Sunday, September 28, 2008

Stompin' My Way Towards the Almaden Times Classic 10k FInish

The body is an amazing piece of equipment. It can be put through hell and accomplish some amazing feats, it can perform well under pressure and can push harder and longer than you would have ever imagined. Just the same, sometimes your engine needs a rest, needs to be able to recover from the gruelling expenditure from the weekend previous.

Almaden Times Classic 10k - 53:09 (8:36 pace; 99/272)

I didn't know what to expect from this one. On the one hand my legs felt good. They didn't seem too stressed from the 50k from the weekend previous. On the other hand I knew I hadn't had too much rest and I hadn't ran hardly at all since then, so I didn't know whether the legs were ready.

I arrived that morning with grandiose ideas. I'm running a marathon next weekend and figured a long run would be good to do the weekend before, so why not run the 10k, then turn around and run the course again to fit in a half marathon. Once I woke up I realized I was tired and maybe doing a half mary wouldn't be a good idea. So I lugged myself the 20 minutes to the start and toed the line.

Right away I knew this would not be my day. All I really wanted was to run a sub 8 minute mile pace. Simple, I thought, because of the 7 10ks I've already ran there was only one that was over an 8 minute pace, and that one was a trail 10k with a huge elevation gain, so it was realistic. Now I knew I wouldn't be able to do that.

The first 2 miles were sub 8, coming in at 7:43 and 7:56. Not bad, but not good, because I already wanted to take a walk break. My legs felt like they had bricks tied to my feet. When I would run I could run fast, and it felt good, but it didn't last long. This resembled more like the end of a marathon or 50k when your legs are heavy and tired. Your endurance is still there, but the legs can't do what you want.

I took a lot of walk breaks this time. I knew that I wouldn't be able to run a better 10k, or at least run one the way I had wanted to run it, so why torment myself? And so the day went. This was the first time that each successive mile was slower than the previous. The only pace that was faster was the .2, and that was because with a half mile to go I turned the afterburners on and took off, running as though I hadn't ran at all. I mean I was passing people as though they were standing. So it showed that I had it in me to run faster. The problem was that a half a mile was about as far as I could go until my legs gave out on me.

What went wrong? My engine just needed a little time to cool off, to re lubricate and bring itself back up to optimal performance. Add to that not training as much and it would mean that my recovery time would need to be longer. So my original idea of running a half mary, let alone a 10k, so soon after running a trail 50k the weekend before was not realistic. Will this effect the marathon next weekend? I don't think so, but who knows. I think it best that I take care of my engine, of this piece of machine, and let it build itself back up to its optimal performance level. I may do some light running at marathon pace, which would be around a 10:30 pace for a 4:30 finish. Either way, my training is not what it used to be, so I need to stagger my runs more (whereas at the height of my training I could run a race virtually every weekend, and had ran 2 50ks within 2 weeks) and focus on recuperation until my training returns.

A disappointing 10k that taught me a very good lesson.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Marathon in 26 Words

A fantastic challenge of man versus training. Then you cramp up, every joint hurts, and you hate life. Welcome to 26.2! Now push onward with conviction!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dancin' with Wasps at the Skyline to the Sea 50k

Nothing gets your adrenaline going like wasps. I've never ran into them before, literally, and wasn't prepared for it when I ran through all 3 nests. Although distracted momentarily, I certainly was still able to enjoy my long and gruelling run through the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Skyline to the Sea 50k - 6:45:15 (13:09 pace; 122/178)

This was an unbelievably picturesque trail. The start was at Saratoga Gap at the intersections of Highways 9 and 35. We ran up and down valleys with huge panoramic views of unending tree after tree. One minute you are running through towering trees and the next you break around a bend and the whole hidden valley opens up. Absolutely beautiful. Then you drop down into the valley floor and run and cross over streams until you finally come out from under the cover of leaves and branches and, voila, there is the ocean right there in front of you. Words do not suffice. All in all, there was 3,000 feet of elevation gain with 5,580 feet of elevation loss.

