Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Pacifica Thoughts

I've been thinking about the Pacifica 50k I tried to run this past Saturday, mainly about why I stopped at the 30k mark. What motivated that decision and why did I choose to accept it rather than to push on.

In hindsight it is always easier to identify what went wrong. It is also easier to try and make excuses for why I wasn't able to finish what I set out to finish. In an effort to identify what went wrong, I hope to not make excuses. When it all comes down to it, regardless of what happened or what I think happened, I didn't finish. In running are we really and truly only as good as we were in our last race? That is what I hope to fix by learning from Pacifica.

What kicked all this into gear was realizing that I had ran the 30k in 3:34 in Pacifica, which was 2 minutes faster than my previous 30k at the Rodeo Beach 50k. Huh? How was this possible? Pacifica has a ton more elevation and yet I was on pace to to set a PR. Of course the answer was the most obvious. I had eaten roughly 300 calories by the time I decided to stop. Not near enough by far. It is funny the tricks your body plays on you without enough energy. Your morale plummets, which mine did. I began doubting myself and wondering what I was doing. This had happened to me at the Woodside 50k in the middle miles and the same sensation came over me around the 30k mark, the sensation of thinking there was no way I could continue. I almost DNF'd, but instead I took extra time at the aid station and consumed a ton of calories. My energy instantly increased and my morale was given a boost, ultimately leading to my 2nd 50k finish.

And I think if I would have stopped at the 30k aid station and took extra time to consume the calories then I would have most certainly finished the Pacifica 50k as well. The funny part is that I knew I had some Clif Bars and Clif Shot Bloks in my hip pack, and I knew I had to eat more calories, and yet I didn't break them open. Hopefully this will be the last time I learn this lesson as I now have something to draw upon, an experience to point at and remember.

Finally, the last factor, which I knew going in to it was a possibility, was the fact that I was coming off of a cold and didn't have all the energy I needed. This was made even more clear now, today, a few days after. Either I was sick during the race or the race shocked my body and brought the cold back, but either way I am perhaps the worse for wear now. I am right in the middle of another nasty cold, one that I had during the race.

So two positives can come from not finishing the 50k. One, a deeply ingrained lesson with an experience to draw upon and warn me every time, namely to eat, eat, eat. And the second positive was that I was a bit under the weather for that run, that perhaps I had prepared properly but being sick made everything that much more difficult, and yet I still ran a good 30k.

No excuses, only thoughts on how and what I can do for the next 50k, and to hopefully help others who want to tackle their first 50k.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pacifica Trail Run 30k

I knew I wanted this to be a year of firsts for me. Run my first trail marathon and 50 miler. Run a sub 6 hour 50k and a sub 4 hour marathon for the first time. What I didn't know was that this would end up being the first time I didn't finish the race that I had entered, which was the 50k.

Pacifica Trail Run 30k - 3:34:11 (11:33 pace; 20/39)

I knew, of all the 50k's that I wanted to run this year, that this would be the one that would present the most difficulty. It has the highest amount of elevation gain by over a 1,000 feet, the closest being the Rodeo Beach 50k last December. And since I don't run hills too well I wasn't to confident about this one. That being said, as I said in my last post, I had the confidence in being able to finish the distance. So what happened?

It all started a week ago when I came down with a cold and a ton of congestion. I slowly got better throughout the week but I still was feeling the lingering remnants of it, such as some congestion and a runny nose and cough. Add to this my energy level not entirely recovered also. Through all this I was still confident I could finish the distance. Of course I sabotaged myself when I stayed up late reading and watching television, getting less than 6 hours of sleep.

All this did not bode well.

Start to 12k Aid Station - 1:13

The race started and it went straight to a hill that went up to the highest point in the whole area. 3.5 miles straight up the mountain with no break. It wasn't too bad but as you are going up you can see the trail that wasn't too friendly. Half the trail was on rock, and the other half was dirt with sharp, jagged rocks and boulders. It was tough enough going up at a much slower pace, but how would it be going down it? A very technical section that could easily result in twisting your ankle or tripping and falling on the rocks.

I got to the top and turned around, feeling strong. Had a runny nose and a hacking cough, but otherwise doing good. And this turned out to be the most fun I have ever had running downhill. Those sharp, jagged rocks and skinny single track trails proved to be so fun running down. Catapulting yourself from flat surface to flat surface, an obstacle course at a breakneck speed. Oh how fun this was. I passed so many people on this downhill part who were taking it slow and timid, scared to pick their speed up. By the time I reached the bottom I was feeling great and alive, but I knew I had to do that loop again. The course consisted of a 12k loop, then a 9k loop, then same loop counterclockwise, then the 12k loop again and finishing with doing the same 9k loop again. So I knew and dreaded what I had to do all over again.

