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:

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Very Late Born to Run 30 Mile Race Report

It's no secret that Western States broke my heart. "Time heals all wounds." This kind of wound to the spirit, however, is taking more than just time. Once the heart and body have recovered, we also have to find the strength and courage to dream again.

But with time and every run since Western States, my heart and spirit are recovering. I found some quality healing this past weekend at the Born To Run Race in Los Olivos, California. Many of the people there, I have only met once - just at last year's race. Still, the people there make you feel like you belong, regardless of how fast or crazy you are.

This song from Rachel Patten, played a lot on repeat, in my head this weekend.

This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I'm alright song
My power's turned on
Starting right now I'll be strong
I'll play my fight song
And I don't really care if nobody else believes
Cause I've still got a lot of fight left in me..

I do still believe, that I'll run Western State again someday. That dream is still alive. Even if I don't get there, I can't stop believing or dreaming. Never, ever give up on your dreams, folks.

I was not planning on running the race this year. The weekend was going to be busy with my daughter's First Communion (it's a Catholic thing) and her birthday party on Sunday! My wife however, being the real trooper, told me to just do it. Perhaps she sensed that it's what I really wanted or even needed. Thank you, dear wife, for your support!

I got to the race camp in Lost Olivos on Friday, at 3:30pm, after about 3.5 hours on the road. Festivities had already begun.  The Tarahumara had already done a Rarajipari demonstration and Bolla Races had been run. I floated around camp saying hi to everyone, but I didn't feel like I really belonged. With my shoddy training and lack of motivation, I felt like an outsider among a sea of passionate runners. Perhaps if I had done the beer mile, I would have loosened up and had more fun!

Instead of taking the time to set up my tent, I just lazily pulled out my sleeping bag and slept in my car. It wasn't comfortable, but I rarely have trouble sleeping. Last year, while training for Western States, 30 miles was an easy training run. This year, on minimal training, the idea of 30 miles is a bit more daunting. I know I can roll out of bed and knock out 30 miles, but I had no idea how fast I could go or how much it would hurt.

Once the race began however, the world just slipped away. I was in my element. I was inspired by the Tarahumara. I was inspired by my fellow runners. And I fit in perfectly. I was not fast, but I ran well. And the friends I ran with were just amazing to me. I shared my Western States story, and they embraced me (figuratively). I shared a lot of miles with Toni and Christine, and they were my angels out there. That's the other wonderful thing about ultras - you meet amazing people. And often times, when you're struggling out there (a common theme in really long races), you find some special people that really connect with you.

At the end of my race, I wanted to finish strongly, but my calves had had enough. My calves did not like running any more. They began to cramp in the final seconds. I shuffled in to finish my race in 5:55, which I was very happy with.  It was an amazing day with some amazing people. It ignited a little spark in my heart. It helped me believe in myself a little more. And it felt awesome.

This video by Crista best reflects the party that is the Born to Run Ultra Weekend. If you ever want to be a part of a fun, running weekend, you have to try this race (10, 30, 60, 100, 200, or 300 mile option)!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Disneyland Report

Disneyland has often been labeled as the "Happiest place on Earth". I'm sure for every person that believes this, there is someone who believes the exact opposite. After all, what is so great about standing in long lines in the hot sun, paying outrageous prices, and going on artificial, man-made contraptions that spin and shake you for fleeting moments in time? People, in general, believe what they want to believe. This report won't convince you otherwise. I believe that kids will enjoy Disneyland the most, because they aren't footing the bill and if they love Disney movies, the magic of those movies come to life at Disneyland. So yeah, for most kids, Disneyland is the happiest place on Earth. It can be a nightmare for an adult who has outgrown their inner child. Still, there is lots of fun and happiness to be found at Disneyland, with the right attitude of course.

Day one: Disneyland

Disneyland really hasn't changed much over the years. Many of the same rides we went on when we were younger and more naive are still there.

It's a Small World is a classic ride that has been around for ages and never fails to disappoint. It represents all the different cultures and lands in the world and our kids loved it. It was like traveling all around the world. And even though I've been on it many times, each time feels special and new. It was the perfect way to begin our little Disneyland Adventure.

