Thursday, May 29, 2008

No to, Yes to Mail In Registration

I have become peeved lately. Why you might ask? Because I've been sucked into the system and blow tons of money away to them for each race entered. Mayhap it is the instant gratification of paying for an event online and knowing that it is done. But why? Why waste the money on "processing fees" when you can, over the year, run an extra race or two with that money?

What sparked this was I signed up for 4 races, all of which I had budgeted for the year. Two of them were Pacific Coast Trails races and they have their own system to process online transactions and don't charge the "processing fees". But the other two were for Muddy Buddy and the Forest of Nisene Marks Marathon, with processing fees totaling a whopping $15.00! What the?!?!?!?!?! For what? What exactly are they doing that creates that high of processing fees?

So I did a little math on two other runs that I had budgeted for the year (actually I had the San Francisco Marathon budgeted, but I figure I can run both of these for the same price as SF plus a little more. No brainer!), the Cowtown Marathon and the Two Cities Marathon. Cowtown has the marathon, half marathon, relay and a 5k. The fees vary for each one but when you take the number of entrants from each race last year and assume they all used Active then that means Active is making $11,754 in processing fees!!!!! Even assuming half the runners didn't use Active that is still close to $6,000.

I did the same thing with the Two Cities Marathon, which has a marathon, half marathon run, half marathon walk and a relay. Now the marathon is an inaugural marathon so nothing to base it off of, but they have a cap of 3,000, so I will use that total. Using their fees it comes to $20,112! Assuming half, then it would be $10,000.

And what are they "processing"? They host the race info and the results (sometimes) and process the fees. Is this really worth $16,000-$32,000 in processing fees? And that is for only 2 races. Add this up for all the races and they are making that much in processing. A complete waste of money and, I might add, the fees don't represent anywhere near what we, as runners, are receiving in return.

So from here on I will not be using Active. In fact I will veto it every chance I get. This means a little more planning, of course, because that would mean I would have to mail in my registration form well in advance (which would also help me sign up for the race before the fees go up, another cost saver).

I encourage all of you to do the same. Save your money and apply it to a race instead of the elusive "processing fees" that charges. I am amazed that it has taken me as long as it has to realize this. $5 a race is too much, and I figure I have already spent around $35 this year on the couple of races I have signed up for through Perhaps if they would have kept it at an acceptable $1 an entrant, instead of the sliding scale that gets more and more expensive the more the race fees are (even when the race fees go up, so do the "processing fees", which is ludicrous because what processing are they doing that is now more than before?), then maybe I wouldn't have even bothered getting my panties in a bunch, and they would have still made a hefty amount of money per race regardless.

Alas, I am one in hundreds of thousands and my lone voice won't hurt them one bit, but it will certainly benefit me and give me an extra race or two if I wanted, or perhaps another pair of shoes. I think I'll take option B and use the money for myself.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On the Edge and Without Limits

I've recently been able to locate a copy of On The Edge and Without Limits, two hard to find DVDs.

On The Edge was a nice find of an older movie. The running itself was actually done by the actors so we see exactly what is going on rather than some edited excerpts of some lame actor attempting to look their best as someone spritzes them with a water bottle. That is the magic of this movie. Real actors, real runners, and a real race. The race itself isn't the exact Dipsea race in the Bay Area, since theatrical elements had to win over at some point, but for the most part we get to see the runners run the historic Dipsea race. A well made movie that actually puts you in the moment and makes you feel what those runners were feeling. In fact I couldn't wait to run after that.

The other was Without Limits, a film put out in the late 90s, that follows Prefontaine's brief but action packed career. Seeing him at his cross country meet in high school brought back fond memories of my cross country experience in high school, so I was hooked right away. I had actually not known anything about Prefontaine before I watched this, so I was fascinated and enthralled throughout the movie. Watching Prefontaine at his various University of Oregon meets, or his Olympic trials or the actual Olympics. It was a shame that such a talented person passed away at the age of 24. Very well made movie that had me on the edge of my seat cheering the whole time. Definite recommend.