12k Aid Station to 21k Aid Station - 1:03 (2:16 overall time)

This was an interesting section. It had a steep hill that lasted about a mile and then you get a speedy downhill section of switchbacks, which was fun. But then you are spit out onto a gravel road that goes on for a half a mile at a gentle rise, only to lead to another hill that went straight up for another 3 miles. What is with these long hills? By the time I got to the top and was able to run downhill the last mile I was tired already, and I walked most of the uphill! I came into the aid station feeling a little weary, but optimistic.

21k Aid Station to 30k Finish - 1:18:11 (3:34:11)

But then I knew I had to turn around and do that loop again. I grabbed a few pretzels and took off. This was the biggest mistake that I did. Already low on energy as I recuperated from the cold, I couldn't afford to not eat during the race to replace what was used. But this was exactly what I did and what would jump out and get me later on. I walked the whole uphill portion, which was slow going. I peppered in some jogging when it leveled out some, but that wasn't too often.

I was amazed that I had only been passed by two runners at the very beginning of this loop, the third in the race, and was only passed by one other runner the whole 6 miles despite walking the hills as I did. It was here that I started doubting myself and to think of stopping at the 30k finish. This is one of the beauties of the Pacific Coast Trail Runs, their flexibility. Instead of getting a DNF they would simply put me into the 30k race. Perhaps if I knew I would get a DNF then I would have trudged on, and this is one of the reasons I am not a fan of these types of loop courses. With an out and back you know that the only way back to your car is to finish the race. But with these five loop courses I would have had 4 chances to stop and drop out. And I began contemplating this a lot.

I was getting really tired because of the lack of sleep, and thus the reason I started daydreaming of taking a nap. I was getting really hungry because I wasn't eating too much, and thus the daydreaming of what I could eat for lunch if I stopped. All of this, though, is a direct result of not eating during the race. I was burning so much energy and not replacing it, which lead to a drop in morale, energy and motivation. I didn't recognized this, even though this happened to me before, so when I got to the 30k finish I stopped.

I regret stopping now. If I would have ate more then I would not have stopped, even at the 30k aid station. In fact, comparing my times with the Rodeo Beach 50k, I came into the 30k Aid Station there 2 minutes slower than I did this 30k, which had 600 more feet of elevation gain! Physically, in hindsight, I was running better than I had ever. But no food and energy began playing mind games on me. So for this race my mental will power most certainly let me down, which is a major factor in running ultras.

That being said, I am glad at what I did run. 30k faster than I have ever run it on the trails, and it was the most elevation gain that I have ever ran! I would rather have finished the 50k, and hindsight shows me that I could have easily if I would have eaten more, but you live and you learn. Hopefully I can identify this mental trip that you experience and know how to counter it next time.

This was most certainly a very beautiful run in a beautiful place. But it was most certainly an extremely difficult run.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Preamble to the Pacifica 50k

I am optimistic about this 50k. I've just come off of a great 50k in December as well as a fast 5 miler on the 1st. Yet I am still weary, despite the optimism. The problem is twofold...

1) I came down with a cold last week and the congestion is almost gone, but still present. An annoyance I know this will be tomorrow. After all, I ran the Woodside 50k at the end of a cold and was annoyed by a runny nose and a hacking cough.

2) This is by far the most elevation gain for any race I have done, and thus will slow me down drastically.

I know I will do well tomorrow as confidence has finally come after completing three 50ks. But will outside factors play a larger role and slow me down? That is what makes 50ks so fun. The ups and downs, both literally and figuratively.

I think I am ready for this roller coaster. If for nothing else than to see how I handle an elevation gain similar to the 50 miler I want to do in May.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Run Your First Marathon by Grete Waitz

If you do a quick google search of Grete Waitz you will find a ton of information on such an accomplished runner. For this alone her book is worth considering. Her wealth of knowledge is put to good use as she walks the runner through the experience from the ground up, moving from beginning training to after finishing, giving anecdotes and examples along the way.

I've ran in 6 marathon or longer races thus far and am still learning some of what she writes in this book. Reader beware, though, this book is for exactly what the title states, for runners looking to run their first marathon. A lot of the information given is very basic to runners who have ran this distance already, but to someone who never has ran 26.2 she touches on every aspect and allows the runner to become well informed in what they are getting into.

