The 2014 North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships Race Report

…well that’s a freaking mouthful. I prefer the acronym ’14 TNF50, but then you might be like, “what the…?” so, yeah- what I said above.

My race reports read kind of pedantic at times, so hopefully I can keep this interesting without boring you with every single little minute detail, but my guess is that if you’re here to read a race report there’s a pretty good chance you run these types of races, too. And like all of us trying to figure out “what went wrong?” we try to glean as much info off of each other as to not repeat the same mistakes again.

So here we go.

In the weeks leading up to the race I had some really great runs; I felt as though everything was coming together- sleeping well, eating well, keeping the stress levels down, cutting back on the mileage and bumping up the intensity a bit; everything felt right.

So I decided to do my first 5k on Thanksgiving morning, I figured a quick 3 miles as opposed to doing six or seven “junk miles” would be great for leg turnover, sharpening my speed, whatever. That went off without a hitch, I felt fast and good and generally had fun (and a pretty good time, considering how slow I am). It’s nine whole days out from North Face, I’ll be fine…

Then the next day, about 5 miles into an easy 8-miler my left hammy suddenly felt tight and uncomfortable- not painful, just tight. This was the same discomfort I had felt back in early October one morning doing a track workout that forced me to shut it down for a few days and really freaked me out; it kind of had me questioning everything in my life at that moment and coming to the conclusion that I was kind of burned out. Not only on running, but my job, too.

Luckily I was able to cut back some running and go on my honeymoon right after this. By re-prioritizing some things I was able to start enjoying running again (and by taking a week off of work I was able to start enjoying work again- funny how the island of Kaua’i has that effect on people). I had some fun runs while vacationing and didn’t feel any pressure to get out there every day and grind.

So here’s that hamstring thing again, 8 days before TNF50. I thought, “oh well, here’s my season…” but within a few days it was gone. I think tapering combined with solid nutrition and good sleep solved that whole thing. And the idea that if I wasn’t able to race North Face I’d volunteer and defer my entry to next year.

But everything has a way of working out for me. Call me lucky or just hashtag BLESSED, yo.

So the actual race report starts here:

I woke up at 2:30 AM to some coffee (if you don’t have a coffee maker that you can set the night before, get on that) and set about making some steel-cut oats. This is the first ultra I’ve run in close to two years that I actually ate before, lately I’ve been trying to get something in me about 2 hours before running (especially on some 20+ milers).

I’m not sure if this contributed to my eventual stomach issues but I think I’m just the type of runner that likes to start racing in a semi-fasted state. I don’t know if that means I’m fat-adapted or that my tummy has become so sensitive that I just can’t start running while digesting, but it might be good to figure this out going into 2015.

Anyway, ate, got dressed, got in the car at 3:30 and drove over to Marin. Listened to A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory because it keeps me chilled out. Had a Vespa Super Concentrate at 4:15 am while sitting in the traffic for the thru-tunnel. Parked, got on the shuttle to the start. Pretty uneventful, standard nervous chatting with folks on the bus.

Sorted all my items into their correct drop bags, greased up, checked bags again, hit the porta-potty, got ready to queue up in Wave 2. Watched the elite wave roll out to hoots and hollers, saw all the obligatory ultra people like Bryon Powell and Dean Karnazes doing their thing, yadda yadda.

Start, let’s go. Chatted briefly with some of the guys in my wave on that first concrete section but soon as we hit the first road crossing we had thinned out considerably and it seemed like everyone was there to work. So I kept my head down and just powered into it.

First event of note: took some of my pre-mixed Vitargo-Tailwind concoction at :30 ( I had planned on taking something every :45 but just felt a wee bit flat those first three miles) and within 5 minutes knew something wasn’t okay. Luckily there was a porta-potty right at the top of the climb at what would become the Alta aid station, so I jumped in there right quick. That was a life-saver.

Felt better immediately and flew down Rodeo Valley Trail and readied for another loop. They’re making us do two loops at the beginning because they completely eliminated the 6 mile loop through Muir Woods and Redwood Creek. These beginning loops are really nice, wide groomed fire trails so I figured I could open it up a bit, it still being dark and all and really make up some time here at the beginning.

I felt great through those two loops and right after we split off from them we went up Miwok and onto Old Springs. Right here I could stop using my headlamp and lo and behold I had caught up to my buddy Tony. It was really good to see him, we had met at Miwok right around mile 45, a mutual friend had told us to look out for each other and we ended up meeting on the course (ultras are like that). We ran some of the Coastal 50k together and here we are again, running together. He told me he had just run a 5-hour Quad Dipsea seven days before and here he was giving TNF50 a go. What a monster.

