Tuesday, March 31, 2009

AR50 Gloria Takagishi article

In the astronomically improbable event that you read this blog and not Scott Dunlap's, here is a link to the Pacific Citizen's recent article about Gloria Takagishi, the only person to have run all 29 American River 50 mile Endurance Runs-- and her 30th running this Saturday, April 4th.

The weekly national publication of the Japanese American Citizens League, Pacific Citizen covers Pan-Asian-American news, as well as advocates for broader humans rights issues. They interviewed me a few months after I won my first Kettle Moraine 100 mile in 2006. I thought that if the editor was going to interview me, she should also interview this more noteworthy veteran runner, whose name I've always noticed on the AR50 website. Also, since she is usually still running when I leave Auburn after the run, I've never had a chance to talk to or congratulate her. So I suggested to Caroline Aoyagi-Stom she do this interview with Gloria, who as Scott notes, get bib #1 this year.  I still haven't met her, but at least I got to pay tribute with a quote.

I'll try to get my Lake Sonoma 50 report done soon, and before my next (mis)adventure...

Good luck everyone running this weekend, especially those doing their first 50 miler!

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Winner Race -- the Inaugural Diablo Trail 50K

What a killer run! There were many ultras held in Northern California the 2nd and 3rd weekends of March, but I've concluded that signing up for the inaugural Diablo Trail 50K on Sunday the 22nd was the winning choice (regardless of how I finished).

As often happens, a transportation problem. When I had jotted down the following directions from the website the night before-- "After about three miles turn right on Walnut Avenue (NOT Walnut Boulevard!)" -- of course I got it backwards. Luckily I have a Triple A Walnut Creek map on me (the Navi I deliberately left for my wife at home) and make it to the Castle Rock parking lot for the bus (included with the entry fee) taking us all to the start.

Chau Pham and Mylinh Nguyen, fresh from 100 miles at Coyote Two Moon the previous weekend. Chihping Fu behind Mylinh.

The bus is full, so I head to the back and talk with Ernesto Matal Sol, who doesn't mention the 75 miles he ran the previous weekend at Coyote Two Moon and another guy who's name might be Eric.

Ernesto post-race

Luckily for me with an incipient urge, there is a working toilet in the back-- I love it so much that I use it twice during the trip! For some reason I thought it was going to be a loud, rowdy party bus, but it got quiet and some people closed their eyes-- maybe getting up at 5:30 or earlier on a Sunday really whacks people out. Near the end of the ride, David, one of the organizers (apparently there is no hierarchical race director) and runners, gives a talk. I miss most of it since his voice does not carry to the back of the bus. Then I figure he might be disclosing useful, if not essential, information about the race, so I make my way to the front, where I catch two points: the first aid station might not happen, and they hope to acquire the lands to complete a continuous 60 mile loop encircling Mount Diablo, the Grand Loop, which will make for the most awesome 100 km trail race, so please support Save Mount Diablo.

We arrive at Round Valley at 7:15.

The weather forecast even as late as 8pm the night before predicted a 60-70% chance of rain each morning hour, "thunder possible." As I went to bed around 9:30 pm it was pouring hard; I suspected hail might pounding our rooftop. Gusts of up to 30 miles an hour were also supposed to start late morning-- from the west, and the course starts east and heads west-- and as you know, wind usually blows higher atops hills.

I'm scared that the bus will leave right away and we'll all freeze for 45 minutes, but luckily, after picking up our numbers and a 4-page color course map on high quality glossy paper in a ziplock bag (these race organizers are awesome!), we're allowed back on. Even with the sun coming out, it's cold! I decide that even if it doesn't rain, the wind will keep things cold, so I switch out of my Sportiva shirt and put on a PolarMAX turtleneck, with my Sportiva jacket on top. Glad I overpacked! I'm told it didn't rain THAT much last night, so stick with my Sportiva Crosslites with wool socks for my feet.

