Sunday, March 23, 2014

DNF at 2014 Oakland Marathon

Note: Hand goes over your HEART
Last year I had an amazing run at the 2013 Oakland Marathon where I shattered my marathon PR and finished 15th overall in a time of 3:04:39. You can read that race report here.

This year things didn't go nearly as well. I found myself struggling (and walking) by mile 15 and eventually dropping out at mile 18.

Where did it all go wrong? Sure, the obvious choice is to blame my choice or racing attire. Clearly the cape was not very aerodynamic and should take all the blame, right?

But not so fast, the drag of the cape was likely more than balanced out by the weight and aerodynamic savings of my extremely tight and short racing shorts (Full disclosure: technically these are not actual running shorts).

Most likely my dismal performance today was the result of one or two of the following factors:

1) I simply went out too hard (no short-shorts pun intended)

These are not actually running shorts
I purposely tried to avoid going out too hard and held back as the pack of lead runners rocketed off the starting line. I was probably in about 20th to 30th position, which I thought was appropriate based on my 15 place overall finish last year.

What I failed to account for however was that (as I would only later learn after the race) the field was much faster and more competitive this year. Also, I failed to realize that many of the people ahead of me were running the 4 person marathon relay, and hence would only be running about 6.5 miles each.

So in reality, I probably went out too fast and fell apart. This would be the simplest and most likely explanation. However, I think it is only one factor. The other being that I am mentally weak, particularly when things aren't going the way I hope/expect.

2) I am a mental weakling!

Sure, I can dig deep and endure tremendous suffering when I am in a dog fight battling for a top position in a race. My amazing performances at 2014 Way too Cool, 2013 Quad Dipsea, and 2013 Ohlone have shown me that I am capable of exceeding my own expectations and pulling amazing performances out of my ass when something epic is on the line.

I walked through downtown Oakland in these!
However, as I have seen in many other races (too numerous to chronicle here) I also have a tendency to shut down mentally and give up when things aren't going my way, particularly when I am failing to meet my own expectations.

Today I had a goal of breaking 3 hours. Never mind that my PR is only 3:04 and that my next fastest time is 3:12. Going sub 3 on such a difficult course would have been a major accomplishment. Only a handful of runners did it last year at this race.

So, when I saw my split of 1:31:30 at the half way point, I was quite disappointed. In reality, my half-way split time was not so bad considering that first half of the course contains all of the hills while the second half is relatively flat. And, my split this year was about two minutes faster than I ran last year at this course. But nonetheless, it became obvious to me that I wasn't going to meet my (rather arbitrary) goal of sub 3 hours. So I gave up mentally.

The aftermath

Somewhere around mile fifteen I stopped running and sat down on the street curb. It was in a rather shady section of Oakland. I looked around and saw a few people smoking crack. Not wanting to get arrested and I got up and starting jogging again.

It's 4:20 somewhere!
Finally around mile eighteen I'd had enough and decided to call it quits. Rather than run the last 8 miles, which basically just meander around in circles around downtown, I decided to take a shortcut directly to the finish line. What I hadn't realized initially was that this route would take me off the official course with all of the police monitored intersections, aid stations and cheering crowds and into the heart of Oakland.

You would think that a guy wearing only a speedo and a super hero cape would feel uncomfortable and unsafe strutting down the sidewalk past drug dealers, prostitutes, and tough-looking guys clad in Oakland Raiders jackets? But no, I simply did my best beauty-pageant contestant wave, graciously accepting all of the "Boy you look good... real good" cat calls and accolades.

Eventually I made it back to the start/finish area, unharmed and unmolested. And, while I don't think I will be back to run the 2015 Oakland marathon, I did make some new friends along the way and have an open invitation to shoot dice on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Street and 7th Street anytime I want.

Even though I did not run a PR (or even complete the race) and hence did not earn a celebratory beer, I decided to "award" myself a compensatory beer. Granted, it wasn't quite noon yet. But what the heck, it's 4:20 somewhere, right?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

2014 Way too Cool 50K

25th annual Way too Cool 50K
Contemplating dropping out -- on the car ride up the race!

"I don't even know why why I signed up for this race. There's a good chance I'm going to DNF," I told my buddy Jeff Clowers as we drove up to Way too Cool together that morning. Luckily my wife Amy didn't hear me mumble that. She was in the backseat, head slumped over taking a short and rather awkward and painful looking power nap. Amy doesn't like it when I pay money for a race and then don't finish.

Admittedly, as Amy can attest to, I'm a bit unpredictable as a runner. You never know -- regardless of my fitness level or the amount of training I have been putting in -- whether I am going to crush a race or drop out inexplicably. More than once she has packed our 6 year old into the car and started driving to the race finish line only to get a text message or phone call from me saying, "Turn back around. I dropped. I'm on the way home."

This year Amy and I had both put our names into the Way too Cool lottery, figuring that only one of us, if either, would get into the race. So we were surprised, and somewhat alarmed, when we found out that the race was expanded to allow 1200 runners and that nearly everyone who put their name into the "lottery" had been selected. Oh no,  we both got in. Now we needed to find a baby sitter.

