Friday, June 25, 2010

Miscalculation >> Bonk >> Cramp

Sometimes my training runs end up feeling much harder to finish than even those 100 miles races, one of which I hear is happening this weekend.

Yesterday I was on call, but no one called sick.  So after five hours working on the phone from home, I was ready to run!  My legs had felt good running two hours the day before.

I ran from my door a mile to some hilly single-track.  I had expected the trail to be overgrown, and indeed parts of the trail were rife with poison oak.  It was overcast, breezy and cool (ridiculously so for June) so I only drank half of my water bottle, pouring in some powdered Gu2O and filling it up at a water spigot at the top of the hill at the transition to East Bay MUD Trails.

water spigot back half a mile, photo taken on a sunnier day more than 2 years ago

Entering Chabot Park, I went through more jungle, once again trying to dodge poison oak at my feet and branches hanging right at my eyes.  My wife then paged me about the open house she was going to at 4 (and wanted me to come too), and so I texted her back that I would make it about 15 minutes after she would.  I soon after looked at my watch and figured I could run the fire roads of Brandon Trail and come back on the single track Columbine on the east side of the lake and still make it by 4:30-- she was going to take some time to really check out the house, right?

It had been a long time since I'd run that section of Chabot.  Or maybe it was wishful thinking.  It eventually became apparent that I'd miscalculated, and I texted my wife that I'd be a little late.  Returning on Columbine I started feeling my energy dropping, worsened by the fatigue still remaining from my 100 mile race in San Diego just 11 days prior.  My bottle was long dry, I had no gels or shots, there was no water to fill up without going what I felt was too far out of the way, and then my phone malfunctioned so I couldn't even send or receive text messages.

...though I was able though to snap and store this view of Lake Chabot from Honker Bay, mile 28.7 of Skyline 50k, held the first Sunday of August.

I finally made it out of Chabot, brain functioning enough to figure out I could take the battery out and back in to my cell to get it to work, and received all at once 6 texts and 2 voicemails from my wife documenting her rising impatience before she left the open house for home without me.  On my own, I had to run another 25 minutes, and wouldn't have time to shower since my older son's day camp performance was that night and we were already running late.

I hobbled up the steps to our front porch, sat try to take off my left shoe, and having just run 3 hours and 10 minutes on one bottle of probably slightly diluted Gu2O after 50 minutes on half a bottle of water (for those who have followed me on this blog for years, you might guess what's coming) my calf went into a most severe spasm.  With a scream I fell to the ground and tried to lift my left leg up to relax it.  Meanwhile, my 5-year-old son, calmly and without any compassion, pulled out my cell phone from my bottle holder sleeve and started playing with the keyboard.  "Look Dad, Chinese!" he showed me (my cell phone does this, not sure how to prevent it, they are taking over!)  My younger son came out.  He usually shows a greater capacity for daddy empathy, but I tried to get him to go back inside, because I didn't want him to touch any of the urashiol from all the poison oak.

I managed to down a bottle of juice with 2 lyte tabs, grab the camera, put on some sweats and limp down to the car.  I let my wife drive.

Running around all day with no nap all week.  Here ready to sing about the planets.  My kid is exhausted, but at least he didn't get behind on his calories or lytes, and his calf didn't spasm.

Luckily there was plenty of food at the potluck...

Interesting article about eating during ultras from day before yesterday's Sacramento Bee, featuring many people we ultrarunners know.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Not Pacing Kaburaki at Western States

Apparently last year's 2nd place finisher at Western States, Tsuyoshi Kaburaki from Japan, is not running again this year.  He reportedly aggravated his hurting Achilles tendon while winning the North Face Global Challenge 100k in China last month.  This photo from that race explains how this might have happened.

(Aside note:  I was unable to get a course map, results or any other up to date course information on this race from their website, just flashy graphics, funky music, and info on their other races.  If anyone figures this out, please send me the link.)

I was going to pace Kaburaki from Foresthill (mile 62) to the Rucky Chucky river crossing (mile 78).  I was feeling apprehensive of my ability to do this two weeks after finishing the San Diego 100 mile, but a two hour run today confirms I would be up to the task.

