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