Monday, July 21, 2008

3 months later...

Almost three months have passed since my last post and so much has happened since then but almost nothing related to training or racing.

So what have I been up to?

1. Sold our old house in Santa Clara and bought a new house in Sunnyvale about 7 miles away but closer to the hills.

2. Took a new job at the same company with lots more responsibility.

3. My wife and I had a baby (our second).

Any one of those events might put a slight dent in a training schedule and maybe impact a race or two but all three have sent me skidding sideways. I would swim for the surface if I could remember which direction it was.

This Sunday, however, I found the surface! I even took a breath.

The day didn't start out as promising as it ended. In the morning my wife reminded me we were going to take my eldest daughter and my in-laws to Stern Grove in San Francisco to see modern ballet.

My first instinct was to escape all-together and I tried by claiming I had too many chores around the new house to possibly get away. That didn't work, not even close. I ruefully thought to myself that time sitting around in Stern Grove could be spent running along Ocean Beach and I had it! Why not run while my family was happily eating a picnic lunch and watching the show?

I drove the family to Stern Grove, dropped them off, parked, and then hauled the rest of the picnic paraphernalia down the hill to their spot. I quickly turned right around and headed out on a gorgeous run from 33rd down Vincente to the Great Highway, up the bike path to the Beach Chalet, across the street and up past the Cliff House, a loop around the hill and back - 10 miles total. It was heaven. That's my longest run since May and I felt great. Not fast, but great nonetheless.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Climbing into the back of beyond

Will G. and Ryan C. were kind enough to give me an introduction to the first 20 miles of the Ohlone course on Saturday morning. I'd read and heard stories about Ohlone but I'd never set foot on that set of trails. So Saturday morning I found myself milling about in front of the Mission Peak gate waiting for Mr. Ryan Commons to roll up.

He sauntered up the hill ready to go and we set off. Will was to meet us in Sunol with Beth Vitalis.

The climb up Mission Peak was comfortable but plenty challenging. Here we are on top.

On the way down the back side of Mission Peak the charm of the Oak trees and pasture land was evident. Lupine, Indian Paintbrush and California Poppies blazed on the hillsides and across meadows.

Will, Ryan and Beth before Beth headed back to Sunol. She ran the Diablo 50 the previous week but still kept pace for a good seven miles of climbing. Beth has won the Ohlone 50K at least three times. It was a real treat running getting to meet her!

20080419 Mission Peak 013

Will, Ryan and I before the final climb up to Rose Peak

20080419 Mission Peak 017

I wasn't monitoring my calorie intake very well and found myself bouncing between extremes of running well and then getting light-headed and slowing to a crawl. Will on the other hand was consistently strong and set a blazing pace throughout. He didn't run all the way from Mission Peak but I'm sure that wouldn't have shortened his stride at all. Here's the tough guy on top of Rose Peak.

20080419 Mission Peak 020

Rose Peak Summit. I was too tired to to take advantage of the view and the thought of standing up and getting the full brunt of the icy wind was not particularly enticing. There was ice frozen on the trees and it was melting and falling on our heads as we passed.

20080419 Mission Peak 022

The way down from Rose Peak was more or less uneventful. We didn't have to face down any menacing herds of cows like we did on the way up. Ryan decided to make the return trip a little more exciting and he slide tackled a phantom opponent on an unveven piece of terrain and sliced his knee up. At least that's what it looked like from a few feet behind.

20080419 Mission Peak 023

The run ended up at 28 mies with about 7000 feet of climbing. I ended up with a healthy respect for the Ohlone course!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Six word memoir

I've seen it happen to other bloggers but I never thought it could happen to me. Was I naive to think I was immune? Did I think I could avoid it forever? I've been tagged courtesy of Trail Blog Patriarch Scott D.

Before I get started I'd like to request Scott to postpone business travel, time with family, eating and sleeping until he publishes his Diablo 50 race report. Donald has already published his report and he acheived a zen state after 12 hours of perseverance. Considering that Scott is as close in demeanor to Buddha as anyone that skinny can be, he might have acheived nirvana during the race and vanished from this plane altogether.

Wendell did record a finishing time for Scott so I assume he is still with us and we patiently await his report...

On to my memoir. Rules are below.

1) Write your own six word memoir

2) Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you want

3) Link to the person that tagged you in your post, and to the original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere

4) Tag at least five more blogs with links

5) Leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play!

One step forward, two steps up

I chose these six words as an illustration of both how I run and how I like to think I live my life. Climbing a hill in early morning mist to suddenly come around a corner and be blinded by sunlight rippling across a sea of fog is as close to transcendence as I'm likely to get. Climbing to new levels in other areas of my life is not as straightforward as acheivement in sport but something to aspire to nonetheless.

I am reminded of Robert Frost's poem, The Road Not Taken. I wonder if Mr. Frost had ventured West into the Rocky Mountains or farther on to the Sierra Nevada or the Cascade Range would his perspective have been altered. Would his metaphor of the choices in his life have shifted from the left and the right fork in the road to the path up the mountain and the path down the mountain.

