Tuesday, April 11, 2017

2017 Night Sweats Marathon

I ran this race back in 2014 as a training run for Western States. Back then, I had a ton of training miles under my belt and had just run a PR 50K. That year, I ran this trail marathon in 5:20. This race was just a training run for me, so as long as I finished without wrecking myself, I would count it as a win.  I drove to the race and signed up just 15 minutes before the 8pm start! With some rain earlier in the day, I was hesitant to even sign up! I am so glad I did!

If you love trails, put the Marin Headlands on your bucket list for places to see. Whether you run or hike, this is a magical place you have to visit! There are plenty of races here to choose from too if that's your "cup of tea".  

I had been running really well lately, with long runs of 25, 28 and 20 in the previous 3 weekends. I turned my ankle a couple times in my 28 miler, so I was extra careful with my ankle on any technical trail sections. 

Early in the race, I ran to a fellow runner whose headlamp was terribly weak.  I was very concerned. I had an extra flashlight as my backup light, but I was initially very selfish. If my main headlamp ran out of batteries, I would be in trouble. I had not tested any of my lights for three years! After an internal debate, I decided to offer my extra light to the fellow runner. After all, "light was meant to be shared, right?" Super corny, I know. But it was those words in my head that settled the debate. I found out it was Randall's 20th marathon and that he flew in from Arizona to run the race. There was a chance that I had just derailed my own race, but I knew it was the right call. It was just a training run for me. Without my flashlight, Randall could have gotten hurt and his race would definitely be in trouble.  I was just doing what most trail runners would do; helping each other stay safe out there. 

There were about 50 of us running the marathon. I had Strava running on my phone, but never looked at my progress. The miles ticked away almost effortlessly.  The night sky was brilliantly lit with the familiar glow of the moon and the stars. I turned off my headlamp whenever I could just to admire the night sky.  I wish I had a real camera with me, but no picture would do this world justice. There was magic in the air.  I felt so alive and strong.  I run-walked many of the hills and felt at peace with my effort level. It was still a training run, after all.  

With about 5 miles to go, I caught up to a random girl who was running very strongly. After running alone for most of the race it was nice to follow someone. I wasn't sure I could keep up with her, but I was going to try. I zoned out and just ran as though it were a road marathon. And road marathons are supposed to hurt at the end, right? I eased into the "pain cave" which was more discomfort than pain.  And then it was all over, after 5 hours and 19 minutes. I was shocked with how well I did! And I felt like I could have gone on for much, much longer! What a wonderful run! I would have gone back out for bonus miles, but another fellow runner needed a ride home.  I received my snazzy wooden medal with pride and drove off into the twilight, feeling amazing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Pacifica 30K Race Report

Me: It's been a long time since we talked or simply hung out and had a beer together! How are you? How's your running going? Anything new and exciting happening in your world?

You: It has been way too long since we got to talk. The election week was emotional and I'd rather not talk about politics. I hear you ran a race on Saturday! How did it go? Did you have fun?

Me: After that crazy election week, I think we all need a beer and a really long run! And yeah, I ran the Pacifica 30K this past Saturday. It was really no big deal. Just a good long training run with good friends, great weather, gorgeous trails, and a beer (an ale actually). 

You: That does sound like a good time. But why 30K? I thought you ran really crazy long distances all the time.

Me: Haha! A 30K trail race is a great way to train for the longer stuff, especially if you haven't been doing enough trails! 

You: How has your running/training been going? 

Me: It's nothing special. I'm not training for anything specific. I'm running 3-4 times a week. Usually just 8-10 flat miles at a time. At least once a month, I'll go out and do a long run on trails if possible. 

You: I'd love to hear more about this 30K you ran. I know you don't want to bore me with mundane details so give me an executive summary.

Me: The race was supposed to be 30K race, but it ended up being only about 16 miles long according to my Garmin. I went out too fast, not knowing how hilly the course was. The first 10 miles were quite hilly! Some of the downhill sections were very steep. After a couple miles, I dialed back the effort level and just enjoyed the weather and the scenery. I was done after 3 hours and 19 minutes. 

Here are the pictures I took with my iPhone: 

You: Any closing remarks?

Me: I really enjoyed this race distance. I felt good after the race and I didn't feel like I needed any real recovery time. Races with old friends on awesome trails remind me of how much I enjoy this stuff. It's easy to forget about the things you love in this crazy world. Find the time to do the things you love, people. Life is too short to neglect the things that make you happy. And be kind to one another out there.  

Friday, July 8, 2016

Just some senseless rambling...

Do you ever feel like you have nothing noteworthy to blog about? Especially when your running isn't going well or you're sidelined by a pseudo, semi-serious injury? Who want to read about a vacation to Hawaii on a running site, anyway? 

After my last race (Born to Run 30) in May, I decided to run more. I used a step-counting, fitness challenge at work as an excuse to run every day. I ran every day for 17 days straight, and at least 8 miles for each of those days. I should have taken some days off or cross-trained on some of those days. Consequently, I developed a twinge in both my heels, which was probably the early stages of the dreaded plantar fasciitis. I shut down my running, and have been hitting the elliptical machine since then (with a couple more recent 5 mile runs to test the running waters). After a chiropractic visit and maybe a good massage, I'll probably ramp up the miles again soon. I'm turning 40 in August, so I'd like to run an 50K or 50 miler before the summer is over, just to mark my passage into the "masters" division.

On a side note, I did have a wonderful trip to Hawaii at the end of June! If my heels weren't bugging me, I would have been able to run the Kona Marathon while I was there! We went on a 6-hour fishing trip (which cost over 700 dollars). My brother in law is a serious fisherman! For 5 and a half hours, we got nothing! And then a blue marlin hit one of the lines! Estimated at 9 feet long and 120 pounds, it was a monster (relatively speaking, since these fish can get a lot bigger). My brother in law got strapped in "the chair" and pulled in that fish in about 10 minutes - a surprisingly short amount of time for such a powerful fish! It was amazing to witness the action. It was a dream come true for any serious fisherman! 

