Sunday, November 25, 2007

Giving Thanks at the 25th Quad Dipsea

As every year, the Quad Dipsea race comes 2 days after Thanksgiving. Perhaps because of this timing, even the most competitive ultrarunner probably approaches this race less intensely, aiming only to run off some of the T-day feast, meet up with old friends, or enjoy nature before winter holiday demands get out of control.

For me, my off-season began weeks ago after Firetrails 50, 6 weeks earlier. I signed up for the up and down and up and down (link to see course map and elevation profile) Quad Dipsea to stave off a little of my fitness decline, as well as to collect some of the promised 25th anniversary swag. Mostly to have fun.

I actually had to work 10 1/2 hours on Thanksgiving Day until midnight. All the staff was getting paid at 2 1/2 times the normal rate-- everyone except the physicians. Lots of people happy to be ending up in the ER while they were missing their feast... Do I sound ungrateful? Well, what did YOU do? Enjoy friends and family and stuff your face, right?

Okay, now that I've vented, I will devote the rest of this blog to tell you many things for which I am thankful, not that I can even cover a fraction of them. Good fortune is just exuding out of me, my soul and my every orifice.

I caught up with my family the next day at my brother's, who lives less than 8 miles from the start and finish. I could not find any of the 5 tech fabric caps I've won as swag. Luckily my sister-in-law had this fluorescent green one with "SFMOTC" (the formerly named San Francisco Mothers of Twins Club) that I borrowed, which matched well with my green Jed Smith 2007 shirt and my green INOV-8 305's I won as part of the race series last year. I had recently decided that I would try to show up at every race color-coordinated. Since I'd already decided in August that I was in inexorable precipitous physical decline (link to my blog report), this will be my sole goal for 2008.

Notice: No smile, per my wife's advice, because smiling makes me look like a dork, at least on this blog. Do I look like a lithe color-coordinated bad-ass?

I am thankful I had the experience to know parking is a real bitch in the Mill Valley neighborhood where the race starts, so I left earlier than I did the last 2 years. And my sensitive nipples were thankful I had the foresight to plant some band-aids in my car, since they, along with my Injinji socks, didn't make it into my bag. My toes were thankful that the $1 socks I bought at Costco sufficed for a relatively short race with only a single 2-foot stretch of mud.

I went to relieve myself (type 2) 15 minutes before the start to find a rare sight-- a long line for the men's room, and no line for the women's. The only explanation I could think for this is that the women's room had more stalls than the men's, which had urinals, but what guy is going to wait in line to do something he can do behind a tree? I am THANKFUL that the women using the restroom gave me and a few other guys permission to use their side. And that when I walked out, none of the women in the line that had just formed gave me dirty looks. Thank you women! I love you! Just so you know, the seat stayed down.

Despite not feeling rushed before the race, as soon as John Medinger starts it, I bolt down the street and around the corner to hit the steps. Despite my better judgement and awareness that I've lost some aerobic fitness with far too few quality workouts, I bolt up the 1st flight of stairs. Eventually I slow down, but keep breathing really hard all the way up the other 2 flights. Hard enough that I know I'm over my lactate threshold. Whoops.

I am thankful that I'm involved in a sport that gives me plenty of opportunities to realize I am an idiot and have room for improvement.

Little did I know, but this guy was pacing off me, telling me post-race that he was learning a lot about tackling steps. I'm flattered, Will, as long as you realize that the pace was stupidly fast for me. Thanks for the volunteering this year, and your supportive blog comments, and congrats on coming back so soon after the injury.

Will Gotthardt & watermelon. You can't tell how ripped this guy is from this photo.

I am still hurting going up the trail to the Cardiac hilltop aid station. There Kevin Rumon announces "Here's the guy who kicked my ass at Firetrails," fills my bottle and sends me on my way before I remember it's him. Kevin would graciously and efficiently fill me up 3 more times. Thanks, Kevin, you were bonus crew!

Heading downhill to Stinson Beach, it's warm and beautiful, great views. I'm starting to feel a little better. I'm probably in 16th or 17th place at Stinson, but don't really care and am not really counting. PR will not happen. I can't nonetheless help noticing that Beth Vitalis, a great climber whom I expected to dust me up the stairs, is several minutes ahead of me at the turnaround. She would stay running strong and break the women's course record by half a minute. I asked her after the race how many course records she'd broken, and she humbly replied that they keep falling (to others). It's awesome she can keep setting new ones,since she a little older than...20. Chick me anytime, Beth!

click for action photo of Beth at finish line

So, my split at the turnaround is over 1:07, which I think I vaguely remember is the same as last year, but I know that I shouldn't be trying to match last year's time, when I'd trained better and kept my fitness up with Helen Klein 50 mile. Running goddess Ann Trason fills up my bottle and I head up.

The climb as always is long, but actually more runnable than the climb from Mill Valley, plus this time I cross paths with most of the race entrants. I'd swear 30-35% know and greet me by name. I'd be thankful that so many people know me, but I either don't recognize and can't remember the names of more than 1/2 of them, incurring guilt and shame and the uncanny feeling that someone is stalking me. Sorry, I'll get everyone's name down eventually.

Atop Cardiac, Kevin Rumon is so fast and efficient at filling my bottle up that I neglect to snarf the Gu packet I picked up and opened there. As I hit the single track, I notice that I've hand-jobbed myself, and mint chocolate Gu is not just all over my hands, but creamed onto my rolled-up arm warmers, my bottle, my shirt and my shorts.

Uh, guess I got too excited from being serviced by Kevin...

As put-off as some of you are, I am thankful to be able to blog without a scatological theme.

I suspect the guy in first, whom I've seen before, might have a shot at the course record, as he's cleared the Mill Valley side Dipsea steps when we cross paths. He's on the right in the photo. Dunno, looks like he snowboards too. Can't remember his name, but I think his first name is Eric. He would end of missing the record by about half a minute-- but no problem, this was his first shot.

click for finish line photo of Eric

Back to me: my right knee is not hurting outright, but I'm worried about injuring it and I'm not the best technical downhiller. A few guys who do have this skill pass me coming down the Highway 1. My split, as expected, was very much higher than my first, on the order of 5 minutes more, 1:12, for a total of 2:19.

Going back up the steps is painful, but at least I don't have the clatter of someone right behind me, making me go faster than I should.

At the Cardiac aid station I ask Kevin to fill it up 1/2 way. He fills it up all the way. But based on the fact that I've hardly had to pee, I'm glad he didn't do what I asked. Thanks, Kevin.

I cross paths with the guy in first way up the hill. I yell at him "course record, man, keep it up!"

Several minutes later, Victor Ballesteros, last year's #2, comes up, having passed last year's winner Michael Buchanan for what would be 1st, except for the faster guy, so he's in 2nd. Even though I put his photo in last entry, let's do it again, they're so photogenic. His girlfriend's name is Jena, with one J.

After Ballesteros, I'm expect Buchanan and not this guy, whom I edged last year and whom I gapped maybe an hour at Firetrails this year. He would bonk a little and lose two places during the last split, but 5th place and almost 4:30 was an amazing performance. Jon, omedetou, man, that was awesome.

Jonathan Kimura

At the Stinson Beach turnaround, I get continued encouragement even though I've done another 1:12 split and know I'm not performing at my peak. Ann Trason tells me I look good. Maybe I mutter something about going out too fast. She repeats it. And I swear, I think she tells me a third time, you're looking good.

