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: