Saturday, September 29, 2007

Lake Tahoe Marathon - South Lake Tahoe, CA

This marathon is the highlight of a weeklong sports festival of bike races, triathlons, running races including a Triple Marathon (three days in a row of marathons) and a 72 mile ultramarathon, which starts at midnight and finishes with the final day of marathons.

I was originally signed up for the Triple Marathons on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. But running engineering at a startup can interfere with the bestlaid plans. I only managed to get out of the office late Friday night, and took the last flight out to Reno from San Jose. Driving over the Mount Rose pass from Reno, we hit a bona fide snowstorm and had to slow to a crawl over the mountain. Finally getting to Tahoe City (where the start of the marathon would be) around 1am, we got a few hours of sleep before the marathon start.

The day broke bitter cold as we went to the marathon start around 7:30am. I picked up a bib and went to Sid's bagelry for bagels and much needed coffee. The elite women started at 8am (to make their marathon finish more interesting I guess?) and the rest of the marathoners were sent off at 8:30am.

The road was very icy. If I had known I would have worn my trail racing flats. Instead I had on some Brooks T4 racing flats with very little grip. I skittered precariously over the ice trying not to fall.

After a few minutes of running I got a call from Kim. Somewhere along the drive the rental car had bottomed out and was damaged and barely drivable. I ran along and tried to give advice on what to do for her to get to the half marathon start. I felt pretty good given the lack of sleep, but I still haven't mastered going much faster than eight minute miles while on the cell phone and sliding along on ice patches. Over the next hour and a half I still managed to have four more phone calls, and not fall, and eventually we got the car problem solved.

We had some nice views of the lake and the lovely homes on it for the first 10 miles or so. I wasn't feeling the effects of altitude as I normally would. I got to the 13 mile point at 1:54. I stepped up my pace as we approached the hills past mile 15. It was billed in roadside signs as the "hill from hell". It really wasn't bad by ultra standards, but it was probably the biggest hill I've seen in a regular marathon. No longer worried about broken cars or making phone calls, I started truly pushing going up the incline and felt very strong throughout. At mile 18 a bagpiper celebrated the completion of the first climb. And we were treated to beautiful views of Emerald Bay. After descending for a bit a mile the climb began again, and peaked round mile 20. I got there right around three hours. We then pounded down three miles of highway, before turning left onto a paved biked path around mile 23.

Hitting mile 24 at 3:35, I started pushing hard, wanting to get a sub 3:50 finish. As I got to mile 25 I started passing quite a few people and entered the straightaway after mile 26 at a full sprint. I finished in 3:49:53, second in my age group and 32nd individual finisher out of 422. For some reason I don't understand they did give me a nice top 25 windjacket though (top 25 male finishers I wonder?).

Presumably due to the extreme cold and ice, most of the runners seemed off of their historical times (Mike Miller, winner of the 50-59 age group, did 3:24 this year and 3:14 last year). First in my agegroup was Sean Sweeney in 3:28. That would be a stretch for me to do. But with a good shoe tread, less ice and less phone calls, I would hope to be able to run 3:30 in the marathon next year. But, hmmm, that 72 mile ultra run does look interesting....

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Almaden Times 10K - San Jose CA

No convenient marathons or ultras this weekend, so I settled for a little local race. Its held at Leland Junior High in Almaden, somewhat close to Almaden Park where the San Jose International Triathlon is held. The run course seems to share that same bike path. We started running south on the road from the school, turned to the left and got onto the bike path at around the one mile mark. My goal for the day was to run 6:20 miles and do under 40 minutes. With a warm windless morning, running along a protected bikepath (better than just plain roads) and cutting the tangents, and always finding someone to draf off of, I seemed to be clocking 6:10s.

Then we ran north on the bike path, past the school again at around mile 3 and stayed on the bike path. The turnaround was about a mile and a half north of the school. We then started running back. The turnoff of the bikepath sort of sneaks up on you. Once I saw it I started sprinting, but it was a bit too late. I also ran up into a woman with a double stroller from the 5K, taking up the entire finishing chute.

Despite that, I ended up finishing in 37:47, my best 10K road race (something I generally avoid) in quite some time. I ran into Steve Sokol in the finish (he and his son had done the two mile), and we waited around for his wife to finish. A nice day for a race but anything less than a marathon doesn't seem like a real effort anymore.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cle Elum Ridge Run 50K - Cle Elum WA

This race seemed just up my alley, and hence worth the flight to Seattle and a long drive. Greater than 6000 feet of climbing, most of it frontloaded, very slow average times (indicating a tough course) despite it being held in the hotbed of ultra competition (near Seattle) and almost all singletrack. I flew up to Seattle late the night before and drove the 90 miles to Cle Elum, getting to the "official race hotel" the Stewart Lodge, around midnight. The next morning I followed a couple other race participants from the hotel the half hour or so to the race site. A huge number of early starters (usually reserved for the slower runners) had taken off at 7am as we drove into the park.

This race advertised only two aid stations and I had no crew. So I came to the starting line with pockets stuffed with a dozen Hammer Gels, one for each anticipated half hour of running. The race started off on the park road for about a half mile, turning uphill to the left on fireroad. After another mile or so we hit single track. After a couple miles of rollers the climb began in earnest. We ran up a thousand feet between mile 3 and 5, close together on a very dusty trail.

running behind Paul Morrison

Then after a couple more miles of descent, we climbed another thousand feet getting to mile 10. Then rollers and bit of dropoff to get to the first aid station. This last stretch to the aid station is virtually unmarked. I had a lot of pauses as other runners and I tried to verify that we were still on course.

I hit the first aid station at mile 12 at 2:25. I downed some Mountain Dew, ate chips, topped off my water bottle and headed back out up the trail. Another thousand feet or so of climbing in the next few miles dropped us out onto a brief stretch of fireroad. The markings for turns were just yellow pieces of plastic lying covered by dirt. I missed the turnoff from this fireroad back onto single track. After running a half mile more down, I figured out that I had probably missed a turn. I could see runners on the ridge above. So I turned back and finally saw the single track turn on the right. I probably only lost ten minutes or so on this escapade.

I repassed a few runners that I had been ahead of as we continued upward another 500 feet. Again this trail is not wellmarked. Miles can pass without any hint of ribbons or other direction indicators. Finally getting to the of the trail lets you out onto "Windy Gap" - a plateau that actually connects to several trails, without it being obvious where the descent is. Eventually you figure out where the descending trail is. There are no signs or arrows. Just a strip or two of plastic in the dirt.

I bombed down the extreme grade from Windy Gap switchbacking down the mountain. I usually expect to get passed on steep descents, as its not my strength. I managed not to this time. After crossing Taneum Creek there's a short uphill that takes you to the second aid station.

running through Taneum Creek

I hit that aid station at 21 miles at 4:25, thinking I could probably still do six hours (my goal for the day) despite losing the ten minutes on the wrong turn. But though the trails mostly descend there are quite a few minihills, streams, and other traverses. I felt pretty good the whole way. No extreme fatigue. I finished in 6:09, happy with a solid run. This was fifteenth out of a field of 100. If I hadn't lost my way, I would have contended for third master, who finished in 5:59. Regardless it was a good run on a course that is exactly the way I like it: lots of climbing and lots of technical rolling single track when on what might look like flats.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Stevens Creek 50K - Cupertino CA

This free race is held at the Skyline Open Space Preserve, about 10 miles north of my house in the Los Gatos hills. Steve Patt, owner of Stevens Creek Software, funds it personally, initially as a sort of birthday celebration for himself. There is only a voluntary $20 contribution to the Audobon Society preservation trust.

The registration site wasn't available when I was race planning in January. Once I got around to checking again the race was full! Dejectedly, I agreed to volunteer and sweep the course for Steve. Have to give back to the ultra community when the races are local and convenient (as I did with trail work at QuickSilver 50k).

To my great surprise and delight Steve wrote to me a few days before to tell me that I would be able to run after all. The sun was shining down as the race prepared to start at the very civilized hour of 9am. It was a perfect day to run, though perhaps a bit warm for some. Steve walked us up the parking lot to the north and across Skyline to start on the east Ridge Trail.

15 year old Michael Kanning took off like a shot and I was close on his heels. I wasn't pushing it a bit and just felt great running up and down the rolling ridge of my local Santa Cruz mountains. It felt just like my backyard trail loop in terrain and vegetation. Michael built a minute or two lead and I saw him occasionally on the straightaways. Eventually I heard Beth Vitalis (a very strong ultrarunner from Livermore who has been second many times in this race) and Alan Geraldi. Preferring not to be hunted, I slowed down to join their conversation. Beth is also a more experienced and faster ultrarunner than I am, so this was my clue that I was going too fast. I ran with them for a while, but as the uphills increased on the way to Saratoga Gap I pulled away again. I prefer to run the hills while Alan, probably wisely, just powerwalked them. After we came out to some downhills Beth caught up again. She has this fast and furious cadence, arms and legs swinging wildly, on the downhills and the flats that is quite impressive. It doesn't look efficient to me, but it works better than the way I descend. She had cheery greetings for every hiker and runner, amidst all of the flailing. I learned on our jaunt together that Beth's picture is apparently on the cover of some Gu packets. Well I guess I really should slow down then!

I pulled into Aid Station 1 at Saratoga Gap at 10.9 miles, refilled my bottle, ate some chips, drank some Gu20 and grabbed the rationed single Gu packet. I left the aid station at 1:46:57. Beth and Jun Funaki caught up to me and we ran together for a while. The soreness that I tend to get around mile 15 set in after a few miles and I slowed to let them go ahead. I also got passed by Brian Wyatt. Eventually I caught up to an early starter and who I begged some Advil from. This helped quite a bit. I sped up and came into Aid Station 2 back at the Open Space Preserve at 19.3 miles, still in fifth place.

Alan Geraldi had caught back up and he and Mike Topper passed me going up the hill north on the trail leaving the aid station. I still felt good and kept a steady pace across the Alpine Road crossing and continuing up. We came to a "controlled burn" area that looked like the surface of Mars. As I came down the hill from there, I wiped out on the trail and bloodied my knee and shins thoroughly. I made sure to keep running so the soreness didn't set in. If anything this only fired me up, as it usually does on my frequent wipeouts. But I was still passed by Ian Hersey as we turned back onto single track for the final descent to the turnaround.

I came into aid station 3 at 25 miles in 9th at 4:28:26. I ate a bunch of potatoes and drank several cokes. Now to really turn it on for the finish. I was hoping to gain back several places as I saw several tired faces coming out of the turnaround. The climbing that was involved in the last five miles should help me quite a bit and I was ready to push it. After we climbed back up, we turned to the right on some singletrack to head down the mountain on Mandigo Trail. I missed the left turn on Ancient Oaks and went all the way down the valley to a deadend. Then I had to run back up the hill the other way until I saw where the turn was supposed to be. Apparently this happened last year as well to some of the leaders. It looks like its only three miles out of the way. But with the brutal climb back up I'm pretty sure that this added 30 to 40 minutes to my time, just counting the time on the detour itself.

I was a bit demoralized by the sidetrip and just loped out a steady pace from then on, enjoying the beautiful day, finishing in 6:27:15. Steve was nice enough to asterisk my finish with a "* Bonus Miles" indicator. Jun Funaki overtook Beth Vitalis to win this race. Beth finished second and was first woman after several attempts. Mike Topper went from sixth just behind me at aid station 2 at 19.5 miles, moved up to fourth by aid station and finished strong to come in third as first master. After an impressive start, Michael Kanning faded to sixth by the third aid station. But he managed a late surge and ended up fourth.

This is a beautiful race in an area of incredible trails that cry out to be appreciated by the Bay area ultra community. Lots of climbing and mostly singletrack, its a better course than many larger local races. I hope Steve Patt's idea of self-funded organized free races catches on more. Definitely better organized and more well supported than many Fatass races that I've gone to in the Seattle area. And plenty of aid as well. By contrast the next weekend's Cle Elum Ridge Run in Washington cost $70 and only has two aid stations during 6000 feet of climbing. I've been threatening to put on a race on my backyard trails close by (that connect to the southern extreme of this race). Steve's generosity makes me feel like I'm really dutybound to do that. If so, I'll try to stagger on the six month interval so people can get to appreciate both spring and late summer in the lush and scenic Santa Cruz mountains.