Whether she means it or not, or even if I'm hallucinating, this is Ann Trason, all-time women's ultrarunning queen, telling me not once, not twice, but three times I look good. Okay, so the least I can do in appreciation is run like I'm feeling that good. I scurry up the hill, walking only the steps. Thanks Ann!

I pass 2 guys coming into the Cardiac station. One of them is Eric Clifton in his jester shorts, whose record I thought I could catch at Kettle Moraine in June (I wasn't really close to doing this). I wanted to get a picture with him at the finish, but he must've split. The other is some guy whose name I forget who tells me post-race he runs 70 races a year. After climbing the last set of steps toward the 3 long flights going down to the finish, I catch sight of still another guy and set out in pursuit. I pass him just before we hit the downward flights, then we take turns passing each other. The last flight I stop trying to hit the every 2nd or 3rd step and starting running blindly, my feet hitting or missing steps randomly.

I am thankful, dude from Truckee (another Eric?) that you totally pulled away, because honestly, that wasn't just too rough & risky for my ankles, but close to suicidal. I have a wife and 2 kids to support. I'm also thankful for not realizing we were racing for 10th place, because maybe I would'n't've backed off. As if there were some prize for coming in 10th.

At the finish, after a very long walk-it-off cool down, it's a good time.

I can't remember this guy's name. After grazing and mingling for an hour, I thought I'd take a finish line photo. I just missed photographing this shirtless guy with tatoos all over his chest, so had to settle for someone more typical. If you know this guy's name, please tell me in a comment.

Here's my splits from 2005, the first year I did this:
1:11, 2:21, 3:33, 4:51:39 (13th place)

and last year:
1:07, 2:17, 3:29, 4:40:08 (12th place)

This year:
1:07, 2:18, 3:32, 4:44:37ish (official results pending, but on the list I was in 11th place)

link for official results

guess my watch was off-- ugh, missed 4:44:44 by 2 seconds!

I guess I was pretty even after the 1st split, but I'm convinced had I gone out slower, I would've finished faster. But how's that-- minutes slower and another place up? Next year, maybe I'll make top-ten...

3-month newlyweds, Robert Evans (just 18-houred Javelina) and Kate?

Lots of traffic crossings. Thank you all the volunteers preventing our being run over, as well as the aid station volunteers (especially Kevin), and sorry, forgot your name (Kate? Was everyone named Kate?), for cheerfully serving me 3 cupfuls of spicy black bean soup at the finish:

I'm so thankful that I have too many ultras to choose from, and for the first year, had the sense not to sign up for a road marathon, after 3 straight years paying too much money for the San Francisco one, now hosted by Ultramarathon Man Dean Karnazes.

Swag gallery:Yellow shirt, I think my first. Bright colors are in! My wife and sister-in-law liked these:

And the very nice orange fleece, with "25 years 1983-2007" embroidered. Orange-- the new black!

Plus, a Quad Dipsea tote bag (reverse says, "Ultrarunning"-- the RD is the new editor). Best swag is the spiky-haired baby, I can't describe how awesome it is when we have our alone time and say "Ha!...Hoo!..." to each other.

I am thankful I got to race 3 times since he was born. And for being able to run 3 races this year that celebrated their 25th anniversaries with extra 25th anniversary swag (Ohlone and Firetrails and Quad). I can lament all the races (especially this fall) that I wanted to do but couldn't, but I think 14 ultra races this year is still a lot, so thanks to my wife and family.

Apparently domestic political capital was spent this morning, since my toddler threw multiple long fits. But thanks, Peter, for waking up only after I got home so mommy could run her errand as soon as I got back, and for being a great, fun kid for 2 hours at the playground. And, yes you were right, when you saw the stuff on my shorts and noted "OOO that's NASTY!"

Yeah, whatever, Daddy, I wanna hit the tennis ball now...

Last of all, thanks I could get this done before I lose access for 3 days for a special assignment for work. Maybe not as polished as I'd like, but I'll try to add links and clean up the yypos soon. (But the Gu passage stays!) Thanks to everyone who actually read this to the end! You ARE what Thanksgiving is all about and I love you all. Thank you thank you thank you thank you (Quad thankyous). xoxoxoxo


Barry Spitz's article from the Marin Independent Journal.

Alan Gerardi's blog report.

Rick Gaston's blog report.

Paul Charteris' blog report and his awesome race photo gallery.

YouTube video of all of us crossing the bridge before ascent up Cardiac Hill.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Early Halloween Horrors at Firetrails 50

Halloween's supposed to be on the 31st, but this year the digits were reversed. This year it came on the 13th, when I had my moment of pure terror, running scared shi*less, at my latest race, Firetrails 50.

Which starts and ends here:

Lake Chabot from Live Oak Trail, 2 days earlier, without the darkness and fog of race morning.


I approached the race originally just wanting to have a nice aided run through a beautiful scenic place, the East Bay hills this time, and hang out and be social afterwards, and then get a short ride home to boot. No type-A competitive goals. My right knee was barely better from Rio del Lago 3 weeks earlier, and I doubted my ability to recover enough to run a fast race. I didn't need any more PAUSATF points. We still had our newborn. I just wanted a nice run, and to not make any injuries any worse. So even when I screwed up my taper by a 2 hour run only 3 days before the race, I didn't get all worked up about it. Whatevah...nothing to piss in my pants over....
Whatevah my ass.
After the RD's made the final update of the registered runners list on the website, I went through it again, and made note of who was in and who was not, particularly the fastest runners from last year. Not signed up this year:
  • Chikara Omine (1st)-- skipping ultras this year to concentrate on shorter distances
  • Robert Evans (2nd)-- saving himself for Javelina Jundred, wanting his first good 100 miler
  • Jean Pommier (3rd)-- can't remember his alibi-- running real fast in France or on a business trip or something.
I came in 4th last year, but obviously didn't think I had much of a chance to win, since both Michael Buchanan (3-time winner of Helen Klein 50 mile, won Quad Dipsea last fall) and Victor Ballesteros (2nd to Buchanan at Quad Dipsea) were coming and much faster than I (12th at Quad dipsea, 24 minutes back). Not a problem. But maybe 3rd place. So I went through the list looking for threats, regardless that no awards are given for 3rd place overall:
  • Jonathan Kimura--came right after me at Quad Dipsea last year. In his 20's, so not an award-threat. First 50-miler.
  • Adam Ray--don't really know, but noticing he's my age and the name sounded familiar, I punched him into Gary Wang's website, revealing that 2 years ago he finished in 7:39:05, less than a minute more than I took last year. He's been assigned bib #3.
  • Ron Gutierrez--been racing more this year than last, and starting to beat me. In fact, this year he edged me at Skyline, and a few weeks later retook me at the end of Headlands 50. Also my age.
Plus there could -always be some sub 2:30 marathoner doing his first ultra, or some really fast runner returning from a hiatus. (Both would turn out to be the case).