She briefly touches on two training schedules within the book. The first is for those readers who have ran very little at all. It sets them up and begins conditioning them to running, which in turn prepares them for the actual marathon training. So if you do run some then the training schedule number two is where you would begin. But it is very basic, kind of a run these miles on these days on this week. And she makes it clear that this book is not meant as a day by day guide to your training.

Instead she focuses on the stuff that is overlooked when researching and preparing for a marathon. She goes over running basics, such as form and speed and so on, as well as signs to prevent injury, motivation, and running gear among other information. But the most important chapter is Chapter 12: Marathon Nutrition and Hydration. Even if you have ran a marathon before this is a good chapter to read and refresh and/or educate yourself again. There is a good amount of base information that will probably go the farthest for any marathon hopeful in aiding them to the finish line. Additionally, the final chapter, The Race, is also very useful for the beginning runner because it goes over some of what you will feel, see and expect when you toe the line.

I wish I would have found Mrs. Waitz’s book before I ran my fateful, yet ill prepared first marathon at San Francisco.

If you are a first time marathoner I would give this book a good read and set your goals on that marathon.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

2008 Goals

After a year of discovery and learning, on both concrete and mountains, I've learned a lot about what I can handle in running shoes. Of course that also implies that I now know where I can test my limits and discover truly how far I can go and where my limits are. After 3 marathons and 3 50ks under my belt I am now comfortable with both distances, but it has left me wondering how far I can run.

Goal #1 (Attempted at the Ruth Anderson and 25-35 mph winds were harsh and the 50 mph gusts were even worse, so I settled for the 50k; Attempted at the Quicksilver 50m but stopped at the 50k, not ready mentally; think this distance shall have to wait until next year or until I can get my 50k time down to a more manageable 5-5:15) is to finish my first 50 mile race. Without ever attempting this distance there is no way I can predict what my time would be. My first attempt will be in April at the Ruth Anderson 50k/50m/100k in San Francisco. I love this format because it is a 4.5 mile loop course and you choose your distance while you are running. If, at the 50k mark, you are feeling strong and wish to continue then all you do is inform the race director and you can continue towards the 50 mile marker. Same for the 100k distance at the 50 mile finish. Oh, and the 50 mile distance has only 1,000 ft elevation gain. With this I can only hope to finish in under 10 hours. My second attempt will be much more difficult and it will all depend on how I do at the Ruth Anderson 50 miler on whether I attempt the 50k or the 50m in May at the Quicksilver 50k/50m in San Jose. This one has an elevation gain of 8,500 ft. for the 50m and the reason it will be much more difficult. Best estimate and goal will be under 12 hours.

This will be my first test on how well I am progressing as an endurance runner and will in turn either establish my limits or raise the bar and expand my horizon.

Goal #2 (Accomplished: 3:52:32 @ Napa Valley Marathon on 3/2/08) is to run a sub 4 hour marathon. I was on pace to do this at SF before my calves cramped up at mile 16-17 because of my lack of foresight to take salt tablets or electrolyte pills. My first opportunity to do this will be on 3/2 at the Napa Valley Marathon, one of the races that I have planned first and is one of my destination marathons for the year.

Goal #3 (Accomplished: 5:46:10 @ Ruth Anderson 50k on 4/19/08) is to run a sub 6 hour 50k, but since I ran a 6:09 at Rodeo Beach in December, I will also be shooting for a sub 5:30, which is doable I think. My first opportunity is at Pacifica on 1/19, but not likely since this race will be over 7,000 ft elevation gain (which I did on purpose because I wanted to do a somewhat comparable elevation gain to the Quicksilver 50m but in a shorter distance, and thus be able to see if I could have a chance at finishing it). Which leaves either the Woodside 50k on 2/2 or the Angel Island 50k on 7/5 to accomplish this.

Goal #4 (Accomplished: Overgrown Fatass Marathon on 2/10/08; Accomplished: Golden Gate Headlands Marathon on 4/5/08) is to run a trail marathon. No time goals here and this one is really a tag along to the other goals. A trail marathon will, of course, be harder than a road marathon because of the elevation gain, but not as hard as a 50k with more elevation gain. I can only hope to run one in under 5 hours. I hit the marathon mark at the Rodeo Beach 50k at around 5:09, so I see no problem achieving this goal. That being said I love the idea of a trail marathon, and not least of all because it is not as hard on the legs but still gives you a great satisfaction in running such a tradition and history rich distance. First opprotunity for this will be either the Los Gatos Fatass Marathon on 2/10 or at the Gold Gate Headlands Marathon on 4/5.