My time spent in the mountains, among the jagged peaks and glittering glaciers changed my perspective from horizontal to vertical.

Tagging Jon, Sean & CS. I'll have to think about who else to tag...

Friday, April 4, 2008

Blast from the past

I took the day off today to pack the garage (or at least try to make a dent) in preparation for our move next weekend. We did buy a new house in Sunnyvale so we won't be homeless!

As I sifted through old boxes I came upon an old training diary from my Freshman year in college. I was a walk-on to the team and to make matters worse I was a little soft after spending the previous summer in Europe visiting family.  I barely survived cross-country season. The entry below is from halfway through indoor track season. For some reason I thought I'd try to run with the middle distance team (for you hardcore utlra runners that's not a 50 miler - it's 800m-1500m).
2/8/3 4:30 PM 20-30 degrees F
Ran brisk warmup (2 mile Long Occum Pond)
Stretched, ran strides, went to the bathroom twice.

4x400 at 62 sec. Coach Barry actually gave me a time to shoot for which is a first. His attention gave a lot more credence to the workout. The rest of my group was supposed to run 56 sec. The first group: Dennis Webster, Mike Hughes, Brian Barry and Jon Fidelak, ran 54 sec quarters.

I hit #1 in 64 sec. I felt like I was running faster than that. DW pointed out that in the 800m it is important to stay relaxed during the first 600 so that you're not too tight to run the next 200 all out. I was tightening up on the second 200. #2 in 63, #3 in 63, #4 in 61. I was really pushing the last 1/4.

I wish I had kept better logs from those days. I tore myself to shreds trying to train with those guys. Every day after practice I'd spend twenty minutes waist deep in an ice bath just to be able to walk to the dining hall. 

I was surprised when I read this entry today to see that I could run 4x400 that fast. In the grand scheme of things a 62 sec quarter isn't that quick, most high schools have a kid who is faster than that. But considering these days I lumber around the track running 400's at 75-80 sec pace it sure felt good to know that somewhere, buried under slow twitch fibers is a fast twitch muscle waiting for the last 200m.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Keeping the faith

My wife is out of town on business and I'm struggling. Struggling to keep the house together. Struggling to get out the door with my daughter in the morning. Struggling to find time to run.

There is no balance between work, family and running. There's only compromise. My wife and daughter do without me as I disappear to races. They compromise. If I don't race to the edge of my ability the worst part is that I feel like I let them down. Not only was I gone for most of the day but I don't have anything to show for it.

The PCTR Pirates Cove 50K couldn't have been held on a more perfect day. Not too much wind, not too hot. The pre-dawn view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the City was mesmerizing. The lights twinkling and dancing on the water.

Golden Gate Bridge Pre-dawn

The Marin Headlands were sparkling with Wildflowers. Even before the sun came up a full moon set over the Pacific. 

Moon over Marin Headlands Lagoon

The race was a non-event for me. By mile ten it was clear I had nothing left and that a long hike was all that awaited me out on the course. I kept going and picked it up the last five miles to edge into a lackluster seventh place. 

I don't know how exactly I'm going to push apart the Scylla and Charybdis of Work and Family enough to get some solid training in. I'm angling for a new job so I can't slack off to slip on the running shoes at lunch. We just sold our house and are occupied looking for the next one. 

But runners are optimists. If we weren't how would we ever keep running if we didn't think we would improve? Running is an act of faith. If I run it means I believe I can be more than what I am today. Today it just happens there is a lot of room for improvement.

Monday, March 3, 2008

PCTR Skyline Ridge 50K Race Report 2

A few days after a race I like to use 20/20 hindsight to capture the pearls of wisdom that racing provides. It is a little more proactive than my usual tactic of either wallowing in self-pity or celebrating a good race with a few too many calories.

By the way - in fifteen minutes I'm off to Pot Sticker King for some of those calories! But not before grabbing a pearl or two.

The target pace I chose was too aggressive considering the hip injury, sinus infection and the irregular training I experienced since the Woodside 50K. I was healthy and ready to race on Saturday but a more experienced competitor would have opted to start a little slower and finish faster. This is exactly what Jon Olsen did to great effect. I probably should have run 1:54 for the first 23K and in so doing I might have been able to give Jon a little more competition and finish closer to 4:09.


