The Marin Memorial Day 10k (another very late race report)

I’ve always been a little more than freaked out around the idea of running 6.2 miles really hard; in actuality I’m rather offended at the idea. I mean, ten kilometers all out? What’s the point?

I think the question is the answer for this one, it’s simply ten kilometers, run at around 92 to 94% of your maximum heart rate- think of it as a pop quiz. The actual question isn’t actually “what’s the point?”, it really should be “how fit am I?” and the answer is your 10k time. It’s a great distance to put right after the base (or introductory) phase of a marathon cycle; once you see where you’re at upon starting the fundamental period it hones your focus by acting as both a key workout AND a chance to see how your pacing strategy is working- I figured if I can go somewhere around 6:15 to 6:20 per mile pace for the 10k (right around 39 minutes total) I’d be right at where I should be, so it’s really a test that you don’t necessarily have to be ready for- hence calling it a “pop quiz”.

The week leading up to this pop quiz was a pretty decent week in terms of volume and intensity- 70 miles with two solid workouts; Tuesday was four six-minute repeats at 10k pace (around 6:30/mile) with three minutes of rest between repeats. Thursday was two fifteen-minute repeats at half marathon pace with only one minute of rest between; 6:40/mile pace. I then switched the days of the weekend, so I did my long run Saturday which was 18 miles with 12 30-second pickups at 5k pace. What a week. To say I went into my first 10k race with tired legs would be an understatement.

But I figured, hey- running a solid 10k on already tired legs is really what a successful marathon demands, right?

RACE DAY

I honestly can’t remember what I had for dinner the night before, I think gnocchi with pesto? Either way, 10k isn’t going to even remotely tap into my glycogen stores so I think I had a pretty light dinner followed by a small cup of vanilla gelato.

Morning of; small cup of coffee upon waking, then on the drive up I had about 200 calories of Vitargo S2 about 60 minutes before the start and didn’t bother with Gu or any kind of gels during the race, there’s no way you should need any calories during a 10k, even if you’re running 10 minute pace (that’s 62 minutes total). I remember drinking a decent amount of water beforehand, maybe 15-20 ounces, again- unless it’s blazing hot you’re really only going to need maybe two sips of water the whole race.

Did a quick little shake out-slash-warm up on the track, just back and forth up the straightaway, probably more to get the nerves out than a real warm up. I figured this was gonna hurt, so let’s just get it over with…

I tried to weasel my way up to the front as best I could, met a few other Excelsior runners, stopped to introduce myself. The race starts and I feel light, tried to hold back but ticked off the first mile at 6:04. Earlier that week I thought I’d try to “taper” for the race by not doing my long run at all but I’m in the school of thought that the long run is the single most important run you can do for marathon training and wasn’t about to sabotage Santa Rosa for a 10k that’s really a glorified tempo run. I had it in my head (briefly) that I’d go for sub-37 (5:57 pace) and might have been able to without an 18-miler two days prior, but again; ego is a terrible thing and hopefully I’m mature enough to delay instant gratification for long-term success.

So miles 2 and 3 were pretty uneventful- it’s a long out-and-back with a lollipop loop, pretty much all the elevation gain (a little more than 50 feet) happens between miles 1 and 2, and then you lose again very gradually over the next two miles. Then it’s basically as flat as a pancake the last 5k.

I pretty much settled in to a pace that worked for me, miles 2-4 were 6:14, 6:08 and 6:15. Saw Jorge Maravilla and said hi, probably pretty weakly (my breathing was pretty labored)- he was beaming, holding his little boy while cheering on runners. That dude oozes positivity, so I got a boost hearing him say “go Jimmy Mac!”.

I think mile five was tough for whatever reason, a 6:23 being my slowest mile but still put me ahead of my loose goal of 39 minutes- I think that was that damn bridge crossing, not one but two really narrow 90-degree turns, basically forcing you to dodge around a corner. That shit is hard to do running at full speed, I would’ve much rather taken my chances trying to jump the creek (I would love to be a steeplechaser!) That bridge was a pain in the ass, but the path that runs over that creek starts to widen, as does the creek itself and turns into a canal totally out in the open so it’s basically straight into the wind. I vaguely remember a photographer here.

photo courtesy of Pam Wendell

photo courtesy of Pam Wendell

Anyway, I passed a few more people in the last mile, was hurting a little but not too bad, wanted to save something for the last two-tenths of a mile. There was a turn in off the road back towards the track, I guess it was the entrance to College of Marin’s parking lot and saw Nakia Baird here with his dog, I think he said I looked good, “or maybe I looked “dead”, either way he was right. He might have actually not had a dog with him, maybe I hallucinated that, or maybe I saw him earlier in the race. It seriously happened so fast.

I hit the track and suddenly felt really fresh and springy again- seeing the finish line has that effect on me. I passed maybe 4 or 5 more runners in the 300 meters around the track and crossed the line with a 38:35, I was completely gassed. I immediately went hands-on-knees and felt like I needed to puke, forgot to turn my watch off for about 10 seconds. There were Excelsior guys everywhere, I introduced myself to a few of them- then I went and drank a 20-oz bottle of water and tried not to puke it back up.

I was pretty happy with my first 10k, like I said it went so fast I feel like there were flashes of memories; it’s not like an ultra or even a marathon where it feels like one long movie, complete with full conversations with other humans, this was like “holy shit is this pace sustainable?” and by the time you think you can’t hold it for one second longer it’s over.

So as far as my “pop quiz” score, a 38:35 is a 6:13 pace for the race, which for me, coming off a 70-mile week is pretty good. This puts me on the Jack Daniels’ VDOT scale at between 54 and 55, and going back to February’s Kaiser Half marathon, that performance of 1:29:03 put me between 51 and 52, so there’s been some fitness gains, at least for the shorter distances.

If I can continue to improve my current level of fitness, not get injured, make increases to my specific endurance from doing faster long runs AND put it all together on race day, hopefully a Boston Qualifier is in my future.

I think one of the coolest things about training for a marathon is putting all the things you already know together with all the things you’re still able to learn- call it an experiment of one stimulated by curiosity; I know a few things that work for me through years of trial-and-error, yet I’m still eager to discover the things I don’t know yet.

Strava stats

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The Tilden Tough Ten (Better Late than Never?)

I know I already said in a previous post how running fast kind of hurts, and the faster you try to run the more it hurts, and the shorter the race it’s probably going to end up hurting the whole time. I’ve learned that I’m not the type of guy that can easily go out and run anything near 6:20 pace and be remotely comfortable; I’m way happier running at least a minute per mile slower, and in actuality I really prefer running closer to 8:20 pace, where I can comfortably plug in and bang away at a (flat road) 50k and not be all that beat up after. I guess I’m lucky like that.

