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.