The next day, I went on 1-hour helicopter ride with two of my sisters to tour some inaccessible waterfalls on the island. I always thought those helicopter rides were overpriced, so never even considered them. I really, really enjoyed the ride! It was almost magical and epic. It was as if we were flying beside these majestic waterfalls. It was all just so beautiful. We also spent a lot of time on the beach and at the pool. Having my parents, siblings, and nephews there made it all extra special. It was a truly epic vacation that I will never forget. 

I've been reading a lot of great Western States race reports lately! I even dreamt that I was running Western States last week! It is still my dream race, and I hope to make it back there someday. Never give up on your dreams, people, no matter how crazy or unattainable they may seem at times.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Born to Run 2016 RR

The people that come to the Born to Run Race Weekend are a mixture of humble, crazy, fun, inspirational, and all-around wonderful people. There was a 4-day, 200 mile, 100 mile, 60 mile, 30 mile, 10 mile, and 0.0 mile race! And yes, some people took the 0.0 mile very race seriously. There were archery runs, bolla races, a beer mile, a cartwheel challenge, wrestling matches, a talent show, a dirtbag prom, and lots of live music. I'm sure I left out plenty of undocumented shenanigans that took place over the long weekend. It was more than just a running event. It was a party. It was a family reunion. Arnulfo Quimare, and the Tarahumara were there. Christopher McDougall was there. Words and pictures only tell part of the story. Some things need to be experienced in person to be fully understood. Born to Run is one of those things.

I arrived on the ranch in Los Olivos on Friday afternoon after a 4 hour drive from San Jose, California. I missed the archery and the bola races with the Tarahumara, which was a shame. I have fond memories of playing a shortened version of the Rarajipari game with the Tarahumara in my first Born to Run two years ago. Having the Tarahumara there amongst us is a special treat. And the legendary Arnulfo Quimare was there! He is the one that beat Scott Jurek in "the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen", down in the Copper Canyons. Seeing Arnulfo speak to all of us was surreal. I wonder if he needed a few drinks to do that! And he was one of the judges in the Talent Show!

I met Christopher McDougall and shook his hand. And I told him how his book opened a door to this amazing world of ultras to me. I told him how it inspired and motivated me to run far, as though I too, was "born to run". Meeting Christopher McDougall and shaking his hand was very cool! My iPhone was having storage problems, so I was unable to take any pictures this weekend. Totally lame, I know! I have my memories though and there was no shortage of pictures from everyone else!

So there was a cartwheel challenge that was going to happen. It wasn't in my plans, but it made perfect sense at the time. I have always been pretty good at cartwheels. The rules were simple. Keep doing cartwheels, back and forth, until you cannot do any, anymore. Last man/woman standing wins. If you fall, you're out. If you take more than 10 seconds in between cartwheels, you're out. I lost track of how many cartwheels I did, but they got progressively harder. My lungs were burning and I was getting dizzy from all the cartwheels! I bowed out in 5th place. The college girls that won the event were animals! I could have sworn they were gymnasts!

Next came a 1 Kilometer vertical challenge, sponsored by Patagonia! Sprint straight up a hill for cool prizes! It was tempting, but my head was still spinning from all the cartwheels. And there was still a beer mile coming up! I was content to spectate. There was no way I could compete with these trail studs anyway. It was a very intense scramble up the hill for the men and the winners scored a very nice Patagonia jacket! The short race did look like fun...

Here is Luis Escobar being chased by a shark in the Beer Mile!

Last year at Born to Run, I sat out of the Beer Mile. I felt undertrained and needed every muscle fiber available for the 30 mile event the next day. Watching it from the sidelines last year was tough, so I decided to do it this year, knowing full well that it could affect my race the next day. This was only my 2nd beer mile, having done my 1st beer mile at my first Born to Run two years ago. I chose Bud Light, just because I am not a seasoned veteran of beer chugging. I marveled at how hard it was to chug down the beer. I had to take burping breaks while drinking the beer, which never happened before. Perhaps my beers were extra gassy after being shaken up during the drive? Anyway, the beer mile was super hard and I almost threw up. I did record it on Strava, which had me running at a 7:22 pace when I was moving, and about 11 minutes for the whole beer mile. There was about 100 of us doing the beer mile! Good times! The beer mile left me a bit tipsy, but I was no where near "drunk". I was buzzed just enough to float around camp and enjoy myself without making an ass out of myself.

I listened to a special tribute to Akabill before the start of the 100 mile race, who had passed away unexpectedly in the past year. He was the one who crafted all the amulets that we received after our little adventures on the trails. He was always there at the bottom of the steepest hill to cheer for us and to take our pictures! That hill was fittingly named Akabill Hill, in his honor. He was an accomplished ultra runner with 100 mile finishes at Western States, HURT, San Diego, Angeles Crest! But what moved me most was how much his old cross country students loved him - like a father. I had a really cool father-like coach back in high school too. Luis Escobar (AKA, the sheriff and Race Director) is also a great coach and mentor from what I hear. It's no wonder that Akabill and Luis were such good friends. Like Caballo Blanco (Micah), Akabill will be missed by everyone he touched with his kindness, love and support.

I woke up Saturday morning feeling like I got hit by a truck. Okay, maybe not a truck. Maybe more like a professional linebacker. My shoulders, hips and hamstrings were sore. Even my right calf seized up in a cramp for a second! And I knew exactly why. It was the damn cartwheel challenge! My spirits sunk for a moment, knowing that my 30 mile race was going to be slower. I had no idea what to expect, but I wasn't going to let it bother me. If I screwed up my race, it was my own damn fault.