We ran into Tennessee Valley together, I left my torch in my drop bag, grabbed some more Vitargo-Tailwind and took off. I neglected to do a “systems check” here and just ran. I also have to admit that I was blinded by all the ultra “stars” here, there were some elites spectating and I didn’t want to fan-boy out or look uncool, so I just kept running.

If I had stopped for just a second and asked myself “what’s going on?” my body would’ve revealed to me that I HAD TO GO POOP AGAIN. Dammit. There were porta-potties and real toilets back there, and I can’t turn around now.

So there’s a trail maybe 3/4ths of a mile out of TV that leads to Hill 88, yeah I pooped there. Well, crouching tiger-style in some weird brambly bushes and you know what? NO TOILET PAPER. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice another Buff to wipe myself a la SD100 so I said a quick prayer to the ass-crack chafing gods and hoped all of the fecal matter had projected out of me and there wasn’t any residue left behind.

I knew Muir Beach was a quick four miles away and if I ran fast I could probably get some wipes or at least some paper towels and Vaseline and be good to go. I had to think about all this the whole time I was running on the best stretch of trail on the whole course, Coastal Trail into Pirate’s Cove. I had to force myself to stay in the moment and just relax and enjoy the views.

I look happy because I just pooped.

I look happy because I just pooped.

So Muir Beach Aid was a super happening place to be; more elites and ultra royalty here- I’m not going to name drop but let’s just say one of the fastest women in the world was here, just hanging out (or possibly crewing?) Anyway, I got my paper towels and Vaseline and jumped into the porta-potty, cleaned myself up and this time did a full systems check. Good to go.

Felt awesome along Highway 1 and onto Redwood Creek and up the Heather Cutoff Trail, which was now a creek bed. Yes, that’s right. The trail was replaced at many portions by running muddy water, and I could no longer hop around puddles and stay dry, I guess I was going all in now. Actually, I guess I should be kind of surprised I made it 20 miles with dry feet.

Felt great through Cardiac Aid and was generally jazzed about everything; my pace, the weather, nutrition, hydration, etc. I was about to hit the part of the race from last year where I started to feel not-so-great. I got a fill up on water, re-stocked my Vitargo-TW mix, grabbed some Gu and did a full systems check while at Cardiac, even sat down for about 30 seconds.

Rolled out of there onto Old Mine, through Pan Toll and onto that top stretch of Matt Davis to Coastal. Just like deja vu in reverse, I started to feel not-so-great. Same spot last year, even though this was about six miles further in. I just felt a little bit flat here so I took a Gu, not wanting the 200+ calories from my V-TW mix and it seemed to help a bit. Looking back at my Garmin file, this was some of my most inconsistent running of the day.

The cascading water coming down off Mt. Tam was beautiful here and I stopped a few times to enjoy it (or so I told myself) but in actuality I was really just feeling kind of spent. I made the decision to run hard to the next aid station (McKennan Gulch) and then re-assess.

The idea of dropping started to creep in here and I had to surround myself with other people to make sure I made the right decision. Once again, (just like last year) the second half of the top ten elite women’s pack was heading towards me; Alicia Shay,YiOu Wang and Kami Semick were three runners I recognized, as well as some guys just outside the top-50 like Joe Uhan and Salomon team manager Greg Vollet.

The constant stopping and jumping off the trail to yield was both annoying and frustrating but part of the course’s rules (see page six of the 50-mile Course Guide) but I figured I was collecting some good trail karma by doing it and that the favors would be returned.

Just before the aid station I saw Coach Sally McRae- we had met on a training run a few weeks before right near Muir Beach, exchanging pleasantries as we passed each other. We both said “hi” and I said something like “you’re so rad” or something like that and powered along the road down into McKennan. I chugged some Mountain Dew and asked everybody how they were doing, kind of lingered a minute really trying to decide if I was done for the day. I drank another Dew (I do the Dew, yo) and then figured if I didn’t improve on the downhill into Stinson, I’d drop there.

Well I gotta say this is where everything turned around for me as far as that shitty mind-state I was in was concerned. I started to feel really great here- I was actually moving well and able to find a good rhythm; to the credit of a good 90% of the runners that were actually yielding the trail here.

Down the treacherous Matt Davis Trail, I’m starting to pass runners now at an alarming clip. I stopped to pee real quick, then bombing down past fallen trees, rivulets and streams that weren’t there two weeks prior, smiling at hikers, just basically killing it and feeling good.

I greet Stinson Beach Aid station with a classic Dr. Nick “Hi everybody!” and chug some more Dew, tell everyone they look awesome, geek out on all the ultra stars there and then bounce. I flew up Dipsea and felt awesome right until it splits off to Steep Ravine. Wait, what? We’re going up Steep Ravine? Since when? I guess I should’ve read that course guide a wee bit closer.