An interesting correlation between the two films was the battle that both main characters had with the AAU, or the Amateur Athletics Union, which took certain rights while forbidding the athletes from doing the same. In On the Edge the main character, acted by Bruce Dern, took a stand against the AAU and was ultimately banned from amateur athletic events, such as the Olympics and so on. No worries, no spoiler here as this is all part of the background story to the movie. Prefontaine also took a strong stance against the AAU which ultimately led to its overthrow in 1978, three years after his death.

Check out your local library and see if they have a copy. I found both of these there, and was even able to request Without Limits brought in from another branch. They are both definitely worth it. If anyone else knows of other running movies please let me know. I would love to watch more.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

50/50 by Dean Karnazes

Recently I've had the luck to come in to an a advanced reading copy of Karnazes new book due out in August. It is kind of funny because I had just found out about this book and added it to my wish list on Amazon and filed the thought away for the future. The next day someone aware of my running approached me and said, "Hey Brian, I've got this advanced copy about some guy who runs marathons. Thought you might like it so I held it aside." "Yeah, what's it called?" "Can't remember, but he ran 50 marathons or something like that."

My head perked up and finished her sentence: 50 marathons in 50 days in 50 states. Unbelievable the luck I had.

So Karnazes account of this experience has some very good information in it. He of course went over the running he'd done to that point, as well the type of running that he had wanted to do, which led to the Endurance 50 challenge. This was right up my alley because I have become a huge fan of running as many marathons as possible. My body tends to recover easily so the urge to run more often has only grown with time.

So it amazes me to follow Karnazes trek from state to state with a marathon every day. He offers some gems of knowledge on various aspects, such as eating, hydration, recovery, pacing, conditions and on and on. With 50 marathons in a row there is plenty of fuel for the fire.

For the most part the chapters correspond to some aspect of running and how it related to that day's marathon, or sometimes two to three marathons a chapter. As would be expected, this couldn't go on for every chapter. Some chapters would reference that days marathon and the chapter would not mention more than a sentence or two, sometimes none, of the actual marathon, instead going off on a tangent about something entirely different.

What was amazing was to find in the appendix a doctor's evaluation of Karnazes' health from running all 50 marathons, and came to the basic conclusion that running that many all in a row had no adverse effects and that he indeed seemed to be getting stronger as each marathon went on. In fact his last of the 50 marathons in New York was his fastest, coming in at a little bit after 3 hours!

I whole heartedly recommend all runner's to get a hold of a copy and read this extraordinary account. Fascinating read.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Close Encounter With A Rattlesnake

I had my first hair raising experience out running the mountains today. In the past I've encountered bobcats and wild turkey, which made me pause. The bobcats crossed my path but kept going. The turkeys I see all the time, so nothing different there, with only once where there was a whole herd of them that wouldn't get out of my way and only me moving slowly towards them making a lot of noise moved them out of my path. I would rather not encounter the claws and beaks of wild turkey.

But a rattlesnake is a completely different situation. I was about 5 miles into my 2 hour run (which was 10.33 total miles) and I was running downhill, pretty fast, on a wide open fire road that was in the low 80's and very dry. Luckily for me I tend to run with my eyes always watching well ahead of me, wanting to be aware of what I am running into.

At first it looked like a stick, and with about ten feet before me I realized it was moving. I froze. Fear pricked the hairs on the back of neck and on my arms. It was a rattlesnake, and not just any rattlesnake, but a young one. The snake stopped and put its head in the air and stared at me, but its rattle wasn't making any noise so I felt somewhat safe.

As I patiently waited, the rattlesnake eventually made its cautious way off the fire road, all the while keeping its head pointed at me. All I could think about was a coworker's story about her husband out running and being bitten by a rattlesnake. He had to have 40 vials of antivenom and his leg almost was amputated. Scary. And this was a young or baby rattler, which meant it was worse because it wouldn't regulate how much venom it released if it struck.

Anyway, I waited for a wide circle of safety of at least ten feet. I've read that snakes can only strike as far as their body length, and this one was only about 3 feet, so I felt safe.

