Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Headlands Hundred

As it turns out, Pacific Coast Trail Runs Headlands Hundred was my big finale in the bay area before the move back to Chicago in September. It's been a lot of fun getting to know the running community here, everyone will be missed.

I will also miss all the hills to train on, HH gave me an opportunity to see what I can do when there are a LOT of hills, over 20,000 feet of elevation gain. To get an idea of what that kind of gain looks like, check out this great flyover video posted by the Endurables.

The course was a 25 mile loop done "washing machine" style, which apparently means each loop alternates directions. At the start line I noticed a lot of really fast runners. People like Brian Krogmann, Mark Tanaka, and Ray Sanchez were just a few of the people there (that I knew of) with impressive running resume's. My money however, was on Nathan Yanko. Nathan was running his first 100 mile race, but I knew from seeing him before that he had some real talent, and was coming in well prepared. I had a feeling that the previous course record of 20hrs 20mins would fall by the end of the race.

7:00am Saturday we all got started and immediately hit the first steep climb. Only a few of us ran the majority of the hill. No sense in getting into a huge rush, no matter what it's gonna be a looong day. I spent most of the first 25 mile lap trying to stay relaxed and keep an efficient stride. Around mile 16 I was running with Nathan, talking about strategy for the race when he relayed that we were currently in 2nd and 3rd place. This was a little worrisome, I really didn't want to go out too fast, but I also didn't want to waste my opportunity to run well while I was feeling good. The first 25 mile lap went very smooth, coming in at 4hrs 3mins, well ahead of my goal pace. The only real pain was the quarter mile or so of sand that we had to run on to cross Rodeo Beach. Running in sand is painfully slow, and now I had sand digging into the spots where my toenails used to be (I had lost a few toenails in my last race and they hadn't grown back yet). I made sure to give Race Director Sarah a semi good naturedly hard time about making us all run through the sand when I saw her.
The next 25 mile lap went the other direction, so first thing we did was run through the sand again (Sarah, I'm still blaming you personally). In my opinion, running the course this direction was much harder. While the elevation change was obviously the same either way, it just seemed a lot less runable in spots. Nevertheless, I was still feeling pretty good for most of lap 2, except for all the blisters that were now open and filled with sand. With about 3 miles to go in the second lap, I notice Brian Krogmann running toward me cursing like a sailor. Apparently, he had missed a turn and had taken a detour for a few miles. I feel his pain, I am terrible at following directions, and have gotten lost on even the best marked courses. It's demoralizing to know that you know have to run a 103 mile race, instead of 100. Even though 3 miles doesn't seem like much in a 100 mile race, 3 miles is still not a short distance. I made a note to self to make sure I didn't miss that turn when it came around again at night. I Finished the first 50 miles in 5th place (I think) around 9hrs 15mins. Now things were about to get serious.
As is the case with all 100 milers, the second 50 miles is where people have to put their cajones on the line. Besides the typical fatigue and muscle soreness, some of the ultrarunning specific pains and injuries were starting to pile up. My shoulders hurt from holding my arms out all day, I was down to 4 total toe nails, and I had bloody rub spots around my collar, waistband, thighs, and um 'private areas'. For some reason, body glide just wasn't doing the trick this time. Luckily, blood is a good lubricant. Also, stomach upset was kicking in. I knew I had to eat, but I couldn't manage to swallow any solid foods. Not good when there is still 40 miles to go. While at an aid station trying to decide if there was something, anything that I could manage to swallow and keep down, I saw an empty ensure bottle in the trash can. Hmmm. I had never drank ensure, but I knew a lot of ultrarunners who did. I asked around at the aid station, and someone happened to have one in their car, success! Abby offered to go get some more at a store, so the rest of the race I was on an all liquid diet and the stomach issues disappeared.
While I was doing my best to run up a gnarly hill, Mark Tanaka came strolling up from behind. We talked for a while, and it turned out Mark had just completed an Ironman Triathlon the previous weekend! Wow. Just when I start to think I am getting pretty tough, someone comes along and shows what the next level is like. I suggested that maybe he take the next weekend off.
With 30 miles to go, darkness set in. My all pro pacer, Eric, gave me my headlamp and flashlight with the plan that he would join me at mile 75. I Finished the 3rd 25 mile lap in 4th place around 14hrs 30mins.
One more tough lap to go. I am glad Eric was there, he kept me motivated and on course. I probably wasn't the most pleasant running partner at all times and every few minutes I would let out a long groan. The first half of the last lap was a slog; I was doing my best just to be "running" although a lot of the terrain was basically walking. I was definitely slowing down. By the time Eric and I crested the tallest hill with 10 miles to go, I was toast. We limped into the next to last aid station with 8 miles to go.
As we were leaving the aid station, 5th place Dan Fish and his pacer came in to the aid station looking strong. At first I was apathetic; what's one more position? I was doing better than I had hoped, maybe I will just let them catch us. Then, suddenly I was racing. I couldn't let someone catch me with less than 8 miles to go. Besides, I didn't have anything I was saving myself for the next day. I started picking up speed, and was going faster than we had gone in hours. However, Dan and his pacer were still keeping up, and even catching up. We kept seeing their headlamps getting closer and closer. I was going to have to find another gear. With 5 miles to go, I decided there was no point in holding anything back at that point, and picked up the pace again. I musta been going pretty good, because Eric was suddenly way behind me. Looks like the last few miles would be on my own.
I ran into the last aid station telling Abby that I needed one more ensure on the double. Someone was hot on my tail and I didn't want to slow down. I thought for a second about getting extra batteries for the headlamp and flashlight since I was going to be on my own, but I didn't want to waste the time slowing down.
Naturally, a few minutes outside the last aid station my headlamp died (the box that the headlamp came in claimed it would last 25 hours, what a crock). I now only had a small flashlight and it was dark and foggy. I was also running as fast as I could, so it was a recipe for a faceplant or a tumble down a hill. Only sheer dumb luck kept me on my feet and Seeing Brian take the wrong turn earlier in the day was instrumental in making sure I didn't make the same wrong turn. Remarkably, losing my headlamp actually helped me run faster because I knew if my flashlight went out too, I was toast. 98 miles in, I was running up hills that I previously thought were too steep to run.
Thankfully, my flashlight held on through the final climb, and 20hrs 36mins after I started, I finished in 4th place. Whew! I was very happy with my performance, especially with so many quality runners in the race. Thanks to my crew, Abby and Eric, and everyone else who made the race possible. By the way, Nathan Yanko did end up winning and crushing the record in 18hrs 45mins.
What a great race, and a great year that it has been in California. I plan on coming back soon. One little tidbit that I was wondering if other runners experience: For three days after the race, I had this nagging feeling that I was still running. The best way I can think of describing it is like the feeling you get after being on a boat for a long time and then when you are on land it still feels like you are swaying. I would also have a constant feeling that I need to hurry up and get a move on, even if I didn't have anywhere to go. I think I got in such a mode of constantly pushing myself, that it took a few days to wear off. I wonder if this happens to anyone else?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tahoe Rim Trail 50M

I have been living in San Francisco now for 10 months, and one of the things that I have been wanting to do since moving to Northern Callifornia was to run a mountain race. So, July 18th I ran the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Mile Endurance Run. I had initially planned to run the 100 mile race that was going on at the same time. However, achilles tendon and hamstring injuries prevented me from running for 5 weeks during what was scheduled to be my heaviest training. I had been able to run for a few weeks, but didn't feel like I would be ready for the demands of 100 miles in the mountainous terrain, so I signed up for the 50 mile version instead.

The course is in the alpine and sub-alpine regions of the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges. There is 9,894 feet of elevation change, and it ranges from 6800 to over 9200 feet above sea level. It's also one of the most beautiful places on earth. Especially once you get above the tree line, the views of Lake Tahoe and the rest of the region are amazing. This was my first race at altitude, (and my first time hearing phrases like "above the treeline" or "just one more mountain to climb after this one") so I was curious to see how I was going to handle the thin air.

The race started just as the sun was coming up. I started in the middle of the pack, with my race strategy being to take it as easy as possible. I soon found out that there is no 'easy' way to run up a mountain. Since the alternative to running up a mountain was walking up a mountain, I decided to run. Nevertheless, I did try to stay as relaxed as possible going both uphill and downhill since my fitness level and my ability to run in thin air were both relative unknowns. I decided early on not to 'race' anyone. If someone was faster than me, they would pass, if I happened to be faster, I would pass. I also worked on what I call "zen running," which is basically meditation while running.

My goal with zen running is to remove all of the extraneous thoughts that pop into my head when there are hours upon hours upon hours of running. Thoughts like: "Am I going too slow?," "Can I catch that guy?," "How should I prepare for that meeting Monday?," "The pain is too much," "I think I'm going to puke," or "I think my big toe nail just ripped off." To remove those thoughts, I focus on my breathing, and that's all. Just in and out, in and out. It's amazing how hard it is to focus on nothing. It takes a lot of practice. At first I could only focus for a few seconds, but after hours of practice, I could sustain it for several minutes, or even a few miles. Doing this makes the miles go by faster, and keeps me emotionally prepared for the hardship.

As I was getting close to the 26 mile turnaround, I passed Mark Gilligan going the other way, who awoke me from my concentration and pointed out that I was in 3rd place! (He was in first). I couldn't believe it, I had no idea that I was near the front. I also passed Brett Rivers going the other way, who was running his first 100 mile and was running top 8! Brett had asked me before the race if I had any last minute advice. I told him to not get excited, there is no point in getting pumped up to go run slowly for a whole day. I don't know if he took my advice, but he definitely wasn't going slowly.

The 26 mile aid station was the only place that crew had access to the course, and by this time it was getting hot, so I decided to take some time to get my temperature down. Abby helped me get fueled up, and I got some additional help from Larissa Pallischuck and Sara Spelt who were crewing for Brett. While I was taking my sweet time, a couple other runners passed me, but I was sticking to my plan of not racing. Only one more marathon over four mountain peaks to go.

The return run was HOT, and the pain was starting to get intense. But I was able to maintain my basic speed and run up and down almost all of the hills (I even passed a few people). By the time I reached the final peak at over 9200 feet above sea level, I was exhausted and couldn't catch my breath. We had come up here two weeks ago and there was snow on this peak, but today it was 75 degrees on the summit and over 90 in the valley.

I was thrilled because it was literally all down hill from there. Anyone who has run really far up and down a lot of hills knows that the downhills can be awful, especially once your quads are destroyed from a days worth of running. So the next seven miles (Seven miles! All down hill. That's a big hill.) went like this: ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow. But at least it wasn't taking a lot of energy, I was just letting gravity do the work. In no time, the end was in site.

I ended up crossing the finish line in 9 hours and 33 minutes, more than 2 hours faster than my goal time, and in 2nd place! I think I even get a prize of some North Face trail shoes. Which is good because the trail shoes I was wearing are toast.

After my race was over, Abby and I went back to the hotel, got cleaned up, and went back out to go cheer on the 100 mile runners, who still had a long way to go. We were at the finish line as the leaders crossed the finish line in the middle of the night more than 20 hours after the start. Most of the runners were completely decimated by the finish, but Brett Rivers, who came in 3rd place (3rd place! on his first 100 miler!) actually ran across the finish line jumping and screaming and giving high fives. Amazing. Congratulations to all the finishers!

Up next is the Pacific Crest Trail Runs Headlands Hundred August 8-9, which is my last chance to run a seriously hilly course (over 20,000 feet of elevation gain) for a while as we are moving back to Chicago the end of August.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Boston Marathon

4/20: Boston Marathon. Patriots Day.

In Boston, they celebrate a little known holiday called Patriots Day by taking the day off and putting on one of the most prestigious marathons in the world. This year, Patriots Day fell on 4/20, a holiday of a different sort, that is traditionally celebrated like this in my part of the world.

