Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Inaugural Stint as a Pace Group Leader at the Inaugural Oakland Marathon

My last official marathon was San Francisco 2006.  I remember feeling a little irritated at the hassle of having to travel across the bridge downtown just to pick up my bib, timing chip, T-shirt and bag filled with too many coupons and brochures, and I hadn't read Dean Karnazes' book, much less have a copy for him to sign.  At least no bridge to cross, but my younger son was not feeling well-- lower energy and having frequent diarrhea, so my wife took him to IKEA, after dropping me and our older son at the race expo at the Oakland Marriott City Center.
My older son enjoyed the free samples of Cliff and Gu product as much as I always do, as well as spinning the the Geiko wheel to win a flashlight, and other assorted swag.  I checked in with the pace-group leader table, got my 3:20 pace band and blue Geiko shirt that we were to wear to identify us (so no Sportiva shirt like I'd planned which is just as well.  Though the course is hilly, this is not "mountain running.")

my younger stepping on the race shirts
The official marathon shirt is a nice long-sleeve tech fabric made by Green Layer, a Sportiva co-sponsor..

For a moment, I was worried that wearing a Geiko pace team shirt presented a conflict of interest, until I remembered that I am not actually sponsored by my non-Geiko insurance company. It was satisfying understanding how geckos walk on ceilings from an exhibit at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley.

We almost left the expo without my getting my bib number, which wasn't in any of the boxes at the bib pick-up area at registration.

Apparently this guy was given my originally assigned bib #1062.  I have since ID'd him as 31-year-old Tilden Yamamoto of Oakland, chip time 3:44:01, clock time 3:44:24.  Is he using one my credit card numbers or does he just think I'm cool?

After yet another walk around eating free samples, we wandered the streets of Oakland aimlessly, found the Oakland Public Library and read about 10 books.  Then we got picked up my Mommy. We found this Laotian/Southeast Asian restaurant hidden in a residential area of Oakland for dinner.  Not typical pre-marathon carbo-loading, but much more interesting. We tried to order mainly the Laotian stuff, since it's more exotic than Thai food.  It uses more fish paste than fish sauce, so the food is more pungent.

Often when we eat out, I end up drinking lots of water to dilute the salt load, so as expected I woke up in the middle of the night to pee.  Soon after this, I woke up again to hear my 2-year-old crying and screaming.  Turned out he threw up all over his bed, so I was soon fully awake helping to change his clothes, all the bedding, and trying to comfort him and his awakened older brother.

I'd been getting up before 5 most of the past week, so I wasn't too sleepy that morning despite the sleep interruptions.  BART unfortunately doesn't start until 8 on Sundays, 30 minutes past race start, so I drove in, but fortunately found street parking merely a block from the start line area.  Met my co-3:20 pace leader, Phil Grant, and several ultrarunners also pacing-- Mark Gilligan (3:30), Daniel Fabun (3:50), Jennifer Ray (4:40), and Rajeev Patel (4:50).  Saw the pace group signs.  They were larger and heavier than expected, and lacked a stick.  Melissa Ownby (another ultrarunner pacing 4:50 and one of the coordinators for the pace group leaders) told us just to hold them up at the beginning, and we weren't expected to carry them, and most of us (Phil had ours) would dumpe them by the start line.  Mark Gilligan, who ran Diablo Trails 50k a week earlier, figured he should be up to the added challenge and ended up carrying his sign the whole way, a laudable feat that would tire his arms much more than his legs.

Since my car was parked so close, I thought of going back to get my cell phone and take a bunch of photos before the start. However, I decided my time would be better spent waiting in line so I could powder up in a Portalet to avoid a later pacing catastrophe.  I was able to get through the line and finish my business with 5 minutes to spare.  The now consistently fast Mr. Dunlap is there near the start, but as a racer and not as a pacer (he would snap a lot of photos for his blog report, and still finish 5th overall, nice job, Scott).  He happens to know Brad because their kids go to the same daycare.  He shot a photo of us, but either had the settings off or his finger over the lens.

So to out myself, I had on not only my watch, but two Garmin Forerunner 305's, one my friend Baldwyn's, who's been off racing for a while with a complicated knee injury.  The one on my left wrist was set to display 3 fields:  total running time, overall average pace, and distance.  The one on my right, which I would try to hit the lap button each mile, showed lap pace and current pace.  The pace bands were not even mile splits, but adjusted to account for the elevation change, so I felt quite armed to do this pacing thing despite (shame on me) having never practiced running any part of the course.

Phil seemed to be worried about fading at the end, so despite breathing fairly heavily during the first couple of miles together, soon took off at a faster pace, so I would not see him until later on in the race.
(Blue Oakland versus red San Francisco Marathon elevation charts from Scott Dunlap's blog.)

Right before the first relay interchange at mile 6, I saw a girl (in the relay) ahead of me stop and crumple to the ground. No obvious head injury.  "Can I just finish running now?" I think she answered to me and another woman who got to her first.  Airway and breathing intact.  Speaking in phrases, mentating intactly. Young, probably in her early 20's.  Obviously not in cardiac arrest or having an asthma attack.  I shouted back a the crowd of spectators watching from a balcony window to call for any ambulance, but soon noticed on the exit ramp from highway 24 above to the left, there was a police officer who was looking at us and probably doing just that.

Had to make a quick triage decision-- do I stay or move ahead since others checking up on her?  Perhaps I see so many cases of near-syncope in young, healthy people at my job, I was under-alarmed.  She seemed stable,  I didn't witness any mechanism of cervical-spine injury, and there were plenty of people around.  I doubted any chance of death or permanent disability that my hanging out would prevent.  I decided I should fulfill my pacing duties, especially as Phil was nowhere in sight (he actually had meticulously made out his own pacing chart, with more time in the bank to allow for a fade at the end of the race, so maybe was following that), and runners had already asked me what finish time I was pacing.  Booking up the hill to make up for the stop, I saw the ambulance already heading down.

