Saturday, December 29, 2007

2007: The Year In Review

This was an amazing year for me. It was my first full year of running. Actually, discounting the little running I did in 2006 (where I ran in a marathon and a half marathon and trained maybe 50 miles the whole year) then I would say that this was my maiden year, the year where I started my journey to endurance.

The year started with a modest goal of running an average of 13.1 miles a week. Not running much in 2006, this was a good goal. It wasn't until March that I started signing up for races and set as my goal to run some half marathons, with maybe a marathon later in the year. I ended up blowing all of these goals out of the water. I ran the most miles for a month and a week in December, covering 114.49 miles for the month and 41.94 for the third week of December. I also clocked in at 15.52 miles on average per week, putting me at 807.19 miles for the year. Admittedly, I know I should be running a ton more miles than that if I want to get my endurance level up, but you have to start somewhere, right?

I felt confident in myself so I signed up for the SF marathon as well as the Silicon Valley marathon and began setting my sights on possibly running a 50k in December. After a demoralizing SF marathon experience at the end of July where I hobbled the last 10 miles on cramped calves, and still set a PR by 1hr9mins, I wasn't sure if I would run that distance again. A month had passed and I had ran a 5 mile, trail 10k and a half marathon and I suddenly forgot the pain of the SF marathon and set my sites on the Stevens Creek 50k at the beginning of September. I never looked back.

In 2007 I ran 2 marathons and 3 50ks in the last 5 months of the year, not to count the 6 half marathons and numerous other shorter distance races. In each and every marathon and 50k my time improved.

Marathon - I ran my first one in 2006 in 5:47:16 with no training, so I had an almost scientific goldmine for a benchmark. I then ran the SF marathon (7/29/07) in 4:38:48 and the SV marathon (11/4/07) in 4:35:47, resulting in an improvement of my PR by 1:11:29.

Coming into the finish of the SV marathon

50k - This distance also had a good benchmark for my first ever 50k because I had never ran longer than a 10k (only one at that with some good hills) on trails and so went into trail running as a virgin. My first impulsive 50k was ran on 9/8 and I got lost for 2.5 miles and learned a ton about endurance running in the mountains. It took me 8:15:47. A long time to be on your feet, but I was ecstatic. I was now an ultramarathoner. I ran my 2nd 50k on 12/1 at Woodside and ran it in 6:39:16 and beat my goal of 6:45. This one, too, just as my 2nd marathon was demoralizing, demoralized me in the middle miles on a long 10 mile stretch of hills with no food or water. I almost DNF'd. Which led me to my 3rd 50k of the year and my best run race of all my races. Ran it at Rodeo Beach (12/22) and finished in 6:09:00, resulting in a PR from my first 50k to this one of 2:06:47.

I had similar success in the shorter distance races for the first half of the year but noticed a drastic change in how I ran once I started the longer distance running. I no longer focused on speed, which is the emphasis on 5k, 5 mile and 10k races, and possibly half marathons, and instead focused on the long haul, as many of my races towards the end were measured in number of hours rather than number of minutes. I still had plenty of highlights for the shorter races, such as my 3rd place finish in my age group at the Freedom Run 5k in Morgan Hill, or the impulsive entry into the Uvas Triathlon (3/4m swim/16m bike/5m run) which was one of the tougher races I did this year since I was not a good swimmer at all and only had a mountain bike, or the Muddy Buddy race I entered with my brother where we got to dive into a mud pit in order to cross the finish.

All in all, a great year, highlighted by the year ending 50k that I was able to run without a flaw. What's in store for me in 2008? I've got my eye on a ton of marathons and 50ks (if all goes according to plan then 8 50ks and 6 marathons) and 2-3 50 milers, as well as possibly a Half Ironman... Only time will tell (and a road bike for the Half Iron) and I look forward to what the new year brings.

Best of wishes and luck to all you runners in the blogging community!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Rodeo Beach Trail Run 50k

For the first time I have finally been able to run a marathon or longer race and feel confident in how I was running it. It seemed that virtually everything I was doing was working, much more so than the 5 other marathon or longer races. And it paid dividends.

Rodeo Beach Trail Run 50k - 6:09:00 (11:50 pace; 30/54)

For this one I decided to do things a little differently. First off I had signed up for this event the Thursday before the event was taking place, which was on a Saturday. This had already been different than usual (if you discount my first marathon at SF) because I had ran 10.75 miles on Monday earlier in the week, and it was some hard pounding on steep uphills and downhills and then went to hard pounding on concrete, not that great of a combination. So my usual rest the week before was already messed up, so why not test the other "notions" I had about running.

So I didn't bother cutting myself off of soda that Thursday and Friday before. I've read that it dehydrates you and you have to drink more water to replace the water in your blood that the soda had pulled out, thus being a diuretic. Also I didn't do my normal pre-race meal of a heaping plate of pasta. Instead I sat down with some rice, salad, corn and chicken and than topped it off with another soda and some Ferrero Rocher chocolate for dessert. I knew I would finish the race, so what I wanted to test was whether all these little things that I do, and I know other runners have their little things, in order to insure a good race.

So morning of race I am off on my 1hr30min drive up past San Francisco to Sausalito, which is just on the northern side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Right away I was blown away with what I was seeing, having never been to Sausalito before, and there was more to come. I arrived with about a half hour to spare and got out of the car and was freezing, so I put on my long sleeve running shirt and grabbed my hat and running gloves and went to check in. Oh, and this was something I also did that was different. I decided to bring a hand held water bottle instead of the hip pack with two bottles that can also carry food. This, of course, meant I didn't have room for my electrolyte pills. In both cases I thought it was fine because the aid stations were roughly 4 miles apart, with the longest stretch being 6 miles. This almost ended my race prematurely.

As Sarah and Wendell gave the pre-race announcements I went over my game plan. Even and slow pace and finish under 7 hours. This race had the most elevation gain of any race I had done thus far at 5,500 gain (although Sarah said after the race that it was wrong, that it was more like 6,000 ft gain), so I wasn't hopeful that I could set a PR. Stop and spend time at every aid station to be sure that you eat plenty of food, which, of course, was the mistake that I made in the previous two 50ks. That was it. Simple. My inner dialogue over, and Wendell done, we moved to the starting line next to Rodeo Beach.

Shivering and cold, despite the layers and the thick gloves, we were off. Instantly we started up a hill that pretty much was uphill for almost 2 miles. This was slow going but it was the beginning of the race, so I was able to maintain a nice steady pace and not have to walk. Until I got to the stairs that is, that almost went straight up, which topped out and then fooled you before going into stairs again.

This was the neat part, especially for the history buff that I am. As you wind through the hills you suddenly come upon two WWII bunkers. The history behind seeing these was just jaw dropping, especially when I didn't even know that we had ever built WWII bunkers.

Eventually we finally hit the top of the hill and you can see all the way across and watch the runners trek across the mountain to the downhill section. I love races where you can look across the mountain and see where you will be running and see the other runners, and this happened throughout the whole race.

This downhill section was absolutely amazing. I was flying down here hitting a 7:30 pace and not feeling winded or tired at all. I came into the first aid station at the 4 mile marker in 45 minutes and felt fresh and strong. I followed my pre-race game and took off the gloves and grabbed some food and filled the water bottles. I couldn't contain myself, though, because a bunch of runners kept coming in and leaving. The psychological side got the better of me as I grabbed some peanut butter fudge and took off.

This next section was very rewarding. We went uphill for a good portion and were rewarded with views of the Pacific, and then as you changed direction there would be the Golden Gate Bridge peaking through a pair of hills with SF in the background. Absolutely breathtaking. I maintained a good pace and ran a good portion of the uphills. Then another downhill stretch and I just took off, hitting 8 minute miles again. A fun section came in where you see a bunch of runners winding down and turning to the left sharply, and then they reappear on the opposite side of the gully traversing the mountainside before, huh? Walking up stairs almost going completely straight up? The stairs were fun to get to. A steep technical section that, if you weren't paying attention, could easily result in a twisted ankle. But the stairs were not fun. Large steps that just burned your quads out getting up the mountain.

But it was worth it because at the top was another view of SF and the Golden Gate Bridge again that made you stop and grab for the camera so fast, only to realize you didn't have and then vow to come back and take pictures. Just amazing. As well, of course, such a steep uphill meant that we would have a fun downhill. And it paid off.

Yet again I was flying with 8 minute miles. I reached the next aid station in 1:53. That meant that I had ran 1/3 (or ~10 miles) of the race in under two hours, which also meant that I could possibly run the whole race in under 6 hours. Was my math right or was I having another brain fart? I dilly dallied around for a while, eating plenty, before setting off. I was very optimistic and upbeat at this point. In fact I didn't mind the slow and steady hill after I started up again. That was until the hill never ended. Almost 2.5 to 3 miles of the next 4 to the aid station were all up, with no break to get some speed on the flats or downhill. I saw my sub 6 slowly slip away. I am better at hills now, as this race shows, but I still couldn't talk myself into running this portion that much.

And just when you thought you finally got some downhill you come to another steep section that is virtually straight up and burned your quads. Things slowed again. I finally reached the 14.5 mile aid station. And it was about time. My calves were showing the first signs of cramping and I was beginning to have waking nightmares of the SF 07 marathon. I was kicking myself for not bringing my electrolyte pills. Would I have to stop at the 30k mark because of my calves? Ever hopeful, I asked the aid station if they had any electrolyte pills.... "Ah, no, we don't", the volunteer said. My heart sank. "But we have salt pills, will that work?" I couldn't believe my luck. I took one and away I went. By this point it was uncomfortably hot. The temp itself had probably risen to low fifties, but wearing the two layers, one being long sleeved, as well as the warm gloves was just too much. I couldn't wait to get back the starting line, where the 30kers finished and the 50kers took off for their final 20k loop.

This was my favorite section because it was all downhill and flat, a very fast section that I just flew down despite the tired legs and cramping calves. You see the ending stage of the downhill as it comes down the mountain and turns back towards Rodeo Beach and then flattened out into the valley. I was able to pick off a few runners here who were feeling the effects of the fast start. Before I knew it Rodeo Beach was in sight and I had come in at 3:31. I took off the layers, grabbed some food and some more salt pills and took off. Not soon enough, I guess, because I was now cold again. I had let my body cool off. And it didn't help that the 20k loop was the same loop we did before, minus the middle 10k, so I knew I had at least 2 miles of uphill here in the beginning that would be very slow going.

I trudged on despite the cold and got back to the downhill that was so great last time. It was here that I finally began to see runners and know that for the first time in all my marathon or longer races I was the one picking runners off, rather than always watching people run past me as I wave my encouragements. I want runners to run their best, mind you, but there is something about running strong enough to know that you can pick off other runners.

I sat at the aid station for a long time this time, eating a ton and taking two more salt pills, eventually grabbing a slice of pumpkin pie and heading off. Oh, the dread I felt as I returned to the dreaded hill from before, the one that went continuously uphill for miles it seemed. The only consolation was seeing another runner not too far ahead of me who was also walking this section. I was walking faster though. When I caught him we both chit chatted for a few miles, which helped pass the time immensely. There is nothing worse than hitting these long stretches of uphill and knowing that you have to walk them. It can be demoralizing. But with someone to talk to the time passed fast.

Once we got to the downhill we bid farewell as I was a much faster downhill runner at this point in the race. This was only a half mile from the last aid station and I had put a few minutes between us in that short distance, so I knew my quads were holding up. I ate plenty, doffed 2 more salt pills and was finally feeling warm again. And I was happy. I couldn't believe it. I would easily come in under 6:30, which was one of my goals for this race. And I was at my favorite section of the whole race, and it was the fastest. I took off.

My fifth fastest mile of the whole race was in this section, mile 29. I would have thought I would have been tired, but I felt strong. In fact I couldn't believe it. Another runner was before me and I knew I was going to catch him. That would make four runners that I was able to pick off in the final miles of the race. Sprinting the flats into Rodeo Beach I came in to the finish line at exactly 6:09:00.

I couldn't believe it. I had shattered my 50k personal best by 30 minutes. In fact my math wasn't so off and I almost could have broken the 6 hour mark. Drats, I had talked myself into believing that I couldn't do it and was settling for a sub 6:30 finish. What could have happened if I pushed it? And what if I would have cut out a couple of minutes at each aid station and grabbed my food to go? I would have shaved off at least 12 minutes just by doing that.

Oh well, lessons learned. Always push yourself and don't waste time at aid stations.

This was the most beautiful place I have been to in a long time, and certainly the most beautiful race I had ever had the pleasure of running. I shattered all my little pre-race idiosyncrasies and proved that what I was stressing so much for my pre-race the days before doesn't matter. I shattered my PR. And I did it all with ease. Mind you, not saying the race was easy, but I am saying that I felt that I ran a smart race, one where I paid attention to my body and where I didn't push myself too hard too early. And it paid huge dividends.

I couldn't have asked for a better impulse, year ending race. It reaffirmed my success for the year and proved that I am doing something right. Couldn't have asked for a better way to begin 2008.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Another Impulsive Race

So I've had my eye on this one for a while now but decided I wasn't going to do it. It was the end of the year and I figured I might as well use the rest of the month of December as a rest and recover month, aside from normal training runs. Well yesterday I got to thinking. My legs felt great. My body felt great. I had another 24 miles to go to reach my goal of a 100 miles for the month and, most of all, I was itching to run another ultra!

So I signed up for the Rodeo Beach Trail Run 50k put on my Pacific Coast Trails in Sausalito, CA. Signed up Thursday and the race is tomorrow, Saturday. This is now the second impulse driven race I have signed up for, the first being the San Francisco marathon 3 days before the event. Going into this one, though, is that I have ran a lot this year and have ran the longer distance enough to know that I can do it.

And I also wanted to test my internal test of endurance (which of course continually fluctuates as I add tests and take tests out, so not the best test in the world). My first test was to, of course, run the marathon, then to run an ultramarathon. Then I wanted to be able to run after a marathon and have a fast enough recovery to be able to run the week after. Which I did, running five miles the day after and a half marathon the weekend after. Then I wanted to be able to run an ultramarathon and still feel comfortable running the week after. All of them have been check marks.

Now the next test: run two marathon or longer distances in the same month. With the Woodside 50k ran on the 1st, that puts this one 3 weeks after, which will be a good test.

I don't doubt that I can do it, but it will be on how my body reacts that I want to see. That is the true test.

Goals. Finish in less than 7 hours. This shouldn't be a problem as I have already done this, although this 50k has more elevation gain. I will also set a goal to remember to eat and drink at every aid station, regardless of how fresh I feel. This is the key to running a sub 7 hour, and hopefully running a sub 6:30. I didn't eat properly at the Woodside 50k and that killed my time, which would have come closer to 6 hours, maybe sub 6, if I had only eaten properly. And that is it, two goals. Both interconnected.

Once I have completed this one I will have ran 2 marathons and 3 50ks this year (6 total for life) and can now feel confident in the distance, which would lead well into next years general goal of working on increasing my speed in both distances.

Here's to another impulsive race entry!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Trails + Concrete = Sore Legs

I never even imagined this would happen, but transitioning from a trail run to running on concrete is a bad combination. Good for mileage, bad on legs. This was another lesson learned.

So I had the pleasure of running the hills of Santa Theresa yesterday. We had been expecting rain and it hadn't come by the time I got off work, so I took off to get my shoes and get some good running in before the rain came, 'cause I knew that we were expecting quite a bit more rain the rest of the week and I would be confined to treadmill running then.

Running along the mountain you continually come across imprints on the road. The most common is horseshoe indentations, but there were a ton of deer, turkey and bobcat prints everywhere. It was fun being able to see all the different wildlife when you are so close to such a major city. I am sure there were fox and coyote paw prints as well, but I wouldn't have known how to identify them (I've seen some of the coyotes roaming those hills and they are huge; as well I was on a run last week and sat there and watched a fox on the ridge about 100 yards away).

You follow single track trails at first and then jump on to fire roads that dip and dive under and into a dark and shady undergrowth with huge trees and rocks, eventually continuing your climb. And the climb is a huge climb, not so much in feet, but in how steep the road goes up. After half way through the run you peak the hill and all of San Jose is below you, one of the few trail areas that San Jose is so close. I pounded down those steep and fast hills as dusk came on and the lights of San Jose began making the run surreal. Eventually I merged back on to the concrete road and to my brother's house, which was about 5.3 miles of trail running, but he hadn't gotten home yet so I kept running then came back, he wasn't home again so I kept repeating this, clocking in 9.21 miles total.

This was the lesson learned, one that I would have never thought about. After running a little over 5 miles on the steep uphills and downhills I didn't really feel tired. It wasn't until I added the running on pavement that it felt my legs were taking a beating. Run trails and stop, I feel fine. Run all paved roads and stop and I feel fine. I never even thought that doing the two on the same run proves a bad combination, that was until my legs started throbbing and feeling uncomfortable.

