Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Never Give Up!

If there's one lesson I've learned throughout the past few years that's made me successful as an ultra runner (and all other aspects of my life), it's this... never give up!

I started running in 2008. I was overweight by 30 pounds back then. I lost it by training for a half marathon. I gained it all back a year later, plus 20 pounds, for a whopping total of being 50 pounds overweight, by eating unhealthy and stopping my running regimen. I started running again in 2011 when I was diagnosed with fatty liver disease. I lost 50 pounds in about a year's time, and I have kept it off for the most part (I gain 5-10 pounds whenever I take a break from running or eating healthy). What's great is I have kept running for over three years now and I continuously work towards eating healthy as a lifestyle and not as a diet.

I trained for my first full marathon, the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon. While I was training with run/walk all the time, I decided to just keep on running for a full eight miles on race day. After that, I began to have to run/walk, and eventually just walk around the half way point (due to an IT band injury that shot pain on the side of my knees whenever I even dared to run). I contemplated quitting at the halfway point, but I didn't. I power walked my way to a finish. I limped for a whole month after, which in hindsight wasn't smart, but I was still proud of pushing through that fateful day. I learned to foam roll my IT band from that point on!

I trained for my first 50 mile race, the North Face Endurance Challenge, which was on December 2013. I trained hard and smart for it, completing two 50Ks leading up to the race. I failed to pay attention to my nutrition on race day, however. I ate a light breakfast and I barely ate during the whole race (due to stress and fear of a certain steep trail called Coastal). I cramped several times going up Coastal and debated quitting then and there. I kept on, however, and made the first cutoff. While I didn't make the second cutoff in time, mile 37, it was because of time. I believe if I didn't get cutoff I would have stubbornly made my way through that finish line. At any rate, I trained for another 50 mile race, American River, and finally got a 50 mile race under my belt. I am training for the North Face Endurance Challenge again this year.

I was one of the victims of the financial crisis. I was laid off from Washington Mutual, the biggest bank to fall back in 2008. I was unemployed for several months. I kept my head on high after being unemployed for several months. When an opportunity for work popped up in Central California (Delano/Bakersfield), I jumped in with both feet and took it, even though it was not what I used to make salary wise. I was actually adjusted to living there and moving up in my state job when I got a job offer from the city, which was back to the field I used to work in. I made the move back to the San Francisco Bay Area and the rest is history.

When I fall in love, I fall deeply in love. It has happened to me only twice in my whole lifetime. It is usually when I don't expect it, a friendship that (at least for me), turns into a deep and spellbinding affection. Unfortunately this is one area that hasn't worked for me, but given my tenacity, I am sure it will happen again. When it does, I am hoping it will be a two way street.

Never Give Up!

Monday, April 7, 2014

American River 50 Mile Endurance Run 2014 - Race Report

As I ran across the American River (AR) 50 Mile Endurance Run Finish Line, I walked slowly to get my medal, a bottle of water, and I saw my friends Mindy, Deirdre, and Pen. I hugged each and every one of them but when I hugged Mindy I started crying, and crying incessantly. I can't believe I did it. I finally did it... I completed my first 50 mile race!

4:15 AM

A complimentary shuttle from one of the official hotels/motels took us to the start line at Brown's Ravine Marina. We got there in what seemed like no time at all. Our bus driver was gracious enough to let us stay in the bus for a while, but then she had to gently kick us out when she got her marching orders to depart and go back to her station.

I dropped off my drop bags for Beals Point, Rattlesnake Bar, and the Finish Line. I then did the customary peeing trip to the porta potties. One time before heading to the tents to warm up with an early crowd of ultra runners, and another trip just 10-15 minutes before the race start.

It was nice seeing familiar faces at the start. I saw mostly saw friends from Wolf Pack Racing, who have almost pretty much adopted me the past few trail races I've done: Brian, Philip, Yvonne, and some new faces such as Alison, who was doing AR50 as her first 50 miler. I saw Alisa, who I got formally introduced to by my friend Pen as we were gleefully eating In N Out Burgers, our reward after doing Way Too Cool 50K. I also saw Alyssa, who like me, is making her second attempt at a 50 miler after not making the second hard cutoff (Mile 36) at the North Face Endurance Challenge (NFEC) 50 Mile Race.

6:15 AM

The race has started. I decided this time to hang back and go at my own pace, rather than starting out with any of my runner friends. I wanted to set my own pace at the very start. From miles 0 - 24.31 at Beals Point, I decided to do a run/walk with a 4 minute run, 1 minute walk ratio. I decided to follow the tip from Coach Kirk from the Fleet Feet Ultra team that I joined and trained with for this race. I didn't want to get caught up with the usual adrenaline that runners have at the start of the race, only to fade away and slow down sooner than I would anticipate.

It felt a little weird to start walking right away at the start of a race only after running 4 minutes, but I did so anyways. I thought I would hear the usual question "Are you okay?" that runners tend to ask other runners when they start walking or passing by them. Instead I gradually ended up seeing some runners doing run/walk themselves. I wasn't sure whether it was their strategy too at the onset, but I was glad to have some company employing my strategy.

The first 24+ miles of AR50 was a mixture of roads and trails, which I didn't really care for, in all honesty. I was initially wondering at the start whether I should have started out with road shoes, but having never seen the first 30 miles of the course, I didn't want to risk wearing trail shoes in trails that might be technical or need traction (flashback to my rough half marathon at Mount Diablo). It turns out that wearing my Brooks Gore Tex trail shoes were sufficient, and running on the dirt/trail side when I can helped prevent any serious injuries on the latter part of my race.

While relatively flat for the most part, the first 24+ miles had its share of hills and inclines. I had to start rethinking my run/walk strategy at a certain point, as run/walk doesn't work too well when I end up running up hill and walking down hill and flats. I started changing to the previous trail race strategies of walking up hills and running down hills and flats. I was on pace to meet my first pacer and dear friend Mindy around 11 AM. Not quite the 11:15 AM that I advertised would be the earliest I would get to Beals Point, but I did get there by 11:30, which was 90 minutes ahead of the cutoff time. My strategy in the race was to build a good buffer of time and lead at the early parts of the race, because I knew I would eventually slow down once I hit the higher mileage in the 30s and 40s.