Not that I was disappointed, SR Trail was as epic as I’ve ever seen it- gushing like a broken dam, just straight deluge coming down. Pretty, beautiful, loud, just amazing. I power hiked the ups and ran the flat(-ish) sections as best I could. I took some more V-TW mix and kept at it.

Uh oh. Not feeling too good again here. Feel like I got the wind sucked out of my legs on Old Mine going back into Cardiac Aid, I was just feeling so good at Stinson. Oh well, such is the ultramarathon. Highs and lows and high and lows. Took the chance at Cardiac to sit down and chill for a minute, really lube up and see what was going on.

I think (and I hope I’m wrong) it was the Tailwind. Having only trained with it briefly before this race I can’t help but think that’s what was wrecking my tummy- I’ve been doing Vitargo for a year now, Gu are like oxygen during races (as is the DEW, oh you sweet nectar of the gods) so maybe it was the Tailwind?

Hate to throw them under the bus here but it felt like 5-10 minutes after every feeding of the V-TW mix my tummy just went south, like I had to take a dump and then my legs felt sluggish. Maybe Tailwind and Vitargo are not to be mixed? I’ve got to figure that out.

So I took 2 Gu Roctane Electro caps, washed it down with some more Dew and took off. I knew it was all downhill to Muir Beach Aid and hopefully I could restore myself by letting gravity do all the work.

The next mile or so was kind of rough but soon as I hit the switchbacks down Heather Cutoff I felt better. I’ve run a bunch of different races out here and always have said “I hate going DOWN Heather Cutoff” but this time it was more than welcome. The muddy splashing mixed with dodging the 50k runners coming up (and almost all were yielding like champs so I must say THANK YOU 50K RUNNERS!!!) even though uphill traffic usually gets the right of way, I guess they were instructed to let us have the right of way down? Either way, I’d love to buy y’all a pizza.

So flew across that grassy field and across Muir Woods Road onto Redwood Creek, I was moving at a decent clip now and as I spit out onto Route 1 for that little stretch of road into MB Aid I see Hal Koerner and his baby daughter, just chilling and smiling.

“Dude, you’re Hal Koerner. You’re kinda the man.”

“No way- you’re kinda the man” says Hal. That was a cool moment. Good times.

Oh yeah, back to the race and around this time I noticed how bad my legs were hurting. Concrete has a subtle and shitty way of reminding you that you’ve been running for seven-plus hours, so thanks for that.

I am faking it right here.

I am faking it right here.

MB Aid- got a refill on water, chugged 2 cups of the Dew and took off. Ran really well up Coyote Ridge- catching up to Tony (who was really feeling the Quad Dipsea now, he told me to “run ALL of Marincello!”), so I alternated power hiking and shuffling but felt spent on the slight downhill over to Miwok and into Tennessee Valley.

Slammed a salted caramel Gu, took another cup of Dew and put the headphones back on and decided that this was it.

Gut check time.

How much grit did I have? How bad was I willing to hurt in order to be proud of my finish and ultimately my 2014 season?

So many highs and lows today.

So many highs and lows this year.

I was going to have to go deeper into the pain cave, maybe deeper than I’ve ever gone; just let it all in, completely and totally. Just have to accept that it might get a lot worse. This is where music plays an important role- it’s like a natural painkiller.

Luckily, my iPod cooperated with me and I got Girl Talk’s “Oh No” first (a mashup containing Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” and Ludacris’ “Move Bitch”) so that got me beyond hype. Then Crystal Method’s “Busy Child”, another jam that causes me to jump out of my skin.

I forget what else I listened to (I vaguely recall there was some Metallica, Bloc Party and Wilson Pickett in there) until I got to Alta aid station, the last aid and right at the top of Rodeo Valley Trail, the last descent. You can see the finish line from here, it’s less than three miles away.

So on comes The National’s “Mr. November”. I slammed 2 cups of Dew and took off, running between low-6 and low-7 pace down to the flat.

I also started to cry a little, as I am wont to do in the late stages of an ultra. I think all the pain, the relief, the journey, the accomplishment, the discomfort, everything sort of coalesces and there’s not a whole lot you can do to stop it. So I had a nice little cry to this National song while running 6:30s down RVT.

I pulled my hat down low so no one could see the grown man with tears running down his cheeks.

Of course I get over that moment and my ego kicks back in on that last pavement section as a few 50k and marathon runners pass me, and I’m all, “OH, HELLLLL NOOOOOOO” so I decide on a sprint finish because I am the only person allowed to wreck my sweet photo op.

