Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fourth Quarter Slow-Down (From An Unexpected Cause) and Eventual Recovery During My First Race Being Paced at Headlands Hundred

It would've been nice to sub-20 at a tough, hilly race, less than a week after finishing my
Ironman distance triathlon. Actually, not just nice, but bad-ass. In fact, for the first 75 miles of this past weekend's Headlands Hundred, I was pretty pleased with myself. Perhaps too much so. So, maybe what ended up happening was well deserved.

Earlier this year when I finalized my August-September race schedule, I knew that I was flirting with the chance of injury. Therefore my first goal going into
PCTR's Headlands Hundred on August 8-9, just a week after Vineman, was not to hurt myself, so that I can finish not this 100 mile trail race, but the other two runs of the same distance in the following six weeks. I knew that optimizing my fitness for any one race was out of the question. My goal became just to get through them.

Friday August 7th, I drove my family up to my brother's, the usual routine for races in Marin. I came with my face fittingly made-up in war-paint they serendipitously had out that afternoon when I visited Adventure Park in the Berkeley Marina with my kids.

Although staying relatively near the start of the race offers an obvious advantage, the downside is the usual late night rambunctiousness of my kids and their cousins, and the cramped sleeping arrangments. But, again, going up there is not all about me and my silly race.

Saturday I get up before my alarm and walk downstairs to my pile of race clothes-- my meticulously prepared pile that somehow was missing one of my two gaiters. Despite wasting a lot of time looking for it, I'm able to make it to Rodeo Beach at about 25 minutes 'til the 7 a.m. start, which more than one fellow runner notices as an improvement over my many last-minute appearances.

I do have to blow a few minutes calling and texting my wife and my brother to see if they can find the gaiter, and if so, bring it down to the start, maybe on the way back from my nephew's tennis match in the city.

I decide I must settle for experimenting to see how well gaiters work, though it's not the gold-standard, blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled trial, the strongest support for evidence based medical practice.

Since I always race in gaiters, I guess the variable is on the left, and the control on the right. Hypothesis: not having gaiters results in pebbles and crap to get into your shoe, which becomes irritating, and sometimes results in time wasted taking your shoe off and on, and definitely reinforces the observations that you are a disorganized idiot for not being able to find it this morning.

Lastly I make final adjustments of the contents of my two drop bags, one for the start finish (which we access 3 times) and Tennessee Valley (visited 8 times-- so I put most of my stuff in this one).

Here are links to the course map and course description and a course flyover. The first 50 miles was originally going to be a Miwok 100k-like out-and-back atop Bolinas Ridge, but with the California state budget crisis, no races can get permits for races through state parks.

1st loop--can't believe how fast I'm running

Wendell Doman starts the race before I am mentally ready. (I have been so busy running around with my kids and nephews all week, I had little time to think about the race.) I see Nathan Yanko and Joe Palubeski, two guys I predict will be at the front, despite this race being their first attempts at the distance. I would intend to keep up with them, but I'm not stupid, and have my sand-bagging Vineman excuse.

All the fast guys start the race intelligently so there are a bunch of us chatting and climbing through the two batteries and atop Hill 88. Only the fastest 50-milers dart ahead.

Morning fog keeps things cool, but fog also imvolves humidity, so we're soon all still working up a sweat.

As runners are less spread out in the beginning of the race, lots of little conversations. I chat with Sean Lang, who I know is doing Cascade Crest 100 with me in 3 weeks. Before I can suspect he is as stupid as I with my compacted race schedule, he tells me he today is running the 50 miler AND he's going to control his pace with his heart rate monitor, to keep it in the 140s. I also talk a bit with 22-year-old 50-mile rookie Jeff Burdett from NY; San Jose's John Burton about kids; and Ray Sanchez, the one guy I know is fitting a lot more long races in a short time than I am.

The last few miles of the clockwise 25 miles is paved. We see all the lead 50-milers heading back up the roads. I recognize none of the first three, who I calculate are flying (and indeed did their first 25 miles under 3:30, quite fast for this hilly course; Josh Brimhall would win with a 16-minute gap in 7:03:34). Prudence L'Heureux is the first female; she would end up finishing in 7:52:00, good for 5th overall.

Finally the stretch of sand on the beach, a real decelerator.

photo of me coming into mile 25, courtesy Toni Lambio

My split was 4:20ish. Say what?! This is crazy. I honestly was thinking that 24 hours for the entire race would be tough. But even if I slowed down, I had money in the bank for maybe a sub-20. And I've been holding back.

