Sunday, July 19, 2015

2015 Santa Cruz Firecracker 10K: That Time I Almost Got Beat by a 15 Year Old Girl (And a 60 Year Old Man)

As a grown man, in decent shape, who has finally started to be able to grow a small (albeit patchy) mustache and goatee, and who considers himself a not-too-shabby runner... there's nothing worse than getting beaten by a 15 year old kid. Especially if that 15 year old kid is a girl. That's what almost happened to me a few weeks ago on the 4th of July at the Santa Cruz Firecracker 10k.

My buddy and long-time training partner Joe Bistrain invited me to come over to his neck of the woods to challenge him in his local race on his side of the mountain. Joe used to live here in San Jose, but a few years ago he bought a house in Capitola near the beach. As a result, we don't get too run together as much as we used to.

And so, even though it had been years (many, many. many years) since Joe had beaten me in a race (of any distance), I humbly accepted his challenge, ready to dispense another ass-whupping to remind him of the pecking order in our running microcosm. [Note: all this cockiness and bravado should immediately raise some red flags in your mind. This is what they call "foreshadowing".]

I knew that Joe had been putting in a lot of speed work and track workouts lately as he prepared for his A-race of the year, the Wharf-to-Wharf in Santa Cruz. But I figured that my ultra-running endurance and my sporadic Strava course record poaching efforts would see me through to victory. I knew I didn't have a shot at winning the race outright, but I figured I should probably be able to crack the top 10 overall, win my age group, and hand Joe another beatdown.

As I stood at the starting line, I saw the familiar faces of Quicksilver Ultra-Running teammate Bill Holmes and his son Mac Holmes, a talented 16 year old runner who I had barely managed to outkick two years ago at another race, the Santa Cruz Turkey Trot 5K. Mac had gone out way too hard at that race and faded badly. But I figured he had learned his lesson, and now older and wiser, he would go out more conservatively and run a smarter race. [Note: this is more foreshadowing].

The starting gun fired and I took off at what I thought was a pretty decent, though somewhat controlled 10K pace. I was immediately swamped by about 30 runners or all ages and sizes. "What the fuck's wrong with these idiots," I though to myself. "Don't they know this is a 10K, not a 5K? Don't they know what a tough, hilly course this is?". I settled in to my somewhat pedestrian pace, unfazed, assuming that the majority of the runners would come back to me in the next miles.

I didn't sweat the fact that my buddy Joe was a already a good 100 feet ahead of me. Or that at least 3 women had gone out in front of me. Or that I was getting passed by what appeared to me a man in his late 50's or early 60's. "It's a long race; you'll reel them all in," I told myself, "No need to panic just yet".

"Oh shit, it's time to panic," I realized when at mile 3, about half-way into the race, when I was still well behind my buddy Joe, the three lead women, and the 60 year old. "Fuck, it's definitely time to panic." The first couple miles of the race had been on paved roads, but now we were entering the hardest part of the race, a dirt fireroad section that climbed up steeply through Harvey West park.

Knowing that the last two miles would be downhill and paved, I figured that this off-road section would be my best chance to make up some time on the other runners, many of whom were presumably road runners not necessarily accustomed to navigating ungroomed dirt trails. I dropped the hammer and made my move. I reeled in a few runners including my friend Bill Holmes' son Mac. Then I flew past the three lead women. I was closing in and about to catch my buddy Joe!

And then the lights went out. "What the fuck? Why are you walking," I asked myself. "Because this fucking hill is fucking steep as shit," I answered myself rhetorically. "Dude, Joe is pulling away from you! Dude, that girl you just passed is passing you back."

Finally we reached the top of the hill and I picked the pace back up. I hammered the last two miles, which were mostly downhill, as hard as I could. I was certain that I was going to be able to reel by buddy Joe back. But oddly, no matter how hard I ran, I wasn't making up any ground. Every time I looked, there he was, about 100 yards ahead of me. And to make matters worse, I couldn't seem to shake that 15 year old girl. She was still tucked in behind me, probably hoping to hang back and outkick me in the final stretch.

As we approached the finish line I realized that I wasn't going to be able to catch my buddy Joe. "Shit. Well, at least don't let this girl outkick you," I pleaded with myself. "For God's sake, don't let everyone see you get run down by a 15 year old girl!" A female spectator on the side of the road yelled encouragement, "Go girl! Catch that guy!" That was all I needed. I unleashed a furious sprint. The sprint of my life. Everything went silent; everything went dark. I crossed the finish line in glory, one second ahead of the 15 year old girl. Total victory!

