Saturday, March 31, 2007

Golden Gate Headlands Trail Marathon

With the possible exception of my backyard trails, this race held on Rodeo Beach in the Headlands is my favorite course in California. I love the initial steep climbs off of the beach and, once you hit the ridges, the beautiful vistas of the Bay towards Sausalito and the ocean on the other side. I've generally done well on this course partially because I'm so inspired by it. A great site for my first "just a marathon" of the year.

My goal on this course with over 3000 feet of wicked climbs and a torturous beach run on each of the two loops, was to break four hours. To put it in perspective, former Trail Runner Trophy Series champion Scott Dunlap did 3:45:40 in 2004 (when Dean Karnazes did 3:30). Ordinarily I might have shot for 3:45 but I had been feeling worn down for the last couple weeks from Chuckanut.: very slow workout times.

I showed up to the park at 7:30am as a volunteer to help Dave Horning and the rest of the EnviroSports team, and helped direct cars to park. The weather was perfect: sunny and just cold enough. I wore my lightweight New Balance racing flats, because I knew the course was really not technical at all, and there shouldn't be mud. I carried only my cell (to radio ahead for supplies if necessary during the first loop) , a gel packet (the park service won't let Dave give them out) and Oakley MP3 shades.

The marathoners got to start before the shortcoursers in this race. At the start two runners took off quickly up the hill of the Coastal Trail and there was a smaller lead pack after them. During the climb I restrained myself from trying to stay with the lead runners as I would do for anything half marathon or less, and stayed back with the "chase pack" of four or five more runners. We climbed to the top, eventually climbing the infamous stairs. Then over the rolling ridges of the Wolf Ridge Trail turning left onto Old Springs Trail (unlike the 7 milers who would turn right onto the Miwok trail)l we descended to the horse stables. Just after the stables, around mile 4, there was an aid station with water and sports drink. I chatted with the volunteers, and surrendered my singlet to a volunteer in the face of the hot morning.

Then back up the "second grind" to 800 feet. There's another aid station at mile 6.5 with pretzels, crackers and trail mix. Down the Marincello Trail to the Rodeo Valley Trail which flattens out at the valley floor. Crossing a parking lot there's an aid station with water before a small but steep climb up to Conzelman Road. Then pounding down the highway for a mile (ouch!) to get back onto the trail to the starting area.

Rebecca (also volunteering today) was waiting at the start/finish area handing out drinks to the marathoners to steel them for the second loop. I gave her my cellphone (no need for it today), got a water bottle from her (definitely need for that today) and started in on the second loop. My split for the first half was 1:44 and I was feeling great. So despite my original intentions and my full upcoming ultra schedule, I was then determined to run 3:45. That gave me a couple hours to do this loop that I had already run and which I like so much.

I had no problems on the climb. Once I got to the top of the second grind, around mile 5, I stopped to enjoy the view (as Dave says to do) and take some Advil as my legs started to ache. I also looked behind me and saw noone remotely close. I stopped at the aid station and wolfed down some pretzels and crackers before the next descent, still feeling good the whole way. I drank at the last aid station and still didn't see anyone coming down the mountain.

Once I hit Conzelman Road again the road made my legs quite sore. I'm just not a roadrunner and I slowed down quite a bit. After a few minutes, I finally did see a chaser. Howard Wood was behind me, looking strong and clearly gaining on me. He pulled alongside and we chatted for a bit. We were both doing 50 milers in a couple weeks, thought of this as a training run, and were in no mood for a kickfest. So he graciously offered to run in with me. But he looked way too strong and I declined his generosity. He surged ahead onto the trail. I followed, not trying to chase him down. Good thing: once off of the final trail onto the beach sand, now the sand did faze me. I shuffled through the dunes pretty slowly and came up off of the beach having to sprint a little bit to hit my goal on the nose: 3:45:00.0, and fourth overall.

After another ten minutes or so, other finishers started coming in. The sand seemed to affect everyone. This is one race where the finish photos probably show everyone looking bedraggled.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Chuckanut 50K - Bellingham WA

This was my first ultra so I had a lot of anticipation building up for this over the last month. But less pressure since my only goal was to finish respectably. To me that meant above the median and under six hours.

I drove to Bellingham the night before the race, a painful traffic-filled two hours from SeaTac airport.Perhaps I should fly in to Bellingham if I do it again? We stayed at the Fairhaven Village Inn, a few blocks from the race start - a nice little hotel. We walked a few blocks through the Fairhaven neighborhood and had a late dinner at the Mambo Italian Cafe: excellent pasta and a bottle of chianti.

Race morning dawned rainy and cold. But I felt good and looked forward to the race. I found a crucial pre-race latte at the Safeway on the way to Fairhaven Park. We got to the park around 7am in plenty of time to pick up the packet and a race chip. A chip-timed trail race? Thats a first for me.

I relaxed in the car for an hour chatting with Rebecca about fueling strategies for the upcoming rest stops where she was going to meet me. I didn't eat anything prior to the race, although we had bars, gels, and pretzels that could have served the purpose (I could have even gotten something better such as oatmeal at the Safeway on the way). I never eat before races, but this was to prove to be a bad move before this particular race. I vow to eat something before all future ultras.

I decided to bring my cellphone since my propensity for taking wrong turns could really hurt in such a long race. I changed into some surfer-style shorts that nestled my cellphone nicely. Unfortunately these shorts would end up chafing my important assets by the end of the race. Vaseline next time - another ultra learning. I wore two long sleeve running shirts, a fleece, a rainshell, and fleece running cap. This made me a lot more comfortable in the cold. But no tights! I'll never do that unless they come with matching cape or something. I topped it off with my trusty Oakley MP3 sunglasses, which looked particularly ridiculous on this gray day. Luckily the lenses retract, which looks even stranger! For the impending mud, I chose Adidas TR9s as my race blades.

The race started just a few minutes after eight AM, up a small hill in the park and past a subdivision and onto the trail proper. I picked a leisurely pace, probably around 9 minute miles, dialed in, and tried to just enjoy the trail amidst the drizzle. The mud wasn't too bad in the beginning despite the rain.

I hit the first rest stop at around an hour and five minutes. I drank some Red Bull that Rebecca had for me. But just wasn't hungry yet (another mistake not to force myself to eat). I surrendered my fleece and shell to Rebecca and headed out back onto the trail. We now turned up a steep hill gaining over a thousand feet very quickly. Back down another hill and we again climbed over one thousand feet going past Fragrance Lake before the third rest stop. I felt great the whole time and perhaps attacked the hill more than I should have, passing several smarter, wiser runners. I sucked down a gel packet during the climb when I started to feel just a bit rundown. Finally I saw Rebecca again at the third rest stop at around two hours and fifteen minutes. I drank some more Red Bull and grabbed a Clif bar and gel packet to go. This was where I really should have stopped to eat.

I left the rest stop and passed several runners on the trail as we headed across and down a fairly technical ridge.

At one point a couple younger faster guys passed me which surprised me since I had thought I was "hanging back" quite a bit earlier and had started to hit my speed. As I headed out into open space, I ate a Hammer gel. Towards the end of the descent my recently injured groin muscles started to ache. I lost quite a bit of speed as I approached the bottom of the ridge. We turned back on a long muddy plateau trail for several miles past Lost Lake. We then turned right off of that trail and started climbing back up to the summit. There was one quick hill of a couple hundred feet, and then we started up a seemingly vertical climb up seven hundred feet or so. This is apparently known as the Chinscraper. Normally I love such steep hills, and have a couple of real doozies approaching this steepness on my daily run. But on this day, I'm assuming due to my poor fueling discipline I truly bonked. I tried eating my Clif bar but I really don't like them, and it was of course too late to help. I finished the last hundred feet walking upwards in a total catatonic daze, getting passed by at least ten runners. And I did wonder for a moment what the hell I was doing there.

Finally I got over the top and ran down to an open area (ahead of the rest stop) where Rebecca was waiting in the rental car. I gulped down chicken soup (delicious!), pretzels, nuts, Red Bull. Anything I could get my hands on. I changed into fresh shoes (lightweight Teva X1s now that the technical stuff was done) and socks and felt like a new man. I had a little under ninety minutes to get there and do what was supposedly a little over 11 miles.

I ran down the hill feeling strong, but I was slowed a bit by the treacherous mud. It was fireroad, but very slick and my Adidas TR9s would have allowed me to go a bit faster. Still I felt great and was whooping with exhilaration. After a mile or so, the trail turned off to the left and backward off of the fireroad. With less mud on the singletrack, I really turned it on and passed two or three runners. After around four miles I met Rebecca again at the final rest stop where I drank another Red Bull and took off on a "flat trail" for the supposedly 6.5 miles to the finish. I had a little under an hour to get there which I thought should be easy enough to do, and was contemplating a 5:50 finish. I was running consistently under 8 minute miles from mile marker to mile marker on the trail. So when it seemed that there should just be a half mile left, imagine my surprise when spectators called out "just a couple miles to go". I had to really push it then to keep it under 6 hours. I'd venture that the last leg is really more like 7.5 miles than 6.5. Oh well, everyone had to do the same course and it wouldn't be a trail run without being longer than advertised. But hey Krissy Moehl, can you check that last measurement for next year?

Regardless, I felt great for these last few miles and passed six or so runners. On the last little minhill, I caught up to Dominic Alexander. He pulled away from me with a quarter mile left. But, though I often kick in the finish, I chose not to chase him down at the finish. Such things aren't done at ultras are they? Anyway, thats my excuse and I'm sticking to it. I finished in 5:58:45, 116th out of 256 runners.

Woods, steep climbs, singletrack, ridges with vistas: what a beautiful race. I will definitely be back next year.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Marin Trails 10K and 20K - China Camp State Park CA

Not realizing that this race is well inside China Camp State Park in Marin, I arrived at the race just as the 20Kers were leaving, so I missed my chance to do the longer race. I went to get my number and lined up with the 10K competitors. It was a perfect, beautiful sunny morning in paradise. Will Baker-Robinson, who I had raced last week at Woodside King's Mountain was there. Its amazing to see a 12 year old race well.

The start was flat and wide for the first half mile or so. The lead pack was Andrew Lavallee Eduardo Vasquez, Will, and I. Andrew and Eduardo pulled away quickly as the broad path narrowed to singletrack. At that point I was running ahead of Will and Scott Weaver, another masters male. I felt really good. None of the groin pull pain that has plagued me for the last couple months. Although I intended this as a "training day" to save my body and mind for next week's 50K, I let out a whoop and took off, trying to put some distance between myself and Will and Scott.

We ran out at a steady pace across the gently rolling singletrack, interrupted once by a road crossing. I touched the tree of the turnaround and headed back in third place still with about 30 seconds on Will and Lynette Sweeney. Around mile four I started to flag. And I just didn't feel like I was competing with the two of them, so I let them pass and took it easy for the last couple of miles.

I finished in 43:49 as the first masters racer, about 40 seconds ahead the next runner. Will and I commented on how much more we like the steep hill runs that PCTR does. I suggested that Will should be awarded a "rubber chick" since the male and female winners get a rubber chicken.

Overall a fun run, but I won't travel that far to it next year though.