Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Way Too Cool 50K 2012

"The reason we race isn't so much to beat each other but to be with each other." --Christopher McDougall, Born to Run.

Leading up to race, I was faced with a decision to make. Should I race to my full abilities or should I hold back and use the race as a training run, for a more important goal race in May (Miwok 100K)? The idea of racing and shooting for a goal time is exciting and dramatic! However, racing (relatively speaking) leads to trashed legs and a longer recovery time, which is not necessarily good in the middle of a training cycle!

On my long drive (2.5 hours) to the race, I listened to the last chapter of Born to Run, and came to a decision that felt crystal clear. My plan was to run with Kynan (also known as "Santiago of the Sea" on the Runner's World Loop) conservatively for the first 20 miles, and then decide whether or not to push the pace for the final 11 miles based on how I feel. "To race or not race", was no longer a question that needed to be asked. I came to Cool simply to hang out with some old friends and maybe make a few new ones.
This is the first stream crossing. There is usually a long line to cross on a single line of rocks. There is no line to plow on through the water!

The first 11 miles were very pleasant. Both me and Kynan talked almost nonstop. The conversation flowed like our running - easy and relaxed. We read each others minds when it came to walking breaks too. We wore the same shoes - the Saucony Peregrines! And I came very close to wearing the same shirt he wore! Apparently, we both shop at Target!

But then came my arch pain - in both feet! This had never happened to me before! It was slowly building up and after 11+ miles, my feet were screaming! I told Kynan to go on without me. He reluctantly did so. I stopped to try to stretch my feet. I even sat on the side of trail, took off my shoes and tried to massage and stretch both feet. I eventually got up and tried to run, but every step was painful. For a moment, I considered dropping from the race. I did not want to develop a full blown injury like plantar fasciitis before the Miwok 100K!
This is the lonely stretch of trails where I pulled over with a "flat tire".

It was something that Kynan told me earlier that gave me hope and got me going. He told me about how Marshall Ulrich had developed a bad case of PF after only 10 days into his Run Across America. Instead of 60 miles a day, he reduced his mileage to 40 miles a day, to "rest" as his doctor prescribed. And the PF went away! I'm no Marshall Ulrich, but maybe I can slow down and find a stride that doesn't aggravate my foot pain.

What ended up working was a more pronounced forefoot strike. And the uphill running felt better than the downhill running! One of the problems with a pronounced forefoot strike, however, is that it is way too fast to sustain for extended periods of time. So I mixed in walking breaks and did a run-walk sequence that must have looked odd to anyone watching. It was as if I was running a fartlek workout, alternating between sprints and walking! And I was fast enough to pass a lot of people (including Kynan, unfortunately).
On the single track, my personal rule was this - if I inconvenienced you by passing, I better be sure that I stay ahead of you. I'd feel bad if I slowed you down by making you pass me back during one of my many walking phases. This forced me to surge faster to pass runners and to sustain it long enough to put a decent gap in between us. And if I heard footsteps, I'd be off running again. Dunking my feet in cold streams felt awesome! I passed people carefully crossing streams, I passed people walking on the hills, and I passed people at nearly all the aid stations. One girl yelled, "Sandbagger!" as I ran by her!
The last mile was filled with spectators and volunteers who cheered us on to the finish. When anyone walked, someone on a bullhorn would kindly egg us on to finish strong. One gal was trying to pass me on the final stretch, which motivated me to force my cramping body to surge one last time, even roaring aloud to summon a last bit of strength. I finished in 6:13:26 according to the official results. It was no where near the 3:27:43 that won the race (Gary Gellin) or Caitlin Smith's third place finish at 4:05:48 (our doula who assisted with Grace's birth), but it was relatively fast for me and a triumphant victory, especially after dealing with such unnatural pain so early in the race!

After finishing the race, I jumped back on the race course in reverse to look for Kynan to offer some last minute encouragement. My body was toast, or else I would have liked to pace him in. I found him about 0.75 miles away looking fresh and strong. I was happy to see him running in to finish strong to a new 50K PR.

