Monday, January 25, 2010

Garin / Dry Creek Fat-Ass Run and Family Hike Sandwich

Hayward, California, Sunday, December 20, 2009

I met Lloyd Thomas when I went back to Ohio to run the Mohican 100 Mile last June. Someday I'll elaborate on this, when I finally finish that race report. Anyway, Lloyd grew up in Hayward and used to run the trails of Garin/Dry Creek Park all the time, so he proposed holding a fat-ass run there when he came to the Bay Area to visit his brother for the December holidays

I was considering running Rodeo Beach 50k on Saturday the 19th and was on-call for work Sunday the 20th, so I couldn't commit 100% to the proposal. I emailed the select few of us planning to show up that I would try to show up Sunday by 5 am and start running before the semi-official 8 am start.

A cool thing about fat-ass runs is that if you sleep in, well, it's not the end of the world, or even the end of the race, since it's technically not a race.

But I still wanted to get going, since I might have to go to work, and if I wasn't working early, didn't want to sacrifice any quality family time--the plan was to run until my wife showed up with the kids, and then we would do a hike in the same park.

I drove into the park's main entrance just past 7. The only runner I spotted was Keith Blom getting out of his car. He lamented that he was only a few minutes late for the suggested semi-official 7 am early start. Since I knew the route, I reassured him I could guide him through the first loop, a clockwise loop of the high ridge, and we would be sure to catch up with everyone. (link to official park trail map) On the ridge we caught sight of the other starters.

Here's Keith and me running on the ridge, caught by Chihping Fu.

Soon we caught up with the three others.

Back at the start, we all decided to throw in a quick extra loop to kill time before 8 when we would check if anyone else was coming. (No one did.)

The next loop was the northern (Garin) part of the park. When it rains a lot, this part gets a lot of that really sticky East Bay mud that cakes to your soles making your feet weigh 10 pounds each. But as the rain has subsided by the latter part of the week, the trails were in decent shape, though there were still some stream crossings to keep our shoes dirty enough.

At 8:30 I called my work, and was told the 4 pm to midnight fast track doctor had called in sick, so I would have to go in then. : ( Well, at least I didn't have to start work at 10 am or noon.

Pierre-Yves Couteau had gotten a lot faster in the past year, so he and I pulled out front, though we weren't trying to really race.

I guided Pierre through this convoluted (and even looking at the map, confusing) single track wooded section. We did a short out and back so the others could catch up. Unfortunately, Chihping, pictured below, and took several of the photos in this report (thanks) had dropped back and never caught up with us, but I was sure he was still enjoying himself.

I started texting my wife to see when she was going to arrive with the kids to do a hike. We got back to the start, about 16 miles / 3 hours into it. Since she wasn't close yet, I went out with everyone to do another small loop. Pierre and I went ahead, as he also needed to get back home. He accelerated more and dumped me as I slowed to do more texting with my wife.

Heading back, I got her arrival call, and we met by Jordan Pond, close the main entrance. We headed back southeast on Dry Creek Trail, acutally a network of parallel, crisscrossing single track trails going along the not-dry Dry Creek. Crossing the series of narrow bridges was fun, though one of us lacked the leg length to straddle the sides.

On the return, we took the lower ridge with views of the hills, as well as the East Bay and Peninsula to the west.

My older son was the usual trooper, getting a little sleepy at the end, but making it all the way. My younger son too hiked almost half the distance, but then got put in the Ergo carrier on my back and took a long nap.

Hike summary: miles 20.4 to 25.1 (on the clock 3:52 to 6:51) including rest stops to refuel.

Back at the barn near the main entrance, we ran into Lloyd, who had just finished a hike with his wife, and was headed out. Thanks for organizing!

My wife then left with the kids. It was then 2, and it made no sense to go home only to drive back out to Hayward to work. So I thought I'd start running again, and make this an unofficially official ultra run. I didn't have time to do the southernmost Tolman Peak loop (on which I'd done trail maintenance several hours last summer).

If I had, I would have pretty much have covered every single stretch of trail in the park, but was at least able to fit in two loops up the high ridge with ascents of the steep Meyer's Ranch Trail.

