Monday, December 17, 2012

Return to the Diablo 60k

Saturday 2 June 2012, Mount Diablo State Park

photo of Mount Diablo from the PCTR website

in case the race is never held again, this year's and last's year course map
I was really excited to return to PCTR's 2nd running of their Diablo 60k.  After a few wrong turns last year, I knew I could cut half an hour of bonus time by running a clean race.  And in any case, I always love running Diablo.   The Diablo Trails Challenge I ran in March is an awesome point-to-point run, but doesn't summit the mountain.  This race (as well as the Marathon course held the same day) has you summit twice.

I woke up at 4 am.  Six hours is enough sleep but not enough to recover from about 3.5 the night before (thanks to my kids, long story-- I think their room got too hot).  Before leaving my house at 5:45, I had this strong urge to go back to sleep.

I was still in the process of moving stuff.   The day before I made my 8th and final load from my friend Baldwyn Chieh's truck.

Probably due to the race being in June rather than April, there were fewer registered runners this year, and so not a bunch of young guys shooting ahead and no temptation to try to keep up.  I found myself leading the way, talking with frequent PCTR runner Kermit Cuff.

Before long up the ascent, a young woman I'd never seen before caught up with us, asking is she can run with us.  She was able to converse with Kermit, without any work to breathe.  "Holly or Polly?" I ask her when I didn't quite catch her name.  "Polly with an H," is what I heard her tell me; the most frequent ear worm for the rest of the race would be "Polly" by Nirvana.

Since I really didn't have the lyrics memorized, it was mostly Kurt Cobain singing "Polly wants a cracker" and the melody to the rest of the song over and over again.

Anyway, I thought Holly was likely elite female ultrarunner material.  I end up meeting and chatting some with a lot of really fast runners during these races. Last year I met the winner Jorge Maravilla early.  This was the first of several wins or otherwise great performances the rest of last year into this year-- he's now pretty widely known and well respected.  I met Devon Crosby Helms while running Jed Smith 50k in 2007, and Nathan Yanko on the course at Lake Sonoma 50 mile, before each of these left me behind and got married.  I should compile a list.

I got to Juniper aid station to find no aid station set up.  "Aid station? Aid station?!" I shouted, lacking the time or brilliant insight to come up with anything else.  A volunteer was there talking on his cell phone, I guess with base headquarters.  He didn't come up to me or say anything to me, probably more panicked at the situation than I.  I knew I needed to take in calories, having downed only a gel I brought from home up the strenuous climb.

I saw some bags on the picnic table that always gets used to lay out the food.  Assuming they were unloaded aid station supplies (I swear this is what I was thinking), I opened one up, pulled out a Cliff bar and then moved on, knowing that I could fill up my empty bottle at one of several spigots on the trail, including one right at the turn left up Juniper Trail to the summit.

After eating about half of some trail mix fruit bar, I realized that I had opened up someone's drop bag.  Drop bags aren't really on my radar at these shorter races, since I only use them at 100 mile races.  This half ruined the taste, but I realized it was too late-- what was I going to do, put the rest of it back into the bag when I returned?

So, whoever's bar I ended up eating, my sincere apologies, please comment to let me know who you are; I promise to make this up to you!

After many months closed, the outside observation deck at the summit was recently opened, so we were supposed to climb the extra steps and read a sign placed there.  I got up there to find no sign.  As I descended the steps, a volunteer was running it up: "GIRAFFE BONES."

Finishing the loop to the Summit on Summit Trail close to Juniper, I saw Steve Crane coming the other way. "You're going the wrong way," I think he told me, and soon explained one of the volunteers directed him that way.

I got him to head back with me, but then he told me he had already visited the summit, and that he had passed me.  Not recalling him passing me (I never saw him behind me on the ascent), I told him he didn't, but then he told me he did, so I conceded, "Uh, okay maybe you did."  Finally he explained he went down (Juniper Trail) the same way he went up, which I explained to him was not what you were supposed to do.

I am not sure what he did then, but since he is not on the finishers list, at some point he dropped.

race tip:  If the race website gives you turn-by-turn direction and a printable map, print them up and carry them with you.  Always.  Even if you know the course.

I really enjoyed the loop at the bottom, since this included trails that I previously didn't know that well before, but now knew them really well.  This was the section on which I second-guessed myself last year and ended up adding 2-3 bonus miles.  This year the course was very well marked with arrow signs and ribbon.  The signs didn't match the course directions I was carrying or the map (which I couldn't print), but did match last year's course.

Since the markings were not ambiguous, I went with them.

race tip:  If there is a discrepancy between the obvious and the theoretical, go with the obvious.

I especially enjoyed this section because I took my family hiking here earlier this year, on Little Yosemite Trail.

a view of "Little Yosemite"
Good times, and was proud of my 4-year-old son's ability to go the distance (five hilly miles) without whining.

my younger son charging up the steep Buckeye Ravine Trail (not part of the race course, but I need a graphic)
Sleepies started hitting me more than the heat.

After Rock City, I started seeing marathoners coming in the opposite direction.

The malaise of needing more sleep kept increasing.  I still tried to enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery, as well as the fact that I was winning a race, but when it came down to it, I felt crappier than I should have.

I did finally remember to ask the volunteer at the Rock City aid station for ice cubes to put under my cap and in the pockets of my Moeben sleeves.  I thought the mocha flavored Clif Shot I picked up there was caffeinated, but despite the flavor being mocha, it was caffeine free.  Should that be legal?  Confusing, huh?

On the way out I saw a group of volunteers I assumed were working as part of National Trails Day.  Hmm, maybe trail races should be held on a different day?  I thanked them profusely, maybe incoherently; a few looked at me like I was crazy.

I drank half a can of Coke at the Summit and filled up my 24 ounce bottle with water (no sports drink), but grabbed 4 caffeinated Clif Bloks.  I figured I would be okay.

I got back to the parking lot before the turn to the left 10 minutes after going by on the ascent, so figured it was highly unlikely Holly would catch up with me.  I decided I should probably save myself for Bighorn 100 mile in just 13 days, so not kill myself.  I looked at my watch, and realized it would be impossible to cut that half hour and break 7 hours, my other goal.  Still, I thought I should try to break last year's time.