I have to give mad props to my buddy Joe for running a strong, amazing race. He went out hard and held me off the whole way, finishing 22 seconds and one place ahead of me. He now has bragging rights until our next head-to-head battle. And who knows when that will be.

And of course, mad respect to 15 year old Marielle Friedman of Santa Cruz who pushed me the whole way and who convincingly won the women's race by over two and a half minutes. Watch out for this girl. She's going to be kicking a lot of ass and chicking a lot of dudes! And let's not forget about 60 year old Robert Coyle of Fresno who came in less than a minute behind me and Marielle. That's one fast old motherfucker! And I mean that in the most respectful way possible. Talk about being an inspiration!

And last but not least, I would like to point out that I am now 2-0 against my buddy Bill Holmes' son Mac :)

Here's a link to the official race results. And here's a link to my Strava data.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

2015 Squaw Valley Half-Marathon Race Report

Race leaders at mile 2
Photo credit Lefrak Photography
It was a beautiful, albeit somewhat warm, morning on the Truckee river. The sun was out already. The wildflowers were in bloom. Jogging along the bike path next to the river I decided to take a dip. I took a few steps off the path towards the river. "What the fuck are you doing," I screamed at myself. "You're in the middle of a race. You're in 3rd place... with 4 miles to go. You can't go fucking swimming! What the fucking fuck!"

These are the types of conversations that I have with myself. Or that myself has with me? Or whatever. You get the idea. Dueling voices in my head. One voice wants to sit down in the river and have a beer. The other voice thinks we should probably at least finish the race before cracking open a pre-noon beer.

I'd woken up at 3:00 am in order to make the three-and-a-half hour drive up to Tahoe from San Jose in order to run the Tahoe Trail Running Series: Squaw Valley Half Marathon. Despite drinking several gallons of coffee on the way, I still found myself a bit sleepy. But I figured once the race started my adrenaline would kick in and I'd be fine. And I was right. At least about the adrenaline bit.

Despite knowing better, and despite promising myself I wouldn't do something crazy like attack the field and jump out to an early lead... there I was leading the race out of the parking lot. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Do I ever learn?
Getting dropped and thinking about sitting in the river
Photo credit Lefrak Photography
Somewhere around mile two I found myself breathing hard and getting passed by two other runners. They opened up a bit of a gap on me, but I was able to keep them in sight. Oddly though, after slowing down a bit and getting my heart rate and breathing back under control, I started slowly reeling them back in.

And then, at mile 5, I did something stupid. As the two lead runners slowed down at the aid station to grab cups of water and gatorade, I attacked! Carrying my own water bottle, I didn't need to slow down at the aid station. Instead, I sprinted through the aid station as hard as I could, trying to open up a gap.

The good news is that I did indeed manage to open up a small gap. The bad news is that little surge aggravated a nagging injury in my right calf. I hit the turnaround still in the lead, but the pain in my calf was getting worse and I knew that I wasn't going to be able to hang on to this pace, or the lead.

The other two runners rocketed past me as I was reduced to a shuffle. Watching them pull ahead and out of sight, my thoughts shifted from winning the race to just trying to hold on to a podium spot. Luckily the three of us had opened a rather sizable lead over the next runners, so even with my drastically reduced pace I figured I still had a good shot at holding on to third place as long as I kept running and didn't do anything stupid... like sitting down in the river.
Running scared and looking back
Photo credit Lefrak Photography

"That river looks so invititng. We should go lay down it. Just a minute," I plead, trying to convince myself. Thankfully myself ignores me and I keep running. This happens 3 or 4 more times on the way back. Ocassionally I step off the trail towards the river. But each time, thankfully, I correct course and start running again.

Finally, after what seems like an eternity, myself and I all cross the finish line.  We take 3rd place. We shake hands, with ourselves and with the other runners. We drink some beer. We start running up the escarpment towards the top of the 8,500 ft ski slope as a "cool down" before realizing what a terrible idea that is. We sober up part-way up the hill and say, "fuck this." We turn around and run back down to our car and drive home.

Here's my Strava data and here's a link to the official results.