll: I simply don't have the fitness to run at quite the pace I could six months ago. This made me feel a little better about my post-Chuckanut decision to shift my schedule towards more knee-friendly races.

Somewhere in the early miles I developed a hot spot on one of the places I always tape for road marathons but don't feel the need to for trails. I made the wise decision to sit down at AS2 and get it taped. Unfortunately, the volunteers had to spend some time scurrying around looking for duct tape, but this was still probably a smart choice. I had some tape in my drop bag at AS3 but by then my foot would have probably been a mess.

I've never really used drop bags before, but having one at AS3 was really helpful, primarily as a place to strip off my headband, shirt, and sunglasses. This was the start of the "grunt loop" with a little bit of technical trail. My plan was to take this section relatively easy, pushing the uphills and really saving myself on the downs, even if I had to walk them. I've been discovering that running downs hard early in the race really slows my time as all the muscles above and below my knee tighten up in an attempt to protect it and turn the rest of the race into a shuffle. This strategy worked very well for me: no real knee problems later in the race and no apparent need for knee rehab-recovery the day after the race.

There is a long steep escarpment to climb at the end of the "grunt loop" and here I got my final lesson of the day in "what to do right." I passed Van, who was having a horrific asthma attack. I really hate it when I pass her, as I'm not in her league and if I do pass her it's only because she is having a really bad day. As we pulled back into AS3 though, she reminded me that I should use my inhaler so that I wouldn't have the same problem. We stood around for a few seconds doing group inhaler-puffing and I was saved from having any problems later in the race. Thanks Van!

My luck changed there somewhere after AS3B: all my lessons up to then were in "what to do right." Afterwards it was nothing other than "what not to do."

Heading down to Aid Station 4 was one of those emotional highs I always remember, though this time it would eventually lead to my undoing. I was rested from my easy pace in the grunt loop, the terrain was easily runnable and gently downhill, and my legs had loosened up into that fast-ultra pace that I can sometimes sustain forever. I started to pass a number of other runners, all except for Michele, who passed me about six times. She was having a difficult day or I would have never seen her at all, but since she always has a great smile and friendly comments I was happy to see her so many times. If I needed any other motivation to become a better ultra runner it would be to be able to run with her on a good day for her.

So as I came into AS5 I was pretty full of myself. I was fresh and running well, with all the tough terrain behind me and only hippo-friendly trail in front. I'd been eating and drinking well, and always had lots of drink left in my bottles at every Aid Station. What could go wrong?

So I made my big mistake and didn't top off my bottles at AS5. Less than a mile later the course came out into full sunshine and its longest interval without aid. I realized early that I was in trouble, and started to conserve water but still ran out with miles to go. What followed was a nightmare of running without hydration, baking in the sunshine and being forced to slow down which only prolonged the time I had to endure. The last several miles of this stretch is a gentle upgrade on a dirt road: normally this would be where I would gain ground on everyone, but I was forced to walk most of it in hopes that I could make AS6 without making too much of a mess of myself. My only consolation was seeing Michele up ahead not pulling ahead very much. I know she's a better runner (at least most days) so it was good to be reminded that I wasn't falling back that badly.

Somehow I made it to AS6 and spent a little while there drinking and getting bottles filled. Sadly, the damage had been done though and the rest of the race was an uncoordinated stumble over what should have been easy trail. I wasn't going all that slowly, but easy miles after mile 30 is usually where I make up ground.

I really enjoyed the end of the race, which is a lap around the school track. Since almost the entire field had finished in front of me, it they were all there eating great food and Sascha's (Sean's dog) birthday cake. It made my day to hear so many people call me by name as I stepped onto the track - my first ultra was last July yet it seems like I have so many friends!