I knew that the initial ascent off the turn off after ascending almost to the summit of North Peak (about 1.5 miles from the summit) was the most treacherous-- very steep, lots of loose dirt and gravel.  It truly is a place you can seriously hurt yourself, even going slowly.  It was especially more dangerous today than it was running it several time during the winter because of the dense of overgrowth obscuring the trail.

At about 4.3 miles I saw a gate on the fire road straight ahead, which I recognized as an entrance to private property.  There was no ribbon on the sharp turn to the left, but recalled running on it last year.  I took it, a little nervous, but eventually saw a pink ribbon.  I figured the wind had blown away the ribbon, but per the ED, someone had vandalized it.  Several runners doing the marathon distance ended up taking the road, including Charles Lantz, who got there before me.  This added more bonus mileage to an already long split.

At about mile 5 (on only a minimally technical part of single track), I tripped hard, caught myself with a few steps, almost spasming my left calf, posterior shoulder and side.  Apparently my "relaxed" pace down the hill wasn't enough.  I reminded myself of my nonrefundable plane ticket and race entry fee, and one of two hotel stays for Bighorn 100 in less than two weeks.  Hurting myself would not only be a bummer, be a stupid waste of lots of non-refundable hard-earned money. I decided to screw the PR, and slow the pace further.

At about mile 6, there was a stream crossing.  Without the wind higher up, it was hot again.  Crouching to dip my sleeves in the stream, my hamstrings almost went into spasm.

The last two miles, I could feel my energy levels dropping.  I had several Clif Bloks and two gels in my pockets, but my water had run out about a mile ago, so I couldn't eat them.  I had that dizzy feeling that I was going to pass out, or at least completely hit the wall and literally have to lie down on the trail, as I did at another race in 2009. ("Saved by the Gel: Overcoming the Wall at the Lake Sonoma 50")

But I held it together, finished (and oh yeah, I gues I won!)

Thanks, volunteers, you were all awesome!

I also got a winner's mug.

(Some of the following links may not work in the future, if not already.)

GPS recording of my run
report of last year's (2011) race
race website

A few days after the run, owner Sarah Spelt informed the world (was it through Facebook?-- can't remember) that Pacific Coast Trail Runs would be ending.  I thus concluded that I happened to win the longer distance of the last PCTR race ever.

However, PCTR has since assumed by new management, so maybe not.  But for sure, it was the last race directed by Michael Popov, who, among many other accomplishments, holds the fastest known time (FKT) record for a totally self-supported running of the Tahoe Rim Trail.

I would never see him in person again.

"Misha" Popov with volunteer Jill Homer

This is because later that summer, Michael Popov, tragically died while running in Death Valley.  We in the ultrarunning community will continue to miss your smile, laid-back attitude and amiable demeanor.  Rest in peace, Michael!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Ohlone 50k Silver Anniversary, Block of Wood Miss

Ohlone Wilderness 50k Trail Run, Sunday, 20 May 2012

Running Ohlone 50k the weekend after Zion 100 Mile was stupid-- sort of.

I had run the Ohlone 50 Wilderness Run more times than any other ultra--7 times through 2011-- having missed it only once in 2010, the year I chafed my crotch more than ever before or since at the Massanutten 100 mile. The lottery for Massanutten had come before the sign-up opened for Ohlone.  That year I could have signed up for Ohlone anyway, but I figured running all these 100 mile races was stupid enough as it is, without following one with a 50k the next weekend.

Being two years older and two years stupider, this year I decided to sign up for Ohlone and do the 50k the weekend after a 100 miler thing.  Also, being the 25th anniversary, there would be special shwabg that would justify the slow time.

photo by Agnes Pommier

I was going to drive to the finish at Del Valle Park in Livermore and take the shuttle that left there at 0630 for the 8 am start at the bottom of Mission Peak in Fremont, but I ended up working a couple of  hours from home the evening before, so wanted to get better sleep.  So I ended up asking my wife for the drop off again and she graciously kept up our family tradition.  But since my younger son had a tee-ball game at 9 am, they didn't get out of the car (for the first time).  In retrospect, I should have just driven myself, but I did end up getting a ride home after all.

How my race went-- briefly described, not so quickly run

Every year I see lots of guys shoot up the hill, a fair number working and breathing much harder than they should.  I catch up with most of them before the Mission Peak summit.

This year I couldn't catch up with most of them.  Not just fast guys like Ian Torrance, in from Oregon to try the race.

Ian & I post-race

My legs and body were too shot to chase anyone.  But I expected this going in.  The day was beautiful.  I love the course.  I was content to see what I could do with what I had that day.

runners climbing Horse Heaven trail, photo by Gary Wang

My shoe came off in a muddy section.  Jason Reed, right behind me, was so nice to pull it out and give it to me.

I suffered from two ear worms, Calvin Harris' "Feels So Close," a decent song they overplay on both pop and pseudo-alternative stations.  I tried to rid myself of the catchy tune by thinking about another catchy song, Owl City's "Fireflies" with varying and incomplete success.  I could have avoided this by bringing an iPod, but music during a 50k always seemed lame to me.  Must change my attitude.

If I lacked music in head control, I was able to protect my lips, having remembered to carry lip balm in my pocket.  I applied it probably 5-6 times in the race.  The reason I was so obsessive about this was the severe chapping I got from forgetting to do this at Zion 100, resulting in this painful and embarrassing nastiness a few days later:

(repeated photo.  embarrassing, as more that one of my patients asked the nurse about my lips) 
Despite my early-onset soreness and fatigue, my run went as well as I was expecting, and no injuries, though later in the race I had a few close calls.  Once when I crouched to squeeze a sponge over my Moeben sleeves and head, my hamstrings almost went into spasm.  Then a few miles later, I started feeling it in my back-- pains not from my 100-mile race last weekend, but from lifting furniture off and on my friend Baldwyn Chieh's loaner pickup-- I made two loads the day before the race.  As I mentioned in my Zion report, I was in the process of moving.   My life, temporally and spatially, was chaotic.