As I slowly walked forward I felt the heat bake me as my body heated up without the movement. Finally, I sprinted forward and away from the snake only to see the snake's head shoot straight up and its rattle started going crazy. As hot as I was I went cold instantly as my hair exploded all over my body. That was the first time I felt frightened out on the trails. Rattlesnake bights are very dangerous, especially when I was a mile and a half away from the nearest paved road.

A runner's nightmare averted. Scary stuff.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Three Recovery Runs Since Quicksilver 50k

So I've taken it a little easy since the Quicksilver 50k 10 days ago. One good one and two bad ones. Can you have a negative training run or are all runs beneficial regardless of how you felt? Here's what I mean.

Run 1 was done 4 days after the 50k. I wanted to get out there and do a nice, easy run and settled on a 9 minute pace for 6 miles. This was a good run. A little slow, but everything felt good. All systems a go!

The second one was done 8 days after the 50k, or two days ago from today. This was my first mistake. I decided to sleep in and do a run I've done before under similar circumstances. What I did before was an experiment, and I did the same then, which was run 8 miles right after waking up without ingesting anything except water. No breakfast (or lunch as it would have it since I slept in and didn't get to the bike path until 11 AM), so no energy supply after waking up. It worked well before, although it got a little tough. This time, however, the weather was much worse. Starting temps were 95 and muggy, and I purposefully didn't bring water with me because there is a water fountain about every 2.4 miles. That was mistake #2, because it felt like I was sucking on cotton, and every time I spit a bright white piece of cotton would flutter out of my mouth and float in the air. It was tough. By the time I finished the 8th mile my miles went from a little over 8 minute pace to just under a 10 minute pace. So it was the wrong time to try and do this little experiment in such muggy and hot conditions.

My third run, which was today, was even tougher, and yet had the opposite of the second run in terms of food. This time I went and ate a big fat steak burrito and jumped the gun and went out for my run only a little over an hour after eating. I had set out to do a timed run of 2 hours, but with at least a minimum miles of 10 miles. The whole time it felt as though I had a brick in my midsection and it was so heavy and slow in running. To top it off I didn't want to make the same mistake as two days ago so I made sure and drank a lot of water, which continuously made my stomach full. And to make matters worse, this was my trail running day, so I was running some pretty serious hills, with close to 1,000 ft. elevation gain in the first 3 miles. I finally finished the 2 hour run and ran a total of 10.33 miles.

Three tough runs in their own unique way. One sore recovery run, one no food run, one too much food run. Each with their own lessons. And some decent mileage to boot.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Redemption and Skyline to the Sea

So I was perusing Pacific Coast Trails' website to enter into the Pacifica 50k. You see, I want redemption. I think any course that defeats you, so to speak, is one that you will ultimately have to return and conquer. Earlier this year I attempted a very tough Pacifica 50k in January, in ideal weather conditions, and didn't eat and drink properly and thus stopped at the 30k finish. I knew I could do it, but when you are low on water and food your mind begins to play tricks on you, especially when you end up going past the Start/Finish something like 6 times and see everyone milling around, eating, drinking and just relaxing. Well on my fourth time through the Start/Finish I decided to stop as I began salivating over the Carne Asada burrito of a local taqueria. I knew I was a gonner when all I could think of was a burrito while running.

Anyway, redemption time it is, although this one will be a bit more challenging. This time it will be ran in June, when the heat is one of the most prominent elements sapping your energy, with only the 7,000+ elevation gain beating it out. But that makes this one all the better. It beat me once, so now I have to up the ante and attempt it again in worse conditions. I know I will finish it. My hill running has improved immensely, and I've finally found my groove in eating and drinking, thanks to the Quicksilver DNF. So I am ready.

But then I saw something that nearly made my eyes pop out. You see, I hike, run and bike at the Saratoga Gap in the Santa Cruz Mountains. You park at the top of the mountains and there is a large amount of trails to lose yourself into. One of the trails I have always walked past and always wondered about was a trail called Skyline to the Sea. The trail name says it all: a trail that takes you from the top of the mountain to the ocean. I've wondered, how long would that take, I should give that a try, either running or biking. Lo and behold, there is a new race on the Pacific Coast Trails site, an inaugural event, called Skyline to the Sea.