The best news about this race is that I had an easy recovery and will be 100% for the Mt Si 50 miler on Sunday. This reinforces my decision to be a slacker-backofthepacker at Miwok and then retreat to a bunch of relaxing road marathons until July. I must be one of the few people in ultras who thinks that 2-3 road marathons a month is the best way to rest up and get healthy. All the real ultrarunners think I'm crazy for this attitude.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Yakima River Canyon

I had a rough couple of weeks after Chuckanut both physically and emotionally. My recovery went about as poorly as possible, and I started to worry that some of the damage I took to my wonky knee might be permanent. Being down about that affected my eating habits, and so I gained a little weight. I started to realize that technical trail races may be something I'm not cut out for. Protecting the knee makes me slow, and I get beat up way too much which interrupts my progression as a runner.

All this introspection about my future as a runner was compounded by the uncertainty about my "retirement." I'd become emotionally comitted to leaving my employer after all these decades, but until they confirmed my application (which wasn't certain) I wasn't sure I'd get that huge financial assistance in my career change.

I'd told myself that life is like ultras: you sometimes just have to stick out the low spots and wait for them to end. But I was almost unable to believe this until Friday when things turned around.

First I got officially notified that I was accepted. Woot! I'm still employed until the end of May but I'm committed now (and so are they.) Then I just started to fall into my normal prerace joyfulness as I started to head towards Yakima.

I don't know how to put into words how much I get from hanging out with Maniacs and ultra people. They are the best, like the perfect family you hear about in fairy tales that don't really exist. I was overwhelmed by all the friends I got to hang out with, and I knew even before the race that all my glumness was a thing of the past.

The race weather was nearly perfect. I haven't ever done this marathon before so I really got to appreciate the views of desert canyon and the river. Fortunately, Lesa had warned me in advance about the crown of the roads so I was mentally prepared and it didn't seem to bother me that much.

There's been a pattern in my last few ultras that I have low spots in the mid-teens. For the first time that spilled over into a road marathon for me as I lost focus a bit for miles 13-17. But just like an ultra I came out the other side with an exhilarating feeling of being ready to tackle the late miles. This made me really look forward to the last long hill as a place to gain some ground.

Unfortunately, I was a bit too cocky in that plan, as the hill brought on a scary asthma attack, and then I started to cramp pretty badly near the crest. A year ago that would have been the end and I would have death-marched the last four miles. All the stuff I've been learning from ultras really helped here. I simply knew that I would shake this off, and some of the tricks to how to go about it.

Sure enough, I recovered pace quickly and finished in 3:44. That's not an excellent time for me, but plenty good to send me home happy. More importantly it left me with a 1 day recovery and a lot more faith in my ability to face the next few races in my schedule.

I think the finish area meant more to me than the race did. So many friends had good days and amazing smiles. I infected one non-Maniac runner named Bonny with both my hobby of trying to get smiles from other marathoners as well as the Maniac Virus. It looks like she'll be joining in a few weeks.

I don't have enough time to recount all the friends (and new friends) I talked to and how much their spirit flowed into me. Suffice it to say that my schedule of a 60K, 80K, and 100K in the next 5 weeks now seems immensely less daunting.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Another Wet Day at Chuckanut

Photo thanks to Glenn Tachiyama

I think I learned a lot from this one, primarily that I just suck at technical trails. Being one of the heaviest people out there, even at my now "svelte" 192 lbs, just means I can't twist and turn around trees and rocks as well. That takes it out of me.

Chuckanut 50K is one of the premier 50Ks in the Pacific Northwest. It fills very fast and draws a very accomplished field. Krissy Moehl the RD runs an excellent event. You can really feel the sense of family that binds all these accomplished athletes from the area together.

The course starts with a 6.5 mile flattish stretch on a bike path, then climbs up the mountain on a combination of singletrack and logging roads. It spends 7.2 miles at the top on fairly technical trail, on top of a knife-edged ridge, then down around the back side, and finally up over the top in an extremely steep scramble called chinscraper. Then you lose all the elevation over about 3 miles and run the bike path back to the start/finish. The weather on race day turned out to be a steady drizzle, which added a little to the difficulty by increasing the mud a bit. You could also tell that it sapped some runners' spirits by the end.