Amy and drove up to the race with our neighbor, friend, and Quicksilver Running Club teammate Jeff Clowers who I have been coaching this year. Jeff, a former Marine, only began running two years ago after his doctor told him that needed to lose some weight. After dropping 70 pounds and increasing his training base, Jeff jumped into the world of ultra running. He ran his first 50K in 6:48:04 (Siskiyou Out Back) and has since been slowly whittling down his times with a 6:31:32 (Whiskeytown) and a 6:15:11 (Los Gatos Overgrown Fat Ass). He was hoping to finally go sub 6 today at Way too Cool.

Amy, who has run a 4:08:37 PR for 50K on a flat, paved course at Ruth Anderson was looking to better her trail 50K PR of 4:50:37 that she set last summer at the Skyline 50K. Way too Cool is supposed to be a relatively fast course, with only around 4,000 - 5,000 feet of elevation gain. However, it had been raining the week prior to the race and the trails looked to be very damp, if not muddy in spots with numerous flooded creek crossings.

Initially leading up the race I had been hoping that if I had a perfect day with perfect conditions I might be able to break four hours. But now, sitting in the car, biting my lip in pain after having just accidentally dumped scalding hot coffee into my lap and crotch, I was re-assessing my goals. Perhaps I should just focus on trying to finish. Perhaps I should skip the race and head to the local ER burn and trauma center?

Tucked in back behind Caitlin and Magda
Running with reckless abandon

With over 1200 people in the race, this was a huge field for a trail race -- especially when you consider that much, if not most, of the race is run on narrow single track. To help ease congestion, the race organizers divided the race into two waves with faster runners in the first wave. They also put up big road marathon style corrals with signs for 7 minute mile, 8 minute mile, 9 minute mile, and everyone else. I of course walked up to the front of the field near the starting line in the 7 minute mile corral, even though I knew that there was no way in hell I was going to be able to run 7 minute miles for a 50K on hilly, muddy, technical trails.

Standing at the starting line I chatted briefly with some running friends and acquaintances including 5th place Western States stud Dylan Bowman who came over to wish me luck, friend and arch-rival Karl Schnaitter, and former Vasque Trail Team captain Ethan Veneklassen who now runs for Hoka. I looked around quickly hoping to spot friend and former coach and training partner Caitlin Smith and her coach, 2008 Olympic marathoner Magdalena Lewy-Boulet. I hoped that they were up in front, hidden from view behind some of the taller men in front of me, and not stuck in the porta-potty line somewhere.

The race starts with about one and half miles of wide paved road before funneling into narrow technical single track. I knew that I needed to go out hard if I wants to get out in front of the main field and avoid getting stuck in a conga line for the next 8 miles. I hit the first mile in 6:15, which would normally be a bit fast, but which seemed to do the trick. I hit the single track in the top 25 of 30 runners, just behind Caitlin and Magda (who I was happy to see). We were stuck in a bit of a conga line in a group of about 6 runners with a fairly large gap opening up to the next group of runners ahead.

Although I knew it was probably a foolish, impetuous move which I would later regret, I stepped on the gas and sprinted around Caitlin, Magda and the other men and started chasing down the next lead group ahead. I wouldn't necessarily describe my pace, at only four miles into the race, as "suicidal" but I certainly wouldn't call it "restrained", "smart" or "sustainable" either. But like I always say, "If you're not going to run a smart race, do the next best thing and run an aggressive race". And to be quite honest, I figured what the hell. It's not like this was a race I really cared about or wanted to do well at. If I went out too hard and blew up and had to jog it in... so what, who cares?

I continued running like a nut job, with reckless abandon, not caring or worrying about the fact that at some point it was all going to blow up and come crashing down on me. Somewhere around mile 18 or 19 we began a long climb and I passed quite a few other runners including Quicksilver teammate (and USATF men's 50 - 55 50K national champion) Jean Pommier who was having a rare off day. But then it happened. The engine room ran out of gas.

Making my move!
The crash and the recovery

I heard footsteps behind and looked back to see Caitlin, Magda, and another male runner queuing up behind me. I stepped aside and let them pass and braced for an epic meltdown. Suddenly I was feeling low on energy and my right inner quad was starting to spasm. This might be the end for our hero. So I swallowed my pride and did the unthinkable: I slowed down a bit. I also took a gel and couple of salt pills and washed them down with some sports drink.

Oddly, a couple of minutes later the cramping subsided and I started feeling good again. I picked up the pace and eventually caught back up to and then passed Caitlin, Magda, and other male runner. I apologized as I passed, acknowledging the ridiculousness of my sprint/jog/sprint strategy instead of just running a nice even steady pace. But as they say, "the legs want what the legs want". And mine wanted to fly!

At some point earlier I had come across "Speed Goat" Karl Meltzer (who has more 100 mile wins than anyone else in the world) spectating on the side of the trail. He told me that I was in 18th place. So having caught a few more people since then I figured that I was now in 13th place or so. If I could just reel in a few more runners in these last 6 miles I could do the impossible and finish in the top 10!

But it was not to be. As we approached the steep, twisty, rocky "Goat Hill" climb, Magda launched a beautiful attack and surged effortlessly up the hill disappearing around the bends. While she ascended graceful I shuffled up, hands on knees, praying that a mountain lion would jump out of the bushes and put an end to my suffering.

Celebratory post-race brew with Amy
Finally, the finish!

Finally, as I hit the highway 49 crossing with only 1.5 miles to the finish, I looked down at my watch and saw that, barring a mountain lion attack, I was definitely going to finish in under 4 hours. I could see and hear Caitlin only 20 or 30 seconds behind and I was hoping that she would catch up so that we could run the last mile or so together. I thought about stopping to wait for her but my legs were hurting so bad that I worried that if I stopped I might not be able to get the started again.

I crossed the finish line in 14th place with a time of 3:55:55, a new trail 50K personal best for me, about 26 minutes faster than my previous trail 50K best of 4:22:08 that I ran in Woodside. And I had somehow even beaten my "best case" goal of 3:59:59 that I was secretly hoping for. It was an amazing day! But unfortunately I have no idea why I ran so well, or how to replicate it in the future.

Quicksilver team photo (by Jean Pommier)
But I wasn't the only one who had a great day. Magda won the women's race and finished 10th overall with the second fastest time (3:53:09) ever on that course. And Caitlin finished 2nd woman and 15th overall with a personal best and the 4th fastest time (3:56:25) ever run by a woman on that course. My wife Amy also shattered her own trail 50K personal best by 18 minutes with a blistering 4:32:56. And not to be outdone, our buddy Jeff Clowers absolutely crushed his 50K personal best by 27 minutes with an impressive 5:38:26.

And not that I was able to witness it, having finished nearly 40 minutes back of the leaders, but apparently the men's race came down to an exciting sprint finish with Chris Vargo edging out his Nike teammate Alex Varner by only 13 seconds with a 3:16:51 and 3:17:04, the 2nd and 3rd fastest times ever run on that course respectively.

After the race Amy, Jeff and I had a great time eating, drinking, and chatting with our large contingent of Quicksilver teammates who also made the long trek up for the race. It was an amazing day in which I ran too hard, drank too much post-race beer, and sat in the hot sun several hours too long. But trashed legs and funny suntan lines are a small price to pay for a wonderful day or running and celebrating with good friends.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Farewell to Beer...

Beer. Yum!
After a long holiday season of "carbo loading" on pizza and beer, I decided it was time to clean up my diet and get down back to "racing weight" for the upcoming 2014 running season. Even though I had put on an extra 5 or 6 pounds since last summer, I wasn't really running any slower than normal. But still, even if just for the sake of mere vanity, I knew my abs were there somewhere under all that winter "insulation", and I was bound to find them again.

I decided to put myself on the "sausage and Greek yogurt diet", which has always worked well for me in the past. I don't actually limit myself to just sausage and Greek yogurt. In addition to sausages, I also eat a variety of other cured meats including beef jerky and bacon.

Occasionally I also eat other stuff like chicken, eggs, cheese, peanut butter, nuts, gluten-free granola, veggies, pineapple, blueberries and grapes. Basically, a high-protein and high-fat diet where I try to avoid carbs. Because carbs are stupid. And yes, unfortunately this means giving up beer. (P.S. Giving up beer is also stupid.)

Obviously though, no one can actually "give up" beer. That would be suicidal and would certainly lead to all kinds of physical and mental ailments. So I decided to implement an emergency beer "rationing" program where I am only allowed to drink beer after races. And only after races of at least marathon length or longer. Though I also made a special exemption where I could earn a beer for shorter wimpier-length races if I managed to at least win my age group, set a PR, or win the race outright!

So hungry, I could eat my medal.
Campbell Resolution Run 5 Mile

I started my new diet and beer-rationing system on Dec 31, 2013 in order to get a jump on the whole new year's resolution thing. One day later I couldn't take it anymore and was desperately craving beer.

So I quickly scoured the Internet and found a small local race -- the Campbell Resolution Run 5 Mile. Thirty-one minutes and sixteen seconds later I was standing at the finish line enjoying a cold IPA courtesy of my 6th place overall and 1st place age group finish. Ah, beer!

I won't bore you with the details of the race other than to say that I almost got beat by a 15 year old, but thankfully I was able to run him down in the last quarter mile. Apparently I was soundly beaten by a 16 year old -- who finished 2nd overall -- but he had a mustache so I am going to consider him an adult rather than a teenager.

Here's a link to the results.

photo by
InsideTrail Pacifica Foothills 50K

Several weeks later I was again craving some beer, so I signed up for the Pacifica Foothills 50K, a favorite local race of mine. It's a tough course with lots of climbing, and magnificent views of the Pacific ocean. There are several different organizations including Coastal Trail Run (CTR) and Pacific Coast Trail Runs (PCTR) who also organize similar races at Pacifica; this one however was put on by who do an amazing job.

This wasn't really an "A" race for me, so I didn't plan to train specifically for it or to do much/any tapering. Based on the list of entrants published on the website I figured I would have a good shot to come home with the win. But alas, that was before the last minute entry of my Quicksilver teammate Marc Laveson who is blazing fast! I paced Marc at The North Face Championships in San Francisco in December and he is going to pace me at Hardrock in July. I've never beaten him in a race -- unless you count our "mock beer mile" training run.