2nd loop--okay I slow down a bit

I go to my drop box, to see if the gaiters have arrived-- none yet, which I sort of expected since it's still morning. So more sand in my shoes when I go out to cross the beach again.

Starting from the ascent off the beach onto the paved roads and trail up to Conzelman, I run into Dan Fish, a relative newbie runner and 100-mile rookie from Southern Cal. We chat off and on. He tends to get ahead on flats or downhills, but I catch up on uphills.

a view from Conzelman

Eventually on the long descent to Rodeo Valley (mile 33.5), he accelerates way ahead.

Sunday morning view near Rodeo Valley, photo by volunteer JoLynn McCabe

Later this loop, I catch up with another Dan, last name Fabun from Oakland, who recognizes me (from this blog?) and is stoked he is running my pace. We talk for a while, until Muir Beach, when I use the Portalet. He had offered to give me some ibuprofen (my quads are really started to hurt), but luckily David Combs informs me they have some on the table. I pass Dan F. on the uphill out of Muir Beach.

The pavement on the downhill to Rodeo Beach is harsh. Just like the end of Headlands 50k and Miwok. Okay if the race is almost over, but it's only half done.

Arriving at the pile of drop bags, I'm relieved to see my missing gaiter that my brother had delivered (although he didn't quite put it in the box, so it was laying to the side). No more sand/grit/rocks in my left shoe. The nonblinded, nonrandomized experiment show that gaiters work (although since the number of subjects n=1, the confidence interval is pretty wide). This pair was race swag, so extra thanks, Dirty Girl Gaiters!

3rd loop--feeling better, beating nightfall

I run into Alan Abbs walking his dalmation, who will be pacing his fellow Red Bluffian Joe Palubeski the last quarter of the race after his super-talented nationally-ranked wife Bev finishes pacing him the third 25 miles. Good thing he was there-- perhaps because I'm feeling so good about having my missing gaiter back, I run right past the turn-off to through the first battery. Alan shouts at me to turn left, limiting my time loss to about a minute. Thanks, Alan!

Later I catch up and pass Dan Fish (Dan #1) again, now with a pacer. For someone so new to ultras, he's running a great race.

Heading out of Muir Beach (mile 58) to the highest point on the course, I catch sight of a runner attacking the uphills. It takes until the ascent up Marincello Trail after Tennessee Valley (mile 62) to catch up with him. Shan Riggs, who holds the PCTR San Francisco One Day course record (for which I'm signed up this October). We talk for most of the stretch until I lose him (once again, as I lost Dan Fish 30-something miles earlier) on the sustained downhill to Rodeo Valley.

I wonder if my casually and gratuitously dropping "yeah, I did this Vineman thing last week..." sort of inspired him to pick up the pace and move ahead. Way ahead-- so regardless, great job! Since Shan is soon moving back to (flat) Chicago, I want him to run a strong race on these hills.

Earlier on the loop, I ask other runners and at the aid stations when they think I will need a light, and I get different answers. I decide I should play it safe and carry one from Tennessee Valley (mile 62), but the thought of carrying it 13 miles and maybe not even needing it doesn't appeal to me.

Coming into Tennessee Valley, a man comes asking if Dan (Fish, Dan #1) is near behind. I tell him only a few minutes. I then ask him if he thinks Dan's wife can carry a light for me. He (Roberto) and Dan's wife Gretchen end up carrying my light to the next 2 aid stations, until I take it at Conzelman (mile 70), saving me either the anxiety of not having a light or the annoyance of having one while not needing it. Thanks you two!

Before Conzelman, as the the sky turns orange over the Pacific to the right, I get an equally gorgeous view to the left of the city, and the lights of cars crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. It's all so perfect.

not quite the same angle, but gives you the idea...

Volunteers at Conzelman (mile 70) include Steve Holman, recent Marathon des Sables finisher who has had to pull out of the Grand Slam with a stress fracture and still in his foot brace) In addition to the usual spread, he offers me a slice of pizza. I hesitate. I'm mildly lactose intolerant, which means I can eat 1-2 slices and not feel much discomfort, but if I eat more than 4-5 slices (which I do occasionally, especially if it's free), will sometime get gassy and mild runs. But nothing severe and no belly pain. It's not like it ever makes me vomit. Still, I have never tried pizza during a race. But it looks and smells so good...much yummier than yet another packaged gel, dry quarter of PB&J or cold potato. We decide on about 1/3 of a slice, vegetarian. I head down the hill. The pizza actually settles well, and my stomach seems to appreciate the feeling of real, warm food. So at the time I think this was a good move.