Jennifer Ray (RD for this January's Epiphany Ultra) and Sarah Lavender Smith (whom I've just met) are near me at the start line, and we do our "it's freezing" dance.

I took this photo of Sarah & Jennifer on Sarah's camera. No, they just look like they have to pee...

Finally and none too soon at 7:59, one of the race organizers starts counting down from 10.

Here's me taking off. photo (and all course photos in this posting) by Chihping Fu-- you're the man-- thanks! Here is a link to his photo gallery (will also have the link at bottom)

...and crossing the bridge. The guy after me, John Mintz tends to go out fast, so I'm going way too fast....

I knew that the field was thinned since most really fast runners ran Way Too Cool the weekend before, and both Rucky Chucky and Pirates Cove were yesterday, but I had no intention of trying to run way ahead of everyone. However, I'm so cold, that I take off much faster than I normally would, in a desperate attempt to raise my body temperature. Honestly, this was my only intention, and not to lose everyone in the first mile.

But when I first look back 10 minutes into the race I don't see anyone behind me.

Even before looking back, my legs start feeling very, very heavy.

Because they were-- very, very heavy --from the sticky mud that was caking onto my otherwise light Crosslites on the sole and the sides. Quickly I realized that today was NOT going to be the 4:30 run that Ernesto kept quoting to me on the bus.

Sarah Lavender Smith's photo of similar mud on her shoes (thanks, Sarah!)

With all the rain this late winter, I had a fair amount of experience running in similar goopy, cakey mud. I know how to run in this stuff....I know you can't possibly run in this stuff. Resistance is futile! But I do my best trying to run on the sides of the muddy trail despite this generally adding distance and an even more uneven running surface. As usual I had deliberately tied my laces slightly loosely to help relax my ankles, but my shoes often felt like they might come off. The mud and uneven terrain of the trail shoulders were soon making my ankles sore and tired. (Sore and tired--can't have that!)

I'm still surprised that at the top of every small hill, I still don't see anyone behind me. More than a few times this gives me small but healthy pangs of anxiety-- am I off course? However, just when I'm about to consult the bag with the maps in my jacket pocket, I see the reassurance ribbon. In addition, chalk arrows on the ground appear to have survived the night's downpours. After the first few miles, I run the rest of the race confidently, despite many ribbons having been blown away. Thanks, all you marking volunteers!

The 5.4 mile minor aid station doesn't materialize, but I wasn't counting on it and am okay on the fluids so far. With another ascent I enter more lands I've never trodden before-- up Miwok trail into Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, with views of Los Vaqueros Reservoir to the left and sunny east.

Though still muddy, at the higher elevations the mud luckily isn't so sticky and doesn't cake inches to the sides and bottom of my Crosslites. However, the wind is stronger higher up, and more often blowing against, rather than with me. I'm glad I brought the gloves and 2 layers on my top-- I'm skinny and without insuation. At times the gusts are so strong, I'm barely moving.

The white cap of Diablo in the distance-- I would not be surprised if it snowed on the peak last night!

The first aid station at Morgan Territory Road comes none too early-- 9.8 miles officially, 10.2 per my Garmin Forerunner, and almost 1 hour 43 minutes is long going without a bottle refill or any gels (for this race, Cytomax drink and Hammer gels). I hadn't memorized my homework, so I ask how far the next aid station is, and one female volunteer answers, "well, look at the map, didn't they give you a map?" To my defense, if was largely downhill to the the aid station and I was flying, apart from a short cow detour (the disadvantage of being in first is that I have to deal with more cattle). Another volunteer says "I think about 5 miles." As I leave the area, this gets revised to "7 and a half." I think of going back to drink more since I only have 1 bottle, but figure the hill can't be that big and it's probably not going to get warm soon.
(By the way, I never expect the answer to the how far question, and appreciate ALL volunteers being out there.)

As I head up Highland Ridge Trail to.....the ridge, I look back several times at the trail descending to the aid station, and never see anyone. I'd feel lonely-- I run enough alone for training-- but it's such a beautiful day!