Top of the hill, I talked with a couple of guys, and Kelly Tarkowski (3:28:27, 5th woman overall).  I got her to tell me about running Boston at 5.5 months during her 2nd pregnancy and how she ran until 8.5 months carrying her 1st child. She'll be running her first ultra with Ohlone this May--obviously an extraordinarily tough cookie and as she won't be pregnant, I know she'll do well.

thumbnail from
(as are all the rest-- these are super low-res, so hopefully no one will bust me)

Found myself running faster than the prescribed splits, so pulled over and took a 20 to 30-second leak with there were trees up in the hills, but able to catch up easily. (Several times I would do stuff like run back to get a pack of Gu that I missed, or stop to pour multiple cups into my Ultimate Direction bottle, then request the volunteers please reuse the cups since they were clean.)

Going down the relatively steep 2-mile hill from found it hard to go slower than a 6:45 minute per mile pace, much faster than the pace band was directing.

At the bottom of the hill, I lost Kelly, who later told me pulled something veering to an aid station.  I then ran and talked some with rookie Bob Nachtwey, 32, donning a distinctive pink cap, who would finish 3:21:12, along with his friend whose name I never got.

The half-marathon course merged with the full marathon at their mile 3.5 and our mile16.5.  With three times the runners (3000 versus 1000), and being early in their race, less spread out, these slower half-marathon runners like a large slime mold overwhelmed and trapped us.  Lacking the pacing sign, I had to resort of calling out to ask if people would move out of the way.  I shouted out that one of the lead females (Kathi Enderes, who would finish 4th overall in 3:20:53) was with me to get people to cooperate.  Kathi incidentally had this altered gait, where her right leg swung out in an arc with each stride, but since I never struck up a conversation with her, I couldn't think of a polite way of asking her why, though potentially an inspiring story about her overcoming some injury or congenital problem. Further incidentally, I'm wondering if they will withhold her $200 since I noticed post-race a rule about headsets and MP3's being strictly prohibited if competing for prize money.  (I don't care, but maybe the #6 woman should....what do you all think?)

After 2-3 miles, things spread out enough that the half-marathon crowding became less an issue.  Another rookie marathoner that used my pacing for quite a while, Dorian Eidhin was able to keep with me through all the crowds.  I told him to take off and kick at about mile 23, and he would finish 3:19:41.

I caught up with my co-pacer Phil Grant, before he fell back, and I'm not sure when he finished.  His PR is similar to mine, so he had equal doubts about the small buffer and probably was hurting.

Usually when I look at marathon face photos, my face is more often than not in slight agony, either because I am in agony or just want to appear like I'm working.  In all my photos on for this race,  I'm smiling and looking pretty relaxed.

It was clear that I could run faster, much faster, and during the whole marathon, I had to control my pace both from going too slow or too fast. But in the last miles, I did an interesting thought experiment-- I pretended that I was running 100 kilometers or 50 miles, rather than 25 miles. While imagining I was doing 50 miles total, the pace felt doable, but I knew it would get tough. For the 100 km thought experiment, it felt too fast.  I've run enough ultras, that both my body and mind knew instinctively what feels right (or wrong). In a similar manner, I feel tired and sleepy earlier if I need to get a couple of hours of sleep before I work an overnight shift--unconsciously, I know what's coming and adjust.

So I was really hoping to come in RIGHT AT 3 hours 20 minutes, or 3:19:59, but two problems:

First, from sweat and rubbing against my wrist-GPS device, I couldn't read the seconds column of my last several mile splits (the left column is the prescribed split for each mile, the right the cumulative split).  Next time need to wear two and maybe carry one in my pocket.

Second, either the 25 or 26 or both mile markers were misplaced, because even though I decided to go ahead and run at a sub 7:30 pace for the last 1.2 miles, I finished 11 seconds past 3:20.  I probably could've done a sprint to make it but it was too late by the time I saw the clock.
Me I think approaching the finish.

It was pretty weird to finish not gasping for breath, or feeling the intense burn.  Just some joint aching from all the pavement pounding.  In fact, I felt I could do the whole course again, and if it weren't for my car and family, would have considered running home, as Ruth Anderson is in three weeks and I haven't run longer than 50k all year.  Indeed a novel and weird post-marathon sensation.  Still, I was sore enough that I wanted the free massage, but managed to not understand how the line worked.  Hit the spot, thanks masseuse whos name I forgot!

Saw Mark Gilligan on the lawn and would've liked to hang out, but our younger son's late night vomiting precluded my wife's working out at the our gym with the included free daycare.  So I had to return home and relieve her of hanging with the kids.  I managed to forget near which numbered street  intersecting Franklin I was parked, so it took me a while to find my car, then to took more time to get out of Oakland since I initially headed toward a (damn runners!) closed-off street and had to detour.  :)

So, as much as I missed running Lake Sonoma 50 miler this year (and want to run it again without hitting the wall), I'm thinking I'll want to do this pacing thing again. Several of us having already giving feedback that we need signs to hold by a stick in our hands, and signs to stick on our backs with our goal finish times.  Regardless, the spectators and crowds rocked (beat those in San Francisco, hands down)!  Oaktown rocks!

Another medal into the drawer!
results (though you won't get a full list of everyone)
official Oakland Running Festival website

addendum, 6/28/10
I was surprised last month to receive this nice age group award in the male.  Sweet!

list of award winners

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kettle Moraine Dream & Wet Morning Commute

Pacing the Oakland Marathon was fun!  Enough observations worth reading--coming soon. Not sure if the following is too, but I felt the urge to write it down a couple of days ago so...