Morning of the race, I wake up before 4, not intentionally. On camping pads on the floor of my toddler's room, where I usually sleep since my younger child was born last month. Can't get back to sleep. Figure I should eat something. Go do that. Putz around. Finally, have that urge to dump. So I'm on the can, trying to relax and read about Sonoma wines and have this large loose bowel movement. It's highly nasty. I'm feeling a little queasy and apprehensive that maybe I'll have GI problems again. I wait to see if I can force more out and then I hear this wailing from upstairs--my toddler. Crap, he's awake! He's woken up, finds no daddy there and is frightened. I wipe quickly, wash my hands, and bolt upstairs, I guess not flushing as I wasn't really done and I'm a desperate hurry to quiet him before he wakes up my wife and newborn. Luckily with a hug and whispered reassurings, this time he gets calm. I bring him to my bed (on which I haven't slept in weeks) where his mommy is sleeping, with baby brother in the crib.

Luckily, before leaving, I remembered to go back and flush. (Yay, Daddy!)


So last year I ran much of the first third of the race with Robert Evans and Jean Pommier. I kept thinking I was going too fast, as I was more out of breath than they, but it was nice chatting it up. At Skyline aid station (last year mile 16.7 due to the different routing), both of them took off and I gave up trying to keep up. I then wondered if my going out too fast hurt me in the long run.

Michael Kanning looking relieved in more ways than one.

This year I talk the most during the first 2 miles with 15-year-old Michael Kanning, who mentions a few times that he is probably is going too fast since he is keeping up with me. I figure he is trying to get in the cross country race he's missing at the beginning of this ultra. Maybe because he's with me, and because a bunch of runners dart of the hill ahead of me, I don't feel like I'm going too fast, but at the first aid station at the top of the Lone Oak Trail climb, I'm a minute ahead of last year. Too fast!

Jennifer (an ultrarunner herself who was volunteering on the trails) & Adam Ray

On the gradual down-sloped Brandon Trail, I recover a bit, but manage to pass Adam Ray, on my list of rivals, and do so fast enough that we don't talk much, and then catch up with Kevin Rumon, who wasn't on my list. He ran this race 10 years ago, and took several years off to childrear, returning with a very strong 4:30-something at Headlands 50k in August, faster than I. I tell him he must be really fast, which he denies, but I realize "fast" is all relative. We run pretty much together through the flat part of Brandon trail. When I find out he is 46, I tell him his age-graded performance is killing mine. I spend less time at the Bort Meadow aid station, and bolt ahead up the hill. He quickly catches up, running more than I and leaves me behind. So much for age group 1st place and extended race chat.

Kevin Rumon, with dork runner #153

Approaching Skyline (mile 15.0), Ron Gutierrez catches up with me. He must've run way ahead the first uphill in the Lake Chabot part, but I can't remember when I passed him. I compliment him, as he's a rookie to the 50-mile distance. At the aid station 2006 Western States winner Graham Cooper fills up my bottle. I catch up with Ron turning into the single-track. He pushes the pace, but I'm able to stay close downhill. But I have to work. Once the trail slopes up approaching Sibley (mile 18.4), Ron, an excellent climber runs, and I have to walk. I start regretting my choice of route for a hike on Thursday. I convinced my wife to do a hilly 4 mile loop from the Willowview golf course at the east end of Chabot, and I would push the baby stroller the whole way. No running, but it was actually a workout and I could feel it on the climbs.

On the first bridge crossed during the race's 2nd mile, during a "leisurely" hike 2 days earlier.
By the time I've finished the climb, I can't even see Ron. I later see him cresting the huge hill on the way to Steam Trains (mile 21.7), looking strong and several minutes ahead. So much for age group 2nd place.
The descent to the turnaround (mile 26) is back to the original 4.3 miles, after last year's shorter 2.6. It's also coated with that mud making your feet 5 pounds each, more than some earlier stretches. The first-place guy comes back and I don't recognize him at all, since I've never heard of Jeremy Redding. Then Victor Ballesteros. Then Michael Buchanan. Then (I think) Kevin Rumon and Ron Gutierrez. "Way to go, you dusted me, man," I tell Ron.

Victor Ballesteros and his proud girlfriend (forgot to get her name). He actually got off course and lost 5 minutes, but was able to overtake Redding during the last 2 miles for the win, 40+ minutes faster than me

After I final reach the turnaround, I calculate both Ron and Kevin have put a gap of almost 10 minutes on me. My time is 3:45, only 2 minutes faster than last year--all that time I cut at the beginning's been lost. Then, as I started the long ascent, Adam Ray is less than 2 minutes behind. Wow, maybe I won't even get 3rd place for division. But no cause for despair, just constant effort, greet all the runners coming the other way.

John Souza & Jon Olsen

So, Jon Olsen is has been driving from aid station the next, supporting his friend John Souza, who is luckily fairly fast, so I see Jon each time also, and he serves as my intelligence crew and coach, and I stop referring to my little paper of splits from last year. At Sibley (mile 33.6), Jon tells me there are 3 guys ahead of me running together about 7 minutes ahead, looking worse, and especially Michael Buchanan is slowing down. I'm thinking whatever, but try to push the pace a bit, less to catch up with anyone, but maybe more to stay ahead of Adam Ray, who was only 2-3 minutes behind me at the turnaround commenting on the suckiness of the muddy trail as he descended.
At Skyline (mile 37), Jon tells me I'm gaining on them, I'm 5 minutes back. And by the way, Buchanan's just dropped.
Okay, so without trashing myself, I'm gaining 2-3 minutes per split. If and only if I keep it up, things might actually get interesting. Redwood Park's a treat coming back, a long gentle downhill. I start trying to push. The marathon course veers off and joins our course. I catch up with Kevin Rumon on the small up and won right before Macdonald gate (mile 41.5). I'm not overly eager to pass on the single track, but he lets me pass and doesn't give any chase. Coming into the aid station, Jon Olsen tells me Ron's only 2 1/2 minutes ahead. "He's looking bad...You got'm!" I'm actually getting pumped up, but don't expect too much since half the stretch is an uphill climb, and Ron climbs well. Also, I imagine Jon doesn't know that Ron leans a little to the right when he runs because of some cervical spine trauma he had years ago, which makes him look worse than he really is, as well as makes the level at which he competes quite impressive. I manage to empty my bladder, remembering my failure to do so on the uphill at Skyline 50k. On the downhill, I finally catch site of my last target. As I run into Bort Meadow (mile 44.1), Jon's all excited, "You did it" like it's a done deal," but I immediately tell him, "Dude, the race is not over until it's over." As I grab a gel and hand over my bottle, Ron takes off.
Okay, so usually when you start gaining on someone, steadily, like I have been doing the since the turnaround, you expect to be able to pass the next guy and continue.
Not this guy. He speeds up. I at least am out of breath but we chat a bit.
Ron tells me "I told you you might catch up with me." But he says this not with any hint of defeat.

I tell him if he beats me, he totally deserves it. I wait for him to slow down and let off. He doesn't. Instead he goes faster. Pretty soon, I'm breathing really hard. Panting. He's sounds like he's breathing even harder and faster, so I figure that he should poop out first. Poop out, damnit! The trail is wide and flat. A few times we switch the lead. It's starting to get painful. I'm aware that I'm almost at my max, and that I'm not sure I can keep this up the rest of the race, aware that at any moment some muscle might spasm, or that I might start to puke, or simply bonk. And he hasn't let off. A marathoner or the shorter race looks back and sees us approaching, says we look good, but instead of the usual pleasant reply, we both can barely and barrel by. We both see the transition to the single track by the Stone Bridge coming and we both lurch to get there first--luckily I make it.