This is what an ultrarunner dog looks like.

Waking up at 4:30AM to the sound of shotgun blasts was pretty cool. There was no way anyone was oversleeping and missing their race start. The 10 mile, 30 mile, and 60 mile race starts promptly at 6:00AM. Christopher McDougall leads us in the traditional Born to Run oath started by Caballo Blanco himself. Raise your right and repeated after Chris: "If I get hurt, lost, or die, it's my own damn fault." With that, Akabill's sister fired a shotgun and we were off.

My race was nothing special. I could probably describe it all in a short paragraph. I was happy to be consistent throughout the day. I finished in a respectable 6:07. Not too fast, not too slow. Pretty boring, if you asked me. I felt more like a spectator than a racer. I took no pictures (since my phone was having storage problems), so I was planning on borrowing lots of wonderful pictures from everyone else. I blamed the cartwheel challenge more than once, for all my lollygagging throughout the race. The race felt harder when the sun came out and it got warmer. The rattlesnakes must have woken up too, because I could hear a few rattles in the high grass once in a while. The most memorable and enjoyable parts of my race happened when I shared the trail with others. I loved hearing about others' inspiring stories.  And when I ran alone, my thoughts drifted to friends who shared these same trails with me in previous years.

If you got this far in my race report, I strongly suggest you put the Born to Run race on your calendar. If a 7 year old can run the 10 mile so can you. A cute little 7 year old ran the 10-miler this year. A 9-year old boy ran the 30 miler. A dog also finished the 30 miler! There is no shortage of inspiration and support on the ranch. And there isn't much of a time limit either. And if you weren't "born to run", sign up for the 0.0KM race and come out to have a beer and see all the crazy people as they run around in circles while having the time of their lives.

"Life is good! And getting better..." -Akabill

Interested in race results and where you'd stand?
Born to Run Race Results

Monday, March 14, 2016

Razorback 100 Race Report, Guest Blog by Matt Carvalho

What are you running from is probably the most common quip I hear from people who find out about my hobby the last few years. I decided to sit down and write not just about my most recent run, but what lead me to run in the first place.
“Hmmmph”, the reply from my high school PE coach, accompanied by a sad shake of the head, as I hand him yet another doctor’s note excusing me from running the mile due to asthma. I could never run more than a quarter mile lap without being completely out of breath. And so I never tried. I played tennis and did other sports where I could run for just seconds at a time before being able to catch my breath again. I took one prescription medicine after another every day for what felt like 10 years straight basically just to get through the day.
A few years after college I tried to start a new life- tired of my addition like reliance on antihistamines and whatever new decongestant was on the market. I was a type A personality in many other aspects of life, yet when it came to control over my own body, rather it was breathing, or resisting fast food I never had any direction.
Shortly after marrying my college sweetheart Maria in 2008 we moved in with her parents in order to try and save up in hopes of buying our first home shortly down the road. Her dad was a small man by stature, but enormous by any measure of life. I didn’t notice at first, but after a while I caught on that he would go out for a run just about every morning for a few miles.
They live in a very hilly part of San Jose, these were not easy miles by any means. Yet it seemed to leave him happier each day- there was no special diet he followed, no fancy workout gear, he just enjoyed throwing on an old pair of shoes and running for enjoyment. He often asked if we’d ever join him, but with my embarrassing track record when it came to running- I would always decline.
“The diagnosis is not good”, news we received from my wife’s eldest brother. My farther-in-law had late stage cancer and would not be with us a year later. This was devastating for the whole family. We did what we could with the time we had, including a last minute trip with him to visit Lourdes France. But before long there was an enormous hole.
In an effort to keep the family close knit, we signed up for a 5k run up in San Francisco with all of the siblings. Having nightmares of my previous attempts at running a single mile, this simple 3 mile run seemed an impossible hurdle.
We started training, heading to the Campbell Community center track and running in circles. At first 4 or 5 laps (1-1.25 miles) was a big day. Each weekend I’d try to add on one more lap. I would bring paper clips in my pockets and move them from one to another each lap in order to keep track (I have the short term memory of Dory from Finding Nemo).
Along the way, someone mentioned to me: you don’t have to run it straight through- run a mile and then walk for a minute and then run another mile. As simple as that sounds, it broke down this overwhelming mental hurdle that I had built up over the years.
What before seemed like an impossible achievement, suddenly seemed like something I could plan and train my way towards. The year was 2010. I turned 29 in Jan that year, and I couldn’t run a 12 min mile if I tried. That August I finished the San Francisco Marathon weekend 5k in 33:08, a 10:40 mile pace for just over 3 miles.
I felt on top of the world. I literally wore a cap during the run because I felt like a super hero. I truly believed that if I could actually finish that 5k race, I could do anything. I headed back to the track, with more paper clips. If I didn’t die from a 5k, would I be able to pull off something really crazy like a 10k??? That would surely satisfy any deep hidden bitterness I had from not being able to run a mile before all those years before, right?

My wife and I ran a 10k shortly after, and then we set our sights on a half marathon.
Somehow I came across an ad for a run down in Long Beach- it advertised that 90% of the half marathon was within sight of the beach, you were literally running down the paved bike paths common on the SoCal beaches. That sounded pretty ideal. Not to mention we could make a weekend out of it and stop by Disneyland for a day or two. Sold.
That was honestly the longest 13.1 miles of my life. It was hot, humid and miserable. I dragged myself to the finish, vowing I’d never run another mile. My time was 2:32, about an 11:40 min mile pace.
But that thought didn’t last long. Perhaps it was the venue that was rough? So I tried a few more places. In fact over the next 12 months I ran about 20 half marathons. That’s not a typo, literally having some on back to back weekends.
Maria and I ran them in San Francisco. San Jose. San Leandro. Disneyland. Disneyworld. Lisbon, Portugal. We ran them everywhere.