I had to out-kick that nice couple behind me that were running the marathon together. I know, I'm a jerk.

I had to out-kick that nice couple behind me that were running the marathon together. I know, I’m a jerk.

That split from TV to the finish was by far the best part of the race for me, running the last 5.62 miles in 53:29.

Garmin Stats here.

Every race has become a new learning experience for me or another chance to grow; I spent a whole day trying to figure out what was wrong with me and what was right with me, etc.

The thing I learned last Saturday: it’s all part of the process and there’s not really any point in trying to figure it out because it takes away from the actual experience. In those few fleeting moments where I was in a state of flow, deep in it; whether it be pain, joy, discomfort, whatever; I was lost in the moment.

And that’s really what it’s all supposed to be about- getting lost in the moment, letting it wash over you…

…and ultimately allowing it to change you.

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Gratitude, All Year Long (and Into Next Year…)

I’m so very grateful for this past year and all the amazing running adventures I’ve been lucky to take part in;

-chasing a new 50k PR at Chabot (and just missing it by less than 3 minutes!)

- getting redemption at the Lake Sonoma 50 (and being “pushed” across the finish line by my buddy Kevin)

- having a blast at the Miwok 100k (that race is a party, what a fun time)

- finishing my first hundred miler down at the San Diego 100 in Lake Cuyamaca (getting the chance to share that with my awesome crew/pacers)

- getting to run my third Skyline 50k (and learning another lesson in the process)

- having such a good time racing for five hours (just missed it!) at the Coastal 50k and sharing in the awesome post-race vibe at Rodeo Beach with wonderful “ultra” folks

- all the epic Thursday night runs with Jimmy, Carl and Lucas, et. al.

- finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention running up and down Mt. Whitney and a super fun run up Shepherd’s Pass Trail in the majestic eastern Sierras

As I’ve turned my focus to one last 50-miler for 2014 (The North Face, one week from today), I’m reminded how much joy running has brought me and how far I’ve come because of running.

Running has brought me a little more calm, a little more discipline and little more stick-to-it-iveness than I had before I started this journey.

Getting up early; keeping an obsessive journal of miles, time, pace and elevation gain; sticking to a training plan day-in and day-out; making it out for group runs; making new friends on the trails; all that stuff that helps make me a better version of myself than the me I was four years ago.

There’s also the idea that in order to truly grow in this sport you have to accept and take on new challenges, just like in life- adapt or stay stagnant; the battle between growth vs. fixed-mind set.

I’ve written before that (I’m paraphrasing here) “I hope I never run a road race like a marathon or Badwater, blah blah blah; I want to be all about the trails yadda yadda yadda…” but looking back on that juvenile stance I can see that it’s really just my fear talking.

I’m actually scared to run a road marathon.

26.2 miles at the top end of your speed? That’s some truly terrifying shit. I hid behind the “I’d rather see mud and rocks and trees and talk to folks and laugh at aid stations” line but in actuality I’m so frightened to go out and give it everything I got for three hours.

I’ve run a lot of ultras and plan on running more, they’re not going anywhere, and judging from the growing popularity of the sport I’d say there will be more to choose from in the coming years.

I’ve got four tickets in the Western States lottery this year, if I get in that’s awesome; if not- I’ll have 5 tickets for next year.

That race isn’t going anywhere.

I can still run another 100 next year. I’ll definitely run a few 50 milers, hopefully a few 100ks, maybe a 50k or two, I’m not going to lose the “ultrarunner” tag because I ran a few road races. If anything, I’m hoping to become a more well-rounded runner.

But a road marathon? Yes, I’m going to try to run a road marathon. For this upcoming March I signed up for the LA Marathon. I think of all my favorite ultrarunners, the guys and gals I look up to in this sport; the Max Kings, Ian Sharmans, Pam Smiths and Mike Wardians; guys like Brett and Jorge from SFRC; people that just love to run, any distance, any surface, anywhere, any time.

I’d love to look at myself as a runner rather than “just” a long trail runner.

But here’s the kicker; I’m not running this race just for me. I’m running it for a charity called Back On My Feet. I thought if I was going to do something so far outside of my comfort zone, I might as well do it in epic fashion.

Meaning; bringing along as many people as I can- rather; doing this for as many people as I possibly can.

Here’s the donation link: Jimmy Mac’s Fundraising Page

I know, it’s the holiday season and we’re all strapped for cash, but a $3, $5 or a $20 donation helps me get closer and closer to my goal.

I’m grateful for the chance to do this and grateful for the ability to do it. I’m grateful for all the joy and camaraderie running has brought into my life; as well as the fear and vulnerability that shows up, the uncomfortable voice that nudges me towards “change”.