I'm much closer to the leaders, Nathan, Joe, a few others I don't recognize that I'd thought I was, as they head back up the hill.

When I have to empty (#2) at restroom near the end of the paved descent to Rodeo Beach, I don't think too much of it.

Crossing the bridge after the sandy beach close to the start/finish aid station, I catch up with Dan Fish (Dan #1) and his pacer, who probably passed me while I was on the toilet; we come in together tied for 4th place.

My time is under 14:40. Even with some expected deceleration, I'm still under a 20 hour race pace. I'm sort of blown away. I was thinking that coming under 24 hours would be great enough, but now I'm top-5 and with a fair shot of sub-20ing (which I haven't done for my past several 100-mile races). Wow, cool!

4th loop--things get tough

At the aid station, I switch out my headlamps, and eat several bits of cut avocado. I remember reading in someone's blog about avocado, good fats, great race food. In fact, I clear off the plate.

I see Jonathan Gunderson, who asks me if I want a pacer. Of course, I'm totally caught off guard. David Schoenberg, who had saved me from fashion disaster at Skyline to the Sea 50k in April had offered to pace me a week earlier, but then had to withdraw the offer (for a pretty legitimate cause, mind you). Not having thought about it at all, I hesitate. Having run the 25 mile course 3 times already and having a fair amount of familiarity with the trails from other runs and hikes, I don't feel I needed any navigational aid. I've never been paced before, so I would be sullying my pristine, unpaced virginity. But then, I've never asked anyone, nor has anyone ever specifically asked me.

Um, Jon seems like a nice guy.....

Oh, what the heck. It's dark and I'm not going to get any less tired or sore.

"Hey, so if you really want to do it, sure." Or something like that. If it was "Uh, okay, sure" then they could've been one of the smarter three words that's come out of my mouth in my life.

As I leave the beach, I start to feel bad. Really bad. My stomach doesn't feel right. To counter my nausea, I pull out a ginger candy. This will pass, I tell myself.

But it doesn't. It continues, and I find that any exertion over a fairly low threshold exacerbates the malaise. It becomes a slow slog up the long hill.

To my new pacer, repeated apologies and thanks. Mostly apologies. I keep thinking about how Jon was probably planning a fun, aided, 5-something hour night run, and instead was getting an all-night march.

On top of my malaise, Jon and I haven't figured out our communication thing, so he's tending to ask me how I'm doing a little too often, which gets me more tired, and I'm not sure how to politely make him back off. Eventually I learn just to say something short, and he adjusts. I enjoy hearing about Badwater, which he's finished the last 4 years.

As we approach Conzelman aid station (mile 80), I'm exhausted; it's taken almost 90 minutes just to go 5 miles. It's not that late at night, so I know it's not from being up too late, but because I'm feeling sick and exhausted fighting the sickness. But before I can get to the chair, I have to empty my ass. Jon helps me find a semi-appropriate spot around the corner, as there is no Portalet.


Conzelman volunteers Larry & Christina the next morning

Then in the chair with blanket since it's getting a little chilly. I try to sleep a few minutes, get some fluids down, but it's all slow going. Finally, Jon cajoles me to get up, and we leave the station over 23 minutes after arriving.

I can't remember when Jon lends me his jacket he's been carrying; I had carried one from Rodeo (mile 75), but it was windy on the ridge and are not moving fast enough to stay warm. I feel bad because I suspect Jon is a little cold. At one point Jon is on the phone with his wife and I ask to talk, can't hear her at all, but manage to tell her that her husband rocks.

Things get worse. More nausea with exertion. A few times I start swerving. I think I take another dump. I start seeing double for lights in the distance, but if I'm conscious of it at the time, I just think it's my glasses. I'm not much good on the downhills either. We arrive at Rodeo Valley (mile 83.6) after another 90 minutes, despite being over a 1.5 miles shorter than the climb to Conzelman, and more downhill than uphill. That's slower than 25 minutes per mile!