I found I was able to climb better than the other mid-packers around me, being able to easily hold a slow run as they stopped to walk. I felt good about how I was doing until the third aid station at the start of the technical section. Then I just slowed down. In particular I would lose lots of ground on everyone else on the downhills, as I was tentative and lacking in confidence. The time I spent at the top of the mountain was one of the emotional low points that seem to happen in ultras. I felt like I was running hard but the time just slipped away. I found myself dropping back in the field and was overly careful in an attempt to protect my bad knee. As time dragged on I emptied my handheld bottle, and found myself getting thirsty with no aid station in sight. As a final indignity, the Garmin that I'd just bought took this opportunity to act subtly wonky; the miles which had been crawling away slowly suddenly started to go backwards. I started to wonder if I would ever finish.

Getting back in to the Aid Station was a welcome relief, heralded first by the sight of Glenn Tachiyama and his camera. It felt like coming home with all the smiles and cheerful help from the volunteers. I was eager to get out and recover my pace on the long downhill but soon found that I was still sluggish on the downs, protecting that knee. Still, the descent went by pretty quickly.

I never really got that tired, and managed to recover a good solid pace on the final flat stretch. Final time was 6:10 - about 20 or 25 minutes slower than I had hoped. Even so, I had a wonderful day, collected a bunch more of those special smiles that you only see at endurance events, and got to hang out with a bunch of people whose company I enjoy immensely.

After finishing, I really felt like I hadn't worked very hard and wouldn't get sore. But as the hours passed, I've started to realize that I really battered my wonky knee. I wasn't able to get much sleep that night even with pain meds, and it doesn't allow me to walk easily at the moment. I've learned to withhold judgement on recovery for a few days, but this has me worried.

Monday, January 29, 2007

I'm still fairly new to ultras, and I've realized that the six races to date have been on the easy end of things: only a couple of thousand feet of elevation gain (or less) and no worse than moderately technical trails. So I eagerly signed up for the Capitol Peak 34 mile Fatass wanting to cut my teeth on harder stuff. The result shows me how much I need to develop, and how difficult it will be to get ready for some of my harder races this year. I'm already thinking of my race as something epic, and I'm having to restrain myself mentally; the only thing epic about it was my lack of preparation.

I set out from home a little early, as I was unsure if there might be ice on the road during the three hour drive to the race. Fortunately the roads were clear until I got to the point where I had to leave the main roads to climb up into Capitol Forest. The race organizers were good enough to have people at that intersection, warning about the treacherous roads ahead and offering to give people rides. I chose to stick with the "hippo-crate" and it's trusty Nokian studded snow tires. There were several inches of snow on the roads from there on, but I didn't seem to have much trouble. I arrived at Falls Creek campground in the dark, and managed to find the blue-awninged registration area and a nice campfire, then had to dig deep to pay my whopping three dollar entry fee. I started to see a lot of familiar faces: Van (of course), Tony C, Karen, Christel, Tony P, Eric and Michelle. I recognized Tom Riley and introduced myself, although we'd never met before. With all the strong runners around, I wondered why the list of finishers from last year's race was so short, I would learn the answer to this question as the day wore on. I knew that some of the runners were only there to run one 17 mile loop, but surely all those strong ultra studs were there for two.

The race started at about 8:10 on a day that dawned with unexpected sunshine. The trail climbed gradually for about a mile, then settled in to a steady steep climb up to Capitol Peak. I noticed immediately that the trail surface changed every few hundred yards: it would be solid dirt singletrack, then change to a couple of inches of slushy snow, then to slick mud, then back to storm-downed pine twigs. The surface I liked the least was where the trail was eroded down several inches below the surface leaving us to run in a narrow ditch - somehow it was never possible to run off to the side, there were always thick bushes or sticks to deter us.

The trail climbed steadily up towards the peak, and the sizable field settled into a long sporadic pace line. I noticed better runners behind me, and used the need to take off my jacket as an excuse to drop back behind them. Even so, I felt as if I was on the same effort pace as a 50 miler, though going up the grade the actual speed was slower.

