Sunday, March 30, 2008

Eagle Park 5M - Sammamish WA

I had to go to Seattle anyway this week. So flew up to Seattle the morning of the race. After landing at 8:45 I drove to the site of the race in Sammamish, arriving just before race start. The ground was covered in snow, and the trail seemed to promise a muddy slippery escapade. Race Director Eric Bone promised no course records today.

There were 10 mile and 5 mile courses all starting at the same time. I had done the 10 miler last year in 1:24. 1:30 as a goal seemed reasonable under the conditions.

As we started out, it was in fact like skiing down every rolling decline. And there were puddles all over the course. It was pointless to avoid them and everyone quickly got their legs completely encrusted in mud. After several near falls, I decided that it would be prudent to just do five miles today and not risk injury for several bigger races coming up. At the aid station I turned around and tried to go catch the leader. I finished in second place again this weekend in 41 minutes and change. Surprisingly under the conditions this would have been the course record for previous years.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Napa Valley Trail 10K - Calistoga CA

I decided not to do the full marathon of this race as I had to fly to Seattle the next morning and where I planned to do another race. The 10K should be a nice little speed workout before a brutal gauntlet of ultras in April and May: AR 50M, North Face NYC 50M, Boston Marathon, Capitol Peak 50M, QuickSilver 50M, Ohlone 50K, and PCTR Portland Forest Park.

I saw Ray Sanchez at the start of course, as we both seem to do each and every local trail race. We compared notes on the last five races we had done together (Sequoia, Skyline Ridge, Napa Valley, Marin Trails, Morro Bay) and the next two (AR 50 and Malibu Creek next weekend).


Race director Dave Horning sent out the marathoners first. Before the half marathon start ten minute later he said that half marathoners could stop and get credit for a 10K. Perfect. I decided to save the time and go ahead and start my 10K right there and then.

Leading out at the start
I headed out and tried to stay on the front. Pete Kogler was just moving too fast however. I ended up staying about a minute off of him for the whole run. Molly Schmelzle was nipping at my heels for most of the run as well. Good incentive to move faster and not get "chicked". Molly won the women's half marathon and finished third overall.

We were going up and down fairly mild rolling single track. There were some stream crossings to slow things down. But not too many. I had done this race in October of 2005 in around 50 minutes. But really this seemed like a course that should be 7:30 pace or so. 45 minutes seemed achievable. At the finish, by the time I clicked stop on my watch (they weren't really ready for finishers since I had started ten minutes earlier) my watch read 45:31. With the wave that started 10 minutes later, Rob Cargie of Calgary, Alberta ran it a bit faster and won the 10K division in 45:05. I ended up in second place (first loser) as I would do again the next day in another race in Seattle.

This is a fun little jaunt of light rolling hills. I'm not quite sure that its worth the drive up to Calistoga. But if you're hankering for a day in wine country it may be worth the drive.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Buffalo Run 50M - Antelope Island, UT


I had done the 25K inaugural version of this race two years ago as part of the Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series. Last year they added a 50 miler. This is one of the most beautiful courses I've ever done: views of the lake from every turn and running amidst herds of buffaloes and antelope. Plus the Race Director Jim Skaggs promised to make the 50 miler more challenging this year with multiple ascents of Elephant Head Mountain.

So I really wanted to come out and do this race despite the fact that it filled late last year. Luckily some room came free on the waiting list at the last minute. So I cancelled my trip to do a Virginia race and came out to Utah instead.

My goals for the race were to:
- run consistently and efficiently throughout finishing strong and ready for more
- win the masters division. I thought that I would need to run 8:45 or so to do this (last year masters was won in around 8:30 but its a more challenging course this year)
- as a stretch goal run 8:30 or less

The race started at the ungodly hour of 6:00am under a bright full moon. The runners lined up in full headlamp and reflective regalia.