Goal #5 is more of an administrative goal that can help assist me in all the other goals. A base of at least an average of 20 miles a week should be manageable and will push me over 1,000 miles for the year. Still not too much by other standards, and I will of course shoot for quite a bit more, but it is a nice sounding board to base my efforts. Additionally, I will shift much of my training to hills and run many more double digit training runs that I did in 2007, which wasn't much at all (the most I ever trained in one sitting was 13.1 miles and I only did that twice, not counting the half marathon races I've ran), and I know I can run better in the hills and the longer distances if I trained harder and longer.

Last year I set 3 goals and met them all easily, so this year I set five goals, some harder than others. Hopefully this year's goals will have as much success as last year's goals.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Resolution Run

I could have thought of no better way than to start the new year with a bang, and I certainly did that. With only 3 hours and 45 minutes of sleep, I didn't know what to expect. I certainly didn't think I would be running sub 7 minute miles.

Resolution Run - 39:41 (7:28 pace; 29/237)

At 3 AM I couldn't stop yawning. A late night of fun at a friend's house on New Year's Eve, why wouldn't I be out? I knew this when I entered this race, but I still wanted to start 2008 with a race. After four slices of pizza, some sodas, chips and dips and cookies, I called it a night and headed home. I, of course, had to read some before I went to bed, so it wasn't until 4 that I fell asleep.

And the alarm went off at 7:45.

Surprisingly, I wasn't too tired. I arrived with twenty minutes to spare and waited in the 39 degree weather. Hands becoming numb, away we went.

The first mile was an easy, flat mile. I wasn't front of the pack, but I was a back of the front pack, so it wasn't too crowded. My hands, if they could, became even more numb and actually started hurting more if that was possible. I clocked in at 7:00.

I held my pace, for the most part, and was able to continue to pick off runners who had started out too fast, but I was slowing slightly. The flat fire road was gradually going up, but I still felt strong when I came in at 7:17.

This was where it started getting a little more difficult. I have ran hills more but I still seem to lag on them, not able to continue running, even at a slower pace. The first semi big hill came and it was a short one. I ran up the whole way, but when I got to the top I had to take a walk break. Taking the good of it, this was an improvement from last year (feels weird saying last year already). I ran the Dammit Run, which is also a 5 mile run that is ran on virtually the same course. Comparing this to the Dammit Run I had already ran this race 2 minutes faster and I was able to run the first hill, which I didn't do last year. If the race ended here I would have been satisfied, but everything got better! Another hill came before me and I had to walk this one. I applaud those who passed me on this steep hill and continued to run. If only I could have kept running. By the time I reached the top of the dam and hit the turn around point I was feeling a little winded, but still strong. Now was the fun part as I turned around and took the two steep downhills and gradual decent for what they were worth. The 3rd mile was my slowest as the walking on the hills, which had 316 feet of elevation gain in less than a 1/2 a mile, slowed me to a 9:47.

And on this same stretch in the past the fastest I was able to run on training runs was a little over a 7 minute pace. This time, however, I turned it on and was able to turn in mile 4 in 6:36 and mile 5 in 6:48, passing many of the runners who passed me on the hill.

But I couldn't understand why at mile 5 I was still running. This was supposed to be a 5 mile race! Soon enough the high school track presented itself and I was able to run the last lap, coming in at a pace of 7:03. The course, from my garmin as well as mapping the course on google earth, turned out to be 3/10 of a mile longer. Oh well, can't expect all races to be accurately measured, right?

When I checked the on site results I found that I had come in 29th place out of 237 runners, which wasn't too bad. I even thought I was going to place 2nd in my division, but they fooled me! They had two colors for my age group, rather than the typical one color. When they announced the 3rd place in my division I watched the guy receive it and my jaw dropped. On the final stretch of the run, with about 2/10 of a mile to go around the track, he passed me and I even thought to myself to let him go, that I had ran a good run and that was enough. Oh well, he ended up coming in around 10 seconds before I did. Another lesson, one I always seem to be learning: don't let complacency slow you down, keep pushing yourself to the last moment before you cross the finish line.

Ultimately an age place in your division doesn't amount to much. What mattered was that I ran a good run at a fast clip, a speed that I hadn't ran in a long time, running the race at 8 MPH (I still can't believe that some runners run half marathons and marathons at 13 MPH!). With my focus on marathon or longer distances it seems that I rarely run a race this fast anymore, so it was a ton of fun.

Here's to kicking off the new year with a kick of the running shoes!