11:30 AM (Beals Point to Granite Bay)

I was still in good spirits when I saw my friends Mindy, Deirdre and Monica at Beals Point. It was an aid station with a drop bag. Mindy was intuitive enough to get my drop bag ready as I arrived and we quickly replenished my salt sticks (which I consumed every hour) and Vfuel (a gel which I consume every 30 minutes). We topped off my hydration pack with water and my water bottle with electrolytes (seems a bit excessive for hydration but given the heat that day, I was glad to have that water bottle with me).

The 5+ miles flew fast as Mindy led me through some gentle rollers to Granite Bay. She even amused me with her singing and creative song composition (aka made up songs). I have known Mindy for over two years now and her company during the start of the onset of my fatigue was most welcome. We arrived shortly at Granite Bay around 1:30 PM.

1:30 PM (Granite Bay to Rattlesnake Bar)

As we arrived at Granite Bay, I was at mile 29.45 at that point. Fatigue has definitely set in, and my body has started its process of revolting (and maybe panicking at what I'm doing to it, and still about to do to it). I decided Granite Bay would be a good pit stop (or poop stop if you will). I wasn't having gastro intestinal issues per se, but I did have to relieve myself after eating almost 14 gels at that point. If you're an ultra runner, you know that talking about pooping is almost a normal conversation and nothing to be embarrassed about, especially since you have to do it eventually after being out running and eating for so long (I do wonder if the elite runners do it, or just "hold it in").

Mindy and Deirdre doubled as crew at the Granite Bay station and got me coke and some boiled potatoes dipped with salt. It was a welcome break from eating gels at that point. Deirdre and I said farewell to Mindy for now at that point as Deirdre was my designated pacer from Granite Bay to Rattlesnake Bar.

The next 11.54 miles seemed like the longest 11.54 miles of my life. I was so glad that Deirdre was there to pace me and insert some conversation every now and then. This part of the course was labeled "the meat grinder" for its constant rollers. We definitely stuck to our strategy of running down hills and flats and walking up the hills, but it was hard to get any momentum with the constant up hill and down hill that was given to us. I was also starting to feel my quads and hamstrings tighten up. I started to draw my experience from NFEC into play when I had to go up Dipsea after mile 30. I tuned out my semi-screaming quads and hamstrings. I did clam up half way towards this course as Deirdre paced me but I was thankful that she understood and that she still gave me the much needed company I needed by just being there and still constantly setting the pace and make sure we're on track to reach Rattlesnake Bar.

In addition to the constant rollers, the part that made this course tough was the scorching heat. The course was pretty much exposed and there were very few times when we were in the shade. When we got to Horseshoe Bar at mile 38.14, Deirdre suggested I put some ice in my cap and wear it, I did so and it was a very nice suggestion. I also doused myself with some cold water and changed my hydration bottle to have ice and water instead of ice and electrolytes, so I can continue to douse myself with water on the last few miles to Rattlesnake Bar.

4:30 PM (Rattlesnake Bar to Finish)

As we arrived at Rattlesnake Bar (mile 40.94), I was starting to envision the finish line. I was glad that my friend and pacer Pen and I ran this course just two weeks ago to preview it together and talk about our race strategy. When we ran together, I let her lead and dictate the pace, much like Deirdre and Mindy. At mile 40+, I definitely did not have any fresh legs at that point. I was even having a hard time just running the relatively flat single track, but I did so at times when Pen and I felt like I had some energy to expend.

Even though I can smell victory, I was being very cautious. One thing that I didn't let on to Deirdre and Pen was just how plain fatigued I was, and I was even a hard time just catching my breath and breathing normally. This was why I asked Pen if we could slow down a walk at flats quite a few times, and I was glad we still had that buffer time (we had 3 hours and 45 minutes to cover 9 miles, and we still finished with a lot of time to spare). I could have pushed myself to run a lot more of the last part of the course, but I was deathly afraid of not even completing it and jinxing it, especially when we start hiking up two big hills called the "Dam Hill" and "Last Gasp".

I was actually glad to see the Dam Hill as that meant the running part of our course was over. Sure, we had to power hike up a steep hill, but that was almost a normal and easy thing for me to do. We also knew how further along the top of the two "hills" were (seemed like mountains at that time, of course). I was impressed to see a lot of ultra runners summoning the strength to mix running up those hills. As much as I wanted to do the same, I still didn't want to get caught up in the euphoria of it, much like at the start of the race. Again, I didn't want to jinx it by suddenly fainting at mile 47, or my quads and hamstrings seizing to the point where I can't even walk uphill.

As Pen and I approached Last Gasp, we saw some aid station volunteers and some of the guys wore some pretty weird tights (like tights which make them look like you're seeing the actual muscles of a body). I learned later on that those same volunteers were shirtless later on. I saw some pictures, but I can't say that I really missed anything at all (I'm still glad they volunteered!). I did thank them for the two cups of pepsi that I gulped down since I was clearly sick of gels at that point.

As we approached the very top before the short stretch to the finish, I still asked Pen to hang on and run with me for a little while before she would run faster to the finish and get a picture of me crossing the finish. I still wanted the assurance that I wasn't going to faint!

As I entered Auburn Dam Overlook I summoned up the last bits of my energy and ran to the finish. I was amazed I still had some energy in me despite all my trials and tribulations that day. I crossed the finish and for a while I was actually disappointed that I didn't cry as I crossed the finish. That disappointment faded away as I saw my friends at the finish: Mindy, Deirdre, and Pen.

7:26 PM (Finish Line)

As I ran across the American River (AR) 50 Mile Endurance Run Finish Line, I walked slowly to get my medal, a bottle of water, and I saw my friends Mindy, Deirdre, and Pen. I hugged each and every one of them but when I hugged Mindy I started crying, and crying incessantly. I can't believe I did it. I finally did it... I completed my first 50 mile race!

Official Finish Time: 13 hours, 11 minutes, and 36 seconds.

Monday, March 10, 2014

25th Way Too Cool 50K (2014) - Race Report

When I saw the "1/2" mile marker, I decided to give it all I had and run for the finish. I knew there three more small uphill climbs (at least relative to the infamous "Goat Hill"), but it didn't matter... the end was in sight!

