Monday, November 9, 2015

Rio Del Lago 100 Miler - Race Report

I asked a volunteer at the Camp Flint Gate Aid Station (mile 44.69), "If I drop here, can I hang out here until my crew comes to pick me up?". "Yes", she said.

I felt defeated, and had nothing left more in me. Yet somehow I knew that I still had time to reach the Cool Fire Station at that point in time. 

I downed a cup of coke and a cup of ginger ale, and started moving forward. She asked me, "So did you decide to keep moving forward?". 

I said "Yes".

This year was the 15th running of the Rio Del Lago 100 Mile Endurance Run. It was held just this weekend, from November 7th through November 8th. The race officially started at 5:00 AM on Saturday and runners are supposed to cross the finish line by 11:00 AM on Sunday.

In previous years, NorCal Ultras, the race organizer, might have been a little bit more generous with race cutoffs if runners missed them. This year, however, the race has hard cutoffs not only for the finish line but also at various distances/checkpoints along the way.

The race started with 352 runners at Beal's Point in Folsom, California. The start line had an amazing amount of energy in it. My friends and crew Christine Too and Arnold drove me to the start and helped me put my drop bags for each of the aid stations: Beal's Point (mile 19.2 and finish), Rattlesnake Bar (miles 35.83 and 84.15), and Cool Fire Station (miles 51.99, 59.99, and 67.99). I felt confident and optimistic the night before and even on this morning of the race, which was a good omen for me, as I am usually beset by stress and nervousness for big races, which lead to bad stomach and GI issues the night before and the morning of a race.

The first 19 miles around Lake Natoma were fairly flat with just very few uphills and downhills. I could have easily done it in 4 hours, but I planned for a very conservative start by going at a 16 minute mile pace on average. This means fast walking for me, as any running would put me a higher pace.

I was quickly thrown off on this race strategy when I immediately saw the safety patrol and sweepers at mile 2. I verified with them that they truly were the sweepers by looking at them and asking "Are you the sweepers???" with an incredulous and surprised voice. They answered yes, and I then replied "Sorry, but you'll have to bear with me, as I'm planning to run this loop at a 16 minute mile average pace." I think they said they were fine with me and kept running, chatting (and stopping when they reached me). It felt ridiculous to have the sweepers just behind me at mile 2 for a 100 mile race, but I was determined not to let it faze me as I was determined to stick with my plan.

I reached the next two aid stations, Willow Creek (mile 6.99) and Negro Bar (mile 14.47) easily and without any issues. I was actually having a great time despite having the sweepers constantly behind me (them, I can't say as I probably threw them off their game because I had a feeling they wanted to run just a little bit faster). I even ended up overtaking one runner at the second aid station because he seemed to be having some issues (I'm guessing either going too fast, nutrition issues, or maybe even going completely under trained for this event). I pretty much lost him when we started climbing a hill, and I was happy given that now the sweepers had to fall behind him and not me for the rest of the Lake Natoma loop!

I arrived at Beal's Point at mile 19.2 brimming with confidence despite being the second to the last person at that particular point in time. I even told my friends and crew that it was a walk in the park. After giving my crew my jacket, arm warmers, headlamp and getting arm warmers (doused in cold water) and a bandana wrapped with ice and some ice on my cap, I ran towards the next check point at Granite Beach.

I had my first kink of the day when I forgot to put in the hydration pack the peanut butter sandwiches and potatoes that my crew had given to me but I had put down on the table while getting the rest of the other items. I also thought I had forgotten to pick up my pill box full of salt stick pills (for sodium), which I was diligently taking every hour. I quickly brushed it off as I will see them again in an hour and I can get those missing items again at Granite Beach. At least I had electrolytes in one of my water bottles to get me through with enough calories to the next aid station.

At the next aid station, Granite Beach (mile 24.34), I was still feeling great. I ran a little bit faster than I did the last 19 miles as I channeled the time I was running with my pacer and good friend Mindy when she was pacing me for last year's American River 50 Mile Endurance Run. I wore a smile on my face as I remember her even singing and making up songs as we had a jolly jaunt on those 5 or so miles.

At Granite Beach, I met my crew, friends and coach again. I also saw "Endorphin Dude" Tony Nguyen, who I was a delightful surprise to see at this point of the race. Tony and I have pretty much the same background of getting into running. We were both overweight runners who lost a lot of weight by running and eventually ultra running (I still consider myself overweight, but not my much). I cracked a joke again with my crew and friends by shouting "Wet T-shirt Party" as they doused my head with cold water. I got my water bottles refilled, my salt stick pill box (which was actually there, but at the back of my pack), and boiled potatoes and peanut butter sandwiches.

Miles 24.34 to 35.83 was called the "meat grinder" for the relentless uphills and downhills. It didn't help that the trail was also littered with mountain bikers who were zooming constantly on the single track trail (and one of them could have pretty much hit me if we didn't both see each other). I think I had erased this course from my mind as it was also the hard portion of the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run for me, and despite my pacer Deirdre Geary for that race's attempts to perk me up, we both ran silently as we trudged along this portion (I was still thankful for her company then, as she helped me complete my first 50 miler). 

The thing that started my downward spiral was when I encountered my next "kink" in the race. I came out of Granite Beach with two filled bottles, but apparently that was not enough for me to get to the next aid station at Horseshoe Bar. And I thought Horseshoe Bar was mile 30, not mile 33.03. And so I ran (or more like walked) the next 3 miles without water or food. It didn't help that my Garmin watch was also dying and then completely died even before I reached Horseshoe Bar. From that point on, my cheery disposition turned into one of nervousness and panic.

