Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Running John" is Dead. Long live "Cycling Johnny"

We are gathered here today to celebrate the memory of our friend "Running John" who is no longer with us. May he rest in piece.

Running John was last seen on October 28, 2011 at the Morgan Hill half marathon. According to eye witness reports his right calf muscle gave out around mile 4 of the race with a loud pop and a fiery explosion. Several bystanders were taken the hospital for treatment of minor injuries.

Unable to run for the past month due to his lingering calf injury, Running John has taken up cycling to stay fit and have fun. In fact, word in the Peloton is that he has even joined a bike racing team (San Jose Cycling Club developmental squad) and plans to focus on bike racing next year.

Already this offseason Cycling Johnny has found some success with club races that involve lots of short climbs. While not the lightest rider (probably due to his love of German wheat beer) he isn't able to hang with the waifs on the long mountain climbs. However, on shorter climbs of a mile or less he is surprisingly sometimes able to ride away from the field.

In fact, recently Cycling Johnny became to the fastest person to have EVER ridden the Alamden Dam Climb in a time of 2:21, over 12 seconds quicker than the previous record holder. Must be all the glycogen from that German Dunkelweizen beer.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Campbell Oktoberfest 5K

Those of you who have known me since college can attest to the fact that there's two things I have always been good at: drinking beer and running (from the authorities). Of course, now that I am older, wiser, and slower I have wised up and renounced... Oh who I am kidding. I still love beer. And I still run every chance I get (whether from the authorities or just the local mountain lions and bobcats).

Last Saturday, October 15, I decided to sign up for a local 5K to find out just how slow I have gotten since my high school cross country days. I was never that fast at the shorter stuff in the first place (I'm more suited to the ultra-marathon distances), so I knew that this was going to be ugly. But, I figured that with some local law enforcement loitering around (eating all of the post-race food and hitting on any women who walked by) I should get that little added boost of adrenaline.

I knew I wouldn't have any chance to win (some of these 13 year old girls and 50+ year old men looked like they might be surprisingly fast). And of course, I probably looked like an idiot myself decked out in my Ed Hardy board shorts and my Vibram Five Fingers.
The starting gun went off and everyone started sprinting across the grass toward the paved bike trail. I felt like I was standing still. Everyone was passing me: little kids in basketball shorts, overweight walkers, pregnant women pushing double strollers. I quickly found myself in about 30 place. A quick glance down at my watch showed that we were running 5:45 pace, which was a bit too fast for my game plan of running 6:00 miles. Time to slow down!

Thankfully at about the .5 mile mark people started slowing down dramatically and I reeled in most of the little kids and pregnant stroller moms. But there three 50+ year old guys ahead of me (only one of which I would eventually catch).

I felt like I ran a pretty even paced race, though my Garmin stats tell a different story, with each of the three miles getting slower than the previous. Nonetheless I was reasonably satisfied with my time of 19:07 and my 9th place overall finish. Maybe I will actually do a little training (ugh, speed work) for the next local 5K in February.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

2011 Quicksilver 10K -- 2nd Place

Today was the first day of my "running comeback". This morning I ran a small local race, the Quicksilver 10K., which is put on by my Quicksilver Ultra Racing team. While I didn't win, I did at least manage to come home in second place about 30 seconds back of the winner, Kevin Hunter. Granted he was an older gentleman with gray hair who I believe said he was 53. But hey, I ran in my board shorts and flip flops, so let's just call it even. LOL.

Going into the race I thought I might have a decent shot to win, considering that it was a pretty small field (and about half of the people were running the longer 1/2 marathon distance). But as soon as we started the initial climb I could tell that I was going to have company. Three of us quickly dropped the rest of the pack. It was myself, running shirtless in my Ed Hardy board shorts and my Luna sandals, Kevin Hunter (a.k.a. the fast old guy in the red shirt) who would go on to win the race, and an Asian guy (Ishijima Yoshihiro) wearing a funny bush hat -- who was actually running the longer 1/2 marathon race). We made quite the motley crew I suppose; certainly not your tyical lead pack in a road race.

I tried making a move toward the top of the first climb, but unfortunately I was only able to drop the 1/2 marathon runner. The guy in the red shit stayed within striking distance and the reeled me back in. At about 2 miles into the race we hit a steep section of single track where I always struggle. Sure enough I slowed down and both of my two competitors passed me. That was pretty much the last I would see of the guy in the red, except for occasional glimpses of the back of his shirt.

My wife Amy had given me a lot of crap when I told her I was going to race in my sandals. Which of course only further convinced me to wear them. In the end, it was probably a bit of a dumb footwear choice for such a hilly, rocky, gnarly course. But overall I thought they performed quite well. I think I probably could have closed the last 2 downhill miles faster if I had worn more conventional footwear. But I still managed to run the last two miles in the mid to low 5's, which I was pretty content with (especially considering my lack of training).

Anyway, it's time for me to go ice my heels, pop some Advil, and drink some beer.

Garmin stats.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Lake Tahoe Revisted: A Tale of Two DNFs

Well, it's been over two months since my last blog post. Not to worry though, I'm still alive. And no, I wasn't abducted my aliens or held captive by some clandestine government agency. I've just been laying low. Licking my wounds. Trying to forget about the fiasco at Lake Tahoe back in July where I dropped out of the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 after 50 miles, only half way through the race.

So let's just get this out of the way. Yes, this is the second time I've tried (and failed) to run the Tahoe Rim Trail. And yes, I did even worse the second time around, dropping at only mile 50 compared to my first attempt two years ago where I at least made it to mile 75 before wimping out. And oddly, I was actually in much better physical shape this time. So, where did it all go wrong?

I have only one person to blame. No, not myself. Come on, don't be silly! The blame rests solely on whatever idiot shoe engineer at Salomon was responsible for designing the Salomon Speed Cross 2. As much as I love the aggressive "mountain bike style" tread on the those shoes (see some of my previous posts), I finally had to concede that they just way to narrow and tight for my flat, double-wide feet.

After losing 7 toenails and developing peroneal tendonitis while racing in them, I finally tossed the shoes into the garbage where they belong. I briefly thought about donating them to some charity that provides running shoes for third-world kids, but honestly I would feel horrible if some promising young Eritrean runner lost all his toenails due to running in my crappy shoes.

OK, enough ranting about how much I hate Salomon. Back to the blog. So, after two months of hiding my head in shame I am finally ready to start running (and blogging about running) again. My feet and my pride have both healed up, and I'm starting to build my running base back up. Last week I ran 30 miles (not all at once mind you, but over the course of 7 days). That's 20 more miles than the week before. And that's 20 more miles than the month before.

But in the interest of full disclosure, I haven't been a complete couch potato. Admittedly, I had been drinking a lot of beer. And yes, I did gain 15 pounds. But, I did ran (well, "hiked") a 50K in Woodside in August which wasn't a complete failure with me managing to stumble across the line in 4th place. And I have also been doing a lot of bicycling to keep some base level of fitness and to complete from completely jumping the shark. So it could be worse.

Anyway, last weekend I decided to see just how bad of shape I was in. I signed up for a 50K race at Mt. Diablo. It was hot. And I wasn't particularly motivated. Not surprisingly, about 10 miles into the race I decided I'd had enough. But I was still up on the mountain over 5 miles away from the parking lot. So I ended up logging 15 miles for the day, which was more consecutive miles than I had run since the 50K in August.

Tomorrow morning I am thinking about racing a 10K in my "backyard" at Quicksilver park, and hopefully I can make it all the way (a full 6.2 miles) without DNF'ing. Wish me luck. Let the comeback begin. LOL.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Another 100 Miles?

The skin on the bottom of my feet still hasn't grown back yet (from the 100 mile race I did in South Dakota three weeks ago), but I'm getting ready to attempt another 100 miler this weekend in Lake Tahoe!