I figure if I'm going to lose him, this would be the best time, being single track, and taking some comfort that at least I know this trail, even knowing where the big puddle from the rain should be. I don't look back. I no longer hear his breathing. I run out of the forest and the aid station (mile 47) is right there. "What do you want in your bottle," a volunteer cheerfully asks. I'm a raving lunatic. "No, nothing... (pant)...wait...(pant) coke" which I carry out and chug and snarf and drop my cup. I am as rude as I am incoherent and delirious.

I look back to see if Ron is coming out of the trees but probably don't look long enough to register an image, and I think I might have actually lost him. I sprint out maybe a hundred yards until this short, but steep hill leading up to the 1.3 mile stretch of Bass Cove firetrail which leading to the 1.8 paved path to the finish. I can only walk up it, then at the top, look back down. To my fright and horror, Ron's at the bottom starting up, leaning to the right, bobbing his head, grimacing, threatening. HE WON'T STOP! He's one of those zombies from Night of the Living Dead. Or Jason from Halloween, when he gets up after Jamie Lee Curtis thinks she's killed him.

Anger. Dismay. Horror. Fear. Panic. I waste about 0.13 seconds uttering some expletive, maybe "Holy F***ING Sh**!" and bolt, convinced that no, he won't stop, he will never stop, and I have to run as hard as I can to the finish, even if it kills me. It's a 5k: 1.3 miles up and down fireroad, another 1.8 of pavement. I start feeling pain with each stride on my left metatarsal (the ball of my foot) with all the pounding, but it's all theoretical. Maybe stress fracture or THE BOOGEYMAN?
The paved path is filled with hikers taking their leisurely stroll, as I come through moaning with each breath and looking back at each bend expecting to see Gutierrez closing in. On the last downhill, there are what I guess are 3 Buddhist nuns, one doesn't register my "On the right" and I almost bowl one over, but luckily don't. It would've been very bad karma. Still, I must've startled about 1/2 of the people on the paved trail. Finally I'm at the boat house and with my final look back, I turn the corner to the finish, and sprint in, but not a whole lot faster than I've already been running for the last 6 frickin miles.
Crossing that line to applause and a 7:24:08 on the clock (a 14-minute PR), I am happy just to be alive. I am much happier to have finally beat Ron, who ends up human and not monster not even a minute behind, barely enough time for me to catch my breath.
Okay, I'm not telling you the full truth to appear more gentlemanly. What I'm REALLY thinking as I cross the line: Yes YES YYYYE-E-E-ESSSS!!! Finally beat you, you fu**ing S.O.B.!!!!!!

Not nice, but he WAS supposed to let me pass...

Author and Ron Gutierrez, no longer trying to kill each other. Ron set a new rookie age-group record, by the way. If you think about it, his "experience-graded performance" trounced're one tough cookie, Ron!

I am so darn happy, I put myself in half the photos on my camera, and look like a dork in most of them! But I'm still so happy almost a week out as I try to finish this blog before the race is more distant history than it already is, that I don't care!

Only later do I learn that I ran the last 6 miles from Bort Meadow to the finish in 46 minutes, 5 1/2 minutes faster than I did last year. Almost 1 minute per mile faster. And last year, I thought I was "running scared" that the guy behind me would catch up. I guess I didn't REALLY know fear...

Thanks to all the volunteers, especially those at the last aid station (sorry!)

It's so cool to have ultrarunning legends who still hold the course records as your race directors.

Dorky-looking me with wine bottle, and Ann Trason, dog and Carl Andersen. I couldn't find the dog's record time, but I know s/he's FAST.

More photos to follow (but whenever I import a photo it totally screws up my formatting--can anyone tell me how not to?).
Links to other blogged race-reports (will update as I discover and read them--worked 2 long hard shifts and then was on a work retreat and lacked web access):

Great race swag, including Marmot windjacket, Race Ready tech T-shirt, wine glass; plus division awards of INOV-8 socks and cap, bottle of wine (pictured earlier), and wine glass charm, plus master's winner award of a (most appropriate for the horror theme) Zombie Runner $25 gift certificate (last 2 not pictured). The best (dumbest?) thing was that Ron probably got most of the same stuff, including another baby this year.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Trio del Lago -- an exercise in ambulatory diagnostics

From the day we figured out my wife was pregnant at the end of last year, I was fairly skeptical that I would even get to run this year's Rio del Lago 100 mile run for the 3rd straight year. Due date: September 11th by last menstrual period, revised to the 10th with the first ultrasound. The race scheduled a mere 11 days later. Neither of our parents living locally. I signed up the last day possible for early registration using my PAUSATF discount, well aware that I might have to no-show, end my only 100-mile streak, and make a non-tax-deductible contribution to Norm Klein and his Sierra Nevada Endurance Events.

So, I would deem miraculous my appearance at Cavitt Junior High School for the pre-race briefing this last Friday, except that my pulling off running this race was eclipsed by recent prior events surrounding the birth of my second child, that were, well, as crazy as they were significant in my life. (So much so that maybe I'll blog it separately.)

My number for this year's race, as if a tribute to our 2nd child (but probably just because I came in 2nd last year)--#2.

Shortly after midnight, Sunday the 23rd, I crossed the finish line, 2nd place overall, only to Jon Olsen, who has won 3 years in a row. My time, 18:22:40, a new PR by about 6 minutes less than last year.

You'd think I was exuberant--but no. Happy yes at just starting, relieved as always at finishing, and coming in 2nd is nice. However, once it was clear that the weather was cooperating, I had a loose time goal of cutting my time by at least an hour that I very much failed to meet. Among others, the following runners were able to take advantage of the weather and improve their times significantly:

  • Jon Olsen, winner, 3rd year in a row setting a new course record, this year by 59 minutes.
  • Thomas Riley, 5th place, improved his time by more than 2 1/2 hours.
  • Benjamin Muradyan, 12th place, improved his time by more than 3 hours.
  • Nancy Warren, 4th woman, improved her time by more than 2 hours.

Therefore, I conclude that an improvement of 6 minutes really sucks, 2nd place notwithstanding.

And EZ & I know who's to blame.

However, in my job, I am trained not to jump on what seems to be the most likely cause, without at least considering other options (e.g., at least consider that maybe this woman with a probable stomach flu might actually be having a heart attack.)

In keeping with the grossness of my last post, maybe I should use the example of gastrointestinal issues as a place to start:

QUESTION: Were my bowels to blame?

ANSWER: I had to do the squat 3 times in the first 1/3 of the race. The 1st time was before
Rattlesnake Bar, when I was running with Jon Olsen, who I think actually thought I might have a chance at beating him. I was feeling pretty good, not feeling pushed beyond my capacities, when I had to do the dirty. But without trying I caught up with Jon within a few miles. Apparently, nature called him too. The 2nd time I had to go, though, I lost him. I had been telling Jon, with the cool weather, that he should go for it, and try to beat his record again. He took off shortly after the Power Plant water-only unmanned station , and then I never saw him again until he was headed in the opposite direction after the Mountain Lion Knoll turnaround at mile 83. The third of my trio came at the beginning of the Olmstead Loop at Cool (mile 30's). From all that squatting and squirting, my butt started to chafe. But I was inhibited from lubing my ass, something I've never done, neither in a race, nor a training run. Finally, I would ask the volunteers at an aid station to turn away, as I stuck a gob of Vaseline up my crack, followed by a large squirt of hand sanitizer on my hand. And, it worked! It was so nice, I repeated it later, in front of another winning set of volunteers.