So in the build up to the Santa Rosa Marathon I’ve decided to run a lot of shorter races and really try to hone my leg speed- it’s been said that sprinters are born, not made- so I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle trying to get faster, and eventually I’ll hit my ceiling. But it’s still a lot of fun, the “trying” to get faster.

TRAINING TALK

I also decided to get really serious about training and went and got the Brad Hudson and Matt Fitzgerald book “Run Faster from the 5k to the Marathon: How to Be Your Own Best Coach”, Hudson might be best known for coaching Dathan Ritzenhein when he dropped out of Colorado to run pro, he helped coach Ritz to his first (and only) Olympic marathon in ’08. I also like the title because I’m totally un-coachable; mostly because I am poor, and a $10 book appeals to my sensibilities rather than a $150/month coach. I also might not benefit from having a coach because I’m already highly motivated- I am completely in love with the simple, pure act of just running and for right now I don’t need someone to motivate me. I like the idea of coaching, however- part of me wishes I had one when I started out. Maybe one day I’ll hire a coach, if I plateau and nothing I try works or (gasp) wake up one day and the fire has gone out…

But today I’m really attracted to the idea of sticking with a training program and being lucky enough to have the self-discipline to get out there every day (running seven days a week now), doing the scheduled workouts (or the alternative workout since Hudson’s plan is “adaptive” in that I can change the workout or flip-flop days if I’m not feeling 100% fresh), hitting the track (I really love going to the track now, never thought that would happen) and really cherish the long run (I’ve always loved going long but now I feel like it has a point to it). I’ve seen some promising results and feel like I’m only barely scratching the surface of becoming a solid runner. Plus, there’s the collateral effect of becoming a better human in all of the aforementioned process.

If you’re wondering what it means to have an “adaptive” approach to training, it’s basically the same as all the other training programs except it’s not as cookie-cutter as the free online ones. It follows two basic rules, and both are really the same rule- having an understanding how the human body adapts to different types of training and to train accordingly AND then understanding how your body adapts to various types of training and to train accordingly. The main components to every marathon training program are: you build endurance by doing a weekly long run and the rest of your runs should be a mix of faster running and slower recovery runs; they all work in conjunction with each other reflexively- the long run improves your endurance, the shorter, faster stuff improves your speed, which you can then use to run your long runs faster, building up to race day when it all comes together.

Since I want to run a “fast” marathon, it would make more sense for me to run my long runs at a faster pace- it makes absolutely no sense to go run an “easy” 18 miles, especially if I’m trying to target a 6:52 pace for a 26.2, I should be running at a pace much closer to what I’m trying to race at. Long, slow slogs are kind of fun and will definitely help you finish, but I want to race.

I made the mistake of using a Hal Higdon training plan for my first attempt at running a fast road marathon, and looking back with a skeptical eye I can see that a lot of the workouts were pointless for me- it was also very “one size fits all” and I definitely needed something that was heavier on both the speed and specific endurance, and after the fact- comparing the Higdon plan to the Hudson plan, Hal’s plan felt very “general”.

Yasso 800’s are a cool thing to talk about, but doing (only) 8 or 10 repeats of 800 meters isn’t going to increase your marathon specific endurance because it’s a VO2max workout- and an increase in VO2max does not improve fuel efficiency (VO2max runs improve aerobic capacity, but all the aerobic capacity in the world isn’t going to stop you from hitting the wall). Yes, VO2max is one important determinant of endurance during prolonged, sub-maximal exercise- but it’s not the only one; hence my mention of fuel efficiency. To put it bluntly, in the book Jack Daniels’ Running Formula, Daniels only prescribes one session of 800-meter repeats, and it’s only five repeats with 2-minute rests between each. This workout is given five days before the goal marathon and is only included in the 40 miles per week Novice plan.

If Jack doesn’t like them, they can’t be that good for you- he does however agree with Hal on the idea of taking in a lot of carbs (in general) in order to teach the body to conserve stored muscle glycogen and running long runs without taking in too much carbs, forcing you to rely a little bit more on fat metabolism. After listening to a recent Jay Johnson podcast with his guest Nate Jenkins (a 2:14 marathoner), who talks at length on doing depleted long runs- starting your run in a semi-fasted state to trigger the burning of fat to extend your body’s fuel efficiency. So, for the marathon it would appear that you’re better off doing a long run at closer to marathon pace with nothing in your stomach; it resembles the marathon way more than short, fast bursts of speed.

Going to the track on fresh legs and hammering 800 meter repeats at a pace you’ll never come close to during your goal race is counter-intuitive. It’s a great workout for improving overall fitness and running at VO2max pace will make running at marathon pace feel easier, but why waste a perfectly good chance at trying a run that more closely mimics what you might encounter during a marathon? Let’s try a run that has you start at three miles at an easy pace then doing 6 x 1 mile repeats at five seconds off of 10k race pace with three minutes of active recovery jogs between? I’m in the school of thought that says running pretty hard on tired legs is a much better prep than running really hard on fresh legs and having an adequate recovery between repeats. For comparison, I can do 800 repeats in about 2:45, which is a 5:30/mile pace, which is one minute and 22 seconds faster than my intended goal marathon pace.

This leads me to the next set of ideas of Hudson’s training program: the four principles of adaptive running. Principle #1 states that “the goal of training is to stimulate the precise set of physiological adaptations that are needed to achieve maximum performance in a peak race” with the idea that your goal during each training period is to raise and sustain your fastest pace for your chosen distance. Let’s use my Kaiser Half Marathon race as an example; I wanted to run sub-1:30, which is 6:52 per mile (1:29:59). It’s convenient because I also wanted to run that same pace for the LA Marathon, so I trained according to that pace (running a 1:29:03) using Jack Daniels’ Running Formula.

Daniels has a handy chart that gives you your velocity at VO2max or VDOT “number” and then all the paces you should be training at; for this example I’m at 52, and that says my “easy” and “long run” pace per mile should be between 7:42-8:41 and “tempo” pace is at 6:38 per. He says that a peaking and rested runner should be able to run at or close to that tempo pace for a 10k or even half marathon (21 km).

Principle #2 of the Hudson program: your training must be adapted to your individual strengths, weaknesses, needs and goals. So in my case, having spent the last four “seasons” training for and running 22 ultras, my body is used to higher mileage. My body is not used to running 2-3 “workouts” a week, however; I maybe did one every two weeks, but really I was just out meandering around town or through the woods to a bunch of podcasts for two to six hours most of the time and that the idea of “speed” was more or less a foreign concept.