Has anyone else noticed this combination and how it feels? Running half a long run on the softness of trails to going straight to the pounding on pavement? Interesting, something I will have to remember the next time I run.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

2008 Race Schedule

I've decided to take on a rather ambitious race schedule for next year, and with good reason. I have found that I am recovering quite fast after every marathon and 50k and that my body is able to handle the stress of such a long distance. Also there is the fact that setting forth to accomplish this many long races will step up my training and put me one step forward to becoming an endurance runner, one that can run these distances without wondering in the middle of it "Why the hell am I doing this again?" Of course, if I ever get to the point where I am not wondering this then I can of course run faster. Alas, there is much I will learn from the upcoming new year, and I hope this schedule will assist with this learning process. One major lesson will be whether I can finish my first 50 miler, a major stepping stone. Another one for this year is to run at least one marathon or longer distance every month. All of this is quite doable because I am making sure most of them are all trail runs which are much easier on the body than road marathons. So quite doable.

This is, of course, quite tentative. Scheduling conflicts (such as June's Muddy Buddy and the Santa Cruz 50k) or finding out where all the money will come to pay for these are the two major stumbling blocks, or finding out when the actual date of the run is (if Nisene Marks takes place in June then I won't do the Santa Cruz 50k, for example). Without further ado:

1/1 Resolution Run 5 Miles
1/19 Pacifica Trail Run 50k
2/2 Woodside Trail Run 50k
3/2 Napa Valley Marathon
4/5 Golden Gate Headlands Marathon
4/19 Ruth Anderson 50m or 50k
5/10 Quicksilver 50m or 50k
5/31 Forest of Nisene Marks Marathon
6/14 Santa Cruz Mountain Trail Run 50k
6/15 Muddy Buddy
6/21 Lake Almaden Mountain Bike Triathlon
7/5 Angel Island Trail Run 50k
8/3 The San Francisco Marathon
8/23 The Golden Gate Headlands 50k
9/6 Stevens Creek 50k
9/21 Almaden Times Classic 10k
10/5 Cowtown Marathon
10/12 Rock n' Roll Half Marathon
11/2 Silicon Valley Marathon
11/29 Woodside Trail Run 50k
12/20 Rodeo Beach Trail Run 50k

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Last minute goals?

Can you have a late year goal? I feel like I have one in my sights, one that I didn't know that I would be able to have a chance to do, which is run my first 100+ mile month. The most I've ran in a month has been 95.6, so I came close, but it didn't happen. Now, as the year is coming to a close, I have already ran 58 miles with 19 days left to go. I think it can be done (well I know others do it with ease, but it will be a milestone for me). So away I go. 42 miles to run in the last 19 days of the year.

And while I'm at it, why don't I set another hopeful goal? If I run a total of 106 for the month than I can break 800 miles for the year, well above the goal I set for myself on January 1st.

So to all you runners out there, lets set some year end goals and achieve them in the last 19 days. What could it hurt? Log in some miles, burn some calories (build up the calorie deficit for Christmas) and be healthy: a good way to lead into the New Year.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

8 on the (weekend of the) 8th

I had read about virtual races before and have always wanted to take part in them. One where people all across the nation, and some in different countries, would all run on the same day and then report back with how they did and where they ran. I, unfortunately, couldn't run it yesterday because of how fortunate I was to have been able to walk 18 plus miles in the beautiful and lush surrounding of Saratoga Gap and the Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains. So I pushed it to the 9th.

8 on the 8th - 1:05:55 - (8:14 pace)

I was bummed to have not been able to do this on the 8th, so I was sure to do it on the 9th. When I woke up I wasn't too sure if I would be able to because my toes were sore and the balls of my feet were tender from all the rocks on the trail and the rocks that were in my shoes. So I played it by ear and waited. Sometime after lunch I knew that I would do it. At the least I would DNF, but I would still log in some good miles. After all, that is the beauty of virtual runs because they motivate the runner to get out there and run!

So I started out and knew that I wanted to run the first half at a nice even clip. I started at the trail entrance to the Coyote Creek trail at the Blossom Hill and 101 intersection. I've ran this many times before, so I was very familiar with it. It is a bike path that follows Coyote creek. Add to this beautiful trees and hills off to the left (uh, and subtract the freeway to the right) and you have an idyllic setting. Oh, and it was mid to high 60s, so I couldn't complain.

The first half was ran at an even 8 minute pace, which was right where I wanted to be. I was pushing it a little (it seems that ever since I started running the longer endurance runs my pace on the shorter runs has slowed down), but I wanted a fast pace in the beginning and then slow it down for the last half. So at the 4 mile mark I turned around and walked for a a few seconds to catch my breath. The return journey was just as nice, although the wind was now coming into me because of the the lake in between a highway and a freeway which acted as a funnel for the wind. Anyway, my pace slowed a little, and not because I slowed down, but rather because I was taking short walking breaks. If you subtract my walking breaks than I easily came in at a sub 8 minute pace:

8:19 (30 second walk break)
8:52 (50 second walk and water break)
8:24 (30 second walk break)
8:17 (15 second and 5 second walk breaks)

All in all, I was very happy to have taken part in Nancy's 8 on the 8th Virtual Race. My legs were a bit heavy from the long hike yesterday, and the sore toes and balls of my feet worked itself out during the race, so it was both a struggle and a joy to finish the 8 miles. I loved doing this; I loved reading other peoples thoughts and feelings about running a virtual run; and I loved the motivating essence that events like this create. All in all, a great idea and one I would gladly take part in again.

Saratoga Gap to Horseshoe Lake

I woke up this morning knowing that I would have a full day ahead of me. The day would start out with a long hike through Saratoga Gap in the Santa Cruz Mountains and then, after that, take part in a virtual race called 8 on the 8th. Not a lot of activities, but a lot of physical activity.

I arrived at the intersection of highways 35 and 9 where I parked on the southeast corner. It was freezing out with the fog still filtering through the trees and it was in the low forties. My friend I was hiking with was running late so away I went to run a mile, heading towards Castle Rock. Immediately I realized two things: my hands were frozen and the trails were absolutely beautiful.

A few minutes into my warm up mile I was hearing the pitter patter of water so I stopped to listen. It turned out the fog was so thick that it was dripping off the trees. A great feeling as I ran up the hills. By the time I had finished the mile I had climbed almost 300 feet, so it was a decent climb. By the time I got back to the parking lot my friend had just gotten there.

As soon as we started I began recognizing certain landmarks. I knew that the Stevens Creek 50k I had ran in September ran through Saratoga Gap at some point, but having never been there I had no clue where that was. It turned out that where I started this hike was the 10.9 mile aid station, but I didn't know this until the end of the hike.

As we were going through the lush forest I was continually amazed at how beautiful everything was. Deep green moss was on every tree with huge towering giants that left you protected from the sun (if it had come out at least). Eventually we got to an intersection and I just had to stop. I'd been there before and yet I didn't recognize the 2+ miles I had just walked at all! I can't believe how different everything looked from summer to winter.

Soon enough the trail led us up to the ridge and opened into a valley with fog billowing around and swirling with the wind. Very Tolkienesque and I expected Tree Ents at every corner. Here was yet another amazing change in landscape as we moved from the cover of the forest to a ridge line open to the sun and full of grass. My hands were completely numb at this point and there wasn't anything I could do to warm them up. That's what I get for leaving the gloves in my room, right? Won't make that mistake again.

We eventually moved past a private pond , down a fire road to a Christmas Tree farm where there were a ton of people having picnics, playing and cutting trees down. The smell was amazing. Eventually we made it into Horseshoe Lake, which I most certainly recognized from the Stevens Creek 50k because this was where the 19.3 mile aid station and where the finish was. And it really looks like a horseshoe!

So here was where things kind of went wrong. We had hiked 9 miles so far and since I had inadvertently traversed the same route that I had ran the 50k and I thought, lets return back to Saratoga Gap via the route I had ran from the start of the race. I mean, I hadn't recognized anything to that point and had still managed to take the same route from mile 10.9 to 19.3, so the same would happen, right?

Wrong, and we were lost within a mile, walking trails I absolutely didn't recognize. Eventually we were on Grizzly Flat trail and had our first creek crossing. But the peaceful atmosphere turned sour when Grizzly Flat turned out to be the trail from hell: straight up for almost 2 miles and it seemed never ending.