I reached Horseshoe Bar and refilled my two bottles, but I also made it a point to drink one entire bottle of what I thought was electrolyte at first, but then the volunteer said it was actually water. It didn't matter as I was thankful to have my thirst quenched in the heat. It was only mid 60s at Granite Bay at the time, but with the exposed parts of the trail, it felt like it was mid 70s at certain portions and times. I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (an aid station favorite of mine), downed a salt stick pill, and took off and thanked the volunteers. I did ask what time it was and it was 1:54 PM at the time and I had 2 hours to reach Rattlesnake Bar (mile 35.83) in the next 2.8 miles. I knew I would make the cutoff but at that point I knew I was going to be over my estimated arrival time by 30 minutes, as I was hoping to get to Rattlesnake Bar with 90 minutes to spare for the first of many cutoffs.

When I arrived at Rattlesnake Bar, I gave my hydration pack to my crew Christine and Arnold, and quickly headed to the restroom with moist wipes in tow. I thought that this would be the best pit stop to make as there were no other restrooms that I remember until the climb up to Last Gasp. I was starting to have GI issues due to my stress about my current situation. My friend Belinda asked me if it was a walk in the park now and I weakly smiled and said "It was more like a walk in the sauna." I told my Coach Mama Lisa that I was now behind 30 minutes on my projections, but she positively assured me that I was okay as I was still ahead 1 hour ahead of the cutoff (and she was right, I was still technically very okay at this point and have a good shot at finish the race). I got my headlamp and spare battery, jacket, arm warmers and gloves (as it was going to get dark and cold soon with the sunset), and I went off to the next aid station, my confidence already quickly crumbling.

The next few miles going to Last Gasp (mile 42.45) was a silent death march for me. Although I had now a watch (my coach lent me hers), I didn't turn on the pace portion of it for fear of it dying on me as my first watch, so I just used it to track my time. In doing so, I had no idea what my pace was and it felt like I was going on 20 minute miles (I was actually going on 16 for the first 3 miles, but then slowly crawled to a walk on the succeeding ones). I tried to channel my run with my good friend and pacer Pen when she paced me for this stretch but I think it didn't help as I was also struggling at that particular segment last year. It was okay to feel this way for a 50 miler, but this is definitely how I should be feeling for a 100 miler, I thought to myself. 

At Last Gasp, I saw another runner (the third one so far in the entire race). I got some much needed chicken soup broth (it was beginning to get cold). I also drank some coke. I wasn't planning to do so this early on, but I wasn't feeling well and didn't want to eat anything at this point, so the least I could do was to drink my calories. It was at this point that I saw the safety sweeps again. I can't say that I was happy to see them, but I expected them to catch me at this point. We all trudged up to the next aid station, and by this time it was dark. I was hiking ahead of them up the big climb to the next aid station. I didn't have the energy to talk so I stayed silent (and miserable) the whole time. It was at this point that I was debating to call it a day at the next aid station, Camp Flint Gate (mile 42.45). I was thinking that I could save my crew the waste of time of having to go to Cool Fire Station, only to have to drive me back at this point. Why not just pick me at Auburn Dam Overlook and save them the 30 minute drive to Cool? I was trying to justify that I'm doing them a favor but I knew I was trying to justify to myself why I should quit.

When I reached Camp Flint Gate, that's when I asked one of the volunteers if I could quit there and have my crew pick me up. She said yes, and I was really tempted at that point to quit. I debated for what seemed like an eternity but probably was about five or so minutes. I decided that the least I can do is at least try to make the Cool Fire Station and make the cutoff at 8:30 PM. It was around 6:30 at that point, so I thought it was still possible to reach Cool, which was about 7 miles away, in 2 hours (it did involve a big climb from No Hands Bridge up to Cool). I went to the restroom at Auburn Dam Overlook to just quickly shake my shoes for rocks (I had been running with something I felt, since the meat grinder). I then saw that I had a big hole on my left sock and what probably was a big blister as well. Just dandy, I thought to myself.

The sweepers were behind me and we both looked for the way to the next aid station at No Hands Bridge. I decided to be more conversational at that point since I could use the company in my literal and figurative darkness. Trish and Sky were the names of the sweepers, and they actually were great company for me to No Hands Bridge. I told them about my struggles and Sky was nice enough to egg me on and to convince me to at least try running every now and then, especially we were going downhill for the most part. My legs were shot at that point. They felt so tight that I was basically shuffling. I felt something on my left ankle as well which bothered me. Sky told me my muscles were probably just tight because of the cold and she was probably right as running seemed to have helped loosen it up a little. It didn't help though that I wasn't eating too much at that point. I was drinking the aid station electrolytes, but that was diluted, so I was drinking 100 calories per hour, at best. My stomach was gurgling, but I wasn't sure if it was because it was craving for energy, or it wanted me to go to the side and relieve myself (it felt like both, which was always an odd and queasy feeling). Trish and Sky got me closer and closer to No Hands Bridge, and we met up with Sky's husband along the way. They kept egging me on which was great and I was thankful for. They don't really have to do so as sweepers, and I was thankful for their patience, spirit and generosity. 

At No Hands Bridge, I think I had about an hour to go and about 3.1 miles left. It was here where I might have made a crucial mistake of stopping at all. I basically had an hour which was probably just the right amount of time to climb up to Cool. But my mind was basically deflated and I opted to relieve myself of my GI issues, which I think I could have just bared with at that point. I must have spent a good 10-15 minutes at the aid station before the next sweeper Shane accompanied me to Cool (Trish, Sky and Brian swept until No Hands Bridge). Shane asked me if we can try to make it to Cool in 45 minutes. I actually flashed a genuine smile at that point. It seemed impossible, but I'll continue moving forward.