Considering any and all factors like recent training (see above), age (I’m going to be 40 in a year and a half), my overall running experience (coming up on both 5 years and 10,000 miles), goals (short term: would love to BQ vs. long term: run many mountainous 100-milers), strengths (I like high mileage), weaknesses (I’m not very fast) and then the final factor; me and my wife are expecting a baby in about four months. So let’s add all that up and come up with: I’m targeting a fast road marathon before the baby comes, must add some fast-twitch muscle fibers to get me in around 3:00 because a BQ is 3:10 which is really 3:09:59 which is really like 3:05 just to be safe. I have pretty decent general endurance to go out and slog a 50-miler in around nine hours but need to add more specific endurance which is defined as my ability to resist fatigue at race pace (race-specific fitness requires race pace training). Which brings me to what I like to call “The Summer of Speed”.

Principles #3 and #4 are really the same concept; my training schedule must be adapted daily based on my response to recent training and any other factor that may affect my readiness for planned training AND I must adapt my training seasonally (mesocycle) and yearly (macrocycle), in response to the effects of the most recently completed training cycle to stimulate positive adaptations. So what is working for me now might not necessarily work next year or five years down the road. I’ve also tweaked my diet ever so slightly to include just a bit more carbohydrates; I’ve added a little bit more fruit and whole grains, still hitting the fat big time but probably closer to a 50-30-20 fats-carbs-protein ratio.

All those core principles equal a training program that has…
– Consistent, moderately high running volume
– Nonlinear periodization
– Progression from general training to specific training
– Three-period training cycles
– Lots of hill running
– Extreme intensity and workload modulation
– Multi-pace workouts
– Non-weekly workout cycles
– Multiple threshold paces
– Constant variation
– One rest day per week
– Selective cross-training

Here’s a sample week from the Marathon Level 3 plan (the one I’m using):

Week 15

Monday – Easy: 6 miles + 10 x 10 sec hill sprints

Tuesday – Moderate pace: 10 miles

Wednesday – Specific Endurance Intervals: 3 miles easy, 6 x 1 mile @ 10k pace (+ 5 sec/mi) with 3 mins active recoveries, 3 miles easy

Thursday – Easy: 10 miles

Friday – Easy: 14 miles

Saturday – Easy: 10 miles

Sunday – Half Marathon Race OR Time Trial

So I’m signed up for four races this summer with distances between 10-and-30k- in addition to really wanting to run Western States I also really want to run Boston. To earn a spot at the world’s most storied marathon would be pretty huge, because for me the actual BQ is the prize, not so much the race itself.

THE TILDEN TOUGH TEN

This brings us to the first race in this here report, the 28th annual Tilden Tough Ten, a ten mile “trail” race put on by local Oakland running club the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders (LMJS). This race was started as the alternative to the Bay to Breakers over in San Francisco, which is a gigantic 7.5-mile race where only the front runners are looking to go hard, and they’re chased by 10,000 folks trying to party, and they’re looking to drink hard. After the LA Marathon I’m kind of turned off on the big city racing experience- yes, I realize Boston is a huge race, as is New York and those are two huge races I’d love to do someday, but those races are known for their great performances from legends like Grete Waitz, Bill Rodgers, Clarence DeMar, Alberto Salazar and Meb Keflezighi rather than the race that features the “naked guy from El Cerrito” and Marina frat bros looking to hook up.

The TTT bills itself as a low-key, old-school, down-home affair and is considered a great way to dip your toes into the world of trail running. It starts at Inspiration Point, a scenic overlook nestled in a notch above the San Pablo Reservoir, with views looking east for miles and miles.

My goal for the race was go sub-65 (or one hour and five minutes for the uninitiated), which is a solid 6:30 pace. I played around with my Hudson schedule, on the Sunday in question it called for an 18-mile fartlek run with 12 repeats of 30 second pickups (or intervals, or bursts, whatever) with a cool down between each repeat that you want, as long as you feel fully refreshed before starting the next one. I flip-flopped Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday’s runs with the next week’s (I was at week 6 of the training cycle) which called for either a 10-or-15k race, which was close enough (10 miles = 16.1 km). The runs were all pretty similar so I felt confident that it wouldn’t affect my long-term goals- except that I went ahead and signed up for the Marin 10k which fell on a Monday, forcing me to switch my long run to the next Saturday, with a short recovery jog on Sunday so I can race on mildly tapered legs (although a 70-mile week isn’t much of a taper, eh?)

Back to the TTT- I felt anxious as usual going into the race and what better way to get your mind off of yourself than hosting a pre-race pasta feed for your buds you’re racing with the next day? So Saturday’s prep kept my mind off of the pain I’d feel Sunday, and a decent night’s sleep got me feeling really fresh for it. I did an easy 15-minute warm up (really just wanted to pee and not wait in that line) and lined up right towards the front of the pack, eagerly awaiting the starter’s pistol (was just a hearty “go” from the RD). I was pretty confident that I could go out around 6:15 pace and try to hold on to that for at least the first 5 miles, maybe be somewhere in the top 10 and really allow myself to race in the last five miles. I was giving myself complete permission to go really deep in the pain cave, because every race this summer is more or less an “A” race; they’re all short enough to where they’re not going to beat me up like an ultra or a road marathon but test my fitness enough to where I could hurt in a more acute way. Running really hard for anywhere from 6 to 20 miles hurts, but it’s like getting a shot from the doctor- as soon as you realize what’s happening it’s basically over.

So I tried to hang with my speedy friend Lucas and that worked for about the first maybe half mile, he was moving really well and dropped me on a short little climb. The leaders were all still in sight, strung out a few yards from each other as I could see everyone before me, I was sitting somewhere outside the top 10, not really sure of my placing. I hit the first mile in 6:17 and felt pretty good, wasn’t breathing too hard yet, felt like my stride and cadence were really nice and steady, everything felt great.

Everything continued to feel great until the turnaround- I really hammered the down as I was counting runners coming back towards me; I hit the five-mile turn in 15th place and was looking to do some hunting in the second half- that climb out put me all the way to max heart rate and I knew if I could hit mile six at or around 38 minutes I’d be in really good shape to hit my goal, I came through mile six at around 40 minutes though and was only able to catch two more runners and went pretty deep into the pain cave for the last two miles. I tried to get them to go with me but they looked to be in pretty bad shape- I wondered if a more conservative start would’ve done me well in the back half but felt confident that 10 miles was just short enough that I could go out super hard and maintain it- not like a half marathon where I feel like I need some semblance of reserve in the first eight miles or so to really hammer it in. I kept repeating the mantra “breathe, focus on your form, land on your mid-foot” that my buddy Carl kept saying when he paced me to my first 50-mile finish.

I missed my goal by a scant 2:45 and felt pretty good about the race- I like that it was short enough to not have to really taper but just long enough to be a really solid tempo run while still forcing me to respect the distance. The after party was really chill, I brought my cowbell and hung out at the finish line hollering people in.