(I think) atop Mount Rose, the high point of the course, photo by Tanford Tahoe

I finished 15th overall  in 5:54:51, almost an hour slower than my PR in 2007 of 4:56:41, but still faster than my PW (personal worst) of 6:04:17 the first time I ran it in 2004.  To get a another thick block of wood (age division award) this year, I would have needed to better #8 overall, 42-year-old Adam Seibert, who finished in 5:36:31-- pretty sure I could have done that had I been fresh.  So, my first thin slab of wood, but it does say "25th anniversary" on it.

special anniversary shwag-- the hoodie.  After much deliberation, I settled on purple.

My Quicksilver teammates Jean Pommier, Chris Calzetta and Marc Laveson swept 1st through 3rd for the men and Bree Lambert, Clare Abram and Adona Ramos finished 2nd through 4th for the woman.

pre-race photo with our large Quicksilver Ultrarunning team contingent.
camera courtesy of Marc Laveson, on my left

Of note, the female winner who came in 1 second under 6 hours, was Tera Dube, with whom I chatted and ran with for a few miles during my second Ohlone in 2005 before she dropped back.  I think she took off from ultrarunning a few years to have (at least) one baby.  I didn't recognize her this year when I passed her-- only realized it was her from the results.  You do lose track of people.

The festive atmosphere of the post-race BBQ was dampened a bit because another runner (actually a friend and Quicksilver teammate) collapsed during the last mile of the course.  In Joe Swenson's photo taken at the top of the hill before the final descent (mile 29) he looked fine.  In fact, Pierre later said he felt fine near the end.  But he went down.

First the fire trucks and ambulance came, later a helicopter.

It seemed to me that transport was taking too long, and from what I knew, Pierre was unresponsive.  I came up to the paramedics and park ranger, told them I was an emergency physician, teammate and friend, can I help, but (the ranger) told me the situation was under control and my services were not needed.  I didn't push the issue and backed off, but was a bit unsettled, since my assessment based on limited information was that he really needed to be taken to an emergency department for more definitive evaluation and treatment (the kind I provide at work) as soon as possible.  His course was complicated, and he stayed in the ICU for several days.

I actually could write a lot to write about this, but will keep it to that here.

Since I needed to bum a ride home, I felt it was extra imperative to clean up a little.  I took a soapless shower closer to the lake.  It was nice and cold, but while twisting my back trying to wipe dirt off, I spasmed my right upper shoulder and back.  Nonetheless, I was able to have this photo taken from these guys who drove up together from Monterrey.

I was lucky to get a ride with Franz Dill (whom I met at ITR Chabot in February) and his family; at the time he lived near me.  Our conversation included the Western States lottery.  After lamenting my 0 for 6 record, he admitted he was 3 for 3.  (Later in December, he would become 4 for 4 and I would become 0 for 7, opposite ends of the luck spectrum.  Nuts!)  I should have killed him, but he was driving.

I guess I could have killed him on my driveway, but he has a family.
I am jealous, but compassionate.

My family was at a pool party that evening.  We went up a hill in the neighborhood and got to see the partial solar eclipse through someone's filtered telescope.  Very cool.

not my photo

Volunteers at this race always rock.  Thanks again!

Prior Ohlone race reports:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Inaugural Zion 100 Mile

Moving in a 100-mile running race is a good thing.

Moving, as in moving your stuff from one house to another, really sucks.  Especially for an ultrarunner.   For instance, it is harder to enjoy the 5-hour training run for which you really don't have time when you are stressed about all the crap you need to sort through and throw out or pack or more often than not throw into a box so you can deal with it later, so then afterwards you feel guilty because you did none of the above and the house is turned upside down.

Due to my work schedule, I had to pack and move whenever I could.  In fact, I managed to pack and move another Rav4 load (#8) right before my flight on the morning of the day before the inaugural Zion 100 Mile Run, Friday, May 11, 2012.

Thursday morning.  putting that ottoman in the front seat was probably not the safest thing

Aside from muscle soreness from all the lifting and moving, my expectations going into the inaugural Zion 100 Mile were modest for many other reasons.

Even without the move, I was undertrained anyway.  I had only raced three 50k's year since January, one was a fat-ass, so not really a race.  Nothing longer.

Second, the way my work schedule came out, I had to work six overnight shifts in the two weekends before the race:  Saturady-Sunday-Monday (the Monday goes into Tuesday) and then Friday-Saturday-Sunday.  The sleep during the day was inadequate, and I never really recovered.

A major reason I couldn't recover was my feeling palpitations in the days (and especially nights) with increasing frequency.

I see patients who present to the ER with this complaint all the time.  Sometimes there is a physiologic basis-- a dysrhythmia, an abnormal rhythm of the heart.  If there is none detected while they are symptomatic during the visit or while wearing a device as an oupatient, we assume it is most likely anxiety.

I didn't have to convince myself.  I was anxious, and it was a sinus rhythm (triggered by the heart's normal pacemaker in the right atrium).  It obviously wasn't just about the race-- I race so often, and not being super-fast, don't have too much at stake.  But with the stress of the move (including financial worries related to it) and work, what should have been just-another-100-mile-run was apparently on an unconscious level REALLY FREAKING ME OUT.

Tactical Error #1 -- lodging and probably my communication about lodging

Gary Gellin, who was, had emailed me months prior, and very vaguely suggested coordinating travel and/or lodging.  I was equivocal about whether to take him up on this, and after my getting mildly soaked in my old tent after Chimera 100 mile the previous November had bought a new 2-person Marmot Limelight that I was eager to use, but decided that since I was travelling so far by myself and as usual was not going to be crewed or paced, that I should be social.  A few weeks prior I told him, sure, if he has room, we could share a room, which (I thought) he confirmed.

When I showed up at the pre-race check-in, where we all enjoyed a complimentary Grumpy Goat pizza, Gary then asked me something like, "So where did you end up deciding to stay?"

Awkward silence.

You don't have to read all the of the following thread, but doesn't this look like a confirmation?  Maybe I should have re-emailed to confirm a few days before the race, but I thought I'd beat it to death by email, and with the moving, I was a bit distracted.