The sports drink from powder I had been drinking all day along with the sandwich and snacks I ate during the hike were not enough to compensate for my depleted glycogen reserves. I started to feel really dizzy as I came in. I used this as a perfect excuse to extend my run even further, and explore an unofficial trail going up and past this kite flying hill. I was able to make it up and down the extra mile without passing out or dying, which would have inconvenienced and possibly pissed off my colleagues at work. And then I would've felt stupid.

Summary of final post-hike solo run: 9.2 miles, very hilly, in 1 hour 41 minutes. Felt great to push myself to depletion.

Summary of day: total time out there: 8 hours 33 minutes, 34.3 miles recorded (I probably ran more since the signal isn't always strong in the woods). Not bad given that I had no idea how the day would unfold and wasn't anticipating the post-hike run.

I had one of those canned protein-energy drinks cooled with an ice-pack waiting for me in the car, which hit the spot. (And allowed me to drive to work without crashing and dying).

I wiped myself down as well as I could in the bathroom before my fast track shift (like my final run, done solo away from the other docs working the regular ED. If any of my patients was grossed out, they hid it pretty well. Or else I was feeling too good and sore from a great long day outdoors to notice.....

My Garmin Forerunner recorded map and splits

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pacing Practice at the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders Fourth Sunday Run (and My Fastest Race Report Turnaround Time Ever!)

When I heard about the inaugural resurrected Oakland Marathon to be held the last weekend of March, I quickly emailed inquiries about the possibility of being a pace group leader, having been unsuccessful in similar attempts at other northern California road marathons. Fortunately, they needed people. Perhaps unfortunately they especially needed faster runners to pace the faster groups, so pace group leader coordinator Len Goldman currently slotted at the 3:20 pace group, but will be another story. As part of the preparation, all pace group leaders needed to get some pacing practice in, and the either the 10k or 15k distance of the monthly runs held on the 4th Sunday of every month around Lake Merritt in Oakland were suggested as a quick and easy way to meet the requirement.

with Len Goldman, who at 65, ran the 15k at a sub-7 minute mile pace-- damn fast!

A start time of 9am allowed me to wake up well rested before my alarm, shove a couple of slices of toast in my mouth and drive up 580 to the Grand Avenue exit. They were charging $5 to park right by the lake, so I parked on the street and jogged in the 1/3 of a mile to the start. Although I was wondering who on earth was going to show up for an event they have every month when there was a chance of rain, there were plenty of runners headed the same way. I briefly talked to one woman, who just recently started running again, and wanted a real low key event before doing the Kaiser Permanente 5k being held with the Half Marathon in 2 weeks. I even saw a couple of ultrarunners I didn't recognize, talking about States.

Indeed it was low key. But well organized. Registration was a cinch, and I was waived the $5 entry fee charged non-members. No line to the bathroom, which I needed. Len showed everyone a map of the course, just in case clockwise loops of the lake was too complicated for anyone. (Actually there are plenty of sections with more than one path to take, with significant differences in distance.) One loop was certified at just under 5k. They had finish lines for the 5, 10 and 15k races lined up maybe just 10-20 meters apart.

LMJS registration volunteers Alain Boutefeu, Jim Eckford, Gisele Boriolo, and Joe Davis. Thanks all volunteers!

I had to decide what pace I was going to run. I decided since a 3:20 marathon was 7:38 minute mile pace, I should do something like a 7 minute mile. Faster than that would bring me close to racing, defeat the purpose of pacing practice.

I felt pretty rested, having done my first spin class at my gym 3 days earlier; 65 minutes on my first elliptical machine and 30+ minutes lifting weights at my hotel 2 days earlier; and a hilly 4.3 mile hike the day before in which I had carried my 2-year-old less than half the time (my 4-year-old has that distance down).

Del Valle Regional Park, 1.5 miles from the Arroyo Road staging area

I turned on my Garmin Forerunner 305 (actually my friend Baldwyn Chieh's since I couldn't find mine) and decided that the mode showing lap pace made more sense than seeing current pace. The race started and about 10-15 people shot off ahead. I looked down at my watch and watched the pace settle at about 6:40 per mile, too fast, from the usual adrenaline. As we made the first turn along Lakeshore Ave., I noticed that slight variations of speed would change the entire lap pace by several seconds. I focused on relaxing, feeling relieved that I had no incentive to catch all those people up front, as I normally would.