I am too out of it to remember to hit the lap button of my watch, so not sure how long we spend there. Maybe 20 minutes. Same routine. Try to sleep. Get fluids in. Several people pass through while I'm in the chair. I remember Julie Fingar, who would be the first female, Rick Gaston, and maybe others, some that I'd run with, others I'd been in front of the whole race.

part of Rodeo Valley station crew, later that morning; head volunteer Ted at right

If I am feeling optimistic that I'm going to turn the corner with my illness, once we start the uphill, it ends. The double vision thing gets worse. However at times I get moments of reprieve from the malaise, and am able to say something to better entertain Jon. But what typically happens is that Jon takes this as a sign that he can push the pace, which unfortunately is not the case. However, he patiently persists in pacing me. Tell me to try to jog a little when it's flat, making sure I keep drinking from my bottle, making me swallow a gel or shot every so many minutes.

We get to Tennessee Valley (mile 88.2) and I'm beat. I get my extra jacket (my Sportiva jacket from last year) and give Jon back his. I tell him I really want to sleep. For real. Maybe at one point he says we have to go soon, not sure, but I think I ignore him. At one point I wake up from my half sleep, afraid he's going to make me get going, but luckily, the volunteers inform me-- he's asleep! I feel like I won the lottery and doze off some more.

After an unknown length of time (unknown because because I'm too out of it to press the buttons on my stopwatch), we both get up and are ready to go. The nap might have been just the trick I needed. The nausea threshold has moved up, way up, and I'm able to start jogging more. A few times I start jogging without being prompted by Jon. It's all good. Because we're moving I actually start getting a little warm.

The descent to Muir Beach is trippy. It's constant fog rolling in from the ocean as we head west downhill, and so it keeps appearing that we are going to reach the top of the cliff where the Coyote Ridge trail T-intersects the Coastal Road.

Two surprises at Rodeo Beach (mile 92). Skunks rummaging through trash left besides the cans around the corner from the aid station, and then seeing my almost-neighbor Baldwyn Chieh, who snaps a couple pictures of Jon, all smiles, and me, chewing something, maybe per his command. I give Baldwyn my extra jacket since it's too warm now that we're actually moving again, but fail to Mean Joe Green him with "Hey kid, catch."

On the Coastal Trail/Pirates Cove stretch, I'm feeling even better. I'm running some of the uphills and push a good walking pace up the and out of the steps. Jon has started asking the time and we know that I still have a decent chance to finish under 24 hours. We push it to Tennessee Valley (mile

part of Tennessee Valley station crew, later that morning: John Fors, Carol (who really took care of me earlier, Theresa & Kevin (sorry don't know last names)

In contrast to the last time we passed through, when we stayed maybe upwards to to an hour, we are in and out, probably in 30 seconds. We aim to run to a point 20 yards ahead, but I keep going 5 times longer. While I'm feeling better as the sun is coming up, moving faster brings back the soreness. I start running uphill stretches. I'm finally giving Jon a real workout.

It's butt kicker of a climb up Wolf Ridge trail. We get to the top and I'm actually not entirely happy about this. Pavement, downhill, ow my quads.....

Up ahead we see a woman running with a pacer. Since I have no idea how many times I've been chicked while crawling or asleep, perhaps I think I might be completely unchicking myself. In any case, it somehow seems important to pass her, which I do really fast.

left to right: Jon, skinny guy in tights not to be trusted, Dorothy Galubski (2nd female overall), her pacer

We continue pounding it down the hill, chasing a secondary goal of 23:45. For the hell of it.

customized finisher's coaster

Thanks to Jon (big time, cannot be overstated), all the volunteers, RD's Sarah and Wendell, my La Sportiva and associated sponsors, the citizens who in the 1960's prevented the beautiful Marin Headlands from being ruined by development, and all the runners who took pity on me as they passed me that last lap.
final 50 mile race results (including 100 milers who DNF'd at or after mile 50)

Other blogged reports
Rick Gaston
JoLynn McCabe (Rodeo Valley aid station volunteer)
Shan Riggs
Nathan Yanko (winner, new course record holder)

first published Tuesday 10/6/09, not quite 2 months late

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bay Nature Institute Photography Contest Winners

Throughout the past spring and summer, Bay Nature Institute (and magazine) and Sarber's Cameras cosponsored a photo contest to mark the East Bay Regional Park District's 75th Anniversary. Click the link below to see some beautiful winning photos taking in some of my favorite parks to train and race.

Pictured above is grand prize winner's Jerry Ting's photograph, taking in Coyote Hills Regional Park, which serves as the turnaround point for Catra Corbett and Mike Palmer's Fremont Fat Ass 50K held in January. (Actually, the course does a loop in the park.)