45 minutes for 3 miles with a 1000 foot climb was pretty much impossible. And it was actually 3.5 miles total to Cool from No Hands Bridge, at least according to Strava. Shane asked me if he should just run behind or if I wanted the company. I told him I could his company again at that point. So we talked about what he has done as an ultra runner, and he has done quite a lot. He has run quite a few 100s himself. All the gory details escape me but he gave me great company through those big climbs.

When we reached the top of the climb to Cool, I saw my friends Phil and Ed. We walked for a while and then saw Eileen, Trina, Christine, Arnold and Cris. We all walked as a team slowly in the trail towards Cool, under the starlit sky. It was the same trail that I ran last year as I was heading towards the finish at Way Too Cool 50K.

I felt relieved at that point, at the same time disappointed. I felt that I had let my pacers Phil and Trina down as I didn't even get to them so that they could at least take care of me and push me to my limits. I felt that I had let my crew for the second shift down, Ed, Eileen and my sister Cris, as they didn't even start their shift for crewing me. I felt that I had let Christine and Arnold down, for wasting their great efforts at crewing for me and waking up as early as 3:00 AM earning in the morning and working until that night to make sure I keep on going during the race. 

As of writing, the sting of not finishing seems to hurt more than the muscle fatigue and blisters that beset me. This is not the first race I had not finished. I attempted the challenging North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler twice and unsuccessfully finished it twice as well. This was my first attempt at a 100 miler and I thought that I could actually do it. I think I can still eventually do it, but I really have to badly want it, to constantly push myself, over and over again, beyond my physical limits, for the entirety of the race, in order to succeed.

"The body achieves, what mind believes," as my friend and pacer Phil said. I think at this point I have honed my mental toughness to get me through 50 milers, but not 100 milers (well, except for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler). I have to go back and think through what worked, what didn't work, and chart my path back to ultra running from this point on.

It is only in the world of 100 milers where finishing 52.4 miles is considered a disappointment. I should really be proud of myself for how far I have made it, as it has been the longest distance I have ever pushed myself, even if it's only 2.4 miles more. A simple analogy to this would be likening it to a fall in the trail. I just need to get back up, dust myself up, and continue moving forward. And continue moving forward.

P.S. Borrowing advice from a friend's coach, here are my three 3's for this event...

Three things I did right:
1. Have a plan. I went into the race with a plan. I wasn't as detailed as other runners I look up to, but I had a plan and I sticked to it, despite some obstacles thrown in my way.
2. Don't go out too fast. I followed my target pace despite how slow it seemed and reserved my energy early on the race, and I think it helped give me constant energy on the first 30 miles of it.
3. Keep a positive attitude. This helped my anxiety, stress and nervousness about the race, which usually lead to stomach issues the night before and the morning of a race.

Three things I learned:
1. Gaiters and quality running socks are important to 100 milers. Due to the distance and time on feet, small rocks and pebbles will seem like boulders inside your shoes, causing big and nasty blisters.
2. Review distances between every aid stations for fueling and hydration needs. I underestimated and forgot that it was 8+ miles between Granite Beach and Horseshoe Bar, and that led to running (or maybe more walking) for at least an hour, without eating or drinking, which started my physical and mental descent in this race.
3. Know that things will go wrong and lows will always be encountered. I had the mantra of "Embrace the suck" but I must have forgotten about it conveniently while climbing up last gasp. If I just anticipated and embraced the low moments of my race, I would have and kept on going.

Three things I would do differently:
1. Race with a better base. I had three 50 milers in my belt, but my physical fitness can always use some improvement. I could still lose about 15-20 pounds since I am technically overweight, even though I'm proud to be where I am weight wise.
2. Have a better fueling plan. I still don't have this nailed down, unfortunately. Even though I was eating 100 calories every 30 minutes, it went haywire when I ran out of water for that one hour stretch.
3. Keep calm and keep moving forward. When I ran out of water, I should have kept my calm. Instead I let panic get the best of me and that's when my GI issues started, as stress usually affects my guts as well. I need to practice on meditating more and learning to tune out negative thoughts and always focus on the positive. I should be my best cheerleader, not my worst critic.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Golden Hills Marathon 2015 - Race Report

I didn't want to run Golden Hills.

The whole week leading to the race, I was dreading the countdown as days passed one by one towards race day on Saturday. Normally, I wouldn't be afraid of a marathon at this point in my ultra running non-career.

I was afraid because I feel like I'm still recovering from the Headlands 50 Miler just four weeks ago, and the Berkeley Trail Adventure 50K just two weeks ago. I have never done back to back ultras, now to be supplemented by a difficult trail marathon (I know so, as I have done Golden Hills twice in the past few years).

On Monday, I had a deep tissue massage done to work on a lot of tight parts of my legs that I can't seem to fix by just foam rolling. My glutes, quads, calves, and achilles were tight. I even felt like I was having the beginnings of plantar fascitiis.

On Tuesday, I saw my sports chiropractor Doctor Kris Blum who gave me an adjustment as I was complaining about lower back tightness and applied Graston on my calves and ART on my hips and glutes. She worked wonders for me, as always, and I felt like I had a fighting chance to still do the race after I got out of her office.

On Wednesday, I did a short run, 3.5 miles instead of the 5 miles on the schedule. Better some than none, I thought to myself.

On Thursday, I met with my crew for dinner to discuss some race logistics. We were supposed to meet and discuss the pace chart and elevation chart with my Coach Mama Lisa, but an email from Norcal Ultras about a possible course change delayed the meeting. I still thought it would be good to meet some of my team members to discuss any initial questions and concerns, and I'm glad we were able to tackle them.