After 18.3 miles we eventually made it back to Saratoga Gap and it took all day to do, what with the stopping, resting and admiring our surroundings. We had to cross a creek, avoid the slow meandering and clumsy salamanders on the trail, hear deer jumping along the side of the mountain, huge and alien looking mushrooms. It was absolutely amazing, with the exception of the extremely numb hands.

And I couldn't believe that unbeknownst to me in the beginning I had ran Saratoga Gap, which was about 10 miles of the Stevens Creek 50k. Perhaps it was the dry and brown conditions compared to the lush and green conditions; perhaps it was the fact that the last time I ran through there I was tired and focused on one foot in front of the other. Who knows, but if you ever get a chance you should definitely walk the trails before or after a race and truly experience the trails. Or, better yet, take time to smell the flowers when you run trails. I know I was absolutely floored and amazed at what I had experienced when I took my time.

Of course, since this took all day, I had to move the 8 on the 8th virtual race to another day.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Woodside Trail Run 50k

This one was a hoot. From the long downhills, uphills, huge towering redwood trees, to bonking miles 14-19 in the middle loop and destroying my morale, to reviving at the aid station. This one was a very up and down race that, ultimately, I enjoyed very much.

Woodside Trail Run 50k - 6:39:16 (12:58 pace; 36/41)

As I had said before, coming into this one I was a little unsure of how I would do. Part of that was the fact that I was still feeling the effects of the cold that just wouldn't go away. So I took it easy Friday night and rested well, eating a large pasta meal and carbo load myself. Eventually I was able to get a solid 7 hours of sleep and was completely rested. After my standard breakfast of peanut butter and toast, two bananas and gatorade I set off for Woodside, about a 40 minute drive.

I had never been to Huddart Park and was floored as I drove through the hills. Towering redwoods with lush undergrowth made this an absolutely wonderful place to do a long run. You start in the park on the lawn and run down and through the redwoods, a la the Ewoks home in the third Star Wars.

So we toed the line, or around the cones as this was a very informal start. Instructions given, away we went. You run down the lawn for maybe a 100 yards before entering the the redwoods. I loved this beginning because we ran downhill for a little over a mile and this was a nice warm up, which was what I needed. The race started in 40 degree weather and it didn't warm up much at all because once you entered the towering redwoods you are virtually completely in shade the whole time, with the sun almost completely gone. This, of course, dropped the temperature some. So a warm up was good.

I got my first taste of what I was in for at about mile 2 when you hit a long stretch of uphill that went on for miles, almost for the next 5-6 miles. I am not the best at running uphill, so I walked a good portion of it, which drastically slowed me down some. By the time I reached the first aid station it had finally leveled out some. In fact coming into the aid station was a half a mile of downhill, so I was feeling on top of my game. I breezed past the aid station and didn't stop any longer than it took to thank the volunteers. I didn't eat anything, and to that point I hadn't eaten anything either. But I felt good, why stop? Huge mistake.

From here it was rolling hills. The majestic forest made me feel so small and insignificant as I ran under the hundred to two hundred foot trees. The trails were immaculate and the surrounding hills were so lush. All of this helped buoy me along as I kept up a decent pace, even on some of the hills. But in hindsight this was where I started feeling a little worse for wear. I ate 3 Cliff Shot Bloks, which was 90 calories and took a couple of endurolytes. I thought this would be enough to the next aid station. When I finally reached it I stopped and rested, drinking some water and eating some more Shot Bloks, but was still feeling pretty good. The second aid station is about 11-12 miles in, which was about 2hrs24 minutes. I should have eaten more and drank more water, but I was feeling so good. So I pushed on without topping off my water or eating anything else.

This was mistake number two, because this section of the run was the longest. A 14k loop until the next aid station. And this was a very difficult section of the run. The first half of it is one long meandering downhill that kills the quads. I started getting low on energy so I ate some more Shot Bloks and drank some water. To this point I had had about 20 oz. of water, not enough, so I made sure I kept drinking more as I went. Then I hit the killer portion, the part that almost destroyed my morale and made me want to DNF at the next aid station. What goes down must go up, so I now had to trudge all the way back up to the aid station, which meant miles and miles of nothing but uphill. At this point I started thinking I was the last runner out there and that I was really screwed, royally, because I had only eaten 300 calories and had ran out of water (40 oz. to this point). I had to keep stopping because I had absolutely no energy. I also had no clue how far I was because my Garmin kept losing its signal and, at mile 11.7, it lost it for at least an 1hr20mins, so everything was all messed up. This would play again later in the race, this time to my benefit.

Finally I got to the last of the uphill and take off running the short downhill to the aid station. I knew I didn't have any energy and that running that fast downhill could be bad, but I didn't care. I needed water and, more importantly, I needed food. When I finally got there the friendly volunteer was so supportive and cheerful that my spirits were lifted. It felt like I was swaying as goose bumps ran up my arms. I grabbed some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and forced them down. This, of course, almost made me throw up, but it didn't. I must have spent 5-10 minutes there stuffing my face with everything I could get my hands on. After a while I knew I wouldn't DNF, that with the calories came a renewed energy and I would push on.

Bidding the friendly volunteer farewell away I went. I still walked the hills but I ran all the downhills. There was only 10 miles at this point, so I knew I could make it. Steady, steady, steady. Just focus on the downhills and walk the uphills. I didn't get low on energy, but at one point I stopped to tinkle and as I looked out onto the forest it seemed that it was moving away from me! The strangest thing. Like some 3D effect of someone pulling a string on the landscape. Just imagine looking forward and then everything that was stationary seemed to be moving farther away. That was trippy.

I finally got into the last aid station and had the first surprise of the day. I still didn't have a clue how far I had run because of the lost signal on the Garmin, so I asked the aid station how much farther to go. I had assumed that I had over 6 miles to go, since it took that long to get there coming up. When they said a little over 4 miles I was floored. I couldn't believe it. Apparently the 14k loop made up the difference. So I was 26 miles into the run and received the best news possible! You have shorter to go than you thought! So as I stuffed my face, not wanting to make the same mistake I did at the other aid stations, another runner came down the trail. When he found out how long we had he pointed out the obvious, which I had written off for dead during the 14k loop. We could still make it in under 7 hours! Once he said it I couldn't believe it. He was right. We had 1hr20 minutes to make the last 4+ miles. My morale was boosted again and away we went, running together because it is always easier to run with someone.

This section was so amazingly fast because it was all downhill. For the first few miles most of it was downhill with some uphills, so I slowed a bit, but after that I took off. I swear I was on a full on sprint. I started thinking that perhaps I could make the goal I had set for myself, that just maybe I might be able to finish in under 6:45. So I didn't care about my aching joints, my almost cramping calves and my burning quads. I turned it on and went for it. So when I thought I had another mile to go I ran around the corner and saw some cars. Huh? Then through the trees I could see lawn, then around another corner I saw a bathroom. Now I thought the finish would be uphill, as the start had been downhill, so when I saw the bathroom I thought it was the one at the bottom of the hill. Granted, I was excited to know that the finish was right there in front of me, but I did not cherish the idea of an uphill finish. So as I cleared the trees I looked for the hill and, oh sweet jesus, the finish line was not uphill but across the grass about 50 feet away. I sprinted across and couldn't feel any more happy. I had just ran the 50k in 6:39:16 and set a PR by 1hr36min.

I learned a ton from this race. Eat, eat, eat. I only drank about 60 oz. the whole race, which I could have had a ton more, but that didn't stop me. What destroyed the morale during that 14k loop was that I had been out there for 19 miles and 4:21 and I had only eaten 300 calories. I've learned this lesson many times and I don't know why I keep having to re-learn it. As soon as I actually ate, my body responded immediately. In fact when you don't eat it is so gradual you shrug it off as the normal soreness from running for so long, when in fact it is that your body needs food! Soreness will be there, of course, but losing your energy, do to no calories, can be avoided.

Additionally, this was my fourth marathon or longer in a little over 4 months and I know I can do the distance, but if I want to complete them in faster times I need to spread them out more and spend more time training. And by training I mean proper training. The training I have done has been sporadic, kind of a minimalistic approach, so I need to start doing longer runs as well as hill running.

All in all, I absolutely loved this race. The great and beautiful redwood forest is the perfect place to do a long run. And although the elevation profile is deceptively difficult (it seemed more difficult than the Stevens Creek 50k, which had 1,000 feet more elevation), it was well worth the effort and time. Great weather, great forest, great organization. Rewarding in every way. Couldn't have asked for more.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Pre-race Jitters?

