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!