On Friday, I was in all out paranoid mode. I can't decide whether to still do the race or not. I even thought of calling my coach, but I didn't want to disappoint her by letting her know that I'm even considering not doing Golden Hills. I think she might have been okay with me not doing it, considering I have already completed two very difficult races. My concern for Golden Hills is that it wasn't my goal race, and I didn't want it to wreck me so close to Rio. I also, at the time, thought that a DNS (Did Not Start) would be better than a DNF (Did Not Finish) for me mentally. Of course, there was always the possibility that I could do the race, and do it well.

And so I did!

Race Day started early for me. I went and left for Lake Chabot early, so I could get a good parking spot. It also allowed me a chance to see the runners doing Dick Collins Firetrails 50, which started at the same location the Golden Hills Marathon finishes (as they do an out and back). I saw Tony and Ken, Coach Karen Peterson, and Coach Mama Lisa Felder. I even got to see fellow Ultra Fitness Beyond Imagination (UFBI) team member Alison, who was starting the race.

The Golden Hills runners take a chartered bus to the start, which is at Lone Oak in Tilden Park (the course is point to point, so it's highly suggested to take a bus to the start and leave your car at the finish). There were two bus loads of runners, but according to one of the race directors Lauri, for some reason 60 runners didn't show up for their bus (whether they opted to drive instead, it's hard to say). We had about 120+ runners at the start, I can't compare the numbers to previous years but it seemed a little lesser in number than I remembered.

After grabbing our bibs, chatting with my Run 365 friends, the race started in time at 9:00 AM. Dolores, Christina and Dawn, started around my pace and at that point, I decided to just stay with them and catch up with Run 365, as I am not officially in the group for the fall, as I am training with the UFBI team under Mama Lisa. I could have hiked up faster, but I was thankful for the camaraderie, the stories, and the laughter. I haven't been as relaxed at the start of the race in so far as I can remember. Usually I clam up immediately and get down to business.

At the first aid station at Mile 4.5 at Steam Trains, I told Dolores and team to go ahead and I will catch up. My stomach had gone south during miles 3-4, the culprit most likely being the tailwind. I decided then and there I was breaking up with this fuel once and for all, and I did so while doing my business at a nice real restroom, not a porta potty, thank goodness.

When I got out, I saw the safety sweep patrol and I was shocked to see them so early. Were we going too slow up Lone Peak, I wondered? They were equally shocked to see me as well and asked where I came from, and I sheepishly answered "from the restroom." At that point, I quickened my pace to widen the gap between them and me. Not because I was emitting noxious odors, but I wanted to never see them again for the entirety of the race.

I eventually caught up with Dolores and Christina, and then Dawn, at the next aid station at Sibley Park. I started switching to Gu Roctane, which they thankfully served, as I knew that would be better for me than Tailwind at this point. I also took a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which seemed to be agreeing with my eyes and stomach at most races so far this season. I took off and thanked the volunteers, wanted to pee, but there was a huge group of cyclists lingering near the restrooms, so I decided to just keep on going.

I forgot how steep it was going down Sibley. If I was going downhill with reckless abandon, I could probably make up even more time, but I would also risk going off the deep end. I decided to go at a measured pace, using caution rather than speed in navigating the downhill. Uphill was my strength, not downhill. I'll have to remember to work on that more later on, I thought to myself.

Skyline approached quickly and I saw more Run 365 friends, this time volunteering at the Skyline aid station. I knew the next aid station was 6.7 miles away, and I decided to just run with one water bottle today (because most of the other aid stations were just 4-5 miles apart). Given this, I gulped down 2 cups of Gu Roctane, filled my bottle with the same, ate a peanut butter jelly sandwich and forged on.

Confusion hit me twice on the path towards the next aid station. There was a trail early on, on the left, not marked with a chalk line to say do not enter. I thought it was the French trail, which we were supposed to go to, but the hiker I asked said it's further up. I checked my iPhone and Google Maps, and it did show the French trail as further ahead. I kept on going, doubted myself at times, but then eventually saw the trailhead to the French trail.

This was when the fun started. The French trail was the most technical part of the course. A lot of roots and rocks were part of the trail. If you don't watch where you step or land, you can easily twist your ankle. For some reason, I remember it being much harder previously, but during the time I was navigating it, it was actually fun! Yes, I said fun! It was also good to have the shade of the trees during this time as it was the afternoon and it was quite warm in the exposed areas of this race. The runners running Dick Collins weren't as lucky. They didn't get to run the technical trail that is the French trail, but they got the open and exposed West Ridge trail instead.

There were some more moments of confusion along the race. There was a fork where I saw a runner pondering where to go to. She said there were flags left and right, and she was right when I saw them. The chalk arrow did seem to point closer to the right, so I told her that was where we should probably go (and just sense of direction wise, seemed to make more sense). I was confident of my answer until I saw some chalk arrows pointing in the other direction at certain points. But since the other runners were still going in the direction I'm going, we "should" be right, correct? At any rate, we were validated by a young kid blowing a loud horn and telling us the aid station was up ahead (he did manage to surprise me, despite holding the accursed horn).

From that aid station, Big Bear, to Bort Meadows, it was only 1.7 miles, but it seemed much much longer. It was one of the last biggest climbs and it was on an exposed trail, and this is where I started seeing some runners slowing down (and where I also started overtaking some of them, amazingly).

Bort Meadows featured the resilient Super Hero aid station, where all volunteers were dressed up in super hero costumes. Wonder woman helped me refill my bottle with water (water seemed better just to switch out from Gu Roctane brew). I took two cups of coke and I forged on to the last aid station, Clyde Woolridge.