Coming into this one I can definitely say that I have the pre-race jitters. I've ran a 50k before, so I know that I can do the distance, so that is not a problem. So why the jitters? I haven't figured this out yet, but something similar to this happened before my second marathon. Perhaps it's the nagging thought that perhaps the first time was a fluke and that I will set out on this one and find myself lost, or perhaps the distance proves too much and I get injured. Who knows, with time these thoughts will go away. This I know because going in to my third marathon I didn't have the jitters at all.

I think it all started with the cold I came down with about 12 days ago. All of a sudden I felt like crap and didn't feel like doing anything. No running, no gym, no nothing. Granted, 12 days does not break the camels back, but it still is a concern. In fact I still have a cough that won't go away. Will this impede how I run the 50k? I ran the 10k sick last week, granted I was right amidst the worst of it, but it still was tough towards the end. Will this affect it?

Tomorrow it will probably be in the high 30s when the race starts and the whole race is almost entirely in the shade of the redwood forest. How will the cold affect my running, especially when combining it with this cough/cold that won't go away? Granted, by the time I am done with the race it will be in the mid to high 50s, but I don't think I have ever ran in weather that cold. Anyway, whatever the reason the jitters are there.

Going into the race I am not sure how I will do. The course has only 4,500 ft elevation gain, which is relatively small for a trail 50k, so that will help. As well will the cooler temperature, at least once I warm up and the temp begins to rise. Coupling both these together then I can at least feel safe to assume that I should be able to come in around 7 hours. I know, you are wondering how I could think this since my last 50k came in at 8:15? Well beside the temperature and larger elevation gain I also got lost and ran an hour longer than I needed, thus the 7 hours.

Now here is the kicker. Another runner at the Stevens Creek 50k came in 45 minutes after me even though I was lost for an hour, which means I technically should have come in around an 1hr45min ahead of her. She also ran the Woodside 50k last year and she completed it in 7:30 (and recently I ran the SV marathon 1hr25min faster than her). So if I use the 1hr45min estimate then I should be able to complete the race tomorrow in 6:15, or using the 45 minutes then I should come in at 6:45. Using this estimate, although a bit stretched since each race is different, than I see myself coming in at 6:45. Of course I also have two secret goals but, uh, those will remain secret.

Anyway, here's to a 50k, jitters and all. I've looked forward to this one for a long time.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 10k

This was perhaps the most common race across the states, a 5k or 10k turkey trot on Thanksgiving Day, and with good reason. What better way to assuage your health conscious than to burn 900 calories before the big meal? Eat an extra slice of Pumpkin Pie, maybe an extra serving of mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. The world is your oyster.

Silicon Valley Turkey Trot 10k - 48:03 (7:44 pace; 221/1,445)

Coming in to this one I wasn't sure what to expect. I had been sick since Sunday night and it seemed that the cold was getting progressively worse with each day that moved towards the 10k. Was I going to have to do the 5k or, worst case scenario, not run at all? Even as late as last night before I went to bed I wasn't sure how I'd feel.

Race morning everything went my way. Granted, I wasn't feeling the best, but the cold worked itself out and broke up a little, leaving me confident enough to take on the 10k. I ate some banana bread and orange juice and set off for the 10k that was practically in my backdoor, being only 10 minutes away. When I arrived it was freezing and was second guessing wearing only a short sleeve shirt and shorts. But by race time the temp had warmed considerably to a comfortable mid sixties.

When I arrived to the start line I was floored. There were people everywhere and had the longest race day registration line I had ever seen, wrapping around and away without being able to see the end. Luckily I had signed up months ago and only had to wait as long as it took me to walk to the counter.

This was a 10k and there were thousands of people milling about. I'm used to 10ks with hundreds of people, not thousands, so this would be interesting. With a marathon or half marathon the large crowds thin out and don't really affect your time, but how would the much shorter 10k handle so many runners? We eventually moved to the start line and the announcer announced that there were 6,000 runners in both races. Amazing.

The horn went off and away we went. Uh, at least we were supposed to. I crossed the timing mat and started, but then had to stop and walk again as the congestion backed everything up. So our chips had activated our time and we were walking. Luckily this was only for a short while before we started up again, only to have spectators walking in the streets and slowing everyone down. A friend of mine that was running it this year had run the race in its first and second year and said that this was a lot more runners than both years. So suffice it to say the race director was a bit unprepared for the mass amounts of people, especially the large number of race day registrants. Back to the race, this was why there were so many spectators walking the streets because the race volunteers were not prepared.

After close to 3/4 of a mile things started spreading out, leaving me to a 7:24 first mile. Not too bad for getting over a cold where the congestion and running/stuffed nose constantly made its presence known. This was also not too bad considering the start problems, the cluster of runners and the rude spectators. So it made sense that my second mile came in at 6:54. I didn't speed up and tried to run a very steady pace. The legs felt strong and the pace was a little difficult when I weighed it with the fact that I had another 4.2 miles to go.

By this point the 5k runners had peeled off and the course slimmed some but at no point did I ever find myself all by myself. Around 2.5 was when I first felt the effects of the cold as well as the pace I had set while sick. I had one of the worst side stitches I had felt in a long time and even when I slowed my pace it didn't lessen, so I took my first walk break. Even with the walk break I still ran a 7:40 mile and felt strong, but the sore throat and running nose were starting to take their toll.

The rest of the race was a little uneventful. I had ran consistently, albeit now at a slower pace, but I still had to take some walk breaks. Miles 4 and 5 came in at 8:10 and 8:03 respectively, but I had to walk some. So with mile 6 I decided to slow the pace a little but not walk, that way I could finish feeling strong. As I finished mile 6 I came in at 8:01 and pushed through the last .2 of a mile. I felt strong, even though this wasn't my fastest 10k. When I finally stopped my cold jumped up and said hello, making me so nauseous I almost had to, uh, run to a garbage can to void my stomach. Luckily I kept it under control but didn't feel at ease until I found some water, about 2 minutes later, and calmed myself down. Looking at my watch I finished in 48 minutes.

I was very pleased with this 10k, especially in how I had ran even though I was coming off a cold. I was a little surprised about being nauseous, but wasn't surprised about the toll the cold had on my pace. But I have no complaints and it felt good to finish a 10k before 10 AM. Hopefully the after effects of the cold will be gone by the time I run the Woodside 50 on the 1st, otherwise I will be in for a long day.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Second Test Passed!

So I had two tests for myself that would be a good indication on how well I was responding to endurance running and whether I was improving at all. The first I already passed, which was to run the day after the marathon and not feel sore doing so. The second was to run a long run within a week after running a marathon.

So I decided to do test myself by running a half marathon (or close enough at least as a shortcut I took decreased my run by .4 of a mile), one that I have wanted to do for a while but haven't been able to because of some race or other that prevented my from this test, besides the fact that I knew I couldn't before. I would park at the bottom of the hill my parents live on and run to their house, which was about 6.5 miles away. The trick here was that there is about 947 feet of elevation gain for the whole run, most of which was in the first half going to my parent's house.

Starting out I felt extremely strong. My legs were solid and I knew today would be a good run. Almost immediately I started on a 1/2 mile of flats and then went straight into a steep hill, which lead into some more not as steep hills. This continued on all the way to their house with only two respites: one a downhill section, which of course meant I had to go back up, and two a flat section. So I knew getting to their house would be a little slower. It ended up taking 59:54 which was a 9:26 pace. Not bad at all and I wasn't feeling any ill effects from the marathon the Sunday before.

So I rested for about a half hour and talked to my parents for a while before refilling the water and heading back out. In the beginning it was tough, even though it was all downhill, because of how cold it was, which caused my sweaty shirt and cooled down body to become very cold, and because I filled my water bottle up with ice water and had to carry it, thus making my hand very cold. Anyway, about a half mile later I finally warmed up again and was flying down the hill, onto the flats, and then to the first minny hill, which I walked. I started feeling a little tired at this point because I was about 9 miles in and 1 1/2 hours of running and I hadn't eaten anything more than a doughnut and a small glass of OJ since 7 AM (and it was 11:45 AM).

To this point I was running around 8 minute miles down the hills, so I was still taking it a little slow. But then I hit the one massive hill that was on the way back and slowed considerably. This hill took me a little over 11 minutes to complete the mile, but it was another victory. Last year before the SF marathon I attempted to run this hill. I went into it thinking I would conquer it and start getting into shape. I didn't even get half way up it, and at that very slow, before I stopped and sat on a bench to rest my aching legs and overtaxed lungs. I turned around and didn't run again, other than a mile or two on the treadmill, because of how out of shape I was. Of course it was about 90 degrees and I had zero training before that run, but the mind is hard thing to fool sometimes. Anyway, this time I attacked it and kept at it, and this isn't some small hill. About 300 feet elevation gain in less than a half a mile.

