Sunday, December 5, 2010
Unfortunately, I ended up taking a wrong turn after about 19-20 miles. The trail split. 50-mile runners have to go left for an out-and-back section totaling about 8 miles. I recalled seeing a sign with an arrow pointing left, but made the mistake of following the 50K runners I was with, not knowing they were 50K runners. And there were 50-mile orange flags, so I kept going. I realized my race was over when we got to the next aid station 5 miles later. By then I had 25 miles on my Garmin, when I should have had 33. From then on, I was just a spectator. My 50-mile race became a 25 mile training run.
The race started at 5AM, so everyone had to wear headlamps for 2 hours. It was a beautiful morning. Overcast, and surprisingly not cold at all.
Running in the dark is always more fun with so much company!
The scenic views were spectacular, of course!
And the hills were brutal. The course had 10,700 feet of elevation gain. And some sections got muddy with some sporadic rain.
And as usual, I made some new friends, and reconnected with a few old friends. Its a common theme in the small ultra world. And its what keeps drawing many of us back. One of the main reasons why I signed up for this race, was to do it with an old friend who flew down from Canada to run his first 50-mile race. And he ended up doing great on a really tough course.
After I realized my race was over, I walked a few more miles to the next aid station, where I would get a ride to finish. On the way, I found a 50K runner sitting on the side of the trail next to some volunteers who were directing traffic. He was nauseated and short on calories, and yet he was drinking a diet coke (which a volunteer gave him)! I gave him a ginger chew for his nausea and chatted with him. I unscrewed the lid of my bottle and offered him some of my Perpetuem. It's dense in calories and easy on the stomach, I told him, which is a lot better than that Diet Coke. Within a few minutes, he noticed a difference in his energy level. But he still had about 10 miles to go, so I gave him one of my bottles with a serving of Perpetuem. It was just a cheap bottle, and by saving his race, I felt a lot better about losing mine.
I got to meet Jenn Shelton at the finish line. She came in 5th woman and 27th overall, with an 8:28 time. Meeting her was one of my highlights of the day! Miguel Heras of Spain ended up beating Geoff Roes and won $10,000. Anna Frost, from New Zealand won the womens race and also took home $10,000. It was a tough race for a lot of people, and I wasn't the only one that DNFed, but it was also an amazing day filled with a lot of great people, beautiful sights, and memorable experiences.
And still it took me a long while to finish this report. I just find it hard to write about failure. And part of me still sees this race as a failure. Its embarrassing to DNF in a race because of a wrong turn. I could just sweep this race under the rug of my memories and forget it never happened. But it did happen. I don't think I took this race serious enough. I should have done my homework and studied the course better. You can't "assume" anything. But what's done is done.
No matter what happens out there, you have to keep a positive attitude, count your blessings, and keep believing in yourself. I had a great year despite the DNFs and the nagging injuries. I started 8 ultras this year and finished 6. I got to meet so many new friends and got to see so many beautiful sights.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
As runners, we have goals and then we have dreams. Our goals are usually very realistic and are short term. Our dreams, however, can be lofty and borderline insane. I think its important for runners to have goals and to have dreams. Short term goals help us focus on the present, and dreams help inspire us to believe in ourselves.
My dream race is the Western States Endurance Run. I qualified for it in my first 50-mile race this year, by running a 50-miler in under 11 hours (10:21). The race is held in June, 2011, and the only way I can get in is through a lottery. With 3 days left in the application period, there are 1490 applicants. About 300 applicants will be drawn in the lottery. If picked, the applicant's credit card will be charged $370, which is no small sum of money!
Sounds like a no-brainer for me, right? Wrong. My 10:21 qualifying time is "soft", since it was run on a relatively flat course, in perfect overcast conditions. The Western States race has over 18000 feet of elevation gain and is held in the summer, where temperatures can easier soar over 100 degrees. So if I were to be lucky enough to be picked, I would have to train like a madman to feel worthy of toeing the starting line of one of the most prestigious ultra races in the world. And to further complicate matters, my wife is due to give birth to my second daughter at the end of March!
I still have 3 days to decide, and to convince my wife that I shouldn't give up on my dreams, no matter how difficult or challenging. Without her approval and support, I don't think it would be wise to pursue the dream this year. There will be other years, hopefully, even though it will only get more difficult in the future. The clock is ticking. What would you do?
Saturday, November 13, 2010
The Wednesday before the Saturday 50K, my 3 year old daughter developed a cold, complete with restless nights, a nasty cough and congestion. Of course I develop sore throat symptoms shortly thereafter. But runners will usually run, rain or shine, in sickness and in health. When you have a passion for something, you find a way to just do it.