It was going to be a hot day, so we bought a misting fan (for about 20 dollars). The Alice in Wonderland ride was quick and nothing too special (partly because our kids had never even watched the movie). We got our Fast Pass for the Frozen Theatrical Show, then went to ride on the Buzz Light Year ride and to meet Tinkerbell and Fawn the fairies. Meeting Disney characters in person never gets old.

The Frozen Theatrical was very professionally done, and very enjoyable even for crusty anti-Disney personalities. If you enjoy theater, you'd enjoy the Frozen Theatrical Show. It basically tells the Frozen story, but with a comedic twist. The story is narrated by two men, who also happen to do most of the singing. The actresses that portray Elsa and Anna were great - other than their lack of singing. The kids loved it. And it was probably the highlight of their whole Disney Adventure! Too bad their Mom was at a career fair! Their Mom would surely have loved it too.

By now, the kids are hot and tired. And they want to go back to the hotel. But for the price we paid for admission, I wanted them to go on more rides and see much more of Disneyland - especially since it would be our only day at the classic Disneyland Park. The next two days would be spent at California Adventures.
Like a slave driver, I dragged them along on more and more rides (Star Tours, the Finding Nemo Submarine Ride, and the Jungle Cruise Boat Ride, which are some of my favorites). Then we sit on a curb to watch the Disney Parade, which they also really enjoyed! Even though they were exhausted by the end of the day, they enjoyed it all. Mom would never have survived.

Day Two: California Adventures

Disneyland would be tough to beat, but meeting Elsa and Anna would surely help make California Adventures worth the admission price, right? Having a Frozen Fun section at California Adventures was perfect. One of the kids' favorite things to do was to play in the snow! Racing down a snowy slope on a sled was pretty awesome. The kids didn't care too much for the Monsters Inc. ride, but the Little Mermaid ride was perfect for them. The Jumping Jellyfish and the Flying Zephyr were also fun rides for them. We went back to the Indoor Snow park for round 2, before going to meet Elsa and Anna. We also took an Animation Class where we were taught how to draw Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. Ally, being the young, budding artist loved it. And she did pretty awesome for a 7 year old!

Meeting Elsa and Anna was very quaint and personal. It seemed a little artificial and scripted to me, but the kids loved it. In fact, I think Grace was a little star-struck. She didn't know how to act or what to say. Still, they enjoyed themselves.

We also went to see a Frozen Sing-Along show, which the kids really loved. They played clips from the movie with lyrics on a big movie theater screen. But the light and smoke show all around the theater is what really wowed my kids. And the snow falling in the theater was the perfect touch!

The day culminated with another parade, this time with Pixar characters Toy Story, the Incredibles, Monsters Inc., and Bug's Life. We got back to the hotel and went out to a nice sushi dinner with Mom, where the kids got to share everything they saw and did throughout the day.

Day Three: California Adventures with Mom and Dad

We let the kids decide which park to take Mom to, and they unanimously chose California Adventures on the third day because Mom had never been there. I wasn't too impressed with the rides, but there was still a lot we hadn't done the day before.

We went on the Little Mermaid ride again, and toured the fake Redwood Forest, where there was an assortment of things to do for Ally - like rock climbing and zip-lining. Then we went on a white-water rafting ride (with just Ally and I). Ally was nervous and scared of the waterfall drops and she got drenched, but it was still a lot of fun. Then we went to Bug Land, where we went on a bunch of kiddie rides (bumper cars, spinning ladybugs, giant caterpillar trains, and a flying balloon ride.

The highlight of the day though, was the Aladdin Musical Spectacular Theater show. There were no Fast Passes available, so we were told to just arrive 20-25 minutes before the show to get good seats. We ended up sitting in the second row, which was pretty awesome. This show was amazingly good. I've seen a number of theatrical shows, and this was probably one of my all-time favorites. It would sit right up there with Phantom of the Opera, in my humble, limited opinion. The singing, dancing, choreography, and special effects were pretty amazing! I was very impressed. If you ever go to California Adventures, I would highly recommend this show! I would come to California Adventures just for this show, even if I didn't have kids! Great job, Disney!

The final thing we did together was the Animation Class again, except this time we were drawing Tigger - a much harder drawing than Piglet from the day before. Ally had trouble, and was very frustrated. It was clear though, that the instructor was going very fast and the drawing was too advanced. Still, I think Ally did a fantastic job.