Wow, a new fun thing to do on my runs!

So, NO, not my bowels.

Q: Was it winner Jon Olsen?

A: If I had actually been racing him, trying to chase him even when he accelerated, and then crashed as a result of overextending myself, then I would say yes, even though it would be all my fault. But I wasn't chasing him. The only reason I had ran with him at all was that he got lost early in the race, since he didn't have Mark Lantz doing the 53-mile run to navigate for him. Jon ran a phenomenonal race, independent of my mediocre one. So NO, no Jon!

Q: Was it the Pringles I snarfed at an early aid station?

A: So, I had grabbed a huge stack and bit into it, and then almost inhaled all these crumbs, so coughed. Coughed really hard, causing left rib pain. Pringles, by the way, are also now one of the favorite race foods of Andy Jones-Wilkins, having a great year, with at least 3 wins. But I was able to run through the pain until it resolved. So NO not PringlesNewFangledPotatoChips, even though I am STILL waiting for them to sponsor me.

Q: Was it my left calf?

A: Those familiar with my last blog entry will know that my left calf literally brought me down at my last race. Although I was able to do a 150 minute training run 6 days after Headlands 50k without any trouble, I felt my left calf start to tighten sometime after Rattlesnake Bar (mile 11). I resolved that whenever I felt even the slightest discomfort, I would STOP, and stretch it out. I had already cut 10 minutes off my splits from last year, so figured even if I spent 10 minutes stretching it 20-30 times over 100 miles, I would avert disaster. After the first half of the race, it conceded defeat and stopped bugging me. So, NO, not my left calf.

Q: Was it my right shoulder?

A: I don't know why this started hurting, but it sure did, and carrying the extra handheld bottle between Rattlesnake and Maidu (more than 9 miles without manned aid) didn't help. Maybe it was tight from 2 weeks without enjoying my Performaire mattress I won last year, instead sleeping on the floor of my toddler's room, to prevent him from waking up and demanding to come into mommy and baby brother's room (which apparently DID happen the weekend of the race, incurring domestic political fallout--thanks honey, I LOVE YOU). So, NO, not my right shoulder.

Q: Was it our new baby?

A: As I just mentioned, I've been sleeping in my toddler's room, and my wife is exclusively breast feeding, so the baby doesn't wake me up as much as my older son. How can you EVEN INSINUATE my baby is to blame? Can it not be unfair to say, he is SO-O-O DA CUTEST BABY? And he loves his Daddy!

Q: Was it the call I made to my wife on my cell phone back at Cavitt (mile 67) (i.e., the wifey call)?

A: So, RD Norm Klein has really squeezed this on for all it's worth. So I was really hoping he'd be there again, so I could call my wife and tell her how much I loved her in front of him. To my disappointment, he wasn't there.

To my even greater dismay, no one picked up the home phone. So I had to call her cell phone. Still no answer. An hour lost? Not even close. But who knows, maybe if my honey had answered, and said something original and inspiring, like "good luck, I love you. But you DO know this is your LAST 100-mile race..." then maybe I would've been able to maintain my relative pace and come under 17 hours.

But probably not.

Q: Was it the original trail-runner blogger celebrity and all-around nice guy himself Scott Dunlap? (Here in what I am guessing is a police-booking photo, used without anyone's permission)?

A: I ran with Scott, who came 1st in the 60-mile race, twice. First at the beginning. After I slowly let Jon Olsen slip away out of sight, I was hoping that someone would catch up with me from behind, so I didn't have to navigate the confusing transition to the single-track about half-way to the first aid station. Finally Julie Fingar and Scott come up and fortunately Julie, who lives in the area, knew what she was doing. Had it just been Scott, it would've been the blind leading the blind, and my responsibility since I've been on the course more times than he.

The 2nd time I caught up with him I think at Horseshoe Bar. I was surprised, since I figured he was winning his race. As it turns out (as most of your reading this already know), he was misdirected at No Hands Bridge up K-2 to Cool. Ugh, I felt his pain, although he was sporting a very good attitude. Was I so empathic that I just had to slow down myself? Probably not. I wanted him to keep up with me, but I lost him after a couple of miles. My deceleration hadn't really started yet. So, NO not Scott.

Q: Was it this woman?

A: I caught up with 53-milerFlora Krivak-Tetley as she was asking which way to go at the confusing and poorly marked transition from the single track to the fireroad maybe 2 miles from Cavitt. We ran together almost all the way in, encouraging each other, as I heard a little about the interesting developements of her life, before she sped ahead of me to the finish. I kept track of the time and calculated she would be able to come under 11 hours, and if there was something I did WELL that day, it was pacing her for this arbitrary cut-off--she finished in 10:58:35, a major PR from her 1st shot 2 years ago. Great job, Flora! It wasn't you!

Q: Was it this animal?

A: So, I was going through the flat area close to Hazel Avenue bridge (about mile 88 or 89) leading back to Nimbus Overlook, when my light shone on one of these guys, tail held high in the air. I froze. Tom Riley was coming the other way with his pacer, probably saw it earlier. But it would've been me who got sprayed. That would've literally stunk, to have to run the last 10 miles in fragrance. Plus I was sharing a suite with Joe Swenson and his wife. So, NO, thank God, not the skunk!

Q: Was it this man (photo rudely snapped without asking)?

A: As Norm pointed out before the race, if it weren't for this man, none of us would be here today. Go Gordy Ainsleigh, thank you for pioneering this fun, addictive insanity, and congratulations on a new 60-69 age-group record (26:16:32, beating the old record by almost 2 1/2 hours)! So, NO, not Gordy.

Q: Are you just making up an excuse? Okay, I'm tired of this. Just tell us.

A: Okay, sorry. This will be anticlimactic. It was my right knee. It was occasionally bothering me the last few weeks, maybe because I had to run down the last hill at Headlands 50k with bad form due to my strained calves. I first felt a mild discomfort in the first 10 miles, but there were all these other pains and distractions more prominent. The pain kept increasing, mainly on the downhills, and I noticed that I was slowing down (and not taking advantage of gravity) gradually after leaving Cavitt (mile 67) and pushing the pace to the Dam aid station, but increasingly more so with each mile. After the Mountain Lion Knoll turnaround (mile 83). I realized that my suitemate Joe Swenson was the 3rd place runner and was starting to gain on me (they said I had an hour lead at Cavitt), but I still had a 50 minute gap.

After Hazel Bluff (mile 90), I realized any downsloping was exacerbating the pain, which was anterior and right below the kneecap (patella). I kept going, as the number of runners going the other way increased. For some reason, lots of them recognized me, but I can't see faces past the headlamps, so had to ask who everyone was. My calculations showed that I'd lost the 17:30 goal a while back, but 18 hours still seemed reasonable. I lost several minutes thinking I'd missed the turn off the bike path after Negro Bar to the single-trackl, then thinking I hadn't then thinking I had, going back and forth up this slope. Finally I saw lights coming the other way. I got to the last aid station (Folsom Dam) at 11:35pm (17 hours 35 minutes) and realized 18 hours wouldn't happen. I told myself there was no award for coming under 18 hours, and just concentrated on finishing. Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the experience (I usually get a little emotional, try to let the weight of what I'm about to finish set it, enjoy the dark, really try to let soak up the whole finishing experience) was hampered by the pain. After running the first of 2 levees, I decided that preserving my knee and minimizing the damage superceded any arbitrary number, and even if I didn't PR, who cares? I started walking. I did, however, keep looking back to see if Joe Swenson's headlights would show up, in which case I would sacrifice my knee and just bolt. To save face, I jogged it into the finish chute.

