Sunday, June 07, 2009

Kettle Moraine 100 Miler - Madison, WI

Every year I try to do at least one trip to the Midwest to visit my Dad. Last year was Kettle Moraine 100KM. It was an epic day filled with heat waves, thunderstorms, hailstorms and a tornado watch. Despite all that I had a good race in my first 100K and a fun time throughout. And I really fell in love with the terrain of the Ice Age Trail that it's run on. Lots of climbing (more than 12000 feet) but mostly soft pine needle-laden trails.

So I decided to head back again this year, but step up to a 100 miler for the first time. I've always been a bit ambivalent about 100 milers. Is it really necessary to run a whole day straight? But if I was going to do one, Kettle was probably the best first 100 miler for me. The only thing that scared me was the need to head back out after getting into the "finish" at mile 62. Plus the race director Timo Yanacheck (one of the nicest guys I've ever met) lets participants "drop" at 100K and still gives them credit for the 100K. This is just too much temptation!

My plan was to try to run 23 hours. But anything less than 24 hours would have been just fine. I planned all of my times at the various aid stations and Judith was going to meet me with my preferred fuel and good cheer at each one.

The race was bigger this year and now has chip timing. I guess this is less work for the RDs but seems like it detracts from the simplicity of trail racing (I don't think I'll use it for the Quicksilver Trail Half Marathon). So race morning we picked up my chip and waited for race start on a much cooler morning than last year.

Ready to run at the Nordic start area

After Timo started us out, we headed out on rolling soft green firetrails to Tamarack at mile 5. Then more rolling firetrails to Bluff Road at mile 7.5. I got to Emma Carlin at mile 15.5 ahead of schedule at 2:25 (had planned 3 hours), so I missed Judith who had gotten there at 2:30. I had to settle for aid station Heed here, which upsets my stomach a bit (any conventional sugary sports drink does). Then the dreaded open fields, which this year weren't too bad as it wasn't that hot. I met Judith at Highway 67 at Mile 23.5. with my preferred ultra fuel (Perpetuem). From highway 67 there is lots of single track up and down connecting to some wide fireroad. On the fireroad Zach Gingerich passed me in the other direction, running very fast and strong. Then the fireroad started uphill to get up to Scuppernong. On the way up the hill, I noticed several runners come the other way who I had passed earlier (and hadn't repassed me). There's a shortcut marked off with a white chalk "NO" on the uphill to Scuppernong where a runner could bypass about two miles of running by taking it. Oh well, its a full 100 mile - two miles shouldn't matter too much in a race this long. And my only goal today was to finish.

I reached the Scuppernong turnaround in 5:24 this year (a bit slower than last year). I stopped for a leisurely lunch here with Judith: soup, red skin potatoes, Red Bull and cacao nibs. Yum. Heading back down the trail from Scuppernong, I saw another older runner with a long beard trying to take the NO shortcut. I told him he was going the wrong way. Heads up Timo - you may want to clarify why people shouldn't do this during the race briefing?

On the way back, there were no thunderstorms this year. I hit Highway 67, Emma Carlin and Bluff without incident. Then back through Tamarack where I had a leisurely break for some great grilled cheese and tomato soup from Ian Stevens and the rest of the crew there. I purposely did my fueling there because I wanted a quick turn at Nordic to go back out right away. While there Chris Garcia arrived. Chris is another Bay area ultra runner and had written to me asking about conditions at Kettle Moraine and to recommend training - somewhat amusing as he is a far more experienced ultrarunner than I am.

After a leisurely meal chatting with Ian, I passed Chris and got in a couple minutes earlier. I hit the 100K mark at the start/finish area at 11:50. Last year I finished the 100K in 13:55 (4th master, 13th overall) so I was pleased with progress thus far and wasn't really feeling tired. I grabbed a quick potato and coke and headed back out immediately, trying to avoid the lure of the finish area. On the way back to Bluff Road I got more grilled cheese at the Tamarack aid station from Ian, and got back to Bluff Again around 7:20pm.

On the way out from Bluff to Highway 12 Zach Gingerich passed the other way, probably around 8:30 pm, with maybe 15 miles left in his race. I realized then that he was likely to beat Eric Clifton's course record and maybe even sub 15 hours? The next aid station after Bluff is at Highway 12 at Mile 77. I hit it at 9pm when it was getting dark. I stopped to drink ginger tea, abandon my iPhone (not safe conditions to be running with music at night) and rig up my headlamp and flashlights. I haven't done much night running except pacing Jean Pommier at Rio Del Lago 100. And that course really wasn't that technical. The trail out to Rice Lake (both before and after Highway 12), by contrast, is quite technical. I slowed down enormously at this point getting used to the idea of running on single track on a cloudy night.

Still at mile 81, I was apparently in eighth according to the webcast (not sure if believe that). I just downed a quick cup of coffee here as this wasn't a crewed aid station. On the way back to Highway 12, I was passed by several runners who were much more confident at night. I arrived back to mile 85 at about the same time as Chris. As I sat drinking coffee and talking with Judith, I told him it was my first 100 miler so I was all about finishing today and I wasn't going to go chase him down.

After mile 85 though, my quads were completely done. I've never had that happen before after quite a few ultras with punishing climbs and descents. So I settled for a brisk powerwalk back to the Bluff aid station at mile 92.5. Judith walked me a half mile out on the way to Tamarack in the dark, which helped my spirits quite a bit. At Bluff, I drank more coffee and downed some miso soup: almost as good as Tamarack's tomato. After a fast 2.5 mile walk to Tamarack, I got some more soup from the kind volunteers there (Ian was napping at the time though). Then a five mile walk back to the finish. I did manage some stiff legged running for the last two miles back there.

I finished in 21:40 to my pleasant surprise since I had planned for 23 hours. This was twentieth overall. But I was mostly just glad to finish my first 100 miler as I wasn't quite sure that I had it in me to do it.

Spent and happy to be sitting

Chris was the next finisher ahead of me, just 90 seconds beyond Robert Insley. Zach Gingerich finished in an incredible 15 hours 17 minutes for a new course record by 40 minutes. This kid has a future in ultrarunning. Zach, when do you come out West to challenge the big guns? Timo presented me with the small kettle that all 100 mile finishers get. And we hung around for a bit drinking cocoa and eating chili. I am very curious when my quads will return as they still seem quite immobilized.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Buffalo Run 50 Miler, Salt Lake City UT

Having business in Salt Lake City on Friday, on Saturday I did the Buffalo Run on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake in Utah. This great race was started three years by my friend Jim Skaggs. I did the first one that year and fell in love with the race and its venue on Antelope Island amidst the dramatic Wahsatch range. I'm not alone in liking and recommending the race. After under 150 people participated the first year, the race has grown to over 460 participants. Nikki Kimball (probably America's fastest woman ultrarunner at least at shorter distances) showed up for the 50K.

This year I thought that I would just do the 50K, given that American River was the next week. But the race venue is so great that I woke up in the middle of the night and decided to step up and do the whole 50 mile, but just take it easy. I would have been happy with any time under 9 hours, after winning masters in 8:38 last year. We got to the start just at 6am and saw over a hundred people gathered at the starting line - a big increas from previous years. Shortly afterwards Jim sent us out. I was carrying a flashlight but it really wasn't quite necessary with all the other runners. I once again (incredibly) missed that first turnoff as did several other runners and had to double back (not very far this year). We were then on flat singletrack heading south towards Elephant Head. We eventually made the climb towards Lone Tree (with no aid station set up there this year). I fell in with Cory Johnson and got to hear about his many successful 100 milers including five successful completions of the Hard Rock 100.