And in turn I hope that change can help others, just a little bit.

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Running Mt. Whitney

This past August I ran up Mt. Whitney. It was a lot of fun- here’s the video I made.

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Shepherd’s Pass Trail, August 19th, 2014

A few months ago I did this run from Independence, CA up to Shepherd’s Pass along the Shepherd’s Pass Trail.

It was super gnarly. The only thing harder than the run was editing and uploading the video.

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Coastal 50k Race Report

The Coastal 50k is the crown jewel of all of the Coastal Trail Run races; it’s a point-to-point from Stinson Beach to Rodeo Beach that hits all the Marin Headland highlights. It’s pretty much a “have-to” in my book from now on; even if I’m beat up next year from whatever 100-miler I’m going to do (or if I plan to do one after) I feel like I have to run this race.

Let’s get started on the report:

…so this is about the closest I’ve come to feeling like I nailed a race since last year at Dick Collins; even though I did have a rough patch (again, right at miles 22-to-25; seems to happen almost every 50k for me these days) I was able to finish very strong and (almost) hit all my goals. I had very little problem solving to do, I just wanted to put my head down and get to work.

I ran with a hydration pack which was a first in a 50k; I’m usually good with a single hand-held (and throwing another in a drop bag to pick up later in case I was getting dehydrated) but since there were no drop bags in this race, I figured I’d give the Camelbak bladder a go.

I always lose a good 5 minutes in aid stations, I’m way too chatty. I figured I’d stop at every other one and get a fill-up. This way, I could run through and say “thanks for being out here, you guys are awesome” and not lose a second. Genius!

So here’s a breakdown of my goals and how the race went within the context of all that:

Goal #1: run under 5 hours

Missed this one by 5:56; and I can only think it was that aforementioned “rough patch” between miles 22-25, right after the first Rodeo Valley aid station. I felt really good coming out of there and soon as I hit the incline my legs just couldn’t generate any power. I was doing the math on how much Vitargo and Gu I had eaten during the previous hour and thought I was okay, so I ate another Gu. After a few minutes I felt a little queasy, tried mixing some running in here and there, then about halfway up got passed by a guy I had passed back at mile 12 (I think I scared the shit out of him when I passed, too- he might have been a little bit pissed).

I figured “great, here they come” which is what happened at Skyline a month ago; one runner passes you, then it’s like a torrent of demoralization in the form of faster runners and people that didn’t go out at a silly, unsustainable pace. I watched him just bang away at the incline, disappearing into the fog towards the top of the climb.

So I took a ginger chew right there, just kind of sucked on it for about 5 minutes as I continued to work at the climb; I minute of shuffling, a minute of power-hiking. I spit it out, took another Gu and said to myself, “if I’m going to puke in a race, let it be now”. I got to the top of the climb and was able to run, it was that really cool stretch of single track on the SCA Trail, totally enveloped in fog.

I was able to bomb down the switchbacks pretty well, and started to see some of the lead runners. Of course I get passed again right at the road crossing, and a minute or so later I saw my buddy Tony coming up those same switchbacks. We high-fived, I told him he looked really strong and that gave me a temporary mental boost as I hit the paved section that winds down under the Golden Gate Bridge and few into the Fort Baker aid station.

Took a couple shots of Coke, got some Vaseline (I had some chafing under my arms from rubbing against my Ultimate Direction pack- it’s always that same damn spot!) and then flew back up that paved road, passing back that guy that had got me up the Rodeo Valley Trail climb. I knew that I had to work really hard now because this was it as far as climbs go; this is the last one, and it’s all downhill from the top.

I should also mention that I was counting runners on the way down, and I came up with 8 runners ahead of me (I never saw eventual winner and CR holder Jorge Maravilla, he was moving!) With only eight guys ahead of me, that brings me to mention my next goal:

Goal #2: run in the top 10 all day.

The best position I held was between Cardiac and Muir Beach, I had pushed up to 6th. I went out really hard on the Dipsea- I tried to keep Jorge and the other leaders within view at least until we hit Steep Ravine. I passed 2-3 runners up that and hit Pantoll at 37:26, feeling really good. My favorite stretch of trail in the entire race would be right here on Alpine to TCC, and I hit Cardiac at exactly an hour. Okay, I thought. Today could be a good day.

I passed that guy on Coast View Trail right before the switchbacks down Heather Cutoff, just flew down them. I heard a “yeah Jimmy!” from a few switchbacks above and saw Tony with the biggest smile on his face, he was feeling good and moving fast. I ran with him from the road crossing (where Heather Cutoff intersects Redwood Creek) and we ran to MB together.