I could still go up and join all the excitement and pace some other random person from the list, but Friday night is girls' night out for my wife, and early Sunday morning I have this male-bonding event at the shooting range with some of the other founding dad of the public charter school I helped found, and then have to work 10 hours starting that afternoon.  So not sure I'd want to be running all Saturday night   Plus, there is the domestic political capital expediture that maybe I should save for the 100 milers I'm running this summer (up to three races in six weeks, still deciding.)

Maybe I've learned to value my unsullied Western States virginity...  For the rest of you getting knocked up this weekend, good luck and have fun!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Stonewalled by My Scrotum at the Massanutten Mountain 100 Mile Run

photo by Susan Donnelly

The pre-race meeting had already started when we pulled into the Caroline Furnace Lutheran campground, this year's new start and finish area.  With my older son, I found a crowded, stuffy room with nowhere to sit.

My younger son had vomited maybe from the fast drive on the tortuous road from Fort Valley.  I needed to move my stuff into the sukkah more than a third of mile from the race headquarters, and then prepare my drop bags, which until then had proven an impossible task.  Still needed to charge up my batteries for my headlamps.  So I skipped the meeting.

At dinner, I sat with 100-miler rookie Yosuke Murase, who recently moved from Tokyo to the DC area for work.  We then ran into ex-BayArean Yuki Negoro, who was being paced by a woman I met at the Crater Lake Rim Marathon in 2005.  Yukiko (center) I figure has a nice of age-group and overall female awards during her 50 mile in 50 state adventure.

me, Yuki Negoro, Hiroyuki and Yukiko Nishide, Yosuke Murase and family
photo by Yuki's wife

Having missed the pre-race meeting, I figured I should hang a little with the race director as he did his own calorie loading.  I found Stan was very accessible by email prior to the race, but this iced the cake of race director accessibility.  I got the scoop on why the course was changed again this year (former host camp not the most cooperative) and why this race started in the first time (Old Dominion's race organization was just a little too relaxed, to put it diplomatically.)

I only had one roommate that night, who only post-race did I learn was David Garman . He would PR in 26:42.  Surprisingly I got decent sleep.  The sukkah was a great deal.

My son dusting off my cot mattress.  He slept in a real bed in a real house and the next day got to check out the nearby Luray Caves with his cousin using the included audio tour.


First the forecast bounced between "scattered" and "isolated" thunderstorms. Not sure the exact definition of either, but neither did I like. When I venture from my home state to do these races, I subject myself to a small but real risk of death by lightning, or the fear thereof.

But then a hole free of even light rain broke open for the race itself, and remained. Whew!

Some rain cleared the humidity that night before, right after I snuggled into my sleeping bag in the sukkah (for which I think I paid only $10 for the weekend, versus the $500+ for the VRBO rental in Luray for my family). But I awoke in the middle of the night sweating.

During the 3.6 miles to the first aid station, Moreland Gap, I felt a mugginess (ughi-ness!) not felt since Mohican in Ohio last June (report coming soon). Fortunately, I would soon find the ridges usually came with a breeze. If the weather and temperature weren’t quite perfect, they were nothing of which to complain.


In contrast to the weather, something to complain about. I knew they were coming, but of course wasn't prepared, coming from my groomed Bay Area trails, comparative red carpets. Tasted them quickly after switching from the road to the single track, after the first aid station through which buzzed most of the front runners ahead of me. Would the remaining 95+ miles be nothing but this? I cannot run this! Now I understood the “Massanutten Rocks” race motto on our long-sleeve shwag shirts, carries an ironically and sickly humorous double meaning, both verb and noun. Whether the rocks rock like the event as a whole or simply suck, was a matter of possibly changing interpretation.

photo by Susan Donnelly

After I pondered this, almost tripping a few times, I held back even further.

OMG, I'm going to run another 96 miles of this?    Could not be good.  I took it slowly. I did adapt somewhat.  And did appreciate that my new Sportiva Raptors, were well suited for the rugged, technical trail. Two guys went past me, one then immediately tripped over a rock and landed with a thud, but fortunately was not significantly hurt-- he decided to take it more slowly.