Amazing. You start at Saratoga Gap and head down the mountain. Almost the whole trail is under cover of trees and is well shaded. It is a point to point, one I have never done for an ultra (although I did do one for the Napa Valley Marathon), and has an elevation gain of 3,045 and an elevation loss of, are you ready, 5,625! Oh my, oh heavens, this one has made me giddy. A net loss, point to point trail 50k on a trail that takes you from the top of the mountains all the way to the sea 31 miles away!

Heavens to Betsy, this one has now become one of my key races this year, right up there with the Napa Valley Marathon as one of my most looked forward to races. This one will be fun!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Successful DNF at the Quicksilver 50m

Yep, you read that right, it was a successful DNF! Not that I set out for a DNF and achieved my goal, but that in receiving a DNF I learned a lot more about running and know that I will improve some more in the upcoming races because of it. And this was the strongest I have ever felt at the end of a race. Too bad I had to stop at the 50k finish.

Quicksilver 50k - 6:16:23 (11:57 pace)

I was primed and ready. I had eaten a big chicken burrito with a side of beans - beans are a great carbohydrate source, better than pasta - and then ate a big pasta meal with a lot of bread for dinner. I had my bag packed and my Shot Bloks ready to go. I had everything planned out. Consume a minimum of 200 calories an hour and stay hydrated. This would be easy. One bag of Shot Bloks is 180 calories, so all I had to do was make sure to eat some at each aid station and I would be well over my goal. By the way, was reading A Step Beyond: A Definitive Guide to Ultrarunning, edited by Don Allison, and came across a great article written by a scientist who analyzed how much a runner burns when running in the mountains and how much you would need to consume. He came up with 220 calories an hour. So logic had it that all I had to do was eat that much and I would be fine. It worked, but more on that later.

Even though the race was practically in my backyard I still had to be up by 4 AM in order to get ready and get there in time to make sure I got parking and to be there for the 6 AM start time. Tons of people everywhere. Biggest turn out they'd ever had. So the atmosphere was almost electric as we waited. When we started it was a mass rush up the fire road that soon turned to walking as the road was uphill, and the hill was a pretty steep one. This soon ended a little over 2.5 miles in and we went on this beautiful single track trail for six miles. I'd never been there but I will certainly go there for some more running in the future.

The trick with this course was steady running, as there were a lot of long stretches of uphill. This was what worried me coming into this one, because I don't run hills too well, and I hadn't trained enough to feel confident coming into it. I had done some last minute hill running last week and the beginning of this week, but I wasn't sure if it was too little too late. Alas, this was one of the successes of this DNF! My hill running was drastically different. I had shortened my stride and, voila, I was now able to run the hills! I mean, this blew my mind away as I had always struggled with hill running, yet here I was running the hills and making great time!

A brief backtrack. I started out slow in the beginning on purpose and hung back with a slow and even pace, not wanting to start out too fast too early. But by the time we got to the single track I was stuck behind a grizzled old veteran of 100 mile races who was content to run his pace despite the train of 10-15 runners behind him. Granted, some runners got tired of this and started yelling "On your left" as they tried to charge past everyone, but I didn't feel comfortable doing this, so I waited with everyone else. In fact, I would continue walking when they started running, knowing that as soon as I start running I would be stuck behind them again in no time even though they were running the whole time. So by the time we turned on to the fire roads again my pace was a lot slower than it would have been.

But I digress. Back to the hills. I was ecstatic. I finally gained some confidence with hills, the one part of trail running that every trail runner should do adequately, and to that point I didn't do well at all. Yet, I learned something with this DNF, and I know I am a better runner because of it.

My eating and drinking was on track. I was feeling stronger than I had ever before this late in the race. I think I even set a new trail marathon PR, but can't be positive as my Garmin was off my about a mile or so. Then mile 28 came. I rounded a corner and looked up. What the? I'm here, and runners are way up there and that close? Yep, miles 28-31 were unbelievably steep hills. Some of them were so steep it was hard walking up, and even harder walking down as you slip and slide down the other side. And there weren't just one of these, there were three or four at least. Up to that point I was really strong. In fact I had no intention of stopping. But these steep inclines demoralized me. And the 50 milers were returning from the aid station and having to do some of these hills again! So I made the decision to stop at the 50k finish. All for the simple reason that I did not want to be out there for another 5 hours. I felt stronger than I ever have at that distance as I came into the 31.5 mile aid station, and yet I still decided to stop.