On Saturday, July 16 I will join a hundred or so other crazy souls as we attempt to race 100 miles through the mountains on the Tahoe Rim Trail.

While I was supremely confident going into my hundred miler in South Dakota (having no doubt in my mind that I would finish) this time around I am a bit more nervous. Perhaps it's because this course has already gotten the best of me once before when I dropped out at mile 75 two years ago. Or perhaps, more importantly, I'm worried about the fact that I'm still missing large patches of skin on the soles and heels of my feet.

In any case, I'm not feeling very cocky, or even especially confident right now. So I will spare you guys from having to read any fancy prose about the spirit of Crazy Horse carrying me on the back of his horse across the mountains (or any such other nonsense) this time around. No, I think the best I can do is muster up some half-hearted proclomation like, "I've done it before. I know I can do it again. It's time to go out there and take care of business". I guess that's better than my first idea for a motivational mantra, which was basically, "This is definitely going to suck a lot. And I'm dreading it."

Wish me luck! Those of you interested in following the race should be able to get live updates on the Webcast once the race is underway starting at 5:00 am PST (8:00 am EST) on Saturday, July 16. In case there are problems wiht the Webcast there is also a Facebook page and a Twitter stream.

On a side note, whenever I am feeling anxious, scared, worried, or utterly despondent about an upcoming race I simply watch this short video and then (after I wipe the tears of joy out of my eyes) I always feel instantly better:

Watch more videos on Flotrack

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Black Hills 100 Race Report

Well... I finished! One hundred miles. (Technically I think the course was even more like 106 or 107 miles, but hey, who's counting?) The good news is that I am still alive and in possession of my first 100 mile finishers "belt buckle". Woo hoo. Yo Adrian, I did it.

Here's a link the official results. I finished 10th overall, 3rd in my age group, with a time of 29:17:46. I triumphantly shuffled across the finish line side-by-side with another runner, Randy Kottke who I hooked up with for the last 6 miles or so. I'm not sure I would have made it to the finish without the company and support of Randy and his pacer Miles. Thanks so much guys!

I'm so thankful to have finally achieved my goal of running 100 miles (even if technically I hiked almost as much as I ran). Wow, it feels great. But it definitely wasn't easy. In fact it was easily the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. There were several times, particularly during the night, alone on a dark mountain, where I questioned whether I was a complete idiot -- and whether I would ever make it to the finish line at  the Woodle field track in Sturgis.

As I stumbled along, alone on the dark mountain at 3:30 in the morning, I had quite a few interesting conversations with myself (and my various body parts). It went something like this:

Me: "John, you can do it. Just keep moving. Don't stop."
Feet: "Oh hey, a nice big, flat rock. It looks so soft and comfortable. Let's lay down and rest."
Me: "What hell are you guys doing? Get up! You can't sleep on a rock. Get up you fools!"

Legs: "We're tired. We're cramping up. We can't possibly go 30 more miles. We will never make it."
Me: "Everyone else is hurting just as bad. Nobody has passed you in hours. You're still in the top 10. You're doing great. Just keep moving."

Stomach: "Um... hey idiot, you forgot to feed me. I'm starving. Blood sugar, plummeting. Muscle glycogen, depleted. Liver glycogen, depleted. All systems shutting down."
Me: "No, no. Switch to emergency reserves! Start burning body fat. Hang in there, there's another aid station only an hour away."

Keith Straw in his Sunday finest
Image credit: Action Sports Images
Somehow, despite my exhausted, condition, I managed to win the conversation and convince my feet, legs, and stomach to all keep chugging along. I might be exhausted, but I wasn't delirious. At least my brain was still working. After all, it wasn't like I was hallucinating seeing imaginary forest creatures (elves, trolls, fairies, or goblins) bounding along the trail. And then it happened...

I heard a noise and looked behind me expecting to see a bird or a squirrel, or some other standard woodland creature. But no, there it was. A large pink fairy floating along the trail. Clearly I had been out running in the woods too long. Or maybe I shouldn't have eaten those tasty looking mushrooms that I found growing alongside the trail. Luckily, as it turned out I wasn't hallucinating or having a toxic reaction to poisonous mushrooms. It was just veteran ultra-runner Keith Straw passing along, dressed in his Sunday finest.

I had passed Keith earlier in the evening, around 9:00 pm, just around the time a few of us runners had got caught in a fierce lightening storm on top of the mountain, followed by an even fiercer hail storm on the way down the mountain. I was glad to see that he had survived the onslaught of hail and lightening on top of the mountain.

At the time of the storm, I had debated taking shelter under some trees and trying to wait out the storm. But that strategy quickly lost its appeal after about thirty seconds of sitting around in just a cold, wet tee shirt. Clearly I had to keep moving if I wanted to avoid an unwelcome visit from my old acquaintance, hypothermia. Instead I had opted to turn on the jets and throw in some 7 minute miles, racing down the mountain trying to stay a few steps ahead of the lightening strikes and grape-sized missiles of icy hail falling from the sky.

Hail on the track at the finish line
Image credit: Action Sports Images
While I like to think that I managed to outrun the storm down the mountain, I think in reality it simply blew past me on it's own. But in any case, I made it down off the mountain alive, thankful to see the poncho-clad crew huddled underneath the canopy at the next aid station. They refilled my bottles, gave me some warm chicken noodle soup, and refused to let me leave until I had stuffed my pockets with enough food (gels, bananas, and sandwiches) to carry me through the next 8 miles.

Normally I am a pretty self-sufficient runner and can get by in a 50 mile or 50K race with just a couple of drop bags. But there is no doubt in my mind that I wouldn't have finished without the help of all the wonderful aid station volunteers. They were just amazing. Each time we arrived at an aid station an aid station volunteer would already be standing there with our drop bag in their hand waiting for us. I never had to refill my own water bottles. And when I got to the point where I could no longer bare the thought of chocking down another energy gel packet they made me some delicious grilled cheese sandwiches that really hit the spot.

Aside from the lightening storm and the hail storm on the mountain, the rest of the race was pretty uneventful. It was just a matter of keeping the legs moving and slogging it out. The last 14 miles seemed like an eternity as I was basically reduced to a slow shuffle, hobbling along on my blistered feet. And then, at about 10 miles to go I felt one of the blisters pop, followed by a squishing sound, followed by burning pain. I immediately sat down on a rock, took my shoes off and went to work trying to salvage what was left of my water-logged, blistered feet.

Just then another runner, Randy Kottke and his pacer Miles caught up to me. They asked if I was OK and offered me some duct tape (to tape up my feet). I thanked them and told them to go on ahead. After a few minutes of resting on the rock and tending to my feet I felt good enough to start walking again. Occasionally I could hear Randy and Miles talking, and once and a while I would catch sight of them working their way down the switchbacks. It was a nice feeling to know that I wasn't completely alone out there. I was definitely feeling better and did my best to try and catch up to those guys.

I finally caught up with Randy and Miles just before the last aid station with 6 miles to go. We agreed to stick together and work as a team to try and see if we could cover the last 6 miles in under two hours. I'm not sure if we did make it back in less than 2 hours or not, but to be honest I didn't care. I was just happy to have some company. Honestly, I think that without those guys, I might have just sat down on a rock somewhere and taken a nap for a couple of hours. Anyway, there were definitely a couple of tears in my eyes when the finish line finally came into sight!