I figured the only chance I might have to beat Marc is if I could catch him off-guard by going out as hard as I could and trying to build an early lead while he was still warming up. And it worked! Well, it worked for the first 200 meters. Then he passed me. And that was all she wrote. He gradually pulled further and further away from me all day, eventually finishing over 20 minutes in front of me. My time 4:43:33 was good -- good enough for 2nd place, over 30 minutes ahead of the next two runners. But Marc's time was great. He ran a 4:18:48, breaking the old course record!

As I sat at the finish line eating my BBQ pulled pork (thanks Will Gotthardt) and drinking my cold beer in the warm sun, it was hard to not to smile and enjoy the day.

Here's a link to the official results. And here's a link to Marc's race re-cap.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2014 Racing Plans: Further and Farther

Where will 2014 take me?
2013 was an amazing year for me. I set new personal records at the 5K, half marathon, marathon, 50 mile, and 100 mile! I had an amazing performance at Western States bringing home the coveted silver belt buckle on the second hottest year ever in the history of the race. And I had a breakthrough race at the Ohlone 50K where I finished 2nd overall and ran 30 minutes faster than any of my previous efforts on that course. And then there was my crowning achievement -- first place at the Silicon Valley Beer 2 Mile Championships!

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before” -- Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven

Perhaps I should be happy? Perhaps I should be content? Yet something deep inside of me knows that I am capable of more; that all of these accomplishments are just precursors and stepping stones to something greater.  Right now I am running faster and stronger than I have ever before; but who knows how much longer it will last. I desperately want to take advantage of this fitness and test myself.

“Sometimes I’m terrified of my heart; of its constant hunger for whatever it is it wants. The way it stops and starts.” -- Poe, "Terrified Heart"

Let's not call it a mid-life crisis, at least not officially, not yet anyway. It's not like I came home one day unannounced with a new Porsche or anything. But I want 2014 to be the year I seize the moment and attempt something majestic, something seemingly impossible, something unspeakable.

Hardrock 100

There's this little race in Colorado called Hardrock. As far as 100 mile races go, it's the hardest, highest, and baddest. It has nearly twice as much elevation gain as either Western States or Leadville, and it is run at an average elevation of 11,000 feet with numerous mountain passes above 13,000 and 14,000 feet. And as if that wasn't hard enough, while most of the course is run on mountain rugged trails, some of the course isn't even on trails at all! Rather, runners just run "cross country" up and down the sides of mountains over steep fields of scree and snow.

I've always dreamed of running Hardrock. It's a big part of the reason why I convinced my wife that we should buy, and sleep in, an altitude tent. She's a good sport, I might add. Not a lot of spouses would tolerate being asked to go "camping" on a nightly basis in a hot, humid tent hooked up via a long plastic tube to a loud rumbling contraption. But I digress...

Much to my surprise, this year I was selected 7th on the waitlist for Hardrock in the category for people who have never run the race before. What this basically means is that if 7 or more of the original 35 runners selected ahead of me in the lottery decide not to run the race their year (due to injuries, work/family commitments, financial hardship, or whatever) I will be allowed into the race. Last year 9 people from the waitlist eventually made it into the race. So I am optimistic that I may get in. In fact, I've already moved up to 5th on the waitlist.

I may not actually find out until race week or race morning whether I will be allowed to run. So basically that means I will need to train for the race and make my travel arrangements as if I am already in. This requires a bit of faith and dash of luck. But if there's even a one in a hundred chance, I'm going to take it. This is Hardrock, and nothing about it is easy.

“The depth lies in the valleys where we seek her, and not upon the mountain-tops where she is found.”  -- Edgar Allen Poe, The Murders in the Rue Morgue

Everything about Hardrock is difficult -- from just getting into the race, to finding a hotel room, to following the sparse course marking (which usually get eaten by the marmots anyway). And then there are the legions of biting black flies harassing you as you are stumbling up the mountain. And once you are on top of the mountain, struggling to breathe at 14,000 feet, you have to survive the hail and lightening storms that roll in each afternoon. Welcome to Hardrock... my dream race!

Lake Tahoe 200

Most people would say that you'd have to be insane to run 100 miles through the mountains around Lake Tahoe. But speaking from experience, as both my wife and I have done it, it's definitely hard... but it's not crazy hard. But just in case I don't get into Hardrock -- or perhaps even if I do -- for reasons that I still not completely clear to me I put my name into the hat for the inaugural Lake Tahoe 200 Miler. Yes, that's right. Two hundred miles around Lake Tahoe over rugged mountain trails.

"I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity." -- Edgar Allen Poe, a letter to an admirer

I still can't decide which sounds like more fun, Hardrock or Tahoe 200. Both should be glorious sufferfests. The Hardrock course is definitely harder, but Tahoe is longer -- twice as long in fact. It's difficult to pick a winner. Either one could kill you. But no one's died -- at least not yet -- at either race. Though in fairness to Tahoe 200, no one's actually run it yet. And I guess that's part of the potential attraction for me.

I know that I have absolutely no chance to win Hardrock with several returning champions and a deep field of international stars including Killian Jornet and two-time Western States champion Timothy Olsen. But Tahoe 200 on the other hand... Well, a lot can happen over 200 miles. There are very few people in the world who have ever run that far. Being fast doesn't necessarily ensure victory.