Strava stats

Next up… The Marin Memorial Day 10k & Lake Chabot Trail Challenge

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The 2015 Miwok 100k Race Report

This past Saturday at 5 am I lined up in front of the Stinson Beach Communtiy Center with 494 other brave souls for the 20th running of the Miwok 100k. I was full of anxiety, based on the fact that I had not just one night of bad sleep but the two previous nights of tossing and turning. The course was so in my head, the elevation profile was gnawing away at my insides. I had done almost no hill training, very little trail running- I had logged a lot of miles but it was almost all flat, and fast.

I spent the first ten weeks of the year training for a BQ at the LA Marathon (missed it by ~12 minutes), then took four days off, then five weeks of super-condensed ultra training. Only two long runs of 25+ miles, a few 18-milers and four days of speed work supplemented with junk miles. My longest run in duration was 4:24, two weeks earlier at Ruth Anderson.

Ugh, Miwok is gonna hurt this year. Especially since my plan is to race it, and hard.

Last year I used it as my last long run before SD100 so I ran it pretty relaxed. Last year I had all the endurance training in the world, a great race at Lake Sonoma, a few Mt. Tam summits and some Diablos thrown in for good measure, last year I was ready.

But this is 2015, and there’s a lot of different things at play- good things, great things. Last year was a distant memory, and I’m a completely different runner now. I traded those amazing five and six hour slog fests in and around the East Bay Regional parks for fast tempo runs around Lake Merritt. I’m still way behind on so many podcasts.

So every time I run a race in the Marin Headlands, I think, “here’s what I want to do today…” and come up with some kind of plan, like running somewhere around 11:30 to 12 hours for this race.

The Headlands always has a different plan for me.

The Headlands demand your respect, and they will get your full attention right around the time you think everything is going alright.

It’s like, “you feeling good? Yep, that will change” or “feeling bad? Yeah, that will change, too…”

Such is the nature of the ultramarathon. The longer the distance, the more highs and lows. The ebb and the flow, the yin and the yang.

I have to also give mad props (or “hella” props, I still don’t feel quite right using that word since I’m from the East Coast) to the Excelsior Running Club- this is my first race in their singlet, and I’m super honored to be a part of such a fine crew. You guys were awesome out there.

So the race starts and all that anxiety just melts away, it always does. Easy pace, easy heart rate; I felt floaty going up the Dipsea, up over the Moors, up into the fog. We’re greeted at Cardiac by bagpipes. I wish I was more poetic; I feel like I’d have something apocalyptic to say about 5:30 am and bagpipes and fog and running 59 more miles today. I just laughed and thought, “that’s new”.

Down Deer Park as the sun is rising, these early miles felt effortless- I switched off my headlamp as I greeted the volunteers at the Muir Woods Road crossing. “You guys are awesome!” I would repeat that phrase at least another 100 times. And yes, I meant it every time.

Along the overgrown Redwood Creek trail past the huge Miwok redwood (for some reason I always wave at this tree because I appreciate its presence here), down to the road and into Muir Beach. I made sure to give the pirate directing us into the turn here a huge high five, because pirates are so dope.

In and out of Muir Beach aid, then back out to the Zen farm- here was Tehani pointing runners to that switchbacky climb up Middle Green Gulch, it’s always good to see someone that knows your name, I always get a boost hearing a good “go Jim!”

Then up and over to Miwok cutoff and down into Tennessee Valley. Quick pit stop in the porta-potty, hit my drop bag and up Marincello.

It’s nice to run up Marincello on fresh legs- right before the top I caught up to Paul, another Excelsior runner- we’d share most of the next 15 or so miles together. It was good chatting away, talking about races we’ve done, DNFs, aid station readiness, all that. We pulled into Bridge View together and out came my first gift for the aid stations: hand made greeting cards.

card presented to Ana Braga-Levaggi at Bridge View aid station. It got a slight bit of water damage on the way.

Card presented to Ana Braga-Levaggi, aid station captain at Bridge View. It got a tiny bit of water damage on the way.

Yep, I made greeting cards the previous week with my preschoolers and I thought “here I am, racing all day, having these generous folks cater to our every silly whim and need, deal with our crankiness, I should do something nice for them…”

So I made every aid station captain an original Jimmy Mac greeting card. I literally have an endless supply of glue sticks and construction paper at work, so this is how I roll. Plus, the added bonus of thinking of others really keeps you from dwelling on your own shit, like race week anxiety and the fact that you might be just a tad undertrained.

Down that mellow long downhill- to the road crossing, across and onto Rodeo Valley, back up to Alta then over to Miwok and down Old Springs. It felt good to walk through the horse stables and into TV again. I got a fill up on water, hit my drop bag again and presented yet another greeting card.

Me: who's the aid station captain here?  Volunteer: Stan Jensen! Me: Oh, Stan is the man, make sure he gets this please...

Me: who’s the aid station captain here?
Volunteer: Stan Jensen!
Me: Oh, Stan is the man, make sure he gets this please…

Back down Coastal, futzing with my gear now (I had to grab two big bottles worth of UCan, my iPod and like 6 Gu packs because I wouldn’t get another drop bag for 23 miles) trying to get everything crammed into pockets and compartments and all that. Paul and I were still sorta running together, he looked back a few times and was probably thinking, “get your shit together, man!” I was starting to hurt a little bit now, having hit the marathon mark in about 4:40, just hoping to hold on to this pace as long as possible.

Paul stayed a decent distance ahead up the climb to Pirate’s Cove, and I switched on the iPod and settled into a decent enough power hike. It was still really foggy so the view down and through the cove wasn’t as spectacular as I had hoped. I got passed by Alex Varner out on a training run, he said “nice socks” and then asked how I was doing. “I’ve been better…” was all I could say, and he came back with “well keep on truckin’ then” and I thought, yeah! I will most definitely keep on trucking. At that very moment I wished I had the Grateful Dead’s Truckin’ on my iPod. Damn. But that was kinda cool.

So I hammered down into Muir Beach aid, caught up to Paul. Gave out another greeting card and was on my way, now up to Cardiac.

Muir Beach, home of amazing driftwood and even more amazing views.

Muir Beach, home of amazing driftwood and even more amazing views.

Paul was much stronger than me from here on out so he dropped me along Redwood Creek- I would briefly catch up to him at the bottom of Deer Park but that was it. He had a great race, we saw each other briefly before the Randall turnaround, he looked really strong.

I ran (walked) with this guy Saul from Colombia for a minute, he told me how much he loved racing in America and that they had really great 3000 meter (9000+ feet) mountains in Colombia but no one dared go into the mountains for fear they’d happen upon a coca processing plant or some other shady activity and never be seen again. Made me really appreciate the Bay Area.

At this point I decided to start motoring, get up to Cardiac and get my shit together. I was having a little pity party and thank the good gods of ultra running my homey Tony was out on a training run, coming down Deer Park Trail. He selflessly turned himself around and paced me up to Cardiac as we talked about our impending births (his wife is due end of May, mine is due October). Talking babies and life got my head back into the race and out of my ass.