Looking for my plastic crates I was going to use as drop bags at the Kettle Moraine 100 mile, but they are all over the house, being used to store my kids toys, old clothes, food.  I rapidly empty them of the offending non-running items, stuff them with my race supplies, then carry them out to the race start, tables lining lush wet grass.  Co-RD Timo's wife, Ann Heaslett is out on the table, all smiles,

tells me the race started at 8 so I had 30 minutes.  Then I notice that I didn't have my running shoes.  Where were they?  I start walking out of the crowd to look, then RD Timo (Tim Yanacheck) announces the race is going to start in a few minutes.  Shit!  It's not even 8.  I don't know where my shoes are!  Then my phone rings and one my coworkers informs me that someone called in sick, and I'm on call, so I have to work the 8-5 ED shift.  Fuck me!  I work the shift (only in a dream does it go by so quickly), and ask Timo if I can get credit for starting so late.  He just smiles--not sure what that means.  Whatever, I want to get going.  I'm still barefoot, and am EXTREMELY anxious to start running, given that I am at least 5-6 hours behind the next-to-last runner.  As I do multiple times during my ED shifts, I have to make a quick, crucial decision.  I decide to run the race barefoot-- isn't that the trendy thing to do now?  Luckily, it had been raining for a few days, so the ground is muddy and soft.  Before I'm out of the start area, I see last year's winner and new course record holder Zach Gingerich (with whom I tried to chat two years ago at around mile 70, but he was not having a great day then).  He is heading back in at mile 62.  I ask him if the trail was soft and smotth, or bumpy and hard, but he is in the zone, running too hard, to answer as we pass each other.  Luckily not too many rocks, so no bleeding, but around mile 30 or 40 I get REALLY sleepy, and despite my desire to catch up with the slowest runner, I have to find a place to sleep.  There's a small house in Athens I stayed at while travelling with this random woman I hooked up with in Turkey 18 years ago and I fondly reminisce about our short time together until we parted ways in Greece, while simultaneously feeling stressed about delaying my catch-up with everyone else, but face down in a slightly musty pillow, I soon fall asleep...

only to wake up to my radio alarm at 4:55.  I change into a long sleeve tech race shwag shirt, shorts, use the bathroom, throw on my pack with my work scrubs, lunch, magazine and other supplies (the thing somedays weighs almost 5 pounds.  I head out of the house, noticing a light sprinkle, but soon realize it's not just drizzling, it's raining and I'm soaked, stupid for actually looking at Yahoo weather the night before--has no connection with the real weather forecast.  I had planned on running a 7:40 minutes mile pace as feel for the marathon this Sunday, but I'm too cold to want to hold back.  I'm completely drenched 27 minutes later bounding up the stairs to barely catch the earlier train.  Luckily I don't freeze on the BART.  The 6 a.m. doc was lucky, had only seen one patient, and I jinx the whole place and we are running around working our asses way behind all shift.  I leave 75 minutes late, run home, finally do that 7:40 minute-mile pacing practice run. When I upload the run from my Garmin Forerunner, it mysteriously malfunctions, so like a dream and my fuzzy mental state, I wonder if it ever happened.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Excesses of Way Too Cool 50k

Even though he now runs a lot of short non-trail stuff, one could argue that Scott Dunlap is like the Bill Gates of ultra trail running blogging. In a recent post, he alluded to a sex-related shoulder injury, which allows me to allude to this subject (which, like gory violence and more filthy and shocking forms of profanity, I have avoided until now to keep my PG-13 rating).

As part of my taper for Way Too Cool 50k (last Saturday, March 13th), I ran less and cleaned the house more. Even though by normal standards, our garage is a disorganized, cluttered mess, I improved it so much that she was ecstatically impressed and appreciative. I have been trying to make my wife love me more through all my ultra trail running, sometimes bringing home "the bacon"-- little plaques and other trinkets for finishing, but it never seems to do anything. But last week I tidy up the garage and throw out a few things, grab a bunch of 70% sustainably grown flowers from Trader Joe's (at least that's what the package said) and she's SO ready for me.

Way Too Late

But by the time the kids are down it's past 9:30 and I have to get up before 4 and I actually want to run my best so opt for sleep. (Yeah, that's it--what were you expecting?)

Way Too Early

Having done this for Jed Smith 50k last month, I'm able to perfectly time my drive over to Pleasanton arriving seconds before my Quicksilver teammates coming from San Jose. The only glitch leaving the house was leaving my camera, so I will have to take photos for this blog with my cell phone.

I should probably mention that I'm not nearly as sleepy and tired as I could have been, had it not been for Steve here (photo taken from his facebook account without his permission), who generously agreed to switch shifts so I could get out of the 4 pm to 2 am shift I was originally scheduled for . Thanks again, man! If you ever come to our emergency department, maybe ask to be seen by Dr. Steve rather than by me.

So my carpool teammates are Jean Pommier in his car with Pierre-Yves Couteau and Adam Blum. The more, the merrier, and we enjoy talking 100% running crap all the way up, including gossip everyone except me knew about.

Three years earlier, I drove up with Joe Swenson and we arrived pretty late, having to park 3/4 a mile down the road. This year, we're early enough that we get to park in the parking lot. This is both convenient and lifesaving because it's...

Way Too Cold

Okay, it hadn't just snowed, this probably fell off someone's car, but the point here is the snow is not melting.

I get my race packet wearing four layers. Except for cold-loving Pierre, we spend much of the 85 minutes until race start hanging out in the car. In a race this big there's tons of people I know and can greet walking around. I wish La Sportiva teammate Leor Pantilat the best.

Reiterating his facebook message to me earlier in the week, he makes clear that Max King is in a tier WAY above him, and that he has NO chance of beating him or winning. Leor's race report

get to meet in person for the first time. Ultrarunning god Karl Meltzer (and Sportiva teammate and ultrarunning god) is parked two spaces from our car, having stayed with his wife and dog in Truckee last night. He didn't have time to post odds for today's race on his blog, having just won Coyote Two Moon the last weekend only 2 hours slower than last year, despite the snow storm.

me, Karl, Pierre (photo by Jean Pommier)

The other one is John Nguyen, the "rogue" runner fined last month by the irrationally motivated San Jose Park Rangernazis about which I wrote a quick post. He spots me after I leave the Port-a-let, a place to which I generally don't bring my camera or cell phone lest I drop it in the hole, and then I couldn't find John later, so no photo. His fine was over $300, which may seem exorbitant, but will surely help pay for mowing and gasoline expenses in the park on days it isn't technically open because of lack of money, but there will nonetheless be rangers on payroll patrolling it on those days to keep everyone safe and fine(d).