Out 00:55
Back 00:53
Loop 1 01:10
Loop 2 01:13
Total 04:11

What went well:
  • I hydrated well and used the first half of the race to fuel with gu every 30-40 minutes which helped.
  • I'm happy that I was able to run 4 hr pace for the first half of the race and while I fell off that pace I didn't blow up completely.
  • The hip injury (torn hip flexor and pulled glut muscle) was gone by race day.
What didn't go well:

  • Muscle soreness in the last half of the race was much worse than in previous races. This is most likely due to the pace of the first half and the lack of consistent mileage for the three weeks prior to the race
  • I need some injinji socks. Let's leave it at that. The rest of the race kit was great.
  • Sunscreen. I usually never forget it but did on Saturday.
Lessons Learned:

  • Consistency is critical to maintaining my race fitness. Even a few days off put me behind the competition.
  • More mileage will be crucial to compete with someone like Leor Pantilat or to be competitive in some of the bigger races like Ohlone 50K.
  • I love trail racing! Something new around every corner.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

PCTR Skyline Ridge 50K Race Report

I'm always up early the morning before a race. I thought I would do something a little more constructive than sitting in the car reading the newspaper so I drove to the vista point off of Skyline Blvd. at the base of Borel Hill just before 6:30 AM. I jogged up the hill with my camera and tripod hoping to take some pre-dawn shots of the bay. After a few hundred meters I realized the sky was brightening faster than I was moving up the hill and I was in danger of missing the sunrise. Too make matters worse a bank of fog was looming over my shoulder and edging towards me. I broke into a gallop and made it to the top in time to get the tripod set up and get a few shots in between veils of fog floating by.
Without fog...
Borel Hill at Sunrise 2

My last race was the PCTR Woodside 50K and my training was a little sporadic in the subsequent weeks due to family commitments. Like Scott I took a dip in the germ pool and came out with a sinus infection. Fortunately Dr. Bob Nishime helped me get back on track and antibiotics erased any excuses I might have had earlier in the week.

I walked to the check-in with Carol Cuminale and chatted about her entry into the Coyote Two Moons coming up on March 23. Will Gotthardt was there as well getting ready to unleash his speed demon on the 14K course.
Back at the car I saw Ryan Commons and Kevin Weil. Leor Pantilat was there as well parked close by. This cagey competitor had just switched from a shorter race into the 50K and Ryan correctly noted we had another adversary to worry about.

I lined up at the start next to Jon Olsen and Mark Tanaka. I had a chance to congratulate Jon on his victory and course record at Rio del Lagos before Wendell sent off the 23K, 37K and 50K races together. Jon's time of 15:32 at Rio del Lagos is the equivalent of running 3 50K's back to back each in 4:48. Needless to say I was appropriately intimidated!

Out and Back
Leor P. was off like a shot and I set off after him around the lake and then up through the douglas fir trees. The race at the front quickly divided into to groups, Leor leading the front group and I the second squad. Kevin Weil was descending the fire roads around the Christmas tree farm so quickly that I regretted giving him some tips during the Woodside race. A few miles on Kevin made a move as we climbed out of the woods and I couldn't match his acceleration. By this time the group behind me had splintered. I pushed on, trying to keep to my race plan but not wanting to lose contact with the leaders.

This plan didn't turn out to be very successful. The only contact I had with the leader, Leor Pantilat, was at the turnaround of the first out and back segment and then again on the last lap. He blitzed the course in a phenomenal time of 3:58. Kevin Weil put about four minutes on me in the first 23K.

Leor Pantilat

50K Winner Leor Pantilat

My goal was to run as close to 4 hours as I could. I pushed hard to run 55 minutes out to the Hickory Oaks aid station right on pace but never felt like I settled into a smooth stride. Jon Olsen was less than a minute behind me at this turnaround. Ryan Commons and Sean Lang were just behind Jon. Scott D. was clearly enjoying himself with his camera at the ready.
I surprised myself by running the second leg of the first 23K faster than the first. I came through the 23K in 1:48, two minutes ahead of my goal pace. I would have finished 6th in the 23K if I'd stopped here. I'm glad I came out to scout the course three weeks before, both because it helped to know the terrain and so that I could enjoy the views that I missed while trying to catch Kevin.

Loop 1
The race changes at this point from an out and back along the ridge line and runs up a single track trail connecting Skyline Ridge park to Russian Ridge. The trail moves across the leeward side of Skyline Ridge, through meadows, chapparral and under the shade of oak trees.
I made it to the Vista Point aid station in 2:14 exactly as planned and from there the race and my legs started to unravel. My hamstrings knotted up and turning my legs over quickly became more difficult. The chill wind picked up past Borel hill on the Ridge Trail and made the Hawk trail on the leeward side of the ridge seem warm and cozy in comparison. I arrived at the 37K mark at 2:58, four minutes behind schedule with Jon Olsen less than a minute behind.

Loop 2
Every time I saw Kevin off in the distance I would mark his position passing a rock or a tree and then time myself to the same point. I thought I wasn't making up any ground so I was surprised to hear from Scott that Kevin was only 45 seconds in front of me. Scott was coming down the connector trail as I was going back up it on my way for another 14K loop. With Jon close behind me and Kevin not too far in front I had plenty of motivation to speed up.
I passed through the tunnel into Russian Ridge park. The climb up to Borel Hill is gradual enough that I could keep my speed up but someone behind me was shifting into fifth gear. As I climbed back to the ridge line I could see Jon gliding fluidly up the hill. Fortunately I also saw Kevin and accelerated to catch him. But nothing is ever easy in a 50K race and as the trail wound around the hillside Kevin looked back, saw me and took off.