Cardiac was a blast, it was being run by the SFRC crew and the indomitable Brett Rivers. I relished seeing him and the loose, fun vibe they had going on up top. The sun was finally out and it felt like a race (after only 35.5 miles). I handed Brett another card, ate some watermelon and banana, got a huge fill on the H2O and was out.

It was almost as much fun making these cards as it was giving them out.

It was almost as much fun making these cards as it was giving them out.

I knew I’d have a chance to settle into a nice rhythm for the next 14 miles, this is by far the most runnable part of the race. So out along Coastal, just soaking in all the sun and insane views. As much as I want to hate on this trail because it’s slightly cambered all the way out past McKennan Gulch, there was only one-way traffic so none of that silly yielding to runners like in the North Face 50. Talk about jamming your rhythm.

Then I see another friend, Dustin, out on a training run for the Quicksilver 100k coming towards me on Coastal. Quick high five, some words of encouragement, once again I’m feeling better, but…

…now my mind started to really wander. I’ve been out here seven, maybe seven and a half hours, just running. Then it hits me: I haven’t peed in like three hours. Great. I should probably start figuring out what I want written on my headstone so I can gasp it out with my last dying breath. Yeah, something like: “Here lies Jimmy. Just had to run the Miwok today” or maybe: “Hypernatremia with dehydration, y’all. The silent killer.”

Then I thought, “Shit. I don’t think I set my fantasy baseball lineup today.” That’s just great. But then, yay! I peed. It was basically the color of iced tea, which is not ideal, but it’s a start. I was trying to remember that chart from the S!Caps website about what to do when you’re having issues with hydration and electrolytes, I thought “better drink a lot of water starting now…” I’d really like to thank my kidneys for not shutting down right there; you’re supposed to be an involuntary organ, I’d appreciate it if you just worked all the time.

Then I started thinking all kinds of silly shit, like “I wonder what Allyson is doing right now?” and “Did I lock the car?” then “Holy shit I love Van Halen! Yessssss! Hot for Teacher is my jam!” Before I knew it, I was at Bolinas Ridge aid station.

Sometimes being a little crazy is a great distraction, and also a form of meditation.

photo courtesy of Nate Dunn

It was great to walk into an 80’s party here, and to see Nate Dunn. He greeted me with a hearty “dude, you’re rockin’ it!” I had covered 42.5 miles in 8:09- I wasn’t feeling great but damn was I having fun and still moving well. Bolinas Ridge gave me a huge boost, felt like I had wings flying out of there. I knew it was more or less a long downhill into Randall and I was starting to hurt, my feet, my quads, hips, yeah.

I rolled into Randall, and that place was rocking as well- pacers were waiting to pace, crews were eager to help anyone and everyone- mad props to Jenny Maier for grabbing me a Mountain Dew and helping me sort out my drop bag. I gave a volunteer another card and said “please make sure the aid station captain get this” and changed into my super cushy Bondi 3’s, my dogs were barking after 49.2 miles of pounding. I love my Altra Lone Peak 2.0’s but couldn’t see myself going one more mile in them.

photo courtesy of Jenny Maier

photo courtesy of Jenny Maier

Just then, I was greeted by aid station captain Chuck Wilson, a veteran of 200+ ultras, a veritable NorCal legend. He told me in all of his years running and volunteering he’s never gotten a greeting card from a runner. He shook my hand and thanked me- it was an amazing moment.

I was beaming, visibly, because coming down into Randall as I was beginning that long climb out was John Trent, President of the Board for Western States. I know who he is because 1) I’m an ultra nerd so I have to read all the blogs and listen to all the podcasts and watch all the YouTube videos and 2) last year at San Diego 100 RD Scott Mills gave John the floor for a minute during the pre-race briefing Friday night so I recognized him.

“Hey that’s a great smile!” he says, and I blurt out “Thanks! You’re John- we ran San Diego 100 together last year, well, you ran a few hours ahead of me, but yeah…”

“Just keep going, man! You’ve got a great attitude!” Wow, any more ultra legends today and my head might explode.

So here’s where things went really south for me, about a mile later, just after the top of the climb- all that Mountain Dew in my tummy wasn’t sitting so great, and having been right on the edge a few hours before I felt like it was a good time to puke. I had that watery mouth sensation for the next 4-5 miles, barely sipping water and just slogging away, shuffling really. Waiting for either my stomach to calm down OR puke so I can start eating again because I just wasn’t able to generate any power and had been pretty good about taking something every 30-45 minutes all day and here I was going on over an hour not eating. Shit.

So I decided to take a Gu Roctane salt capsule and wait it out. Felt better in literally five minutes. Placebo effect? Who cares, I quickly gobbled a Salted Caramel Gu and drank as much water as I could. I was able to drop the hammer going back into Bolinas Ridge. This would be the last “good” running I’d do all day, but hey- 55.9 miles is a long way to go.

I gave Bolinas Ridge their card and got hugs and high fives, the aid station captains Jennifer and Franz were awesome, all the volunteers were so rad. It was good to see Nate again, and I grabbed some potato chips and a hunk of banana and was out. Here we go, all downhill to the finish.

Felt great through the cool shady woods but soon as I emerged into the sun I wilted. It wasn’t that hot, maybe 72 but it killed me. Here my pace was a solid 12-something per mile, which must’ve looked like I was running in sand, because I felt like I was flying but I was basically walking really fast.

photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama

photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama

So you’ll notice how low my hat is, but you’ll probably notice my sweet mustache (which you’ve no doubt seen in the other pics).

I grew a mustache for Ruth Anderson and kept it on for Miwok to not only protest the rise of the “ultra beard” but to honor all the legendary ultra mustaches of not only yesteryear, and all those that carry the torch today.

Here’s a quick list of amazing ultra runners with amazing mustaches:

Tropical John Medinger

photo stolen from iRunFar

photo stolen from iRunFar

Stan Jensen

photo stolen from run100s.com

photo stolen from run100s.com

Tim Twietmeyer

photo stolen from soulrunning.com

photo stolen from soulrunning.com

Rickey Gates

photo stolen from Salomon's website

photo stolen from Salomon’s website

David Laney

photo stolen from David’s website

 Matt Flaherty

stolen (again) from iRunFar (please don't sue me Bryon and Meghan)

stolen (again) from iRunFar (please don’t sue me Bryon and Meghan)

Seriously though, I’m trying to make the ultra mustache a “thing”. Just like FKTs, summit tagging, trucker hats, crew socks, 200 mile races and beards are all things now, I genuinely want mustaches to be a thing.

Please, won’t you help me? Next time you toe the line at your local 50k or above, try a mustache. It’s like a party on your face.

Anyway, back to the race. I’m basically trying to finish without puking. I knew that once I hit Matt Davis it was a 2-mile downhill to the finish, but like 70 switchbacks. As the crow flies it’s probably like 500 feet but you basically have to run back and forth down the mountain to Stinson Beach, which equals 2 miles.