Way Too Muddy

Until last year, the course was too short, so I experience for my first time the beginning stretch on pavement goes out for about two miles and then backtracks on the trail before resuming the usual course. At first I'm feeling impervious in my Wildcat GTX. I avoid puddles not because I'm scared of getting my feet soaked, but simply for better traction. An hour into the race, like everyone else who actually cared about getting their feet wet, I realize it's all the same, since the stream crossings often went over the tops of the shoes. One around the halfway point is even up to our knees.

My slickest transition is at the first aid station, Highway 9, stocked with tons of volunteers ready for the huge onslaught of runners. Daniel Fabun is looking for me, fills my bottle, and I'm out. Thanks (and all the volunteers). Good to see Norm and Helen Klein at mile 27, since I didn't do any of their races last year.

So three years ago, I finished 16th overall in 4:06:42, unchicked. This despite having sprained my ankle around the halfway point which caused me to lose a few minutes as I hobbled down the fairly steep hill, wondering if my ankle was too strained to finish, and then fighting spasming in my calves during the last 7 or 8 miles. So I figured assuming the same fitness level, I should finish 2010's race in about 4:15 since the course was lengthened to make a real 50k. This year I finish 35th overall, 4:35:35, double chicked, 11th just in my age division. The mud may account for some the extra 20 minutes, but NOT the drop in 19 places. Or has the field grown that much thicker?

Here's a list of the people I remember running or talking with for any amount of time-- note that they most finished up to 13 places ahead of me, so others passed me more than I passed others. I lost a lot of time on the uphills, which is weird since they usually isn't the case.

Zach Landman (26th, 4:26)-- during the crowded rush at the beginning, he studies at my medical alma mater, talked about his research proposal to do at Tahoe Rim Trail in July.

Zach and I maybe talking medical crap pre-race, photo by Rick Gaston

Kevin Swisher (22nd, 4:22)
Ron Gutierrez (DNF'd-- something must've happened)

Beverly Anderson-Abbs, flanked by husband Alan and Joe Palubeski (2nd woman, 30th overall, 4:29)--I knew she had just PR'd and outright won in 6:15 the Pony Express 50 mile two weeks earlier

Mark Murray (29th, 4:28) buzzed past me
Benjamen Ewers (31st, 4:29)-- on the return, more of an Ironman guy, doing this to train for Utah, which has a fairly hilly run
Pierre Yves-Couteau (32nd, 4:30 )-- Rho/Quicksilver teammate. left me going up the big hill at mile 26ish on the return. Here getting massaged post-race by Jeffery Johnston, of Monsters of Massage, in Newcastle (near Auburn), before he did me (thanks, Jeff!)

Jean Pommier (73rd, 4:58)-- also Rho/Quicksilver teammate. suffering from an asthma attack, so we didn't talk on the trail when I passed him. his report.
Graham Cooper (33rd, 4:33)-- buzzed past me around mile 28. not doing States, but that Utah Ironman also.

Eric Johnson (34th, 4:35:09)-- we traded places a few times, but I couldn't match his final kick at the end, but in retrospect, just as well. Like what's 34th place? double St. Patricks? 7 x 5 is a cooler number than 17 x 2, and better matches the 35 minutes and 35 seconds over the 4 hours it took me to finish.

Cool Off
I'm nervous Adam is going to have a bad day and then I'll be late getting home, but he finishes in 5 1/2 hours.

Adam on trail, photo by Holly Harris

We all have time to socialize a bit. I find a hose and wash the mud on my legs and shoes. Tim Ruffino's veggie soup hit the spot.

Since I ran it three years earlier, I noticed new RD Julie Fingar really played up the frog theme for the race--cute, fun, and interesting. Big blow-up frog...

photo by Jean Pommier

...frog paraphernalia everywhere.

photo by Jean Pommier

And of course more frogs on the long-sleeve T and very cool Moeben sleeves we got as swag.

I grab two frog cupcakes for my kids and make a mental note not to forget I put them in Adam's box of donuts in the car.

Jean learns from his masseur about this arthritis relief gel for horses they sell at this horse supply store in "downtown" Cool, so we stop by on the way out. Jean will now be running like a racehorse.

Picking Up the Pace Post-Race

To prevent from getting motion-sick on the curvy 5 miles to Auburn, I volunteer to drive and end up driving almost 90 minutes until the 680 turn-off when Pierre takes over. The flow of traffic is luckily usually 70-75, so I can make decent time. I end up getting home at 4:50 pm, take this super-quick shower, dress, then run to the car as our babysitter arrives at 5. Sprint work. We arrive at the BART station doubtful we made the train and I drop off my high-heeled wife and go park the car, only to find that I gave to the key to her when I handed her the case with my cell phone. I would just leave it unlocked but there's a printer in the trunk we are donating to our kids' future school tomorrow, and I think someone might actually steal it.

I SPRINT up to the platform, to see her smiling: "We made it by 3 minutes." I grab the key from her purse, run down the steps out to the parking lot, lock the door, back in and up. So add another third of a mile, sprinted, to the day's running total.

Way Too Over-The-Top

Leaving my wife alone with the kids all day so I can run erases all political capital I had accrued through the garage cleaning, so I am more than happy to treat her to this extravagant 9-course meal at this up-scale restaurant.

My wife realizes that I give her jewels she can eat. It's actually 18 courses since I get, on the server's suggestion, the alternate choice to everything my wife picks. I make the mistake of ordering the wine pairing; my wife doesn't help me that much with the wines, which will make me hungover the next day.


The meal takes over 5 hours to finish.