We ran out from the campground at the edge of the island on fireroad and were supposed to turn left from there onto a trailhead. But the various different chalk markers made me think that we should stay straight. I was leading out, but I had someone on my elbow when I chose not to turn so I assumed I had gone correctly. Once I could see the campground again I realized that I had made a mistake. I got back onto the trail 16 minutes into the race in dead last. In other races, wrong turns have demoralized me and I've had trouble finishing strong. This time however, I resolved to get back to the front.

As we ran up to Elephant Head I had the pleasure of greeting almost every runner as we approached the aid station for the turn to Turtle Rock. This was a little out and back where a sticker needed to be collected. For some reason people were turning to do that out and back spur at mile 4 instead of mile 9 as the map called for. Anyway, either way it works I guess.

I was running fourth as we made a climb out up a ridge at mile 15. Coming down from there I stopped to take some pictures of the buffalo herds and got passed by the eventual fourth and fifth place finishers as well as some other runners who I would repass.

After passing the buffalo herds, we descended from the ridge onto a large fireroad by mile 18. This passed close to the start/finish area, and continued up and over a hill and then down to the lake. Turning left at the base, we ran out a mile or so to the aid station at mile 20.

Then south on single track on the East Coast of the island, bordering the road, reaching the southern tip of the course around mile 31. Back north on this road to the northernmost aid station at mile 43.

Then west around the westernmost peninsula of the island on some very rocky treacherous single track. Its completely unmarked for over three miles and most runners I talked to thought they might be lost. Rounding the bend the tents of the finish campground were finally visible. Feeling strong and knowing I wasn't lost, I sprinted the last half mile or so back to the finish area.

There the 25K and 50Kers were waiting with homemade buffalo chili (is this why the buffaloes were eyeing us runners so angrily on the course?) and Jim's delicious homebrewed red ale. We hung around for hours cheering runners in and enjoying the food, fine weather and the breezes off of the lake in this unique venue.

As I had hoped for, I felt great in this race throughout and I was happy to finish in 8:38 given my 16 minute detour. I did manage to win masters after all, and was seventh overall. No wrong turns would probably have netted me fifth overall. But I was pleased with a day of running strong under adversity regardless of the result.

This race is a well kept secret and there weren't too many other Californians in it. I'll be letting my local ultramarathoners about it though. I expect it to grow and be quite difficult to get into soon.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Montana de Oro 25K - Morro Bay CA

I've done just about all of the Pacific Coast Trail Runs races at one time or another. But I had never done this one in Montana de Oro State Park near Morro Bay. But hearing about the spectacular views and given that I love the "race up the hill from the ocean" genre of trail run, this year I made the three hour drive down from the Bay area for a rare PCTR Sunday run.

We stayed in the Morro Bay Inn about ten miles away from the race site. On the drive there, we stopped at the Starbucks in Los Osos where I ran into Vladimir Gusiatnikov on his way to the race by bike from the train at San Luis Obispo. We gave him a ride to get him to the start on time and admired the surf while we waited for the race to start. I hadn't expected to see familiar faces so far away. But at the starting line were Ryan Commons, Joe Murphy, and Ray Sanchez (another lunatic who seems to do each and every local trail race).


All the distances (8k, 13km, 25k and 50k) started at the same time at 8:30am. Wendell was nice enough to individually tell Ryan and I to be sure to make the turn off of the road on the bluff. This was probably because Ryan is fast and I am stupid.

I felt great at the start and headed out near the front with a whoop. I was just behind some high school age kid for most of the run out on the bluff. Once we hit the bluff the smell of the sea air was overpowering and inspirational. From here on the views in the race were incredible. It is one of the most beautiful courses that I've done.

We turned off of the bluff onto the Rattlesnake Trail to begin the climb up Valencia Peak. I enjoyed the climbing and kept at a run almost the whole way. But not too fast as I'm still spooked by my earlier calf injuries from overaggressive uphill running. I got passed by a handful of people:, Thomas Reiss, Oswaldo Lopez and Ryan Commons from the 50K and David DeLucchi, Anissa Seguin, and the Obagi brothers from the 25K. Reaching the top of Valencia Peak I felt strong and bombed back down past the oncoming runners approaching the peak. We then turned onto Oats Peak trail for the return to Spooner's Cove and the start area.