Of course I am disappointed that I didn't continue on. I still want to finish a 50m race. But right now at this time I am not ready. Mentally I am not, which is partly because of the physical as well. Once I can get my trail 50k down to around 5:15 then I will be able to begin thinking about trying the 50m distance again, because that would then mean that it would take me about 9-10 hours instead of the 11-12 hours I was looking at yesterday.

Oh, and I almost set a PR for the 50k distance as well! 3 minutes off of my PR for that distance, coming in at 6:16:21 (I took into consideration the fact that this 50k was .3 miles longer than my previous 50k at Rodeo Beach, which was a 31.2 distance). Amazing.

So I learned through experience how to run hills. A huge plus, perhaps the biggest positive I could take away with this DNF. I also figured out a method to keep myself fed and hydrated, another huge plus. I've found my limits, for now at least, and know that I need to focus and train better and improve my 50k before I can move on to the 50m distance.

It really is amazing how much can be learned and taken away from a DNF. I at first thought the DNF would be a downer and I would be disappointed, but I am very pleased with the surprise that a DNF has left me with. Someday I will try the 50m distance again. I will need redemption eventually. But for now I am content to take away a few nuggets of knowledge from a successful DNF.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

10k on the 10th

Ah, the third edition of Nancy's virtual runs has come and, for me at least, already gone. I cheated a little because I ran into the same problem as I did with the 9 on the 9th (where I was running a 10k on the 9th and a marathon on the 10th, so I ran 9 on the 8th instead). This time, however, I felt I wanted a lot more rest so I pushed the 10 on the 10th to the 5th!

10k on the 10th - 51:27 (8:16 pace)

I knew coming into this one that I was in no condition to be running a 10k. And by that I mean in no condition to be trying for speed, which, for me at least, is what the 10k is good for. In fact it is one of my favorite distances and have done quite well as recently as February 9th of this year where I set a new PR of 46:30. But my training mentality had shifted drastically and thus my conditioning has changed.

You see, in the past 6 months I've ran 7 marathons or longer (3 marathons, 3 50ks, and 1 27.4 Fatass run) and one particularly tough 30k with 4,160 feet elevation gain! So I've focused on runs for the long haul and am actively trying to slow my pace down in order to last longer. Additionally, I've just come off of a 50k road race in SF a few weeks ago and was just able to begin running consistently again for my race this weekend on the 10th, and the real reason my training has changed. I will be attempting my first 50 mile race (technically Ruth Anderson was an attempt, but since that race is a run and choose the distance when you get to the finish I don't really count that one - whereas Quicksilver is a run and if you don't finish you get a DNF), one that I approach timidly and poke with a long stick to see if it is alive or not.

Preamble over, as well as excuses, I guess, then on to the race. Knowing all of the above I decided to take it easy on the 10k and just pace myself. It started out faster than I wanted and came in at 8:03 for the first mile and 7:56 for the second mile. Way too fast for what I wanted (although, laughably, way too slow compared to my 1 other 10k I've ran this year at a 7:30 pace). Through experimentation and experience I knew that I couldn't just slow myself down and expect to feel comfortable running. To me that doesn't trick the body into the right pace because the body is still trying to run! So I always force myself to either stop or to start walking for 15-20 seconds, which allows my body to catch up and only then can I get back onto the pace that I wanted.

Which was what I did for mile 3, and it was a good thing because even with the walk break I still ran an 8:09! Anyway, I finally got my pace to where I wanted it and came in at 8:38, 8:33 and 8:34 with 1:34 for the final .2 miles.

All in all I did what I wanted. I knew I couldn't push myself and try and set a PR, so instead I tried to run at a comfortable pace.