He took off out of Muir Beach so I trailed him for a while until he was out of sight and pretty much ran alone for the next 10 miles. Felt good through Tennessee Valley, which presented me with my next challenge for the day.

Goal #3: run all of Marincello.

It came earlier than in a few other races (I think it comes at mile 44 at TNF & maybe mile 39 at Miwok) so I knew I’d have some pop in my legs, but I wanted to go up the Marincello climb very aggressively. Since this wasn’t a target race for the second half of the season but something I did taper for, it falls into the “B” race category which means “try out some stuff”.

I always take it way too easy up Marincello, like I’m looking forward to it so I can walk/power-hike/shuffle the 1.4 mile climb. If you’re not familiar with the Marincello climb, it’s a long but mellow hill south out of Tennessee Valley; I think they were calling it the “$10,000 Climb” because that’s where last year’s TNFEC Championship race was going to be won (and it was, with Rob Krar finding another gear to break away from Chris Vargo right here).

Anyway, I was able to complete the 1.4 mile climb in a little more than 18 minutes, which for me is pretty solid. If I can take anything away from the race it’s that I felt good powering up Marincello.

So that’s about it for goals; I wanted to go really hard in some places to see what I needed to do to get ready for TNF in December; I think along with some recent speed sessions a huge key for me is doing some harder stuff on Sunday’s runs- basically going just a tad harder on tired legs.

I see some folks on the Strava doing some progression-type runs on Sundays; I think I’m going to give that a shot. Along with my new training plan (been using Hal Koerner’s guide from his new book, make sure you check that out) which adds speed stuff on Thursday, I’m going to mix in a few progression runs- if you’re not familiar with these types of workouts, basically you’re splitting your run into two or three parts; the first half (or third) is done relatively easy, then you “progress” to a faster pace, increasing intensity and effort; ending at either marathon, 10k or 5k pace (sounds ouchy).

I’m going to do these by feel, as if I’m not too beat up after a hard Thursday plus Saturday long run. We’ll see…

Here’s the official results and a cute little pic of me turning off my watch at the finish line (dude?):

9th place overall

5th pace men’s 30-39

5:05:56 (9:48 per mile)

Garmin elevation: 6,192 feet (official elev. listed as 5,810 feet)

coastal14

Hey, thanks for reading!

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2014 Skyline 50k Race Report

What a doozy of a race. I mean that about my race performance and not the actual Skyline 50k itself; I love this race. It feels like home. So I’ll keep this race report short and sweet (and to the point).

Sometimes I feel kind of crappy when I use a race that so many people trained so hard for as a training run. Especially the Skyline 50k; it’s a really great race with a great vibe, amazing volunteers and a tireless RD that tries to ensure every runner has a top-notch time. Plus, the course is one of the best the East Bay has to offer; it traverses the ridge that rises up from around Lake Chabot in Castro Valley and goes into Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, then turns around at Skyline Gate and runs back.

It’s a lot of people’s “A” race, and a heck of a lot of folks’ first ultra experience, there also seems to also be a cross-country type showdown between a few local running clubs, and here I am just out for a long run to:

  • test the legs
  • figure out hydration/nutrition strategies
  • see what kind of training I need to focus on for the second half of the year

That all being said, going into last week my whole idea was to treat this as a “C” race. Then, after a great run on Saturday (July 26th) I decided to get my taper on and treat this race as a “B”, which means less of a training run and now I’m going after an actual goal.

Damn my ego!

This was a huge mistake; seeing as I had only 4 weeks of solid training in and my longest run in that block being a 22.5 miler with an 8.7 follow up the next day, I was probably going to suffer a bit.

So of course I go ahead with a pace chart; planning on hitting the turnaround at Skyline Gate (14.4 miles in) at 2:00 and coming home in another 2:30-2:40. I wanted a new 50k PR (4:41:43 at Dirty German 50k in ’13) so that was the plan.

I hit the turnaround at 2:06, and figured if I continued to feel this good I’d be right up against running a 4:40 finishing time. My average pace was 8:45 right here and some quick math told me I’d have to run just under 9-minute pace for the last 17 and change.

photo courtesy of Joe McCladdie

photo courtesy of Joe McCladdie

So I was feeling awesome until mile 24, then I started cramping. I felt awful for the next 4 miles, going back and forth from low energy to full-on calf seizures. I took all my remaining Vitargo plus a Gu and just tried to get through the section from the Stone Bridge to Honker Bay aid station, along Cascade and Columbine trails. Ugh.

I yo-yo’d between a 10:15 and 14:00 pace for these miles, just trying to fully embrace the suck. I was in a low point; probably a combination of dehydration, cramping, being low on calories, being slightly undertrained, being overly optimistic, letting my ego run the show, racing that guy in the damn Five Fingers back at mile 12 (he ended up finishing 8 minutes ahead of me), and finally- the biggest lesson: not respecting the distance.