As it turned out, the whole course was not ALL rocks, but they kept popping up.   Even on sections of trail that weren't so rocky, there were enough that I had to keep my guard up.  I figured the rock who wants you to land on your face doesn't care if it's alone, or hanging out with a bunch of its friends.  It will trip you up just the same.  In fact, I found that the greatest risk of eating dirt often came from these random loner rocks, or rocks hidden under piles of fallen leaves left over from last autumn.

photo by Ray Smith

The pattern of my running strategy became this: downhill in control, invariably I would get passed on these technical sections. To partially make up for this, run whenever I could, any decent surface, definitely the flats. Inevitably the stretched of rocks would return.

approaching Edinburg aid station (mile 11.7) with 3 others, untechnical dirt road
photo by Anst Davidson


The longest conversation I had was with Todd Walker, who has sub-20'd this race twice, including one overall win.  We talked pretty much the whole 8.2 mile stretch from Edinburg Gap (mile 11.7) to Woodstock Tower (mile 19.9).  Great guy, who's overcome stuff in life.  (He ended up finishing in 21:12, 4th overall and 1st master.)

I initially didn't recognize Todd, wearing a shirt and out of his red shorts the next morning.


I was not free of these. Maybe I ate too much salad at dinner. The worst stretch of GI distress coincidentally coincided with the loss of satellite reception around mile 46 descending from ridge and continuing through Indian Grade aid station and continuing through the whole flat stretch of road to Habron Gap aid station, mile 53.6.

from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

But I figure most of us getting nauseated, and I never hurled like Joe Kulak did, when I passed him later, leaned over like in that discontinued North Face ad.

Joe the evening before; he arrived even late than I, a laid-back veteran

So I am not calculating “time lost to nausea” or the couple of early pit stops I made by the trail (most of the aid stations lacked toilets, this is a rugged run!)

urine and stool collection device used on early Soyuz spacecraft
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum


At the final aid station, I pulled off 3 ticks crawling up my legs.  There was a 4th that had already started burrowing into my skin.  Because my hands were slippery (see next section), I couldn't get it out, so I asked a volunteer.  He was sort of grossed out, but obliged.  He told me it wasn't the deer tick that causes lyme disease (Ixodes scapularis).  At one point in my residency training, I had memorized the appearance of this tick, but years later I had to simply take his word for it.

Anyways, volunteers are like the opposite of parasites.  In fact, maybe we ultrarunners are like parasites, sucking the blood and life out of volunteers.  Gosh, I hope not.  Parasites are rude and never thank their hosts.

Thank you volunteers!  xoxo

Special thanks to volunteer Phil Kasunick for that nutrition shake bottle he gave me at (I think) Powell's Fort, mile 25.1.


The last third of the race, a couple of guys asked if I wanted a pacer.  "Well, wouldn't mind that, but I'm doing that Stonewall Jackson thing" I would answer.  Just as well, since they would probably have to hear me complain the following problem:


The biggest memory from this run will be what happened to my scrotum, to whom I still apologize. Sorry, buddy, I promise not to do that to you again! The following is a retrospective analysis, part hypothesis that I cannot subject to the rigors of true scientific inquiry, but all of it probably valid.

Factor 1: Equipment Malfunction

Right before the start of the race, I pulled the drawstring of my RaceReady pocketed shorts. And kept pulling… and pulling. Damn drawstring came unattached! Race UN-Ready. Same happened to me with another pair, but not right at the start of a 100 mile race! An advantage of having a crew—you have them deliver you an extra pair for you to swap out later. I knew they would stay on, but I would be limited from stashing gels in them. As it turned out, no gels at the aid stations until the last third of the race. I did have to stash the flopping string a few times.

also shiny from Vaseline, see below

If I can't rethread this (still haven't three weeks later) I am going to write to the company. Will let you all know later how their customer service is.

Anyways, I'm suspecting the shorts, including the liner, sagged enough to make me prone to extra friction.

Factor 2: Keeping a Hand Free

My plan was to run most of the race with one handheld bottle, except for miles 41 to 63. At mile 40.7 (Veach Gap Parking aid station) I put on a detachable belt portion of a hydration pack along with a second handheld so that I would have two bottles for the 9 and 9.5 mile stretches (the race's longest) during the afternoon, usually the hottest time of day. After finishing off the first bottle during the steep ascent on each of these splits, I discovered I could keep a hand free by looping the belt through the mesh bottle Ultimate Direction sleeve. When to the side or back, the bottle would whack me every other stride, so I ended up letting it hang just anterior to my hip.

photo by Bobby Gill

In front of my right hip.