Everyone pretty much stayed on the quickest route, the mostly concrete bike and jogging path, and not on the sometimes meandering alternate trail closer to the lake, or the muddy dirt paths sometimes running along. Also, no detour to go around Children's Fairyland (the model-inspiration for Disneyland).

A 7-minute mile pace turned out to be a good pick. I felt like I was getting a decent fast workout, but without too much pain. However, several times I deliberated whether I should do a bonus lap. The running was uneventful, except for a several times the path got crowded or a walker, trying to get out of my way, actually moved into my path. In terms of pacing, honestly, I don't know how I'd have done it without my GPS device giving me feedback the every 30-60 minutes I looked at it. Marathons usually give you mile marker splits. Perhaps if I ran flat road more often, but even my flat running short commute to and from the BART station has enough hills and traffic lights to prevent a steady pace.

I finished the 15k in 65:56 (65:53 per my Forerunner's recorded split time, good for 5th place overall and 1st in my division). After pausing 5-10 seconds to tear off and give that strip at the bottom of my bib to a volunteer, I sped off to do a bonus lap at a faster pace to make this whole event a little more honest in terms of self-punishment and training.

15k rookie Rachel Baylson, approaching the finish

I had to make up for the pause to get my lap pace down to 6:30 minutes per mile. I was hoping to increase the pace for each successive mile, but despite feeling the burn and breathing hard, couldn't sustain the acceleration, and barely continued the pace. My last split took 20:50, a 6:35 minute/mile pace, and accounting for the initial delay maybe 6:32/mile. In ultras I often beat guys with marathon PRs run at the same or faster pace. This morning I could barely hold this for 3 miles. What is up with that?

race gear and schwag: non-Sportiva road shoes (Mizuno Wave Runners, I think); Baldwyn Chieh's Garmin Forerunner 305; 15k finisher's ribbon-- first finisher's award of the decade, and perhaps my first ribbon ever as an adult; bib

After crossing the virtual (and estimated) 20k finish line, I had to explain to those at the finish that I already finished and I had just done a bonus lap. Then I jogged back the third mile to my car to grab my camera, came back to take the photos posted, and then back again to my car to hurry home and write this blog report before my wife and kids got back from the gym (didn't quite make it.) So over 13 3/4 miles running and jogging this morning. And luckily it never rained.

So fast. Like a flash mob. And so low impact--absolutely no trouble walking down stairs. Wow.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Keeping My Feet Dry With the Wildcat GTX

In case you don't live out here, or haven't noticed in the news, it's been precipitating majorly here in California. Cold, relentless rain for days on end, fierce wind gusts, slippery sloppy mud all over the trails. Time to take a break from running, right?

Wrong! Time to party! After a morning shift earlier this week, it was time to let loose.

I put on a couple of layers on top, one of my shorter shorts (to the horror of my wife later-- but honestly I'd rather have less than more below when I'm getting soaked), and for the feet, my pair of Wildcat GTX. Just like the Wildcats that I wore last year at most of my longer races, but with waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex fabric. Not that I really mind getting my feet soaked on a short 2-hour run (versus wet feet for 40+ hours at last year's McNaughton 150), but it does make things less messy when I return home, or if my wife picks me up somewhere, and let's see, it makes my socks last longer.

Soon I was splashing through puddles with impunity, hopping rocks and logs over streams without fear (and with a few slips)-- all the while keeping my feet dry.

I was having so much fun, that I didn't notice it was already past 5:45 (it was dark to begin with, but it got REALLY dark). I could have taken the smoggy, rush-hour roads home, but, face it, that sucks. So I slowed the pace a little descending the narrow, steep, unmaintained single track closest to my house. This proved an excellent test of the FriXion® AT/ Impact Brake System™, as I misstepped several times, but was able to maintain upright, and not slide off the side of the trail. (This would've doubly sucked since one side drops off rather steeply into bunches of deleafed poison oak.)