Randy and I did our best to ignore the pain and "run" the final victory lap around the Woodle field track. I'm sure it was probably the slowest 400 meters ever recorded in the history of the world, but I was savoring every second of it. Each painful step brought a smile to my face. This was what I came for! I definitely savored the moment. The only the only thing better would have been if my wife, family, and friends could have enoyed the moment it with me (because they're all been a big part of my running and I'm thankful for them).
My feet have seen better days
Image credit: Action Sports Images

Seconds after finishing we were sitting on the grass next to the track having a cold beer. It was all so surreal. Here we had been running for over 29 hours straight, and now it was suddenly over. Mission accomplished. I had never been so happy to take my shoes and socks off. Though I have to admit, my feet were definitely not a pretty sight. They looked like the feet of a zombie, or as my cousin Julie later remarked, a bit like a 3D topographical relief map.

I'd like to say that I'll come back to the Black Hills and do the race again sometime. But right now the thought of running another hundred miler makes me want to hide my head under a pillow and cry. Let's see how I'm feeling (and how my feet are looking) three weeks from now when I'm scheduled to run my second 100 miler up in Lake Tahoe at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile endurance run.

Monday, June 20, 2011

100 Miles?

On Friday I will fly to the Black Hills of South Dakota where I plan to run in the inaugural Black Hills 100 endurance race on Saturday, June 25.

No pacer. No crew. No drama. Just me. The voices in my head. The spirit of Crazy Horse at my back and beneath my feet. And 100 miles of remote, rugged mountain trail.

I'm not going in cocky, but I'm not going in scared either. I fully plan to respect the distance and the effort required to finish. But I know that I've done the work and put in the training. Now I'm ready to run.

Things are going to get tough. At some point I will undoubtedly find myself sitting on the ridge of a mountain in the middle of the night, cold and wet, during a lightening storm wondering what the hell I am doing out here?

And that's when I will pull out my pocket mirror, look myself in the face and repeat the manta that seven-time Western States winner Scott Jurek made famous, "This is what you came for."


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

San Lorenzo River 50K Race Report

Running among the redwoods
Those of you who read my blog regularly (all 5 of you) know that on Friday I almost had to go to the hospital ER with severe leg pain. I thought it might be an embolism, a pinched spinal nerve, or perhaps some kind of alien death ray weapon. As it turns out, my chiropractor, Dr. Kristina Irvin, was able to get me straightened out. While she performed a variety of treatments including chiropractic adjustment, massage, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound, she basically diagnosed me with cramps due to an electrolyte imbalance and recommended that I take some supplemental calcium. Sure enough, a couple hours after taking some calcium-magnesium-zinc pills the pain gradually eased and then completely subsided.

I took Saturday off completely just to make sure everything was OK and to give myself a rest day before the Coastal Train Runs - San Lorenzo River 50K that I was already signed up to run on Sunday morning. I was planning to play it by ear depending on how my legs felt during the day and evening on Saturday. Everything seemed fine, so on Sunday morning I woke up, slipped into my running gear and drove up over the mountain from San Jose to Santa Cruz.

Crossing the River
The race starts in Santa Cruz at Harvey West Park and takes you through a beautiful redwood forest alongside (and through) the San Lorenzo River. You actually cross the river midstream four times during the 50K course. The water is only about waist high (perhaps shoulder high if you are on the shorter side) and it's not moving too fast, but it's still a challenge -- especially towards the end of the race when you already have 28 miles under your legs. Luckily the race director was kind enough to string a rope across to provide some assistance. Though in the interest of full disclosure, I still managed to find myself completely submerged under water during each crossing (and not all of them by my own choice).

I didn't really have any personal aspirations for this particular race other than to finish without killing myself or pushing too hard. With my 100 miler coming up in just two weeks, I basically just wanted to get in one last long(ish) training run before the big day. Considering my recent cramping problems, and having just raced 50 miles the previous weekend at Rancho Cañada del Oro and Calero Park, I just wanted to run smart and easy today.

Although I had planned to go out slow and conservatively, I somehow found myself tucked in between Quicksilver Ultra Racing teammate Adam Blum and Über-triathlete Lauren Swigart (both of whom were doing the shorter 30K event). Adam and I stayed together for much of the first half of the race, taking turns doing the work. Running as a team we managed to successfully follow the course markings while many of the other front runners apparently took a wrong turn and ended up running part of the course backward.

Anyway, somewhere around mile 13 I started to pull away from Adam a bit and found myself running alone. I knew there were still a few runners ahead of me, but I wasn't sure how many of them were doing the shorter distances (1/2 marathon, 30K and marathon) and how many (if any) were doing the 50K. So I was pleasantly surprised when aid station volunteers informed me that I was the first 50k runner to come through the aid station. Sweet!

Now the pressure was on. I had the lead, but could I keep it? And if I could hold on for the win, would I also be able to better the course record of 5:07:21 set by Mark Dowds in 2010? Suddenly my plans to run conservatively evaporated. I found myself ratcheting up the pace ever so slightly and running some hills that I would have probably otherwise walked. I wasn't sure how much of a lead I had, but based on my rudimentary calculations (OK, based on my trusty Garmin Forerunner 310XT ; I suck at trying to do math while running) I was pretty sure I would take at least 10 minutes off the existing course record if I held my pace.

Woo hoo!
Luckily it was all smooth sailing to the finish line. Well, aside from getting stung twice on the neck twice by bees and almost nearly drowning myself in a mere four feet of water during the final river crossing. But luckily I survived to tell the tale and took home the win and a new course record, finishing in first place with a time of 4:48:41.

Congrats to second place finisher Jason Serda came in shortly afterwards in 4:57:41. And congratulations also to 64 year-old Quicksilver Ultra Racing teammate Jim Magil who finished strong in the middle of the field -- running on a torn miniscus! Man, you're a stud Jim.

Here's a link to the official results, and here are my Garmin stats.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Things That Hurt Like Heck

I'm making a list of things that hurt. Or more specifically I'm making a list of painful things I've experienced at some point in my life, along with the corresponding degree of pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being mildly annoying and 10 being so-painful-you-pass-out-or-die.
  • Sat through dozens of hours of being tattooed -- mildly irritating (1.5 on a scale of 1 - 10)
  • Broke my big toe after dropping 50 pound steel desk on foot in 5th grade -- slight achy pain for a few weeks (3 on a scale of 1 - 10)
  • Hyper-extended my elbow incurred during Judo tournament in college -- hurt like heck for weeks (6 on a scale of 1 - 10)
  • Broke my pointer finger and got kicked in the balls (simultaneously) during an impromptu drunken kickboxing sparring match in the hallway of my apartment in college -- steady throbbing intense pain for several months (7.5 on a scale of 1 - 10)
  • Severe inner thigh cramps -- holy !@# that hurts, make it stop, make it stop, (12 on a scale of 1 - 10)
I've never experienced childbirth, though I hear it's quite painful. However, I've heard from women who have delivered children without pain-killer drugs, and who have also experienced severe inner thigh cramps, and they agree that the thigh cramps are far worse than childbirth. It's true, Google it!

So, why do I mention this and what does it have to do with running? Well, late Thursday night I was woken up out of my sleep several times by the worst God-awful pain you can imagine. Each time I thought I was possibly going to die. I was fairly certain that someone had broken into the house and stabbed me in the leg with a rusty ice pick. It hurt! Then the pain would suddenly disappear and would I fell back asleep. When I woke up in the morning my leg actually felt fine, so I hoped that perhaps it had all just been a bad dream.

But no, somewhere around lunchtime the shocking, tear-inducing cramps returned. I fell to the floor, clutched my thigh, cursed like an angry pirate, and cried for my mommy. Each burst of shooting, searing, pulsing pain would last for about 5 seconds. But what it lacked in duration, it made up for in intensity. I seriously considered going to the emergency room! But instead I did the next best thing and called my ER Doctor running buddy Joe who was at the hospital. He assured me that I wasn't dying of a blood clot, and that it probably wasn't even a hernia -- just some leg cramps.