After the awkward silence and some gingerly phrased tentative discussion, Gary graciously offered to have me stay with him in a motel in Springdale right next to the entrance to Zion National Park.

  • Aside Tactical Error 1a -- packing clothes.  Back at the motel, after I took a shower to clean off all my sweat from the sweaty drive through the hot desert (air conditioning left off intentional to acclimate me to the heat), I noticed I had only packed one pair of underwear, and no boxers to sleep in.  So the briefs went back on.  I washed it while taking another shower the next morning (gotta start that dirty trail run feeling squeaky clean, and I was up early anyway) and hung it up in my rental car.  Process was repeated at my brother's house to where I drove directly after flying back Saturday evening for Mother's Day.  Four days on one pair of underwear-- it can be done, but not recommended.

Gary's friend Jim graciously offered to sleep on the floor.
This made me feel a little guilty, but he insisted it wouldn't be a problem, and since I was offering to pay for half (and not a third) of the room, I took the bed.
Gary's friend warned me that he snores.  Loudly.
He did not disappoint.
My earplugs didn't work.
If I ever did sleep some, Gary got up really early; he had warned me.  Something like 3 am.  I can't remember if he ground his coffee or just made it.  But all the lights in the room came on.

And to think there was a campground really really close to the start.  Oh well.

Gary setting the Way Too Cool 50k record two months earlier.
Bryon Powell's interview with Gary about that win and other stuff.

Tactical Error #2 -- lip protection

Gary let me use some of his sunscreen, but I managed to forget to apply any lip balm in the morning, which resulted in no sun protection for my lips until mile 42.  This sounds trivial, but this resulted in my lips being the most painful part of my body for days after the race.  Eating anything slightly acidic was extremely painful.  I was slathering Aquaphor on my lips every hour with only partial relief.  Flecks of skin kept peeling off round the clock.  My patients were probably grossed out.  My wife was too grossed out to do much smooching.

unaltered photo!  (I never alter my photos.)  Tuesday morning after.  As uncomfortable as it looks nasty. 

The race itself

Here is the card with a race map and course description on the back for the 2012 race, which I carried during the race, but which I've wasted too much time trying to rotate 90 degrees.  A desert run with two big mesas and fantastic scenery.

 First 18.5 miles:  relatively flat, fast, nontechnical running on wide dirt roads, except for the steep 1000 foot climb from mile 3 to 4, with stunning early morning views long before things got hot and a large ape hanging from a rope, who I guess eventually got cut down from it.

Lots of company and conversation.  Among those I talked with were Justin Faul, recently completed his medical residency and practicing near Flagstaff.  His medical partner was allowing him to run across America this summer-- hope that went well.

Here I am running on Smith Mesa with Matt Smith from New York.

I also chatted some with Mikio Miyazoe originally from Japan and at the time living and working in Oregon, though in the scene below I am running too far behind to chat.

Mikio's race report

There were others, but six months later it's fuzzy.  I would run into many of them at 100-mile races in the Rocky Mountain Time Zone later in the year, and get everyone's names confused.  Awful.

Early on many of us would keep running into Gary, who was pacing himself well, and using this race more as preparation for his Tahoe Rim Trail speed attempts anyway.  Most of us slower runners figured if we stayed with or behind him, we weren't running TOO fast.

Right out of the 2nd aid station, there was a 180 degree flip in technicality as we descend this gully, hanging on to ropes, jumping from boulder to boulder.  It was a blast, though later in the race I would feel pains that I could attribute to some of those impacts.  Then a few miles of pretty, fun single-track.  Talked more with Josh (Joshua Malpass) from SoCal, with whom I shared a campsite half a year ago at Chimera 100 (report will some day get finished).  Chimera was his first 100 miler; he finished less than 10 minutes after me, so I imagine he was feeling more comfortable than I at that pace.

Chatting so much entering the 3rd aid station, I forgot I had left my Garmin Forerunner #2 in a drop bag there, and being anal, ran back (at least 1/4 mile) to pick it up, tactical error #3.   Running down the paved road, my bowels started feeling more uncomfortable-- maybe this started before the aid station, when I could have but didn't grab some wipes.  So behind a some desert bush at the side of the road, I did my thing, wiping with some leaves I picked off a tree and started running, but feeling unsettled for several miles.  Not worried that about 5-6 people got ahead me during the whole process.

The Race Director's mother, whom I met at pre-race the day before was at aid station #4, Virgin Desert, mile 42.  Here I had stashed one of my Ultimate Direction Wasp packs (essential gear for my longer training runs), so dumped my 24 ounce handheld.

The course largely followed down a dry wash (= an intermittent streambed in an arroyo or canyon that carries water only briefly after a rain, from Dictionary of Geologic Terms
which was all pretty, fun and dandy until I got to a 4-way intersection without any trail markings.  There was no mention of a turn at this point neither in the detailed course directions card I was carrying that were available pre-race, nor in the narrative course description I printed up from the race website (yes, I was prepared).  So, I did what you are supposed to do in this situation, which is to keep going down the dry wash and ignoring the trail it just intersected.  After about half a mile of continued descent without any course markings, I got the heebie jeebies and decided to turn around and go up, where I saw Josh or Justin or someone I was talking to earlier whose name began with J, who somehow thought to turn right.  (Later on the steep climb to the mesa, I complained about the lack of course markings, to Justin or Jason, who told me he himself had marked the intersection, so suspected a rancher had removed them-- this happens, but I was irked that the turn didn't make it onto the course description I was carrying.

RD's mother, who initially was too shy to be photographed

RD Matt Dunn's mom

The psychological impact of the bonus mileage probably slowed me down for a while, but as I noticed my relative pace slowing even before the really steep ascent to Gooseberry Mesa, I realized it was more physical than psychological.  I regretted only having grabbed one packet of peanut butter crackers at Virgin Desert.

Hannah Roberts, who won HURT when I ran it in 2011, passed me up the hill.  Also some other guy wearing Sportiva's minimalist Vertical K's.  With my upcoming move, I hadn't had time to get my own pair of these really cool shoes (and didn't want something else I had to pack and move).