I was surprised to see another 50 mile runner hike up with me, and at my pace. It was Chris Jones. I knew him from a common friend, Tony Nguyen. The trail community is pretty small and mostly on Facebook so sometimes you know other trail runners by just seeing their name and picture on all your common friend's posts. Chris was one of the faster 50 mile runners, so I was surprised he was slowing down at my pace. He made some nice casual small talk about the race and running, and true to his faster running form, he vanished like the wind after we both hit Clyde Woolridge aid station.

I was so glad only 4.5 miles were left at that point. I did feel good, but I also felt like I had to pee at that point. I saw a nice restroom shed that they have at the Lake and relieved myself. The woman runner just behind me said "perfect timing". They didn't have any porta potties on the last two aid stations, so unless you wanted to relieve yourself out on the trails, you were out of luck.

The last few miles were a breeze. I can't say that I was running fast, but I was able to run the majority of it, with a few walk breaks in between to give me time to recharge and go again. I was able to overtake a few more runners in the end and sprint to the finish.

I finished with a sub 7 hour time (6:56, unofficial time). While it wasn't my fastest time on the course (my fastest was 6:02), it was the race where I felt the best all throughout, even the end. I beamed at the finish as I relished in my accomplishment.

I did it! 50 Mile, 50K, and a marathon, all in a span of six weeks. It was time for me to taper for my upcoming goal race, Rio Del Lago 100 Miler. It's time to start figuring out my strategy, my fueling plans, drop bags, and everything else to get me to that finish line.

I didn't want to run Golden Hills. But I did, and I did it!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Headlands 50 Mile Endurance Run - Race Report

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” - Bill Gates

The Headlands Endurance Run is a race hosted by Pacific Coast Trail Runs (PCTR), and is comprised of several distances: Marathon, 50 Mile, 75 Mile and 100 Mile. All distances do the same 25 mile loop around the Marin Headlands (with the Marathon doing a 1.2 out and back before doing the said loop). Each 25 mile loop has about 5,000 feet of elevation gain so it is not for the faint of heart (below are the elevation charts for the clockwise and counter clock wise direction, which I had to both of having signed up for the 50).

Not content with the party atmosphere of those distances, PCTR also hosts a night version of the race at 8:00 PM on that same day, called the Night Sweats Marathon. It also has a 15K for those newer to night trail running that would be interested in running in the dark with aid station support and the camaraderie of other runners.

I wasn't planning on running the Headlands 50 Miler. It wasn't even on my radar until a few weeks ago. With Rio del Lago 100 Miler just around the corner, my Coach Mama Lisa Felder had suggested I do the Headlands 50 Miler since I haven't done a 50 Miler yet for 2015. I have done two 50 Milers to date, but they were almost a year ago (American River 50 in April 2014 and Dick Collins Firetrails 50 in October 2014).

I was nervous going into the race. I haven't even done a 50K yet for the year (I had done a 12 hour race where I stopped at the 50K mark, but it was a very flat trail loop for the Jackpot Ultra Running Festival). The most I have done in a training run was 20 miles, whereas I would be more comfortable doing a 50K in one day and 10 miles the next day as my peak training run. Also, Headlands had 10,000 feet of elevation gain compared to 3,100 and 7,800 roughly for American River and Dick Collins, respectively.

My fueling plan for the race was solely relying on Tailwind, a powder that you mix with water to give you the calories and electrolytes that you need. What lured me to Tailwind was its promise of not causing any gastrointestinal issues during running, which was a problem that happens to me once in a while, especially for longer distances like 50 milers. They even had a Tailwind Challenge where if you bought four bags of Tailwind, and use it for a race and for some reason don't like it, you can get a refund.

It turns out I might just file for a refund.

I was running with a Salomon hydration pack, but with 2 Ultimate Direction (UD) 20 oz water bottles. The Salomon water flasks are great in that they collapse when unused but you can't set them in a table while putting Tailwind powder and water, where a regular bottle works better. It also made my decision easier to use UD bottles in that I lost both my Salomon flasks when I set them down on a picnic table during one of my training runs (and they're quite expensive, like everything Salomon).

I put 2 scoops in each bottle, which is 200 calories. My plan was to drink one bottle for every hour on my feet. I would then replenish my bottles in aid stations (with measured powder scoops in ziplock bags that I would put in my drop bag, and a few on my hydration pack for aid stations without drop bags). Since I decided to run based on feel (I put my garmin watch inside my hydration pack, even though it was on, so I have no idea of my what my time is, or how fast I'm going, so I just listen to my body the whole time).

Everything worked flawlessly on my first loop. It was chilly and not warm/hot as previously forecasted at the start. I got to see Eldrith, a 75 year old woman ultra runner who is quite known in the trail community (she even has a race named after her soon). I even followed her as we fell at the back of the pack immediately (a common theme for me). Somehow I ended up overtaking her early on after we passed by Tennessee Valley (TV) aid station for the first time at Mile 4. I would see her at the out and back and she would flash a warm smile and say "great job" as if you were the only one she has said it to in a long time and with unabashed sincerity. I was actually shocked I was ahead of her given her ultra running experience. I knew she would eventually overtake me (I wasn't competing with her, mind you), and she did as expected when the wheels of my wagon started falling off on the second loop.

The first loop came by and went without any issues at all. I was well hydrated. I thought that my pace was not too slow and not too fast. I felt comfortable and I think my completion time of the first loop was going to be a respectable 6-6:30. When I arrived at Rodeo Beach for the end of my first loop, I was glad to see that I finished in 6 hours and 30 minutes. I figured then that I technically had the race in the bag. I had 9 hours and 30 minutes to do the second loop. I can probably walk it if I wanted to. I can see whether I can break my personal record for a 50 miler (13 hours and 10 minutes), or at least my next best personal record (13 hours and 30 minutes). The second one seemed more doable, but I was just focusing on keeping my rhythm.