Not 10 minutes later, Joe comes in, the closest gap I've had over him since the first race we both ran (Miwok 100k, 2005) and in fact ran the middle third together until I got lost. Whoa, that was close. Great run Joe! If we age-grade adjust, you slaughtered me. Twelve years older, more than 40-50 pounds heavier, less than ten minutes behind.

Well, as irritated I was at being injured, at least I got to run, managed to keep my status as bridesmaid to Olsen (click for AJW's blog posting explaining this allusion), and brought home more trophy animal statuettes to the chagrin of my wife, since she thinks we don't have space for them in our small house. (If and when I get a chance, I may add some photos of the awards and lunch here.) I would end up icing my right knee the next 4 days, watching the first 4 episodes of "The War" on PBS, realizing that in the scheme of things, having my knee screwed up, or finishing 60-90 minutes later than I should've, are, really, trivial matters; and there are a lot of things more difficult that running 100 aided miles. It is even 5 days later unclear what will happen when I resume training, or how much I will be able to recover before Firetrails 50 on October 13th.

I arrived home on Sunday shortly before the rest of my family gets back from dim sam in Frisco. My 2-year-old gets out of the car, "Were you running Daddy?" If he's angry I left him for two straight nights, he doesn't show it.
"Yes I did."
"Yay! Go Daddy!" I lift him laughing, above my head, part of my real prize.

Michael Kanning, 15, after finishing his first 100 mile run and setting a new age-group record. Link for his excellent race report on his Ultra for a Cure blog.

Women's winner Julie Fingar with Bear Trophy (sorry, out of focus, she's so fast).

Chihping Fu, before heroically (insanely) finishing his 5th 100 miler(after Tahoe, Burning River, Cascade Crest, and Wasatch) in 2 months.

Eldrith Gosney, serving lunch after pacing all morning after running herself. Eldrith gave me her hotel room Saturday night last year (I was going to sleep on the gym floor, but she said she wasn't going to use it anyways). Thanks, Eldrith! Thanks all the volunteers out there on the course for hours and hours!

photos from the run, by Alan Geraldi

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Post-Headlands 50k (Gastro Problem Revisited)

Maybe to understand what happened to me this year and why it happened, we have to go back to last year's race.

At Golden Gate Headlands 50k 2006, at the aid station shortly before the Pantoll parking lot (mile 12 or 12.5), I grabbed a potato, dipped it in salt and stuck it in my mouth, and eventually swallowed it with a few sips of sports drink--my usual race potato routine. Within a few minutes, I started getting water brash-- my mouth filling up with watery saliva, my stomach starting to churn. I slowed down to try to extinguish the nausea, but to no avail. Several times I hurled, first the potato, then some liquid, then dry heaving. When I should've been cruising downhill, I just vomited downhill. Several people passed me. I eventually recovered, but not without losing at least 5, maybe as many as 10, minutes between puketime and a slower pace.

(Since neither Scott Dunlap nor Chihping Fu was following me at last year's race with his camera, I had to steal this graphic image (unfortunately not of a trail running guy, but at least she looks Japanese) from the internet:) [PLEASE BE WARNED, EARLY READERS HAVE FOUND THIS IN POOR TASTE, BUT I NEEDED A GRAPHIC...CLOSE YOUR EYES AND CLICK PAST IF EASILY QUEASIED!]

So this year, no potatoes. Which meant no potatoes dipped in salt. Maybe it was the overcast skies, but I underestimated my losses to sweat. I should've taken an electrolyte cap every hour for security, but it seems I've becoming too fast at aid stations for my own good ("Fill it with sports drink please." Toss gel wrappers. Stash new gels. "Thanks." Run off.)

The other prerace event I neglected to mention last post, was my late-night calf spasm. Something like 3:30 in the morning Saturday, half-asleep, I stretched out in bed, dorsiflexing my ankles (pointing my toes). Perhaps I was low on potassium, perhaps I hadn't been stretching enough due to a tight work schedule, perhaps because I wasn't running enough due to a 2-day no-running taper, but my left calf cramped up suddenly --aaaaugh!-- and I had to breathe deep for half a minute and try to relax without waking up my easily stirred wife and only partially sleep-trained toddler. I end up getting out of bed trying to stretch out my calf. I'm not sure I really returned to sleep before my 6am shift. I knew that this could be a problem during the race the next day.

My race went well for the first 3 hours 45 minutes. I probably went out a little too fast over the sandy beach, but did get good position for the following single track (no one pushing me aside or holding me back), and did ease up and recover. Early on I dechicked myself of 2 of the top 3 women. I even for the first time ran without walking all the way up Miwok. I was cutting about 1 minute off each split from last year, and indeed at least 5 minutes off the pukepotato split down to Stinson Beach (about miles 13.5 to 16.5).

On the ascent back up to Pantoll, I started feeling tight in my calves, but didn't put 2 and 2 together. It was my body telling me something. I didn't listen.

Maybe because on the descent to Muir Beach (miles 20-25), I was able to really hammer it, passing Ron Gutierrez (we've been beating each other out with close times for 2 years), and gaining on the women's leader, Beverly Anderson-Abbs. I left the Muir Beach aid station at 3:39:21, almost 11 minutes faster than my split last year with a sub-4:40 well within my reach (since it took me less than a hour from Muir Beach to the finish last year).

So after the Muir Beach aid station, I whizzed past Bev. She told me "great job" and I answered "Well I didn't race 100k last weekend." (She did Waldo plus a couple extra miles and did very well.) I then ascended the hill and gained enough on her that I could safely and decently unload my distended bladder (the only other mistake was not doing this during the uphill from Stinson Beach).

I set my sites on my next victim, some guy in blue, when I felt 2 slight successive twinges in my left and right calves. Uh oh. The increased tightness didn't seem to go away, although no acute cramping. I had pinched a little salt at the aid station, but I realized that wasn't enough. I should've downed and stashed some of the lyte caps.

Cresting the first hill of the Coastal Trail to Tennessee Valley, I realized I'm in trouble. As the trail rolls along the coast, I knew I had to slow down since the sudden use of my calf to push off could set off a cramp. I didn't look back, but I know that both Bev and Ron are gaining on me. I looked up the final ascent of that split (at a little past mile 27), starting with a steep staircase of railroad tie steps. I climbed them without running. After fewer than 10 steps, suddenly my left calf spasms, like it did the night before. I put all my weight on my right leg so I can try to relax my left calf, and of course, the right leg suddenly spasmed. I went down, landing on my right side trying to relax my gastrocs and forcing large deep breaths.

Within a minute, the soon-to-be crowned USATF 50 kilometer trail women's champion, Bev, came up.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I grimace, my calves spasmed."

"Do you need anything?"

"Uh, yeah, do you have any lytes?...caps?"

Bev stopped, pulled out two. I asked her the completely irrelevant and stupid question "Is this legal?" Like it matters since I was in 18th or something place. She reassured me it is, as she stepped over me, rechicking me with grace and style.