On the out and back to the edge of Elephant Head I stopped to take some pictures of buffalos. I continued running out to the edge to pick up a kids sticker to prove my presence: "Super!". We bombed back down the fire road and eventually picked up some single track that climbed up the islands central ridge. It then descends back to close to the starting area at mile 19. Then there's quite a grind up a hill up to mile 20 and the main eastside road. This year this was an aid station, and to my surprise Judith was there waiting in her beloved Red Hummer with a welcoming kiss. This was a great surprise and boosted my spirits immensely. She told me I was 18th at the time, but I wasn't really keeping track.

I continued on without getting any aid and hit the single track near the east shore of the island. We turned north to head up to mile 21's turnaround, where there was no aid this year. There was also no course marshall. How do they make sure people do it? Utah people don't cheat I guess? (they all seem quite nice)

Then there's all mostly flat, slightly rolling single track down that east shore down to mile 33 and the turnaround. I hit the halfway point at four hours. Hmm... too fast, given that the race finishes with technical hilly terrain? I don't know - it felt like I was running easily, efficient and strong. During this stretch I passed several runners and even more on the way back up to turnoff back to the start at mile 44. Judith was there again with good cheer and encouragement. The guy in front of me that I had been chasing down took a chair there and I think dropped. I reached it at 7:13, possibly within reach of 8 hours if I really wanted to crank it the last six miles. But my goal for the day was just to run easy and finish strong.

I ran back down the fireroad along the fence feeling good and took a right onto the exposed single track which led out to a short stretch of road. Then another right onto the nicest most scenic singletrack of the day. Near mile 46 it lets out onto another aid station and the entrance to the rocky, rolling, technical single track that encircles the northwest peninsula of the island. Last year I felt bad here but felt great this year the whole time. Around mile 47 I had to do a small bushwhack to avoid a buffalo blocking the trail and munching on a bush. I knocked up out some consistent 9 minute miles and finished in 8:07, good for first master again and tenth overall.

After saying hi to Jim we headed back across the causeway to Layton, looking forward to a day of boarding at Snowbasin on Sunday.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Los Gatos Overgrown Fatass Trail Marathon Results

Despite the impending rain (which turned out to be not so bad and probably helped times overall), twenty runners gathered at Novitiate Park this morning to run the second annual Los Gatos Overgrown Fatass Trail Marathon, also known as the Overgrown Fatass. I was inspired to first hold this race last year based on the steepness of the overall course running over Mt. Sombroso. See the elevation profile below as captured by Baldwyn Chieh on his Garmin 405 on This year Sean Lang was my co-race director. This turned out to be quite a big help as his wife Heidi manned the 13 mile aid station on Hicks Road along with her colleagues from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

We set out promptly at 8am. I chatted going up the Jones Trail hill with my friends Cynthia Moore and David Dreyfuss. Eventually Sean came alongside with Gordy and Sean, Pierre Couteau and I bombed down Jones Trail to Alma Bridge Road. Turning left on Alma Bridge we ran the half mile over to the Overgrown (aka Limekiln Trail). On the climb we seemingly dropped Pierre. We went the two miles up to the Kennedy Intersection, reaching it at 39 minutes. This is probably my fastest time for this stretch. Carol Silvera was waiting for us up there with water, good cheer and a cowbell. She had shlepped a case of water and gels up there for all of us.

Sean and I kept going and got to the top of Mount Sombroso at 1:11. Again, this is a time that I won't be matching soon. We bombed down the other side on Woods Trail to Hicks Road. Pierre passed us on the descent moving at an incredible sub 7 minute clip. He came back out of Hicks Road and I passed him about half a mile out of the aid. I reached the Hicks Road aid at around 2:03 and got my bottles refilled. Sean came in shortly afterwards. I climbed back up Sombroso in 67 minutes, which also surprised me, making far better time than I expected.

My toes were really hurting on the descent and I didn't make great time. I was still in second when I passed Carol again at the Limekiln Kennedy intersection. But Sean and Mike Mahon passed me on the last part of Overgrown reaching Alma Bridge Road. Once they were past I loped out an even pace back to Novitiate Park, finishing in 4:22 which was far faster than I would have imagined. Here's the profile of the run as captured by my 405. According to Garmin its more than 10,000 feet of climbing. I think that's a bit exaggerated (as Garmins tend to. But its certainly at least 6000 - probably something like 7000 feet.

Pierre won in an incredible 3:59 a time that will stand for a while I predict. Sean was second in 4:17. Mike was third in 4:19, I was fourth, and Andy Benkert (who I had run with a couple weeks ago at the Saratoga Gap Fatass) was fifth in 4:32.

My good friend Max Petersen was giving free massages and stretching to all runners. Fantastic! It will certainly help me recover more quickly. We all hung around drinking Lagunitas, eating, and cheering other runners in. A great winter's day of running. Huge thanks to Wendy Bernal for checking everyone in and out, Carol Silvera for running the Overgrown-Kennedy aid station and Heidi Lang and friends for running the Hicks Road aid station.

Full results:
1. Pierre Couteau, 3:59.07
2. Sean Lang, 4:17.40
3. Mike Mahon, 4:19.21
4. Adam Blum, 4:22:38
5. Andy Benkert, 4:32.30
6. Jim Normile, 4:50
7. Haiming Yu, 4:52
8. Jim Magill, 5:09.20
9. Toshi Hosaka, 5:35.00
10. Doug Bloyd, 5:35.10
10. Baldwin Chieh, 5:35.10
12. Anil Rao, 5:36
13. Keith Lubliner, 5:38.30
14. James McDonald, 5:48.20
15. Cynthia Moore, 6:30
16. David Dreyfuss, 6:30

Half marathon:
1. Frank Kochinke, 1:54
2. Basty Kochinke, 1:54
3. Eleanor Normile, 2:14

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Los Gatos Overgrown Fatass Trail Marathon- Los Gatos CA

This year's Overgrown Fatass will be held on February 8th at 8am at the Jones Trailhead in Novitiate Park in Los Gatos. It has been advertised on Facebook for a while but some attendees aren't Facebook subscribers so I'm doing this possibly redundant post. Here is what is posted on Facebook:

Los Gatos Overgrown Fatass Trail Marathon
Los Gatos to San Jose on the Overgrown Trail through Sierra Azul
Date: Sunday, February 8, 2009
Time: 8:00am - 1:00pm
Location:Novitiate Park (Jones trailhead)
Street: Jones Avenue
City/Town:Los Gatos, CA
Route:Jones Trail to dam, Alma Bridge Road over to Overgrown Trail. Overgrown Trail to top of Mount Sombroso. Wood Trail down to Hicks Road and return.

26.2 miles. 6000 feet of climbing. 95 percent trail. Scenic views of the whole Bay area from the top of Mount Sombroso. There will be aid at the intersection of Overgrown (Limekiln) and Kennedy (about four miles in) and at Hicks Road (13 miles in) and of course Overgrown and Kennedy again (22 miles). But PLEASE remember to bring your own water bottle.