“And I fell violently on my face.”   -- Edgar Allen Poe, The Pit and the Pendulum

At the end of 200 miles the victory may very well go to whoever is just able to keep eating, stay (at least partially) awake, and keep plodding forward -- no matter how slowly. It might come down to an ugly, bloody street brawl. And if that's the case, I like to think I may have a decent shot at winning.

At this point, I still need to wait and see what happens. For example, will I actually get into Hardrock? And if so, will I survive it? And if I do survive, will I really feel like racing 200 miles just a couple of months later? Heck, for that matter, will I even be able to walk, much less run, two months later. There are still a lot of questions. I'll need to sit down with my wife and discuss as a family.

But whatever happens, I'm definitely going to be doing at least one of these two races. And I am going to be all-in, going for broke. I might not win. I may not even finish. But it's not going to be for lack of training or want of effort. I plan to approach 2014 as if it might be my last.

And some other normal races that are less likely to kill me:
  • Jan 18, Pacifica Foothills 50K -- A small local race that I enjoy running
  • Feb 23, Limekiln Overgrown Fat Ass 50K -- Fun team training run; Ohlone tune up
  • Mar 8, Way too Cool 50K -- Fast race with elite field; hoping for sub 4 hours
  • Mar 23, Oakland marathon -- Tune-up for Boston
  • Apr 21, Boston marathon -- Shooting for PR and sub 3 hr
  • May 3, Miwok 100K -- Hilly! Hoping for top 10 finish
  • May 18, Ohlone 50K -- After 2nd place last year, I want to win it this year!
  • Jul 11, Hardrock 100 *
  • Sep 5, Tahoe 200 *

Note: it was brought to my attention by a friend that a runner named Joel Zucker did indeed die after the 1998 running of Hardrock from complications arising from a cerebral hemorrhage. I was not aware of this when I wrote my blog post above, and I certainly would never make light of such a tragedy. I did not know Joel, but I certainly feel for his family and friends.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

2013 Summit Rock 1/2 Marathon

Sanborn County Park in Saratoga, CA
Shhh, I'm going to tell you a secret. But let's just keep it between you and me. While I've run some amazing trails all over the country -- including the canyons of Western States, the Keewenaw Peninsula in Michigan, and the Tahoe Rim Trail in Nevada -- one of my favorite places to run is just 15 minutes from home.

Welcome to Sanborn County Park in Saratoga. It's a little-known, seldom visited hidden gem nestled away off a small one lane road that most people drive right by without ever realizing. Sometimes when I'm in a hurry or just too lazy to drive all the way up Highway 9 to Saratoga Gap, I pull off at the bottom of the hill and drive a mile through the woods to Sanborn.

While the park boasts miles and miles of beautiful shaded single-track trails that cut through stunning redwood forests -- most of those trails go straight up the mountain! Steep, steep, steep with an average grade of about 12%.

I remember being surprised  a few years ago when I learned that Brazen Racing was going to hold a half marathon trail race on this course. Brazen is an amazing company who put on top-notch races. They really nail all the details and add special little touches like personalized race bibs with your name on them. And I love that they not only post the race results online the very next day, but they even post pictures from the race that runners can download -- for free!

I ran the 1/2 marathon at Sanborn in 2010 and 2012. Both years my finishing times were nearly the same. I ran a 1:50:05 in 2010 for 2nd place, and a 1:50:49 in 2012 for 4th place. This year I came into the race feeling stronger and faster than ever. 2013 had been a great year for me with numerous PRs and break-through races.

Not happy to be behind a dude in shorts-over-tights!
I'm not going to lie. When I glanced around at the starting line before the race and noticed that course record holder Leor Pantilat was absent I did a little dance of joy. While there were definitely a few fit, fast-looking guys at the starting line, I was thankful not to see Leor or any other elite studs like Lon Freeman, Sam Robinson, Alex Varner or Sergio Reyes. Maybe I would have a shot to win this year!

We took off and I found myself running in second place just off the shoulder of a dude wearing running shorts over tights. I consider this a major fashion faux-pas and was infuriated and ashamed to be behind him. So I turned on the jets and accelerated, intending to take the lead. But he suddenly started sprinting so as to not let me pass. He kept this up for a good 1/2 mile before inexplicably slowing down and dropping way off.

Briefly in the lead
Just as I thought I was about to move into the lead and run away with the race, two other runners moved past me and took the lead. I quickly discerned that thy were European based on their fashionable attire, lithe build, and of course their heavy French and Swiss-German accents. They were working together and moving well. And they were pulling away from me on the climb. I was already planning my "third overall... but first American" race report.

But then something interesting happened. While I was losing ground on the long opening four mile climb (which was supposed to be my strength), I found myself making up chunks of ground on the short downhill sections. As we approached the top of the climb and hit the flatter rolling section of the course I caught up with Fran├žois, the runner in second place. As  I surged past him I could see the race leader, Christian, hanging about 100 yards ahead.

2nd place is so painful!
I finally caught up to Christian and briefly moved past him into the lead on a rocky, technical downhill section. I was in the lead! I was surely going to win! I was already planning my finish-line celebration dance! But then Christian passed me back on the very next climb. Ugh, this was definitely going to be a battle.