The race is held in Sausalito, California at Stinson Beach, where the Dipsea Races are also held. It was going to be a sunny day with a high of 70 degrees and a low of 48. The 50K race starts at 8:30AM, the 25K starts at 8:50, and the 12K runners start at 9:10. Before the race I got to chat with Ian Sharman, an elite runner who runs the Comrades Marathon in Africa every year (he came in 24th place out of 16,000+ runners this past May). Since he relocated to San Jose, California from the UK, he runs a lot of the same races I run! And like many of the elite ultra runners, he's just a swell guy to chat with! Of course slower runners like me only get to chat with the fast runners before these long races, because by the time we're done, the faster runners are long gone!
The first section of the race (3 miles) is run through an enchanted redwood forest where you could imagine Ewoks roaming. I had overheard that this was "Ewok Forest" where they filmed parts of the Star Wars trilogy.
That sounded really cool, but upon further research after the race, Return of the Jedi was filmed in a different Redwood forest further north. Still, the thought of running through "Ewok Forest" conjured up some pleasant thoughts. These few miles were all uphill, with many stone stairs, babbling brooks, wooden bridges and even a ladder!
Is this really a race course? Or is it a lost world in another universe?
My first 3 miles would have been more fun if I didn't feel so miserable! My anterior tibialis muscles (shins) felt extremely tight and my heart rate seemed out of control. Going directly uphill at the start of a race sucks.
Thankfully, an aid station is positioned right at the 3 mile mark. It gives me a chance to "regroup". All runners know that some days you "got it" and some days you don't. The beauty of long ultra races is that even if you don't "got it" at the start, you have plenty of time to find "it"; the groove, the mojo, or whatever you want to call it. The next couple miles are downhill, and my body finally starts to warm up, and the tightness in my legs go away.
I'm just cruising along at an easy 9:20 pace, when the speedy 25K runners started to pass me. I couldn't help but speed up and consequently found my groove. Surrounded by 25K racers on a gentle downhill, I logged a 7:46 and an 8:02 mile (miles 6 and 7). It probably wasn't the smartest move, but it sure was fun.
Once we hit some wider, flatter trails, I slowed down and let the speedsters pass without a fight. I had a longer way to go, and couldn't sabotage my "training run" by trying to push the pace. My legs were feeling good though, so even the uphill portions felt easy to speed walk.
Around mile 12, I struck up a conversation with a fellow runner by the name of David. And as with many of the runners that I have met and talked to, it was "friendship at first sight". We talked about everything. Stories about our kids, our running, and our dreams came pouring out as we ran through a forest filled with rocks, roots, fallen trees, and other tripping hazards. He is fairly new to ultra running, and yet he has already completed his first 100-mile race! His dream race is the Badwater Ultramarathon - 135 miles of pure torture! I love it! And maybe when he's ready to run that monster, I'll be ready to crew for him. Ahhh, this is the stuff dreams (or nightmares) are made of...
David and I parted ways at the halfway point where I met up with another ultra running friend (Myles) who was having a bad day. I met Myles in my first 50K, 11 months ago (feels like a lifetime ago), when we both officially became ultra runners. Even though this is only the second time we've raced together, it feels like we're old buddies.
Miles 16-19 feel much more comfortable the second time up the same section. It felt so comfortable that I skipped the next aid station and forgot to top off my one bottle with water. Oops. Miles 19-24 are tough. I'll spare you the negative thoughts that crept into my head. Nothing was hurting. I was just tired.
The uphill hiking also became more laborious in the afternoon sunshine. I heard that only about 10 percent (the elites) of the field run the whole way. The rest of us mortals walk up these inclines. And when conditions are tough, we "crawl"!
It was during a "low" point of my race, when I got another injection of positivity. It came in the form of another new friend. When you're tired or hurt in a long race, find someone to talk to - it can really break you out of a mental funk. It doesn't matter if the person is a runner, volunteer, or complete stranger. It helps if they're smiling and in a helpful mood though.
Let me introduce to you Martin. A 57 year old gentleman, who seemed to know everyone there. He's been running ultras for about 7 years and has completed 5 100-milers. He's not blazing fast, but he is consistent and constantly moving with a natural fluidity. His positive attitude and passion for running was infectious. "All these runs are training runs", he says. He doesn't wear a watch, and he's not in a hurry. You can imagine him running a 100 miles with the same carefree attitude. I decided there that I wanted to hang on to his heels (if I could) and finish with him. It was like chasing a master and wanting to emulate his wisdom, humility, and positivity. I told him of my intention to finish with him, and he of course, welcomed the company. We ran to the finish together, side by side, with a strong kick at the end. It was a great way to end a great race, filled with great people, great weather, and a great course. Thank you, everyone.
Elevation chart, with mile splits, and aid stations:
I wore my LaSportiva Crosslites again. They're becoming my favorite shoes on long trails like this one. I didn't wear any compression tights this time, which I have worn in my last 4 ultras. And I forgot to take any Vespa servings (amino acid supplement) since I forgot the first serving before the race. I took a total of 6 scoops of Perpetuem (3 servings). I ate some leftover lasagna for breakfast before my 1.75 hour drive to the race location. My final time was 7:28:09, good for 49th place out of 64 finishers. This was my slowest 50K, out of the 5 that I have done, but it was also the toughest. It was also one of the most enjoyable races I've ever had. The cold finally hit me hard on Monday, and I've been at home sick for the past two days, which allowed me to finish this long report. If you're ever considering a trip to California and want a nice trail run, I would look up Pacific Coast Train Runs (www.pctrailruns.com). Their races are great for all levels of runners AND hikers. I can guarantee an amazing time with some amazing people.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
I was thrown off the proverbial horse after 44 miles in a 100-mile misadventure only a month ago. My body suffered no lasting harm, but my mind and heart was dealt a big blow. My confidence was shaken. My dreams of 100-mile races have drifted further from reach, and is now laced with some tangible fears. On top of my fears, which I quickly suppressed, I hungered for redemption.
The Dick Collins Firetrails 50-mile race was my first chance to redeem myself on the "ultra horse". I was also hoping that meeting the legendary Ann Trason would give me a little extra inspiration and motivation to continue my ultra journey. My A-goal for the race was to break 11 hours, the qualifying time for Western States. I had already qualified with my first 50-mile race, but I felt like I needed to do it again to prove my worthiness to even enter the lottery for the oldest and largest 100 mile race in the US. Compared to my first 50-mile race, this course looks a lot tougher, with 7800 feet of elevation gain, so my time goal might be a little optimistic.
We start right at 6:30AM in the dark. The plan was to run the downhills and walk the uphills. But when I ran with company, I ran more, falling into a comfortable running rhythm that only got interrupted with steep inclines. The time and the miles pass by very quickly and pleasantly with good company. Some of the panoramic views were amazing, but they never impress me as much as the kind people I meet at these events. The volunteers and the runners I meet are always such beautiful highlights in my ultra experiences. The redwood forest groves, the lakeside views, and the scenic overlooks of the bay area are always gorgeous, but when you're tired and in pain, a smile or an encouraging word can do so much more to lift your spirits.
The Golden Hills Trail Marathon is the companion race to the 50-mile race that is a point to point course that starts near the turnaround point for the 50-mile runners. So after about 20 miles, we get to see a bunch of marathoners coming towards us in the opposite direction, with the 50-mile leaders mixed in. The great thing about an out-and-back course is that you get to meet all the runners, fast or slow. I got to greet all the speedy ultra runners that I want to be like when I grow up! It always amazes me to see these elite runners run up all these hills that leave most people gasping for air while walking!
After 25 miles and 5 hours and 15 minutes, my race is going well. I am managing my hydration and fueling very well. I even skipped a couple of the early aid stations. Even though the high temperature only reached 75 degrees this day, it felt warmer in the unshaded open spaces. I took one electrolyte pill per hour and increased the frequency when it got warmer. I felt strong, walking the hills and passed many other runners that were not walking as fast. I knew many of them would catch me later, but I was happy to make some decent gains on the inclines.
I crossed the 50K mark at around 6 hours and 25 minutes, which was a relatively respectable considering my 5:54 50K PR race that was held on these same trails back in August. At mile 33, I started to feel really tired. It was another "low" that I have come to expect in these ultras. I drank more of my Pertetuem mix (for calories) and took another electrolyte pill. At the next aid station (mile 34), I drank some coke, ate some fruit, and chatted with the volunteers for a while. My heart and lungs felt tired. I didn't feel motivated to run anymore and I was afraid that everything would fall apart on me again. I seriously wanted to sit down and take a break there at the aid station. I was afraid of having to sit down out on the course where I would have no aid. The volunteers were awesome at this aid station. They listened to me, and they cared for me. Their kindness and encouragement gave me the boost I needed to keep moving forward.
