Saturday, December 19, 2009

1st Ultramarathon: Rodeo Beach 50K

I finished my first Ultramarathon today, in 5 hours and 57 minutes. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but it was just AWESOME! I met at least 5 new friends, who I ran/hiked with during the course of the race. The camaraderie was instant, and I'm hoping to see them again to continue our conversations and our friendships. With 6 miles to go, I pulled out my wife's ipod and listened to some tunes to keep me company. At the last aid station, I profusely thanked the volunteers for all their hard work. And then the song, "The Climb" came on, and the lyrics hit me like a ton of bricks. I broke down and cried and laughed at the same time (my previous 2 marathons had very little hint of emotion).

The Climb, by Miley Cyrus

I can almost see it
That dream I’m dreaming but
There’s a voice inside my head sayin,
You’ll never reach it,
Every step I’m taking,
Every move I make feels
Lost with no direction
My faith is shaking but I
Got to keep trying
Got to keep my head held high

There’s always going to be another mountain
I’m always going to want to make it move
Always going to be an uphill battle,
Sometimes I’m going to have to lose,
Ain’t about how fast I get there,
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb
The struggles I’m facing,
The chances I’m taking
Sometimes they might knock me down but
No I’m not breaking
I may not know it
But these are the moments that
I’m going to remember most yeah
Just got to keep going
And I,
I got to be strong
Just keep pushing on

I had run the CIM Marathon 13 days ago, and had not fully recovered, but heck, it was my last chance to run an Ultra in 2009, and I nailed it! There was a last minute course change due to some recent rain, so the start of the race got shifted (less 100-200 feet of elevation gain). But since there was originally ~6000 feet of elevation gain, this really did not change much. I used 3 servings of Vespa, 8 S-caps (every 30-45 minutes, or when I started to cramp), and ate a bunch of food (potatoes, gummy bears, oranges, pop tarts, etc.) at the various aid stations. I carried a handheld, but only filled it halfway at each of the aid stations. I did stop at all the aid stations briefly to eat and refill my bottle. I wore my Asics Piranhas (4 oz.). I had a lengthy conversation with a runner (Phil) who thought my shoes were a little crazy, offering no protection against rocks and roots. I told him it was my first Ultra, and that I was experimenting, and won't know if it was a mistake until after the race. I also wore compression sleeves on my calves and newly bought gaiters (to prevent junk from getting in my shoes).

My first rookie mistake was to hit the early downhills too hard. I have always thought downhill running was one of my strengths. Unfortunately, it only bruised my right foot, and at mile 8, I had a scary tightening of my right IT Band (often the result of hammering downhills, without breaking). Thankfully, the tight IT Band went away, and I took every downhill after that much more conservatively. I hiked the long uphills fairly fast, especially since some of my company during the race were awesome hikers (and 100-miler runners). That resulted in sporadic cramping of my left quads. With 3 miles to go, I had a chance to break 6 hours, and with the downhills, I was able to crank out an 8 and 9 minute mile, before running out of juice for the final .59 miles. My Garmin measured only 30.59 miles, but the hills have a way of messing with GPS Accuracy, I think.

Overall, this was a highly successful first Ultra, and a PR! The scenery was breathtaking, and the people were fabulous. For those folks contemplating a 50-miler, I would highly recommend you tackle a hilly 50K first. These races are really different animals compared to marathons.

8:41, 12:53, 10:58, 7:45, 14:06, 11:21, 7:25, 8:52, 13:50, 9:23, 15:42, 17:01, 10:25, 11:37, 11:51, 9:59, 9:15, 8:54, 16:20, 12:14, 17:35, 11:32, 13:57, 17:34, 10:19, 12:00, 11:46, 11:13, 8:03, 9:04, 5:44 (9:47/mile)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

CIM Race Report (PR by 11 minutes!)

Before this 2nd Marathon, I was pretty confident that I would PR. I trained better, I wore lighter running shoes (Asics Piranhas), I used Vespa, I took Gu from a handheld (no more struggling to open Gu packs with numb fingers), I drank less water from the aid stations (it was cold, and I wasn't sweating much), I ran a half mile warmup, I stretched better, I wore a Power-Balance wrist band (bought at the Expo), and I started out slower. My A goal was to run a 3:25, which is what the McMillan Calculator predicted that I would be capable of. My B goal was to break 3:30. My C goal was to break my previous PR of 3:41:41. And my D goal was just to finish, because lets face it, a lot can go wrong in a 26.2 mile race.