Christian reached the half-way turn-around point only a few seconds before me. I had him in my sights. But that would unfortunately be the last I ever saw of him. He stepped on the gas and opened up a minute lead on me over the next mile and I would never see him again... until he congratulated me at the finish line when I sprinted across in second place, still a minute behind.

Nonetheless, I was thrilled with my performance and my finishing time of 1:45:33 which was over five minutes faster than either of the 1:50:xx times I ran in 2012 and 2010.

But my five minute PR was nothing compared with my buddy and Quicksilver teammate Jeff Clowers (who I have been coaching this year) who took 50 minutes off his time from last year, finishing 36th out of 191 runners with a 2:19:48. Now that's a PR!

Monday, December 9, 2013

My Quads Survived the Quad Dipsea

The race starts up these stairs!
The 28 mile Quad Dipsea trail race has a little something for everyone -- whether you prefer stairs, hills, or more hills. The race starts in downtown Mill Valley before quickly ascending up 688 stairs to the Dipsea trail. Then you basically run up a mountain to the top of "Cardiac Hill" before running down the other side and descending another couple hundred stairs to Stinson Beach. Then you turn around and run back! And then you do it all again. WTF!

Thankfully I'd never run the Dipsea trail before, so I had no idea what exactly I'd gotten myself into. But then some know-it-all standing next to me casually mentions that we're about to gain 9,276 feet of elevation (and descend another 9,276 feet) in what is basically just a mile or two longer than a marathon.

People complain about the Boston marathon being hilly with it's 783 feet of elevation gain. We are about to run 8,500 feet more! According to the race website, "within a few hundred yards the course heads up three flights of stairs as tall as a fifty-story building." Again, WTF!

I think I've made a terrible mistake

I'm the moron with no shirt and racing flats!
"I think I've made a terrible mistake" I say to my wife at the starting line as I look down at my skimpy 2.8 ounce Mizuno Wave Universe 5 road racing flats. Everyone else is wearing rugged trail shoes with armored rock plates, lugged soles, and waterproof Gortex shells. I'm wearing 1.4 ounces of mesh with a thin strip of rubber on each foot. My shoes weigh less than most other people's socks. What was I thinking?

I frantically start looking around for an escape route. Maybe if I duck behind that first tree I can sneak back to the car without anyone seeing me. Unfortunately the gun fires and we are off and running.

And some more stairs...
This isn't an "A" race for me and I didn't necessarily plan to race hard. But then I learn that the first twenty or thirty finishers get seeded bib numbers for the following year. So if you finish first, you get bib #1. If you finish 10th, you get bib #10.

My goal had originally been to try to finish in the top 10. But now I realize that no one is going to be intimidated by a double-digit bib number like #10. If I want to strike fear in the hearts of the other runners at the starting line next year, I'm going to need to finish at least 9th or better. Shit.

The race is off and we're flying up the road towards the world's largest flight of stairs. I'm huffing and puffing my way up the first stair case trying to keep the four or five guys in front of me in sight. Oh shit, I suddenly realize that I am already in 6th place. Usually I like to go out a bit more conservatively and try to reel in as many people as possible in the last miles. Also, I am certain I hear the familiar breathing of my wife Amy just a few steps behind me. I guess she's not taking it easy either!

Stairs, hills, and more hills

Running for my life!
Five or six miles into the race quickly learn that while I excel at running hills (both uphill and downhill), I apparently suck at running down stairs. As I am tip toing down the treacherous mossy stone stairs down into Stinson beach I get passed by two runners flying with reckless abandon. I almost yell something like, "watch it you whippersnappers" before thankfully catching myself. Well, welcome to the 40 and over age group I tell myself.

After reaching Stinson beach in 1:03:24 I turn around and head back. The return is slightly harder and takes me 1:08:19 but I pass a couple of guys and move back up to 6th place. Unfortunately, as soon as we turn around and start the whole thing over again, I get passed going up the stairs by my buddy/arch-nemesis Karl Schnaitter who has beaten me in every race we've ever run together.

Karl starts to pull away from me. In addition, two other guys catch up to me on the climb up to Cardiac. Suddenly it looks like I might slip to 8th place. Which would be fine. But then I can only afford to let one other person pass me or I might lose my tenuous grip on a coveted top 9 finish.

It is in moments of doubt and despair that I call upon a higher power, a source of inspiration that always guides me safely through the darkness and into the light. Beer. I turn my thoughts to the cold Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA waiting for me at the finish line. Suddenly I am flying and the two guys behind me and getting smaller and smaller. I hit the final turnaround in 1:12:40, slower than my first two legs but still respectable. Now it's just one last 7.1 mile leg back home.

Going for broke...

Running on empty
The last leg is the hardest and I am really starting to suffer. However, much to my surprise I keep getting reports from other runners going in the opposite direction that Karl is only 20 seconds ahead. "That's odd," I say to myself. I thought he was long gone.

After cresting Cardiac for the final time I find myself inexplicably flying down the mountain at 7:00 minute pace over treacherous rocky, rooted terrain. Oh hey look, there's Karl.