Like I said, my ego is a terrible thing- 31 miles is a hell of a long way no matter what anyone says. I come into this race thinking, “I just ran 100 miles in the high desert of Southern California, I can do a backyard 50k no fucking problem.”

That’s a shitty attitude to go out and run with.

Thankfully the aid station volunteers at Honker Bay were so funny and nice, they let me bitch and moan about how awful I felt, told me lies such as “you look good” and “you’re running strong” and all that stuff we say to each other as encouragement. Well, it really helped. So did the Salted Watermelon Gu, the 2 cups of Mountain Dew and the two salty chunks of boiled potato.

As bad as I felt, I was able to finish somewhat strong. The funny thing is, I was a whole 6 minutes slower than last year but I improved one place in the standings (up to 39th overall). Weird.

photo courtesy of Noe Castanon

photo courtesy of Noe Castanon

But it doesn’t matter; the thing I learned is that no matter what, even if it’s a 5k or a 10-miler with friends, you gotta respect that distance.

After the race I was able to meet and chat with some great local runners; I met the esteemed Jean Pommier (his race report here) and fresh off his amazing run at Hardrock, I got to ask Big Johnny Burton a lot of questions about what kind of training he did to prepare for HR100 (his report here). What a solid dude. John’s wife, Amy, also recounted her recent Tahoe Rim Trail 100 race, and that was cool to hear. I even got to see my buddy Jesse cross the finish line of his first ultra.

So, all in all- not a great race for me but it was a great race in general, as always. Heck, this is my third finish and I hope to back for many more. Because it should be more about building community and having fun than chasing some dumb time goal.

I mean, look at it this way: it’s taken me 11 days to write 900 words about a race, what’s the rush anyway?

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Second Half of 2014 (and Beyond) Running Schedule

That title seems a bit more onerous than I had originally intended. Maybe in parentheses it should say “subject to change” but such a small audience actually reads this blog that I hope you few that do will keep me somewhat accountable.

So here goes:

Races

Skyline 50K – August 3rd

After Dick Collins Firetrails 50-miler, this is my favorite race in the Bay Area. I believe it’s the oldest continually running 50k in America, Sarah Lavender Smith wrote a great piece about it for TrailRunner magazine (find it here). The aid station volunteers are wonderful, the vibe is super old school, and the roast pig at the post-race BBQ is freaking outstanding (cracklins for days). RD Adam Ray does an amazing job at keeping it low-key but still is able to attract a few local fast runners. Great race for rookies looking to dip their toes into their first ultra!

Coastal 50K – September 20th

Point-to-point 50 kilometer race from Stinson Beach to the Golden Gate Bridge before heading back down to Rodeo Beach? Yes, I think I’ll run this again. I used this race as a training run for the Dick last year, but since I’m not running DCFT this year (got a friend’s wedding that same day) I’m just going to race it, full-on, taper and everything. It’s a great race on great trails, going up the Dipsea and Steep Ravine, hooking around Pantoll back to Cardiac then down into Muir Beach. Then up Pirate’s Cove to Coyote Ridge and Miwok down to Tennessee Valley. Then the long mellow climb out of TV on Marincello to Bobcat, up the Rodeo Valley trail to SCA then dropping under the bridge. Taking Coastal back up, you then drop back to RV and finish in the parking lot at the beach. 31 miles of Marin trails with about 7,400 feet of climb. It’s a great preview to some other marquee races in that area like the Miwok 100K or The North Face 50 Mile Championship, with a subdued atmosphere.

San Joaquin River Trail 50 Mile – November 15th

Found this on UltraSignup.com- it happens to be three weeks out from The North Face 50 so I’m going to take a ride down the the foothills north of Fresno for a little camping and give this race a go, a nice 50 mile training  run as a warmup for a 50 mile race. Seems counter-intuitive, but I’m kind of bummed to be missing out on the Dick so I feel like I have to do one little road trip race last in the year to make up for it.  It looks like a really cool out-and-back race on (mostly) single-track, and that time of year the weather should be pretty crisp. As for the Dick, two of my friends are running it as their first 50-miler so I’ll be at Skyline Gate early in the morning ringing a cowbell and shouting encouragement. Maybe I’ll be slanging pickle juice shots.

The North Face 50 Mile Championship – December 6th

I gotta do this race again. You might be saying, “what, you’re not going to run another 100-miler?” I’m going to wait to run another, throwing all my chips in again for Western States next year, and if no States then I’ll decide on another 100 for sometime around June-July-August-September of next year. But for now I really want to focus on “nailing” a 50-miler. I think I can go somewhere around 8 hours at this race; and I’m going to throw everything I have at training for TNF, then fully recover and rest around the holidays before ramping back up to attack another 100.