When I signed up for Way Too Cool (WTC) 50K, I signed up for it as a recommended "training race" for my goal race for the year, the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run. I have run the 23 mile loop of the course several times already with the Fleet Feet Ultra Team from Fair Oaks and Roseville, so race day approached with not much nervousness on my part. It will be my fourth 50K after all, having completed the North Face Endurance Challenge (NFEC) 50K back in December 2012, and the Stinson Beach 50K from Pacific Coast Trails and Mount Tam 50K from Inside Trail for 2013. I thought WTC would be a cinch given it has less elevation. I was dead wrong.

I arrived slightly before the crack of dawn at Cool, California on Saturday, March 8th. While I stayed at a nearby motel in Auburn to make my drive to the start line faster and easier, I decided to not any chances with race day parking, as 1200 runners signed up for the event, so I imagined a big line of cars from as far as the Highway 80 exit if I didn't get there early enough. So I left my motel in Auburn at 5:45 AM, and arrived shortly and without fuss around 6:00 AM. There were a few cars already arriving at the scene. The tents for the expo and the starting line were already up. As they instructed the cars to drive past the start line, I started to worry that the actual parking would be miles away from the course as I drove past the "Mile 1" sign. I breathed a sigh of relief as they had signs for us to circle back and then instructed us to park on either side of the road where the white lines were (the middle being the eventual space for the runners to run along from the start line).

I was officially training with the Fleet Feet Ultra Team from Fair Oaks and Roseville, but my roots still belong to Run 365 (and the oldest root being Team In Training - Central California). I was looking for my coaches at Fleet Feet, but I saw Coach Karen Peterson from Run 365 first, so I took a nice picture of her with her green puffy jacket and her green and froggy calf compression sleeves. She was into the green and frog theme more than I was. I was dressed in all red with my red NFEC shirt, red Adidas shorts, red Brooks trail shoes and red Nathan's Hydration Pack. We did some catching up for several minutes, but then I had to start looking for my packet pickup which was nicely picked up by Coach Kirk Edgerton for our team. They weren't still there at that point, but I did notice several green WTC bags and two other runners looking through them, so I figured those were ours. I got my bag and walked back to the car as it was still cold and I had still an hour and a half left to the start. I met fellow ultra runner and friend Pen Perez on my way back to my car. She was also early like me, having worried about parking and arrival when she did last year's race. We also caught up, but I had to head back at my car after several minutes as it was still quite chilly.

Thirty minutes prior to the start, I decided to start walking to the start line, to allow time for one last visit to the porta potty and to also see friends who are probably already near the start line. As I walked to the start line, a small group of runners had started at 7:30 AM, 30 minutes before the official start. These were runners allowed an extra start time if they knew they would need more than the 8 hours and 30 minutes course limit.

I started seeing a lot of Run 365 and Wolf Pack Racing friends near the start line (Wolf Pack is a Team In Training group for ultra runners, anywhere from those running 50Ks to 100 Milers). I took some customary pictures, posed for a couple of ones as well. I watched as several of them started with the Wave 1 group at 8:00 AM. I consciously chose to be at the back of the pack for Wave 2, knowing I don't want to start off too fast for this ultra marathon.

It was nice running and chatting with friends at the start, including Jennifer, Emily, Jake, Phil, Rebecca, and Karen. A lot of other friends had already started or started behind me including Sean, Vicki, Char, Shannon, Josh, Patrick, Michael, Luba, and Brian. Disclaimer: Tons of my friends ran this very cool race, so if I didn't mention you by name, it doesn't mean I don't love you, it means my memory storage was full at the time of writing!

The start was a wide road, but after a mile, it started to go to a single track. This is where it became one very long conga line of ultra runners. Some people were chatty and energetic. Some were in quiet serious race mode (me at that time). Some were quietly (or not so quietly) impatient, waiting for a good time to leap frog other runners and gain more speed. The first stream crossing was a serious stream. Several runners crossed it cautiously, putting foot by foot over rocks so they didn't get too wet. I just started wading into the waters, as I knew that more wet and wild stuff was to come! My socks and shoes were wet, but I didn't care. It actually felt good and invigorating. Now THIS was trail running!

I was totally unfamiliar with the 8 mile loop that we started with, as I had never trained on that part of the WTC course. I'm sure the Fleet Feet Team has, but I wasn't consistent enough on joining all training runs due to the two hour one way drive it takes to get to the training runs every weekend. At any rate, it wasn't a tough 8 mile loop. It felt actually short. I completed it in about one hour and 45 minutes, a little bit faster than the 15 minute mile pace I was expecting. After finishing that loop and entering the start of the 23 mile loop, I knew I had to start holding back a little, so I started walking whenever there was a slight uphill to break my runs into run/walks.

It started getting interesting for the 23 mile loop when we ran downhill. I overheard a comment from a runner saying he doesn't even remember running uphill that high, to which his fellow runner answered "Cool starts from an altitude of 1000+ feet", which would have been the answer I would have voiced out as well. Running downhill wouldn't have been an issue if it weren't for the fact that it was now a very muddied trail, given that it had been raining the past few days at Cool. This was a harbinger of things to come, I thought. This will make both uphill AND downhill interesting. Even running the single track will be challenging as you don't want to slip and hit rocks, roots, or slip down the slopes. Truth came to bear actually half way on the previous 8 mile loop when a runner was seen nursing her legs halfway down the trail, while her runner friend shouted for other runners to be careful with rocks. Trail running can indeed be dangerous if one isn't careful (or if one isn't lucky either).

As we finished our descent, we had to cross the road briefly (with race support, thank goodness), and we hit a flat patch of road for several miles. This is where I met Angela and Trina (this is also where I believe I saw Deirdre, but my memory now corrects that to the time I started the 8 mile loop conga line, or shortly after). Angela and Trina were with the Wolf Pack/TNT team, and knew about me before I knew about them. Trail runners know about each other almost by the second degree of separation, which makes it a close knit group. I was amazed how they knew about me before I knew them, but I think my social media postings on a daily basis also helped them know me from friends of friends. They introduced themselves and we chatted for a while, but as I was on race mode, I would go fast, slow, fast and slow. Angela, Trina and I leapfrogged each other constantly for several miles and I believed it would last through the whole race, but for some reason I lost them around mile 15-17, if memory serves me right.