Which is next to my right scrotum.

Which is where I started having problems.

Just enough extra friction.  To make things go bad....

So enjoying some views of the valley to the east atop the ridge early during the longest split of the race, the 9.5 miles between Habron Gap Parking (mile 53.6) and Camp Roosevelt (mile 63.1), I started feeling it.

One of the few things I still remember from histology class during my first year of medical school, is that the sole of the foot is the thickest layer of epithelium in the human body.  The thinnest-- the eyelid and the scrotum!  link to a dermatology site showing that I remembered this correctly and so fully deserve my medical degree

Factor 3: Unstocked

I usually carry a sample sized tube of Aquaphor in my shorts every race. At 4:35 that morning, while sitting on my cot getting dressed, I applied some both sides of the base of my member, thought about stashing the tube in my pocket, but figured the aid stations would all have Vaseline, they always do at these long races, especially one as well organized as this.  So, I left it.  Whoops.  It became soon apparent during the over 7 miles of technical trail to the next aid station, that chafing (sort of like ITB pain) is relentless, progressive and cumulative. What a long, sucky 7 miles. And I had no idea how lasting the effects would be for the rest of the race.  Okay, the next few paragraphs are quite optional.

At the aid station I thought would never come, Camp Roosevelt (mile 63.1), I dumped my extra bottle, put on my headlamp, since it now clear I wouldn’t make it to my 2nd light at mile 77.1 before dark, but before any of this, asked for the Vaseline. A huge clump of it. Not quite a soothing balm. I awkwardly put more in a zip-lock bag to carry with me—a good move because Vaseline, well, melts and runs off. From here on out, I would have to interrupt my running several times each split to apply (or try to apply) Vaseline out of the bag back onto my crotch, and with less and less effectiveness as hoped.

My mantra to remember approaching each aid station:  ask for lube, ask for paper towel, ask for drop bag, refill bottle, eat.  The volunteers, as always were great, but I thanked them extra for always bringing out jar, and some paper towels.

Vaseline got everywhere.  On my hands, on my bottle.  It impregnated my shorts.  Thank my iPod for the music, or else the Stone Temple Pilot's "Vaseline," while a cool song, would have driven me nuts.

The progressive nature of the chafing problem not only existed in severity, but in spatial extent.  I was having to spread the petroleum based product not only more thickly, but over a wider area.

Played leapfrog with Chris Askew from Bend and his wife Darla, who paced him starting at mile 68.  I'd catch up on the flats, until my chafing prevented that, and they finished 45 minutes ahead of me.

Chris and Darla, after last year's Lake Sonoma 50 mile

Net loss: I estimate up to 2 hours. Going uphill hurt especially, so the friction kept me from working as hard as I could have. I imagine chafing follows he laws of physics: force equals mass times velocity squared. So the decelerating effect was proportionately greatest on the faster sections. Maybe subtract 20 minutes from the difference since slowing my pace probably did avoid some other discomfort. I think low 22’s is quite reasonable. I would’ve gotten a chance to contend for the Stonewall Jackson award (the winner came in about 22:30). But, in terms of hardware, the same silver buckle (which I was mistakenly told while the RD was absent they didn't have, so I'm getting it in person from him the next month, now in a few days.)

During the stretch from the last aid station, after leaving the single track for the 3.1 mile mostly downhill stretch to the camp entrance, my crotch was burning so much that I had to walk several times, futilely pulling out the plastic bag which was just a crumpled smear of Vaseline both on the inside and outside inside the smear of the belt pouch pocket. I wiped the bag on my crotch, probably just creating more friction. A bit frustrating given that I felt I could hammer down the road at an 8 minute per mile pace. The final 0.4 miles into the camp was not the road we used at the start, but single track. I knew I could walk it and get that damn silver 24-hour buckle, and I was pretty sure I was top 10.  The rest of my body, even the other side of my scrotum had a great time anyways.  Other races in which I was injured and faltering at mile 98, I was still determined to run through my pain if headlights appeared behind me. This time, I was skeptical I would care.  I just knew how uncomfortable things would still be even the race was over.