But I guess not as bad as when these Pacifica apartments go off the cliff. No traction system can save these, I'm afraid. Do they actually think they can reverse massive erosion of a seaside cliff?

Back to the run-- Cool! (In fact, I went back for another sunset run the next day.) Thanks Sportiva for the shoes, and the rain gods for a deeper base for the Tahoe slopes and to stave off a California drought this summer!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My 2009 Running Year in Review

My 2009 race schedule was the mainly the result of one decision-- my failure to show up in Granite Bay for the Helen Klein Ultras the day after Halloween, 2008.

The focus and overarching goal of my 2008 race season had been on earning points in the 2008 PAUSATF Ultra Grand Prix. I had won the open (30-39) division two years straight. Besides the 50% discount on series race entries, I enjoyed the subtle complexity and sense of greater purpose to racing. I was working for more than overall place in each race, which depends not just on my time, but who else shows up. Since I race often, there was a strategy in which races to register, and how hard to run each one. That Steve Prefontaine adage--“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the giftdoes NOT apply if the week after running 100k, you are going to run another hilly 50 miles, and then the week after that a brutal 50k (like I did in May of 2008). With all due respect to the Pre, no one can run three such long races optimally.

There was a quasi-religious, greater, larger meaning to it all.

My chief nemesis in the competitive masters (40-49) division was Jean Pommier. He had won the master's division the year before. This was our first year racing in the same division. Much faster than I, there would have been no contest between us if it weren't for his greater inconsistency, often due to his asthma.

Jean Pommier, with Norm and Helen Klein, feeling much better after the same race, a year later

Had I shown up at Helen Klein, even on a bad day, I doubt I would have finished after he did (his time, due to feeling ill, was 8:51) and then would have clinched the win. Instead, I had assumed he was going to run a sub-6:15 , so didn't feel spending all Saturday getting drenched in torrential rains was going to be worth the trouble. Especially the day after the day after trick-or-treating late with my kids near my brother's, who goes all out.

my brother, with his red and blue 2008 presidential election-themed garage party for the kids in his neighborhood, including giving out hundreds of hot dogs (Barack-bratts?) and cups of Palin-punch

My fiasco really bummed me out-- I was kicking myself for the next month or two. To get over it and move on, I decided that I would take a break from series races-- to get out of my "PAUSATF rut" as one fellow and well-known ultrarunner had gibed, months before. So I looked for new races. My race season started late-- my first real race wasn't until late March.

I picked McNaughton 150 mile in Illinois as an excuse for a different month to make our yearly trip to my wife's parents' near Chicago. April there are so many races in the Bay Area, including two key PAUSATF ones. I figured I should try the 150 mile distance at least once while taking a race series hiatus. This meant I wouldn't be returning to southern Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine 100 mile in June, so to fill the void I signed up for the Mohican 100 mile later that month as a good excuse to visit my parents in Ohio, where we hadn't been in 4 years.

McNaughton was a great experience, but it sort of messed up my body for the rest of the spring-- in April and May I am normally building up my speed with shorter races-- I found my body pretty beat up and exhausted for weeks, and unable to train hard enough to build that speed.

Mohican was the only race for which my training was anything close to optimal-- not counting the humidity of June in Ohio.

If I had any lingering desire of trying to win PAUSATF back, it was eliminated by another incentive I learned of early last year. I learned I could get comped entries to all Pacific Coast Trail Runs through their partnership with my sponsor, La Sportiva. After running my first trail ultras with them, I had run relatively few PCTR race for the past few years, despite eyeing some of their longer, new ones. It was refreshing to run many this past year, especially Skyline to the Sea, Headlands Hundred, and SF One Day. I threw in two shorter ones in the summer, including my first sub-50k trail race in years.

In August and September, I did my personally designed grand-slam endurothon of the Vineman triathlon followed the next week by the first of three 100-mile trail runs 3 weeks apart. This arose mostly randomly, the result of a casual conversation about Disneyland with my wife, visits by one of my sister-in-law's family and my parents, and my kids' school calendar.