I then start to wonder if I shouldn't just mellow out since the next person isn't even close. However, the urge to slow down is overpowered by the realization that this is going to be the last time for a while I will be running fast (fast enough to breathe hard), with my 50 miler next weekend (slower) and 150 miler (even slower) in 3 weeks. Also to prepare for the latter, it might make sense to push it now. So I keep chugging, though well clear of a pace at which I might get nauseated (standard for my shorter races). I actually do a lot of looking around to enjoy the scenery, of which there is so much!

After 1.6 miles up, the remaining 6 miles turns out to be more downhill than up, so I make good time.

At the small house, I veer off the trail toward Finley Road (where I parked and entered 11 days earlier to do trail maintenance) for a half mile detour to the 2nd aid station.

Among the volunteers is Kap'n Kirk Boisseree, who had clipped overgrowth with me. He asks me what took me so long.

Another volunteer, seeing me scurrying to toss my gel wrapper, stash new ones, get an S! cap, tells me not to hurry. I ask how far back the next runner is, and he says, "Really, don't worry about it."
Running out I tell them, "Well, if I'm going to set the course record, I should at lest not make it too soft!"

I know the next 4 miles on Oyster Point Trail really well, but that doesn't stop me from almost falling on my face trying to climb the muddy incline from the first stream crossing. I admire the newly cleared trail and the pruning Kirk and I and other Trail Dog volunteers did the prior week. I also notice a lot of shiny-leaved poison oak popping out at the sides of the trail, and realize that my zealous hacking probably saved everyone on this race some itching. The stuff grows fast. Hopefully it won't grow into the trail before next month's PCTR Diablo 50 mile. Descending to another stream, I lose my balance slipping on slick mud. I catch myself, but not without tweaking my right shoulder. With my upcoming races so soon, I decide to SLOW DOWN on the slippery downhills.

This photo I actually took myself earlier, Knobcone Point with Mount Diablo in background.

It's warming up a bit, but I'm not sweltering, so perhaps in loyalty I don't take my jacket off.

A short while after crossing South Gate Road (heading to summit) at Curry Point, I get to the Rock City 24.0 mile aid station, where all the volunteers are wearing the same uniform.
Having not done my homework, I thought the trail would go right by the Smurfy formations of Rock City, but it turns on the Summit Trail and heads upwards.

Am we going up to Juniper Campground?! But then the course turns and heads down. Amazingly the trail is really dry, due to the bedrock on Wall Point Trail.

After a long winding, descent (back into some mud), I approach Macedo Ranch. Three women cloaked in blankets spot me and run down the final 1/2 mile out-and-back ahead of me to the aid station-- I can't catch up.
I've almost run 50 km, but it's another "2 or 3 miles" to the finish.

I job almost the whole 1/2 mile to the turn-off, then start to feel really sore in my legs. I decide at this point pushing it at all is STUPID. Signed up for the Lake Sonoma 50 (mile) in 6 days is last year's winner, Dan Barger, Ron Gutierrez, and a few other who race at bout my pace. I'm sure they will be disappointed if I am not able to mount a challenge, and I will be embarrassed if I can't keep within an hour of Jon Olsen.
Thus, I finally defer some speed-gratification, and opt to walk or really slowly jog up even the gentlest uphills.
I finish over 5:42, way over my estimate, but in addition to the mud and headwind, I notice it's more than 33.5 miles, and almost 54 km (probably over that, since the Garmin tends to undermeasure distance). Four bonus kilometers! They will need to change the name of this race.

After receiving my award (a coupon for North Face gear), I intend to walk to my car, get my towel and take a nice hot shower. However, I realize that my car is about a mile away (!)-- fearing I won't make it there and back alive, I decide to stay and start eating. The fare is first-rate-- chicken-apple sausages, greens salad with olice oil and balsamic vinegar, lots of other stuff donated by Whole Foods, much of it organic. Very nice healthy and tasty spread. Six minutes after 2 pm elite female master's runner Beth Vitalis sprints in. She takes longer to recover her breath, so I feel a little guilty that I had slowed down the last 3 miles. Beth has chicked me before, so don't think my victory was a foregone conclusion.