Garry Harrington, who set a new senior's (50+) event record this year, told me he had the same problem.  Somehow, I feel like his couldn't be as bad as mine.  Or maybe his sack is just made of a tougher fabric...

finishing the Cool Fun Run 2 months earlier

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger—but only once you’ve healed. I told Stan the next morning that if my crotch wasn’t feeling any better in 3 days, I might just well castrate myself…. Problem then solved, forever!

As it turns out, I was, more than a week out, still feeling some of the effects of that chafing, but with good lube and of course shorter mileage, enjoying my runs.

Never again.....I've got a Lube Plan for San Diego....

results and everyone's splits, including the 54 of 170 starters who DNF'd (which is useful and interesting information-- I really hate how DNF'd usually getting completely excised from the record)
race website

Garmin Forerunner recorded maps (I used three):
1st (battery ran out about a mile before the aid station)
2nd (incomplete, as I lost satellite reception for over an hour)
hike from finish to shower, thought I'd record this since it felt like a workout

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Not Quite Listening to What My Parents Told Me at the Mount Diablo 25 Kilometer Trail Run

When I first came out of the closet to my parents, my mother reacted with disbelief. My father skipped a few stages of grief (click for Elisabeth K├╝bler Ross' 7 Stages of Grief) by bargaining. "Why....why" he stammered "do you have to run 50 miles or a 100k? Why can't you be satisfied just running 5 or 10k?"

My dad eventually came to accept my long-distance orientation.

So maybe it made sense I had never in my life signed up for a trail race shorter than a marathon in my life

Until the first weekend of June 2009.

PCTR's Mount Diablo 50k was on my "maybe" list all spring, and even 6 days after Ohlone 50k was definitely a possibility, but with Mohican 100 mile in 2 weeks, I thought I should hold off and taper better. Plus, my kids were going to a birthday party at one of those places with the jumpy houses at noon, which I couldn't make if I did the 50k. My younger son was still not old/big/bold enough to take advantage of the big slides and bouncy houses without me helping him.

My work schedule allowed almost no running the 5 days after Ohlone, so eager to get a good workout and not overtaper too early, I decided to sign up for the 25 kilometer race, which is basically just one trip up and down Mount Diablo instead of two. Also it was the last race in La Sportiva's Mountain Cup, so even though I wasn't going to win anything, it would be good form to add to a larger Sportiva Mountain Running Team presence.

Okay, not quite a 5 or 10k, but 25k is basically 15 1/2 miles, which compared to that long crazy stuff sounded reasonable.

Because I had to drive straight to Livermore for the birthday party, I couldn't carpool. The race and park had the green rule of no parking in the Mitchell Canyon lot unless you carpooled. I pulled over to the side of Pine Hollow Road about 1.6 miles away and as soon as I got out this guy in an old Volkswagon bus pulls up and asks if I wanted a ride. He's wearing cut-off jeans, doesn't look like your typical ultrarunner, and just seems a little too eager to give me a ride. I hesitate, "Uh, where to?"
"The start."
From the inside recesses of my brain I hear my parents:

Don't accept rides or candy from strangers! Don't accept rides or candy from strangers!

"Uh, okay" I tell him still suspecting he might be a homicidal maniac who will give me the last ride of my life.

the strange, very friendly man

Just then, Marissa Walker got out of her car.  "Hi George.....Oh, can I get a ride too?"
Relief.  I could get in, and unless there was something I didn't know about Marissa, I wouldn't get hacked up into many little pieces. Sorry George for not trusting you at first.  Just trying to be a good, obedient kid....  Three in the VW, we could park in the lot.

After we got out, Marissa told me how when she first met George Hall (who would finish the 25k in 3:33:00), he was wearing cut off jeans and carrying a bottle with string tied to it for the handle at her first trail race ever, the Diablo 25k a few years ago.

Marissa Walker, 50k finisher in 8:04:47

More than 30 minutes to kill before the start went fast. I managed to get my half-naked shot of Will, who pretended he was very embarrassed about this, even though most guys ripped like him don't mind being photographed. Since this photo he has not let me take snap any more images of him, so this is it-- enjoy!