3 Days in Disneyland came to an end, but the memories will last a lifetime. Was Disneyland the Happiest Place on Earth? It was the happiest place on earth, at the time, for us. But then again, the happiest place for me is always right beside my family and friends. Isn't happiness just a state of mind cultured with a good attitude and a healthy perspective? Labeling any place the Happiest Place is just a marketing scheme to sell you stuff. Find happiness in your own heart, and the Happiest Place on Earth becomes wherever your feet takes you.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Way Too Cool 50K, 2015 Edition

Last year, I ran the Way Too Cool 50K as part of my Western States training. I was running 250 miles per month and routinely running 30 mile training runs. It was a piece of cake. I ended up running my fastest 50K in 5:18 last year, without really pushing too hard. This year's race was a completely different story. I had not run much since Western States and was in terrible running shape. Still, I planned to take it easy and just enjoy the perfect weather and wonderful people. The temperature was going to reach a high of 70 degrees!

How do you run a 50K without training? You just keep moving forward. And you take your time at the aid stations. And you walk whenever you want. That was basically what I did for most of the race. I took my time thanking the volunteers. If you were walking or struggling, I probably slowed down and hung out with you. I wanted to find out what was wrong or right with everyone and offered advice and encouragement everywhere I went. I wasn't wearing a watch and didn't really care what my final time was (okay, maybe I did care a little bit). My main goal was to finish the race and to soak in the whole experience.

I was connecting with people everywhere I went. And I was reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances. I was in my element, and I felt great! The two people that stood out the most during this race was Elisa Park and Tony Nguyen (no relation). Elisa, like me, was under trained. Her husband and I ran Western States together. He is a very cool dude. Elisa was struggling and was thinking about dropping after just 8 miles. I told her that she was probably running too much. And that she was probably running how she would normally run if she was fully trained. I told her to just keep moving forward and to take whatever her body gives her. Its okay to be slow. Let the course sweepers remove you from the course if need be, but don't give up. We shared the trails for quite a while. I think she helped me just as much as I helped her.

Then I run with Tony Nguyen, who is also struggling a bit, but for different reasons. He just ran the Rocky Raccoon 100 a month ago and hadn't fully recovered. Tony has a brother named John, and I have a brother named Tony, and we always find that rather comical. Tony runs a lot of 100 milers and hopes to run Western States someday. Tony wonders why I'm floating in the back of the pack and I tell him about my lack of motivation and running since Western States. He reminds me that Western States was last year and that I need to move on. Words of wisdom are often very simple, yet so often neglected and not taken to heart. I do need to move on. And there is no time better than the present time.

Tony has a very inspirational story to tell. He ran his way past his health problems and overcame diabetes. He weaned himself off insulin, and now leads a healthy, running lifestyle. He is always full of enthusiasm and encouragement. Even as he struggled, he was all smiles! Eventually, I moved on to run my own race. I was feeling too good by mile 20, so I figured I would push a little to put in a decent effort. I kept reminding myself to soak in all the sights and to "seize the moment". We were really blessed to be out there enjoying the fabulous weather and pristine trails. The wild flowers were in bloom. Butterflies flitted around here and there. And you could hear frogs croaking at some of the streams! I splashed through a lot of stream crossings like a carefree little child - not much different than my three year old, splashing in puddles with her rain boots! Even when there was a bridge or dry ways across, I had fun simply splashing through the water. It truly was a great day to be alive.

I braced myself for the biggest hill of the day: Goat Hill at mile 26. But it felt so much easier than I expected! Maybe I had been lollygagging too much throughout the race! Near the top an older gentleman shook my hand and tried to pull me up the hill! I had to resist a bit! I didn't need any help! But it was a kind gesture which I was grateful for. At the aid station, a boy with a wet sponge was cooling off runners! I asked him to squeeze some water over my head. I told the boy and some volunteers that the last person who cooled me down with a sponge was Ann Trason!

The last few miles were tough, but they always are on this course. Having run this race 4 other times, I knew exactly what to expect. I tried pushing the pace a few times, but my calves cramped up any time I tried to speed up. As I came closer to the finish line, I felt emotional. I was finishing my first race since Western States. I was happy. And I was relieved. A weight was lifted from my shoulders. That weight probably contained some self doubt, some remnants of a crushed dream, and maybe some fear; the fear that maybe I wasn't born to run after all. I don't know what the future holds in terms of running and racing, but it's time to truly move on.