We get home at half past midnight, our babysitter is totally dressed up and ready for her delayed night out. I then realize that it's daylights savings time. While I enjoy the extra hour of daylight, I realize I'm screwed since I'm watching the kids all morning and then have to work from 2 pm to midnight. (Little do I realize that I will feel sleepy and tired for a whole week due to being way too busy, until the following Sunday morning (the 21st) when I finally finish this report.)

Garmin Connect map of my run
split times (though the finish rank doesn't make sense to me)

other reports and photos:
Rod Bien (7th overall)
Auburn Journal recap

with John Souza, with whom I'd run in Modesto a couple weeks prior

Amazingly, Rick Gaston had never run this race. Here with his new Tamalpa Running Club jersey. Rick's race report

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Wife Gets My Ass Moving and the House Cleaned

All I wanted to do when I got home was sleep. Since Way Too Cool last Saturday, in addition to my shifts in the ED, my time had been filled with meetings and appointments to go to, mostly related to my kids present and future schools. I was running an extended cumulative sleep debt-- sleeping more than a few hours every night, but never enough to make up for missing REM. I was long due for at least a power nap.

So I got home this afternoon, hurting from the 4 a.m. awakening due to my earplugs falling out in the creaky call room bed before my 6 a.m. shift, to find the van with the Oakland Raiders seats covers was in the driveway-- the cleaning ladies! Mierda! So much for nap. The whole house was filled with the caustic odor of ammonia floor cleaner, and the loud whir of vacuum cleaners heard everywhere. I had to say "excuse me" in Spanish multiple times just to make it to the kitchen . Why couldn't my wife ask what day is best aside from giving me advance notice? I texted my wife a sarcastic "thank you for the heads up." Sometimes I'll spend some precious time cleaning a nasty sink or toilet, only to find out they came and did the whole house the next day.

I realized they weren't close to done, and every minute in the loud din was making my head hurt. I could lament the suckiness of the situation, but decided to turn it on its head. Screw it. Trail run until I pick up the kids. I drove to the street in front of their preschool, grabbed my bottle and headed out. Headache and malaise eventually turned to the mild euphoria of hard effortful breathing compounded with sleep deprivation. Deluded and half delirious, I convinced myself: My wife did this on purpose. She knew I needed the workout. She really does want me to make her proud of me through my running. And she won't let me get soft on her.....

She's become my new trainer.

After an honest 2 hours slopping mud and cowcrap on my tired legs, my kids and I spent an hour at the doggie park with the rattie playground near our house, dehydrated, hungry and sore. After my kids ran around for their own workout, we returned home to the excellent fish and asparagus dinner my loving had prepared. I knew I hadn't let myself-- or her-- down.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Way Too Cool Report by Master's Winner Gary Gellin

Just in time for this past Saturday's Way Too Cool 50k, our Quicksilver rhomobile team managed officially to recruit the very talented Gary Gellin, who in the last two years has set nine course records in sub-marathon-distance Pacific Coast Trail Runs. Placing 4th overall in a large, highly competitive race such as Cool is quite an accomplishment, and especially for someone over 40 racing in only his 2nd ultra.

Gary graciously agreed to let me post his account on this blog as a guest. Thanks!-- I'm a much slower over-40 runner who never saw any of the leaders after the starting buzzer went off. (And much of my own pending report focuses on the pre and post-race stuff, so here's some action-packed trail narrative.)


After four months of double the training volume I'd ever done in the past, I achieved my first goal of the year - 1st Master and 4th Overall at the Way Too Cool 50k. WTC has a reputation for attracting the most competitive field for a 50k trail race on the national calendar and is part of the Ultra Grand Prix for the local region of USA Track and Field. I joined the Quicksilver Running Club for this and other ultramarathon events for 2010, while continuing to run for the Asics Aggie team for cross-country and road events.

With only one 50k under my belt (Skyline to the Sea in 2008), I thought I'd race it like a 35k effort and then fight the closing miles. It worked out, but I'm still not sure that was the right thing to do. It was an incredible test of perseverence. Leor Pantilat, Geoff Roes, and Max King were out of sight by mile 3. Leor had the incredible guts to take off right from the gun, Max King be damned! (Max King, of course, is a world-class runner for road and cross-country, former Olympian, and hands-down favorite for just about any trail race he shows up at.)

Gary (right) with Max King (left) after the race, photo by Jean Pommier

I ran in the second group with the Anderson brothers (Andy from Truckee and John from Boulder) until I attacked the rough descent to Hwy 49 at mile 6.5 and ran solo from there. I hammered out the net downhill, initial 10 miles in 63 minutes and then settled in to a hard tempo as best I could.

After mile 21.7, there is a 5 mile, two-way traffic section on single track - and of course, the faster you run, the more traffic there is on the way back. Most of the mid-pack runners are extremely gracious and step off the trail-- except for one headphone-wearing woman hiding in the back of a train of six runners. After a scream and a mild body slam into the air, we were both quickly on our respective paths.

Crossing the waist deep, ice cold creek at mile 20 made my calves pretty twitchy for the rest of the race and fatigue set in big time with 5 miles to go. Miraculously, no one caught me. In fact, "I'm going to get caught" was my mantra for the last hour. The last 4.5 miles are terrible - 1000 feet or more of climbing with slick, muddy, rough trails for most of it. I found out later that my gap to Leor the last 9 miles only grew by 2 minutes, rather than the standard 30+ seconds per mile, so I felt good about that. The course was pretty slow this year due to it having had rained for 12 hours straight the day before, and Leor attests that it sapped him of more energy this year as compared to last.

I have new respect for that distance, and I think that Max King might also. Max blew sky high with 5 miles to go. After having caught Leor at mile 15, Max only had a one minute lead on Leor 2-1/2 hours in to the race, cracked on the climb to Goat Hill at mile 26, and was caught and dropped by Leor. The 2009 Ultrarunner of the Year, Alaskan Geoff Roes had been 3 minutes behind Leor at the mile 21.7 aid station, and then breezed in to the lead position with less than 4 miles to go - only to make a wrong turn and lose roughly 10 minutes! So Leor was crowned the repeat champion and was not far off his own course record despite the tough conditions.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Chillin' Before Cool

I think I'm supposed to be looking over our tax packet before we send it to our tax guy, but thought I'd make a quick post. Amazing the errands and stuff around the house I can get done when I'm off AND I have a compelling reason not to go running all day. Today's reason not to run is my race tomorrow, and not the fact it's raining all day.