I needed something besides Taylor Swift’s awesome music to get me down this trail, I thought, “I am Jimmy Mac, runner of the ultra marathon, slayer of burritos, master of friendship and karate (not really the last thing). I can do anyth… dammit I am so close to puking.

I’m skimming the top of every rock coming down this trail, I’m probably going to fall and die. This is just great.

Just then I hear cowbells! I’m there, I can suddenly run, I see the opening to the road- there are people! I turn down towards the Community Center finish line in a full sprint, so many people! They all look happy and good looking and it’s kind of like a Budwiesrer commercial! Remember Spuds MacKenzie?

I still feel like throwing up, but I finished! 62.2 miles done!

I hand my final greeting card to Tia Bodington, the RD, and thank her for an awesome day. She’s so happy to get a card and hands me my finisher’s medal. Just then, Stan Jensen comes up to me and shakes my hand, thanking me for his card I gave to a volunteer at TV. Another awesome moment in a day full of awesome moments.

The seventh and final card!

The seventh and final card!

Sorry this report took so long to finish, but like I say “the longer the race the longer the report”. There’s also a long list of thanks: I’d like to thank my wife, Allyson, for letting me disappear for 18 hours to go run this race. I’d like to thank Excelsior Running Club for being awesome and inviting me to join their team. I’d love to thank all the volunteers and aid station captains for being out there helping me party all day. I’d like to thank personal lubrication for keeping me chafe-free. I’d like to thank Gordy Ainsleigh for accidentally inventing this silly yet amazing sport of trail ultra running I love so much.

photo courtesy of Chris Jones

photo courtesy of Chris Jones

Hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Link to Strava stats

Link to Miwok’s Ultralive webcast

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The Ruth Anderson Ultras 50k Race Report (and Some Other Happenings)

Every time I sit down to write a race report, I start thinking “how the hell do I make this sound interesting?”, especially after just running seven loops around Lake Merced. I guess I could talk about the weather (perfect, like 58 degrees and overcast the whole time, light gentle wind) or the surface (mixed concrete and crushed gravel dirt path) but there’s really nothing to add outside of what I put in the parentheses.

So really, what does one talk about when talking about running a monotonous loop ultra? The next thing that comes to mind is the people; I met some really great people at the race, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a little back story on both the race and how I got interested in it.

First, Ruth Anderson is an old school runner. When I say old school I mean original school, she was one of the first female ultrarunners, starting off in 1976 at age 46 and quickly establishing herself as a force, winning the 1980 USATF 50-mile Championship in Houston with a ridiculously fast 7:10. And this came as a 50-year old. She then went on to set a bunch of age group records at various races around Northern California, and the women’s USATF Ultra Runner of the Year Award is named after her. She’s kind of a big deal.

Second, how the race came up on my radar is my desire to try to run a loop ultra- after making the decision late last year to try to become a more well-rounded runner and softening my “I only run ultras now” stance (and subsequently running the LA Marathon as well as the Kaiser Half, and that Piedmont Turkey Trot, too; last Thanksgiving), I figured this was the year I run either an ultra with a pre-set looped distance OR a timed event, like a 6- or a 12-hour loop type thing, so the Ruth Anderson popped up and away I went.

The cool thing about the race is that you basically pick the distance as you go- there’s a 50k option (seven loops), a 50-mile option (11 loops with a short out and back to make up the .75-ish mile) and the marquee event, the 100k (14 loops, oy vey). If you finish the 50k and decide to keep running, you are automatically entered into the 50-miler, and so on. If you drop at let’s say, mile 40, you DNF the whole race. Seems fair, because ultras are supposed to be tough.

When I awoke on Sunday morning, it was my full intention to run the 50-miler. I had already run 37 miles that week and felt that a 50-mile effort would be really good training for Miwok, which is 13 days after this race. I learned on loop 3 that I probably didn’t have 50-mile legs (without the possibility that it would get very, very ugly) and that a solid, steady effort would be decent enough training (I’m hoping).

I should add that a few days before the race I was contacted by Nakia Baird, a name I’d seen on some race results (usually listed above mine). He reached out via Facebook and asked me if I was interested in joining the Excelsior Running Club; and being both flattered and more than a little interested I figured I should probably see what a running club is all about. I told him I’d look for him race morning and introduce myself- we got a chance to actually run some miles together and he’s a really solid runner (4th place in the 50-miler) and a really nice guy. All the folks on the team were really cool, I wished I could have stayed around longer and hung out. I’m honored to be sporting that fluorescent yellow jersey as my race singlet from now on.

So, as for the actual race- it’s a super low key, old school affair. After parking in that main lot, the runners walk (I used this opportunity to do a little shake-out-slash-warm up jog) a half mile or so to the start. After the RD Rajeev Patel made an announcement that there was a runner here (Bill Dodson) that was going for the US men’s over 80 50-mile age group record (I believe he got it), we commenced the countdown and were sent off.

Not too much to say about the first loop, ran the first 2 miles really relaxed, settled into an 8-minute mile- wanted to run a little faster but I thought “I gotta take what I can get” and save something for the distance (I was still pretty certain I was going to run 50 miles today). I caught up to Nakia and another Excelsior runner, Paul, and chatted with them for a few minutes until hitting the first Porta-Potty about halfway through the loop. They took off, I wouldn’t catch them again for a few more laps as they were locked into a steady pace.

I came through the timing area in 33 minutes, greeted by NorCal ultra legend Stan Jensen; what a great dude- he’s at almost every race I run: Lake Sonoma, Miwok, Skyline, Dick Collins, etc. It’s a pretty cool feeling yelling out your race bib number and hearing someone say your name back to you, that’s old school.

Loop 2, pretty uneventful until about 3.5 miles in when i come up on Mark Tanaka, another Bay Area guy I’ve seen at at least half the ultras I’ve run these past few years. I told him, “shit, I’m probably going too fast if I’m running with you” but he assured me that I was right where I needed to be, and that he was running the 100k. 37 minutes for the second loop.

Loop 3, I grab my headphones and the iPod mini, take in some UCan. I hit the Porta-Potty again for a quick pee and I’m out. Again, pretty uneventful lap, 38 minutes for the third loop.

Loop 4; I think I’m losing my mind- this is right where I decided that a 50k would be the best distance for me today- a 50-miler could happen, but damn those last 7-10 miles would be ugly. 39 minutes for lap 4.

Loops 5 and 6 I honestly can’t recall being any different than the previous 4. 38 and 39 minutes respectively for the laps.