Subtract something like 10 seconds from the women champion's time. Thanks Bev!

Beverly Anderson-Abbs receiving her national championship award (photo by Joe Swenson):

I down the tabs, wait maybe another quarter minute for the spasming to subside on its own. Obviously I didn't absorb the lytes that fast, but it would help prevent further cramping and another fall to the ground, and probably allowed me to finish minutes rather than an hour behind schedule.

On the descent, Ron Gutierrez, who'd I'd passed so fast, returned the favor. After Skyline, that's 2 races in a row he's edged me. I hobbled down the trail to the final aid station, which unfortunately is limited-- no salt, no lytes. I deliberately made doubly-concentrated Gatorade (the drinks were different at each aid station) in my bottle and set up the final hill.

Caren Spore (photo at finish above by Joe Swenson) then redoublechicked me near the top. I could not totally blame my injury for this one, since Caren suffered the entire race with a quad and hip that cramped up the first mile (and would hurt her for at least a week later); this was a legitachicking. I stopped several times to stretch my gastrocs, but I'm least I wasn't walking. At this point, it was survival and preservation--the last thing I wanted was the rupture my Achilles' tendon or gastrocnemius +/- soleus muscle outright running down the hill to the finish. Normally I really pound the descent, but this year I was too crippled.

Ironically all the well-meaning hikers and volunteers told me I'm looking and doing great-- I knew better. I came in at 4:49:50, which I later learn was just 14 seconds off last year's time. Maybe this was a divine omen (God giveth, God taketh away....) Good thing I already blew this year's PR streak at Skyline.

The first thing I did after crossing the finish was hobble to my car and call my brother's house fairly close to the race, where my family and I had spent the night before. My sister-in-law finally answered her cell.

"Hi, did my wife go into labor?"

"No, not yet."

Another break for me. It was my son's nap time, so I could hang out for a couple hours.

I'll take this as a valuable lesson. I'm going to be more diligent about stretching my calves (maybe I'll do Downward Facing Dog with my son every night), and during races pay attention to my lytes (I should've already known better about the lytes). If anything, I'm very lucky this happened at the end of a 50k, and not in the middle of a longer race.

with 8th place overall finisher Chikara Omine (photo by Joe Swenson)

Some links:

More photos at the finish line courtesy of Joe Swenson (1st place in the 50-54 year age division).

Photos taken during the race by Mark Haymond.

Jean Pommier's (11th overall) race blog with photos he took on a training run a few weeks earlier.

Ed Baker's (4th overall) blog including his race account.

Devon Crosby-Helm's (3rd place woman) blog account.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Pre-Headlands 50k

Wow, lots of fast runners for tomorrow's race. Should be interesting who makes top 10 and in what order. I already made a comment on Scott Dunlap's blog about the people to watch for.

I'm just happy that I'll be making the race. Although my wife isn't. She'd rather have gone early, but, dunno, though I'm no obstetrician, maybe there is an advantage to staying in the womb for the full 38-40 weeks. If I had missed the race for that reason, I was going to still get the T-shirt and then print "DNS" with the date & time of delivery, and his weight and height.

My last good training run ends up being last Wednesday, 15th. That day I drive the car to the dealership for the pre-paid 5,000-mile maintenance, take their shuttle into snotty, gated community at base of Mt. Diablo, run up to the summit and down a different way. Return missed calls from dealership that car is ready, keep losing reception. Driver says he wouldn't pick me up in Alamo, only Danville. I call my wife, she confirms the Hap Magee Park along the Diablo to Trampas regional trail borders Danville, so call the driver back, tell him I will be there, and kick butt for 45 minutes through Alamo and barely make the day's penultimate pickup, and before 680 gets too nasty-crowded. Great 4 1/2 hour run!

Friday 17th is supposed to be another long run, before I do overnight shifts all weekend. Unfortunately, my son gets a febrile illness Thursday, is sent home from preschool and has to stay home Friday. He's up a few times at night screaming. By the morning he's more than recovered and bouncing to play. I cannot justify leaving him with his mother all day, so I scrap that plan. During his afternoon nap, I sneak out to do a loop on the trails near my house. At the bottom of a gentle incline, I suddenly wipe out, my filled bottle explodes Gu2O all over my face, and I get trail-rash all over my L side including a large gash on my left palm that any deeper would've needed stitches. Luckily no orthopedic issues. In retrospect, it happened because there the sun gives way to shade, the dirt is a little loose, and I am not watching very close.

My first two overnights are tough. Sunday I wake up late morning, and I'm back during my son's naptime to do the same trails as Friday. I'm really careful not to wipe out. I come back and shower as my son wakes up. We start playing. I start getting chills. He starts playing harder. I start feeling nauseated and weak and tired. Plus my shift that night starts at 9pm instead of 11pm. I bail and feeling guiltly go to bed. I wake up sick. But barring death or dismemberment, I must work. Every chance I get, I lay my head by the computer, and I even lie down on a stretcher a couple times. Luckily the shift starts slowly and by the time things pick up I'm not feeling as sick.

Still, it takes a few days to completely recover, so Monday and Tuesday, when I'd normally do training runs, I don't run. Wednesday's too close to hammer a lot of miles. I run the same trails for 100 minutes. Thursday I run 50 minutes to work, and drive home the car I left there Wednesday.

Much more than a taper than I'd normally like. Maybe it will work to my favor-- I'm probably too fidgety with running to taper enough. On the bright side, I didn't get right BEFORE the race. In any case, Headlands 50k is too competitive a race to expect to place highly.

It'll be great seeing everyone there. As long as I don't check my phone afterwards with a message that my sister-in-law drove my laboring wife to the hospital...

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Chasing My Ghost at Skyline 50k (or, Oh No! The Beginning of The End)

You look fast," I say to this guy I've never seen before, at the start line, hand on his watch, looking like he is ready to sprint.

"Well, I guess I'm here to find out if I am," he tells me.

The fast-looking dude, well, he sort of does start with a sprint, and actually ends up winning.

Maybe his story would be sexier, but this is my blog, and it has some lessons about mortality and tragedy, so listen up.

I came with to this year's race with 2 goals (besides run hard and have fun), either one of which would've made me inwardly feel like a badass:
  1. Beat last year's time, to continue my 2007 streak of setting new personal records in every race to which I've returned.

  2. Get some age-division extra swag. The long-sleeved pine-green tech shirt I barely eked at last year's 25th anniversary race is one of my favorites.

But, since I guess I have a lot of shirts and will only continue to accumulate more, I really want the first goal more. Not that anyone cares if I tell them I've PR'd every race this year. But because as long as I continue to improve my times, it's clear that I haven't started to decline. It's my way of defying the inevitable, of putting off death. How can I say I'm dying if I keep getting faster? With every PR, I grow younger; I defy time.

This spring I turned 40 and cut an hour of my flat 100k, 26 minutes off my American River 50 mile, 24 minutes off my Quicksilver 50 mile, and 16 minutes off my Ohlone 50k (the last one really surprised me). So, I think, it would only be reasonable to cut 10-15 minutes AT LEAST off this early August race on my home course. Furthermore, I have not repeated last year's mistake of again signing up to run the SF Marathon the previous weekend. I bring a little print-out of all my aid station splits from last year, and anticipate shaving a minute or two off each.