After numerous road crossings we finally got to the first real checkpoint, a SAR point and water station at the 5.6 miles. From here the course took its only significant section on a road, a steep pull up to the communication towers on the top of the peak and then back down the same road. The road surface here was covered with thick churned up snow and icy sections, so it felt a little like a trail. Most of us wished we'd left our warmer gear on at this point, as the summit sat in a cloud and was breezy and exposed.

After going up and down the summit, the race left the roads for good and went into a section that had the deepest snow: maybe 4-8 inches. Fortunately by this time I was well back in the pack and had numerous runners ahead to break the trail for me. This was a mixed blessing as they had also churned everything up; sometimes snow, sometimes slushy mud, sometimes thick regular mud. The most surprising were the "polar bear traps:" what looked like a little mud puddle to run through, and turned out to be knee deep open water with enough muddy slush floating on top to disguise it. On one occasion I looked back at one of these, with all the floating slush-bergs bobbing around, and I swear I saw a seal bob up to take a look around!

Through this section I started to run well, pulling away from the group I'd been running with. I'd felt tentative for the first few miles, wondering about the ankle I turned so badly on my New Years Eve run. Now I'd loosened up, and ran easily downhill. I really felt like I could go on forever, that I wouldn't get tired running this way. I started to pass a number of other runners, who were looking tired and demoralized. Eventually I even caught Tony C. who was in a bit of a mental low spot because of the trail conditions. I wasn't surprised that Tony came with, instead of letting me pass him; you don't get to be as good a runner as Tony without some competitive spirit. Tony had been thinking of bagging it after one loop, but after we chattered away for a few miles he decided to go out for another. He even treated me to pizza from his car at the start/finish area, for which I was supremely grateful.

At this point I started to understand how the finish field could be so small. On checking in after the first loop I was amazed at how many people had decided not to go further. Still, someone said there were 18 ahead of us, and undoubtedly more behind. I think my first loop time was 3:22.

Tony led out for the second loop, and I struggled to keep up to his pace. After about a mile I realized what kind of trouble I was in when one leg just buckled under me on a downhill stretch, plunging me headfirst into mud. I didn't feel like I'd run out of energy, but my legs just lacked the strength to keep me upright. I realized immediately that my inexperience in "hill ultras" was showing and slowed off the pace, climbing the grade back up to the peak at a slow hesitant walk. During this time I started to see runners coming the other way. I eventually realized that a number of the people ahead of me were dropping. This seemed odd since they all looked fresher and happier than me, but the thought of dropping never really entered my mind. Still, when I got to the SAR point, I asked if I were last. "Nope! you've got four behind you plus the trail sweep." I realized that one of these had to be Karen, who would never drop, so my dream of bagging the coveted DFL spot was also crushed.

The exposed road up and down the peak was eerier the second time, mostly because the wind had come up and big chunks of ice were blowing down from high on the communication towers. I ran as fast as possible around the buildings at the top in fear of getting brained by one of these missiles, then dropped back to a staggering walk. As I assessed my progress downhill on the road section, I realized how long a day I was in for: barely able to run at all, and the speed of my walking slowing as well. As I entered the snowiest section of the course my pace varied between trudging, shambling, staggering, and shuffling, although occasionally I would make up for it with a bout of straggling. I had no confidence in my ability to keep my feet under me and so was having to fight the course more than the first loop. To make matters worse the trail had deteriorated considerably because of warming and all the traffic on it. I was reminded of something at this point as I staggered through the snowy forest. It took me a while to realize who I resembled until it suddenly came to me: "This is like Napolean's retreat from Moscow, only I'm less quick and agile than those poor sods were!"

When I got to the final SAR checkpoint I was told that there was now only one behind me, though I'd not been passed. "Karen?" I asked, to be met by a nod. The rest of the course dragged on, much harder than it was the first time. I got to the little bowl near the end that I'd been dreading. Dirt bikes had cut the trail into a steep V-shaped groove with no apparent flat area on the bottom to step. I tried to run it cautiously, and fell; then I tried to walk it, and also found myself unable. I had to stop for awhile and just look at it, wondering how I could make it through. Somehow I managed to make it through and to the end of the trail, just as darkness fell, my time was 7:52. Someone was gracious enough to take my picture at the campfire.