The race started at the great time of 9. This, to me, is the most ideal time to start running. Unfortunately, in order to get to the start, where there is no parking, you have to drive to where the race will end since it is a point to point race. Yup, that meant driving the 1 hour and 20 minutes to where the buses would pick us up. Which meant getting up at 4:45. Not so much fun. Since I couldn't fall asleep until a little after 3 it meant I would be really tired with only 2 hours of sleep.

Oh, and the bus ride. We were all crammed into these school buses where we had to sit sideways in order to fit in the seats. Imagine a 1 hour and 20 minute bus ride, bouncing you back and forth. Not a good way to start your day. I was so sick by the time we got there that I couldn't enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Add that to being tired and with loud people practically yelling in the seat behind me, and I was not in the right frame of mind. That being said, standing in the cold for an hour in the fresh mountain air certainly freshened my mood.

The race started and after a bathroom break I didn't get to the start line until the race began, which meant I was behind every runner at the beginning. The race was virtually all single track, with some fire roads, so the beginning was very slow going as I slowly moved carefully past runners. 2 miles in and all hell broke loose. I saw one runner stop and scratch his leg and someone else asked if he had been stung. I thought nothing of it until a a couple hundred feet in front of me a woman slaps her neck and yells. I just started thinking, "I hope I don't get stu-" "Ouchhhh" as I did the mad, banshee yelling and arm waving jumping as I surged forward and adrenaline pumped in. I had been stung a couple of times. And I was worried. I had only been stung by a wasp once before and my hand swelled to over 3 times as big. I had an allergic reaction then, what would happen now?

Luckily the race director showed up and gave me an antihistamine. I soldiered on. 5 minutes later we started to hear yelling and a lot of commotion on the trail ahead. We knew what we were getting into and dreaded every step forward. Then the lead runner in our group started yelling and waving their arms and then, almost instantly, everyone started jumping, yelling, screaming and waving their arms. And you get stung by 3 different wasps at the same exact time. Adrenaline surged through me as I lost all focus on running and pushed it on harder to get away from wasps.

Luckily we were in the clear and hit our first hill, since the course is a net downhill, and trudged on. I was out of shape so I walked most of the hill, which was a long gruelling one. We get to the top and come to our first panoramic view, which, of course, came along with its own wasps' nest. This time I was stung in the arm and, uh, the back of my head? The upside was I wasn't having a reaction, the downside was that I had been stung 8 times by wasps. Not fun, and my arm and head throbbed for the whole race.

A plus was that this course was mostly downhill, the downside was that the hills, when they came, were some really tough ones. About mile 15 was another hill that went on for almost 2 miles and was really steep. Not fun. I was moving slowly. After I got back to the 19 mile aid station I walked all the flats until, yup, another long and gruelling hill. I was not in good shape. I couldn't figure it out. I was drinking a lot of water, was taking electrolyte pills and was eating Cliff Shot Bloks. What happened besides being out of shape? As I pondered this I ate more, drank more, and swallowed some more electrolyte pills. And, just in time, it all clicked back into place at the top of the hill.

This was the first that this had happened. I went from nauseous, dizzy and cramping in my calves, hamstrings, quads and groin to flying so fast down the hill feeling more fresh than I did at the beginning of the race. Unbelievable, and it felt so good to open up my stride and literally fly down the single track trails with huge trees and running creeks. I assumed it was endorphins kicking in and giving me such a great feeling. I was wrong.

A few miles later I felt all the same cramps and was dizzy again. What was it? Ah ha, that has to be it. Even though I had ate a lot, it wasn't enough. I needed to eat more regularly. So I ate and drank again and waited for it to kick in while I hobbled along hating life. 15 minutes later I noticed the cramping was gone. I opened up my stride again and was soaring so fast that I was catching runners left and right. I lost count. Where they were all fading I was flying past them as though I hadn't run at all. I was amazed at the huge difference. Granted, I couldn't keep it up continuously, so I worked in a run walk routine in order to not run out of fuel. And it worked.