I started getting some steam around the half way point, around miles 15-17, as the course went back to a single track hugging the mountains. It was nice and flat, but I have to say that I missed seeing hills to break my momentum of running as I did with the Marin Headlands. WTC makes it easier to PR with a 50K given the lower total elevation gain, but it does have quite a bit of rolling hills added to just make it a little challenging. I decided to use those rollers again to break up my runs into run/walks, but that also meant runners who ran it consistently would overtake me, only to be overtaken again at some points.

The views were spectacular all along the single track trail, and it was very tempting to stop at a lot of areas to take pictures, but I was in race mode that day and I have learned to not take any photos, especially since I was aiming for a PR. I also passed through almost aid stations as fast as I can. I made sure to always top off my 1.5 liter hydration pack, and I also would grab one or two items served by the aid stations and eat them as I run. I still have a lot to improve on nutrition wise. I am eating more consistently now on my runs and races, eating 100 calories approximately every 30 minutes and a salt stick capsule every hour. For WTC, I started consuming V-Fuel for the first few hours, but I would also mix it in with the aid station food, some of which included clif bars, chews, peanut butter/jelly sandwiches, and rocktane gels. I also had some oreos towards the latter 3/4s of the race, but at that point my stomach wasn't beginning to feel good. I still ate them as I knew I had to keep on fueling despite not feeling well. I also consumed more salt sticks than I thought I would (around 10, I think) given the heat and how much I was sweating.

My fueling for the race was far from perfect, but I think I did well compared to some runners along the way. I met a woman who seemed very strong but complained her legs were locking up and tightening. I gave her two salt stick pills and I assumed she did well because I saw her on the last few miles of the race, still not as well as she was at the onset, but strong enough to keep up with me who didn't have any major issues. I also met two older guys who overtook me at one point, but immediately cramped and had to sit down just a few feet after they overtook me. I also gave them some salt stick pills. I really learned this lesson well on last year's NFEC, and I have to thank Yvonne Gallegos for it. I wasn't a fan of taking in anything, vitamins, pain relievers, or anything. But the salt sticks have really helped me not have any cramps which I tend to have when doing a lot of hills and when heat is involved.

I was wishing a hill would break up the constant single track that was flat (plus some rollers), and I soon got my wish when I saw Goat Hill again for the second time at least (if not the third or fourth, my memory is hazy as of right now). Goat Hill was nothing compared to the hills and mountains I've climbed in the past, but a hill is still a hill and I ended up respecting it. I might have power hiked it, but it was still a considerable effort, since it was around mile 23 at that point and my energy was getting depleted. As I conquered Goat Hill, I saw the next aid station saying "26.3". I jokingly told a volunteer if I could stop and get my medal now while he topped off my hydration pack. I was kidding of course, but he said no as if I wasn't serious. I was surprised to hear later on that some runners had dropped just after Goat Hill. It was still 5 miles from that point, and a still tough 5 miles, but I wouldn't have dropped, unless of course it was sharp pain (but then again, it would have to be REALLY sharp pain, and I'd have to weigh it against my ego and the prospect of a DNF).

The last 5 miles were still some rollers, and some open spaces were it felt like you were getting roasted on an oven. Thankfully those moments were only a few minutes in between. If the whole race would've been out in the open, it would've been an even tougher race (but then it would be less muddy too). I was familiar with the last 5 miles. That was an advantage, but also a disadvantage because I knew what was still left in front of me, and it wasn't easy. I still ran when I can and hiked when a decent hill came along.

The last aid station was across a road. I downed one small potato cube dipped with salt, topped off my hydration pack again despite being only one mile left (half of which is all uphill). I was offered a chance to have cold water doused on my head and I obligingly said yes. I almost opted for seconds, but it might have been too tempting to just grab the volunteer's water bottle and empty it on myself. The last big uphill might have been just another Goat Hill if you ask my opinion. I took the last of my salt sticks at that point and hoped that it was enough to last me the whole race. I saw Lisa from Wolf Pack Racing with her signature bell. I thanked her for being there, and did another descent downhill.

As I saw the last "1/2" mile sign, I knew it was in the bag. I can see the finish line from the distance. It seemed I had more energy than the runners who were coursing through the finish. I tried to motivate them without being too pretentious about it either. I have had some races too where I had to limp to the finish, but this was not one of them.

I crossed the finish line strong. I'm glad to see Coach Karen Tancuan and Coach Karen Peterson at the finish line. I then looked at my GPS watch. 7:23. It was a 50K PR for me. Not as whopping as I thought, but 40 minutes is a pretty whopping enough PR for me, and I savored it as well as all the good finish line race food, including the infamous frog cupcake.

Way Too Cool 50K, 50K #4 was in the books.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Running with Run 365

July 29, 2012. I am proudly holding up my medal for completing the San Francisco Marathon (picture credit goes to Erin Sheehy, previous director of the San Francisco Marathon Training Program, also known as Run 365).

The San Francisco Marathon (SFM) might have been my second full marathon, but it definitely felt like running my first one again (in a very good way). It was the culmination of training for 26 weeks with Run 365. I was happy to have met my goal of running a full marathon again, after over a year of not running one. However, I felt sad that our training season had ended, as I have made a lot of friends in the program, and I wasn't sure whether I would see them again or not (spoiler alert: I'm still friends with a lot of them, and made even more friends with the following year's program).

Run 365 is the official training program for the San Francisco Marathon. I learned about it when I was looking to run another marathon. I thought something local would be better as I had to fly on a plane on my last one just a few hours after doing it (I wasn't able to take a day off due to a new job). I saw that SFM was offering a training program to go along with the race registration, so I thought it was perfect for me. I previously trained with another group for my first marathon, but since I had moved back to the Bay Area from Central California, I needed to look for another one. I know some groups out there that are good with training, but I wasn't particularly good with the fundraising aspect of it, and always fell a little short of that goal. Run 365 had some cost to it, but it's not that much different from paying for a 6 month membership at a gym (and it's more fun too!).