I got back to the start at 1:10 into the race, had a couple cups of Coke and headed back out Pecho Valley Road to the Ridge Trail up to Hazard Peak. Ted Nunes was right behind me for the run down the road. I could see Ryan Commons and a few runners ahead on the climb, but I knew I would lose them on the descent. After climbing Hazard peak there were a few more rollers before hitting Islay Creek Road for a few miles of long flat running back. I finished in 2:29, fifth overall and second master.

We headed off to Paso Robles wine country for a visit to my favorite American syrah maker: Hunt Cellars for an afternoon of anti-oxidant and resveratrol-rich wine tasting.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Marin Trails 20K - San Rafael CA

I had planned on doing the Land Between the Lakes 50 Miler in Kentucky this weekend. But my dad called me telling me that he was getting a foot of snow in central Kentucky and that they should have at least half a foot in western Kentucky. My enthusiasm to fly that far to run 50 miles in the snow was low.

So I headed up to San Rafael on race morning to do Envirosports little trail run in China Camp State Park. Ray Sanchez was there, but I didn't see many other ultrarunners there today. Most of them were doing Way Too Cool 50K of course. I was still feeling the effects of last week's back to back at Skyline Ridge and Napa Valley Marathon. I headed out easy and enjoyed the fun climbs. I finished in 1:25 and headed home to rest for a long training run on my hidden mountain trails the next day.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Napa Valley Marathon

I had made the mistake of eating gels with no water at yesterday's Skyline 23K so I had some major digestive issues all day Saturday and Saturday night. But I still made the perhaps foolish decision to toe the line on Sunday morning along with 3000 other competitors. I figured I could still manage 7:30 pace for a sub 3:20 finish (another unnecessary Boston Qualifier). I ran out at an easy eight minute pace, when who should I see but Ray Sanchez who had also done yesterday's Skyline Ridge 23K. We ran together for the next 13 miles or so.

Napa Valley Marathon

He said he also wanted to run 7:30 pace. But we still ended up running 7 minute splits until the half marathon mark. I knew I would pay for that speed so I let him move ahead right at that point.

I relaxed and resolved to enjoy the day, finishing up with a bunch of eight minute splits for a 3:32 time.

If I ever focused on road marathons (they aren't a priority for me), I could see trying to make this race a PR.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

PCTR Skyline Ridge 23K

Although I had Napa Valley Marathon the next day, I couldn't resist a race just a few miles from my house in the Los Gatos mountains. Its also the same site (and thus good practice for) the Saratoga Gap Fatass (that I had done a few weeks before) and the Stevens Creek 50K (that I had gotten lost at last year!) Taking it an easy pace the day before a marathon should be good for longer distance training.

Before the race I got to see a bunch of familiar faces lining up for the 50K: Sean Lang, Leor Pantilat, Will Gotthardt and Ryan Commons. Ryan did me the honor of wearing my "race uniform" of black surfer shorts and orange shirt: flattering since he's become much faster than me.


Given that it was just a 23K, I headed out in front at a good clip with Leor Pantilat (who would win the 50K). I kept up a good pace through the early hills but was still passed by several runners including Sean, Ryan, and Thom Clarke. Mark Tanaka came alongside and we chatted about Kettle Moraine, which he had won last year and will be my first 100 miler.

We reached the turnaround at 50 minutes and I stopped to drink some coke and sports drink (I had no water bottle). After a mile or so, Scott Dunlap came alongside and we compared notes on fellow Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series races and competitors. He surged ahead as well. As we headed around the lake to the finish Paul Taylor caught up and I let him pass. Since he was also sans water bottle I had a suspicion we might be competing for first master in the 23K. Smelling the finish I put out a kicki encouraging him to come along as well. I finished in 1:55:50, good for third overall and first master.

Beautiful course. Fun day. I headed home to help Liz with her homework before Sunday's race in Napa.