I fly by politely, almost feeling the need to apologize for running so fast. In the back of my mind all kinds of warning bells and alarms are going off. Surely I shouldn't be running this fast. Surely something very bad is bound to happen. And it does.

Two miles later, as we approach the last uphill before the stairs down to the finish, both of my legs seize up. I went for broke and I lost. Karl is going to pass me back. Those other two guys are going to pass me. Heck, I don't even know if I will be able to make it to the finish line. Ugh.

Sorry D-Bo, I need a beer!
Time to trouble shoot. I quickly take stock of my supplies. Two remaining salt pills, one PowerBar gel packet, and 3/4 of a bottle of sports drink. I swallow everything in one gulp and hope for the best. Somehow I am able to at last jog slowly, so I begin the death slog up the final hill.

I keep expecting Karl to pass me at any second, but when I reach the top and look back, he's still not in sight. My Quicksilver teammate Greg Lanctot is standing at the top of the hill cheering wildly. "Podium, 5th place, blah-blah-something-else-or-other, hold on let me get a picture". Did he just ask me to stop and pose for a picture? WTF dude!

As I awkwardly make my way down the last 688 stairs to the finish, I am still expecting Karl to come flying by me. But finally I see the last flight of stairs and start to realize that I'm going to hang on for 5th place. Whew! What a day.

I sprint across the finish line in a very respectable 4:41:34 despite running a 1:16:57 final leg, my slowest of the day. But I don't care. I'm done, and I know there's cold beer in the cooler!

Mr. and Mrs. Burton
Suddenly, elite Pearl Izumi runner Dylan Bowman appears out of nowhere and wants to congratulate me. He finished 5th at Western States this year and is a personal hero of mine. But I can't be bothered to exchange pleasantries just yet. He's standing in the way of me and my beer. Five seconds later after pounding a bottle of Lagunitas life is all good again.

A few bottles of beer later my wife Amy comes sprinting into the finish, 3rd woman and 30th overall in a time of 5:20:27, her fastest time ever of her three finishes on this course!

Shortly after crossing the finish line I swore to myself that I'd never do this race again! But then I remembered that because I finished 5th place this year, next year I will receive the super-intimidating #5 seeded bib number. Oh yeah. I'll be back. And maybe next year I'll wear real shoes. Nay, probably not.

And maybe next year I will try to win my age group. I will only need to take about an hour off my time in order to beat that Dave Mackey guy who nearly lapped me. Apparently he broke Leor Pantilat's course record or something :)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Where Eagles Don't Soar: The Beer 2 Mile!!!

Captain Beermerica
Some sports enthusiasts call it the ultimate test of athletic ability. It requires speed, stamina, mental fortitude, an iron gut, and above all else, the ability to chug beer faster than a college frat boy. Meet The Beer Mile. In order to win, contestants needs to be ale to slam four beers in about six minutes. Oh yeah, and they have to do it while running a mile. No event in the world is harder.

Well, except of course, for the allusive The Beer 2 Mile!

Last year I finished 2nd at the Silicon Valley Beer Mile Championships with a respectable -- though not world class -- time of 6:39 for the mile. Two-time repeat winner Chris Weiler ran 6:14. So I knew that I was going to have to step my training up this year if I wanted to dethrone the man that beer milers reverently call "Der Kaiser".

My training was going great, thanks to two-a-day beer chugging training workouts, and I felt like this might be my year to bring home the coveted Beer Mile Championship trophy. Five days before the race I got together with some friends my running club -- Quicksilver Running Club of San Jose -- to attempt a beer mile practice session.

Mock Beer Mile Training Run

I was joined by teammates Marc "Eagle Dick" Laveson and Harris "The Younger" Mason, both of whom were beer-mile virgins, having not yet broken their beer-mile cherries or tested themselves in the ultimate arena of battle. We met a small dirt track in an undisclosed top-secret training facility in San Jose (fine, it was actually a middle school).

Mock Beer Mile with Marc and Harris
Here is the race report from team race co-captain Toshi Moshi "Pimpin' Chick'n" Hosaka:

The starters were John Burton (the reigning champ), Marc Laveson (beer miler rookie), and Harris Mason (also a beer miler rookie). To be fair, all the participants had run earlier in the day (John ran a 5K and a 10K race in Santa Cruz, Marc had just ran a hilly 16-miler in Sierra Azul, and Harris had also ran in the morning).

While John had a clear advantage and experience in a beer miler, Marc is known to finish Das Boot as a warm up and Harris was the dark horse - he seemed comfortable with his choice of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, the highest alcohol by volume (ABV) at 5.6%, while John and Marc went with the safe choice of Coors at 5.0% ABV.

In the end, the reigning champ, John Burton would take the title at 5:38, followed closely by Marc Laveson at 5:59 and then Harris, comfortably going sub-7 at 6:48. This is a great accomplishment by the rookies and we have real potential to become the next beer miler champion in the PA series (Note: the actual distance was about 0.8 miles).

Lap 1: John slammed the first can in 5 seconds followed closely by Marc who took a little over 10 seconds. They were neck and neck for the first lap. Harris had a malfunction with his beer can (the pull tab came off) and had a late start, but that did not seem to faze him. We noted a bit of beer left in John's 1st beer can. To prevent this from happening again, we will have each runner turn the empty beer upside down on their head after finishing each can.

Lap 2: As John finished his second can in less than 10 seconds, it took a little longer for Marc to finish his. A neighbor peeked in from his backyard at the event in wonderment.

Lap 3: The gap widened between John and Marc, but Marc still has not given up. John seemed relaxed in his strides.

Lap 4: John took it easy and savored his 4th beer while Marc and Harris both struggled with theirs. It was painful to see them finish the last beer.

John was drinking another bottle of IPA after the miler because he was thirsty.

An Already Bad Idea Gets Worse...

The world's fittest athletes alcoholics
For the last couple of years people had started talking -- mostly in hushed whispers -- about whether it would be possible for anyone to run not just one, but two back-to-back beer miles! Eight beers and eight laps around the track. Could it be done? Sure, there was a video floating around the Internet of some guy claiming to have done it in on a grassy knoll while his mom filmed with a shaky video camera. But like the alleged US landing on the moon, it looked like it was likely faked.

Last year a couple of guys talked a lot of smack in the days preceding the race about possibly attempting the beer 2 mile, but in the end it proved to be just that -- all talk. However, this year, the whispers grew louder. After brainstorming with my buddy and Quicksilver teammate Greg Lanctot over a couple (dozen) beers, we both agreed that we would put fear, sanity, sobriety aside, and attempt the impossible -- the Beer 2 Mile.

The Beer Mile(s) Championships

Greg and I each arrived at the track with eight cans or Coors. While carrying my bag of beer from the car to the track, I couldn't help but notice just how much eight cans of beer weighs. It felt like about five pounds! Suddenly I realized just how stupid of an idea this was. I about to try to chug five pounds of beer. Oh no! But oh well, it was too late to quit now. Well technically it was too early to quit now, as how we hadn't even started yet. But you get the point.

Beer chugging is all about good form!
Realizing ahead of time that we would probably be in no shape to drive home (or to even walk home), Greg and I each brought our own designated drivers, who would also function as our crew chiefs and cheering section. In Greg's corner was fellow Quicksilver Running Club teammate Dan Decker, a highly accomplished beer drinker in his own right. Dan and Greg have been known to close down bars. Heck they once even closed down a brewery!

In my corner was my wife Amy and our six year old son. Yes, I brought my son to an event that involved grown adults running around in their underwear and puking in the field. More on underwear in a minute. Also, helping out in my corner was fellow Quicksilver Running Club teammate Jeff Clowers, who I have been coaching this year. I often tell him that if he doesn't feel like puking after a workout, he isn't running hard enough. I assume he always thought I was joking. But now he probably doesn't know what to think.

So, about the underwear. I guess it was just me who was running in underwear. And in my defense, it was really more of a speedo than underwear. And, most importantly, it was part of my "Captain Beermerica" costume, designed to intimidate my competition -- or at least confuse and disorient them. Who can concentrate when some guy is flexing in front of you with his "junk" clearly visible?

Thankfully the race finally began and I was able to get moving (it's COLD standing around in your underwear at night -- even with arm warmers!). Tim Reynolds and Chris Weiler both slammed their first beer in under 5 seconds and took the race out hard. I tucked in behind them for the first 100 meters but then grew impatient and decided to up the ante. I moved past them into the lead -- which was probably a foolish, impetuous move.

Beer Mile Champion Tim Reynolds with trophy!
I held the lead for the first 3 laps and was starting to think that I might actually win the Beer Mile race en route to hopefully also winning the Beer 2 Mile! That would have been quite the accomplishment. But alas, Tim Reynolds slammed his 4th beer before I was even half-way done with mine. Chris Weiler and I gave chase, but Tim had already opened up a 20 meter lead and he was flying. Tim ended up winning with an amazing time of 6:04 while Chris finished just a few seconds behind him in 6:08.

Once I realized that I wasn't going to be able to catch Tim and win the mile, I backed off the pace to conserve what was left of my strength for my second mile. I think I crossed the line in around 6:13, but there was some confusion (mainly mine) as I stopped to grab my 5th beer before proceeding to the start finish line. So I think I was officially listed as having run a 6:23. In any case, it was significantly faster than my 6:39 from 2012!

The second mile proved far more difficult than the first mile. Shortly after chugging my 5th beer I was forced to make a brief pit stop on the side of the track where I deposited the contents of my stomach in the grass. I also made several more pit stops after my 6th, 7th, and 8th beers. As per the official beer mile rules, I also had to run an additional "puke penalty lap". Thankfully I managed to run the 9th and final lap without any unscheduled stops.

Beer 2 Mile Champions -- Greg and John
Staggering across the finish line, I became the first person to ever complete the Beer 2 Mile event at the Silicon Valley Beer Mile Championships in a time of 18 minutes and 10 seconds. But I was not the only man who made history that day. Less than 3 minutes later, my teammate and partner and crime, Greg Lanctot also crossed the finish line triumphantly -- also after having run an additional penalty lap.

I am not suggesting that Greg and I are the two baddest men on the planet. But we're definitely a close third and fourth behind Chuck Norris and that Dos Equis beer guy. Stay thirsty my friends!