I picked the 26 week program (they had a 18, 12, and 8 week program as well) because I felt like I was starting from scratch again. While I had previously done a full marathon, my running was very sporadic after that. I only did a half marathon after a couple of months after, and I was able to finish it, but I couldn't say that I ran it particularly well. I decided I want to start building a running base again, so the full 26 weeks would give me the ability to get back into running mode once more (especially with some "winter weight" that I accumulated).

Run 365 is a great training program because not only do they have the long distance runs on Saturdays (which is typical for any training group), but they also have fun runs on Mondays and track on Wednesdays. The fun runs were great easy runs along the water front along the Ferry Building, and either going to Pier 39, or going the other direction to AT&T Park. Track workouts helped improve my speed by doing waterfalls (where you line up as a group and overtake each other one by one), one mile time trial, hill repeats, and fartleks (which sound funny, but I still have to remember what they really are). The long distance runs are really the most fun ones, in my opinion, because you get to run in pace groups (which is not found in all other training groups). You pick a group, anywhere from as fast as 7:30 minutes per mile to as fast as 12:30 minutes per mile. Coaches guide you along the way with tips on running form, nutrition, shoes, and even mental fortitude. What I like about training with groups in long runs is the friendship that ends up forming as well with the workouts.

Some other advantages with Run 365 is that you get to practice the San Francisco course A LOT. And I do mean A LOT. You get to run up Fort Mason Hill, the Golden Gate Bridge, Haight St, Golden Gate Park, and there's even a run that ends up in Sausalito (although that's not part of the course, but they add it to have a good brunch celebration after, and a scenic ferry ride back). If you live in the East Bay or the South Bay, they have training groups there as well where you can train in that particular location or mix it up by driving to the city.

I trained with Run 365 on my first year of running SFM, and I paced with Run 365 on my second year. On my first year, I improved my time in running a marathon by 37 minutes and 14 seconds. On my second year, I improved over my first year by 40 minutes and 32 seconds!

For my third year, I was lucky (and honored) to be selected as an ambassador for the San Francisco Marathon! While I'm currently training for my second attempt at a grueling 50 Mile ultra marathon in April, I am already signed up to run the San Francisco Marathon again for the third time this year. All signs point to me rejoining Run 365 again after April, whether as a pacer, a trainee (or maybe as a mascot).

So if you're looking to train for your first half marathon, first full marathon, or just want to improve your time on either one (and want to make friends while you're at it), join Run 365. I whole-heartedly give my full seal of approval and recommend this great training program!

Charles Dexter Lim
2014 San Francisco Marathon Ambassador
2013 San Francisco Marathon Training Program Pacer
2012 San Francisco Marathon Training Program Trainee

Saturday, December 14, 2013

2014 Race Calendar

2014 hasn't even officially started and I'm already registered for the following events:

1/1 - Brazen Racing's New Year's Day 10K
1/12 - Hot Chocolate 15K
3/8 - Way Too Cool 50K
4/5 - American River 50 Mile Endurance Run
4/27 - Big Sur International Marathon
7/27 - The San Francisco Marathon
9/21 - Ironman Lake Tahoe

I might disappoint some of my SF Triathlon Club friends, but after not completing the North Face Endurance Challenge (NFEC) 50 Mile Race, my desire to complete another 50 Mile Race is higher than completing a full Ironman (although the latter might come with more bragging rights). While I am past wallowing in sorrow over my not being able to finish NFEC, I still want to keep on moving and obtain that goal. Delaying that goal by a full year (and maybe even a full year and a half) does not work for me.

With this, American River (AR) 50 Mile Endurance Run is now my goal race. I have a tighter schedule to train for this, 16 weeks versus the 20 weeks I had for NFEC, but American River 50 is more forgiving when it comes to the elevation. 50 Miles is still nothing to scoff at. I don't think for once that there is truly such a thing as an easy 50 Mile race, or an easy ultra marathon (or marathon) for that matter.

Will I do NFEC 50 Mile again next year? All signs point to that probability. Even if I conquer AR 50, NFEC 50 Mile will always be the end goal for me. There were a lot of curve balls thrown my way during the race that I will have a full year to correct. I not only plan to meet the cutoff times, but I plan to beat them by a very respectable amount. Finishing is the goal, but finishing strong is the true goal.

Looking forward to a great 2014!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Race - 2013

I only had a banana for breakfast. That decision alone started a ripple effect of bad decisions in bad conditions, in a badass trail race course...

(Note: All times are approximate...)

3:00 AM
I woke up at the top of my bunk bed at the Marin Headlands Hostel. My bunkmate at the bottom was snoring and making weird sounds as if someone had put a voodoo curse on him. I decided to slowly get out of bed as I only had two hours before the race anyway, and it's best to at least charge my phone and check messages from last night.

4:00 AM
Bad decision one for me the night before was forgetting to bring food for my breakfast on race day. Luckily I remember my friend Stephanie Douglass, who was staying at the hostel and running her first 50K, offered me any food she had brought for me and my friend Pen Perez. I looked at the paper bag in the shelves, and I saw a banana so I started munching on it. There were also sweet potatoes and chicken breast from the night before. I only ate a few, but now, in hindsight, I should have eaten all of it but I chose not to because I didn't want to run with a full stomach an hour before the race.

4:30 AM
I gave my drop bags for the Cardiac and Tennessee Valley Aid Station near the start line. It was still pretty cold, so I decided to go back up the hostel, just a few steps from the start line, and get my orange Brooks windbreaker. I already had gloves, arm warmers, and my calf compression sleeves, so I think I was dressed warm enough for the freezing weather without feeling too uncomfortably warm underneath.