I took a good action photo of Beth, but am so impressed with this guy with her-- he's wheeled the whole course-- of course when it was dry.   (Since first publishing this post, I have learned his name is Bob Coomber, and he has done many other amazing things in his wheelchair.)

Three minutes later, Sarah Lavender Smith comes in. Apparently Beth and Sarah ran about 12 or so miles together and bonded. Sarah runs mostly shorter stuff, and is enthused she could run so long with the accomplished Beth,. Great job, both of you!

Sarah, me, Beth (I'm the ugly one in the middle.)

Finally another dude finishes in 6:21, evening the gender tally.

Jason Cooke, 4th overall, 2nd place male

My wife had told me I could hang out a couple of hours and not rush back since she might bring the kids to the park, but with the weather forecast, wasn't sure. I realized after I'd left the house that I left my cell phone at home, so have to keep borrowing a volunteer's phone to call and leave messages. Sarah leaves to see her son's first baseball game, and Beth leaves back out onto the course to find and run with her partner Joe MacDonald. Almost 2 hours after finishing, I figure it's time to leave.

Fortunately, a ranger comes by on a golf cart, since I'm not excited about the bonus mile, and I get a lift.
Thanks to all those at Save Mount Diablo, race sponsors, the many enthusiastic volunteers, the runners who helped mark the course, and everyone else. This race is a real winner-- fantastic race for an excellent cause. I want to see at least twice as many people run this next year... I'll be back!
(By the way, there is an epilogue-- I will soon lose big-- so keep reading....)


Catra Corbett
Sarah Lavender Smith

EPILOGUE (Kites & Keys)
Luckily, my younger son is still asleep when I arrive home, so I'm not holding up anything. After battling all that headwind I decide today would be the perfect day to try to fly that dragon kite I bought at Costco a year ago. For months I was missing a piece that my toddler had hidden, then the string got all tangled, and then it's never been windy enough..... so today would be the day.
We drive up to the nearby middle school, on a hill with a large field. Apparently my kite flying skills aren't as good as my running skills today, as I can't keep the kite up for than 10 seconds at a time. My wife takes over and demonstrates superior technique, hands it back, I get it up and keep it up-- my virility is restored! My kids are thrilled too.

We walk back to the car to find ourselves locked out. I was the one with the smart key for our Prius, but hadn't zipped closed the pocket of my Sportiva jacket (no-- hadn't showered or changed yet) so it must have fell out. Whoops. I walk-jog back the quarter mile on the other side of the school to the field and look on the ground, but the grass is tall in places and I soon realize this is sort of a needle-in-a-haystack situation. I return, apologizing to the wife and older son, and we walk the 3/4 mile down the hill and through our subdivision to our house, taking turns carrying our younger. It's past dinner time, so I offer to try to jog back up the hill, but my wife decides to drive me up with the remaining Prius key. I get dropped off and decide to give it a more thorough search, winding back and forth across the field for more than half an hour. In my bonus (I estimate 2) miles, I see lots of candy and gum wrappers and other random small objects-- but not the key. The wind is picking up as the sun descends-- I'm freezing.

The next morning at work, I call up the dealership. Soon I'm in a bad mood-- I had NO IDEA it would cost that much. I call the middle school and leave a long rambling message on the secretary's voice mail asking if the kids can look for it during PE.

The secretary calls me back a few hours later, informing me that a student has found it. I would be unqualifyingly ecstatic, but it's a horrendous Monday during which I had up to 5 patients waiting to see me at one point, most over 70 and with real complaints (I hate it when that happens), along with 7 other patients still vomiting/in pain/needing a disposition. I leave my shift 75 minutes late, commenting that the only thing good about today was that my key showed up.
Okay, okay, I'm HAPPY....