There was a "water only" station at the top of Gooseberry Mesa, but it had among other extras, a bin with boiled potatoes in it.  The next full aid station was not for several miles and I was so calorie-depleted that I downed three medium-sized ones, even though I knew it would probably slow me down in the short-term which it did.

The trail at the top of this mesa mostly zig-zagged slick rock close to the rim.  The trails were already marked with blotches of usually white paint.  At times I had to slow down or even stop to figure out where the next blotch was.  I thought to myself that my kids would have extra fun hiking here, as the search for the next blotch would give them a continual challenge.  But then I thought maybe not for at least a couple of years since my kids do a lot of spontaneous running ahead during our hikes, and there were many places that a few yards off the side of the trail would result in a fall to serious injury or death.

Apparently I was lucky to do this section before nightfall, because if I had some issues navigating, it became impossible in the dark.  (The race director has changed to course for future races to make sure, among other things, that no one runs here at night.)

Even after digesting the potatoes, I found that I couldn't run even the slightest uphill.  Doing so even for a few steps (for instance up the side of a large rock) resulted in nausea and dizziness.  I was okay on downslopes or perfectly flat surfaces.  I could not figure this out.  If it was altitude, why wasn't I getting headache I usual get (even at 5000 feet)?  My paced slowed, more people passed me.  At least, I consoled myself, my inability to run too fast let me better savor the awesome views to the right.

Gooseberry Aid Station we hit twice at 51.5 and 52.5 miles.  From there was a half mile out and back to the edge of a little peninsula-cliff.  This was nice because it was the only point on the course you could see runners going the opposite direction.  The views from the turnaround point were stunning.  If I ever run this race again (and I don't have a flight to catch the next afternoon), I should plant a small camera in my drop bag to snap a bunch of pics from that sight.  I also saw a very large tortoise going out, but by the time I headed back just a few minutes later it was nowhere to be seen, which surprised me as I thought they walked slowly.

More similar trail for the 10 miles to the next aid station.   Unluckily I asked a volunteer to fill my bag up all the way unnecessarily. Luckily I got to my first light at mile 62 half an hour before it got dark.

From here there was a lot of wide flat road and I was able to cruise at a decent pace at least initially, before I started feeling the sleepies, which made me fall apart even more, followed by several navigational issues.

I think after Smithsonian Butte, mile 70, Adrian (who was running in the front pack for a while until he crumped) and his pacer and Mikio, with whom I was running earlier, were both having questions about where to go.  The card I was carrying was pretty clear.  Mikio shot out ahead, and I ran with Adrian and Colin for a couple of miles until they too shot ahead.  Most of the ascent was gentle and should have been runnable except I was starting to fail on my ability to run uphill again.

Later though, directions became less clear, and there were two places where I got lost.  The first was an intersection without clear markings where I mucked about a bit.  The second was leaving the Gould's Rim aid station at mile 82.  Volunteers told us to go down a straight road and then turn left, but there was no marking to turn left, and I ran back the half mile and found a single track that led from the right, which wasn't on the course description, but I figured was a better bet.  Eventually a couple of other runners caught up to me and we all grumbled about the confusion and bonus mileage.

One was Claude Hicks, 52, from Texas (who eventually left me behind).  (The guy who won the whole thing, Jay Aldous, was also 50.)

The other was Tim Stroh, whom I met at my first Cascade Crest 100 in 2009.  He actually helped design that course.  He was also doing better than I and eventually left me behind.

Tim, after winning the inaugural Pigtails Challenge 200 mile just two weeks later in 43:35.  
The sun came up, which I thought would only do so after I finished the race, but at least I got to enjoy more good scenery.  (My memories about those parts are now quite fuzzy, and this report is getting too long anyway.)

I lunged to cross the finish line as the seconds columns showed 00, so finished 25:27:00 (somehow I thought I was 24:27-- probably due to my GPS still being set on Pacific Time.  I could make the 1 hour correction most of the race, but after 25 hours of running while failing continued caffeine, my mathematical skills were shot.  Fourth slowest time ever for me in a 100 mile race.  Despite the heat and technically difficult sections and my modest expectations, I was expecting to run this faster.

my unique hand-made finishers buckle

There was going to be a cool post-race dinner party, but this being Mother's Day weekend, I had to get my ass home.  (Fortunately, the race has been moved to April (for 2013, the date is April 19) so this won't be an issue in the future. )  I tried to sleep in my car before leaving, which didn't quite work. I had to pull over twice to nap to make it back to McCarran international in Las Vegas.  Nuts.  Not recommended.  The summer would be filled with more of this sort of frantically-paced craziness.

About the RD-- so Matt Gunn gives great communication through his website blog (this was actually a major reason I had signed up), and really worked and continues to work to put on the best race possible.  He learned from his experience this year, and has made a lot of changes that should work out the kinks and improve the race.  I am by no means upset about the several times I got lost, and was actually surprised that didn't happen more than it did.  He gets my rookie RD of the year award (sorry, no buckle for that), and my enthusiastic recommendation.  He is the one in red below.  Run his races!  You won't be sorry.

(In the interest of full disclosure, Sportiva sponsored the race, so Matt in the end comped my entry.  Thanks again to both La Sportiva and Matt, and the many dedicated volunteers who helped us on the course!)

GPS recordings of my run:
part 1 (first 35 miles)
part 2 (next 42)
part 3 (last 23-25)

some of my splits from the webcast

results (59? finishers out of 122? starters )

link to page on race website of other's race reports that all got finished months before this one and that I probably should have read first, but I am so far behind on my blogging that it is ridiculous, so I admit to not having tried to read most of them.

the official short blurb on the lead finishers

official race website -- next year's race scheduled to start Friday, April 13, 2013.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Newly Published Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Lightning Injuries

Those who have been following my blog for a while already know about how I came too close to lightning during my second running of the Kettle Moraine 100 Mile Run four years ago (when I could better keep up with my blogging):  "Sweltering, Scared, Soaked, but Spared--Surviving the Kettle Moraine 100 Mile Run from Hell (and My First Title Loss Ever)"

This link below gets you to one of the best summary articles (actually guidelines) I've come across on lightning, very recently published by the Wilderness Medical Society. (Thanks, WMS!)  Some of the treatment stuff is probably too technical medical; you can skim it or ask a friend working in health care to interpret it.