Here's the run from the LG Roasting Company (which is about half a mile before the actual race morning start) to top of Mount Sombroso and back. Check out the burly elevation profile. Also here's the post on last year's run which has maps of the course and directions to get there.

Thanks to ZombieRunner for providing goodies to each of the runners! And a big thanks to the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District for the permit. Most importantly thanks to Carol Silvera for running the Overgrown/Kennedy intersection aid and to Heidi Lang and the Leukemia/Lymphoma society for running the Hicks Road aid station!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Santa Cruz Badass Run - Los Gatos to Santa Cruz CA

One of my favorite training runs takes me from my house in the Santa Cruz mountains to Santa Cruz all on trails. I documented the full tunnel run in previous blog posts (replete with tunnel pictures). Several local running friends that weren't able to make the tunnel run (or it was too long for them) asked about the shorter route right from my house to Santa Cruz. So I decided (in true ultrarunner "fatass" tradition) to hold the first annual "Santa Cruz Badass Run" from my house to Badass Coffee in downtown Santa Cruz. In addition to finishing at Badass Coffee, my favorite SC Java shop, the title of the run I hoped would preclude any whining about the limited bushwhacking, scrambling and river splashing required - a strategy that mostly worked.

Ten trailrunning speedsters gathered at my house on Sunday morning: Jean "the injured Frenchman" Pommier, Leor "fastest known ascent" Pantilat, Gary "course record record holder" Gellin, Paul "straight over it" Taylor, Alistair "bombing Scotsman" Adams, Rich "the mountain biking comic" Blanco, Brian "masters miler" Lucido, Pierre "rail rider" Couteau, Mike "Western States" Topper and myself.

Before leaving, we arranged for my friend Wendy and Gary's wife Holly to take vehicles to Santa Cruz to meet us there. We set off at 8am and within 3 minutes were down onto the trail. The caravan crossed over Mountain Charlie Gulch on a log and were on the old "Rudy Trail" logging road that parallels Mountain Charlie Gulch. Eventually this runs up to a point where you can turn right to go back down to the Gulch. An old locomotive boiler is there and that's my normal loop back home on my daily run loop. Instead of visiting that (maybe next year's Badass?) we kept straight past a timber harvest boundary and into some tall brush that covered the road. I was expecting whining at this point, but perhaps the name of this run held that at bay.

After some overgrown trail we dropped down a snowboard style slide down into a wash and scramble up the other side back onto the old railroad grade. I normally take a line that climbs gradually up the other side and led the guys over that this time. Paul somehow found a way straight up the vertical cliff (I need to have him show me how he did it).

We were stopping often to reassemble at these points but still making really good time overall. Pretty soon we hit the old Zayante Tunnel north end (what I refer to as tunnel #4, portal #7)

After bushwhacking over the tunnel hill to the other side of the tunnel (pictures of that on previous blog posts), we arrived back on the railroad grade trail. Shortly afterwards, the railroad grade runs out into Zayante Schoolhouse Road. A fence there gets you back onto the beginning of the old tracks: some of the guys stopped to take pictures there.

Once we got onto the tracks Brian, Rich, and I started really blazing (6:30 pace). We hit a somewhat scary old railroad bridge where Pierre caught up. We had done it before together and I've noticed that those crazy dangerous bridges seem to make him go FASTER not slower. After the second bridge, we stopped to wait for people at the Felton archery range sign. We crossed the range to get over to Felton via the covered bridge.

My watch had us reaching Felton in well under 1:30 and slightly under 10 miles. We stopped at the White Raven for coffee, and Jean and Gary (both battling injuries) decided to end the day there and ride with Holly to meet us in Santa Cruz.

Leor requested the "more scenic route". You can get to Santa Cruz in just 17 miles if you get back onto the railroad tracks and there's plenty of trail on both sides. But it's more interesting to instead follow trails over the hills of Henry Cowell Redwoods Park, drop down into the San Lorenzo River and come up into Pogonip Park. It's a couple miles longer that way and much more climbing. This also happens to be the Pacific Coast Trail Runs Santa Cruz course, as detailed extensively on this blog last September. It's definitely one of my favorite courses. That river crossing is just classic.

After downing our lattes, we headed out without Jean and Gary, but still eight strong down Route 9 to the Henry Cowell Redwoods entrance. From there we turned left into the main entrance of Henry Cowell and took a right on the River Trail which is the far edge of the PCTR Santa Cruz course. The River Trail is mostly flat, but runs out into the Rincon Trail which is a serious climb. Just as this starts, my Garmin 405 watch ran out. So here's the route to that point from my Garmin 405 (see below for Alistair's more complete capture of the route).

Leor, Brian and I ran quickly up the hill but they dropped me soon enough. At the top and the turnoff onto Big Rock Hole Trail we waited for everyone to gather again. On the bomb down to the river, Alistair Adams and Paul ran ahead of everyone fearlessly. When we got to the San Lorenzo I caught them and ran straight across in the thigh high current whooping and hollering the whole way, just as I did on PCTR Santa Cruz raceday. I can't help myself when running rivers like this (can we get an extended river running ultra organized some day? would anyone show?) Rich Blanco did the same and eventually caught up on the other side. We ran up the Rincon Connector trail just past the tracks to wait for everyone again, just before the Route 9 crossing.

Once reassembled I gave a minibrief of the remaining route at that point: Rincon Connector (NOT the UCon Connector) to Spring Trail to Lookout Trail to Harvey West Park and we'd meet at Harvey West. We headed across Route 9 onto the Rincon Connector singletrack: a fun little trail (inducing a few more whoops). Eventually it lets out onto the Spring Trail fireroad. Leor and Brian were moving with me on the fireroad but eventually dropped me, while I just stayed in sight. Eventually Rich came alongside and we ran together for a bit. Brian had apparently hurt himself and was limping by the time we reached the Lookout turn. But it wasn't far for him to walk until Harvey West at that point so we kept going. Pierre caught up on Lookout and Rich, Pierre and I bombed down the single track of Harvey West to the park together. We met up with Leor and waited for everyone else. Brian limped in and we asked him if he'd seen anyone. We were missing Mike, Paul and Alistair. We eventually figured out that they might have dropped off Harvey West early into the city and just navigated over to Badass Coffee on their own (I knew Alistair had his Nokia N95 with maps with him). So we took off for the one mile run over to downtown and the finish.

Even with all the breaks to regather, we reached the finish (about 19.5 miles) in around 3 hours (quite a bit faster than I expected) Once there we got some welldeserved lattes but unfortunately no sign of Mike, Paul and Alistair. Apparently they had taken the UCon Connector instead of the Spring Trail and ended up on the UC Santa Cruz campus. Here's the route that they took with Alistair's N95 (it's also more complete than my Garmin 405 - I've always said that the N95 is the world's best runnerphone) Alistair had the presence of mind to email though to let us know that they had gotten lost. I called him and we then drove back to Harvey West to rescue them and got there just after they emerged from the trail.

We drove back to my house and recounted our respective diverged adventures for the day and upcoming plans for the racing seasons. A fantastic epic day on the trails. We'll hold this again next New Year's Day, with perhaps some course markings as well.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Angel Island 25K - Tiburon, CA

This is one of just two Pacific Coast Trail Runs races that I haven't done, and the only one in the Bay area that I've never experienced. I had never wanted to wait for the ferry from Tiburon and start so late in the day. But with no injury excuses handy and no fresh snow on the ground in Tahoe, I went ahead and signed up this year.

Angel Island does three loops of around 8km each: one around the outer perimeter of the island, one about halfway up, and a third that climbs to the top of the island. Its a fast course with just 2000 feet of climbing. It seemed like running 40 minute loops (right around 7:30 miles) should be achievable, with a finish around 2 hours.

I did notice that Mike Pigg, a legendary triathlete from the 80s, was entered. I planned to try to hang on his shoulder to win the masters division. But I didn't see him at the start. Apparently he didn't start when everyone else did. I took the lead for the first mile or so. On the first climb I was passed by several young speedsters, but I stayed at a consistent pace. Probably Mike was in that pack.

I kept up a remarkably steady speed on each loop: 40 minutes for each one. On the last one we got treated to a climb to the top of the mountain where a sign said "I made it!". I finished in 2:00:53, good for ninth and second master. Mike finished about a minute ahead.

It was a beautiful day for running. But there was no soup today! (say it ain't so Wendell!) So I headed back out to the ferry and managed to be just in the first freightload back. I met former Santa Cruz mayor (and current councilwoman) Catherine Beiers, who at age 76 did the 16K in 2:25. Amazing.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Original Fatass 50K - Saratoga, CA

This race is the original fatass, as I described last year. I drove the ten miles from my house in the Santa Cruz mountains to the start at 7:30.

Fellow Ultraholic Sean Lang was there and, to my surprise, so was Flyin' Brian Robinson, all time record holder at The Barkley Marathons.

David Kamp, the race director, started us out at 8:00am sharp. We headed up the Skyline Trail to the Hickory Oaks Trail, retracing the route of both the Stevens Creek 50K and the Skyline Ridge 50K. We had a train going of myself (stopping every few minutes to take pictures) Brian Robinson, Whit Rambach, Sean Lang and Andy Benkert.

We made the turnoff to the left down Ward Road down to Portola State Park.

At the Park Headquarters, we stopped to refill water bottles and ran across some early starters.

We then made the creek crossing and got onto Old Haul Road. We made the turnoff onto the Portola Trail which connects to the Butano Trail. Its quite a climb but I was feeling good today. I led the charge up and only had Brian and Whit next to me at the top. We connected to the Big Basin Trail easement which let out onto China Grade Road. Once there we saw Winnie and Lee Jebian's car again this year. And I again dropped off some superfluous warm weather gear. We headed back out onto the Basin Trail. This connected to the Skyline to the Sea trail for the grind back up. Once we approached Waterman's Gap I started to bonk and cramp from running on just water for so long. We all hit Waterman's (the intersection of Routes 236 and 9) at 4 hours even. 4 hours for 22 miles of this amount of climbing was probably too aggressive for me and I doubt that I'll match this in coming years.

I had to take a rest and get more water from Paul Fick who had decided to run a few miles with us. Brian and Whit ran on ahead. I should have begged some electrolytes from him and fuel but I was too lightheaded to think of that. I took off at a slow trot. Eventually Andy Benkert caught back up as we approach the highway rest area. When we got there I finally thought of begging for crackers from one of the picnickers while Andy ran on ahead. I felt great almost immediately and took off back up the road. As with last year, I didn't find the trail crossing right away but was back on it in about half a mile. Apparently this was slightly ahead of Andy. I got back to the finish in 5:43 faster than I did last year.

Despite the bonk near the end, overall this was a great training run. It was fun running with Brian and Andy and getting to know them better.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

season finale doubleheader: PCTR Muir Beach and Rodeo Beach

Pacific Coast Trail Runs saves some of their most beautiful courses, Muir and Rodeo Beaches in the Marin Headlands, for the end of the year. For the last several years I've done some combination of Muir Beach and Rodeo Beach. Its a brutal duo, mostly induced by that last bomb down the hill at Muir Beach (which shreds my calf every year I do it) followed by Rodeo Beach's extreme climb up the Coastal Trail off of the beach. Last year the calf injury I got at Muir exacerbated by the Rodeo Beach climb had me limping for months afterwards - I was hoping to avoid the same fate this year.

I got to Muir Beach on the morning of the 13th and ran the mile into the park that non carpoolers had to do. I chatted with both Will Gotthardt and Ryan Commons as they prepared for what I thought would be an epic battle for the PCTR ultra series overall championship. Ryan had a few points on Will but doesn't like back to back races. So I thought Will had a shot. I also saw Ralph Lewis at the starting line. He was doing the 10K so I had one less speedster to fight in the 17K.

I took off hard up the first steep hill of the Pirates Cove Coastal Road. But Tom Knauer, Ryan, Caitlin Smith, and Alex Street passed me regardless early on. On the single track climb to the ridge a couple other guys passed me, but I repassed them as we descended to the Tennessee Valley trail and aid station. After this aid, Nathan Yanko passed me moving very quickly up the Marincello Trail, passing Ryan and Caitlin (who I could still see close up ahead) as well. We made the turn off of Marincello onto the Bobcat trail to connect to the Miwok trail. As we got back onto the Old Springs Trail single track I saw Tom Knauer up ahead. I passed him bombing down to the Tennessee Valley aid station. From there I lost a little time confused on where to go from there (why I am confused after so many years doing this race I'll never know). Finally I figured it was back the Tennessee Valley trail to the Fox Trail. On this climb, I saw Tom Knauer catching up at the apex, and sped up on the bomb down this trai to try to lose him. Once I did I slowed down to save my legs for next week. But Wayne Chan flew by me in the last half mile at quite a clip. I tried giving chase but realized I was guaranteed to injure myself doing that. As it was my Garmin 405 said I was doing sub 5 minute miles in the last stretch - too dangerous on that steep decline and I definitely felt the pain of it afterwards. I ended up finishing seven seconds behind him in 1:26:14, good for fifth and first master. Five points more to the PCTR series or 71 overall. Ryan would get a few more points with another top ten finish and Will would drop with back problems. So the ultra series goes to Ryan. Frequent middle distance competitor Jason Reed, duels chronicled in previous blog posts, would win the 50K today. Way to go Jason!

My calf was indeed again sore this year, but not really injured seriously. I got a couple electrical stimulation treatments from my chiropractor, Elite Chiropractic, and a couple massages. And I continued to run (probably too much). By Saturday I felt I could gut out one last race for the year. A first or second place with a noshow by Jeff Emery would win the overall PCTR trail series for the year. But any points (top ten) whatsoever would give me second place, since my friend Gary Gellin was taking a week off after a hard race in the masters national cross country championship last week. I took off hard at the start, and I hung on the shoulder of the leader (the amazingly fast 52 year old Brian Pilcher). We went through one tunnel and crossed a field back onto the Coastal Road switchback.

But as we came up the road, a group of several runners came out ahead of us from the right. This included Jeff Emery and Caitlin Smith. "Where did you guys come from?" I asked. "You guys went the wrong way", Jeff said. Brian sprinted out ahead of them and I tried to just tuck in behind.

"OK, Jeff's here after all. Now the important thing is to just finish top ten. Take it easy and don't get injured" I said to myself. As I mused on this, Paul Taylor flew by me as fast as I've ever seen him run. As we came down the singletrack Old Springs Trail to the aid station, Alistair Adams came alongside. We both came into the aid station at the same time. I tried to keep going on what was the 50K course but Alistair shouted at me to doubleback and follow them (thanks Alistair!). It turns out that Brian Pilcher had made the same mistake and he came out onto the Marincello Trail as we were climbing it as well.

Brian flew past us up the hill and I tried to give chase, leaving Alistair and Paul behind (but probably not too far behind). A couple minutes later Alexander Gaber passed me as well. But I kept him in sight on the climb. As we approached the turnoff for the single track Alta Trail I caught up to him. Alexander kept going and missed the turnoff but I shouted at him to come back and follow. He realized his mistake and turned back. At this point I turned on the jets as I hate being passed more than halfway into the race. He stayed about a minute back for most of the rest of the race. I finished in 1:33 even, good for sixth overall. I was very pleased to run 7:34 miles in those hills (2200 feet of climbing in 12 miles) and just glad I wasn't injured. Alex came in shortly afterwards followed closely Paul Taylor and Alistair Adams.

A fun season overall. Very happy to come in second overall in the trail series and first master. I can't wait for a break from running: snowboarding and snowshoeing (wait is that running?) for the next week at Squaw (Tahoe) and Crystal Mountain (Seattle). Congratulations to Jeff Emery on his overall win! And a big congratulations to other PCTR series winners, including Ryan Commons who won the ultra division overall.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

trail shoes

I got asked recently for my opinion on good trail shoes. The following nine shoes are my tried and true stalwarts.

Left to right starting with the first row here they are:

(first row, left to right)

New Balance 790s - absolute my one goto shoe. Most Bay area trail races are actually lots of fireroad without too many rocks or bushwhacking. Its a minimalist shoe but more than enough tread for most needs. I actually have multiple pairs of them, one with the heels cut off for even lower profile. The big disadvantage of 790s is they wear out almost instantly.

New Balance 840s - this is a new shoe that I bought recently. It has become my favorite on my "home trail loop" which has lots of bushwhacking, treacherous downhills and challenging uphills with loose scree.

New Balance 800s - good for longer course with rocks and pounding hard pack. I often use them early in very long races (50 miles and longer)

(second row, left to right)
New Balance 811s (can you tell I like New Balance yet?) - I have done a bunch of "snow running" and deep mud running in these and enjoyed it. Otherwise way too heavy a shoe for me.

North Face Hydro Trak - great for running in rain, water and rivers. They are basically mesh and don't absorb water. I have a couple runs locally that involve long river runs. These are perfect for them.

Nike Free Trail 3.0 - great for training in a minimalist shoe. Don't race in them and don't run too often in them. But for occasional training and building foot strength they are great.

(last row, left to right)
La Sportiva Maxum Ridge - a beefy stiff shoe. Great for running with orthotics when you need a stiff sole. Great for running or hiking in snow (better even than the 811s)

Nike ACG Ascents - similar to the NB 811s in many ways: good for mud and light snow Probably prefer the 811s over these nowadays mostly since NB fits me so well.

Salomon - I just love the snug lacing system, light overall weight and yet still aggressive tread pattern. Now that the 840s are out I'm not using the Salomons much.

Overall my favorite is still the New Balance 790. But I like the NB 840s as well. And overall I could do over 90% of my running with the pair of these shoes.

PCTR Woodside 17K - Woodside, CA

The PCTR season is winding down with three races in December. Huddart Park in Woodside is a favorite training run haunt and I've done the various race distances on the Crystal Springs and Chinquapin Trails many times. This varied from a course record in the 10K in 2005 (since then the course has changed) to a disastrous offcourse injured 50K last February where I was last but got to meet Tom Kaisersatt and experience ultras in a whole new way.

Today I just wanted to get a few points towards the overall trail series (I clinched the masters division in October). Right now Jeff Emery is leading with 78 points. Jason Wolf has 70 points. My much faster friend Gary Gellin has 62 points and I'm sitting at fourth with 60 points. Some third and second place finishes for this and Muir Beach and Rodeo Beach over the next few weeks would at least put me in contention for the overall series.

I got there in time to watch Leor Pantilat, Will Gotthardt, Scott Dunlap and Jason Reed take off on the 50K at 8:30. Tom Kaisersatt was also there at the start to support other ultrarunners, classy guy that he is. Chatting with him, he seems to remain in good spirits despite his ongoing battle with cancer. He's also going to be at the start of the Los Gatos Overgrown Fatass that Sean Lang and I are holding on February 8th this year.

Then at 9:00 my frequent short distance rival Ralph Lewis lined up for the 10K. While waiting for my race to start I drank some Coke as it was the only liquid around I could find. I figured my intolerance for sugar wouldn't be an issue on such a short race. I would be wrong. While I was foolishly downing my soda, Paul Taylor and Alistair Adams (frequent masters age group rivals at PCTR races) arrived on their bikes! Impressive guys. I said "well when you beat me today I guess you'll really own me".

Then finally at 9:15 I lined up with Gary, Paul and Alistair for the 17K. Alistair took off like a shot trying to follow Gary down the Bay Tree trail. I took it easy and just stayed within sight of Paul Taylor. Finally down on Richards Road I fell in alongside Paul and we chatted about the season and past races. When I saw Alistair up ahead on the climb I took off to catch up. Alistair seemed to be suffering, said to go ahead so I took the left onto Chaparral on my own and sprinted out to the Crystal Springs trail climb. I really like this part of the Woodside course. The climb just keeps going and going and going with lots of "false summits'. Most runners seem to flag at some point during the ascent. As I got within a mile or two of the King Mountain Road aid station and turnaround I had to stop and hurl from the Coke and pretzels I had stupidly ingested before the start. It was not a quick affair and at least five runners, including Paul and a guy named Scott Smith who was just behind me on most of the climb, passed me while I was prostrate.

But feeling better, I resolved to try to catch up. I got to the aid station just behind Paul and took off back down the hill to the Dean Trail. Paul let me go ahead of him through the gate. And I took off after Scott Smith, who was about a minute ahead. I steadily reeled Scott in on the descent and managed to put a little distance between Paul and I. I thought we were on pace for about a 1:25 finish. So when I was 15 seconds away at the 1:20 mark, I thought I would be fine putting in a kick to at least make it a fight for second place. Then I heard a cheer and it was clear we were coming to the finish much sooner than I thought. I put in a desperate kick at that point but I finished 10 seconds off in third place in 1:21:25.

Another six points for a total of 66 points. Still in fourth place but now only 12 points off first place with two races remaining. A couple second places would give me 82 points, which is probably what Gary will end up with as well.

Paul came in shortly afterwards in 1:22:59 with Alistair about 10 seconds off of him. This was pretty close to a repeat of the Big Basin 20K back in April.

I stayed around chatting with Gary, Paul, Alistair, Ralph and watching more finishers. Ralph was third in the 10K in a respectable 50:48, especially as he is dealing with a groin pull (this was the toughest injury I've ever had to recover from). Leor would end up a rare second place to Keith Bechtol who did the 50K in an incredible 3:36.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Silicon Valley Half Marathon AND Marathon Pacing - San Jose, CA

In all honesty, this is not one of my favorite races. It runs mostly on the Los Gatos Creek Trail WHICH THEY DON'T CLOSE. Yes, that's right. For your $100 marathon fee, you get to dodge strollers and rollerbladers and even some bicycles for hours on end. I did the half marathon a couple years ago and the full marathon last year. And I thought I wouldn't do the course again. Especially as I don't do road marathons anymore, and I don't really take road races in general too seriously. Plus I am in serious back pain, going to my chiropractor almost daily. So I couldn't have too high an expectation for today.

But its convenient and I've been running well lately despite back pain. So I wanted to see what time I could run for the half and was hoping to have a good race today. My friend Charlie dropped me off at the start at 6:30am and I waited in the not too cold morning among a surprisingly small crowd (I wonder why, besides the fact that the course is not very impressive).

I planned to try to run 6:30 miles and finish in around 1:25. But after the first couple miles it was clear that I was only feeling comfortable with 6:40 miles (due to poker until midnight the night before perhaps?). So I resolved to just run under 1:30 and enjoy the day, taking pictures en route.

I got to see Ultraholic Rajeev Patel near the halfway point, cheering the Ultraholics doing the full and half marathon (Baldwyn Chieh, Ron Duncan and myself). The Los Gatos Creek Trail is absolutely overfamiliar to me of course. So it was easy to time it to finish right below 1:30 at 1:29:57 chip time (1:30:03 gun time).

After finishing I ran out to the marathon turnaround point to wait for Baldwyn Chieh. Baldwyn and I left around 1:40 on the race clock. He was on pace to qualify for Boston which was his goal today. I was hoping running him back a couple miles might help a little.

Baldwyn and I running out from Los Gatos

He seemed to be running well and held onto qualifying pace for those two miles that I was with him. As we got back onto the trail and he turned to head north I headed back to Los Gatos to meet Charlie for breakfast at Los Gatos Cafe.

After a quick delicious omelette at LG Cafe (they really do make the best omelettes in the Bay area) we headed out to meet up with Tom Kaisersatt to walk him in the last few miles. Tom is undergoing chemotherapy for fairly serious cancer right now. He is the veteran of many marathons and ultramarathons. He has done every year of the Silicon Valley Marathon. Many of the people whose lives he has touched over the past decades decided to walk him in. The Mercury News wrote an article about it yesterday.

Tom and I first met when I ran offcourse for ten miles at Woodside 50K on a day when I already had a calf injury. This was probably my toughest ultra experience. I was bonking because I had run away from aid stations and did not have enough fuel to handle going so far offcourse. I met up with Tom and he shared some potstickers with me (who else carries potstickers in an ultra?!) which made me feel much better. And he wouldn't let me quit the race (which I was pretty determined to do that day). Then he came to my Overgrown Fatass race the next week. Finally we both went to Kettle Moraine 100K this year. When I met up with the "Tom's caravan" at mile 22 I talked to Tom about our impressions of Kettle Moraine.

Walking Tom in, photo courtesy of Jean Pommier

After this I got to meet Flyin' Brian Robinson, the record holder at the world's toughest ultra: the Barkley Marathons. I talked at length with Brian and his wife Sophie about their experiences at the Barkleys and other races.

Chatting with Flyin' Brian Robinson and his wife Sophie

Eventually around mile 24 my friend Tracy came alongside. I got to run her in to her personal record in the marathon.

Running Tracy in to her PR

This was quite a funfilled and eventful morning in paradise. And I must say all the pacing (Baldwyn, Tom and Tracy) was far more fulfilling than my actual race.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Carmel Valley 25K - Carmel, CA

I hadn't run this race since 2006, when I won the short course. I was eager to try some of the tough climbs on the "back loop". This course has over 8500 feet of climbing on the 50K (two loops of the 25K) and is the second steepest PCTR course. Gary Gellin was running the 19K and I didn't recognize any of the names in the 25K. So I thought I might have a shot to win overall. No excuses handy to perform poorly except continued back pain, which hasn't really seemed to slow me down. Arriving at Garland Ranch State Park, I saw Sean Lang and Ray Sanchez at the start, who would both compete for the 50K win.

I took off with Gary Gellin and Jason Reed in hot pursuit of some pre-teen tow-headed boy. We ran out the flat trail from the center out to the hills. This was the Lupine Loop trail and after about a mile turned up quite a steep hill to get to the Mesa Trail. At the top of the hill I dropped Jason, who had beaten me for first at Santa Cruz. But today I think he was just tired after Dick Collins Firetrails last week. After another couple miles we dropped down Garzas Canyon Trail to the Carmel River. On this flat straightaway I saw Gary Gellin flying back already from the 19K (which he won with ease). After this we turned left to cross a river and reach the one course aid station. At this point the 19Kers needed to turn back and I kept going. As I arrived at the aid station and surrendered my water bottle to them temporarily, Eric Miller arrived in behind me. I picked up the pace going back out. But climbing the steep Laureles and Vasquez trails Eric was just too fast. Well fast is the wrong word. His little running mini trot up the wall face of the mountain was faster than my trot.

We bombed back down the back side of the mountain and came back down to the River Trail. It's an easy thing to do to just turn left and follow the pink ribbons right back. But runners need to turn right and get back to the aid station that the orange loop started at. I'm sure many runners made this mistake, as I saw a runner do it after I came back north from the aid station to follow the pink ribbons back. On the way back we went Garzas Canyon all the way. On this climb Ray Sanchez caught up.

We ran together from here pretty much all the way back in, although I put in a little finishing kick since I was just doing the 25K.

I finished in 2:30:04, good for third overall and first master. Eric Miller did a fine job descending apparently since he finished in 2:15, well ahead of me. Jason Reed came in seventh about 8:40 after me and said that he and Sean Lang had run between 6 and 8 minutes off course. When Sean came in he asked where Ray was. When I said "five minutes ahead" he left quickly to go hunt Ray down, which he successfully did. Whit Rambach was second in the 50K, with Ray ending up third.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Golden Hills Trail Marathon - Berkeley, CA

I like this race a lot for a number of reasons:
- its point to point. I love point to point races. Makes you feel like you're going somewhere and guarantees no boredom. I think its quite difficult psychologically to DNF in a point to point
- It's run on the same course and the same time as Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Miler. I'd get to be a spectator of watching elite ultrarunners such as Hal Koerner, Victor Ballesteros and Jean Pommier lay it down in the other direction (and hope that I didn't get passed by one of them on the way back as I did last year)
- It's extremely hilly with over 5800 feet of climbing on the marathon distance course. This is much hiller than the Firetrails 50 Miler which takes a slightly different route back. I love climby courses
- I had come in 9th overall and second master last year in a time of 4:14. I felt that this year, despite the car accident, I should be able to shave off quite a bit of time on that
- Its the race run by Ann Trason, the greatest woman ultrarunner ever. And she makes great soup.

I had very low expectations for performing in this race. I was rearended in a six car collision on Route 280 on Wednesday.
truck hitting the first car I was laid up the rest of the week in bed with a sore back and neck. On Friday afternoon I tried running around. And while my back and neck hurt, it didn't hurt more than sitting. So I decided to try to do the race on Saturday after all.

Last year my friend Brian had dropped me off at the start at Tilden Park. This year I drove to the start/finish at Lake Chabot (also the site of Skyline 50K and the
Lake Chabot Trail Challenge). Arriving there around 7am I then took the "bus of shame" up to Tilden Park. I say bus of shame because here we were a bunch of ultrarunners (or at least many of us on the bus were so). And instead of running up to Berkeley to run back to down Lake Chabot we were taking a BUS. I tried to feel better about it giving myself the accident as an excuse, but it was little consolation.

We got off the bus in frigid temperatures that felt to me like 40s but was probably low 50s. There was a small shred of sunlight poking through the trees and I tried to warm myself in it. I chatted with Leor, who had won this last year and set the course record in an incredible 3:19 and change.

We started out and I fell into the lead pack with Leor, Rob Elia and Ron Gutierrez. Leor quickly peeled off of us after about half a mile. I hung with Rob and Ron for a while but eventually my back started spasming and I had to stop and self-massage. Gerell Elliott came up alongside and we ran together for a while. He was a road marathoner tackling his first trail marathon. I hung with him until the next aid but he eventually pulled away. At we approached the second aid station at Sibley Park (7.6 miles), Alex Vaz-Waddington started chasing me down. He came into Sibley at right around the same time. I took with a quick break and headed back out for the 3.5 miles to Skyline Gate. Not stopping at Skyline I thought I had opened up a lead on Alex. As we bombed down the hill off of West Ridge onto the French Trail he seemed to catch up. I had to drop him on the steep climbs of the French Trail.

From there I was never really pursued until Caren Spore started catching me on the climbs of the MacDonald Trail. I'm a big fan of Caren's so I relished the opportunity to run with her. We got into mile 20 at Bort Meadows at the same time. We bombed down from that aid station to the Brandon Trail for the last 10K of the run. We hit that aid station at 3 hours even, so I new Karen was in good shape to challenge for the women's record of 3:49 set by Sarah Lavender Smith the previous year. I resolved to knock out some 8 minute miles with her to set her up for the record. We reached Bass Cove Aid Station at Mile 23.2 at 3:25. Eight miles the rest of the way would make the record for Caren. I told Caren to go do it and run ahead, while I knew I would be happy with 9 minute miles and a 3:52 finish.

I knocked out those 9 minute miles on those last few hilly miles, hoping that Caren would run 8:00 miles and not 8:01 miles. And indeed it took me 27 minutes for the last few miles, and I finished in 3:52. This was sixth overall and third master (last year it would have been fourth overall and second master). Caren missed the women's record by three seconds.

I hung around in the gorgeous East Bay sunshine, eating Ann's soup, drinking beer, icing my aching back, and cheering other Ultraholics in. These include Jean Pommier (third overall), Sean Lang, and Rajeev Patel. Jean had come in third and Sean was ninth. I introduced myself to Hal Koerner and got the updates on his recent racing. It always amazes me how approachable the stars of this sport are. Then I headed back to the South Bay for some bedrest for my back.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Lost Tunnels to Santa Cruz Run - November 1st

The Lost Tunnels to Santa Cruz run will start at 8am on Saturday, November 1st, the day after Halloween. This is an unorganized free, "run at your own risk" fatass run. Experienced ultrarunners only should be participating. Its about 50K (31 miles) total with some form of aid at mile 11 and a stop in Felton at mile 21 for coffee and carbohydrates. See the previous Lost Tunnels post for pictures and more detailed description of the route. Below are more concise turn by turn directions.

Start - Portal #1

We'll meet at the Wright's Station Tunnel at the Los Gatos Creek bridge on Wrights Station Road at 9am.

View Larger Map

To get there take the Summit Road exit east and take a left on Morrill Road. Make a left on Wrights Station and take it down to the Los Gatos Creek bridge. There's parking just before the bridge.

To Portals #2 and #3

  • Wright's Station Road south to right on Morrill Road
  • Morrill Road to Summit Road
  • Summit Road to left on Summit Canyon Road
  • Left on Summit Canyon Road to where it turns into logging road
  • Down the logging road veering right at the first major fork to get down to portal #2
  • Climb up from the tunnel onto the railroad bed
  • Continue on the railroad bed for two miles under and over trees until you get to a ravine with a house on the other side
  • Go down and up the ravine and you'll get on a wider trail that takes you right into Laurel and Portal #3

Distance: 5 mi

To Portals #4 and #5

  • Run down Laurel Road until it hits route 17.
  • Cross route 17 and run on the right shoulder Route 17 for 1/3 mile (not that pleasant but I think this is the only "bad patch" of the run) until you get to Glenwood Cutoff.
  • Make a right on Glenwood Cutoff and head down to Glenwood Road. I will try to arrange for some form of aid station or car here.
  • Make a right on Glenwood Road and go up to Eagle Road to see portal #4
  • Turn back around and head back down Glenwood Road past Glenwood Cutoff (and the aid car) to the
    driveway on the right that connects to the railroad grade
  • There you'll see portal #5. From here its pretty much all trail (the next 20 miles) to Santa Cruz.

Distance: 11 miles

To Portals #6, #7 and the Railroad Tracks

  • Bushwhack up the hill past the tunnel entrance to Mountain Charlie Road
  • Go down Old Schoolhouse Road to the end
  • Veer left down the driveway onto the railroad grade
  • Take a right at the fork and go past the underbrush to the tunnel, which is portal #6
  • Turn back around and head due west staying to the right (don't go back up the hill) en route to Zayante. You'll be on the old railroad grade for about four miles
  • Stay straight and take the singletrack up the hill to the Zayante Tunnel, portal #7
  • Go around the hill to the right and up to the top which is Old Kenville Road
  • Continue down this road to a left turn on Zayante Schoolhouse Road
  • Run about 100 yards on Zayante Schoolhouse and look for the no trespassing fence on your right.
  • Go past that fence and you'll see the tracks. This is about halfway and its pretty easy to follow from here out. I suggest sticking together as much as possible for the first half. From here on anyone who wants to blaze shouldn't have problems navigating on their own (especially those who've done PCTR Santa Cruz before)

Distance: 16 miles

Start of Tracks to Felton

  • Run the tracks past the fire station, over the suspended bridge, through Roaring Camp, then across another bridge to the crossing with Graham Hill Road
  • Make a right on Graham Hill Road and run over to the Route 9 intersection
  • Make a left turn and you'll see the White Raven coffeeshop on the right. Stop for coffee and carbs.

Distance: 21 miles

Felton to Santa Cruz on the PCTR Santa Cruz Course

  • Run down route 9 to the Henry Cowell entrance
  • Make a left and follow the signs to the River Trail.
  • At the River Trail you're now on the Pacific Coast Trail Runs Santa Cruz course.
  • Note that if you get back onto the railroad tracks while in the park you can shave off a couple miles at the expense of not as scenic a run.
  • Take the River Trail to the Rincon Fireroad down to the San Lorenzo River
  • Cross the river and go back up the Rincon Fireroad to Route 9
  • Cross over to the Rincon Connector which connects to the Spring Trail
  • Take the Spring Trail to Lookout Trail on your left
  • Take Lookout Trail down to Harvey West Trail and Harvey West park
  • From Harvey West Park you take a left on Dubois and then a right on Encinal to get back on Route 9
  • Route 9 turns into River Street at Route 1. Follow River Street to Front Street until it turns into Pacific. Pacific will take you to the wharf.

Distance: 31 miles (50K)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

PCTR Santa Cruz 29K and Rio Del Lago 100 Pacing

What a fine weekend of trail running in paradise this was! I was eagerly anticipating the PCTR Santa Cruz race. It's held on the trails of Pogonip and Henry Cowell Redwoods Parks. These are both on my trail run to Santa Cruz, so I know each root and rock of them. With no excuses handy to perform mediocrely I knew I needed to throw down here to wind down the season on a high note.

Coincidentally Rio del Lago 100 is the same day. I was originally supposed to pace Michael Hayden (current junior record holder in the 100K and other distances). But with him not coming up for it, I agreed to pace Jean Pommier (who I am signed up to pace at Western States next year as well). With Jean as one of the favorites to win, this would be a high pressure but exciting day and night day for me.

Santa Cruz 29K

I showed up at Harvey West Park next to the Costco in Santa Cruz on race morning and saw many familiar ultra faces. Will Gotthardt, Carol Cumunale and Gary Gellin were volunteering (I was relieved to see Gary not racing this morning). Chuck Wilson, Ryan Commons and ultraholics Sean Lang and Hao Liu toed the line of the combined 29K and 50K start in the middle of the park.

After Wendell embarrassingly insisted that I step up to the starting line in the front to begin the race (because as you'll see I wasn't quite the fastest guy in the race), I led out the field in a parade loop around the park. I foolishly then led the lead pack (Ryan, Sean, Jason Reed and myself) off up Harvey West Trail into Pogonip Park. We climbed the switchbacks and as we came up to the top and the beginning of Lookout Trail, Jason Reed ran up alongside. I hadn't met him before and we chatted a bit before turning right onto the Spring Trail heading down to Route 9 and the Rincon Connector Trail, where I let Jason go a bit ahead but tried to keep him in view.
Eventually Ryan Commons and Sean Lang, dueling it out for the 50K lead, came alongside.

As we descended the Rincon Connector Trail heading down to Route 9, I let them go ahead and stayed within sight.

We crossed route 9 onto the Rincon Fireroad heading down to the San Lorenzo River, which I hit in 30 minutes (far faster than my training splits). Sean, Jason and Ryan slowed down for the crossing. But I joyously splashed through the waist-high pool of water to the uphill climb on the other side. Those guys were definitely climbing faster than I was, which I found surprising since I rarely get passed on the uphill. By the time I reached the intersection with Big Rock Hole Trail the guys were out of sight. But I bombed down the other side of Big Rock Hole and then the Rincon Fireroad to the River Trail. I normally don't run down steep hills too quickly but, for me, course familiarity is the key to swift descents. I reached the turnaround at the Henry Cowell Picnic Area at 55 minutes (my best time in training was around 1:03). I was back on the heels of Ryan and Sean (Jason was a little bit ahead). We all ran back out together on the River Trail to do the 7K "orange loop". They almost made a wrong turn early on the River Trail. But I stopped them and led them up the River Trail to the Ridge Trail and the right turn. They left me on the climb. But after I plowed up the sand hill to the observation deck I bombed down Pine Hill Trail and Eagle Creek Trail confidently catching them again at the Picnic Area (Jason was again about a minute ahead). Still I had only done this in 40 minutes, about the same time that I do it in training, with little speedup. I guess its just difficult to cut time running on that sand.

It was 1:35 when we all three left for the 6.5 mile run back to Santa Cruz. I was still able to hop the fences in and out (Hey Ryan and Sean: I may be a little slower, but its all about style - you need to hurdle those next year!) We again ran out together on the River Trail and about halfway up the River Trail/Rincon Fireroad Climb the guys pulled ahead. I bombed down from Big Rock Hole Trail to the Rincon Fireroad and made another fast river crossing.

Then back up the Rincon Fireroad on the other side to Route 9. Then the Rincon Connector Road up to the Spring Trail entrance. I felt great on the familiar runnable flat Spring Trail and laid it down trying to close the distance. I turned left on the Lookout Trail heading down to Harvey West Park and thought I saw the leaders disappear into the woods of the Harvey West Trail. Once on the Harvey West Trail descent, I did what I could to get past slower 21K runners. Finally past them I turned on the jets and sprinted the remaining half mile to the finish. I hit the finish line in 2:29:43, a minute behind Jason Reed (and Sean and Ryan's splits). This was good for second place and first master. After hanging around briefly to chat with Hao Liu (who came in with a strong 2:54 finish), Jason and Will, I headed out for the drive up to Sacramento for Rio Del Lago.

Pacing at Rio Del Lago 100

I got directions from Jean's wife Agnes to meet at Hazel Bluffs at mile 78. I was worried that I would be late when I arrived at 5:30 as the volunteers were setting up the aid station for the first runners. But the heat had taken a toll on the entire field. Agnes called to let me know that Jean had assumed the lead over Chikara Omine. Eventually she arrived in person to give me my pacer bib. We sat with the aid station volunteers waiting for Jean. It turned out that Greg Bauhof assumed a lead over Jean, arriving at around 7:25PM, taking sustenance from his father's minivan instead of the aid station. Jean arrived 15 minutes later and after a quick stop at the aid station (something I really need to learn from for longer races) we headed off together down the trail as the sun set.

We crossed under and up multiple underpasses of the Hazel Avenue bridge over the American River to get onto the trail heading south. The trail initially was mostly asphalt bike path: not something I associated with ultra trail runs. But at least it was fairly flat. Eventually it started darting in and out of side trails, but still stayed mostly flat. And it was clear during this stretch that you were in the city of Folsom, with major roads in view for much of the time. I hadn't paced before so this was something to learn. Jean and I didn't start with an opinion on whether I should run behind or in front. Eventually Jean decided that he wanted me running behind. This was fine except that often the directions for the trail weren't clear so occasionally I would run ahead to scope out where to turn and keep Jean running consistently.

After passing quickly through the next aid station at mile 81, we arrived at the farthest aid station, positioned next to a loud rock concert in this semi-urban setting at 9pm. This was a 1:20 split for those six miles. After some delicious coffee and brownies from the nice ladies running that aid station, we headed back towards Hazel Bluffs. We passed Mark Tanaka at 9:40, right around mile 87. So we presumed a 1:20 lead over him. It turned out that Mark had come into Hazel Bluffs 45 minutes behind. So this out and back stretch had almost doubled Jean's lead. This was essentially insurmountable and second place was locked up as long as Jean didn't blow up.

We arrived back to Hazel Bluffs for more pizza from the crew there, and Agnes was there as well. Then heading out east back to the school and start/finish area on real trails now. They were quite dusty however and Jean pointed out the dust motes in light from our headlamps and said that all the dust must be causing his difficulty breathing all day.

With such a lead there was no particular reason to push hard but Jean was running steadily and efficiently with good form. At Negro Bar we stopped for soup and watermelon. This didn't seem to sit well with Jean and he started suffering GI distress. Now the walking breaks were predominating. But when running he still looked fluid and strong.

We headed back out for the last 3.1 miles to the finish. At one point climbing up to the levee, with about a mile left, I thought I saw a headlamp behind us. This couldn't be possible that someone was on our heels. But I couldn't afford to take any chances with second place on the line. So I told Jean we needed to start running for real. He started really moving and we must have done a sub 8 minute last mile and crossed the finish line at 18:46, second place overall.

After about an hour the third place finisher came in but it wasn't Mark. In talking to John Olson (who had challenged Jean early) he said that Mark was suffering but determined to finish. So hearing that he might be quite a while to go, we headed off to the hotel a little after 2am to get a few hours sleep. Overall it was inspiring to see Jean conquer the heat, exhaustion, breathing difficulties and gastrointestinal problems, and still run strong and consistently. A much more thorough recap of the race is of course at Jean's excellent blog.