I ran a 3:30:48 (gun time), and my chip time was 3:30:21, and I didn't bonk at all this time!

Here are my splits according to my brand new Garmin Forerunner 405 (maiden voyage with this watch):

7:49, 8:10, 8:00, 7:46, 7:44, 7:44, 7:46, 7:47, 7:49, 7:42, 7:25 (my fastest mile thanks to some nice downhills), 7:51, 7:58, 8:15 (trouble opening my Vespa package with numb fingers), 8:26 (my slowest mile due to some nasty headwinds), 8:09, 8:05, 8:05, 8:10, 8:01, 8:03, 8:07, 8:02, 8:08, 8:10, 8:22 (some fatigue is setting in... I was wondering when it would really show up...), 2:39 (0.33 miles at 7:59 pace).

I was skeptical about this Power-Balance wrist band thing, but it clearly gave me more flexibility and strength during some simple tests. If a wrist band made you stronger and more balanced and flexible, would you wear it? I figured it couldn't hurt, and there were clearly many other believers.

I think Vespa allowed me to run a more consistent race with no energy problems. By burning fat more efficiently, you end up burning less sugars, resulting in less lactic acid, less cramping, less soreness, and a quicker recovery. The compression calf sleeves (by Zensah) kept my legs warmer (around 31 degrees at the start) and was supposed to aid in providing better blood flow and circulation (I had a mild calf strain 5 weeks ago). The Asics Piranhas are super light at 4 ounces each, and helped me with a faster foot turnover, even though my feet felt numb most of the time. After being slammed by headwinds at mile 15, I slowed down and found a pace that would keep me close to the 3:30 goal time. And I surprised myself at being able to hold the pace through mile 25. There was no wall and no cramping this time, and the time flew by pretty quick. During my first marathon, these last 5 miles were agonizingly slow.

At mile 26, I had a nephew pace me for about a tenth of a mile, which gave me a final boost to the finish line, for a strong finish.

This is why we run marathons. They feel like awesome accomplishments sometimes (not all the time), and today was one of those awesome accomplishment days.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

First Marathon

Wooohoooo!!! I finished my first marathon in an official chip time of 3:41:41.

Splits according to my Garmin Forerunner 50 (uses the footpod), which logged 26.56 miles (clearly off).

7:41, 7:46, 8:01, 8:06, 8:10, 7:49, 7:55, 8:11, 7:55, 7:47, 7:47, 7:59, 7:51, 7:52, 7:39, 7:59, 7:59, 8:19, 8:17, 8:55, 8:45, 9:10, 9:16, 9:24, 9:45, 10:27, 5:12 (last .56 miles).

As you can see, I started fading around mile 17. And for the last 2.5 miles, I had nothing left in the tank. Possibly due to the fact that I was short 1 gu package (could have used one at the 3:15 mark). I had taken a gu at 1:00, 1:45, and 2:30, but forgot to bring an extra gu (I brought 1, and used 2 from the aid stations). I should have just asked for another gu at the last aid station that was giving them out! Arghhh...

My original goal was to run 8-minute miles, hoping to "bank" minutes in the first half, knowing that I would probably fade in the final miles. Early on, I also decided to attack all uphill portions to use them as momentum builders rather than momentum killers. The mantra that I recited to myself over and over, was "easy, light, smooth, and fast", from the book, Born to Run. I also kept telling myself that the real race will begin after the half, and then at the 20 mile mark, which was uncharted territory for me.

At mile 15/16, things started to hurt a little more, but I was looking forward to seeing my little 2 year old at mile 19. I stutter stepped in for a kiss on the run, which gave me a boost for at least a few more miles. Then my left hamstring started to cramp, and I was afraid that if I kept up my pace, I would end up limping (worse than walking). It went away, and resurfaced once or twice more, but it never stopped me.

The last 1.5 miles seemed to go on forever. This is basically where I bonked. There just wasn't anything left. And I had to keep telling myself to keep moving. With about 100 feet to go, I made my last move, a quick sprint to the end, to catch one last unsuspecting runner. I recieved my medal and was just relieved that it was over. I am a proud to call myself an official marathoner.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

First Half Marathon

My first half marathon, on September 13, 2009, was run at Almaden Quicksilver Park, in San Jose, California.