But there is practical straightforward stuff that ultrarunners can use (and if trying to make some buckle cutoff, maybe ignore, but at least it would be informed risk-taking.)  Such as:
if one can hear thunder, then there is a risk of lightning strikes and one should seek shelter immediately. As substantial shelter is rarely available in the wilderness, hearing thunder in this setting should trigger an individual to immediately avoid or leave areas that are high risk for lightning strikes, such as ridgelines or summits, and to avoid tall objects such as ski lifts, cell phone towers, or isolated trees.
Additional bonus learning point /editorial is in Table 1 "ACCP classification scheme for grading evidence and recommendations in clinical guidelines."  In medicine, workup and treatment guidelines are rarely clear cut / black and white.  Recommendations are graded; by the quality of supporting evidence.  Often what gets done for patients (or asked by patients of their doctors) is low on that table.  Aside from the impracticality of going in to the emergency department (or at least mine) demanding an MRI for your sprained ankle...

If nothing else  please take a look at and try to memorize their photo of the position you are supposed to assume if lightning strike seems imminent :  crouch on your toes and hear no evil.  There are more subtle things you should try to do, details in article.

copyright by the Wilderness Medical Society, 2012
didn't ask for permission, but hopefully they'll will forgive, since I'm trying to maybe save your life!

Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Volume 23, Issue 3, Pages 260-269, September 2012
published online 02 August 2012.  Davis, Chris, et al,  "Wilderness Medical Society Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Lightning Injuries"

Stay safe! Stay alive!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Forgetting Your Finishing Times

During the last half of Wasatch (100 Mile Endurance Run) this past weekend, my goal was to finish under 30 hours.  This wasn't just an arbitrary goal involving the tens-place minute digit of my finishing time, but backed tangibly by a buckle with a different design.

actually NOT what I was shooting for-- out of my reach,
but I don't have my sub-30 hour buckle yet and couldn't find a photo on the web
In between short conversations with other runners and their pacers, thoughts only half coherent due to fatigue and hypoxia, and nonverbal appreciation of the fantastic scenery, I tried to remember my finishing times of my other races this year.  I realized that none of my times stuck, especially my three earlier 100 mile runs.  Perhaps because it took me so much longer to finish than I had expected.  Or maybe I have now completed so many ultras (I think I am over 120 now, depending on how you count) that I don't really fixate over my times so much.

If someone asked me how long it took me to finish Bighorn (100 mile) this past June, and I answered "I think 27-something, pretty slow" when it actually took me almost 29 hours, probably an excusable factual error.  Plus with appropriate accompanying self-deprecation.

But saying your best time in a marathon (and the only marathon you've ever run in your life at that) was under 3 when it was actually over 4?  And then to pat yourself on the back publicly for being so fast?  Despicable!  This pathological liar wants to be our vice-president.

Paul Ryan, self-touted sub-3 marathoner and vice presidential candidate
I almost missed all this while I was camping and without good web access.

August 22, 2012, The Hugh Hewitt Show:

Hewitt: Are you still running?

Ryan: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or less.

Hewitt: But you did run marathons at some point?

Ryan: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.

Hewitt: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?

Ryan: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.

Hewitt: Holy smokes. All right, now you go down to Miami University….

Ryan: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.

Ludicrous!  If I made a similar PR (double meaning intended) "oversight," I would answer, "I think I finished just under two hours.  Yeah, I was faster than the world's fastest."  Note he even lied about running more than one marathon by his use of plural/habitual.  He is reeking!

Whatever respect I can muster for his right to hold his conservative political views, I can't hear such a blatant lie without a deep-seated feeling of revulsion arise from the pit of my stomach.  There is a large pit in running hell for people who lie about their athletic accomplishments.  This dude is a self-aggrandizing, untrustworthy liar.  He is not to be trusted.  If he becomes my country's vice-president, I will be really pissed off.  Consider moving to Canada.  (Would be quite inconvenient, but great trail running there!)

If I ever saw him running, I might accidentally trip him.

Enough of my ranting, better to make fun.  This is hilarious, in case you haven't seen it yet.

Stephen Colbert's coverage of Ryan's one-hour post-race sort of course-cutting

God Bless America and Stephen Colbert!

And just saw this one:

The Original Paul Ryan Time Calculator

Monday, July 23, 2012

Need for Sleep (Mine and Yours)

Let's see, I'm way behind on my race blog reports (a full year/six races for the 100-milers), but having just finished Angeles Crest almost 7 hours slower than my first running two years ago when I eked the sub-24 hour finish despite bonus mileage and initially giving up, I felt it would be useful first to explain to you all a few things about the need for sleep in general and my personal need for it.  I will then be able to refer back to this posting when I get around to writing my reports for the inaugural Zion 100 Mile (May) and the 25th Angeles Crest 100 Mile Runs (just this past weekend / July).  Although the weather was hot for both races, I'm pretty sure the fundamental reason for my taking so long to finish both races was not weather, but my acute on chronic sleep deprivation.

Three points I wanna make.


Training to become a physician does not make me or any other medical or osteopathic doctor more resistant to the effects of sleep deprivation.  This is a myth that doesn't need to be circulated to be held widespread-- seems like common sense.  Of course doctors don't need to sleep, all that medical training without sleep trains them to not need it. 

Although one can learn to function as well as one can while sleep deprived (much as one can learn how to deal with the pain and fatigue of having run 30, 60 or 90 miles), the adaptation is far from perfect.  People vary in the amount of sleep they need to optimally function; this is probably more important than  whether one has undergone a few years of working ridiculous hours in a high-stress situation for ridiculously little pay. My need for sleep is probably average/median to slightly more.

2. (just a reminder):

I don't take call around the clock.  I'm an emergency physician.  I wake up the other doctors to ask them a question or ask them to come in.  My schedule, however, is constantly in flux.  My group has sick call coverage for shifts that each of takes once a month-- I call in both hospitals at 8:30 am and if no one called in sick, I'm free that day.  (Incidentally, I am free to run all day.  Hence my call days either suck because I got called in to work in between a two blocks of multiple shifts in a row, resulting in working something like eight days straight, or a great day with a much needed break, when I get an awesome, long training run in.)