So, feeling fairly confident that I wasn't going to die, I was still worried that it might be some kind of pinched nerve or compressed spinal disks. So I texted my chiropractor, Dr. Kristina Irvin, a fellow ultra-marathoner who has finished dozens (hundreds?) or hundred mile runs. If anyone could fix me and get me running again, it would be her. She told me to come in. She did some "stim" treatment on my legs with electrodes and what looked like a car battery. She performed some ultrasound on my lower back (good news, I'm not pregnant). And she adjusted my back and gave me a little massage. I stood up from the table feeling like a new man.

Seconds later the cramps struck again and grabbed a door jam to keep from crumbling to the floor. Not good! However, Dr. Irvin did mention that I might have an electrolyte imbalance (I'd gotten really dehydrated on a run two days prior) and suggested I take some supplemental calcium and magnesium. So I went home and popped a couple of Hammer Nutrition Enduralyte pills and drank some Coconut water. And the cramps mysteriously eased up.

So, now the question is, are they really gone or are they just lurking, waiting to strike in a moment of weakness? Would I be able to run the Lorenzo River 50K on Saturday as I was planning as a last tune-up race before my 100 miler on June 25?

To be continued....

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Rancho Cañada del Oro and Calero Park 50 Mile

Saturday, June 4th I ran the Rancho Cañada del Oro and Calero Park 50 Mile, an inaugural event put on by Troy's California Trail Runs. Rancho Cañada and Calero are actually two of my favorite places to run in the Bay Area. These two adjoining parks are real hidden gems, at least among trail runners (the parks are both quite well known to equestrians).

I had really been looking forward to this event for weeks, ever since early May wheny  I wimped out and dropped out of the Quicksilver 50M race at the 50K mark due to some stomach issues. Rancho/Calero was going to be my chance to prove to myself that Quicksilver was just a fluke bad day, and that I was indeed capable of easily running a 50 miler. And with my 100 miler fast approaching at the end of June, I desparately needed to know that I could knock out a 50 miler with no problem if I was to have any shot a finishing a full 100. Yikes.

So when I woke up at 4:30 am Saturday morning and saw pouring rain outside, I didn't allow myself to flinch. Wimping out and going back to bed was not an option. I needed to go out there and do a full day's work; I needed to take care of business.

You can imagine my surprise and panic when I arrived at the park in the morning and there were only a handful of cars and no race registration tent or banner. I wondered if perhaps the race had been cancelled? But no, it turns out there were only a handful of people crazy enough to come out and run all day in the rain and mud. Despite the horrible weather the race director Troy did a great job of getting things started nearly on time (we had to wait a few minutes for some last minute race-day registrants who showed up just as the gun was about to go off).

Among the 7 or so runners loitering around the parking lot I saw my Quicksilver teammate (and team coach) Greg Lanctot. Greg had come out to run the 32 Mile  race, hoping for an age group win (or perhaps an overall win) depending on who else was crazy enough to show up for a small, out-of-the-way, local race in miserable rainy conditions. Unfortunately for Greg, three-time Tevis Cup horse racing winner Jeremy Reynolds showed up, and even without this horse he was able to runaway with the win in the 32 Mile race. However, Greg did manage to hold off third-place finisher Tim Koska, bringing home a 2nd place overall finish (and the age group win).

The 50 Mile was slightly less competitive with only two crazy runners toughing out the miserable conditions to complete the full 50 miles. I crossed the finish line first in a time of 9:30:22, while 61 year old Dan Maguire crushed the rest of the field to finsih in second with a time of 12:57:00. Technically I am now the "course record holder" since this was the first year this event was run, and hence my time is (at least for a year) the fastest time on record. Ha. Though technically I probably should have been disqualified since I missed one turn where the mud had washed away the course markings and ended up cutting the course short by 1/2 mile or so.

Anyway... it was long morning of rain, mud, and hills. At one point the sun came out briefly, just long enough to give me a quick sunburn on my forehead. And then it was back to more rain and more mud (the hills never left). The highlight of the day was probably when my wife met me at mile 40 to cheer me on. She even sucked it up and ran a couple of miles in the mud with me, including one river crossing.

The other "highlight" of the day was when I literally almost ran into a couple of skunks as I was flying down a steep hill. I came screeching to a halt just fast enough to avoid getting sprayed in the face with skunk juice. And then, much to my surprise, the mother skunk actually started chasing me back up the hill. WTF? Luckily she wasn't much of an ultra runner and gave up after a few feet. And I come home still smelling like roses! Well, I probably smelled bad enough after 9 hours of sweat, but at least I didn't get spritzed with Aud De Parfum O' Skunk.

Here's a link to the official results and there are my Garmin stats.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

John Gets "Big Wood" at Ohlone 50K Trail Race

I had the pleasure of experiencing "big wood" while running this past weekend at the Ohlone 50K trail race. Now hold on, it's not what you're probably thinking. No, I didn't take some Viagra or another vasodialotor before the race in order to improve the blood flow to my lungs (and other organs). Rather, for the first time in my four attempts at Ohlone, I finished in the top 3 of my age group and came home with the coveted large 4x4 piece of lumber (i.e., "big wood") given to the age group winners instead of the much smaller 1x4 sliver of wood (i.e., "little wood") given to all race finishers.

There I was at the finish line, firmly grasping my enormously large piece of timber with both hands while everyone stared in awe. I couldn't have been any prouder. What a day! Not only did I take 3rd in my age group, but I finished 10th overall and ran 5 minutes faster than I had ever run on this particular course before. Here's a link to the official results. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning...

I'd gone to sleep ridiculously early the night before, climbing into bed around 8:30 pm (which felt so wrong considering that it was still completely light out). But when my BlackBerry started chirping at 4:45 am I actually felt pretty well rested. There was none of the usual stumbling around in the dark, accidentally kicking the family dog and waking up the whole neighborhood nonsense. No, just some quality time with my good friend and confidant, Don Francisco. He makes a mean Vanilla Nut coffee in case you were wondering.

And of course, as per my usual race morning ritual I meticulously prepared a gourmet breakfast designed to ensure maximum athletic performance: cherry Pop Tarts! Two minutes and four hundred calories later, I was high off my ass on caffeine and high fructose corn syrup. But seriously, don't knock Pop Tarts. NCAA national cross-country champion Adam Goucher swore by them. And hell, check the ingredients, they've got dried cherries and dried apples. So they must be good for you, right? Anyway...

Ohlone is a somewhat unique event, presenting some unique logistical challenges, in that it is a point-to-point race starting in Fremont and ending 31 miles away at Lake Del Valle in Livermore. So while the race itself doesn't start until 8:00 am, you have to be at Lake Del Valle before 6:30 am in order to catch the bus to the starting line. According to Google Maps, it is a 1:15 minute drive from my house. But apparently the Google driving-time estimates are based on the average law-abiding Californian citizen driving a hybrid Prius. But take a wild back-roads Michigan boy in a Ford Mustang with a wicked sugar high, and well... 28 minutes later he's sitting outside the gates of the county park chanting, "open, open, open".

Needless to say, I was the first runner to board the shuttle bus and I snagged a prime front row seat. Not only does sitting up front help keep me from getting car sick, but much more importantly it ensures I will be the first guy off the bus and the first guy in line at the restrooms when we arrive at the starting area. Apparently another guy had the same idea because he sat down next to me in the front row.

As we started talking I soon discovered he was Harris Goodman, a new teammate who had just recently joined our Quicksilver Ultra Racing team. As we chatted, I also learned that Harris is quite the accomplished ultra runner, having completed the Grand Slam of Ultra Running in 2010 (which involves running four of the oldest and more difficult 100 mile races all in the same calendar year including Western States, Vermont, Leadville, and Wasatch Front. Having not yet successfully completed a 100 miler myself I used the opportunity to pick his brain on a variety of topics from hydration best practices to strategies for preventing altitude sickness.