My first chance to make it up to the school is Wednesday, 3 days after Diablo Trails and 3 days before my next race:

Climbing the small hill to the school, my legs really feel it....

I am happy to give this fine Canyon Middle School student, Josh Hicken, a well deserved monetary reward. Nonethess, I am thinking of having the smart key implanted into my hip....

1st published 4 pm, Friday, March 27, 2009, less than 15 hours until the next race starts.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Recap of 2008 and Plans for 2009 (Tag Questions)

Rajeev tagged me again. Although lazy blogger that I am, I never answered the previous year's tag, I thought I should answer this year's. Or is that last year's?

1. What was your 2008 running highlight and running low?

I have to keep it plural.

  • being able to finish my "Bay Area PAUSATF triple" (3 races in 3 weeks) after calf spasming early in Miwok 100k (which was one of the lows), worked through the pain the next week at Quicksilver 50 mile (4th overall) and was still able to recover and finish 3rd at Ohlone 50k 8 days later.
  • finishing Kettle Moraine 100 mile after several moments when I thought I would drop, have to drop, or die...
  • finishing Rio del Lago 100 mile after full body cramping that left me supine on the trail with 32 miles to go.....oh, have I not finished my race report half a year later?
  • NOT running Helen Klein 50 mile. I've been meaning to devote a whole posting on this and my blowing the 2008 PAUSATF Ultra Grand Prix, but I need to finish my Rio del Lago 100 mile report first. Which reminds me of another low:
  • my inability to keep up with my blogging the 2nd half of the year. Oh well, life with a stressful job with weird hours and 2 small kids. And that damn Facebook. At least I've been running.

2. What race are you secretly planning on doing (or contemplating) for 2009 but haven't made it known to the public....until now.

No surprises. Not that anyone really cares about this. My list is up at the right. I like to thing of myself as a low profile kind of guy....

3. Where would you like create and direct an ultra that (to your knowledge) none exists

Somewhere local of course, southeast (San Francisco) Bay area. Note my brief post on the passage of the East Bay Regional Parks bond measure if you haven't already. Will be lots of trails to pick from. But no plans anytime soon. Maybe when my kids are in college, if there is still a need or demand for another race.

4. What is your "primary" race for 2009?

Even if I were to get into Western States some day, I probably would make it my "primary" race, at the expense of all others. I'm really not fast enough to take myself that seriously.

The way my schedule is set up is fairly irrational, if not stupid. Basically, my schedule for 2009 is the result of trying to take advantage of family trips by sticking a run in, avoiding PAUSATF races because I'm so pissed at myself for losing the Grand Prix by not showing up at Helen Klein last November, but then later finding out that La Sportiva Mountain Running Team members can get comped entries to the Pacific Coast Trail Run races, which I've felt guilty for not running more of them the past 2-3 years because I was running so many PAUSATF races.

My spring monster will be McNaughton (the 150 mile version), in Illinois, where my in-laws live; thus no Kettle Moraine 100 mile this year. I've signed up for 2 local races I haven't done yet-- Diablo Trails 50k on 3/22 and Lake Sonoma 50 mile 3/28, 2 weeks before McNaughton. I think this violates all common sense about tapering and spacing out races. I signed up for Sonoma first, then found out about Diablo Trails, and felt it was a worthy cause to support. Although the interval is short, I figured, no matter what, McNaughton 150 is going to bite, so....why not?

The 2nd big cluster of races is in late summer. I'm doing as a little change of pace the full Vineman August 1st (thanks Alan for setting me up for the 3 for 2 offer), Headlands Hundred (mile) the next week, Cascade Crest 100 mile 3 weeks later and Angeles Crest 100 mile 3 weeks after that. I think this will really test my ability to endure, recover and prevent injury. I will probably have to hold back on a couple of these if I want to finish them all in decent shape.