Even when I was in the best of shape I have never felt this great at the end of a race and could open up not only on the downhills but on the flats as well. So this is what if feels like to have the right nutrition and hydration? Nice, I will have to remember this. And just as I came down the mountain and could see the wind gliders' sails on the ocean, my energy collapsed. I couldn't see eating again, so I drank a lot and pushed through the slowly building cramps until I came to the finish line, which surprised me as I weaved in and out of bushes to suddenly have the finish line literally right in front of me. Apparently we were originally going to end with the ocean in sight, but a wasps nest had found a home there and it would have been cruel to congratulate our finish with a few more stings.

All in all, a truly enjoyable race, despite hating life at mile 14 and wondering why I continue to torture myself with running marathons and ultramarathons. The wasps were a unique experience, one I would never wish upon anyone else, and hope to certainly never have to experience again, even though I know I probably will.

Post script: I went to bed last night with nothing more than a slight stinging on my right arm and a dull throb on the back of my head. I had taken an antihistamine pill and I think that held things at bay. This morning I woke up and after showering and eating I scratched my arm, having completely forgot about the wasp stings, and looked down to find my right forearm a slight red and splotchy color as well as being swollen. I was having a reaction to the stings. All in all my right forearm was stung 4 times within the same square inch surface by three wasps (one got me twice before I was able to swat him off), so it wasn't a surprise that it was reacting the worst there. I guess I have a little memento, eh, one I will keep with me when I run. Along with some antihistamine pills.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A disappointing DNF at the Stevens Creek 50k

I didn't expect too much, but I at least expected to finish this 50k. I most certainly didn't finish, not even close. What went wrong?

Stevens Creek 50k - DNF (2:35:54; 10.9 miles; 2,200 ft elevation gain; 14:19 pace)

Can you tell how your day will go by how it began? I was sound asleep when I was jolted out of sleep. Literally. Strange sound waking me up. Huh? What's going on? Before I even figured out what was happening I had bolted out of my bed and was walking over to the alarm. When I got to the alarm (which is across the room because if it is above my head I will turn it off without even realizing it) I turned it off and sat there, staring at the mirror, wondering why my alarm was going off. Work? Was it morning or did I take a nap or something and it was afternoon? Then it donned on me. I have a 50k. I try to shake off the unsettling feeling of not knowing where I am or why I am there and get in the shower.

Soon enough I was on my way, noticing the temp was 70 degrees already at 7:45. Gonna be a hot one, but the 50k was in the mountains where it usually drops a good 10 to 15 degrees. I was happy. A half hour later I was starting to get hot and noticed that the outside temp had risen to 80 degrees when I arrived at the start! What the?!?! (a ranger told me later that in the Summer up where we were at is something called inverse layer, where the valley floor and the mountaintops reverse and the mountaintops are hotter. whoda thunk it?)

This was not a good start. Disoriented when I woke up, and it was already 80 degrees at 8:30 in the morning. The race started and not even 10 feet in and I already had a rock in my shoe and a thorn stabbed my big toe. I was not going to enjoy today.

After 4-5 miles I already knew I was going to drop, even though I was running a decent pace. I was struggling on the hills and the heat was very overpowering, reaching in to the mid 90s. Now I had to decide whether I wanted to stop at the 10.9 mile aid station or continue on and stop at the 19.3 mile aid station. We hit the longest uphill climb in the whole race, which is very bad timing for trying to decide how far to run. That being said, I stopped at the first aid station at mile 10.9.