However, once we arrived at the starting area it was every man for himself and I dispensed with the pleasantries and started throwing elbows as I dashed for the front of the Porta Potty line. Luckily the race directors waited an extra ten minutes to start the race, ensuring that all the runners were able to take care of business and find their way to the starting line.

As we stood around waiting for things to get underway I was able to chat a bit with some fellow Quicksilver Racing team members and even pose for some nice group photos. These pre-race photos always turn out so much better than the post race photos were everyone's faces are caked with sweat, dirt, snot, Gu, or who knows what else.

As we were standing there getting ready to start running, I realized that I hadn't really prepared a race strategy or plan for Ohlone. Typically I have some idea beforehand of how I plan to run. Usually it is something along the lines of "Go out easy for the first 10 miles, stay calm and controlled for the next 20, and then pick it up the last 11 miles if you are feeling good". Though to be honest I don't know why I ever bother with putting together a pre-race plan since I invariably always end up throwing out the plan after the first 200 meter and just trying to run with the race leaders.

Today was really no different. Alarm bells should have gone off in my head as I found myself sprinting uphill past my teammate Mark Tanaka (note: Mark is a much faster runner than me and he ended finishing 15 minutes ahead of me). More alarm bells should have gone off as cheering spectators yelled, "you're in 6th place". Eventually the adrenaline wore off around mile 5 and I came to my senses and slowed down, letting Mark and another runner fly off into the distance as we made our way down the backside of Mission peak.

After that, things pretty much became a blur, with the notable exception of mile 8.5 where a bee flew into my sock and stung me on the ankle (which was surprising painful actually) and somewhere around mile 15 where I ran into teammate Chihping Fu who has re-marking the course). Aside from that it was just 5 hours and 30 minutes of running up and down big nasty hills in the Ohlone wilderness area. I pretty much ran on my own the entire way, entertaining myself by reciting my favorite Kid Rock songs.

At one point towards the end of the race my hamstring cramped up as I tried to hop sideways through a partially open cattle gate instead of just taking the time to open it properly and run straight ahead. This caused me to fall to the ground in pain (there may or may not also have been some shrieking, cursing, and rolling around). At this point, I was passed by a guy in a blue shirt who had been consistently running a few hundred yards or so behind me all day. He was courteous and friendly, asking if I needed any salt or sugar pills. So I did my best to be cordial and mumble "I'm OK. Thank you. Have a good one" instead of "Go to hell motherfucker! If I ever see you on the street I'll cut your ass." Did I mention I'm a bit of a sore loser?

Also, at one point Gary Wang came flying by me on a downhill. But honestly, he was moving so fast that I didn't have time to even say hi, much less think of anything menacing to say. Plus Gary is a great guy who does a lot for the sport, so it's hard to hold a grudge against him for making me feel like I was standing still. Nice job Gary!

Anyway, I eventually made it up the last of the hills and then down the extremely steep and extremely painful last two miles of downhill to the finish line. My feet were on fire from the heat generated by the friction of all that downhill running. I was pretty sure at least two of my toenails had already turned black from smashing against the toe box of my shoe. And there were some annoying blisters that would need to be popped. But right now all I could think about was the BBQ and cold Guiness draught beer waiting at the finish line.

With the scent of chicken apple sausage in the air, I hammered the last quarter mile and sprinted into the finishing chute relieve to be done. All in all it had been a good day. I finished. And aside from the one cramping episode I stayed on top of my fluids, salts, and calories pretty well. But somewhere in the back of my mind I was wondering, "This felt pretty hard for just 31 miles. You have a 100 mile race coming up in just over a month. Are you really going to be able to run another 70 miles on top of this?" Hmmm. That's a very interesting question!

To be continued I suppose...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Quicksilver 50M Race Report: Apr 30, 2011

A Shitty Day (Literally)

Running sucks.

Or, maybe I just suck at running.

Or maybe I just had a sucky day.

But however you look at it, things did not go well for me last Saturday, April 30 at the Quicksilver 50 Mile race. In short, I dropped out at the 50k (31 mile) mark after five hours of shitting in the woods, intermixed with a bit of running here and there. Here's my Garmin stats of the run.

But let's take a step back and set the scene. Our protagonist, young (ish) Johnny boy had been training like never before, logging 70 miles a week over the past month (with about 10,000 ft of elevation gain per week). He was quite possibly in the best shape of his life. He was setting new PRs for his regular training runs. He was effortlessly flying up even the steepest, nastiest hills. He was....

Ok, enough of this referring to myself in the third person crap. Let's switch back to first person narrative. Basically, I'd been diligently putting in the work and my training was going great. I was feeling great and poised for a breakout performance at Quicksilver 50, which I hoped would build my confidence and set the tone for my run-up to my 100 miler at the BlackHills 100 in the end of June.

But, as the 18th Century novelist Robert Burns once proclaimed, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." Or perhaps as the American boxer Mike Tyson better explained, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face." Or, in my case, everyone has a plan until their gastro-intestinal tract decides to declare war on the rest of the body by shutting down all normal stomach functions.

I'm not really sure where it all went wrong. Maybe I took too many salt tablets too early on in the race. Maybe I didn't take enough salt tablets (which is inconceivable, considering that I took 13 over the course of 5 hours). Maybe I pushed a bit too hard in the hot weather. Maybe I consumed too much sugar (energy gels and sports drink). Maybe it was that fried chicken I had for dinner the night before (note: it sounded like a good idea at the time). Who knows.

At any rate, I guess we can look at this epic fail as a "teachable moment". While I am a master of the DNF and have dropped out of races for almost every possible reason (dehydration, cramps, fatigue, hypothermia, blisters, boredom, sudden urge to have a cold beer, etc.) this may have been the first time ever that I decided to quit because I had inadvertently lost control of my bowels and shit my pants while running. So, lesson learned. Make sure to pack Imodium AD and a spare pair of clean running shorts on my 100 miler.

Quicksilver Running Club Triumphs. Leor Pantilat Sets New 50 Mile Course Record.

OK, enough about me and my incontinence. Let's switch topics and talk about some of the great performances from the Quicksilver Running Club - Ultra Racing Team in both the 50 Mile and 50K race, as well as the new course record laid down by Leor Pantilat in the 50 Mile race.
The Quicksilver Ultra Racing Team had a great day -- perhaps due in part to the home course advantage. On the men's side, Gary Gelin finished in 2nd place in the 50 mile with a blazing fast time of 6:29:41, beaten only by the phenomenal Leor who crushed the course record with a 6:01:45. Erik Toschi and Dan Decker both placed in the top 10.  On the women's side, Bree Lambert ran away with the race, winning the 50 mile in 8:13:07. 
And in the shorter, "sprint distance" 50K, Quicksilver also put on a strong showing with John Pommier in 2nd with 3:56:19 and Toshi Hosaka taking fourth in 4:00:03 for the men. While on the women's side, Adona Ramos won the 50K race with a 4:56:26, with Miki Yannoni taking third in 5:02:23.
Leor Pantilat setting new course record!

Old Friends and New Friends Finish Their First Ultras
Special congratulations to my buddy and regular training partner Joe Bistrain who ran his first ultra-marathon, finishing the 50K in 10th place with a great debut time of 4:44:36 (only 2 minutes slower than my own debut at Quicksilver back in 2005). Congrats also to Jorge Medina (who I first met a few months ago at Pacifica where he won the marathon while I won the 50K) who finished his ultra-marathon with a very respectable 5:14:19. Nice work Jorge. Looking forward to seeing you at Ohlone 50K or whatever ultra you decide to tackle next!
Joe Bistrain running his first ultra

Jorge Medina running his first ultra

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Grizzly Peak 30K Race Report: April 9, 2011

Short version: The Grizzly Peak trail run at Tilden Park had something for everyone, whether you prefer gnarly knee-bashing rocks, treacherous ankle-breaking roots, or evil shoe-swallowing mud pits. More than one runner finished the day with bloody knees and a bloody nose. And some never finished at all (note: the mud pits are currently being searched for lost shoes and human remains).

