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.....


notthatlucas said...

Great (and quick!) race report! I do a lot of Brazen races and they really are fun, but they have few with distances longer than a Half Marathon. This course is awesome though. (Great to meet you at the end.)

Jeff Gallup said...


SaveMountDiablo said...

Awesome! Thank you so much for all of your time and help, Mark! This has been the most successful Diablo Trails Challenge ever!

This will help us to preserve more lands and create more trails for people to enjoy.

Serge said...

Congratulations! I hope that your efforts will be recognized as a way to help more trails and to preserve more lands.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Thanks, Allen, Jeff and Serge! I don't know if I'll be able to run the race this year (2013), but hope many more do.