On August 8th, I attempted to run up to the peak of Half Dome in Yosemite, with a few 10+ mile runs on flat land, and one 9-miler on a hilly course. It was nearly impossible to run up Half Dome most of the way. But I ran wherever I could, I took a long, less crowded route down. I made it to the top and down in 4 hours and 48 minutes.

So when I heard about this Trail Half Marathon, I figured if I could "run" Half Dome, I should at least survive a hilly half marathon, right? Two weeks before the race, I went out to the park, and explored the trails for a long run. There was no chance for me to find the actual race course - it was too complicated, with too many turns. I ended up getting "lost" (on a wrong turn) and I end up logging over 15 miles total (according to my Garmin Forerunner 50). The hills were tough and it forced me to walk many times, which made me a bit nervous for the next two weeks!

On race day, I got out to the course around 7:15AM, one of the first out there, after grabbing breakfast at McDonalds (Sausage McMuffin w/ Egg Sandwich). And yeah, it doesn't sound like a healthy breakfast before an important race, but I've done it before long runs before, so I knew it wouldn't kill me. I found out from the Race Director that over 120 people pre-registered for the HM. According to the results, only 79 people finished the HM, with more people running the 10K. A week before the race, I had gotten an old high school buddy (old cross country teammate) to join me in the race. We both were on the slower end of the spectrum in high school, but our times were always very close. He had been logging a lot more mileage than me, so I had no doubt that he was going to kick my butt. I was very happy to have an old buddy to race with. It was the highlight of my morning up to that point.

What was my goal? What was my strategy for the race? My goal was to do my best to run a strong race. Try not to walk on the hills, try not to burn myself out too early, and find someone with a reasonable pace to "stick to".

The race started at 8am sharp. And right away, I started out fast. And I thought to myself, that's just who I am; I always start out fast. The adrenaline will wear out and I will settle in to a more comfortable pace. The first couple miles go uphill at a steady incline. After about 2 miles, there is a break followed by a few steeper hills, which I have to slow down for. I got passed by a one or two runners there, most notably by a gal who probably saw that I was struggling a bit, and kindly spoke a few words of encouragement ("Good job" or something simple like that). Kind words of encouragement go a long way in moments like that. And I survived that hill more strongly because of her.

The middle section of the race had some steep declines and this is where I ran the best and felt the strongest. I passed a few runners by really turning up the speed going downhill. And I used the downhills to "power up" many of the smaller uphills with momentum. At around mile 10, my high school buddy passed me up. I clapped him on the shoulder and told him "Good job!", proud to see him doing so well. And that also gave me an energy boost. I skipped the next aid station to keep as close to my buddy as possible. It was then, that I hit the last, really tough, grinding, long uphill. Its the kind that you can't see the top/end of. Its the kind where after you turn a corner, hoping there is an end, you find that you've only just begun. My pace slowed dramatically, and just before I had thoughts of walking, the uphill ended. And it was then, that I felt the closeness of the finish line (maybe 2 miles away), but mostly downhill. I turned up the pace in anticipation, knowing that the tough parts were done. And I kept getting closer and closer to the next runner, a 22 year old that had passed me somewhere back in the hills. I started to sprint down the final stretch, thinking that there was no way I could lose to this guy. Of course, he heard my footsteps and the tight photo finish was won, by a hundredth of a second, by the 22 year old. But heck, that was a fun finish. It was the perfect cap to a great race.

I had a huge grin on for the next hour, and I felt like I could run another few miles on that runner's high. I felt so alive. There was a great sense of accomplishment. Sure, my time wasn't "great" for a Half Marathon (1:55:57), but it was a tough, hilly course. And it turns out my high school buddy beat me by only 38 seconds! I placed 22nd overall. I found out that the winner, from the UK, ran it for a course record in 1:26:55, who, according to Jean Pommier (2nd place, and experienced blogger) runs a 1:12 HM. Reading Jean Pommier's blog, who ran it in 1:29:15 (with a HM PR of 1:15:04), was very enlightening.

Jean Pommier's blog:

To make a long story short... my first half marathon was a huge success, and its awakening my love for running again... Now I have a passion for tennis AND running (... And with this success, I think I'll shoot for that full marathon real soon (possibly the CIM in Sacramento, CA, on December 6th)!