Once to the top it was a race to my car to see how much I could better the second half of the run. Eventually I came in at 1:55, or a tad over five minutes faster than the first half. My pace for the 12.7 miles was 9:06 a mile.

I think I passed this test with flying colors and now feel very secure in how well my body handles the endurance runs and the hard pounding on the legs. And with 3 marathons and 1 ultramarathon under my belt I know I can go the distance. Now all I can do is work on improving my speed, which will be a test in and of itself.

No goals with this one, though, and no personal tests. This one is simply: run faster!

Monday, November 5, 2007

A First!

So yesterday was my fourth marathon or longer distance. After each one my legs muscles and joints were sore for a while and I couldn't, or didn't want to, run for a while after. Until today, that is.

Perhaps after my fourth one my body is growing accustomed to the stress that long distance running causes and thus heals faster. Who knows, but today I was able to run 2.08 miles (treadmill) as a warm up before weightlifting. Ran it at an 8:50 pace. Then I ran outside for a little over 3 miles on the sidewalk as a cool down. Ran it at a 8:49 pace.

It felt easy and effortless. Joints and muscles were not sore. When I first woke up, granted, a little stiff, but after I walked around I felt as though I did not run 26.2 miles yesterday.

This is a first.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Silicon Valley Marathon

I had high expectations coming into this one as it would be the last marathon of the year for me and would be the one that I would be able to test what I have learned and see how this affects my running. On a simplistic level it met those expectations, but on a deeper level it left me with more questions on how I can prepare myself for the future.

I started out the night before with my traditional dinner before an endurance event: pasta in a homemade marinara sauce. I loaded up nicely in order to carb load myself ( I made sure I ate my protein for lunch). I love doing this dinner because it is easily digestible and easy on the stomach, which gives a quiet reassurance that my stomach won't become upset in the middle of the race and I would have to use a nasty port-o-pottie that smells and would, ultimately, take a few minutes off of my race. Was able to get some decent sleep after this because of the daylight savings and woke up early enough to have a nice, full breakfast. For this, again, I stuck to my traditional pre-race breakfast: two bananas, two slices of wheat bread with peanut butter and a Gatorade.
And away I went to the ever accessible downtown San Jose. Parking was a cinch, even as race time approached I was able to find free parking very easily. I met up with a friend and we marched to the starting line just in time to use the bathroom before the race started.

I was amazed out how low key this large city (10th largest in the US) marathon is. You arrive to the "expo" and are funneled to printouts on the wall where you find your number, then turn directly around and tell the volunteers your number, who then hand you your bib and timing chip. Curious, you turn to the right and enter a very small room to get your shirt and where a smattering of tables of people hocking their services and, well, that was it. The expo was done in a few quick glances. The same can be said of the race itself. There aren't any funnels and everyone is just kind of packed in and milling around. No structure at all. It doesn't seem like a lot of people standing there, but results show that there was just about 2,000 runners in the 5k, half marathon and the marathon, of which there were 762. So, as I said, a very low key and small race. Surprising for an event that has been on for as long as it has, this being its 10th anniversary.

As we started we ran south and away from downtown on main streets. For as little people as it seemed at the starting line it sure felt like we were all crowded together as we all marched along. I was running with my friend Jill and was going to keep myself pacing with her since her half marathon pace was about what I wanted to run for the marathon, which was a 9:50-10 minute pace. This was one of the main things that I was doing differently this race, which was to take a moderate pace and keep it steady. This was working much better than I thought it would. Soon enough we were running through the beautiful residential district of Willow Glen with its old, over sized Victorian houses checkered amongst newly remodeled and high priced homes. The weather was perfect and in the low 50's. I couldn't ask for a better situation.

Luckily the crowds thinned out as we turned on the Los Gatos Creek Trail at about mile 4 and began our trek northward. This was the tricky part that other past runners have talked about. They complained that since it is run on a bike path not closed to the public it was too crowded because not only were there many runners but you also had to deal with other bikers, runners and walkers enjoying the trail. I certainly did not find this the case as we rarely were congested and the few people out enjoying their morning were few and far between (although I was boxed in at about mile 7 by other runners, so the moron that I am I was watching the ground and decided to take a step out to the left and speed up to get around them when I hear a shriek from in front of me as biker was bowling speedily down the left lane. I barely dodged out of the way as I too let loose my somewhat deeper shriek).

I've ran this bike path many times so it was very familiar as we moved through Campbell at around miles 6-10 and then into Los Gatos at about miles 10-13.1 before hitting the lollipop portion of this out and back course. At the half way point I had ran an extremely conservative and easily manageable pace of 10 minutes and my miles were consistently within 5-10 seconds of this goal. This put me at the half way point at 2:09, right where I wanted to be because now I wanted to speed up a little and try and run a negative split. I felt this was also manageable because the course was gently sloping up to the half way point before turning around and gently sloping back down.

Not so dramatic as it seems because each increment is only 25 ft.
As I said, gently sloping and barely noticeable.

It was at about mile 15 that I noticed the one spot I would have never imagined I would need body glide was chafing and felt raw. Behind my armpit below my shoulder a ways. I mean I can't even really understand what caused it. Perhaps my water belt was pressing the shirt down and forcing the shirt to rub there? Who knows, but it didn't bother me that much as I sped up and was able to build a little over a two minute cushion off the 10 minute pace by the time I reached mile 18. Each mile was so steady to this point I am not sure what went wrong.

My calves started hurting again, similar to what happened at the SF marathon. The difference was that this time I was taking electrolyte pills (4 to this point), had eaten two Cliff Bars, ate 4 Cliff Shot Bloks and had consumed around 45 oz. of water. So I had things in balance enough to prevent cramping, but was it enough to stop my calves from cramping? More on this later.

My miles slowly dipped into the 11 minute range and by mile 20 the cushion I had built in had vanished. Then I ran a 12 minute and change mile, and then a 14 minute and change mile. At this point my calves were tight. They didn't hurt enough to prevent me from running, but it was uncomfortable. I took time during the 14 minute mile to drink a lot of water and to eat the remaining 6 Cliff Shot Bloks that I had left. How is it possible for something to taste so good? Their texture is like jelly bears and are gummy and dissolve in your mouth. Had raspberry, mango or something like it, and Margarita mix with extra salt. This was heaven and a great relief to my senses to enjoy these while I slowed down.

I sped up a little and was able to get back into the 12 minute range and knew that a PR was slowly slipping away. Mile 24 rolled around and I looked at my watch and calculated that I could still make it so I picked up my speed and away I went. And I don't mean running a 12 minute mile. I mean I was running a little faster than a 9 minute pace with ease. The calf discomfort was gone and running felt easier there at mile 24 than it did at any other point in the day. I was racking my brain on what I did differently that made the difference when I remembered my slices of heaven, 6 to be exact, that I had had 2 miles before and 24 minutes earlier. Especially the Margarita ones with the extra salt. Maybe it was my imagination but something in those must have kicked in as I digested them and gave me what I had been lacking during the race.

Everyone that had passed me miles before were now being passed with ease as I cruised on. I took one more walk break to catch my breath before kicking it into high gear and finishing strong towards the finish. Clocked in at 4:35:47 - a PR by 3 minutes and 1 second.

I learned a lot during this race. That I paced myself, ultimately, didn't really help too much as I ran about the exact same time as the SF marathon when my calves cramped and seized on me. My calves gave me a problem this time but I had taken enough precautions to prevent them from fully cramping. With this in mind I think the electrolyte pills I was taking are either not enough or I am not taking enough of them, and I should take salt tablets instead, which seemed to work better when I had the Cliff Shot Bloks. Ultimately, pacing felt much easier and manageable and if I can figure out the calf problem I will be in a good position to PR at my next marathon in Napa next March.

Ultimately, the race was a success and I am happy that I ran it. As a side not, despite the low key and not too well organized event at the start, finish and expo, there were plenty of aid stations and the volunteers were great in making sure there was plenty of water and cheering you along. Additionally, the shirt is a great tech shirt and the medal is a first class medal, perhaps the best one I have received yet.