Jon stopped at the vista point aid station and I ploughed right through hoping to gain some time. I powered up the hill as best I could on shattered legs, wishing for another gear that I'd used up too early in the race. Jon was bearing down on me with long strides and a bright blue shirt. Part of me wanted to stop and cheer him on as he went by. He was supremely focused. His eyes never left the trail in front of him. The tractor beam wasn't aimed at me anymore. It was reaching for Kevin, ready to reel him in.

I kept pace with Jon for a grand total of about five seconds but seeing him running so strong so late in the race did help me to lift my pace. I was afraid Jon would similarly inspire Kevin and that I might not catch a reinvigorated Mr. Weil. When I did catch up to Kevin farther on we found each other in a world of pain, legs torn up by Leor's fierce pace. As I turned up the Mindego trail and started to climb again I could feel the finish line getting closer. The pain in my legs subsided and I surged forward hoping to limit the time gap to Jon.

Back on the connector trail, down the single track and a sprint across the line into third place in a time of 4:11:29. I left everything out on the course, too much of it in the first 23K.

Once again, I enjoyed chatting with my fellow racers over post-race chow.
Harry Walther fuels up
Harry Walther fuels up
I hobbled over to the car to get my camera after a bowl of chili in time to get some photos of Mike Nutall, Elizabeth M. and Vladimir G. finishing strong. Mike and Elizabeth both fell during the race. Mike cutting up his knees and Elizabeth scraping her thigh. That didn't stop them from finishing with a smile! The rest of my photos can be found here at flickr.
Mark Nutall finishing with a smile
Mark Nutall finishing with a smile

Elizabeth McCleneghan floating to victory
Elizabeth McCleneghan floating to victory
Vladimir Gusiatnikov
Vladimir Gusiatnikov

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

San Francisco

I lived in San Francisco for two years after college and absolutely loved running in the Presidio, Golden Gate Park, Crissy Field and Marin Headlands. Last week I drove to San Francisco for an all-day meeting and made sure to leave early enough to get a run in. I parked at Crissy Field and as always I marvelled at the spectacular view.

The run was pleasant. I wound through the Presidio onto new trails. I meandered around to the Arguello gate and then back down to Crissy field. I rinsed off at the surf showers.Briefly, it was frigid.
From there I drove to my meeting, scrambling a bit to find parking, with a big smile on my face. The next time I get to run in San Francisco will probably be for the marathon in the summer.
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Northstar last weekend

This is what a snowstorm looks like after a day of cross-country skiing and two beers.

The snow was absolutely dumping Saturday and Sunday and the snow temp was perfect for snowball fights. It was next to impossible to walk through the village without passing through a pitched battle between friends or family members. I had to use my daughter's sled as a shield on more than one occassion.

Deep snow makes cross-country skiing even tougher than usual. At least it does for a low-lander like me. There was a guy from Reno who was ripping along like he was on ice. I felt more like I was running on a sand dune. It was a great workout nonetheless.
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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Uli's training log

Uli Steidl publishes his training log online. It makes for interesting reading.
Includes details of his 2007 North Face Challenge victories

What I find remarkable is that his training runs are seldom longer than 24 miles and yet he can blitz a 50 miler with 13,000 feet of climbling as in Seattle. The one exception was the 30 miler with Greg Crowther run at 6:18 pace (not a typo!)

A few observations:
  1. He is remarkably consistent with his mileage averaging 90 miles a week for 2007.
  2. He incorportates a lot of quality in his running schedule - at least the pace of the workouts make it look that way.
  3. He races frequently and is as competitive at 5K - 10K as he is at the marathon up to the 50 mile distance.
  4. He trains with the SU team.
  5. Diagonals!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Santa Monica photos from 2006

Thanks to Wendell some of my photos from last years race made it onto the PCTR Santa Monica Fall race page.

I pulled a Scott D. for the photo of the women running. They thought the idea of me running backwards to take their photo was hilarious. 

Friday, February 22, 2008

Week in Review 2/17-2/23

Mileage - not exactly.

Quality - one great workout -8 x 1/2 mile hilly repeats.

Summary - fighting off a cold.

Chance of redemption: I get to x-country ski tomorrow to my heart's content while my daughter takes a ski lesson and my wife snow-shoes. I might be able to fit in 3 hours of skiing! I'll bring the camera and take a few photos on during what I hope will be 20 miles of skiing. So stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Runner's Mythology Part 1

Receiving information about another runner's training can be a double-edged sword. It can provide helpful insights into their success and at the same time potentially send you down a destructive path.