And along the way we signed up for a Full Marathon. This was the ultimate. Finish this, and I was sure the running world would be in my rear view mirror. We decided to head back to Long Beach, because hey- why not.

On a training run a few weeks before the race, I hurt my foot. I needed a walking boot for a time, and I didn’t run for the few weeks leading up to the race. Then my stomach got to me the night before. I did all types of crazy concoctions to my shoe to try and accommodate my foot issue that day. And for a while it worked. 10 miles in, I was as happy as could be. Then the injury, lack of sleep and deficit of calories got to me. I finished in 6:18. A 14 min pace.
At this point I had pretty much had it with road races. Crowded, painful, isolated. Then my brother in law Will mentioned these runs that people did on trails, often in the mountains. There was a family friend, John Nguyen, who was a pro at these things and gave us a big recommendation for them. We started YouTubing Ultra Marathons.
Ultra Marathons are basically runs of any distance beyond a traditional marathon of 26.2 miles. They often go for 50k (~31 miles), 50 miles, 100k, or 100 miles. These are ridiculous distances to think about, and if you bring it up to anyone, the most common reply is I don’t even like to drive X miles. Oh, and often these runs are on single track technical trails with a lot of elevation gain.
I like being out in nature. And I also liked running. This was a phenomenal combination of the two. The culture at these events was far different as well: people were friendly to each other, it never feels like a rat race. Few people were worried about time, everyone was there for the experience; simply finishing these long runs was prize enough. Their aid stations had candy, soda and potatoes with salt. The dirtier you were at the end, the more you could boast about your run. People worked hard on the trails and then celebrated with beer and BBQ afterwards.
Luckily enough NoCal is the epicenter of ultramarathons, the combination of great natural sites and good weather meant there are a lot of events in our area.
I signed up for the Quicksilver 50k. It’s main selling point? It’s a beautiful course with great views and the starting line is 15 mins from my house. The downside? It’s got over 6,000 feet of elevation gain and can get extremely hot.
It was hot that day, unseasonably so, reaching the 90s in early May. Despite collapsing about a mile from the finish (that race could be a whole separate piece), I finished. 7 hours and 37 mins.
This was 2012. To recap:
  • In 2009 I couldn’t run a mile
  • In 2010 I crossed a 5k, 10k and half marathon off the list
  • In 2011 I crossed marathon off
  • In 2012, I was an ultramarathoner.

Would I recommend that? Maybe not. It’s always easy to find an excuse not to do something. I look back over the years at some of my notes from previous runs and it was never an easy process. But if you really want to accomplish something, you shouldn’t let anything stop you- especially the little things we all face: lack of free time, stresses from work, and too many distractions.

Along the way I had been approached by an old college friend who had started a health foods company and was looking for some ‘everyday athletes’ to help promote their brand and provide testimonials on their website. I blushed at the request- why in the world would anyone want me to set any kind of an example in the athletic world. In my own eyes, I still didn’t see myself as a runner. But before I knew it- I could smirk and call myself a sponsored athlete- a line my wife has understandably cursed many times.

Over the next few years I continued to push the distance. A few more 50ks and then some 50 milers, then a 100k (62 miles). Now I was ready to take on what I thought was an insane challenge, completing a 100 mile race.

I signed up for the Razorback 100 mile race, located in the foothills of San Martin, a tiny town about 25 mins south of San Jose, to be held on March 5/6, 2016.

Starting Jan 1st of this year I was on a mission. I was set on starting and finishing this run. That meant no fast food or alcohol, getting plenty of sleep, taking lots of vitamins, turmeric, fish oils and a boat load of chia seeds. I didn’t run huge miles, but I was running 5-6 days a week, sometimes in the morning, sometimes at night, or in the afternoon right after lunch. I would throw in an occasional 10 mile run one night followed by another 10 miles as soon as I woke up in the morning. Or perhaps doing 4 different 5 miles runs within a 36 hour period. I was trying to make my body anti-fragile. I started Orange Theory classes to work on my speed and core.
Doing this I was only logging 25-30 miles a week, which sounds like a lot until you consider the faster people at this distance may average 80-100 miles a week at the peak of their training.

Nevertheless, I just wanted to reach the starting line healthy. An added bonus was a week out the weather looked absolutely perfect.
Then three things happened. Like a clutz, I twisted my ankle on a pothole walking to grab lunch during work one day. The swelling wasn’t bad, but it was tender. I iced it, soaked it, rubbed it, and generally tried to stay off it as much as possible during the 8 days before the run. But trying to stay as sedentary as possible for 8 days before attempting to complete a 100 mile race is absolute terror on your psyche. I had a bad case of the ‘taper tantrums’.
The second complication was that Maria and our daughter Kate had both been sick over the preceding week. This meant I was paranoid I may catch the bug and also that Maria wouldn’t be able to help crew as much for this run as she had in the past. Not only is she my wife and best friend, but also my coach, motivator and ass kicker out on the course, having made sure I finished each of the previous runs I had started. It was like losing your safety blanket.
Luckily a few months before I had asked my Mom if she could get the weekend off work to help out as well, it was going to be a busy weekend taking care of me out on the trail and 2 year old Kate at the same time. Mom hadn’t been to any of my big runs before as they were often on days she worked or far out of the area. I told her it would just be like one long picnic.
The third unfortunate aspect was that the weather forecast turned uglier as race day grinded closer. First rain appeared in the forecast. Then wind. The weather service issued a wind advisory and flash flood warnings- the strong el Nino weather which had been promised but unrealized all year was finally going to make an appearance!
The race would go on. People in the ultra running community are the toughest folk I know. They’d be doing mud runs out in nature decades before they were cool.
Race Day.
The alarm went off at 3:45am. I got up, took a shower and managed to down most of a humungous bowl of steel cut oatmeal/chia seeds/hemp seeds/blueberries/banana and drank a cup of coffee, my pre-race routine.
Arriving at the race my nerves were still going crazy, I got sick to my stomach, consistent with each of my previous times attempting a new, ridiculous length run. Mom and I set up the tent and got a few essentials into it.
I finished my most recent half marathon in just under two hours (~8:50 pace, quiet a difference from my first one), but with distances this long you never want to get your heart rate elevated, aiming for an average of somewhere right around a 9:30-10:00 min mile the first 10 miles or so would be perfect.