The Station Fire in Southern California cancelled the last of these (Angeles Crest 100), which I replaced the last minute with Pacific Crest Trail Hundred in the Hood the following weekend. The resulting longer gap of four weeks diminished the "that's crazy" punch of my original schedule, but I was feeling pretty tired. After running my first 24-hour race four weeks after that, I thought I should take November off.

Aside from the racing, I did a lot of soul searching about how essential the competitive aspect of the sport is to me. Although I enjoy trying to beat others, I realized that there is a set limit to how fast I can ever run, and fundamentally, I just enjoy running. I felt I needed to put greater emphasis my individual spiritual experience, and the joys of training independent of some upcoming race goal. So part of my late summer-fall schedule was due to this-- obviously I wasn't going to be in the best shape. I was less out to impress with fast times and high place, but just see if I could get through it.


The other big change I made last year was to explore the trails around my house. (When I say "around" I'm describing probably an area with a 15-mile radius.) A large part of this involved running on unmarked and unmapped trails, which exist in abundance here in the local urban-rural interface. I don't know what it was-- maybe I should start taking baby aspirin or something-- occasionally, I would momentarily lose the ability to read, which resulted in finding myself somewhere maybe I wasn't supposed to be, but I was too confused to really know for sure. Without going into more details than that, the benefits of holding off on anti-platelet therapy and subsequent transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) far exceeded the risks. I may have doubled the number of trails on which I can run to and from my house.

Pretty cool for going against medical advice.

Monday, January 18, 2010

La Sportiva Sponsorship -- I'm Renewed for 2010

I was pretty stoked to learn last month that my sponsorship with the La Sportiva was renewed for 2010. I got on the Mountain Running Team randomly through the 2007 Trail Runner Trophy Series (as the randomly selected grand prize winner).

It's been cool this past year running races in the Bay Area wearing the same yellow jerseys as the super-talented Leor Pantilat and Caitlin Smith, and established elite runners such as Karl Meltzer, among a long list. San Franciscan Nathan Yanko, who just clocked a 22:29-hour HURT 100 miler just joined the team this year. So even if I've already become a middle-aged, old fart, on the decline, I will get to look a little faster and more bad-ass than I really am by association.

I'm pretty proud to see an increasing number Sportiva shoes out on the trails during the past two years. The shoes are great. As an added resolution, I will try to "put out" and blog more about Sportiva and associated sponsors' products.

Here's the link to my updated team page.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ultrarunning and Blogging-- the Inherent Problem

Obvious to me for quite some time, but increasingly so as the problem continues to worsen-- blogging about ultrarunning is inherently difficult.

If I have time to blog, then I have time to run. Because of my schedule and a general lack of time to run as much as I'd like, if I have time to run, I need to take advantage of it. For those who don't run ultras, training runs usually take hours, and many ultrarunners get addicted to racing.

The best time for me to get runs in is in morning and early afternoon before swing shifts. Since my work is largely sitting at a computer, typing and clicking (unfortunately most physicians have to spend much more time doing this than at the bedside with patients), I have a further disincentive to blog during potential running time.

Besides, as much as I enjoy keeping this electronic scrapbook-log, running is still more fun than blogging.

Somehow, 2009 was the year that things got really out of hand, and I fell so far behind in my race report blogging, that I barely got half of my reports out, most of them weeks to months late. Most of my pending reports are actually mostly finished, but as further time passes, I am less motivated to finish them-- what's the rush? No one is interested anymore. Also, I have to get ready for the next upcoming race, typically the 2nd or 3rd since finishing the race in question. Then I figure maybe I should just wait until shortly before next year's race, like I did with my Tahoe Rim Trail 2008 report. I'm thinking of doing this with the 6+ unpublished reports from 2009 (andat lesat one from 2008 I started). Then it's winter and we go on ski trips.....

Having two preschool boys, does not help the situation either. When we are all together, I try to make them my priority. They are a handful.

Some blogging New Year's resolutions:
  1. publish more often
  2. write shorter race reports
  3. deadline goals: 1 week for 50k's, 2 for 50 milers, and 3 for 100 milers ( obviously doesn't apply to backlogged reports)
  4. decrease on-line time on facebook to increase blogging time
Okay, this is getting ridiculous-- before my kids wake up from their naps, I need to go out and run!