I took an Ensure drink to add calories into my system and some protein. I had planned to take one every 12 miles, as advised by my friend Pen. I felt it get into my system and I started heading towards the reverse direction of the loop, back to the Golden Gate Bridge aid station. As I started climbing Bobcat trail, I started slowing down. Bobcat was uphill, but it was a very long trail with a slow and gradual incline. I power hiked it, but I found myself starting to stop at times to catch my breath. The same happened as I went up Alta and walked through SCA trail.

I'm not sure if it's my brain telling me to slow down because I have already ran 25 miles, so it's time to start slowing down. I still ran in spurts and when my heart rate seemed to go back to normal and I can breathe with my nose and not my mouth. I continued to fuel with Tailwind as I went towards the aid station, but then I started to feel my stomach full of Tailwind. It is almost as if it seemed I kept on fueling but it wasn't being used or expended be it through sweat or urination.

When I reached Golden Gate aid station, I decided to pee to check my hydration. If it was clear, I'm clear. If it was yellowish, I'm slightly dehydrated. Any other color would set off alarm bells. It was yellowish, but I felt a very very slight burning sensation. I was worried.

When I arrived at the aid station, I decided to abandon using Tailwind right away. I filled my water bottle with water, dumped the other one that still had Tailwind on it, and filled that with water. The aid station volunteer asked me if I was okay and I gave a muted okay. I initially asked for a whole can of coke, but I was convinced (rightly so) to just take a half a can (else I start shaking, said the volunteer). I also took an empty paper cup and filled it with peanut butter pretzels, for its salt. I was hoping it would counteract the sloshing I felt in my stomach.

As I headed back to TV, I still felt weird. I looked at my fingers and I felt they were puffed up. I don't know if I was mind playing tricks on me, but I swear they were puffy. I also put my hands on my stomach and sides and I felt just water all over. I remembered my Coach Mama Lisa's comments on a fellow runner gaining weight after a run that it's a bad sign, as fluid retention means your body isn't functioning correctly on processing your hydration. As if my situation wasn't bad enough, that also put a pit in my stomach.

Being in between aid stations, I decided to just keep going and get to TV. I can always decide what to do at that point. If I still feel worse, and the medic confirms it, then I will drop. No race is worth my health. After all, I run so that I become healthy, not to become unhealthy. Moderation is always key. I started shuffling down Marincello, but still stopped at points. I had a short chat with a runner who mentioned that the 16 hour cutoff was a soft cutoff and technically we had to just finish before the 100 mile runners do, which is 33 hours (if that was true, then maybe I can just drive home, sleep and come back for my 13 other miles, I thought kiddingly). Eldrith also overtook me at this point, with a quip on how long the downhill stretch was (she always says things with bright energy and a smile, which I love).

When I got to the aid station, I decided to survey the food available. I ate the watermelon. I had some coke. I asked if there was a medic I could ask my question on possible hyponatremia. He then recommended I get more solid food in, like crackers and some salt caps. It's just possible since I've been consuming all liquid that my body has been overwhelmed by it and needs some solids to absorb it. I did as told and forged on. Well, I did a short pit stop to take care of some business (much needed business) and then I forged on.

The hike up Miwok trail was relentless. It just went up and up and up. I even had a smart aleck casual hiker telling me to pump my arms as I went up the hill (I bet he has never even run a 10K, or even a 5K). I smiled weakly and kept on moving ahead. I put my arms on my hamstrings and tried to put my body parallel to the ground's incline. It's a technique that seems to make it easier to power hike, in my opinion.

When I finally reached the top, I started to run downhill. It was more of a weak shuffling of feet as I can barely have the strength to pick it up. I also can't go down faster for some reason as my lower back felt stiff and I didn't want to aggravate it. It wasn't my fastest pace going downhill but it was faster than walking downhill (and in some instances better). My strides were small and measured, so in case I step mistakenly I can easily recover. I was glad I brought my wind breaker jacket as it was windy, and my headlamp because it was about to get dark soon.

As I arrived at Muir Beach, darkness came. I still stuck to water not wanting to risk problems with Tailwind again. I again had coke to get calories and caffeine in. They also had lentil soup which was good for the weather was getting chilly, and it also had some sodium that I still needed. I thanked them as it was my last time visiting that aid station and I started hiking up Muir Beach.

During my training runs, I usually can power hike Muir Beach with relative ease, but this was about mile 42 in the race and I was unsurprisingly spent. I stopped a few times and broke the big climb into one hill at a time. I would stop, catch my breath, get a swig of water and move on. I eventually reached the trail going toward Pirates Cove.

I turned on my headlamp and I was in disbelief. I had used this headlamp before but all I got was a light that looked more like a gray shadow, and a circle that seemed like the size of a dime. I walked with it for a while before deciding to see if I could use my iPhone's flashlight feature. Much better and enough to light the way. I had to hold it though and my battery on my iPhone was roughly at 10-20% at that point. Probably enough to get me to TV, but then what? Again, I had to just break my goals into aid stations and just work on getting back to TV, which would be mile 46 at that point.

I was also starting to get worried that I would see an avalanche of runners going down Pirates Cove. It was hard enough walking in the dark in Pirates Cove, but to step aside whenever I see a headlamp in the opposite direction would be irritating and would slow me down a lot. Luckily, I was able to get up Pirates Cove with no sign of the Night Sweats Marathoners at that point.