The bullhorn went off, I started jogging and chatting with a few friends who were also just as twisted in the head. And then, about 5 mins into the run, it started pouring. This course is a simple two mile loop around a large open space in the foot hills of the mountain range around Coyote Lake. Yet in the 20 mins it took me to get back to the aid station, I was soaked from head to foot. Knowing that I had 24-36 hours left to go, I was shell-shocked.

The next few hours went by fairly smoothly. I was wet the entire time, but it wasn’t my first mud run.
As the miles ticked by, the rain simply didn’t let up. I hit mile 20 around 4 hours in, and started to worry. I had been moving well, but wouldn’t the rain eventually get to me? My feet were so cold, and I knew there would be no way to keep them warm in the foreseeable future. The wind was picking up- were the stakes in the tent going to be enough?
I continued the pace, knocking off another few 2 mile laps- I needed to get the first 26 miles out of the way as quickly as possible to both have completed a marathon but also know that I was now a quarter of the way into this race.
During every ultra marathon you’ll have numerous ups and downs, I think it’s just part of the nature of any challenging activity that takes more than a few hours. I finished the 26 and pushed ahead for a few more, but I noticed I really didn’t have an appetite which was odd and concerning this far into a run. Around mile 30 I started adding up the facts I saw in front of me:
  1. Pouring rain since the start- won’t I get bad blisters sooner or later?
  2. I’m a bit behind where I wanted to be because of the wind and rain, changing toe socks often and applying desitin on every occasion was time consuming!
  3. I’ve probably burned about 5,000 calories and eaten maybe 1,000 since the start of the run.
And I still had 70 miles to go. This was not good. At that point my stomach decided it would echo the uncertainty my mind was currently feeling.
I tried to regroup- reminding myself I had been down and out before, but never given up. I popped in a few ginger chews (helps with an upset stomach) and was able to down a few precious madeleine’s and some coconut water with chia seeds. I walked for about an hour, and then my energy returned.
Mile 34 I was cranking, my speed slowed a bit from the start, but I was making steady consistent progress knocking miles off at around a 11:00 pace, which I felt was pretty good at this point in the race while still taking in a few calories here and there as well as trying to change socks often. This was probably around 3pm.
My written goal (all of you probably know I documented everything in Excel from my pacing for the day, to the exact workouts I wanted to accomplish in the 30 days leading up to the run) was to get to 50 miles in the first 13 hours of the run, basically during daylight.
But my secret goal (thanks Bernadette for that term), was to knock out the first 50 in closer to my American River 50 mile pace of closer to 11 hours the last 2 years. I felt I was in better shape now, and this course had less elevation gain. Well, secret goals are a dangerous thing for me, because if I don’t hit them- I start to really lose my mojo. I finished mile 50 right around the 12 hour mark, basically splitting the difference.
I decided to take it easy for a bit and walk a few laps. But the constant rain and the idea that walking it in would take me almost an entire day to complete was pretty heavy.

Tracy Johnson is the race director of this run and is a really great chief. Unfortunately because of my intolerance for food most of that day, I didn’t get to try much of her great home cooking. However, there were hot meals being prepared at the aid station every 6 hours, and that evening was every ultra runners favorite- pizza.
Eating and running is an acquired skill, which comes better for some than others. Historically, it had actually been something I excelled at, often running with a pb&j sandwich in a ziplock bag in my pocket- waiting for a step uphill section during which I would hike and eat- continuously moving forward. However, on this run- not even piping hot pizza sounded appetizing or would stay down…
I missed Kate and Maria and picture them at home in a warm bed- and thought, why am I away from my family? What the hell am I doing? I’m struggling to some made up goal. I would keep in the back of my head my Grandpa’s stories of his time in Europe around WWII, or my Father-in-Laws struggles getting to the US from a war-torn Vietnam.
Perhaps it’s that search for accomplishment that pushes you to do seemingly impossible things. But those other stories were real life struggles; I was spending my weekend running in circles through the rain in the hills 30 mins from my house- that’s got to be pretty close to the legal definition of insanity.
I struggled on for a while longer, getting to mile 64 (which beat my previous longest distance ~100K), before the weather really turned- suddenly the windy constant rain turned violent, coming down in sheets and getting right into your face no matter how far you had your hood pulled down. The aid station flooded, the trail flooded, there were suddenly rivers on the course where there had not been before- this was a biblical downpour that I haven’t seen in California in years… About half of the remaining runners decided to call it a day at this point- I couldn’t blame them, if I hadn’t been so focused on this one event I would have called it early as well.
During 100 mile runs, some runners choose to take a nap for say an hour or less, others keep going the whole time. My original plan was to keep going- I was paranoid that if I was to stop for any meaningful period of time- I might not be able to get up and get going again.
I wasn’t tired in the traditional sense, I was just so defeated from the rain, wind and wet shoes; I had to get dry. It was around midnight when I headed to join Mom in the car which she had wisely sought shelter in some time ago, and planned to change into something dry, try to feel my feet again, and think things through.
I was able to nap for about 90 mins, waking every 10 mins to listen to the rain- it continued the whole time. I checked my phone and saw all the warnings of flash floods and high wind advisories.
I began to doubt everything, and why did this have to happen to me?? I had put in so many hours of training, so much preparation making sure I had the right supplies, was ready for this specific course on this specific day, and now this. I asked Mom is God was telling me that I shouldn’t being running a 100 miler?
I decided I would quit. I made my way over to the aid station in search of Tracy to tell her. A bit of background here, I had lobbied hard for her to hold this race when there were some doubts after the park permits took way too long to get approved. This was a small race by most standards, but to me- it was the opportunity I needed, and I pleaded as hard as I could to make sure the race went on. Telling her I was throwing in the towel was going to be brutal. By this time about 2/3 of the crowd already had.

But she wasn’t there. She was off taking a quick nap at 2am, and so I chit chatted with the remaining few people at the aid station for a bit, seriously weighing my options as I stared at the accumulating rain drops- the aid station despite being a fantastically large tent was now in several inches of mud. How bad I would feel if I turned tail in the middle of the night without even saying goodbye? She might literally kill me!

Suddenly the rain stopped. It was the middle of the night and the trail was completely underwater- but the rain had stopped!!! Worried it was only a temporary reprieve, I told myself I would do some laps for an hour or two and then reconsider my circumstance once Tracy was back at the aid station.
The clouds began to part and it looked like the rain might hold off a bit longer. I took it as a sign, and I knew exactly where it came from.
This wasn't the first 100 mile race I had planned for. Last August I had trained for a very similar run. Leading up to that run I went through a similar practice of calibrating my runs, workouts, diet, massage, stretching- all to peak on a certain date which was preset months in advance.
My Grandma Jean had been sick for some time, in and out of the hospital the last few years, and she had currently been in the hospital for some time. We had visited her there a few times over the previous months, but this time was different. Early on the day before the race, I got a call from Mom saying her health had deteriorated and that I might want to come visit soon. I already had the day off from work as I had planned to spend it prepping all the supplies for the following day. So I headed up to Walnut Creek early, and spent time with Grandma. But as the day wore on her condition worsened, groups of our family arrived from all over the Bay Area to say their last goodbyes. And late that night she joined Grandpa up in heaven.
I was cranky that day back in August. I was so frustrated because I wouldn’t be able to complete the goal I had spent months preparing for. But immediately afterwards I was furious at myself for even being the tiniest bit upset at the timing. What kind of a monster was I? How could I be so selfish?
But these were the types of thoughts that go through your head when you are so singularly focused on one goal for such a long period that you start to loose site of its relative importance. Dedicating more time to Kate, grabbing a beer with coworkers, having more free time on the weekends to spend with friends and family- these were all things I had sacrificed over the last few months, to some degree years for this goal.
I hesitated to even mention that story as part of this blog. But it’s part of the story of me, and it played over and over again in my mind that night.
I had listened to music for a while earlier in the day, but my normal running routine is podcasts. I listen to everything from financial market updates, sports talk, bio hacking techniques (how to program your body to perform better, which comes in very handy during these type of runs), or sometimes books on tape. Right then I needed something different, and I queued up Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. I listed to about 4 hours of WWI history retold in a story format with all types of random tidbits form a variety of sources thrown in. The detailed stories helped put my focus somewhere else.
I was fascinated at the sea of stars that had replaced the clouds which had been the scorn of my day. The stars had that feeling of being so close you could touch them that you only get when far away from the city lights.
Time passed quickly, and before I knew it I was arriving at mile 74. The prospect of “only” having a marathon left was a huge relief. Finishing the race finally felt like an actual possibility.
The two mile course was both a blessing and a curse. It’s short enough that you’re never far from food or a change of clothes. But it also means it’s very hard to get into a rhythm and it’s easy to waste a few minutes lingering at the aid station each time you pass through.
By this point I was walking about 90% of it, I ran here and there, but it was pretty painful and I ended up deciding I was more likely to hurt myself and therefore decrease my walking pace than I was to appreciate that slightly faster pace. I was pretty steady at around a 16-18:00 walking pace.
A lot of runners cry when they complete their first marathon, or certainly a race of this distance. Somewhere around 5am was probably my most emotional point. I thought of all the times I had sacrificed away from family, the Sat mornings Maria would have to take care of Kate so I could go to this race or that. The times she had helped crew for me at previous runs spending whole weekends away in the mountains somewhere so that her crazy husband could fulfill this weird new fetish of his. The nights I would complain about what we were planning to have for dinner because it had too many carbs or not enough fat in it (I’ve found a high protein/fat/veggie diet worked the best for my training). These were the crazy things I put my family through in order to get to this point- I HAD to make all of that effort translate into something meaningful.
Around 6am I woke my Mom in the car with the good news that I had continued through the night and that I was closing in on 80 miles complete! At my current pace, knowing I’d need to continue to eat calories along the way, I was looking at somewhere around 6 hours to go. Most days that would seem like an eternity, but at this moment that felt like the best news I had heard in years.

As dawn crept up, I came across a coyote clutching a squirrel in its mouth. I was quiet happy he already had a meal- as I wasn’t going to be able to outrun a snail by this point. The frogs who had serenaded me all night gave way to songbirds and roosters off in the distance. I turned off the podcasts and just enjoyed the slow transition to daylight. A new day was beginning, and on this day I would complete my journey.
As crazy as these long runs sound, they often have periods of intense peacefulness. Surviving these distances is all consuming, suddenly those work emails don’t exist anymore, that room in the house you’ve been meaning to paint is not a concern, you’re not worried about the future- you’re completely present, and at this moment you only have one task to focus on- keep moving forward.