Nutrition and Hydration:

Pre-Race (690 calories total)
2 Bananas (200 calories)
2 Pieces of Bread w/ Peanut Butter (360 calories)
20 oz. Gatorade (130 calories)

During Race (840 calories total)
2 Cliff Bars (510 calories)
10 Cliff Shot Bloks (330 calories)
7 Electrolyte Capsules (0 calories)
65 oz. Water (0 calories)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Wow, I stumbled upon this site when I went to the Quicksilver 50 mile/50k website to see if there was any new information on next year's event. Once there I saw a link to made by Gary Wang, an ultramarathoner himself.

It started when he wanted to figure out how many people had ran the American River 50m so he started going through the old records and recording their times and the year that it was completed. Soon enough this lead to imputing just about every endurance race out there, running, cycling, swimming and, of course, triathlons among them. There seem to be a good amount of races not there, at least out here on the West Coast with the Pacific Coast Trails not included, but the list is ongoing.

From one data rat to all the rest, this site could prove interesting if you are an ultrarunner and want a neat, clean searchable database for all ultra runs you have done. Or if you were curious about a particular runner, such as Dean Karnazes or Scott Jurek, you could look them up and see what they have run. Fun site to go through.

Note: The best and easiest way to search events is to go to All Time Lists and chose the state you want to look at, then find the event. Once you click on the event you can see who has completed that event the most all the way down to those that have completed it once. Then you can click on that person's name and it will show all their ultra results, or you can search by name. Once you start searching it is a little tricky to search for someone else as it seems to be stuck on whoever you search for first, even though you are searching a different name. It takes getting used to, but it is fun!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Damn The Taper!

I just finished reading Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and I remember a line that will stick with me for a long time. Baba is in a bar with his son, a bit inebriated, and is celebrating his son's graduation. At one point he stands up, taken by the moment and the revelry of celebration, and yells "Fuck the Russia." A classic line. Not only for its succinctness but for its ability to capture the cultural aspect. I so want to stand up and say "Fuck the taper."

But I won't. I can't. Last night I was itching to go out. Great weather, calf is healed, everything aligned. So I started thinking, nay, trying to talk myself into throwing my running shoes on and taking them for a spin. I've had to battle this demon a lot this past week.

I mean, there is so much the taper causes that goes against the grain.
  1. It doesn't allow me to run when I want. I feel I can run a ton, but I know I can't, and that is frustrating. Not only because of the taper but because I want to be sure my calf is fully healed.
  2. The weather is perfect for running. I step outside and feel the air, breathe it in, look at the falling leaves and think to myself, "What great weather to run in" only to turn around and walk back into the house.
  3. Finally, I feel like I gain weight during this week. That I eat more and become more lazy because I can't go outside and run. It is so strange to feel so healthy during a run, in fact during the run I will do this weekend, and yet the weekend before I feel unhealthy because I can't run. Strange.

Ultimately I know what I must do in order to better my chances at running the marathon that I want.

It doesn't mean I have to like it.

(and I won't like it when I can't run the week after because of sore joints and muscles, so I will have to go through all this again)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Oi, my aching calf

Okay, so I have a chance to redeem myself for the rookie mistakes that I made at the SF marathon earlier this year. You know, starting out too fast, not drinking fluids and depleting my electrolytes, all of which lead to the painful calf problems for the last 10 miles. So I eagerly look forward to the Silicon Valley Marathon to finally be able to take what I have learned and use the endurance that I have stored up and run a good marathon.

So middle of Thursday my right calf started hurting. I ran 6 miles the day before and felt great. Woke up on Thursday and felt great. Then out of nowhere with not having done any extraneous activity my calf hurt for the rest of the day. Friday rolled around and, again, I felt great. I ran 8 miles. Around mile 2 the dull ache returned, but I pushed through it because it wasn't painful and it wasn't slowing me down or changing how I was running. The ache is still there right now. Each morning I wake up expecting it to be gone, and it does lessen some, but it is still there.

My only thoughts are of the marathon this Sunday... How will this affect me? Will it be healed by then or will there still be some discomfort? I am stubborn and if there is still that dull ache, like when I ran on Friday night, then I will start and finish the marathon.

So my question to the blogosphere... What can I do besides no running or strenuous activity in order to help my calf heal for this weekend? Is there anything I can do or just wait it out?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Race Fever

Yup. I have it. I'm not afraid to admit it either. I love going to races. And not for the shirts and medals, although I do like the medals as mementos. I love races because of the atmosphere. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of runners all out there for the exact same reason and have the same if not more enthusiasm for running as I do. Then the race starts and you are psyched and ready to go. Sometimes you beat your PR, sometimes you don't. Each race is different. Then once you are done with your race you get to go home and compile your stats and compare this race to other races and see where and what you can do to improve. One of the great benefits of running is that you are in control of how well or how bad you do. Of course this is with every aspect of life, but this even more so because all you need do is step outside and run, just run. That is how much control you have.

On that note I love this time of the season. October, November and December are the target months for so many runners and race reports abound. You get to read and take part in other runner's trials and tribulations and learn from them. Or, as I do before each big race, you get to search for a race report or two on the race you are running and see what to expect from the runner's point of view rather than the race director's point of view.

Just recently we got to watch Notes of a Non Runner complete her first half marathon in Des Moines, or Runnin' Ragged finish her first marathon in Columbus, or see how Tom and Doug persevered through tough conditions at the Chicago Marathon. Or the races to come as we get to watch Marathondudebill try to break the 3 hour mark at the Richmond Marathon, or see Running... because I can's journey to completing his first marathon at Richmond as well. Then there are the inveterate runners who are machines, who run marathon after marathon as though they were out for a morning stroll. There's Run With Stevie Ray who is running for breast cancer awareness and had a goal of running 50+ marathons from the beginning of this year to February 17th of next year - and has already ran 51 marathons. His most recent finishes are the Indianapolis and Columbus marathons last weekend, he will be running the Miracle Match today, and then the Autumn Leaves 50k and iWUR marathon with Richmond among many others scheduled throughout the year (you might have seen him running... he wears the bright pink shirt). Or there is DaneGer Zone who ran a marathon every weekend last year in his Fiddy2 quest to raise $52,000, and will be running the Marine Corps Marathon coming up this weekend in an attempt to run a sub 3 hour. Then there are the extreme runners in Mountain Man Steve who ran the Javelina Jundred (100 mile race) on Saturday and Sunday, or And A (Ultra)Marathon Runner Was Born who just ran the Dick Collins' Firetrails 50 miler a few weekends ago. Finally there is A Trail Runner's Blog where I can follow Scott running ultras all over the Bay Area and can really learn a lot from just reading his numerous interviews and race reports.

The point of all this? There are all different levels of runners out there that are willing to talk about and teach other runners about their successes and failures. There is a wealth of information out there in the running community that I absolutely love to read up on. Give a few of the above bloggers a go around and see what message they have to say.

Hopefully I will be able to take what I have learned from my own running as well as what I have read about from others and apply it to the Silicon Valley Marathon next weekend... Here's to happy running!

Monday, October 22, 2007

To Slay The Pacing Demon

One of the cardinal rules that all runners must follow when running is to pace, pace, pace. In fact, this was one of my mistakes I have noted in the past. So I've read about it, I've experienced pacing and what no pacing does to the rest of the race, and yet I still battle the pacing demon.

I've ran three days straight and on all of them I've paced myself, albeit differently. The first was Saturday and was a 4 mile run where I ran it at a 7:48, 7:35, 7:50 and 8:00 pace. This was a good run and felt good. Pacing wasn't too bad, a little bit sporadic. I could tell that this pace would be too hard to run a marathon at right now.

Sunday was an altogether different pacing practice. I went running with a few friends at their speed and averaged a 10:37 pace. This was a bit slower than what I am used to, and it is still slower than what I want to run the marathon on the 4th at (which is around a 9 to 9:30 pace), but it felt good to slow down and run around a 10 minute pace. I was able to cover 6.3 miles and I didn't feel winded at all, nor did my knees and legs respond negatively. So experiment number two done.

Today I decided to do 6 loops around my house, where each loop is 3/4 of a mile. It was a bit hot out, reaching into the mid eighties when we've been used to the mid to low seventies, but not so bad that it slowed things down too much. Anyway, I set out trying to run my marathon pace and hold it steady. But, and there always seems to be a but when it comes to pacing, I set out at a jog and it felt great. I was running slower than usual but this was my jogging pace. It was extremely comfortable and easy run. My pace was 8:16, 8:15, 8:18, 8:16 and the final .37 miles I ran faster on purpose at a 7:57 pace. So my pace was extremely steady and consistent. Amazing, and my half marathon pace where I usually start out fast and slow down by the end is an 8:25 pace. So this shows me that my steady, easy pace will probably do much better if, and this is a big IF, I run the proper pace for the actual race.