5:03 AM
Wave 4, which I was in, started. I saw fellow runners and friends Pen Perez, Philip Lee, Brian Ladrillono, and Yvonne Gallegos at the start. Pen started with her friend Alyssa. I decided to start with Philip, Brian and Yvonne who were very experienced ultra runners. They all have done several 50 mile races, and Philip just finished his first 100 mile race a few weeks prior. I was happy with this decision as they started around my pace going up Bobcat and Alta. At Bobcat, I saw fellow SF Tri friend Deirdre Geary, who I ran Mt Tam 50K just a few weeks ago. I also unwittingly flashed a runner who was doing a #2 which he thought he could do under the cover of darkness (I turned away my headlamp quite quickly). I noticed he ducked again just a quarter mile ahead. I was vindicated (at that moment) of eating light, but I would be proven wrong later on. Deirdre and I chatted a bit as we went up Bobcat, until she started running up Alta (at which point I never saw her again until going up Coastal Trail to McKinnon Gulch). I then went with Brian/Philip/Yvonne again up Alta, but when we hit Rodeo Valley, however, the screw on my headlamp somehow got loose and lightly whacked me on my forehead. I had to screw it back enough to still run with it. While I ran down Rodeo Valley at a decent pace (12:56 and 11:26, according to my GPS), the three experienced ultra runners descended it like nobody's business, disappearing down into the night. 

There was somebody who was following me along down the trail, however. I didn't feel like chatting at first, because I was focused on going down and not falling, as we were running in darkness since we started. When we were in level on a rocky fire road, I introduced myself and her name was Sonya. We kept each other company for the length of the fire road, plus the first mile up Miwok. When I saw Brian, Philip, and Yvonne again, as well as Pen and Alyssa, I decided to power hike to catch up with them and keep up with the pace. I might have been slow downhill, but I can fast hike uphill at a decent clip.

As we descended Old Springs Trail, the sun was coming out. I was glad, as while running in darkness with a headlamp was fun, it can be pretty treacherous as you can only see what your headlamp can light up. Once I reached Tennessee Valley (TV) Aid Station, I saw Patty Osorio-O'Dea, who helped me find my drop bag and put my headlamp in it for me. I then blessed the restroom at TV, as I felt bloated from the nuun. Another bad decision, as I used it despite feeling already bloated from it during one of our training runs several weeks ago. I should have stuck to using the electrolytes at the aid station, which was Clifshot Brew, and it worked well for me the whole race (even though the race didn't work well for me).

7:15 AM
As I exited TV, I ran along Coastal Fire Road, climbed up Coastal Trail where I again met up with Philip/Brian/Yvonne. As proven by the Rodeo Valley descent, however, I lost them quickly again as we ran down Coastal Trail towards Pirates Cove. At this part of the race, I started seeing the elites from the 50K race go down Pirates Cove. It was amazing as I was slowly going down the steps, they opted for the trail portion right next to it and went down quickly like nobody's business. That was always one of the highlights for me, seeing how other experienced and fast ultra runners blaze the trails. I'm glad I got to experience that on race day. As we went uphill for a stretch before going down Muir Beach, I saw a runner who dressed and looked like Kilian Jornet. I didn't meet him on Wednesday or Thursday when the Salomon Team visited San Francisco Running Company and Sports Basement Presidio, but it was awesome to see him quickly and steadily climb up Muir Beach. It was also amazing to see a young kid run down Muir Beach, who I overheard later to be a 13 year old running the 50K race! I guess one could never start young enough.

8:15 AM
As we approached the Muir Beach Aid Station, I ditched my nuun and replaced it with the Clifshot Brew. I also grabbed a few Clifshot blocks (which the aid station crew grimaced on, but I just ignored by not looking at her directly). My friend John Hayato was there leading the aid station and I wouldn't have recognized him if he wasn't bundled up (including his face being covered). I made a quick pee stop then marched on to Redwood Creek Trail. I was at about Mile 14 at this point, past a trail half marathon distance, and was still feeling pretty good. Going up Heather Cutoff was okay, but I had to stop several times to let the ones running it go through. It's proper trail etiquette, but it does slow me down, and I was already thinking of where I was at compared to the first hard cutoff at McKinnon Gulch.

As Heather Cutoff turned to Coastal Trail, I started seeing a lot of my runner friends. I saw Andria Bouskous, who I was sad to later on learn that was having knee problems and might have had to DNF the 50K race. I saw Michael Bertman, who was going strong and was nice enough to take a walk break to chat with me a little and ask how I'm doing. I saw Sean Belling, who made a quick comeback from an ankle problem; Vicki Stronge, who gave a quick hug and hi; Trish Sampson, who just did Ironman Arizona a few weeks ago, and was rocking the 50K. Seeing my fellow runner friends was always a boost to my spirits. It gave me the encouragement to keep on going as I knew what's next was what I feared the most: the Coastal Trail portion going up to McKinnon Gulch. 

10:30 AM
After turning left on Cardiac while the 50Kers turned right on to Muir Woods, I started run/walking up to Pantoll. I made a #2 pit stop again as the restrooms were real restrooms here compared to porta potties at Cardiac (some of which were severely violated). I lost several precious race minutes again, but I've learned it's better to listen to the call of nature than to have to do it in the bushes (especially since I wasn't carrying toilet paper, lest I use my North Face gloves to wipe my tush). 

I ran up Coastal until it diverged from the Matt Davis trail down to Stinson Beach. I panicked less this time, but I opted for a fast hike instead of running, even on flats. Runners going down Coastal had right of way, so it slowed me down quite a few times, just like at Heather Cutoff. I wish I had right of way as I'm the one trying to make my cutoff. 

I started feeling my calves severely tighten. No cramps yet, but I kept on sipping my electrolytes which I refilled at Cardiac. Around the halfway point, past the rusty car (which I don't know if it's an artwork, or an actual car that flew down this cliff), I saw Yvonne, who I thought was already quite past me. I was lucky she was there as I cramped shortly after (one of many cramps during my climb up Coastal). She offered to massage it, which I happily said yes to despite grimacing while she did. She also gave me a few salt pills to take. I've never used salt pills, but due to the severe cramps, I decided I needed to take them. Yvonne then proceeded to go, but I was really thankful she was there that day. 

Just a quarter mile in, I cramped again, and in a precarious position as well. I was leaning on the cliff face and the already narrow trail had eroded quite a bit due to the rain possibly the previous day. A runner offered a gu, which I took, but didn't get to consume. Another who was running to the cutoff gave me one of her salt pills (the third one for me to take), and asked for my name. I should have asked her as she was angel like Yvonne as well. I'm sure good karma will reward her. 