Other 2012 Way Too Cool Race Reports:

Jacob Rydman (3:34)
Jean Pommier (4:06)
Scott Dunlap (4:46)
Allen Lucas (8:45)
Gretchen Brugman (4:59)
Caitlin Smith (4:05)
Kynan Matz (6:43)

Mile splits:
Mile Split
1 10:09
2 11:33
3 12:26
4 14:02
5 11:44
6 12:08
7 12:15
8 12:08
9 12:17
10 10:28
11 11:38
12 16:45
13 13:20
14 9:56
15 10:57
16 13:55
17 11:27
18 14:35
19 13:47
20 10:25
21 10:05
22 11:43
23 11:28
24 10:09
25 9:22
26 16:15
27 12:39
28 11:41
29 15:01
30 15:51
My Garmin 310XT only measured 30.32 miles, so the course was probably a tad short of a true 50K (31.2 miles).

Other notes (mostly incoherent rambling):
I ran in Saucony Peregrines for the first time, which may have contributed to the feet pain. I also ran with a hydration backpack for the first time (which I filled with plain water). I only refilled my hydration pack once, and I started with 32 ounces of water, so I probably consumed only about 60 ounces of fluid during the entire race. I did some pre-race hydration with some milk tea and a bottle of diluted juice and chia seeds. For fuel I ended up using only one pack of Honey Stinger chews, for the entire race and felt fine. I ate nothing at the aid stations except for a few salt capsules (I forgot to bring some for the first time) and one water refill of my hydration pack. The Vespa (2 servings) allowed me to fuel a lot less, and it was the first time I took so little fuel with the Vespa. I put on precut kinesio tape, designed specifically for the calves, called spider tape. After the race, I got a free, amazing massage from "Monsters of Massage". My masseuse made me bite the table in pain when he drove his knuckles into my arch. It hurt soooo good...

I thought about a lot of people before and during the race. I thought about my cousin, Anthony Doan Nguyen, who passed away only a few weeks ago at the age of 36. I was one of the pallbearers at his beautiful funeral. I thought about Megan and Brian, who will be embarking on their first ultras in the upcoming months, and wished I could be there with them.

The first couple miles are are on asphalt.

Pretty trails, huh?

This is one of the rare muddy portions, that you could easy navigate through with clean shoes. In 2010, practically the whole course looked like this!
Your feet will get wet. Its only a matter of when...
A professional cameraman taking pictures that I won't be buying.

One of the many streams.

Matching shoes! And not even planned!
This dog is one of the sweetest dogs I've ever met. He's like a big bear!
Doesn't this look like a medieval castle?
A gorilla and a banana - what a cute couple. Reminds me of Kynan and Laura.

The last hill - about 1.5 miles from the finish. Anytime the hills got tough, I reminded myself that "this is what I came for!" Tough hills will make me stronger for my goal race in May, and I wish there were more of them!

Pictures courtesy of Kynan Matz and Allen Lucas


  1. Nice post and great job! And the pictures from that photographer (Pete) are available for free here: https://picasaweb.google.com/petebeckphotography. I've been surprised at the number of free photos I've seen so far (but expect some for sale at some point too). This was such a great day and race!

  2. Another great report!
    Seems like maybe you changed your fueling strategy a bit with this race. Did you use less than normal? There were no stories of GI issues or calf cramping. Happy ultra day!

    You and Kynan have a team uniform figured out. What is your team called? :)

    Congrats on another successful race and training run for the 100k coming up John. Beautiful photos!

    1. It was a big change in my fueling and hydration strategy. Instead of relying on Hammer Perpetuem for my calories, I used Honey Stinger Chews (only one pack - 160 calories!). I probably took in too many calories before with the Vespa. You're supposed to take less calories with Vespa (since you're burn fat more efficiently). And by taking plain water, I was able to drink more, which is a good thing for me! Overall I was very happy with the lack of cramps and I had no GI problems! This little experiment should really improve my ultra experiences!

  3. Congrats. I'll be seeing you at Miwok.

  4. way to overcome obstacles and get it done, great job. that's what i love about this sport, shared suffering with a common goal of making it to the finish line. good luck at miwok!