5. What is the most exciting thing about your upcoming race schedule?

LOTS of races I haven't done before, including four 100 milers, not including the 1-and-a-half hundred miler in April. Two of the 100's are "epic" point-to-point/big loop runs. Plus 3 point-to-point 50k runs. The percentage of new races to repeat races will probably never be larger. (Not that I mind or am getting bored with courses I only see once a year.) Who's gonna miss yet another year without ever getting to run Western States? It can wait....

6. List your planned races for 2009

Basically minimal repetition from the last 2 years, including the PAUSATF races I was getting to run the past two years for half price. Look for the list in the side bar at the right, which I will be continually updating.
I think everyone else answered all these months ago, so I will not look for people to tag. Especially since I need to put my kids and myself in bed. However, if you blog and want to write a similar post, feel free to ask me to tag you.

I eroded my taper by carrying my younger son repeatedly up these steep steps in Koret Children's Park, in the east end of San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, earlier today, the day before the Diablo Trail 50k, my first race of the year.

1st published Saturday, March 21, 2009 at 8:05 pm.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Trail Maintenance on Diablo's Oyster Point Trail

I had volunteered a couple times with the Trail Dogs group in the past, but this was the first year I was signed up for a race (in fact, 2 this year) which required trail maintenance work.  Angeles Crest 100 Mile further requires that the maintenance be on a trail that is part of an ultra race.

Last Tuesday (March 10th) I had the day off after coming off a series of overnight shifts. Although I was anxious to get a long run in, I noticed on the Trail Dogs website the project for that day was the Oyster Point Trail in Mount Diablo State Park. I knew this trail was part of the Diablo Trails 50k course I am running this Sunday the 22nd, as well as once again part of Pacific Coast Trail Run's Diablo 50 Mile in April. So I figured I should take advantage of the opportunity to fulfill some of my "part of an ultra" AC 100 volunteer requirement without, for instance, having to drive up past Auburn on one of my few free weekends. (With two small kids, this isn't going to happen any time soon.)

It was hard to wake up since I was so sleep deprived from my tough overnight shifts between which I mismanaged my sleep. I had told the coordinator John I would arrive a little late so I could drop my kids off at their respective day care and preschool.

Parking was not allowed at the trail head off Finley Road, so I had to park 3/4 a mile back where I saw the cars of other volunteers. Good thing I run...

the trailhead

Past a small barn...

About 1.5 miles from the trailhead, I caught up with the group, who had already started on the main goal, cutting and removing a large tree that had been blocking the true trail for months or years.

The real trail which was completely blocked an hour earlier is at left, with the alternate up to the right. When muddy, the alternate route was reportedly very treacherous to navigate.

John dispatched me and the other volunteering ultrarunner, veteran (Kap'n) Kirk Boisseree almost another 3 miles to the end of Oyster Point Trail, where it ends in a 5-way intersection, the official Diablo Trail continuing onto Black Hawk Ridge Road. To prune.

Our fast hike out was beautiful, and notably hillier than I'd expected. We swapped war stories (obviously he has more, having been ultrarunning longer than I).  I really enjoyed getting to chat with him since we run at a different pace so wouldn't ever during a race.  I also picked his brain about survival strategies during races that take longer than 30 or 40 hours.

 On our way back, we hacked branches, cleared brush and pruned bushes along the trail, applying the "3 year rule"-- assume no one's going to do this again for three years, so hack more than you think you need to hack.  I also have this ongoing personal vendetta against Toxicodendron diversilobum, a.k.a poison oak, so my clippers kept snapping.

Rock formations on Knobcone Point.

Kirk approaching the downed tree site.

The trail was originally less obvious eastbound, so we asked the rest of the group to make it really clear where to go:

Kirk in the cleared trail.

Forgot to take a group photo.  I also should've taken more photos off the Diablo Trail to the east, but had to get out to clean up the kitchen and pick up my boys.

My long overdue first real race of the season is in a few days.  I guess it's reassuring to know I'm very familiar with maybe a ninth of it.