The cramp subsided, but it was that point of the race I was questioning whether I should drop at McKinnon Gulch. I'm okay probably to go up there, but I don't know whether I wanted to risk going down and tumbling off a cliff. I saw my fellow runner friends again on their descent going down Coastal, but this time my face and words were lacking confidence and energy as I greeted them. By the time I reached McKinnon Gulch, I expected to be cut off (in some ways I was wishing I was). I was surprised I still had 10 minutes left to cut off and the aid station closure. I ate a few potatoes with salt dipped on it, grabbed a few pretzels and mini clif bars. I then decided to at least keep on going and see whether I could at least get to Stinson Beach, where my friend and pacer Jonathan Lui and crew Cris Lim was waiting. 

12:10 PM
Going down Coastal was easier, as there was no cross traffic of runners going up. I'm super glad about this one, as I didn't want to have to pass on my right (which sounds even more treacherous). I started getting my second wind and I was actually RUNNING down Coastal. I still wasn't looking to my right and admiring the views, however. I was just happy to have somewhat conquered my fear by completing the whole run up and down Coastal, which I didn't get to at all during my training runs. I only ran up it once but stopped half way, because I was mentally and physically out of it that day.

I proceeded to go down Matt Davis trail to Stinson Beach, and I was very familiar with it, having run the Stinson Beach 50K several weeks ago. I actually didn't mind it now, although it's still pretty rough on my quads given the steep steps and descents. 

1:00 PM
I got to Stinson Beach and saw Jonathan and Cris. I decided to make another poop stop (third for the race, but who's counting). Another bad decision made as I decided to switch out my hydration pack here for a bottle (which caused me to be out of electrolytes quicker and dehydrated), and ditching my windbreaker, arm warmers and gloves (it turned out to be still pretty cold when we started running).

Jonathan started pacing me up Dipsea, but since it was a steep uphill (not all the time, but at parts), I decided to fast hike like my strategy was from the start. We were going slower than usual, but I have just ran 27.7 up to Stinson, so I'm amazed I can even run the flats and downhills. As we climbed the Dipsea steps, my quads were screaming again, just like Stinson Beach 50K. I don't like to take painkillers, and I didn't have any, so I mentally ignored the pain. I was amazed I was able to do this, and I'm proud of myself that I can use this going forward in future races.

2:00 PM
We reached Cardiac and the volunteer told us we had 81 minutes, 6 miles to the second cutoff, and it was "all downhill." I knew there was something wrong with that statement though because I had run the Muir Woods portion of the race course several times, and I was pretty familiar with it. The problem I had was I don't exactly remember where Old Inn was. I had confused it with the Deer Park Aid Station location for the Mt Tam 50K. And I KNEW that had a lot of uphill and downhill.

It disheartened me, but I kept on running, as I've surprised myself before with cutoffs, including the first hard cutoff I just did. We ran down Dipsea and Ben Johnson, but sure enough, we had to climb Bootjack, Fern Trail, Lost Trail, and Panoramic Trail. I saw Yvonne again just before going down Sun Trail. She didn't look well and she was having a rough day as well. We ran Redwood and Sun for parts, but as I looked at my watch, I already slowed down at parts and I had already given up hope of making the cutoff. 

4:00 PM
As we went down Dipsea again, we saw the makeshift Old Inn Aid Station, which was just a pick up truck, a few chairs, and some snacks. A few other runners were seated or standing with disappointed faces. We were driven back to the start/finish line. 

My first DNF (Do Not Finish). Not exactly the race I wanted to DNF since it had been the race I had been training for almost 20 weeks now. As you can see, I did make a quite a few bad decisions leading up to and during the race, so I'm sure that could have been a factor. At this point, I'm not sure whether I want to do this race again for fear of another failure, or any other 50 miler for that matter.

I have Big Sur Marathon, San Francisco Marathon, and Ironman Lake Tahoe lined up for next year. I have to admit I'm still stung by the whole thing, and my confidence is pretty much shaken at this point. I have to regroup my thoughts, focus on what I have to improve, and make sure that I can do things better next time.

At the very least, I'm proud I didn't tumble off the cliffs at Coastal! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mt Tam 50K - Race Report

This race was not in my training schedule or my training plan. Three days prior to race day, I decided to use the volunteer credit I earned for volunteering at Inside Trail's Berkeley Trail Adventure. With my Coach Karen Peterson's blessing, I signed up for the Mt Tam 50K by contacting race director Tim Stahler. I signed up for this race based on the fact that my training schedule calls for a 31 mile run on the weekend, so I might well just do the race in "training mode" and practice the use of aid stations and nutrition.

Just a day after signing up, my mind had already started playing games with me. I suddenly had the urge to switch to one of the lower distances, either a 30K or the half marathon. The 30K would be a still good training run, as it went through the same trails that the North Face Endurance Challenge 50M course would go through. The half marathon would be a nice race also based on the fact that I had never run the Sierra Trail or the TCC Trail, and it would be a nice change of scenery. I emailed my Coach again for advice and she told me to listen to my gut instincts. I told her I'd play it by ear and make a "game day decision" that morning.

Saturday came and when I woke up I still felt very undecided within the first hour I woke up. Then I just decided to suck it in and do it. Like the Stinson Beach 50K that I did just a few weeks back, I'll run it one aid station at a time, and I won't berate myself if I call it quits (or if they call it quits on me, as they have quite a few cutoff times towards the end). I was slightly concerned that the course limit was 8 hours and 30 minutes, and I finished Stinson Beach at 8 hours and 47 minutes, and although they are two different course, Inside Trail is not known for making easy courses (based on past experiences such as Stud N Mud 25K this year).

I drove to Stinson Beach and arrived at my customary early time of one hour prior to the race, at 7:30 AM. I picked up my bib and saw friendly faces at the bib pickup line including Leigh-Ann Wendling, Brian Ladrillono, and Sabine Gillert. I also saw some friends running the race: Allen Lucas, who was doing the half, Pen Perez, who was doing the 30K, and Deirdre Geary, who ended up being my race buddy for the 50K.