Intelligent people are devoting their careers to learning more about sleep and our need for it, because like all things scientific, we don't everything about it.  Thanks go to them.

Asking how much sleep one got the night before (or even the touted as more crucial night before the night before) doesn't allow one to make any reliable conclusions about whether someone starts an ultra well rested or not.

Here is an analogy given and tweeked by some sleep researchers published my alma mater's alumni magazine.

Sleep researchers sometimes use the analogy of an hourglass to illustrate how we lose our ability to function as the day wears on. A good night’s sleep gives us a full ration of sand at the top of the glass; the grains begin to fall when we wake up, and “with each grain that drops, there’s an increasing level of impairment,” Cohen explains. The new study’s findings led its senior author, associate professor of medicine Elizabeth Klerman, to refine the analogy: “She says chronic sleep loss essentially enlarges the hole between the halves of the hourglass, so the sand falls a lot faster. That means you can be fully restored [by a long night’s sleep], but you peter out very quickly.”

link to the full article, "Lost Sleep Is Hard to Find" (well-written and not too long)

So now I will be able to write, "desafortunadamente, my hourglass hole was too (f***ing) wide," and link back to this post or the on-line article.

Hopefully, I won't have to do this so often.  On hearing about my last run, she advised me I should be more careful with scheduling plane flights, trips and work shifts and other events in the days before my 100 milers.  However, not sure how practical this would be.  My life does not revolve around my racing.  I do not have anything close to complete control over my work schedule.  It is more like my racing goes on despite how busy my life is.

Thanks for reading.  Everyone get a good night's rest tonight (and most nights)!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Crampy Return to the Diablo Trails Challenge 50k

shirt front
I had two musculoskeletal concerns going into the race on Saturday, April 21st:

First, putting our Thule bicycle rack into the hitch of my Rav4 last weekend, I tweaked my left mid to left back.  It was bad enough that during the bike ride I couldn't straighten my back, and I was in a fair amount of pain for the next 3 days.  It was still pretty sore Saturday morning, though no more wincing when I bent or twisted.

starting our bike ride at Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley, with huge inflatable dog in background

Second, during the night before the race, sometime around 2 am, I managed to cramp my right calf.  Random charlie horse, I woke up with a scream, managed to get it relaxed in about half a minute and then fell asleep.  (My wife however, was wide awake and went downstairs to answer emails for half an hour, poor thing.)  I knew then it would be sore and tight in the morning (and it was).

Later reflecting on why and how it happened then (this happens to me while in bed probably 2-3 times a year), I came up with the following possibilities (mostly boring, so feel free to skip this section):
  • I didn't run at all the last 3 days (an unintended complete taper), which I think makes me tighten up.
  • There was a running exception of sprinting down our street chasing my younger son, who really wanted to get on his scoot bike after we got home from a haircut.  I suggested he was more than ready to do a real bike, and he went for it, but I wasn't convinced he knew how to stop or control himself.  A big milestone for him!  (He's the one on the left the photo above-- for long bike rides, I think we'll keep him on the Trailabike.)
  • Friday evening we were at friends, I swam some sprints in the pool.  No stretching afterwards.
  • Then I sliced artisan cheeses while standing for more than 15 minutes.
Saturday was forecast to be the hottest day of the year, with temperatures approaching 90 in the area, so the possibility of severe cramping, even without these already injures muscle groups, was fairly high.

I arrived earlier than I had to, so Mike Weston could give me a HURT 100 license plate holder that he wasn't going to use.  I got one last January from the race, but I have two cars.  Thanks, Mike!

Mike giving me his license plate holder
I didn't make it on the first bus.  A young guy wearing a Sportiva jersey got on, so I greeted him and he sat with me for the ride from where the race would finish at Castle Rock Park to the start at Round Valley Regional Preserve.  This young, free-spirited and well-travelled Mountain Running Teammate is attempting an Appalachian Trail speed record this summer, so today's race was more of a fun run for which his training hasn't been geared.  Good luck to Sean!

Sean Blanton deboarding right before me, photo by Jonathan Fong
In contrast to 3 years ago when it was freezing so many including this blogger opted to stay on the bus as long as possible, the temperature was perfect outside.  I had some non-leg-related running issues (actually a third concern), and used the bathroom twice after once at Castle Rock.  Luckily, this was not a problem during the race.

Beryl Anderson of Save Mount Diablo (far left below) asked me to talk about the race and what Mount Diablo means to me.  I blabbered something incomprehensible for several minutes.  She told me what I said was great, but I suspect she was just being polite, and that if I ever see myself on YouTube, I will be embarrassed.

(If pressed for time, just read the last section of the race)

Start to Morgan Territory Road crossing (mile 8.2)  Distances are per the website, but per my measurements not fully accurate.

Different route than the first year, and no mud.  In 2009 I took the lead from the start and never gave it up.  This time, Sean sprinted ahead of everyone, hollering for intentional goofball effect before dropping back.

photos by Jonathan Fong for Brazen Racing
Tim Long in orange Inside Trail shirt
Seven guys if I counted right were ahead of me after the first quarter mile or so, and I couldn't keep up.  Tim Long continued to pull farther ahead.  I knew from his blogging that he was training hard (if not high in mileage) and my bets were that he would win the race, barring some fast unrecognized sub-2:30 marathoner running his first 50k.

Lauri Abrahamsen and winner Tim Long of ITR
Whenever I'm at one of these less top-heavy races and I'm in the lead pack with a bunch of guys, I usually count on about half of them including myself appropriately being up there and about half running faster than they should, eventually to drop back. This thinning out happened sooner than I'd expected.  I soon found myself with another guy in 2nd and 3rd, Mike from Hawaii, and we spent most of the next 10 miles or so talking.

photo by Jonathan Fong
Living next to the steep trails on which the HURT 100 course is held, it was no surprise he was a strong climber; I complimented him on being a strong climber for someone relatively heavy, and apparently I wasn't the first to notice this. Mike grew up in Pleasanton and ran cross country at UC Davis before injuries made him switch to bicycling.