Take high mileage for example. Learning that one runner benefits from 100 mile weeks might make another runner, like me, eager to work up to that type of weekly distance. Anecdotal evidence certainly shows that elite runners who run consistently high mileage perform at a higher level than those that do not. The renaissance of American distance running (its probably too early to call it that but I'm an optimist) is most likely due in part to emulating the altitude and high mileage training of elite runners in other parts of the world. But not every runner is built to run 100 mile or more weeks. Trying to build up to that type of workload may put a runner on a path to injury after injury, stress fractures, etc.

I always have to remind myself why I choose to train the way I do when I hear or read what other trail racers are doing. There is plenty of information on training practices out there on blogs and in interviews and bantered back and forth after races. Recently a series of comments from friends and competitors made me start thinking about high mileage again. Then I read Jean Pommier's excellent interview with Graham Cooper and read a few tidbits about Graham's training - low mileage and lots of cross-training. The best thing about the Internet is there is always fodder for any viewpoint! I would venture a guess that the volume of Graham's training, measured in duration of effort, is equal to that of most high mileage runners.

In the end if you are not getting paid to train and race than it had better be something you love and enjoy. I'm not sure what my life would be like without running and I don't want to have to find out!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Scouting the Skyline Ridge 50K Course

On the slate for Saturday morning (2/9/08) was a trip up to scout out the Skyline Ridge 50K course. The race is three weeks away and I was very curious to see the course that Chikara Omine blitzed to a 3:55 course record.
I was first in the parking lot at Skyline Ridge OSP. There were long shadows as the sun crested the hill.

The first part of the 23K section heads south and dodges in and out of the Tree Farm. It is easy to lose the trail in this section as it undulates steeply up and down.

Melting pumpkins and corrugated steel

The Ridge Trail crosses a number of roads, each with a barrier to cross. The Woodside 50K had trees to jump over and the Skyline 50K has it's own hurdles.

After running on the Ridge Trail in open meadows the trail turns slightly and plunges into the forest. Soon the trail turns steeply up and I found myself walking through tall douglas firs. I reached the top of the hill somewhat disapppointed with myself for not running this section and I turned around to do it again. A few miles further on, the trail suddenly passes through a gate and I popped out into brilliant sunshine with a breathtaking view of the Pacific. It is moments like these that make me glad to live in California and thankful to be able to get to places like these.

The run was not without its challenges. Those of you who have run the Skyline PCTR 23, 37 or 50K before might not recognize the intersetion in the photo below. That is because it isn't part of the course! I looked over the course description and the map before I departed and thought I knew where I was going. The trail signage was ambiguous in some places but to be honest I didn't committ to memory every turn on the course, nor did I carry a map. After many wrong turns I certainly have a great understanding of where the course doesn't go.

Evidence of Mountain Lions?

The 14K loop was equally spectacular. I left my water pack, shirt and camera in the car and ran the 8+ miles at a good clip. It is very runnable but with some slightly longer climbs than the 23K out and back section. Overall I found it hard to settle into a particular pace. I was discussing this with Ryan C. over IM last night and we agreed the course forces a runner to constantly shift gears. I think the competitor who can do this without losing focus will have a great race.
The list of entrants includes some familiar names and some relatively famous ones like Jon Olsen. I look forward to racing such another beautiful and challlenging PCTR course.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Additional Comments on PCTR Woodside 50K Race Report

The previous post prompted the following comments (thankfully sent in email and not published on this site...until now) from (so called) friends:

"Who wants to read about you winning? I want pics of pole vaulters. Where are your priorities man?"

In reference to Scott's photo of me climbing out of Huddart park, "You look like a 70 year old man!"

In reference to the photo of me standing next to Scott, "You look like an *%$## midget!"

In reference to my finishing time, "Don't you wish you had pushed a bit harder to break 4 hrs?"

Serves me right for forwarding the link.

These were too funny not to post.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

PCTR Woodside 50K Race Report

"Did you ask daddy how his race went?"
"Daddy, how was your race?"
"I won."
Her eyes go wide. "You won?" Long pause.
"You really won?"
"Yes. I was as surprised as you are."

I had three goals for Saturday's Woodside 50K, run a personal best, stay with the leaders until the climb out of Wunderlich park, and run to win or at least leave it all out on the course. In thinking about the Pacifica 50K two weeks before I realized I gave up on running for the win very early on in the race. I didn't want to repeat that mistake.  I didn't want to see the first place runner disappear into the distance and give up on catching him.

I was anxious for this race all week long and I wanted to get out fast to keep the pace honest and avoid getting dropped. Last year's race started at a blistering pace and saw Michael Buchanan and Richard Blanco disappear in the first few miles. Michael went on to run a course record, 3:57. When Wendell started the race I took off, expecting a bunch sprint to the first turn. Instead I ended up leading the first singletrack descent and the first half of the climb up to Skyline. 