I reached TV by the time the majority of Night Sweats 15K and Marathon runners were arriving. Great timing, I thought! At least I avoided running against them, and it looks like they were taking Marincello back to Rodeo Beach, so I don't have a big contra flow going back up Old Springs Trail. I saw my Coach Mama Lisa and Lauri at this point. I told them about my headlamp problem, and Lauri was kind enough to lend me Patty's headlamp. It was a Petzl and boy did it have a bright light! I felt that it can light up a small room with the amount of lumens on it. I made a mental note to explore buying a headlamp like it for my future races.

I got some more soup, chicken noodle this time. I got some coke, packed a few candied gummy bears for the last 4 miles and had my 2 waters filled with water. I was still feeling down as I knew those last 4 miles still involved lots of climbing and anything can go wrong. It was great seeing a lot of friends come by though, like Leigh Ann and Brian and that helped my spirits somewhat.

Old Springs felt long in the tooth but there were no issues. I did honestly start getting tired of saying thanks to every trail runner saying "good job" to me at this point. Is it discourteous to be silent, I thought? I was tired after all and wanted to save every bit of energy. I said thanks here or there when I can't. If I don't, I figured they never saw my face anyways (kidding, or semi-kidding). As I got out of Old Springs I saw my friends Matt and Kristin heading in the opposite direction on their 3rd loop for the 100 miler (they finished, I found out later on). I thought to myself that I find it superhuman how they did it, as past friends who have done all four loops. It must have been just an extreme mental and physical challenge to do so.

Fog greeted me on Fox Ridge as well as what seemed like more endless climbs. More stops, more swigs of water, some snacks along the way, and I ended up out of Fox Ridge. I then proceeded to the road to Coastal Trail, which was concrete but thankfully downhill. I shuffled again in the fog. The road looked like it was iced but I never felt any slipperiness (thank goodness), so maybe it was just white marks on it (or maybe my shoes had their grip working as intended).

There were a few set of steps going down Coastal Trail which I took very very slowly. Two steps per step and sideways. My IT band also felt tight and at this point, I didn't want to risk anything. It would be disastrous and quite sad if I somehow didn't finish with a mile or two to go. I shuffled and ran when I can, but walked when it made sense.

I heard cowbells in the distance and I saw the lights of the finish line. The 15Kers of the Night Run were also on their way back. Some were even nice enough to slow down and let me cross the finish line first. I crossed the line with a smile on my face and a sense of relief.

I did it! I finished my third 50 miler, and my first 50 miler for 2015. I have learned a lot from this race and I hope to apply all the lessons learned in my upcoming first attempt at a 100 miler.

Below are some photos and some post race thoughts, if you got this far on my report. Thanks for reading if you got this far! Happy Trails!

(Left to Right: Me, my friend Pen who did the Headlands 100 last year and did the Night Sweats 15K this year. Christina and Dolores who did the Night Sweats 15K, their very first night trail run!)

I swear I was running with pebbles (which seemed like rocks) under my left foot for the last 10 miles. That's what I get for not wearing gaiters or not having that fancy sole in my previous shoe, the Brooks Cascadias which would trap those pesky pebbles. I decided to ignore the nuisance until I crossed the finish line and I got rewarded by a huge blister at the bottom of my feet. It's a nuisance to walk as I curl up my foot to not press on it, so I look like I'm walking with a limp, but technically I'm not. I want to pop the darned thing, but I read it's better to just let it go and heal itself. I hope I'm patient enough to let it heal, and I might cover it again with a blister kit I bought at Walgreens.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ragnar Trail Relays Tahoe - Race Report

Altitude is everything!

From August 14 to 15, I was part of an 8 person relay team that traveled to a remote pocket of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range at Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort. We camped for three days and two nights under a clear star lit sky and each of us ran three breath taking loops (literally and figuratively) in varying times of the day and night to cover a total of 127+ miles.

Day 0 (Thursday Night)

My friends Eileen, Ed and I carpooled to Tahoe from San Francisco. I was last to be picked up due to only being able to take two hours off from work that day. I was worried I was packing too much: I had my camping chair, gym bag packed with shirts, shorts, shoes and other fun stuff. I bought some usual trail snacks like kettle chips, nutella sandwiches, and turkey/cheese sandwiches. I also brought my collapsible cooler with coconut juice for electrolytes and some espresso canned drinks to keep me and the team awake during the night and early morning runs.

We arrived close to the camp ground closing time of 10:00 PM with about 30 minutes to spare. We thought we arrived at the unloading area but it turns out we arrived at the parking lot where a shuttle would take us to the campground. Not wanting to carry our camping gear for 3 miles, we drove quickly to the unloading area, unloaded in quick fashion and drove back to the parking lot in time to take one of the last two shuttles before we would have been required to walk back to camp.

We had a ton of crap with us (I was in the humble opinion that I packed the lightest as I even had to give up my camping chair due to space constraints on the car). We loaded it into a wagon (sample picture of wagon where Brian was carrying their gear earlier on in the afternoon below), and hauled it into the Weeple Army camp ground (the Weeple Army was the team we joined forces with for the Ragnar Trail Relay, and I am glad we did as they were such a great group to hang out with!).

Other than a dilapidated bridge where our wagon wheel got stuck for a few seconds, we got the wagon with all our goods safely to camp. The Weeple Army was so friendly that they helped us unload our gear without even asking for assistance! I can see how they would be a great team to help you on your first Spartan Race (I can see myself doing one, but I'll leave that thought for next year so I can focus on my A race for this year).