Mom was able to walk the next few laps with me, as I happily enjoyed a hot breakfast burrito from the aid station. I love burritos, and with my stomach finally settled, I was eating everything in sight. It was also a great time just to just walk and talk about life. For such a disaster filled weekend, there were many silver linings.
A few more laps passed and then sister/brother in law Ann and Will came back out to the course, they had dropped of some additional dry clothes and shoes the previous afternoon. Will walked many laps with me, we talked about movies, sports, anything really helped pass the time and keep my mind away from my body that was getting sorer with each step.
The sun came out later in the morning and while the course was still mud and water, it felt great to have just a bit of warmth for the first time in so long. My mind was furious that this couldn’t have been the weather yesterday. But, I was ticking off miles now into the 90s and with the finish line in sight I couldn’t worry about how hard the journey was to get there- I just needed to be thankful for where I was at that very moment.

And then the finish came. I mustered up enough energy to run the last little quarter mile, and finish strong heading back into the aid station were Maria, Kate, Mom, Ann, Will, a group of race volunteers and a park ranger were waiting. This was not some big city marathon, with rows of cheering fans 10 people deep. This was much more personal, it was just me and some close family, those willing to take time out of their own weekend to indulge my madness.
What had been a village of tents and ice chests 24 hours before had been washed away leaving just a few battered remains. There were about 80 runners signed up for the event, of which about 25 were aiming for the 100 mile distance. I came in third out of the seven of us that finished.
What a thought. I look forward to telling my grandchildren someday how I was a sponsored athletic who finished on the podium of a 100 mile race through rain, wind, snow, hail, and tornados, naturally going up-hill both ways.
I was both elated and letdown at the same time. The training, concentration and actual execution of the run can be so all consuming, that when you’re done some tiny piece of you is hollow- part of your purpose and drive are suddenly gone.
You pretty quickly learn it’s not the length of the race, but how prepared mentally you are for it. I’ve never been a great runner. But running has transformed my life in so many ways. It’s introduced me to great new friends and amazing places all around the world. It’s a place where I can think. When time is at a premium, it’s a very efficient form of exercise. But most importantly I’ve learned more about myself during those hours out on a trail than I ever would have imagined.
It was a race I’ll always look back on fondly, regardless of how terrifying it was at times. It was the moment I proved so many people in my past wrong. It was the moment I realized that if a wind sucking, clumsy runner with bad breathing habits like myself can finish a 100 mile footrace, than anything in life was truly possible.
"When I'm out on a long run, the only thing is life that matters is finishing the run. For once- my brain isn’t going blah, blah, blah, blah, all the time. Everything quiets down and the only thing going on is pure flow. It's just me and the movement and the motion. That's what I love, just being a barbarian, running through the woods." 
-Jenn Shelton, Ultramarathoner

Friday, March 11, 2016

Way Too Cool 50K Race Report Q&A

Way Too Cool 50K Q&A

Q: So you ran a 50K ultra last Saturday! How did you feel after the race and are you already recovered?

A: Yeah, it was my 27th ultra finish! No big deal really. With some weak training, I just wanted to take it easy and get it done. I kept telling myself that it was just a long training run. 

Q: I heard it was super muddy out there with a gazillion stream crossings, not to mention the wind and rain! 

A: Yes, it was really muddy out there and it slowed most of us down. But we come into this race expecting the mud and stream crossings. And I think we really lucked out with the weather! We got some rain in the afternoon, but it could have been a lot worse. 

Q: I know you don't want to bore everyone with all the little details of your run so maybe you can give us a few highlights of your race.

A: I saw Gordy Ainsleigh in the early miles, and a girl that was running her first ultra was all starstruck about meeting Gordy! She was taking a few selfies with Gordy, and I asked to photobomb one of her selfies. I asked Gordy if he ever got tired of being a rockstar. Of course he replied with a no, and a childish grin on his face. It was a whimsical, cool moment with a legend.

Another highlight of my race was running with Christine Hartman, who I met at Born to Run back in May of 2015. I just enjoy her company and friendship. She had a torn meniscus in her left knee and was in a bit of pain. It was inspiring to see her still pushing and running strong. She even told me to "get my ass going!" when I was walking at one point. It cracked me up! Christine is a young 57 year old, who doesn't act her age, by the way. Her chiropractor is Gordy Ainsleigh and her main endurance events are 100 mile horse races! She is a Tevis Cup pro! How cool is that! 

Q: What was your official time for the race, and are you happy with it? 

A: My time for the 50K was 7:41. I was very happy with how I did, considering my lack of training and the cold I was fighting. I ran a 5:18 on the same course two years ago, so I know I can do better if I train better. However, I don't think it's fair to compare myself to the faster version of myself from two years ago.  "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." Each time we lace up for a race, we just have to make the best of what we have.

Q: Are you signed up for any more races? And do you plan on training for them? 

I plan on running the Born to Run 30 mile coming up in May. It'll be by third year in a row. And yes, the plan is to start training now. Good thing I have a good 50K training run under my belt now! 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Overlook 50K Race Report

The motivation to run and the motivation to write are similar. Writing, like running, is therapeutic. Writing is a form of artistic expression. When we are comfortable with who we are, we are more willing to express ourselves through writing, or other forms of art. When we lose faith in ourselves, we retreat to our windowless corners and hide away from the world. When my motivation to run flew south for a lengthy winter, the motivation to write went with it. After having such an amazing journey and falling short at Western States, my running has been mostly uninspiring. It is difficult to share race reports laced with struggles and poor planning. Wouldn't you rather read about a great race, perfect planning, and flawless execution? I've been winging 50Ks all year, in the hopes that being around great people and runners would somehow help me find my mojo or my lost passion for running. I've started 6 50Ks this year, and finished 4. I have not finished the race reports for the 3rd, 4th and 5th 50K races, mainly because I sucked at them. Big Basin 50K (AKA Skyline to the Sea) in July was okay for about 20 miles. The last 10 miles there were miserable, but I finished. The Cinderella 50K ended prematurely, as the heat, the hills, and the smoky air left me gasping for breath. The 50K became a half marathon finish, but might as well be a DNF. The Ohlone 50K in September, was insanely hot, with temps reaching 107 degrees on the course! I bailed on that one too, after about 13 miles. I was on a losing streak. I talked to Ann Trason at the Ohlone 50K, and knew her Overlook 50K race was coming up. I was just going to volunteer at the race, partly because I feel like I owe my coach some support. Western States may have ended poorly, but I was really glad to have such a wonderful coach on that crazy journey. My confidence was still at an all-time low. Another DNF might kill my running for good. The Overlook 50K was on the Western States course and the sections that I never got to, during my Western States race.  Ann Trason told me that I should run the race. So that's what I planned to do.