Ryan Commons was right behind me but he was soon replaced by Scott Dunlap and Kevin Weil. Kevin was leading Scott and they finally caught me as the trail leveled out a bit before we hit the steeper fire road. Scott and Kevin were chatting back and forth and I admit to being intimidated by their easy conversation and apparently effortless climbing. Equally intimidating was seeing Beverly Anderson-Abbs running in fourth place. Kevin moved ahead of me and seemed to glide up the climb with his smooth stride. 

At this point the race moves from narrow single-track in a mixed forest up to a fire road cut through redwood trees and douglas fir. The trees loom tall, their tops lost in the canopy. The road does its best to reach the tops of the trees as it climbs steeply in this section. Kevin kept moving fast and as we crested the hill Ryan took off on the descent. I had flashbacks of two weeks ago and went with him. 

I skipped the first aid station and tried to pick up the pace after we crossed Kings Mountain Road. Only Kevin was behind me. This next section is just under six miles of rolling hills from Huddart Park to Wunderlich paralleling the ridge-line. I was feeling a bit spent after the climb out of Huddart and I hoped to refuel and keep it together until the next big climb. Kevin Weil moved into the lead and his long smooth strides looked effortless. Ryan was just behind us, and soon Scott Dunlap joined us again and then flew by us with a very polite, "Do you mind if I pass?"

He swears he is still in the "aerobic" stage of his training and that he hasn't done any speedwork since the Fall. I found that hard to believe as I watched him slip farther ahead into the enveloping mist. The trail in this section is covered with a soft moist carpet of redwood needles that cushions your steps and dampens the sound of each stride. Around a few more corners and Scott was gone, vanished into the lead. This was exactly what I promised I wouldn't let happen but when Kevin offered to let me by to chase after Scott I declined. The Woodside 50K race starts or ends on the climb up out of Wunderlich park. I clung to the hope that we could catch Scott on the climb.

As we climbed up to the second aid station at Bear Gulch, Kevin opened up a fifty yard lead. I filled up my bottle and took off after him. I seemed to be catching him on the steeper sections of the descent through storm thrown branches, rocks, roots and puddles. But when the trail flattened he would speed up. I finally caught him and we ran together for a while until the climb started.  I was right behind him for a few strides and then he loped away up the trail, until he was a full switchback (100 yds) ahead of me. 

I started to feel better and better as the climb progressed. The refueling worked.  As we climbed back up to the Redwoods out of the Eucalyptus forest I saw Scott. I caught the comet and as I passed him he mentioned something about his hip. Only after the race did I learn he caught his foot on a root and went down, injuring his hip. Scott hung on to third place and ran a personal best despite the injury.

Everything came together on that climb. My legs felt light and I was accelerating with each turn. Running felt effortless. I reeled Kevin in until we were running side by side. We came over the hill to the Bear Gulch Aid station (thanks to the volunteers who braved the cold and wet!), filled up our bottles and set out for Huddart. I wasn't sure what to expect at this point. I kept repeating "run to win", "run to win" until the back of my neck tingled. I thought I could run with Kevin until the last downhill and try to lose him there -a risky strategy. It turned out that as we ran over that roller coaster of a trail Kevin fell back until I couldn't see him around the bend. 

I skipped the last aid station and tried to get my legs to turn over faster on the descent to the finish. The "descent" includes about a third of a mile of gradual climbing which feels just super so late in the race. I started to look at my watch to see if I had a chance of breaking four hours and concluded that was unlikely but worth a shot. 

I finished in 4:02:10, thanks to great competitors like Kevin, Scott and Ryan who pushed all the way. The Woodside 50K gets more competitive every year as evidenced by the eight runners who finished under 4:25 including myself, Kevin Weil, Scott Dunlap, Beverly Anderson-Abbs (blazing fast 4:15 course record), Ryan Commons, Michael Buchanan, Will Gotthardt and Alan Abbs.

One of the best parts of PCTR races is hanging out at the finish and chatting with other runners over a bowl of chili. Saturday was no exception. 

Pictures below:

Michael Buchanan after the race - he's as fast as he looks!

Kevin Weil - Mr Smooth Stride with Bev Anderson-Abbs in the background
TC - in great need of a bowl of chili
Scott Dunlap and I

Nothing like a big hug from my wife and daughter after returning from a race to put the final touch on a great day. My family has always been very supportive of my training and racing and I just want to say thanks!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

2008 vs 2007

2007 was for me what coaches with a losing record call a building year. I ran five races and performed ator above my expectations in only two. I ran a PR at the 2007 Woodside 50K. I truly enjoyed my first San Francisco Marathon and while I didn't run a PR I ran faster than my goal for that race. My focus was primarily the marathon and my training was designed to support that goal, lots of mileage, track workouts and tempo runs.