This year, I took the road less traveled on 4/20 by being one of 23,211 starters for the 113th Boston Marathon. Running Boston has been a dream of mine since I ran my first marathon. A dream that I thought was a mere pipe dream since my first marathon finish was 3 hours and 55 minutes. Boston's strict standards meant that for my age group, I needed to run 3 hours and 10 minutes to qualify. After using all of my strength to finish in just under 4 hours, shaving 45 minutes off my time seemed impossible. However, once I started training for my first 50 miler, all those extra training miles started to add up. I was doing 70-80 miles a week when I ran my second Chicago marathon in 3 hours and 20 minutes. After that, I thought I had a chance, so I started being more diligent, piling on the miles and adding more speedwork to my regimin. Then, after one 90 degree disastrous attempt in Chicago, I qualified for Boston by running 3 hours and 5 minutes at the ING Miami Marathon.

I debated how I wanted to run the race. Qualifying for Boston was my one big marathon goal, so I thought about treating the race as a giant victory lap. I also felt like I was in the best shape that I have been, so I considered challenging myself for a PR as well. The courses rolling hills make it challenging to PR, but with the cool, 48 degree weather and all the hill training I have been doing in San Francisco, I decided to give it a shot. Looking back, that was probably a mistake.

0-7 miles

The race started with a flyover by a couple of F-16 jets, and then we were off! The race starts off in Hopkington, a small town that is completely taken over by all the runners. The first few miles are mostly rural. It's also mostly downhill at first, so it's easy to keep a good pace. So easy in fact, that my 5k time was 20:35, a 6:37 mile pace. I saw Abby and Eric at the 4k mark. Later, Abby and Eric said that the course was challenging to find places to meet me, but they still met me at 3 places, plus the finish. (thanks guys!)

7-13.1 miles:

Next up was the town of Natick. Quaint little village from what I could tell as I ran by along with thousands of others. After passing through Natick we ran uphill for a while until reaching Wellesley College at the top of the hill at mile 13. Wellesley is an all girls college with a tradition of giving out kisses to marathon runners to speed them on their way. I didn't take advantage of that particular tradition, but was definitely greeted warmly. As I ran up the hill, the first thing I saw was a giant sign that said "brace your ears" (or something to that effect). That was good advice, because when I got to the top of the hill, it reminded me of when the Beatles first played the Ed Sullivan Show. So now I was really feeling like a rock star. I completed the first half in 1:28:23, a new half marathon PR by about a minute. I knew I was going pretty fast, my plan for the rest of the race was to hold this pace as long as possible, and use grit and determination to push through to the end.

13.1-20 miles:

Unfortunately, as long as possible turned out not to be that long. Not long after the halfway point, I started feeling a little light headed. I recognized this as the first indicator that my heart rate was getting too high, and if it was allowed to get too high, I would be in a world of hurt. I slowed to about a 7:15 pace and tried to relax as much as possible. The slowdown seemed to help for a while, but by the time we got to Newton at around mile 17, I could feel my heart rate spike, this time for good. This is the feeling some people call hitting the wall. I was hitting it hard, and way too soon. I knew if I was going to keep running for another 9 miles, it was going to be an extremely painful 9 miles. The next 3 miles I think I did about 8 minute miles, but I was starting to lose track of pace and was mostly just trying to keep it together.

20 miles-finish:

Between mile 20 and 21 is the infamous "heartbreak hill". In actuality, I didn't really notice the hill being all that tough, by this time, every step was tough, uphill or downhill. I couldn't have been going very fast though, perhaps 9 minute miles. I was trying to focus on my form, anything to distract myself from the pain all over and the lightheaded feeling. I considered stopping or walking to allow my heart rate to go back down, but I knew that could take up to a half hour, it would be like giving up completely. I also knew that the rest of the course was downhill, so I was clinging to the hope that I could improve my speed at the end.