That was on Monday. Tuesday I pushed it a little farther than I wanted and ran 11.82 miles in the hills as my last run before a nice solid rest of three whole days! Yikes, don't know what to do with myself! Anyway, bad luck it fell on the Quicksilver 50miler, but it also gave me an excuse to run the 10k on the 10th.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Lessons of Burning Out

So running has been a feisty friend this past month. It all started with the Napa Marathon in March. I ran it the fastest I had ever done by far, and in so doing pushed my legs to the limits. And I felt it. Sore for days, and in fact I didn't really run for a while after that. Even so, I still managed 50 or so miles that month in training miles, or around 77 miles including the marathon.

The touchy part came in April when I went to run the Headlands Marathon. Didn't feel comfortable at all. I obviously hadn't ran as many miles and so was not near in as good a shape, although I ran enough to keep my legs feeling alright. But my frame of mind was what wasn't there. I felt burned out, and I didn't really care how fast I ran it. I ended up running it with a 12:20 pace, which is slow compared to the other marathons I've ran. Granted, it was in the hills, but I still couldn't get into it.

Then there was the training leading into the Ruth Anderson 50k on 4/19. My training before that was almost zero, with the longest run between the Headlands Marathon on 4/5 being 1 four mile run at a slow pace, and a few 1 mile warm ups before weight lifting. So it surprised me to find that I was holding up well for the 50k and ran a great pace until the wind sapped my energy and slowed me down. Nonetheless, I ran it at an 11:10 pace, so I was very happy.

5 days after that on 4/24 I forced myself to run, and so I set out to run 6 miles in order to get ready for the Quicksilver 50m. I stopped at 3 miles. Granted, my splits were 8:30, 8:04 and 7:56, which looks good on paper, but my morale was low. I still felt burned out. And this training day only confirmed that I wasn't feeling the running as much.

So, stubborn as I am, I went out on 4/26 and ran some hills. Again, I was going to run a loop course in the hills twice and net me 8 miles with about 800 ft elevation gain. Not bad, but I only ended up doing one loop. This time I was walking on some of the downhills and was running sections a lot slower than I had ever ran those sections before. I couldn't figure it out. Why was I not feeling it anymore? Had I burnt myself out by running too much all at once?

The next day I tried it again and did some more road running, trying for 6 miles again, and quit at 3 miles, running 8:27, 8:08: and 8:07. Again, looks good on paper, but it didn't feel right.

So I rested for a few days and decided to try the 6 miles again on 4/30. This time, however, I was going to run a much slower pace and just make sure and get the whole distance in. Miraculously, I felt great. The 6 soon turned into 7, then 8, then 10, then, what the hell, lets make it 13 and do a half marathon. I couldn't believe how great everything felt. My splits were pretty good too.


At a glance you can see I kept a very consistent pace, even at the end when I forced myself to take walk breaks at mile 11-13 I still kept it up. Slowing my pace by 30 seconds was all it took to feel good about running again.

But the experiment, for that was what it turned into now, was not over yet. I needed to do the hill course I cut short last time and see how I do. So on 5/2 I did the two loop course, one clockwise and the other counterclockwise, and it felt great again.


The hills that felt tough, even the downhill portions, were now flying by without a hitch. Amazing. And finally the last was on 5/3, a nice and slow 4 miler: 9:04, 8:32, 9:12 and 8:01.

I think the huge lesson I learned was how a person becomes burned out and what to do when you feel this way. For me it was that I was running these big races (1 road marathon with huge PR, 1 trail marathon with 4,400 ft elevation gain, and 1 50k with huge winds, all within 1 1/2 months) and I was still trying to run right after them as though I hadn't ran them. I tried to run the same distances and the same speeds, and those just didn't feel right. And when you consistently don't feel right while running then that leads to you not wanting to run at all. This happened to me. It wasn't until I slowed the pace down about 30 seconds less than what I am used to running, at least before Napa, and all of a sudden I felt rejuvenated and back to normal. Granted, the speed issue will slowly return to its original, but I can't expect to have it back right away. This I have learned.

And this was another reason why I decided to attempt the 50miler this weekend. Because the joy of running returned, and it returned because I learned something new about my body and how it relates to running.

I can't wait to learn more.