Loop 7, oh I just want to be done now. 38 more minutes, crossing the finish line at 4:24:36. I finished really strong with a 7:26 and a 6:59 for the last mile and a half, which tells me I could’ve gone longer but at what expense? With Miwok this close I’m not going to do anything to jeopardize that race, so playing it safe (and sane) was key today. It was more of a long training run at race pace to try out some new things (I’m switching over to UCan- I gotta say this was the best my tummy has ever felt in a race, felt like I coulda took down a hoagie and washed it down with a 6-pack of black cherry wishniak).

All in all, a really solid effort and a fun race- the volunteers were amazing, the RDs Anil and Rajeev were super nice (Rajeev has a great mustache, btw).

I finished 5th overall, and also won the men’s 30-39 age group, but after looking at the results I actually finished 2nd (winner Enrique Henriquez must’ve left after his finish) and I was somehow presented with a plaque for my age group win. I guess “age group win by default” I should say.

Either way, I got a cool plaque from Rajeev.

Strava Stats

Official Results

Splits

Cool happenings for the rest of 2015:

…well, me and Allyson are having our first child- baby due 10/4!

This is the reason I won’t be running a 100-miler this year (I had to pull out of the Wasatch Front 100 lottery at the end of January), which I am totally cool with. A Miwok finish will give me another ticket for the Western States lottery, which gives me 8 total for my 4th year entering. I’m gonna get in one day, might as well be next year (?)

Also, it’s probably not a good idea to just up and leave my 8-and-a-half-month pregnant wife so I can go get my ass kicked by the Wasatch Mountains of Utah; I mean I’m a selfish jerk but not that selfish.

I’m basically going to run a bunch of shorter stuff like the East Bay Triple Crown, something like the Table Rock 27k (7/18) or the Redwood Anvil 20-miler (7/26) in July, another attempt at a BQ with the Santa Rosa Marathon (8/23) and maybe finish up my season in September with the Coastal 50k (9/20).

Then the ultimate endurance race starts: FATHERHOOD!

Super-psyched to start the next stage of life with my lovely and super supportive partner, Allyson. I’ll be crewing and pacing her as she gets ready to delivery our baby, possibly a future ultra runner (if he/she has any sense whatsoever, they will stay away from this marvelous and ridiculous sport I love so much).

And thank you, the readers of this blog, for being on this awesome journey with me.

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The 2015 LA Marathon Race Report

I’d like to start this blog off by saying it is really very hard to run a fast road marathon. I even know what calculus is, and running fast is way harder. People have been asking me how does it compare to an ultra, and it’s just as hard- maybe even harder. It hurts as bad as a 50-miler if you do it right and it hurts just as bad if you do it wrong, so you’re kind of fucked either way.

Here is a list I made about running a road marathon and how it compares to my previous experience of mostly running trail ultras…

First, you have to keep up as even a pace as you can, and the terrain doesn’t really change- you get concrete OR asphalt. I stop and walk hills in the later stages of an ultra race. I’ll even sit on a rock and take my shoes off at mile 36 to get all the little pebbles and junk out of them because wearing gaiters looks ridiculous, and sitting down for like 30 seconds when you’ve been running for 7 hours is like sex. I can run sub-6:00 pace downhill on really rutted trails, then hit the flats and settle into a really sad looking 9-minute per mile pace. But roads are different. My goal pace for this race was 6:52/mile (which works out to a 2:59:59). I knew I couldn’t sustain that for the entire 26.2- there’d definitely be some slowing come mile 20, then I’d just try to hold on for dear life and get in under 3:09:59 for the BQ. More like a 3:07 with the new standards, but I figured I might lose up to a good minute per mile that last 10k. So when I say I wanted to try to run that pace, I didn’t honestly think I could hammer 6:52’s the whole day- I was hoping to do that through the 13.1 mark, then allow things to get “interesting”. I ended up running the first 5k split of 22:13 (7:09 pace), a full minute and a half off my intended pace- I knew at this point I was going to be in for a very rough day, like that time I took acid and tried to good food shopping.

EchoLake

I literally have no reason to be smiling here.

Second, I didn’t start in the B Corral because they closed the corrals super early- not to mention the fact that they were closing bag check as we arrived. Not to be too much of a jerk here, but I had to pass literally 25,000 runners (seriously) before I could run unfettered, it took a good 3 miles until I could settle into a rhythm where I wasn’t running into some tutu-wearing hobby jogger’s heels. Ugh, so many tutus. Yes, I understand that they have just as much right to be out there as me, it’s just that some of us have taken our training very seriously and spent a lot of money coming to LA, so if you can understand my sense of entitlement I think we’ll all be better off. If I wanted to party with y’all, I’d have wore some bikini bottoms and painted something cute on my back like a unicorn, maybe shaved a penis shape into my chest hair. So starting in the Open Corral forced me to wait an extra 10 minutes which before a race feels like 77 years, and trying to reel in that sort of energy and keep a cool head at the same time was wasting a ton of mental energy- I was kinda pissed but kept repeating the mantra “not my fault, not anything I can do about it, why are there so many frat boys here and what’s up with all the damn tutus?” That was frustrating to say the least. These are not my people.

Third, the aid stations come every mile but it’s either water or Gatorade. I didn’t sip a single drop of that crap, because I wouldn’t train with it so I wouldn’t race with it. I did know this going in, so I was prepared to only drink water but here comes my biggest complaint. I’m not going to trash the race organizers but c’mon, if you’re giving out Clif gels for the race, couldn’t you have gotten Clif to be the official race drink sponsor too? They make a solid electrolyte drink, not some high fructose cornwater garbage that probably gives lab rats intestinal cancer. Anyway, I had to bring my own gels which isn’t a big deal, but asking the kids giving them out at the first chance to grab an extra gel (mile 13) if I could have one without caffeine and them saying they didn’t know which was which was a bit frustrating. Again, they’re just volunteers, and I was moving too fast for them to see my frustration. I kept quiet and did that sarcastic half-smile thing I am wont to do, it may have come off as evil and creepy though because I was really starting to look like shit by now.

These photos all say "proof" on them because I am really very cheap.

These photos all say “proof” on them because I am really very cheap.

Fourth, running fast is hard. I think I already said that. It’s like really very hard.

Fifth, ultras are tiny. Even The North Face Championship, with its 550 starters in four waves is a tiny race, in comparison. Miwok is like 450 starters. I haven’t done Way Too Cool, but that’s considered a huge ultra and it’s like 1100 people running. Major cities throwing a world-class marathon ARE GIGANTICALLY FUCKING HUGE. This is scary from not only a logistics standpoint but from a sanitation standpoint. There can never be enough porta-potties, never. I remember thinking on the shuttle bus that I was good to go, that poo back at the hotel was great, I’m good and empty. Nope, soon as we got off that bus I got in line for the porta-potties. I proceeded to drop a massive “nerve-induced shit”, these come from deep inside your body, this is like the cells in your hair follicles have to take a shit. I think your brain signals your intestines that you’re about to do something really very dumb that could result in possible death or at the very least severely chafed nipples, which definitely hurts worse than dying (I know because I haven’t died yet). So your body empties itself in preparation, I think it’s where the term “scared shitless” comes from.

We're all winners!

We’re all winners!

Sixth, running on pavement beats the ever-loving shit out of your legs like nothing else. For half the price of this race ($170) I could’ve paid a small French Canadian fur-trapper to beat my legs with a frozen raccoon for three hours, and they would’ve felt just as bad.

Or good, because I kind of like pain.

It gets really bad until it doesn’t hurt any worse, and the second you realize this the cramps start. So on top of a dull ligament / tendon / skeletal ache here comes this sharp, acute stabbing muscular pain. That is just fucking lovely. Soon as it’s like, okay quads, let’s be cool, the hammies start seizing. Then the hamstrings get under control and nope, the calves have turned to stone. I just don’t want any of the muscle groups in my legs to get jealous so they’re ALL INVITED TO MY DAMNED SUFFERFEST. Did you guys see the Evite? It was so cute, “don’t cramp my style” it said, so funny.

Showing you my "O" face

Showing you my “O” face

Seventh on this list is the crowd. The crowd was amazing but they were everywhere. In ultras you can hide for many miles as you run, because no one is watching. I’ve cried towards the end of races, no one saw me. I’ve pooped huge steamers in the woods, no one sees. I’ve fallen down and only my pacer saw me, and he didn’t even laugh. He also didn’t laugh when that yucca stabbed me because I tried to high-five it, but I forgot he was there with me. This crowd was in every nook and cranny of sidewalk for the entire 26.2 miles. Korean drummers, hipsters in Silver Lake, there was a KISS cover band playing somewhere (there may have been more than one now that I think about it), weirdos in Hollywood, drunk dudes on Sunset, loud cheerleaders everywhere, rich people in Beverly Hills, did I mention cheerleaders? More rich people in Brentwood, then at the finish- Santa Monica was ridiculous, there had to be a million people on Ocean Avenue alone. And never have I been in so much agony, looked so terrible, wished to hide in front of so many people. If you’re going to look bad, do it in style, and when provided the luxury do it in front of the whole world. “You look so strong!” is a lie, but dammit if I didn’t need to hear that 50 more times in those last 2 miles.

Channeling Usain Bolt with a Ric Flair sort of vibe

Channeling Usain Bolt with a Ric Flair sort of vibe

So there’s that.

In summation, because my high school English teachers always told me to put my thesis statement in the first paragraph and then again somewhere near the end in case the reader forgot, is why running a fast road marathon is really very hard.

I can not wait to party! And by party I mean drink a milkshake in my undies and go to bed a 8 PM.

I can not wait to party! And by party I mean drink a milkshake in my undies and go to bed at 8 PM.

Strava stats

Unofficial Results

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2015 Kaiser Half-Marathon Race Report

…it’s a short essay (because it’s a short race!)

That being said, without coming off too cocky I still had to remember one of my most important mantras: RESPECT THE DISTANCE.

Thirteen-point-one can, and will, eat you up.

I was psyched to do this race for a few reasons: my buddies Jimmy and Carl were running it AND I hoped to set a new half-marathon PR, having not run a road half since September of 2011; the Lake Merced Half (put on by the indomitable Dolphin South End Runners).

I ran a 1:44:04 all the way back then and figured I could take a good 10+ minutes off that time. I actually set a goal of sub-1:30 with a “reach” goal of 1:25. Based on some great workouts I’ve had in training for the LA Marathon, I thought I could go around 1:27:xx.

Quick plug for my fund-raising page: CLICK HERE TO DONATE

Then, ten days before the race- the flu strikes! Knocked me on my ass for a full week, causing me to miss a pretty decent chunk of training; which, in hindsight, may have actually given me fresher legs for the race (although I feel I do better on higher mileage and for a shorter race like a half, a quick taper).

PRE-RACE: we got there really early, parked about 6/10ths of a mile from the start. I drank some Vitargo about 45 minutes before the gun, and we all warmed up with some slow miles around the DeYoung Museum and adjoining gardens. I felt loose and poppy, my lungs were still coughing up a ton of phlegm and my nose was a little bit runny. I guess that’s to be expected.

THE RACE: we’re off, Carl and Jimmy took off really hot and after about a half mile they were out of sight. I was sticking to my plan of trying to hang just around 6:45 pace, and adjusting that according to how I felt.

I brought 2 gels with me, figured I’d take one at :30 and the other at the hour mark. Probably didn’t need them, but sometimes the taste of sugar puts a smile on my face, and a happy runner is a fast runner.

Plus, they were giving out Gatorade on the course and I wouldn’t let a prisoner of war drink that shit in fear of violating the Geneva Convention’s torture act.

It felt pretty comfortable right up until the two-mile downhill through Lindley Meadow and Golden Gate Park out to the Great Highway, which felt even more comfortable to speed up and crank those miles out at 6:25-ish pace.

Uh, who likes to party? THIS GUY!

Uh, who likes to party? THIS GUY!

I settled into another comfortable rhythm coming out of the park into the turn south, kept looking out at the ocean and forgetting that I was cruising. Coming up on mile 8 I had remembered what Carl had said on the ride over: you’ll know by mile eight how those last five will go…

I saw Carl right after thinking about that, right before the turn around- he was maybe a mile up on me, and right after I saw Jimmy, having a rough time at an aid station, he was probably a half mile up on me.

Entering "gut check" mode.

Entering “gut check” mode.

Hairpin turn, back north. Three miles to go, starting to feel the burn. I was thinking about all those 6:52/mile marathon-paced workouts, 45-minute tempo runs at 6:29/mile pace, 800-meter repeats at sub-2:59 speed, ugh.

Here is where it counts, this is where all that early morning grunt work pays off. Oakland Tech track sessions as the sun is rising, getting uncomfortable at Lake Merritt before work, yeah. All of that is for this, right now.

Those next three miles I tried to stick with the plan, 6:45’s till the finish. I came in at 6:54, 6:52, 6:45 and a 6:37 for the last tenth of a mile. I was wavering a bit but still managed to pass a good 25+ runners in the last few miles, and didn’t get passed by anyone.

1:29:03, a new road half PR by 15 minutes and a second.

Garmin Stats

I look like death.

I look like death.

Anyway, that’s it for me.

I thought I was going to write more this year but haven’t been able to find the time.

Next up: Chabot 50k on 2/21, then the LA Marathon 3/15 and Miwok 100k on 5/2. Think I’m also going to throw either a 50-miler in there in April (I’m out of town for both American River and Lake Sonoma) or another East Bay Skyline Trail FKT attempt.

Oh, and the East Bay Trail Triple Crown Series. There are some fast runners in the area, so I think a podium would be a stretch, but I’ll give it a shot.

Stay tuned for more, y’all and thanks for reading.

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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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