Next up, we ran through Brookline and then into downtown Boston. This part of the race was literally a blur as I was having some trouble seeing straight. I remember it hurt. I know I have felt this kind of pain in almost all of my major races in which I have gone all out, but for some reason, it surprises me each time how painful it is. I am writing this on the day after the run, and I can remember it, but just barely. I will probably have forgotten it completely by next weekend. It's amazing how quickly we forget (or at least how quickly I forget). I guess that's what allows us to do this kind of thing over and over.

The final 2 miles took what seemed like forever, but the crowd was fantastic. I found out later that Abby and Eric were on a train that was about ready to head to the finish line when they saw me, yelled to the driver to open the door, and jumped out and started screaming for me before the driver yelled at them to get back in the train.

Finish! The finish was great, although it felt more like relief than triumph at first. I was a bit delirious for a while. The walk to get my gear, meet up with Abby and Eric and get back to the train felt very disconnected. Once I was able to relax and clean up a bit, I felt much better and had time to contemplate the run. I finished in 3:13:51, a 7:24 mile average. I am pleased for the most part with my performance, I know I tried like hell. I did make some mistakes however. Mistakes that I hope I learn from and hopefully those reading might learn from as well.

Next up: It's time to start putting in the big miles preparing for my summer 100 milers. I am going to take out my new New Balance shoes, put them through the ringer and report back next time.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Big things in 09'

Lot's of stuff has happened since my last post. I've participated in several races, met some very fascinating ultrarunners and set up my races and training plans for the rest of the year.

Since January I have participated in 4 50k races put on by Pacific Crest Trail Runs. The races were all held at state parks throughout the bay area. They have been a great way for me to get to know the area, train for the rest of the running season, and get to know the local trail running community. I have been happy with the results for the most part: 7th place at the Pacifica 50k January 17th, 10th place at the Woodside 50k February 7th, DNF at the Sequoia 50k February 28th (My first DNF! I lost my concentration and got lost), and 4th place at the Pirates Cove 50k March 21st.

Throughout these races I have gotten to know Brett Rivers, an up and coming runner who has started a great new website, Trail Run Times. I think the site is destined to become a great central location for the trail running and ultra running community.

I also recently met a fascinating man with some of the most incredible running stories you will ever hear. His name is Reza Baluchi and, among other things, in 2007/2008 Reza ran around the perimeter of the United States. 11,500 miles and he did it in 202 days. That's 57 miles a day every day for almost 7 months! I got to know Reza while we were both in Chicago recently, and I now plan to crew with him this July at Badwater. Reza's next big adventure is the most ambitious human endeavor I have ever encountered. Reza is planning on running through all 194 recognized country's in the world and cross the ocean in a human powered craft! Reza is currently raising money for this 5 year endeavor, check out his website for more information.

2009 is shaping up to be a busy year. April 20th I head to Boston to complete my dream of running the Boston Marathon. This summer I am running the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 a few days after crewing for Reza at Badwater, that should be a tiring week. Then 3 weeks after Tahoe Rim, I am signed up for the Headlands Hundred, put on by PCTR, practically in my back yard. The final race I am planning on (for now, I may add some) is the San Francisco One Day 24hr event. I suprised myself by winning the 2008 San Francisco One Day, so I feel like I need to defend my title. I also just read in the latest issue of Ultrarunning Magazine that my 130.2 mile 24hr performance was the 6th best 24hr performance by an American in 2008. Rock! I can run around in circles hour after hour after hour with the best of them.

Finally, the people at New Balance Outlet recently contacted me with an offer I couldn't refuse: free shoes! In the near future, I am going to be subjecting some New Balance shoes to 100 mile per week training weeks and perhaps a trail race or two and then writing about my experience with the shoes here. Frankly, I am a little worried because I have been wearing Mizuno Waverider shoes for several years now and it took me several tries before I found a shoe that wouldn't kill my feet. However, I have never worn New Balance before, maybe I will love them. We shall see.

That's it for now. Next post will most likely be my review of the Boston Marathon, along with training plans for the summer running madness.