Finally replaced the broken seat (left) of my son's cheap-ass Lightning McQueen bicycle Santa got him from Target.

We're expecting either 1/2 or a full inch depending on how I interpret the ambiguous weather forecast. (Is the half inch expected overnight the same as, or in addition to, the half inch expected today?) Have decided to run my first race not with my Raptors, but instead with my Wildcat GTXs, as the course was probably already muddy enough to begin with. It'll be cold when we start, 36F, only getting up to 47F by my expected finish around 12:30. Gloves also packed.

Have to wake up by 4:15 tomorrow morning to drive out to Pleasanton and carpool with three of my Quicksilver teammates. Ugh. Luckily I had switched out of my 4 pm to 2 am shift I was originally scheduled to work yesterday (thanks, Steve!)

I got permission to run with the black Rho singlet for a couple trail races in the PAUSATF Ultra Grand Prix series. I can give them some points, and depending on how I do, I can get some partial entry fees refunded. Will have the singlet over a long sleeve shirt made by Greenlayer Sports, which has replaced Sugoi as the maker of the jerseys for the La Sportiva Mountain Running Team.

Different look-- green mixed in, so coincidentally matches the colors of my high school and my kids' future elementary school and probable high school.

This may be the last time I run Cool in a while. Bad timing with the beginning of T-ball season (I'm missing my son's first game), and around my wife's birthday (I'm on a strict deadline to get back so I can make dinner). I will have to run a respectable race (in this sort of thick field, will be lucky to place top 20) to restore family honor.....

Sunday, March 7, 2010

2nd Thoughts and Not Quite 2nd at the 2nd Second Saratoga Fat Ass 50k

The 2nd weekend of February I worked four straight overnights. The 4th weekend was our last family ski trip of the winter. So the 3rd weekend of the month was my only other February opportunity other than Jed Smith to get some extended speed work in. Luckily this 3rd Saturday was the date Keith Blom (with whom I ran a few miles last December at the extremely informal Garin Fat Ass) set for the 2nd annual running of the Second Saratoga Fat Ass (50k), named Second Saratoga to differentiate it from the original Saratoga Fat Ass, which incidentally is generally believed to be the original coining of the term "fat ass" for a fat-ass ultra run held anywhere.


Coincidentally, our friends who live near San Jose with sons the same ages as ours were having a birthday party for their older that same day. They had invited us to spend the night before, which allowed me a much shorter commute to the event.

Somehow, I felt that to be a good father, I should really try to make it to the party at Pump It Up (one of those bouncy house places) at 10:30. So when Keith forwarded me an email from Toshikazu Hosaka, asking if I wanted to join him to break the course record set at last year's inaugural race, I answered in the affirmative, but was planning on starting at 5 or 5:30 a.m. To my suprise, he was up for it.

Earlier in the week, I emailed our friends to see if we could still stay the night. Yes, but since her sister was bringing her family from LA, we would be sleeping in the living room. Both my wife and I balked, and so said we'd just go to the party from our house. Which meant I would have to wake up at 3:30 or something. But I was too busy to think about how painful this would be.

Thursday I worked 5 hours at home and then an ED shift from 1:30 to midnight, got hammered so didn't leave the hospital until 1 a.m., and went to bed around 2:30. The next day I was off, but my wife was coordinating volunteers for the landscaping project for the public charter elementary school we helped found. Hardly anyone had signed up for Friday, so I felt especially obligated to go over to the school to spread compost and then dig trenches with a pick axe and trench shovel for the irrigation system.

the easier job of raking compost

Wow, that was hard work, definitely counted as cross training. During the day, our friends called to say her sister came down with a really bad flu, so we could stay in the guest room.

We showered, hastily packed, picked up the kids and drove down in two cars, since I knew I might not finish running before the party started. Our friends ordered this huge Vietnamese meal for us and some of their family. I was starving, so ate everything without worrying about possible next day implications.

Next thing you know, it's 8:30 p.m., none of our kids were close to going to bed, and I'm past exhausted from too much mental and physical work and not enough sleep.

2nd Thoughts About My Earlier Proposed Early Start Time-- I Wuss Out Via Texting

Record of our texts sent over the course of an hour, including after I went to bed (note, only Toshi's texts are still in my phone, so I have to make up what I texted him)

Me: So we still on for early start? 5-530ish?

Toshi: Yup. Still up for it? I'll b at the parking lot by 5:30am. It'll b foggy in the mtns.

Me: Sounds good. Will also be dark.

Toshi: No prob- i know half the course!

Me (later noting further delay to getting kids down due to excitement of sleeping over at our friends, compounded by my older son getting a bloody nose, and luckily having a good other excuse to push the time back): Hey, Keith emailed me earlier, officially no parking before 6, maybe start after?

Toshi: No prob. Let's start @615. I don't wanna get a ticket either.

Me (listening to my kids fight about who was on which pillow in the guest bedroom in which my whole family was going to sleep, more than an hour past their usual bedtime, sort of feeling that I should've pushed the time back farther, hoping he wasn't asleep yet): Sorry, do u mind later? like 7 or 8? i'm cleared by my wife to miss party.

Toshi (obviously all ready to go): R u still at castro valley? Then, 8 is fine. But if u r in san jose, let's start @ 7am

Me (relieved, though a little embarrassed): in Sunnyvale, so cool, thanks, will try to be there by 7 as long as i dont get lost.