Especially in the last six months of the year when I was building up to Cal Int'l Marathon I never felt smooth or efficient when running at or faster than tempo pace. The spark wasn't there and I couldn't quite understand why. I was running the miles and crushing myself with workouts from Jack Daniels marathon training program. My speed and endurance improved somewhat over the year as evidenced by my performance at the San Jose Rock-N-Roll Half Marathon (1:24:11), nothing to write home about but better than I was running in the Spring. Despite some hard earned improvements running just wasn't fun. Slogging it out day after day isn't what I love about running. I love the feeling of gliding around the track or over the trail with each footstrike light and quick. I love the exhileration of acceleration but instead I felt like I was running through molasses.

2008 rolled aound soon after a disappointing run at Cal Intl Marathon. A I said earlier I would sooner forget that race. I spent the month of December and early January thinking hard about what to do differently. There were lots of threads waiting to be woven together into a cohesive plan for the new year.

Here are a few of those thoughts:
1. I run better when I'm cross-training.
2. Training doesn't make you faster. It is the recovery period that makes you faster.
3. Racing frequently can pay big dividends (from a fitness standpoint).
4. Road-racing doesn't make me happy.
5. The race I enjoyed the most in 2007 was the Woodside 50K.
6. Taking my running to a higher level would require a holistic approach.
7. My training needs to be more consistent.
8. My training needs to be sustainable, not one week that is so hard that I need to take the next week off.
9. Meticulously prepared training schedules often work against me and I need to be more flexible day to day and week by week.
10. And so on...

Slowly these threads drifted into recognizable patterns and I arrived at my plan of attack for 2007. Instead of creating a detailed training schedule I created a sustainable "model week" with a goal for the month such as "hill-climbing strength and power". I oriented each workout around this goal. I added cycling and weight training back into my regime. I renewed my focus on core strength. I scheduled my workouts to maximize recovery and sleep in between harder days. All this was to support at least one to two races every month in 2008.

Two races into 2008 and my first goal is already met. Running is much more fun! I'm no longer running under water and while I'm not always running on a cloud I can feel the spark is back. I'm looking forward to the rest of 2008.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Woodside 50K Entrants

I'm having a really hard time concentrating on work or anything other than the PCTR Woodside 50K coming up this weekend. Every time I look at the list of race entrants I see another stellar name capable of charging the course to a great time. Bev Anderson-Abbs, Ryan Commons, Will Gotthardt, Scott Dunlap and the course record holder Michael Buchanan are all entered as of today. There might well be other contenders for the top spots that I'm not aware of and I am (literally) on the edge of my seat thinking about it.

If I'm going to try to run more of the PCTR Ultra series this year I'm going to have to compartmentalize my running obsession so that I'm not so distracted at work. Everytime Google Reader shows a new entry in my browser I pounce on it hoping it is a running blog I subscribe to. I want to wrap myself in all things running.

I even use to do some pre-race stalking of the competition. It's illuminating (and at times deceptive) to see what the competition has been racing recently. For example, Michael Buchanan, seems to have run slower in 2007 than he did in 2006 in the Quad Dipsea. But without a detailed race report with weather, list of competitors and other factors to evaluate performance the data is interesting but not predictive. According to the results I found Michael has a marathon PR of 2:32! The value of sites that aggregate race results is to help you know who to watch out for. Mr. Buchanan was already on his Mtn Bike starting his next workout when I finished the Woodside 50K last year. Enough said!

Part of my excitement is generated by my desire to race against myself on a course I know very well. I ran 4:13 at the Woodside 50K (and only got fourth!) last year. I look forward to setting a PR and getting a reliable measure of my fitness and the early results of my new training regime. For now, it is time to relax, focus on the last details of my race plan and to start (calmly) visualizing a fast, successful race.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Pre-Race Report

Sunday morning, during a brief respite in our brief rainy season, I ran the PCTR Woodside 35K course as a preview for next Saturday's race. I was greeted by a coyote in the Huddart parking lot and saluted by half a dozen bright yellow banana slugs along the way. I also surprised a squirrell coming into a turn and it jumped straight at me in panic before turning in mid-air to escape. Too much excitement for me when I'm cruising along at a light tempo.

The course was, as expected, wet but still fast and not too muddy. There were about five more trees down on the course than I remember from October. Will Gotthardt and Ryan Commons were out scouting the course as well and seeing them put a spring in my step, anticipating another good race Feb. 2nd.

I'll see how long I can stay with Mr. Commons. My guess is he'll be able to run at or below four hours on that course and I'll be happy to draft as long as I can. I'm also looking forward to racing with Scott Dunlap. I've enjoyed his blog for some time now and certainly would like to thank him for the excellent interviews he's posted with trail and ultra-running luminaries and up & coming athletes. His blog is a great resource for the running community.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pacifica 50K Race Report

Just finished the PCTR Pacifica 50K a few hours ago. Hats off to Wendell and Sara for yet another spectacular race. They should teach courses on putting on races. They are that good.