I wasn't sure what Deirdre's pace was because I have never run with her, but I decided to pace with her for the first few miles. We climbed up Steep Ravine together and had some good conversations on North Face and upcoming triathlons, being part of SF Tri Club, but we parted ways once I saw a restroom at Pantoll and decided to do my customary pee break (I usually take a pee break even when unnecessary, especially at trails, given the scarcity of restrooms, especially non portalet ones). After my pee break, I did not see Deirdre until way much later.

Going through Ben Johnson Trail in Muir Woods was always fun. I find Muir Woods magical. At this point though, the half marathoners, especially the quicker ones already caught up with me. They started half an hour later, and they're running the same course until they have to turn left at Bootjack Trail. Once they turned left, and I turned right going to Fern Creek and Lost Trail, the runners thinned out except for a female runner I passed by on the way up who's doing a 30K but is recovering from an injury.

Redwood Trail and the Sun Trail reminded me of my ordeal with Coastal. It didn't look as daunting heights wise but it was probably the same altitude, so I thought this was a good way for me to deal with my fear of heights. I ran parts and I walked parts that seemed sketchy where I can trip and fall (and tumble). I was proud of myself for going fast enough to not seem like I was doing a leisurely hike.

When I reached the Muir Woods Visitor Center portion in the middle of my descent down Dipsea, I had to make a decision. My stomach was feeling a bit full, and for the first time in any race, I felt that to poop. Yes, I said it. I had to poop in the middle of a race. This was the best time to do it as there were real restrooms at the Muir Woods Visitor Center (unless they were closed, and fortunately they weren't). I was only about 8 miles into my 31 miler and I didn't want to run the rest of the way with a feeling that I had to go. I know I was going to lose a lot of precious time doing a #2, but I did it anyway. Race medal or finish be damned, I am not going to do a #2 out in the wilderness! So I did it, as quick as I can, and marched back down Dipsea en route to Muir Woods Road.

Once I reached the aid station at Muir Woods Road, I saw my friend Patty Osorio-O'Dea. I didn't recognize her for a few seconds because of the sunglasses. She quickly offered to replenish my bottle with tailwind electrolytes with ice (which I requested at every aid station, going forward). I grabbed a few potato chips, and a pack of clif shot blocks. I asked what mile I was. "Ten," Patty replied. I checked my watch and it was 11:45 AM. Slight panic ensued as I had six miles to run in 1 hour and 15 minutes. It doesn't seem that much, but depending on what Miwok Trail and Dias Ridge Trail looks like (which I haven't run this part of Miwok, and haven't run any part of Dias Ridge), I might not make the 1:00 cutoff for the next aid station.

I started picking up my pace, even for the uphill one. I caught up with another runner for the 50K at that point. He seemed fatigued, and I don't recall seeing him again after I passed him, even at the end of the race (he could have dropped or been cut off). I kept picking up my pace, but also slowed down at times, because I didn't want to expend all my energy to go to the next aid station, only to peter out the next few ones. I made it up and down Dias Ridge, which was beautiful and less traveled (except for a few hikers and mountain bikers). There was a mile and a half downhill where I kept the fast pace. I arrived at the next aid station, with time to spare at 12:40 PM. How I ran six miles in an hour on trails, I can't fathom, but I was happy to make it, and to see my friend Monica Mendoza as well. It was at this point also that I finally caught up and saw Deirdre Geary! I was relieved that she wasn't lost as I was concerned she might have accidentally taken the orange loop or followed the 30K runners in their loop back into Muir Woods.

Since I had an hour and 20 minutes to the next aid station, I started to relax a little, but I knew the Heather Cutoff and Coast View was just one big climb. I ran with Deirdre for a while, climbing Heather Cutoff together, but when I felt well enough, I told her I'd start to hike faster and hike faster I did. I've begun to learn how to hike the hills faster. I still don't run them (and maybe I should, later on), but fast hiking is a good break for my legs, and also saves my energy to go faster on flats and downhills.

I thought I'll make it to the next aid station with time to spare, but Coast View had some false "views" where I thought I was near the aid station, only to keep climbing a few more steps! I caught up with Chuck Wilson, an older runner but very fit for his age of 70 (if I recall his age right, based on what he said). He told me if he'd finish, he'd be the oldest finisher (and the winner in his age group, by default). I fast hiked past him to the aid station, but we overtook one another as we descended back to Muir Woods for our orange loop. I broke off at one point, and didn't see him until the end of the race.

The orange loop seemed to take forever. We were at mile 21 when we started the descent to Muir Woods, and the orange loop was probably mile 23-24. Going up Bootjack, I saw a runner with a Navy shirt (who I assumed to be with the Navy), he seemed strong, but I heard from Deirdre later on that he was injured, but still powered through the end. I got lost for a while when I hit Fern Creek, which wasn't part of the orange loop. I missed a turn on the left, and looped back, running a wasted half a mile to a mile in the process. I gave myself a virtual face palm.

Troop and TCC Trail was a relentless climb, and at that point, my legs were getting tired that I started walking even the flats and downhills. I kept on questioning whether I was going the right way as I felt I was on a constant loop and everything started looking the same. It also confused me when I distinctly remember seeing the faster 50K runners return a different way, but either they did and they were lost or I confused it with the TCC trail that I saw that was the light at the end of the tunnel.

With a final stop at Cardiac Hill aid station, I saw Deirdre again after she caught up with me as I took one last pee break at the portalet while my water bottle was being kindly refilled by the volunteers with electrolytes and ice. I gushed down a whole bottle of electrolytes then and there before I started the last three mile run, as I was running on empty for a while at TCC (never a good thing!). My stomach felt bloated, but I felt strong going downhill on Dipsea. I have also run downhill at Dipsea before so I was confident where I was at and what was coming on my way back to Stinson Beach.

The steps going down Dipsea are hard on the hamstrings and the quads after doing so many miles already. Thankfully my bootcamps at the Y, as well as my bodypump classes have been giving me even more lower body strength, in addition to my long runs. I didn't feel the same screaming quads or hamstring as I did at Stinson Beach, and I ran gloriously back to Stinson Beach with a smile on my face.

8:18:00, with an average pace of 16:04 minutes per mile, for a 6800 ft elevation course is not too shabby, if you ask this three time ultra marathoner's opinion. Another ultra marathon in the books for this rogue runner. Now I taper for the North Face 50 Miler!