Toshi: K. I'll be there before 7

I luckily woke up to pee off some of the salt load in the middle of the night, and moved to the couch, so when my cell alarm went off, it only woke up me and not the rest of my family. The google maps kept me off I-85 and had me take a more direct route going through winding, sometimes one-lane roads to the start. I stopped twice to redirect and check my bearing, but made it to the parking lot at Saratoga Gap, where highways 9 and 35 intersect, at 6:55, right before Toshi pulled up. One other runner is waiting in his car before us, Roger Jensen.

When I asked, Roger told me he left Granite Bay at 3:30 a.m. (for those not familiar with California, east of Sacramento, where Norm Klein's races begin and end), adding to my realization I am a wuss.

me and Toshi pre-fat-ass

The Run

The course is basically three out-and-back partial loops of about 10 miles each from the parking lot, the same one at which PCTR's Skyline to the Sea 50k starts. Mostly downhill going out and back uphill returning.

Loop 1, which had us go south, was technical at times--lots of fallen branches and trees, a few rocks to scramble over. But much of this course was a sweet, soft surface.

2009 photo by Luis Velasquez

I had worn my Wildcat GTX's since I thought there might be some streams to cross, but there were plenty of these bridges.

We started running and Toshi went out fast, running aggressively on the uphills too. I was quickly out of breath, and had to hint to him that I was not going to be able sustain the pace. I'm not sure how I convinced him to slow down. He backed off a little, and I convinced him even if he felt like he was holding back, it would probably give him a better time overall. We talked about a lot of stuff, including his bicycle accident in Napa last spring, when this driver hit him at about 50 mph, fracturing his clavicle, a few ribs and and messing up his ear enough that he needed plastic surgery to fix it, and after which he came back at Diablo 25k a few weeks later (finishing a few minutes faster than I.) He not only wanted to break last year's winning time of 5:26, but finish under 5 hours.

Fortunately for me, Toshi did his homework. I had printed up the maps, turnsheets and written descriptions of each loop, but he had actually studied them, and had run much of the course.

I was running so hard, I never got a chance to eat anything. On the way back, we saw a majority of the other runners, coming down. We got back to the parking lot in just under 1:49, which, assuming even loop times, translated to a 5:30 time overall. I apologized that I was slow.

my aid station, and overnight luggage

Loop 2 started down the Skyline to Sea trail before turning off left and south towards the campground we visited loop 1. The fog cleared at the lower elevations and we occasionally got to enjoy the beautiful vista below to the right.

2009 photo by Luis Velasquez

This loop I forced myself to down a gel, lest I bonk. I tried to go faster so as not to slow Toshi down so much, so am able to talk less. The last two miles, Toshi took off ahead of me and got to the parking lot 2-3 minutes before me.

As I'd suggested to him earlier, I made clear to Toshi that he should go ahead and hammer the third and final loop, so he took off as I was starting to refill my bottle. This time I had to navigate myself, which required only a few brief stops consulting the map and turnsheet. I tried to push the pace enough so that I was breathing hard. The loop ended up being about 2 miles shorter than the first two. With 1.7 miles back to the finish, I noticed I had about 15 minutes to make it in 5 hours. I thought I had a fair cushion until this short 1/2 mile uphill section that I hadn't noticed on the outbound when it was a downhill section. Funny how that works.

Toshi, who really accelerated the last loop I set him free, finished in 4:46:02, greeted me as I came in, with less than a minute to spare. I was happy I made 5 hours. I was feeling soreness in my entire back and other upper body soreness from all that manual labor yesterday, but nothing debilitating. And despite eating all that meat and veggies at dinner, no GI issues!

Since we started earlier and it's a small, informal fat ass, no continual stream of runners coming in after us, though we saw these two after they got lost on their 1st loop.

Dennis Connor and Jim Magill, after doing some bonus miles

So, missed the bouncy-house party, but timed it so both my wife and I got home at the exact same time.

As it turns out, Pierre-Yves Couteau, who won last year, finished in 4:42:39, so still has the course record. Toshi and I both saw him during the 1st and 3rd loop, but since he started at a different time, it was hard to gauge how fast he was going. Great job!

Thanks to Keith for putting this on; Toshi for the company, pace pushing and putting up with my wussy delays; my friends for feeding me; and my wife for letting me do two last month.

results ( but remember, this is NOT a race! )
Second Saratoga Fat Ass website

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Almost Done Planning My 2010 Race Schedule

Earlier this year I wrote a facebook status update that I was vacillating between my usual urge to run lots of races and not really caring to run organized races at all.

So, I guess I got over that.

But as late as early March I still have a few decisions to make. So to think out loud on-line.....

Not feeling really inclined, against bad odds, to win my age division in the PAUSATF Ultra Grand Prix back, so though I'll be racing for Adam Blum's Quicksilver Team, I'll only be running a few series races. PCTR runs won't again be fully comped for the Mountain Running Team this year; the 20% is still nice, but not enough to sway my decision making too much. (I found last year it was very fun and easy to sign up for a race when it was free.) :)

I have enough new 100 milers I want to do, so I think we're going to have another season with lots of them. Even if things don't go perfectly, and I don't place as highly as I feel I should or would like, they always give me a substantial feeling of accomplishment. They are memorable maybe in proportion to how long they take to finish. Plus, since I'm travelling to a lot of them, I'll feel like I'll again be a good La Sportiva ambassador. I really put that yellow jersey out there these last two years, and was in most of my races the sole Mountain Running Team representative.

Jed Smith 50k happened. It didn't go as well as it could've, but I did the best I could.

The 2nd running of the 2nd Saratoga Fat Ass hosted by Keith Blom 3rd weekend this month, also happened.

Got into Way Too Cool 50k, 2nd Saturday of March. A great race, very exciting with the always deep field, but for a while I was sort of equivocal. After making the lottery, I didn't bother to pay, but based on insider information that I might be doing some BIG UNNAMED RACE in late June that I still haven't done yet, figured I should sign up since Cool includes portion of Western States that I would be running in the dark. So I paid my Cool fee literally at the last possible hour. Since then, found out that the the BIG RACE in June was once again happening without me. Emailed RD Julie Fingar and asked the transfer/refund policy, and THERE ARE NO TRANSFERS, ROLLOVERS OR REFUNDS (of the entry fee which is now $95). Uh, guess I'll just run it. Incidentally, when I submitted my schedule requests, I did ask for no evening shift on Friday night, but forgot to also request no late shifts Thursday night, and got scheduled to work 4pm to 2am, which is not conducive to optimizing one's physical and mental readiness given how early I have to get up Saturday. (If you don't believe me, try it.)