What went wrong? First and foremost, I hadn't trained much in the last two months, only running a combined 60 miles, and hardly any of those where in the hills. I hadn't done a marathon or longer run since the beginning of June, so my legs were not in shape, not to mention there may be some residual damage left over from my pulled muscle. My legs were just so tired. I mean, walking the hills was making my legs very tired. I eventually gave up and virtually walked the whole last 3-4 miles. And to put this in to perspective, one of those miles came in at 30 minutes, a very slow uphill mile. Another reason why I walked so much was the heat was very overpowering. Not only had I not trained in the hills but I hadn't done any heat training, ever.

So this was a huge DNF for me. My first DNF came after I attempted the Quicksilver 50m, and stopped at the 50k finish. So that was a decent DNF, one I learned a ton from. This DNF just made me feel like I couldn't do anything right, that I had never ran trails and that I had never ran anything longer than a few miles. Very frustrating. Overall, though, it came down to a main factor of my training, with the heat only a contributing factor. I have no doubt that if I would have focused on my training than I would have finished this race. That is neither here nor there.

As a postscript, I stayed and volunteered, helping with the timing at the mile 19.3 aid station (which is also where the finish is), and was able to see all the runners come through. Amazingly, there were about 7-8 people who DNFed at the 10.9 aid station, and another 11 who dropped at the 19.3 aid station, making a total of at least 19 DNFs (there may be more who turned around and came back to the finish after they came through the 19.3 aid). There were 59 starters.

Postscript to the Postscript: Results just in: 36 finishers and 23 DNFs. Amazing drop out rate, so I don't feel so bad about my DNF. Plus there were runners that didn't finish until 9 hours and 27 minutes. Better luck next year for me, and you can bet I will be prepared then.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Prerace thoughts for the Stevens Creek 50k

I've lost my discipline. Not sure how or when. Pulled muscle? Smog/smoke? Heat? Could be any of them, could be all of them. Could be something entirely different. Who knows. But today I had it in my mind (actually it started with two days ago, then yesterday) to run some hills, break my legs in some more before my 50k this weekend. What stopped me today? Just checked the weather and it is 100 degrees outside. So I vetoed it.

Which is strange, because last year I was running a ton in the heat, but this year it seems that I don't want to. Doubts and questions. Am I burning out? I hope not, and I think not. But you never know. I was hoping to get some hill running in before this weekend's race, but now it may be too close to Sunday to risk running and being sore. Cause I haven't ran hills in a while, I know I will be tight and/or sore. Now I wait. But, and a big but it is, maybe this will turn out like the iWalk Half Marathon. I didn't run before that and I ended up only being about a little over 2 minutes slower than I was last year. Maybe the same will happen.

I do know that I will shatter my time from last year. Last year when I ran this I had zero trail/hill training and running and I had only ran 2 marathons previous to it. Plus I got lost for over an hour. Now I have experience with 7 marathons and 5 50ks, with tons of trail and hill running, so I know what I am getting myself in to. Add to that having not only ran the course last year but also having ran a good portion of these same trails in training. I should do well. Last year I came in at 8:15. Very slow. This year I hope to run it in 6:30, with an outside goal of 6:15. My last 50k was at Quicksilver in May and I ran that in 6:16, and I ran a trail marathon at Forest of Nisene Marks in 4:07 in June. Granted, I haven't ran too much and too often recently, but I think the conditioning is still there if I run a smart race.

All of this, of course, is preparation for the Skyline to the Sea 50k coming up on Sep. 20th, where I run from Saratoga Gap to the ocean. Gonna be great. But is it strange to kick start your training for a 50k by running a different 50k? I think so, logically, but I have never really thought logically, having ran my first marathon with zero training, and my first trail 50k with zero trail running experience. I am better off now than I was before either of those, so I am optimistic.

Anyway, here's to kick starting the second half of my season, having ran 6 marathons or longer in the first half, then took a 2 month break, and then will now run at least 5 more marathons or longer (2 road marathons, 2 trail 50ks and 1 trail marathon) with another 3-4 maybe's.

Here's to shooting for the moon!