The next 3 miles were not easy. It was a lonely stretch of single track trails and I was stuck in a mental, negative funk. I felt weak and even the downhill portions felt dreadfully slow and uninspired. "Willpower comes from inspiration", I thought to myself. I was in serious need of some willpower, so I tried really hard to think about what inspired me. I thought about a friend who was training for her first ultra when she unexpectedly became pregnant. The pregnancy had its complications and she eventually lost her baby. It was very sad, and I could never imagine the pain and suffering she went through. My pain at the time was nothing compared to what she went through. I found her faith in God inspiring. Here I was having a pity party when I should be counting my blessings and having a little faith myself. With God as my strength, I moved on, more focused and more inspired.
Then a funny thing happened. Things got better. I didn't feel so tired anymore. And all of a sudden I was running again, with renewed strength and purpose. From then on, I started to make deals with myself. Run to that tree or flag, then you can walk. And it was not a shuffle either. I was running fast and strong; almost sprinting down hills at times. I would still walk the uphill sections, but I was starting to make really good progress!
When I got to the aid station at mile 44.2, I felt so, so happy. This is where the horse threw me off, and here I was again, running strong, positive, and at peace. And I had only a 10K to go! I ate some fruit and drank some coke before thanking the volunteers and headed back out to finish the race. Two minutes later, I was throwing up on the side of the trail. I threw up three times, and emptied out the contents of my stomach. I really did not see that coming. One gal stopped to see if I was okay and told be to go back to the aid station if I needed to, but I stubbornly pressed forward instead. Throwing up actually made me feel a little better. I was worried about my energy and hydration level after that because anything I drank or ate made me feel nauseous. The only thing that tasted good after that was some watermelon at the last aid station before the finish. I continued my run-walk sequence and knew that I would at least break 12 hours at the rate I was going.
The last 3 miles felt very long, probably because they were still plenty of hills, but I knew I was going to finish and nothing else mattered. When I turned a corner and saw the finish line, I sprinted with everything I had left, and I was fast! A well-known ultra runner asked me, "If you had that much still left in your legs, why didn't you finish sooner?" I'm not sure it was my legs that failed me. Maybe my endocrine system was just over-taxed with all the recent ultras and long runs. I was happy to have finished such a tough course and probably need a break from this ultra business. I felt sick for the remainder of the day. I could not eat anything till later that night when I ate some chicken noodle soup.
I did not stay for the awards ceremony, but I went over and shook Ann Trason's hand and told her that she was an inspiration to me. She just smiled and told me, "Everyone here who finished this race is an inspiration." Indeed, I met a lot of inspiring runners this day. Out on the course, I didn't think I would want to come back to this tough race, but after finishing and reflecting I can't help but think about how great the race really was. I'll be back.
I finished 198th place out of 235 finishers, with a time of 11:52:42.
I ran with my La Sportiva Crosslites. I had my New Balance MT100 shoes in my drop bag at mile 26, but never had any blister or foot problems so I stuck with the shoes that were working. I used Perpetuem for the first time in a race. I also used a serving of Vespa every 3 hours. I took chia seeds the night before the race and before the race to pre-hydrate. I ate a McDonald's Sausage McMuffin Breakfast Sandwich an hour before the race. I ate mostly fruit at the aid stations (oranges, cantaloupe, bananas, and watermelon) with boiled potatoes early in the race.
Mile Splits According to my Garmin 310XT:
|Mile 42||23:06 |
My failed attempt at the Rio Del Lago 100-miler 4 weeks ago made me hungry for a little redemption. It also made me a little cocky. It was so tough, that any 50-mile attempt in cool weather must be a done deal, right? Wrong! I only made it to the aid station at mile 44.28 (my Garmin showed 43.7) at the 100-miler, but my mind blamed it on the heat. There wasn't going to be any real heat in this 50-miler unless you count the heat created by 7800 feet of elevation gain! Boy was I in for a rude awakening!
So much happened at this 50-mile race. I hit some intense lows. I met some amazing people. We had some great weather. I puked my guts out at one point. The hills were brutal. I had flashbacks of repressed memories of traumatic experiences in my failed 100-mile attempt. I ran scared a lot. I was scared of another failure. It was like I got back on a horse too soon after it threw me off into a ditch. "Beware the chair", a volunteer told me when I was longingly staring at a really inviting chair at mile 34. I ran a lot in the final 13 miles, and that felt awesome. And it wasn't a shuffle either. I did a run-walk sequence that involved some really fast running! The uphill portions still made me sick, but my muscles never openly rebeled like they did in the 100-mile attempt. I ended up finishing in 11 hours and 54 minutes, my unofficial Garmin time, which is a bit off because I forgot to stop it in time. It felt great to finish! I felt so humbled. It was the 2nd hardest race of my life, and this time there's a happy ending!
Friday, September 24, 2010
I was hoping to meet Gordy Ainsleigh at the race briefing, but he never showed up to the briefing. I had found out that he was racing 2 weeks before the race, and it made me feel very privileged to be racing with a legend. For those of you who do not know this legend, he was the first man to run the famous Western States 100-mile Endurance Run. He practically invented the 100-mile race back in 1974! His race report for that first 100-mile run is a must read for 100-mile dreamers. I did end up meeting Gordy at the lowest point in my race, but it will also be one of the most memorable moments in my life.
The evening before the race I had some spaghetti for some carbo-loading, and went to bed at 9pm at my brother-in-law’s house, only 15 minutes away from the starting line. I woke up at 1:30 in the morning and lay in bed till 3am trying to sleep. At 3am, I decided to get up and get ready for my big day. I ate two slices of bread, and tried to pre-hydrate myself with water and chia seeds. My brother-in-law drove me to the starting area (a school gym), where I would pre-tape my feet with Elastikon tape (to prevent blisters) and some kinesio tape on my my calves (pre-cut) and my left ankle.
At 6am, we were sent off into the dark unknown, by race director Molly Sheridan, where my adventure began. In the first hour I chatted with a few other runners and the time flew by very quickly. I ran with a local gal, named Monica Moore for quite some time. I ran behind her, because her stride seemed so effortless and in running behind her my own stride felt great. I knew that it would get hot later in the day, so my plan was to run more while the temperature was still cool. When it gets hot I planned to walk a lot more and go into survival mode till the evening, when I hoped to run more.
It was at this time that I realized that I didn’t have enough electrolyte pills to last me to the Mile 67 Aid Station, where I had more pills in my drop bag. I had originally planned on taking one pill per hour, but I had been taking the pills more frequently due to the cramping and the heat. The brother I shared a ginger chew with immediately shared some of his electrolyte pills with me. Talk about instant karma!
This was easily the darkest moment of my short ultra running life. It was during this moment that I met Gordy Ainsleigh for the first time. He came running along the trail, and saw me in my pit of despair. He told me that I was probably low on calories and needed to eat something. Boy was he right! If only I was at an aid station! I wanted to pull out my camera and take pictures of him like a tourist, but restrained myself. I didn't want to seem so uncool in front of a legend. I plan on meeting him again someday, better trained, and cooler than the pathetic looking person he ran into on the side of the trail.
It was just a slow and painful walk, when I finally started moving again to the next aid station, feeling defeated, disappointed, and beat up. For a while there, I was afraid they’d have to send a rescue team to carry my broken body back to civilization. I set out to cover 100 miles, so 44 miles did feel like a spectacular failure. I sat at the aid station as the sun was going down, feeling miserable. As I waited for the volunteers to pack up, I must have yawned at least 50 times, with my jaws uncomfortably cramping each time. One of the volunteers gave me a ride to the school gym where we started and I called my wife to pick me up. The race director, Molly, gave me hug and told me, “We’ve all been there”. That meant a lot to me. At that point, I knew that I needed to come back next year, better trained and more prepared to slay this dragon. Thanks, Molly!
Of the 94 starters, 52 people finished and 42 people sadly did not. Catra Corbett and Gordy Ainsleigh both did not make it to the finish line. Jean Pommier finished in third place, but needed an IV due to his unusually low blood pressure. I came out to the award ceremony to pick up my drop bags and thank the race directors for a great race, despite the tough conditions.
I've had a lot of time to think about what went wrong and have come to several reasons for my poor performance. The main reason I did not do well was because of a lack of training, both in mileage and in heat training. My legs were not strong enough to endure the abuse of the hills and the heat. I was also not adequately prepared in terms of fueling. GU makes me sick after 30 miles. I need a fuel that I can rely on for longer races that won't make me sick. I tried Perpetuem last week on a 20-miler, and think that will be the fuel of choice in my next Ultra. I don't believe in excuses. Excuses suggest that problems that arise are not our fault and often justify poor decision making and planning. We sign up for these races knowing about possible heat problems, physical problems, and mental problems. We need to own up to our mistakes, learn from them and allow them to make us stronger. Even when things go wrong, believe in yourself, hold your head up high, and move on.
And for all those people who believed in me, thank you. The outpouring of your support and encouragement makes me feel very blessed. And it makes me feel even more determined to get back on that "ultra-horse", to become stronger, for future adventures that I can share with you, hopefully with happier endings!