Long version: If you don't like getting dirty, you probably found yourself in the wrong place this Saturday during the Grizzly Peak trail run held by Coastal Trail Runs at Tilden Park in Berkley. Most of the course was quite dry and very runnable, but the few sections that contained mud were... well, muddy, muddy, muddy.

I'm not talking about a little mud clumping to the bottom of your shoe muddy. And I'm not talking about a few mud puddles that you can tip toe around on the skirts of the trail. I'm talking about the kind of mud that will suck the shoes right off your feet and then belch loudly. The type of mud that will swallow small dogs and toddlers. This mud wasn't natural.

And if the mud wasn't enough of a challenge, the course also offered an assortment of other obstacles and booby traps including a fallen tree branch in the middle of one of the steepest sections of rocky single track. There you are, trudging up a 20 degree incline with your hands on your knees trying to catch your breath. Just when you think it can't get any worse, you look up and see a fallen tree limb blocking your path. WTF? Seriously? Damn you Wendell Doman! And guess what, if you are running the 30K or marathon distance, you get to do this section of the course twice. Yea!

And did I mention the rocks, tree roots, and three foot deep ruts? Yep, check, check and check. This trail had them all. I was never more thankful to be wearing my trusty Salomon Speedcross trail shoes, with their knobby mountain-bike tire style treads (see image). So you can imagine my surprise when some young stud blew by me on an extremely rocky descent wearing a pair of Vibrams. I never caught his name, but my hat is off to him!

Those of you who know me or have read my blog before already know that nothing makes me more happy than being completely miserable (out on the trails). So let me stop whining. I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea and think that the course was entirely rocky, rooted, rutted, and muddy. No, there was some great stretches of highly runnable trail and fire road, much of which provided beautiful breathtaking views. I didn't have my camera on me so I couldn't take any pictures myself, but here are a nice photo from the Internet that I think does justice to the beauty of the course.

It was a beautiful day and challenging course. I had actually run 24 miles up at Saratoga Gap the day before with my buddy Dr. Joseph Bistrain, so I decided to just do the short-ish 30K (19 mile) distance instead of the marathon. And rather than trying to race hard and potentially contend for a top finish, I took it easy and enjoyed the day. However, I suppose I did get a little competitive towards the end when I found myself coming into the aid station at mile 13 at the same time as Peter Hsia who had been slowly reeling me in over the past few miles by running all of the uphill sections that I was walking. (Peter is a stud and can run almost any hill, no matter how steep). Luckily I was able to put a little time between us by aggressively running the muddy sections with reckless abandon. Again, full credit to my Salomon Speedcross. Those things are animals.

Here's a link to the official results. As you can see, I ended up finishing in 3rd place with a time of 3:00:44, which is about 9:34 pace. Not too shabby for a "recovery" day. Thanks again to Wendell and the folks at Coastal Train Runs for organizing another great event.

The End.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Wooside 50K Race Report: March 26, 2011

Short version: Rain, rain, and more rain. We ran in ankle deep water for 31 miles, and I don't think my feet ever once touched dry land! Yet despite the conditions, and despite not taking in enough calories and bonking in the last few miles I still had a great day and hung on for 4th place in 4:36:00.

Long version: Last weekend on Saturday, March 26 I took part in the Woodside 50K trail event organized by Pacific Coast Trail Run (PCTR). This was essentially the same course as the Crystal Springs 50K course organized by Coastal Trail Runs (CTR) that I had run earlier this year in January. Those of you who read my blog will recall that I had a great race in January, finishing in 2nd place overall with a time of 4:22:08. This time around however the weather, trail conditions, and footing were far worse. Combine the bad weather with a few tactical errors on my part -- i.e., going out to hard the first 5 miles, not taking in enough calories, and wrongly assuming that my Garmin GPS was providing accurate speed/distance data in foul weather -- resulted in a time of 4:36:00 that was 12 minutes slower compared with my great performance in January.

The legendary track and field coach (and Nike founder) Bill Bowerman who once quipped, that, "There is no such thing as bad weather, just soft people." And honestly, I can't agree more. Call me crazy, but I actually love running in cold, rainy, "miserable" weather conditions. Not only does the cold weather and wet conditions keep your body from overheating, but it also makes you feel tough. Which reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons about bad weather. More often than not, I find myself quoting the special forces guy, "I wish it would suck more". Ha ha.

Ironically however, prior to the race I had just returned from Orlando, Florida where the weather was 85 degrees and sunny. But don't get too jealous: I was there for a work conference and spent most of my time inside hanging out with other IT nerds, not lounging by the pool sipping beers (OK, full disclosure: I did manage to sneak out a few times with some buddies for a short run and post-run pool-side beer). So my body was probably a little confused as to what was going on with the drastic weather changes.

Anyway, at the start of the race I was chatting with Will Gotthardt who is a much faster runner than me (he has  run Woodside in 4:08 and 4:09 in previous years). As we stood there at the starting line getting ready for the gun, I kept telling myself, "John, whatever you do, don't try and go out with Will." Of course, the race starts and I find myself trying to stay right on Will's heels for the first few miles. Mistake #1.

I ran the first few miles in a pack of three people including Will and another runner named Cameron Berg (who would later go on to pull away from Will and win the race by about 15 minutes). Here's a picture of Cameron celebrating post race.

So my first mistake was in going out too fast with a couple of guys I had no business running with. But that wasn't the only tactical error I would end up making.

My second mistake is that I failed to take in enough calories during the day. Typically I carry a few energy gel packets (Vanilla Gu) with me. But on race morning I could only find one Gu in my race bag, so I figured I would just stop at aid stations and eat whatever they had available. But as the race went on, I found myself struggling to eat any solid foods that required chewing. As I would attempt to run, chew and breath all at the same time, little bits of uneaten Cliff Shot Blocks would fly out of my mouth with each exhale. So, as a result of not taking in enough calories I found myself slowing down (and even walking) the last 3 (mostly downhill) miles, which I would normally otherwise hammer!

My third mistake was that I wore my Garmin GPS and foolishly assumed it would be providing accurate speed and distance data even though we were running in tree-shrouded canyons on a very cloudy, rainy day. Nothing sucks more than looking down at your watch and wondering why it says you are running much slower than you expect, especially compared to the effort level you are expending. I kept running harder and harder during the first 10 miles thinking that I was only running 9 minute miles (when probably I was actually running sub 8:00 minute miles). So naturally I ended up going out to hard and expending more energy than I had planned. Note to self: If it feels like you are running too fast, you probably are.

Anyway, after losing sight of Will and Cameron I ran virtually all of the race alone, in solitude. However, somewhere around mile 18 I got passed by another runner, who I would later learn was Peter Duyan. I tried to hang with him for a bit, but he was running way too strong. So I settled in at my own pace, content to just try and hold on for 4th place. Luckily no one else passed me and I was able to keep 3 or 4 minutes between myself and the next runner, Judd Haaland.

In conclusion, I guess the takeaway is: 1) don't be an idiot and go out too hard, 2) don't be an idiot and run 31 miles with just one 100 calorie Gu packet, and 3) don't be an idiot and assume a consumer-grade GPS watch is going to work in a tree-shrouded canyon on a cloudy, stormy day. I guess we could further distill those messages down to the more condensed, "don't be an idiot" in general. Now, if only I could remember that advice next time...