Final piece to the puzzle. At the SF marathon I ran a very consistent first half marathon that was paced amazingly. I actually ran a second half of the first half of the marathon (if that makes sense, or miles 6.5-13.1) with a negative split, which was a first (too bad I didn't hydrate well enough and couldn't capitalize on the steady pace). All my races have been fast beginning with a slow finish.

So coupling all this together will lead to a great PR for the Silicon Valley Marathon on the 4th. My problem though, and this happened today, is that when I set out at what I think is a steady pace it always seems to be faster than what I am shooting for, except when I am running with other people (such as my friends, or at SF with the rest of my corral). So practice I will, nay, must, in the next week that I am running before I taper and rest. With any luck I will slay this pacing demon.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Did I Just Hear That?

Did I really just hear that? This was how I was when I started running. The simple etiquette that you would find around other people in various situations. I'm not talking about the noises you would hear from running, like feet slapping on the ground, huffing and puffing, wheezing, coughing and so on. Perhaps the cheering spectators, or maybe the few hecklers that are occasionally around.

Nope, I'm talking about farting. Yup, you heard that right. You're running along and all of a sudden this bulbous noise erupts in front of you. You do a double take and look around. At least this was what I did when I first heard the usually ever so private noise. But nobody else even looked around. So you run along again and there it is again.

After having ran a ton of races this year this has, of course, come to be common and accepted. I mean, you're running along and and all that jostling and bouncing around is bound to cause something to happen. In fact I would be remiss if I also didn't mention that I too have let 'em fly when I had to. Yup, I have. When you have to, you have to, right? Don't shake your head and say how uncouth I am. You know you've done it as well.

It is a huge relief, really, after having ran 16 miles and you ever so quietly, at least that was the intention, toot when you can. In fact the whole reason I am writing about this was because at the SJ Half Marathon this past weekend this guy in front of me let it fly and it wasn't a quiet one. It was a horn that someone leaned on for a few seconds. At the 50k you are running on single track trails where you run directly behind someone for miles and they let em fly and you can't get away from it.

Despite all this, hearing someone rip one in front of you always takes you by surprise. I accept them as necessary and almost required, but that doesn't mean I won't be surprised.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Rock n' Roll Half Marathon

This was another benchmark on how my running had progressed thus far, the other being the SF Marathon. I had run this half marathon last year when I still hadn't been focusing too much on running, but rather running haphazardly. So, yet again, as with the SF Marathon, I am able to gauge how well I've come along. Beyond that this race would also be able to tell me how my knees are holding up.

I had had a rather light dinner the night before at the dinner reception for the tennis tournament I also played this weekend because they served very small portions. This was a bad start, but I didn't want to load myself with too much food that could possibly not sit well the next day. Then, to compound matters, I only had a banana for breakfast.

This was one of the few races that I was able to go to with some friends, which was a treat. So myself, Jill and Carla were driven to the race by Carla's husband, Brian, which was a another treat. There aren't too many races I go to that I don't have to drive and park. So nice start to the day.

After the traditional bathroom break we all went to our corrals shortly before the race, which was another difference from last year, where I was in one of the last corrals and had to battle the masses, which used a lot of energy. This year I ran with runners running the same pace as myself so we were able to pace properly and not battle one another.

Soon enough the race started and I felt great. I was running a nice even pace that actually felt slow, when in fact I was running a 7:50 pace for the first 4 miles. I knew that this was probably faster than I should have been running, but I felt too comfortable running at that pace. It wasn't until shortly after the fourth mile when I stopped for a bathroom break and to get something to drink that it started not feeling so comfortable anymore. That short thirty second break was enough rest to let my lungs catch up to me, as well as doing something every runner knows not to do: try something during a race that you have never tried before.

Yup, I drank Accelerade, which wouldn't necessarily mean anything accept that it is a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein mixture, which means it is different than other sports drink. It is thicker and has a pasty, chalky taste. Flavor is not altogether bad but you can tell it is a much different drink. Anyway, so this was what they served for sports drink. After the bathroom break I drank a glass of it, and knew it wasn't sitting too well. Not enough to make me stop at the next port-o-pottie, mind you, but enough to clench my stomach and wonder when I would have to stop.

I was able to maintain my pace through the 10k checkpoint at 7:58. So all was still going well. I still felt strong but I could tell I couldn't keep up that pace. It wasn't until mile 8 that my hopes were dashed. I had passed up the 1:45 pacer in the first mile and felt that I should be able to keep him either behind me or in my sight, thus pushing me to a sub 1:50 time, which was my ultimate goal. But then I could sense a group of people coming up behind me after the mile 8 marker, and sure enough they were lead by the 1:45 pacer.

Mile 9 came around and I started taking walking breaks. This was when my hopes were dashed again, because I knew my goal time was slowly coming and would probably slip away.

At miles 10 and 11 I knew I couldn't come in when I wanted, so I focused on not blowing my energy for the tennis match that was later in the day. I was failing fast for some reason and I couldn't understand why. At mile 11 the dull ache in my left knee was poking its head out and trying to say hello, but I tried to ignore it.

Finally, the finish line came and I had to run down that last stretch and... I was happy to be done with this race. I couldn't quite figure out why I didn't feel strong at the latter half of this race.

I finish strong, but when I get to the finish line I slow down a ton! I'm walking almost! Look at everyone around me... Their all sprinting!

Several possible answers:

  • After playing tennis yesterday I noticed at mile 1 my butt was sore, which I would have never guessed.
  • Accelerade upset my stomach
  • Too many long races without enough rest
  • Too fast of a pace in the beginning
  • Not enough dinner the night before
  • Not enough breakfast before the race
Whatever it could be it doesn't matter for this race. The result was what it was, but it could be useful in understanding what went wrong in order to prevent it in the future. Don't get me wrong, I am pleased with this result and am happy to have come in and finish another race. I would have liked to have kept up the pace in the first four miles that I had and finished in a sub 1:50 time (my previous last four half marathons have come in at 1:50, so I NEEDED to break this time). Another race down, more lessons learned.

As a postscript I felt fine after the race, almost like I hadn't worked hard enough. After a filling lunch to replenish the calories my sister and I played our next tennis match. I felt great out there. My legs and knees were fine as I sprinted, jumped and ran for the balls without even noticing that I had ran a half marathon. In fact I think it helped my serve as having ran the half marathon helped me keep my legs planted to the ground which helped it go in more.

As a second postscript my knees, which had been tender since the 50k, finally felt back to normal. No dull ache (until about mile 11 when it briefly flared) which gave me the go ahead to run more regularly during the week.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Finding My Tennis Legs

If you build it, they will come.

Or in this case hope, desire, wish or whatever else you want to call it. We won our first match. The first set was strange. We were up 3-0 and knew we were better than the other team. Then the typical jitters kicked in that my sister and myself have come to recognize as normal, or the usual. We ended up losing the first set 6-4 and couldn't believe what was happening. But, as I said, this was the usual. In virtually every match we played this year we ended up either losing the first set or starting really slow before finding our tennis legs.

And find our tennis legs we did. We took the second set at 6-1 and the third set at 6-1.

Which brings me to getting my heart's desire. I now get to run the half marathon tomorrow and then rest for a few hours before returning to the tennis courts to resume our quest to win the grand prix finale, which means finding my tennis legs after two hours of running.

Now this will be fun.

The Stars They Are Aligned

There are some weekends where the stars align and everything you want to do falls on that weekend. It doesn't always turn out for the best. It did this time.

My sister and I have been playing tennis this year in the Northern California USTA league for mixed doubles and have earned enough points to play in the year end Grand Prix tournament. The top eight teams gain an entry into this tournament (this year only 7 teams applied, but we were still 5th in No. Cal. so we would have been able to go anyway). But the problem was that I hadn't been playing tennis all year and had already made plans for this weekend.

The Rock n' Roll Half Marathon in downtown San Jose is on Sunday, a race I signed up for last year and have been planning for this one for a while. So what to do? USTA Grand Prix with my sister or half marathon I've planned to run months before we started playing tennis?

The stars aligned. I lucked out. Our first tennis match is today, and if we win our second match is at 2 tomorrow. The half marathon is at 8 tomorrow. Luckily I won't have to make that difficult decision and can take part in both. It will be interesting to see how my legs hold up if I win the first match and have to play the second match after running for 2 hours, but I think I will hold up.

There are only a few times that conflicting events work out in our favor. This was my time. The stars they are aligned.