About that next 100-miler…

I’m hoping it’s States, but if not I’ll be looking at either doing the San Diego 100 (early June) again or one of the following races: Bighorn (late June; Wyoming), Angeles Crest (early August; southern California), Cascade Crest (late August; Washington), Wasatch Front (early-September; Utah), Pine to Palm (mid-September; central Oregon), Run Rabbit Run (mid-September; Colorado), Mogollon Monster (late-September; Arizona) or The Bear (late September; Utah-Idaho).

You may be saying, “wow, those races are pretty ambitious for a second 100-mile attempt”, and looking ahead that far may be putting the cart way before the horse- but I’m a much better runner when I’m working towards a goal, so putting my name in one of the aforementioned hats gives me something (hard) to work for. I feel like I have an idea what it takes to run 100 miles, so a mountain 100 would be both ambitious and challenging to try next year. Those are all contingent on me not getting in States (and which lotteries I can “win”).

It’s literally an entire year away from right now, so barring catastrophic injury I think those races could be a bit of a reach and they’d really force me to train harder than I’ve ever trained before; I know I have a lot more to learn about training for what comes after mile 70. That being said, let’s see what happens.

I’m also confident that I have another 100 in my legs, and if I stick to my plan of one per calendar year, I’ll have many years of running 100s left. My original idea was to run Rio Del Lago this November, but a 100 really beats you up- I was feeling it for a good 3 weeks after. That kind of recovery takes time, and I don’t think I want to put all my eggs in that basket just yet.

Another thing about those races listed above: they’re all on the Hardrock qualifier list, and looking even further ahead I’d love to be able to throw my name into the 2016 HR Lottery, so there’s another motivating factor.

Apparently I’ve also qualified for The Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) with the points accumulated from Lake Sonoma, Miwok and SD100, so there’s a possibility (albeit a pretty extreme one because that race not only costs a fortune to enter but getting over to France would likely cost another small fortune) I could run that, but I’ll probably also wait on that (put it on the bucket list race)…

….anyway….

…and I’ve got some trips coming up in the near future that either involve running as the sole purpose OR involve me trying to shoe-horn in some running around the real purpose of travel, including (also subject to change):

August 18th-21st

Tahoe Rim Trail. Yep, all 165 miles in 4 days. Putting together an ultralight kit to attempt this. Not an FKT by any stretch, just going out on my vacation week to log a bunch of miles and get around the entire thing. Great altitude training, great views, great adventure. Might bonk hard and call it quits in Tahoe City, might not. “Embrace the great unknown and do epic shit”, I say.

early-September

Mt. Shasta ascent. I keep checking the Shasta Avalanche site as well as both the Avalanche Gulch route and the Clear Creek route on SummitPost.org for new comments (check out the most current webcams on this site, too). The blog over at Shasta Mountain Guides website was just updated less than 2 weeks ago, and they’re saying it’s good to go through Labor Day and beyond. Looks like the snow conditions are at their lowest in years and I’d still need some minimal gear like an ice axe and crampons, but I’m thinking an ascent would be awesome.

early-October

Honeymoon in Kauai. So psyched to get some runs in on The Garden Isle; I hear there’s a few trails here.

October 30th-November 1st

Yosemite. My partner has a conference here, and while she’s stuck in seminars and meetings all day, I’ll be out exploring. Would you believe I’ve never been to Yosemite? Entering my 8th year in California and it feels criminal to have never gone. I’ve been to a bunch of places just north and south of the park, but never in it. Crazy, I know. My friend Steve wants to get me up here earlier, however for a climb/run on Mt. Lyell. He calls it a very runnable 13,000-footer with an easy(-ish) scramble to the summit. Might make two trips there this year.

December 20th-January 4th (2015)

Extended East Coast visit. Looks like we’re doing the whole family thing; my peoples in Philly, Allyson’s sister’s family in Brooklyn and then her parents in western Massachusetts. I’ll bring tights and gloves and get some runs in, if there’s snow I’ll rent snowshoes (not really). Maybe re-create my childhood skiing on the shitty ice hills of eastern Pennsylvania. With my luck there will be no snow, and I’ll be stuck looking through stacks of old baseball cards.

So there it is. Looking into 2015, I’ll probably try to do lake Sonoma 50 again (going to a lottery this year, so maybe not), maybe Miwok again, possibly the Bishop High Sierra 100k and hopefully one of those mountain 100s I mentioned. I’m looking forward to checking out new shoes, new gear, getting up to altitude, etc. So here’s to adventure!

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