Offered to pace the inaugural Oakland Marathon, last weekend of March. Somehow I ended up on the 3:20 pace group list. The race is hilly. Sure I should be able to belt out a 3:20 even with a hilly course, but I'm supposed to be comfortable running that time even if I have a bad day, and of course I'm supposed to be giving lots of verbal encouragement to my pace group while holding one of those signs with the goal time the whole way. I told the pace group coordinator I thought my buffer was a bit thin (as some comparisons, Mark Gilligan is doing 3:30, Daniel Fabun 3:50), but apparently they are short of leaders for the faster pace groups. There is another pace group leader assigned, but I would feel bad and lame if I couldn't keep up. So, let's not have a bad day.

As a result of the above two, am going to have to pass on The Mount Diablo Trails Challenge 50k the 3rd weekend of March, which happened to be the only race I won last year. Feel bad-- beautiful point-to-point course for a great cause.

April-- Was going to do towards PCTR's Diablo 50 miler on Saturday the 18th (which I missed the last two years), but it was recently cancelled due to state budget cuts. Big bummer. American River 50 out because returning from a vacation and although I CAN afford the $145 to register now, I'd rather not. Well, at least no guilt for sitting out of Ruth Anderson again. I could do PCTR's point-to-point Skyline to the Sea 50k again, but I need something longer than 50k, and though S2S is trail, it's mostly downhill. I will do enough hills in my training.

Early last December, I got into Masanutten (100 mile) in mid-May via its novel and delightedly transparent lottery system, based on the Dow Jones average at 4 pm lottery day. My sister lives a couple hours away, and popped out a baby girl last fall, so we figured we should visit them before my niece ceases to be an infant. Felt a little guilty about being gone Friday afternoon to (hopefully) no later than Sunday morning, but have decided I need to just do this and get over it. (I have been so far unsuccessful in convincing my sister to do a weekend trip to the Appalachians.) Will be underprepared for hills and for the technical course. And let's hope there are no thunderstorms, as I am not a big fan of lightning.

Because of this, I'm almost definitely NOT running the only two PAUSATF races I did run last year-- Quicksilver 50 mile the weekend prior (ending a 3-year streak) and Ohlone 50k the weekend after (ending a 6-year streak). Didn't get into Miwok 2 weeks prior, probably not a bad thing if I want any chance of running MMT competitively.

June -- Considered going back to Kettle Moraine, but doing the rerouted San Diego 100 instead allows us a Southern Cal vacation to Legoland and I get an extra week (4 total) to recover from MMT.

July -- Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) . I signed up for the 50 miler just in time before it filled earlier this month, knowing I can upgrade to the 100. I got really sick that last time I did the 100, the first year it was offered. I guess it takes 4 years to forgot how sick and difficult it was for me to sign up again. Should I upgrade to the 100? I've avoided all other high-elevation races over 50 miles since then, so I feel like I need to confront this and find out if I capable of something better than finishing dead last. Oh, and by the way, they have to change the course this year, so it will be much harder. The contingency is family coordination, since I don't expect my family to hang out at Tahoe or at home while I'm gone for more than 2 days.

August -- unless the rains this winter have completely washed away the Angeles Crest (AC) course, I'm scheduled for my deferred entry from last year's cancelled race the last weekend of August. Doing a Headlands 50 mile the first weekend would fit the gap between TRT and AC perfectly (3 weeks after TRT and 3 week before AC) but unfortunately for me, PCTR has split the 50 and 100 mile versions, doing the shorter distance the same weekend as Tahoe in July and the longer version the first weekend of August.

I COULD do the 100 miler Headlands, and convince myself that since I won't be running Tahoe or AC fast due to the altitude, I can handle this three 100-milers in three weeks thing. I'm tempted to be stupid. Should I sign up for Headlands Hundred? To give myself some sanity credit, I'm not considering repeated Vineman the weekend before.

I think Monica Scholz is running a 100 miler every weekend one is being held, totally 30 this year. Oh, what the heck...

September -- maybe take a break. Pine to Palm up in southern Oregon looks awesome, and close enough to drive to with my family, but I think I've got enough 100 milers and it's only 3 weeks after AC. Same for the resurrected Rio del Lago. Stevens Creek 50k got moved to August.
Would consider the inaugural brutal looking DRTE 100, but have a high school reunion that 1st weekend of October. After skipping Firetrails two straight years, feel I should do it this year, even though I can run those trails anytime. Last year I went to Chabot and took photos of some people finishing, but realized I should be running it instead, even if I was still sore from my 100 mile race in Oregon two weeks prior. And to pay homage to Ann Trason (the RD). Would like to go back to SF 24 hour (or at least the 12 hour) the last weekend, as I really feel I can run farther than last year. (And finish my race report faster.)

Probably Helen Klein in November for PAUSATF points, if I can still move after SF One Day. Or if I don't do the 24 hour run, to see if I can lower my flat 50 mile PR.

Finally, no more racing in December-- it's too busy. For instance, I don't think I got all our holiday greetings cards out. Also, I need to leave the weekends open for trips to Tahoe with the kids.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

La Sportiva 2010 Mountain Cup

The 2010 La Sportiva Mountain Cup race schedule has just been finalized.
Uh, my own race schedule's pretty full (preview of my calendar coming soon, though it's currently in the column to the right), so I won't see you at any of these races...

But $25,000 in cash prizes will be issued at the end. If you are fast or run enough of them, you might win! Here's a link to a summary of last year's Mountain Cup. Regardless, you will have fun!