Mr. Gotthardt (2:13:38, 5th place)

The race started, and as expected, there were lots of fast people running ahead of me. I enjoyed the sight I rarely see in a race, more than 20 or so (too many to count!) people, including all the yellow Sportiva jerseys. I was soon completely out of breath, but figured that since this was "only 15 miles" didn't hold back too much.  Besides, everyone else was breathing really fast and noisily too. I found myself running up long stretches of uphill I would never think of running at that pace. Despite this a few more people passed me. At one point I noticed Jason Reed ahead of me was walking faster than I am running, so I start power walking.

Troy Howard sneaked up behind me and suggested I just pace him to rest of the way up, until he too passed me. I wouldn't mind, since this year (2009) he had consistently beat me, but he is doing the 50k.

Troy Howard halfway through the 50k, which he won in 5:01:47, on his way to clocking a 2nd place finish and the 3rd fastest time in the history of Hardrock (100 mile) last July.

The route was less steep as it approached Juniper campground, the only aid station besides the start, which runners hit twice each 25k loop.  Maybe more frantically than at my longer races, I quickly stashed gels, a lyte cap, 2 blocks into my pockets, while a volunteer filled my bottle.  If my mother were watching, she might admonish me:  "Slow down, don't rush!"  My father would tell me not to run with my mouth full.  I trailed Troy Howard and Jason Reed almost all the way to the summit, but could not catch up to either of them comfortably. The leaders started flying back down from the summit, which was sort of treacherous on the single track.

It sure was nice to see this!

Diablo summit photo lifted from the web

Running downhill sure felt fun. Surprisingly I found myself overtaking people, including this woman (who would shortly after wipe out)...

Rachel Cieslewicz of Utah, in good spirits despite her spill, and who would place 3rd woman overall in the Sportiva Cup, and 3rd woman in this race & 21st overall in 2:26:22.

...and then Troy and Jason, and a few others. I had considered wearing my Crosslites for this race, thinking they are lighter and faster, but decided to go with my Wildcats, which, without being heavy have superior cushioning. It was the right choice, as I hammered down the whole hill with little abandon. I pass a few others,

but Jason Reed did catch up with me. Even as the trail leveled out, I was feeling pretty good, and passed about 3-4 people in the last mile.  I even almost completely unchicked myself.  The exception was of course Caitlin  who was SO not into the race when she started.

Caitlin Smith, with whom I couldn't even start a short conversation-- would be the female winner, 7th overall in 2:16:46, and finish 2nd place overall in the 2009 Sportiva Mountain Cup.

Some finish line pics:

Klas Eklof (2:24:31, 19th place), Jon Kroll (2:23:48, 18th), Chikara Omine (2:09:46, 4th), Jason Reed (2:20:00, 12th)

Part of the La Sportiva contingent:  Thomas Borschel (from Idaho, 2:18:02, 8th overall-- and 51 years old!), Keri Nelson (from Colorado, 2:22:26, 2nd female & 17th overall, YouTube video of her being the first woman to win (including beating the guys) the Leadville Trail Marathon in 2008), me (2:21:49, 15th overall), Leor Pantilat (ran up and down earlier that morning for fun-- I wonder if his fun pace was faster than my race pace.  report on his run with great pics )

If you ever want to kill me in your car, look like Phyllis, whom I trusted completely, and who gave me the official race shuttle ride back to my Prius.

friendly driver of the Phyllis Lum-osine

Despite spending too much time post-race taking photos of people I would not be able to identify a year later, I left Mitchell Canyon early enough that I was able to intercept my wife in Pleasanton, and we drove together with both kids asleep to the birthday party in Livermore.

Despite how hard I hammered that race, the shorter distance felt great-- minimal pain carrying my younger son while pulling myself up the narrow, flimsy stairs with a rope.

No, I had NO time to change, though I did clean my legs with Tecnu.  My parents never told me this, but my embarrassed wife sure would forever after--NO SHORT SHORTS AT JUMPY HOUSE PARTIES !!!

PCTR Diablo Trail Runs website (summer)
(no link to results-- appears to have disappeared from the website and cyberspace)
On-line pre-registration for this year's summer Diablo Trail Races to be held this Saturday, June 5, 2010, ends today, at 5pm or when it fills.