Here's a link to the official results:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Montara Mountain 50K Race Report

Short Version: John wins 50K race, sets new course record!

Long Version: This Sunday I took part in the Montara Mountain 50K in Pacifica, CA, organized by Coastal Trail Runs. The weather was ideal: cold, rainy, muddy, and miserable -- just the way I like it! However apparently not everyone else was as excited about the prospect of spending 5 hours or more out in the rain trudging up 7,000 feet of muddy, rocky, treacherous mountain paths. Only a dozen or so runners showed up at the starting line for the 50K race (though the 10K and half marathon races had bigger turnouts). And of those dozen or so, only 10 would go on to finish. So everyone who toughed it out and crossed the finish line could brag that they were a "top 10 finisher". And yes, I did manage to hold off the field for the victory (in 5:08:58). And since it was technically the first time that Coastal Trail Runs has held a 50K event at Pacifica, I also established (by default) a new course record. Woo hoo!

Although I've had a few 2nd place overall finishes lately including Cystal Springs 50K at Woodside in January and Summit Rock 1/2 Marathon in December, this was the first overall race win for me in a couple of years and my first 50K win since back in 2005. So I'm definitely excited. So what if I've actually run 25 minutes faster for essentially the same course back in 2009 at a Pacific Coast Trail Runs event. And so what if my first place finish was actually due, at least in part, to a very small field. A win is a win. And I'm taking it!

I don't want to bore everyone with all the minutiae of just how muddy, rainy, windy and cold it was. I doubt that anyone really cares how many gallons of water I dumped out of my shoes after the race, or how windy it was on top of the mountain, or how many times I narrowly avoided falling in the mud or twisting an ankle on a rocky descent. Suffice to say I was very wet, very muddy, very windy, and that I nearly met with disaster a dozen times or more. But at the end of the day, thanks perhaps to my tiger blood and Adonis DNA, "I'm Winning".

Here's a link to the official race results. And here's my Garmin Connect data that shows the course map, elevation profile, and mile splits.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Snow on the Mountain!

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, we don't typically get much snow. In fact, the last time it snowed in my town of San Jose was umm... Feb 5, 1976, at least according to local legend. However, once or twice a year (if we are really lucky) we get a couple inches of snowfall up in the surrounding mountains (Mt. Hamilton, Mt. Umunhum, Black Mountain).

The snow usually ony sticks around for a day or two before it warms up and melts, so it's always a special treat to throw on shorts and tee shirt and head up into the mountains to celebrate. It's not uncommon to see grown adults doing snow angels and having snowball fights.

So it was with great excitement that I headed out on Sunday afternoon with my camera in hand to see if I could get up into the mountains before all the precious snow melted. I'd heard from my wife Amy that Sierra Azul had quite a bit of snow on it when she ran her 14 mile loop earlier in the morning. But now it was mid afternoon and already warming up a bit. I'd better hurry! I quickly grabbed my gear. Running shoes? Check! Shorts? Check! Tee shirt? Nah, let's get go topless. Woo hoo!

I decided to drive up to the Wood's Road entrance of Sierra Azul (adjacent to Quicksilver Park) in order to run up the back side of the mountain. This route contains the very steep and rocky section of trail that I'd had to walk up the previous weekend during the Los Gatos Overgrown Fat Ass 50K. I wanted to see if I could actually run the entire 6.5 mile climb on fresh legs, as opposed to last week when I began the climb after already running 18 miles of tough hilly trails. Hopefully the snowline would be up near the 3,000 ft summit, and not on the lower steep, rocky section. The only thing harder than trying to run up a super steep incline with loose gravel and rock footing is trying to run up a super steep incline with loose gave and rock footing in the snow.

Luckily for me, the steep section was indeed snow free and I was able to run the whole thing relatively easily. The snow didn't really start to make it's appearance until the last mile or so. It started off rather dusty but it quickly became ankle deep. I'd worn my Gortex Salomon SpeedCross shoes, which did a good job of keeping my feet and warm and dry. Now, if only I had brought a shirt...

As I was running through the snow, grinning like an idiot and laughing out loud, I couldn't remember the last time I'd had so much fun running. It was a nice reminder to remember to enjoy each run -- and to enjoy each day. Of course, that's easy to say living in California where it stays sunny and warm all winter long, with the occasional rainy afternoon. And yes, I would probably be clinically depressed and heavily medicated if I still lived in Michigan (or anyplace else) where Winter means months of cold, ice, snow, and gray skies. But then again, that's exactly why I moved to California. So suck it ;)

Here is a short video clip that I shot with pocket camera showing some highlights of the run. I hope you enjoy it. And in case you were gonna ask -- no I wasn't cold, and the name of song playing in the background is Jackie Greene - Gone Wanderin'.

Monday, February 21, 2011

4th Annual Overgrown Fat Ass: Race Report

View of Mt. Umunhum from Mt. El Sombroso
Intro: Last Sunday (Feb 13th) I had the pleasure of joining some good friends for the 4th annual running of the Los Gatos "Overgrown" Fatass trail (ultra)marathon. This year the course had been lengthened from 26 miles to 31 miles (50K), making it a true ultra-marathon.

This friendly, by-invitation-only event is organized by Adam Blum and Sean Lang of the Quicksilver-Rhomobile Racing Team. Most of the invited runners are either members (or friends) of the Quicksilver Running Club.

For people who are not familiar with the history of the Fat Ass movement, a Fat Ass is a low-key, loosely-organized run that adheres (more or less) to the mantra, "No Fees, No Awards, No Aid, No Wimps." Typically Fat Ass runs are held early in January -- after everyone has put on a few pounds of adipose tissue in their derriere. This particular Fat Ass event is named in honor of a particularly steep and very technical section of trail called Limekiln on official maps, but which is simply referred to by locals as "Overgrown".

Unlike typical trail ultramarathons that offer aid stations every 5 miles or so, this event has only one aid station -- and you have to run up and over the 3,000 foot peak of Mt. El Sombroso to get there. However the effort is well worth it, because this aid station has an open bar! Run by Sean's wife Heidi, the aid station has a different alcohol theme each year. Last year they poured Guinness and whiskey. This year they were mixing up margaritas and tequila shots!

The Start: The race was scheduled to begin at 8:00 am, but perhaps due to the casual nature of the event, runners were still nonchalantly strolling up to the starting line as Adam was finishing his pre-race instructions, causing for a few minutes delay in getting started as he repeated the directions to make sure no one got lost out there. Going off trail could be deadly. If the mountain lions, rattle snakes or poison oak don't get you -- the illegal marijuana farmers might!

I had invited my buddy and regular training partner Dr. Joeseph Bistrain to join us. Joe and I run and bike ride together a few times a week. He had just done a 50 mile bike ride the day before, so he said he would try to join, but would probably only run 20 miles or so. I figured it would be nice to have some company, even if just for first 10 mile out section. Not just to talk to. But also to increase my odds of successfully fending off a mountain lion attack. But it looked like Dr. Joe was going to be a no show. That is, until he sprinted up to the starting line, nearly out of breath, seconds before the race was about to start.

Eventually everyone showed up, got settled down, and the race began. Adam, Joe, and I quickly found ourselves running out in front as everyone was running very cautiously, wisely saving strength for the long climb up and over Mt. El Sombroso, only to turn around at the bottom of the other side and climb back up and over from the other direction. It was going to be a long day!

I decided to back off a little bit and run my own pace, letting Adam and Joe run ahead a bit. I'd had a bad race two weeks prior where I went out too hard and ended up dropping out of the Jed Smith 50K at mile 16. So I didn't want a repeat performance of that fiasco. Plus my knee had been giving me some troubles lately. So, my plan was to go out slow and easy for the first half, and then try to pick it up and run a negative split on the way back. I think Adam and Joe had the same plan as they seemed to back off a bit and settle into a nice conversational pace, just a few seconds ahead of me.