As the race starts, I am chatting with Jean Pommier, just back from running and travelling in France. He is very fast at 50 km, and does not appear to be jet-lagged. In fact, I try to hold a conversation with him and Ron Gutierrez, whom I saw last at Quicksilver in May. I run well above lactate threshold on the paved trail that is the first 2 miles of the West side of Lake Chabot. Perhaps I do this because I know they are both in my age-group, and so I'm unconsciously worried about not getting age-group swag. Soon enough I figure out that this is stupid and insane, as they surge ahead. Before the 1.8 miles of pavement gives way to hard-packed firetrail, they and a few others, are out of sight.

My wife and first child, a week after he was born. She was a little unhappy I used this photo, but I think she looks great, 1 week post-partum.

I look back and see or hear no one on my tail. I figure if I keep a decent pace, no one will catch up. I'm wrong.

First footsteps I hear is a surprise: Chikara Omine, the rookie record holder, taking a break from ultras this year. He started the race 3 minutes late. It's good to see him back.

Then a shirtless Juan passes me as we climb the summit around mile 4 just before the first aid station. I am feeling hot in my shirt, and consider shedding it. If his knee has been bothering him, he's still much faster than me.

Finally, after the Bort Meadow aid station (mile 6.3) as the MacDonald trail descends into Redwood Regional Park, this guy I think maybe I've seen, but have never met, wearing a dark blue 2006 Quad Dispea shirt, flies past me, obviously very good at downhill running.

So now I'm in 9th I think, already lower than last year's 7th. I could care less. Overall place was not one of my goals.

Through the 11 or 12 miles around Redwood Regional Park, I see no other runners. Mountain bikers, hikers, dogs and their owners. The outward half to Skyline aid station goes on the firetrail at the parks eastern perimeter. I enter fog and it is drizzly, windy, even cold, and I long for my arm warmers, which I initially was glad I hadn't brought. Coming back, it's mostly single track, fairly technical, with lots of ups and downs. Last year my left shoulder was cramping, so I thought this year, lacking that problem, I could gain a few minutes. Plus, perhaps from the 3 or 4 caffeinated Gu's I've intentionally downed, I'm finally feeling awake. (To understand why I was feeling pretty sleepy for so long, as well as passing so much flatus, see my previous post. [Wait, the gas thing probably isn't evident. There was hummus, these meatballs that my son would scream for, but then not eat, so not wanting to waste food, I'd eat it. And this salad with walnuts and peaches. Maybe too much fiber for the night before, dunno...])

So what I've noticed at each aid station, is that with uncanny consistency, my splits have been almost the same as last year, just a bit faster (2007 time vs. 2006 time):

32:24 vs. 33:09 (4.31 miles)
32:24 vs 33:09@ Grass Valley, 4.31 miles

15:29 vs 15:33 (1.98 miles)
47:54 vs 48:41 @ Bort Meadow, 6.29 miles

22:47 vs. 22:54 (3.06 miles)
1:10:41 vs. 1:11:35 @ Big Bear, 9.35 miles

44:12 vs. 44:17 (5.05 miles)
1:54:54 vs. 1:55:52 @ Skyline, 14.40 miles

53:07 vs. 53:04 (5.87 miles)
2:48:01 vs. 2:48:56 @ Big Bear, 20.27 miles

At the return to Big Bear, I fumble as I stash my Gu. An amused volunteer tells me, "Relax, you have 11 miles to go." Of course, I do not attempt to explain to her the reason I don't relax, give my heartfelt but quick thanks, and boogie out of there. The problem is that I am feeling more tired than I would like with 11 miles to go.

Near the top of MacDonald trail, I see guy with the blue Quad Dipsea shirt bending over, maybe in pain, going slow. I ask if he hurt something, but can't hear what he tells me as I pass by. I was hoping that I'd be able to pick off a runner or two coming back, as an incentive to run faster, but this sort of didn't cut it--no joy in passing someone looking crippled. Plus, I don't care about overall place and he doesn't look like he's over 40, I just feel kind of bad for him. When I reach the gate near the bottom close to Bort Meadow aid, he actually catches up with me--very fast downhill even when injured. I take off without carefully checking what my split time is (In fact, I have lost half a minute and now am only a few seconds ahead of last year's time).

The next leg diverges from the outbound route, traveling on the opposite side of Lake Chabot on single track. I notice my bladder is full, but especially with my cutting the PR-thing so close, I don't want to stop and pee. I'm aware that the first part of the leg is all downhill. So I have to hold it in for 32 minutes (to be exact) before I hit the anticipated steep uphill to do my duckwalk. Relieving the pressure helps a lot, and I try to keep pushing it. I remember last year on this split I passed a faltering Mark Lantz, then passed and was pursued by John Mintz, who at the time appeared to be a lead contender for the Open male division of the PAUSATF Ultra Grand Prix. It was also rather warm by this time, whereas this year it was still cool. I was SURE that I could cut a minute or two, since it didn't seem like 41 minutes had passed when I saw the Honker Bay aid station.

I'm opt to be quick, decide not to fill my water bottle since only 3 miles left. I click my watch and it's 3:55:49. My paper says it was 3:55:18 last year. (Only later do I realize I actually lost time on the split and then wonder if it was the bladder.) Doable. I try to pour it on. Last year, I was being pursued by Mintz, so I was pushing it. How much to push? I wish I could see my ghost from last year, so I know exactly where I need to get to set a PR. All I can do is keep running fast and breathing hard. I start flagging.

Last year, on the paved trail in the last 1.7 miles before the finish, Mintz dashed past me, and I could not mount a response, and in fact he put more than another minute between us in that last mile. I'm hoping now that last year when it was apparent I couldn't keep up, I had eased up, so that I this year, if I don't let up, I can catch myself.

The paved path is marked every 0.25 miles on the ground measured from the start/finish. At the 1.0 mile mark, I look down at my watch and it reads just before 4:13. I'm supposed to defy reality and run a 5:30 mile after 30 hilly ones, but this isn't a fairy tale. I know I'm physically incapable of running that fast (I'm not even sure I can do a mile that fast fresh.) It's over. I come a few seconds before 4:20, a nice round number, but not one of my goals.


So there you have it. I've peaked and IT'S ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE.

(See, I'm so over-the-hill, I can't tell the difference between up and down. Thanks, Joe for taking the pic.)

A few burgers and conversations with running friends later (2 hours worth), Race Director Bill White gives out the place awards. I realize that the fast-looking guy is 41 years old. So maybe, as the recipient of a nice jacket, a packet of Zombie coffee and other great winner swag, he'll be excluded from the age-division award, a nice light green fleece vest, and I can get one, even though I'm in 4th. But alas, the prizes only go to the 3rd place guy, Ron Gutierrez, who actually already left (he just had his 2nd kid in July, so I know getting to come out here and run all morning was a granted indulgence he can't abuse--I will that added pressure in but a few weeks.)


And the sun never came out!

But, funny, even as I confront my own mortality and go 0 for 2, I'm feeling pretty good as I head back to my Prius for a quick drive home to entertain some friends, while their toddler son and mine tear up the house.

I'm having a great day. Life is good. Thanks all the volunteers and RDs!

The standard swag, was very nice, nonetheless:



Some links:
Joe Swenson's post-race photo gallery.
3rd place finisher Jean Pommier's blog with post-race photos.