Morgan Territory Road Crossing to Old Finley Road (mile 15.6)

The guy in 4th was about 1-2 minutes behind us when we looked back early in the ascent. Before the next summit (and highest elevation of the course at 2303 feet), Mike started to pull away and  I couldn't keep up.  He hammered the successive downhills.  In this section, there were great views of the twin peaks of Mount Diablo and North Peak to the right; he running gracefully in his bright blue jersey in the foreground added to the aesthetics.

I saw Tim Long coming back from the Finley aid station on the one out of back section of the course.  He had about at 10 minute lead and was looking strong and relaxed.  I caught up with Mike at the aid station; he had to spend extra time there to duct tape close his hydration pack bladder.  His girlfriend Pauline who was crewing for him was supposed to be there to switch him out a bottle, but as I explained, you can't park even at the trailhead, so probably 2 miles to the aid station, explaining why she didn't make it.

Mike and Pauline at the finish
Finley Road to Horseshoe South Gate (mile 23.0)

Mike caught up with me quickly, so I figured he would get back in 2nd again, but he ended up following me.  After the place where I helped clear a tree and reroute the trail 3 years ago, we entered the single track where Kirk Boiseree and I hacked and lopped branches as part two of the trail work.  This 1.5+ mile section was completely overgrown with poison oak, jutting into the trail at all levels.  Had this section been downhill, avoidance would have been more than futile.  Since we were running uphill, it was only futile.  I was pretty focused on trying to keep the urashiol allergen off my legs and arms and face.  On the bus, Sean revealed his pro-single track anti-fire road trail philosophy; I realized for reasons such as Bay Area poison oak, I'm not so dogmatic.  After this section, the trail got wider, and I slowly started to pull away from Mike, despite the heat and the realization I was behind on my fluids.

I was carrying a 24 ounce bottle and drinking a couple of extra cups of liquids at the aid stations, but soon figured out that I was under-hydrating.  I tried to pee to help assess my hydration and only got minimal output.  I started feeling a little weak, and realized I wasn't eating enough, but as my bottle emptied halfway through the split couldn't just down a another gel.

Approaching the aid station at Horseshoe Gate, Mike's girlfriend Pauline offered me some water, which I accepted while not recognizing her but then got paranoid this was cheating.  There was the loud whirring of a medical evacuation helicopter, which was both annoying and exciting (even as an ER doc, seeing emergencies in the field is still an unusual enough occurrence for me.)  The story later was it was a bicyclist that crashed and not a runner passing out from heat stroke.

Horseshoe South Gate to Burma Road North Gate (mile 28.1)
Mostly downhill on the rocky fire roads.  I no longer saw anyone behind me.  Not only my calves but my shins started to tighten up probably because I wasn't plantar-flexing my ankles to save my calved, so I had to hold back my pace on a good section on which I would normally try to hammer out some really fast splits.  Then a short uphill before the single track Buckeye Trail, where I was feeling wafts of heat rising from the ground.  Amazingly, no ticks jumped on me here in the tall grass.

Jonathan Fong
by Jonathan Fong

This split was supposed to be 5.1 miles, but it was 5.7 on my Garmin Forerunner.

Burma Road to finish
Downhill in the beginning, where and when I saw Kirk Boiseree (with whom I did trail work for the course three years earlier), who was running in the opposite direction to pace his buddy Errol "the Rocket" Jones.

"Rocket" Errol and Cap'n Kirk post-race
The downhill became less steep after the first mile of the three mile split.  There was then a series of (maybe 8 to 10) stream crossings.  I was amused to see a few of the half marathoners actually trying hard not to get their feet wet.  I ran through the streams, which felt great.  My pace was picking up.  I made an arbitrary goal of trying to finish in 5:10, though I wasn't quite sure how much longer I had since I had figured out the race map's distances weren't completely accurate.

A mile from the finish, as I bounded up from what turned out to the last stream crossing, my left hamstring suddenly cramped.  I hadn't been feeling much in my hamstrings, but I immediately knew it was from my efforts all race to spare my calves on the uphills.  I tried to breathe and relax as I staggered and hobbled for about a minute, aware that more likely than not, someone was a few minutes behind me.  Ugh-- if this got worse, it could take me half an hour and several places to get to the finish.

Fortunately there were more significant uphills, even short ones, and I was able to relax my spasming hamstring and other muscle groups, and ease back to a slow but non-catastrophic 9 minute per mile pace.

approaching the finish, photo by Allen Lucas
I had enough time (5 1/2 minutes) to get to my drop bag and photograph Greg Benson from SF, finishing 3rd overall.  Maybe a new tradition for me starting with Chabot in February-- try to take finishing photos of the person after me, then go and eat.  (Greg was the one close behind Mike and me around mile 9, so he kept as consistent a pace as I did.)

Great massage from this guy.  Mark Callaway (of The Specific Chiropractic Center)

Great food spread.

Free medal engraving (text to your liking) for 50k finishers (I barely found out about this).  Pretty cool.

Christin typing in Kevin Otoole from Roseville's info to custom engrave his medal

the back of mine, medal front at right.  slick.
1st overall the 1st time I ran it, 2nd the 2nd time.  Next time I run this, I guess I should be happy to place 3rd.

Honestly, though, I would rather have more people run this race.  It's a fantastic, epic course, with amazing views, and superbly managed and volunteer supported.  I would rather have more people, front packers included, run this race to increase support for Save Mount Diablo, even if it results in my finishing out of the top 10.

Thank you volunteers-- you were all great!
This was my first run ever put on by Brazen Racing-- quite impressed.

my GPS recording  (course still long-- at least a 51k.  though long is okay)


race website (Brazen Racing)
Save Mount Diablo -- thanks for protecting these trails over the past four decades.  Ultra / trail runners (among others) all owe your organization.

prior blog posts regarding this year's Diablo Trails 50k race:
reasons for running it
photographic preview

Okay, this is it.  Two 50k races, 1 50k fat-ass and 1 marathon I wasn't racing.  Not exactly the optimal build-up to my year's first 100 miler three weeks from this race.  Time to train is going to be dismal for the next several weeks.  But what to do?  Let's see if I'm ready.....