I procrastinated, and missed the deadline to sign up for the race online. But as luck would have it, they were accepting race day sign-ups. I just needed to drive 3 hours to the starting line, run the race, and then find a ride back to my car, at the start (it being a point to point race, starting in Foresthill and ending in Auburn). I told very few people that I was planning to run, just in case the weather forecast gave me a good reason to bail. Luckily the weather forecast for that Sunday morning was perfect. When I got up at 3 in the morning, I still hesitated. I could crawl back in bed, and no one would have to know that I chickened out on a 50K. I remembered Ann's email after Western States, telling me not to quit. Coaches that care about you, believe in you. They believe in your potential and they sincerely want you to reach your goals and achieve your dreams. I will not quit today.

I left my house at 4AM, stopped by the ATM for my cash registration fee (150 bones), and headed up to Foresthill. I got there in 3 hours, saw Ann and a bunch of friends (including Endorphin Dude, who just hired Ann Trason as his coach and was coming off two DNFs of his own). We made a pact to get to that finish line to break our losing streak. 

The race started promptly at 8AM. The weather was chilly, but not cold - just the way I like it. I only brought one handheld and planned to rely on the aid stations for everything I needed. I brought about 40 dollars, just in case I needed a taxi back to my car. 

The first section of the race has a lot of downhill. And it's the longest stretch between aid stations. There were 8.7 miles between the start and the first aid station. I brought no electronic devices, so had no idea what my pace was, but I took it very easy. Congo lines formed often during the first 8 miles. At one point, someone behind me made a joke about farting after I asked him if he wanted to pass me. Playing along, I said, "I swear it wasn't me!" We had a good laugh. Mother Nature/ God/ Fate has a sense of humor. Be careful what you joke about. Not long after the fart joke, the runner in front of me lets out an audible fart! (his/her identity will be concealed for his/her own good). My sense of smell is pretty bad, so smells rarely bother me, but this was a real stinker! Wow! That was an epic fart! I had to turn my head a bit to breathe! 

The miles melted away in the cool morning air. The running felt effortless and blissful. It reminded me of my Born to Run 30 miler back in May. The views were absolutely stunning at times. I wished I had a camera with me, like I used to carry during all my races, so long ago. Maybe it would make writing these race reports easier. A picture can relay what a thousand words fail to impart. And sometimes no words or pictures can do an experience justice (or perhaps we lack the eloquence of a seasoned writer). I turned a corner and heard the wings beating of a large bird, no more than 20 feet away. I looked up half expecting to see a giant vulture. Instead, I saw a large brown bird flying around a corner. It's tail was white as snow. I did not see the head, but the tail suggested it was a majestic bald eagle. I was stunned. I felt like I had just encounter a super rare pokemon!. Were there really bald eagles on the Western States course? A friend later confirmed that there are bald eagles in the area, but normally higher up in elevation. 

The eagle reminded me of something I saw during my Western States race. I saw so many different varieties of butterflies on that warm, summer day. I let the different varieties of butterflies represent people in my life. Friends and family that inspired me and gave me strength were assigned butterflies. Caballo Blanco, inspired me as a runner, and each time I saw a plain, white butterfly, I thought of him. It was his spirit, cheering me on from the afterlife. Tom Kaisersatt, an inspirational runner from my workplace, was a orange, speckled variety. When I saw a large white swallowtail, for the first time in my life, the only friend/spirit that came to mind was God himself. It was a spiritual moment for me. I cried. I laughed. It was so emotional. I felt so blessed to be out there, chasing my dreams. I felt powerful. It was a flood of emotion. God was with me, manifesting himself through a butterfly that I never knew existed. Later in the race, when my body was failing, and I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes, I felt forsaken and abandoned. It was the exact opposite of the life I felt, only a half a day earlier.  

Anyway, after seeing the bald eagle, I felt like God was with me again. I felt peace. At mile 21.5, at an aid station, I sat down and felt nauseous. I drank some ginger ale, lingered a bit, then got up and started running again. I was not planning on quitting today. I focused in on another friend in the distance. Martin doesn't wear a watch, but he is an amazing pacer. He is always kind and positive. He was one of the safety runners that helped me at Western States! I ran when he ran. Walked when he walked. He didn't even know he was pacing me! I got some good running in, thanks to you, buddy! I stopped eating and drinking though. I knew I was running on fumes. And it was getting warmer. I downed a cup of coke at the last aid station (4.3 miles to go), and just kept moving. I was running well and I didn't want to break the momentum. The last three miles were tough. With lots of uphill, I ran out of gas. I slowed to a crawl, but knew that I would finish. One by one, many runners passed me. But I didn't care. I was going to finish. After 7 hours and 4 minutes, I finished the race. And I was met at the finish with a big hug from Ann Trason herself. It meant a lot to me. It was the hug I never got at Western States. 

Thank you, Ann. For being a caring, kind, and all-round amazing coach. Thank you for believing in me. I'm not quitting. Not today. Not anytime soon. 

I wasn't the only one that got a hug from Ann at the finish. But mine was still special! 

And yes, that wild growth on my chin is a beard. It isn't as impressive as the European variety, but it's still a beard. The reason for it is tied to running... and maybe Forest Gump...

A lot more pictures can be found here: