Saturday, November 24, 2007

Quad Dipsea - Mill Valley, CA

This is the most extreme race held on the famous Dipsea Trail. The Double Dipsea, one of the oldest footraces in the country is help on the same route: from Stinson Beach to Mill Valley and back. I've done that several times. It's the site of the Bruce Dern movie On the Edge. The whole course is quite inspirational. Not really being a great descender in general, I have never gotten the hang out of pounding down those endless steps into Mill Valley (or the less extreme stairs to Stinson Beach for that matter). Still I've managed to hobble my way through it and have fun doing the Double.

But I had always found the idea of crossing over the hill four times to be utterly unfathomable. Even this year, after doing three fifty milers that had all gone well, I admit that I was still intimidated by this race.

I arrived in Mill Valley (unlike Double Dipsea, the Quad starts in Mill Valley rather than Stinson) the morning of the race and did my best to keep warm in the sub-freezing temperatures. I was still a bit stiff from JFK the week before. But overall feeling pretty good (no excuses). Running up those steps at the start amidst the crush of runners is not that fun. I pushed a little too hard to get away from the hordes. Finally it lets out onto the trail. Chuck Wilson was working the aid station halfway at the Summit and refilled my water bottle quickly on each pass through.

I noticed that Beth Vitalis took an early lead among the women, continuing another strong season for her. I happened to be running behind Krissy Moehl most of the way, probably a sign that I was running too fast. I ran the first leg feeling pretty good, thinking that I was holding back, in 1:13. I picked up another bottle of Perpetuem from my crew and headed back over the hill to Mill Valley. I pounded down those infernal stairs reaching the start/finish area at 2:31.

Quad Dipsea Halfway

Still feeling good on the third leg I got back to Stinson Beach at 3:53.

I thought I had 5:30 in the bag, and I would have been happy with that the week after a good race at JFK 50M. Halfway up the hill I cramped out. I took some electrolytes but then got nauseous worse than I have at any race. As I proceeded to lose my lunch onto the trail Keith Blom caught up and said "I hope you're going to cover that up!". I'm not really sure what caused all this. Probably some combination of not enough electrolytes and not enough fuel. Finally I got up and started a slow hobble back up to the aid station at the summit. I stopped there and drank and ate for a while. I really didn't want to finish this race. Somehow I got up and ran/fell down the mountain for a 5:49 finish.

Erik Skaggs won in an impressive 3:53, threatening the men's course record. Beth Vitalis set the women's course record in an incredible 4:39:39.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

JFK 50 Miler - Hagerstown, MD

This is the country's oldest (45 years old) and largest (over 1300 participants) ultra. Its relatively flat - not generally my favorite kind of course. But a chance to run a sub eight hour 50 miler. And I have rental property in Virginia, but haven't met my tenant there. This was a good excuse for a fall visit.

This year the race attracted Mark Lundblad, Eric Clifton, Greg Crowther, Eric Grossman, and Sean Meissner: ultra luminaries from across the nation. Perhaps it wasn't quite so crazy to fly across the country to go. It was frigid the morning of the race: 28 degrees. Although I lived in the DC area for many years, I'm now a California cold weather wimp. So I stayed in the shelter of the schoolhouse where morning of registration was done as long as possible. With ten minutes to race time, I started walking to the start line with the over a thousand other people running. I had never seen such a crowd at an ultra. The gun went off before many of us had reached the starting line.

We ran up the road to where the trail started a couple miles away. It was a steep enough hill that many runners started walking. I kept running and passed many people since I had started late. We turned onto the Appalachian Trail and enjoyed the respite from the asphalt for a while. That is until the descent started. Unlike most California ultras, the trail was covered by rocks. In my lightweight New Balance 790 ballet slippers, my feet were cut into small shards by the constant impact on the sharp stones. The occasional rises on the Appalachian Trail provided welcome respite from the downhill punishment of the rocks.

Eventually the hills yielded to the flats of the C&O Canal Towpath. This was around the 15 mile mark. I hit it at around the 2:30 mark. I was running with two sub 3 hour marathoners, Michael Dunkle (who would finish a few minutes ahead) and Robert Ayers (who faded to 8:32), easily clocking 7:30 miles at that point.

Since my goal was eight hours I slowed down to try to do eight minute pace which should easily get me the eight hour overall time. We ran 26 miles on the path. I came off of the path at 6:45, with eight miles to go. We were now going up and down rolling hills on asphalt. It wasn't that fun running out on the road, but the traffic wasn't too bad and the weather was nice. I felt like eight hours was in the bag, so I settled into an even 8:30 minute pace to finish under 8 hours and not blow up. Mission accomplished. I finished at 7:57.

Then off to my favorite restaurant in the world: the Inn at Little Washington, in rural Washington, Virginia, for a fantastic celebratory meal.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Metro Silicon Valley Marathon - San Jose CA

Well I don't normally do road marathons. But I would like to do Boston Marathon once. So I signed up for this relatively flat local roadrace in order to qualify for Boston for next year. As a 43 yearold, I needed a 3:20:59 to do so (you get 59 seconds grace over the nominal standard). I planned to race conservatively: just run 7:30 miles and finish in around 3:17. This is a simple way to plan splits: just 15 minutes for every 2 miles and one hour for every 8.

One of the other nice things about this race is its on the morning after the "fall back" for Daylight Savings Time. So it felt like we were starting at a civilized 8am instead of the nominal 7am. The weather was absolutely perfect as the sun rose and it was 50 degrees out.

I felt so good at the start that I accidentally ran the first mile in 6:40. I slowed down after that but was still running too fast. Michael Bauman, a very frequent marathoner and optometrist from Visalia, pulled alongside with Sarah Kummerfeld (who would finish third woman). He was talking nonstop and was a bundle of energy and good cheer. We all wanted to run around 7:30 pace so we ran together for a few miles, turning onto the Los Gatos Creek Trail around mile 5. Once on the trail we had to dodge the cyclists, pedestrians and baby strollers. This is a very unfortunate feature of this race: the lack of dedicated space for it. I felt good enough that I pulled away around mile 8. I got to the halfway-point high school at 1:33, still running around 7:10 per mile. Last year, I just did the half marathon and finished here at 1:30:29.

Though the race is mostly flat, there were some actual hills leaving the high school before we turned back onto the trail. Now we were facing the oncoming runners. I still felt good until around mile 20, which I hit around 2:25. I started to feel the effects of the pounding at this point. Plus my right glute, which has been injured for a while, started to tighten up. In order to insure a Boston Qualifier (i.e. not cramping and having to hobble to the finish as I saw some others doing), I slowed to 8 minute pace. I finished in 3:15:33, which would have been a qualifying time even if I was a dew-eyed 35 year old youngster, 35th overall out of 726 runners. At the Vegas Marathon in a couple weeks, I'll try to maintain 7 minute pace as long as possible, and run under 3:10.

I stopped off for a free massage at the finish to handle the tight glutes and hamstrings. Then off to Santana Row for a great meal and a day of relaxing in the Indian summer sunshine.