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.


Nancy said...

This sounds fantastic, what a neat experience. My, you have come so far. Congrats on 2007!!

Bill Carter said...

Hi Brian

Great race report. I felt like I was right there with you. Don't be too upset about not going sub 6 hours because you will easily do it next year. I have been following your blog for a while and you have certainly made some great progress. Congratulations and lets see what you can do in '08!

Brian Hawkinson said...

Nancy and BIll,

Thanks for the encouraging words. I think I surprised myself in how well I have come along this year, my first full year of running. I started the year scheduling a lot of Half Marathons, thinking this was the distance that I would be able to handle, then by the end of the year I have now done 5 marathon or longer distances. Granted, not too fast, but I am more focused on the distance right now.

Perhaps 2008 will be the year to try and speed things up?

Either way, this was a great race. If you two are ever in the west coast you should check out the races put on my PCTR. Beautiful races.

Bill Carter said...

I agree. Looking at the pictures, I think you could just about lose yourself in the running and not feel the usual pain. I must admit that after reading your race report I searched some 50ks and 50 mile trail runs... hopefully sanity will kick back in before I actually sign up for one!

Brian Hawkinson said...

Haha, I think you would have no problem with the distance or the hills. Find a trail marathon first and run that if you are unsure...

I found three places around where I live, from all three 50ks, that were just jaw droppingly beautiful. Trail races are some of the best. I would find myself just stopping in the middle of the race and admiring the amazing view, or some animal that is next to the trail.

PLus, an added benefit, trail races are nowhere near as hard on the legs and body as a road marathon is (unless you have bad knees, then the pounding down hills could be tough). Huge difference between the two.

I've got my eyes on two 50milers, one in April and one in May. I like the one in April because you sign up for one event and you decide whether you want to push it to 50 miles or 100k once you reach the 50k mark. Gotta love the flexibility.