The course was a challenging set of loops. We started with the 20K and 30K racers and that helped to push a strong early pace. Ryan Commons (50K ) and Will Gotthardt (50K) set the pace for the first three miles and then Jason Wolf took off on the last stretch of the Montara fire road. I was close to Will and Ryan on the way to the summitt of North Peak but couldn't keep up with them as they rocketed the descent. I found it hard to believe that anyone could go that fast down the rocky, off-camber singletrack section but they did it. I was only a turn behind them (50 m) when I took a wrong turn and lost about 40 seconds hoofing it back to the course.

I thought for sure I was out of contention for first and second place but good hydration, fueling and tailing a fast 30K racer was all I needed to catch up to Will G. Ryan C. was at least 10-15 minutes ahead at this point and it looked like fourth place was 20 min back so Will and I ran conservatively up to North Peak on the fourth loop. I knew what a strong descender Will is so I thought if I could stay with him to the last lap maybe I could put enough distance between us on the last climb that I might squeak into second place.

As it turned out when I started the descent and tried to mimic the nimble steps and blistering pace Ryan and Will demonstrated on the first lap, it worked! Soon I was alone on the last climb. I was haunted by the possibility that Will was just behind me, lurking out of sight. I tried to push the pace and as luck would have it, I finished second behind Ryan Commons. My finishing time was 4:52:53, just about ten minutes behind the victor and new course record holder.

I had a great time chatting with Will, Ryan and Jason Reed at the end of the race. I look forward to racing with them again in the future.

What went well?
-Hydration - I drank a full 20 oz of sports drink every 6-7 miles.
-Fuel - I ate a gu every 40 min
-I washed my legs with dishwashing detergent to get the dirt and poison oak off when I got home

What didn't go well?
-I somehow managed to get poison oak on my face (cheeks, eye, ear) and neck. I probably got it when I took my shoes off and then scratched my face in the car on the way home.
-Four days after the race I needed a cortico-steroid shot, prednisone pills and salicylic acid to get the rash under control. Lesson learned - Just becuase I didn't see the tell-tale "leaves of three" doesn't mean I didn't come in contact with poison oak.

I'm really looking forward to competing in the PCTR Woodside 50K February 2nd. It is one of my favorite courses and we don't have to battle the 17K or 35K crowd on the way out and there's usually only a few that I see on the way back. Should be fun!

Monday, January 7, 2008

30 Mile Trail Run at Point Reyes

Point Reyes is a gorgeous place to run. The terrain is varied. There are countless trails, many of which are singletrack. We were staying 45 minutes away in Bodega Bay for New Years and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to do my long run in this beautiful national seashore.

I started at the Bear Valley trailhead and headed south on the Rift Trail. The trail was slick and muddy from recent rain. I had to skirt a herd of cows as I headed through the meadows in the rift zone. The pond (below) was just getting the first rays of the sun as I passed by.

Rift Trail in the morning mist

Just south of the pond was a stream crossing. There was no bridge as the stream is probably no more than a trickle the rest of the year. But at this point it was about a foot deep and eight feet across. Stepping stones were well submerged. Not wanting to run the next twenty miles with wet feet I dragged some logs over and made it across. About a mile later as the trail crossed through the middle of a meadow the trail looked like this with no way around it.

I despite best efforts to keep the feet dry I ran straight through. 20 miles later my feet were just about dry!

The Rift Trail led to the Texteira trail (not sure I spelled that right) which climbs up out of the rift valley up to the Ridge Trail. The forest here is very lush and the light meanders through the tall trees. The lower branches of the Douglas fir trees are all broken off (high winds?) making the forest bright and open. Running in between the shoulder-high vegetation that makes up the understory felt like running through the pews in a cathedral.

The Ridge trail connects to PaloMarin and the Coastal Trail after about a mile of running on the road. I was hoping for a place to fill up with water at the parking lot at PaloMarin but no luck. I had enough in the pack to make the distance but it never hurts to have a little extra.

On the Coast Trail: Allamere Falls junction

The Coast trail is dramatic with awe inspiring vistas and ever changing scenery. The name , however, is a little misleading. You'll spend as much time climbing in and out of canyons out of sight of the ocean as you will on the cliffs overlooking the waves. No complaints from me as there were plenty of beautiful sights inland as well.
Pond on the Coast Trail (inland)

Local Fauna

At about twenty-six miles I reached the Bear Valley trail where it hits the Coast trail. With only four miles to go on a very forgiving trail I picked up the pace to make it back to the cabin for lunch.

View from near the Bear Valley/Coast Trail intersection

View Route at link below:

2008 - A year to remember

Time to post the 2008 race calendar.

PCTR Pacifica 50K 1/19
PCTR Woodside 50K 2/2
Big Sur Marathon 4/27
SF Marathon 8/3

Most likely:
PCTR Ultramarathon Series - I'd like to see how I well I can do in this series. There always seems to be a battle for first place in the PCTR runs but the gap between first and eighth place is often 45-60 minutes. I'm hoping consistent placings will help my place in the overall standings. That is if I can handle running one or more 50K's a month!

My first race of the year is this weekend and while I plan not to run too hard it will still be a good test of fitness.