The Attack: However, as we approached the top of Mt. El Sombroso about 7 miles into the run, Adam suddenly pulled a Lance Armstrong/Alberto Contador/Andy Schleck and launched an awe-inspiring attack at the top of the summit. While Joe and I jogged over the top and took it easy on the downhill, Adam was flying down the mountain opening up a several minute lead. Apparently Adam was looking to win the race -- and to win it early.

Not wanting to abandon my cautious plan of running the first half of the race easy, Joe and I continued to run at a comfortable, conversational pace. However, we approached the 10 mile point turns around as he planned (which will give him his planned 20 miles for the day). Now I was on my own. Instinctively I occasionally start picking it up just slightly, hoping to close down some distance between myself and Adam. Wait, this wasn't the plan. Knock it off. Slow down. I've still got 20 miles to run.

As I approach the aid station at mile thirteen I blow right through. Both my bottles are each still about 1/4 full so I figure they should easily get me through the next 5 miles of relatively easy terrain before I come back to the aid station on the return. More importantly, where the hell is Adam? As the fire road straightens out I can see a quarter mile ahead (or more) and he is no where in sight. However, as I start getting close to the turn around point I see him running up the hill towards me. Ok, so he was just a minute or two ahead.

And as I run into the aid station at mile 18, Adam is still there (chugging down the last of his margarita as I later learn). While a cold beer would have hit the spot, there was no way in hell I was going to drink warm Tequila!. Seriously, who drinks Tequila on a 31 mile run? (I am later informed that fellow runner Mike Mahone drank 5 shots of Tequila at the aid station. WTF? Wow!). I quickly refill my two bottles with water and head back out, trying to see if I can catch Adam.

A few miles go by and then finally I catch a glimpse of a tall, shirtless slim figure striding up the trail. Eventually I finally pull up beside him and then throw in a mock sprint, which he matches. Luckily we both come to our senses and realize that we are not going to be able to run sub 6:00 minute miles up this steep, rocky mountain.

"Ugh, This Sucks": Despite the rumors that were later circulated, I did not actually run a 5:00 mile up the cliff-face of the mountain. It was more like a 15 minute mile. But it hurt as much as any 5 minute mile I've ever run. And yes, at one point I did mumble something to the effect of "Ugh, this sucks" to a group of cub scouts who were coming down the mountain. It didn't help my morale that I had run out of water at that point and had to "wash" down my salt pills with a Gu gel packet. Probably only a peanut butter and dirt sandwhich would have been harder to swallow.

But eventually I made it back up to the peak of Mt. El Sombroso. And then eventually I made it back down to the Limekiln trail head. And eventually I made it back down to the road. And then eventually I made it back up that stupid steep little dirt hill. And then eventually I made it back to the start/finish point at Novitiate park.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I cross the finish line in first place. My final time was 5:01:54. Not quite as fast as I was shooting for (I kinda wanted to go under 5 hours), but not nearly as bad as it could have been. And, looking further on the bright side, I wasn't eaten, bitten, or shot. So a definite win-win all around.

Adam (2nd place, 5:28:00) and John (1st place, 5:01:54)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Jed Smith Classic: Race Report

Sometimes races go badly. Sometimes they suck. Sometimes they suck so badly that you don't want to think about them again, much less blog about them. That's how I feel about my performance at Jed Smith last weekend on Feb 5th. And I use the word "performance" lightly. Other, more fitting terms could include: spectacle, debacle, melt down, meh-blah, apathy-fest, etc.  You get the idea. Obviously, things did not go well.

The Jed Smith Classic is held every year in Sacramento. It's know for being a very flat and very fast course. And this year's newly revised course promised to be even flatter and even faster than in previous years. Unfortunately, flat and fast is not my necessarily my forte. In fact, you could probably even say it's my nemesis. The problem is that I'm accustomed to running on trails in the mountains with thousands of feet of elevation gain and loss over the course of the race -- where the pace is around 8:30 minutes per mile. So when I find myself running on flat, fast, well-groomed running surfaces my body has no idea what kind of pace to run. And invariably I end up going out much too hard and then dying after 16 - 18 miles. It's happened to me more than once. More than twice. More than three, four, or five times. But, I digress.

There I was, standing at the starting line with ten seconds to go before the gun goes off. No wait, let's back up a bit...

There I was, sitting at my computer 3 months before the scheduled race date trying to decide whether I wanted to do the 50 mile or the 50 kilometer distance (Jed Smith Classic offers three distances: 50M, 50K, and 30K). Hopefully 2011 would be the year that I finally run (and finish) my first 100 miler. I'd tried (and failed miserably) on two other occasions in previous years -- dropping out of the Umstead Endurance Run at mile 72 in 2005, and again calling it quits at mile 75 of the Tahoe Rim Trail in 2009.

If I am planning on completing a 100 miler this season, it would make sense to do the 50 mile instead of the 50K option at Jed Smith and just use it as an easy training day for my 100 miler later in the year. On the other hand, my 100 miler isn't until late June, so maybe it doesn't make sense to already start ratcheting up the distance so early in the season. Plus, I've been having some knee pain lately, so perhaps it's best to just do the shorter, wimpier 50K option. But what the hell, sign me up for the 50 miler anyway!

However, as the race drew closer I started questioning my bold decision to try and do the full 50 miles. I started hedging my bets. Maybe it would be better to do the 50K instead so that I could potentially score points for my ultra running team, Quicksilver RhoMobile (the 50K event is part of the PAUSATF Ultra Running Grand Prix while the 50 mile event is not). Never mind that we already have 3 guys (Jean, Sean, and Jim) who will certainly all finish well and win the maximum 10 points for the top-scoring team. I should do it for the team! Yeah, that's the ticket.

Then, Friday night as I am driving up to Sacramento the night before the race something happens to solidify my decision. I'm stopped at a red light in busy traffic on Mission Boulevard in Fremont. I see a fast-approaching car in my rear view mirror. But they don't seem to be stopping (or even slowing). The car is getting closer, and definitely not breaking. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6... crash. What the hell? Oww, my neck. My head. My car! Ok, now it's official. I'm lucky to still be alive (actually it was a pretty minor fender bender, but still...), so I better just take it easy and do the 50K.

So there I was at the starting line with ten seconds to go before the gun goes off. My neck hurts. My head hurts, My back hurts. My knee is probably going to start hurting. It's too cold out. But it's gonna be too hot later once the sun comes out. I hate races that go around in circles, on bike paths, with throngs of iPod wearing walkers/joggers/baby strollers/bicyclists/dogs. (Ok, the dogs  weren't wearing iPods, but you get the idea). Obviously I had already given up before the race even started.

So, the race starts. I figure I should start running or something. I go out at 7:00 minute/mile pace for the first two miles -- probably a little too hard in retrospect, though certainly slower and easier than my teammates Jean and Sean and the other race leaders. The miles start slowly ticking off. I slow down a bit and get caught by a small pack of runners that included women's front-runner Jennifer Pfeifer (who would go on to win the women's race) as well as  J.R. Mintz who seems to enter EVERY race that I run. We all chat for a mile, logging a few more miles.

Slowly we start spreading out and running on our own. And that's where the voices in my head take over the party. "I could sure use a cold beer." "Dude, why are you running in circles on this stupid bike path?" "Hey, you're starting to slow down. This is going to turn into a 4 or 5 hour torture-fest" "This sucks, let's go get some lunch." "You're just gonna get injured if you keep this up."

The voices had me at "cold beer". I decide to quietly duck out of the race after my fourth lap at just over 16 miles. Another defeat for me. Another victory for stupid bike paths everywhere.