Having been tired from the 7 hour drive (including a nice dinner at Roseville and some last minute shopping for ice and water), I quickly retired to my sleeping bag. Eileen was the only one who brought a tent (I had one but never thought to bring mine due to space constraints, and Ed thought the same). It was only a two and a half person tent, and since I don't qualify as a half person, I volunteered to be the one to sleep outside (it wasn't cold at the time at any rate). We got to meet some of our teammates like Beth, Brian and Michelle, but being tired and old, I decided to retire early that night and save the socializing for tomorrow (we did have a race to run, after all).

Day 1 (Friday)

I woke up bright and early around 5 AM without the need for an alarm clock (my usual waking up time). Much of the camp was still snoozing and snoring. Quite okay with me as I had to do my business anyways. The altitude was beginning to mess with my stomach, which was not a good thing. I experienced the same when I did the Ragnar Road Relay two years ago, but my stomach went south more then due to stress (as I was slated to do 8 legs instead of the typical 3 legs in a Ragnar race).

After I came back, Eileen graciously offered to make coffee and oatmeal. I got the coffee but skipped the oatmeal due to my GI issues. I would rather be hungry than run on a spoiled stomach. It's a risk I've taken before and was willing to accept. At that point anyways, I was starting to feel better.

We all checked in 30 minutes before 10 AM, our scheduled team start. Ragnar had estimated a trail pace of 12 minutes per mile for our team and put us as one of the first groups to start. Not exactly my trail pace (mine is more 15 minutes per mile, including elevation gains), but we couldn't have had any more additional time, so I think it was great to start as one of the first teams.

Eileen was the first one to go and ran the green loop. I was the second to go and had to do the yellow loop. Beth then would be the third and ran the red loop. The green loop was the easiest, the red one was the hardest. Starting with the medium loop worked for me, but I just didn't know how my body would react to the fact that we're running at 6,768 feet above sea level. I quickly found out how it did react.

The Yellow Loop was the Summit Valley View Trail. It started out fairly okay with a few rollers, but even just running a few feet I can already feel how hard it was to breathe in high elevation. I fortunately had experience running in Tahoe when I went last year for a fun weekend with some friends from my San Francisco Triathlon Club group. I quickly remembered how hard it was though to breathe. I decided to breathe through my mouth and have the rhythm match my running. It felt haggard (and loud at times), but that's what got me through the loop.

The Yellow Loop had two big climbs. The first climb had some spectacular views of Ice Lake (and another lake that I do not know the name of). The climb would have been just a regular day of trail running for me if it wasn't for the altitude. I took some pictures (which I can't upload right now since the phone I used isn't currently working). I then started descending before another climb came in around mile 4-5, which was shorter but steeper (looks like a ski slope when the resort was still used for skiing and snowboarding). After a steep climb and hike, I was done with the Yellow Loop.

After the Yellow Loop, there were 7 more legs before I had to run again, so I was all set to start lounging and eating. Eileen helped me buy one of the excellent smoothies sold near the start/finish line (at $4, it tasted like the best meal on a plastic cup to a starved runner!). We then headed back to camp to relax and start getting to know our other teammates as we started discussing our legs (the loops, not our muscled legs), our background, and anything else under the sun.

Having run as part of an ultra team of 5 at a previous Ragnar Relay, it was a mixed feeling for me. I was happy that it wasn't as strenuous in that I didn't have to get ready every 2 hours to start running again. But I do have to say the waiting was also hard despite the fun of camping and talking (and eating). Our whole team was getting used to altitude running so our estimated times were pretty much out the window by the time the first Green-Yellow-Red loop was done. Beth came back from the Red Loop describing it as the hardest loop in Ragnar History (which it was, relative to the Green and Yellow). I started filling my head with how difficult it would be for me to run the Red Loop. I was supposed to run it during the dark hours of early morning, but it was a question mark whether that would happen or whether it was going to be during the day at that point. My paranoid self imagined myself tumbling down a cliff as she talked about ridges. It was either that or shining my headlamp on a hungry black (or is it brown) bear. I like to fill myself with happy thoughts.

As the relay was progressing, we went from two hours behind to I think even four hours behind at one point later at night. I wasn't stressed about it as I knew Ragnar offered the optioned of doubling up during the Road Relay to make up mileage and time, and I had a feeling they would do the same for the Trail Relay. The day continued with us cheering along each of our teammates: Michelle, Ed, Liz, Brian, and Kathryn.

When we got to the second round of legs, Ed took over Eileen's Red Loop and ran it in the dark. I'm glad Ed took over her Red Loop as I wasn't too keen on running either Yellow Loop or Red Loop in the dark. I ran the Green Loop shortly after Ed and I surprisingly had the best of fun running it. It was a quick hike uphill (which I was actually even running for a while because it's hard to know sometimes if you're running uphill when it's dark with only a headlamp on). It was a fun downhill as I ran it at my comfort level. Not fast to the point of risking a big injury but fast enough to imagine that I was Killian Jornet (one has to have a wild imagination at night to stop thinking about bears).

After I did my Green Loop, Ed and I watched a film about Western States that they were showing near the start/finish line. It was great to watch it even though I've seen it already beforehand. It was also very nice to have a fresh batch of hot chocolate mixed with coffee (the Ragnar mochachinno) with a small bag of Doritos to satiate me for running a grueling three miles (it was my dinner of sorts, if I remember correctly).

Day 2 (Saturday)

After we got back from the movie, Ed quickly retired inside the tent. I hung out for a while at the canopy and wondered where everyone was (they were either out running or sleeping in their tents, it seemed). It was so cold that I had to go back to my sleeping bag and cover myself. It was colder that morning than the previous night/morning, but I was warm enough to close my eyes and have some sort of sleep.

Ed did tell me that I had to tell Michelle to get ready for her Red Loop in the dark. I walked to her tent, which was closed and said her name in what seemed like a million times. Either she was out like a rock, or maybe she was in the transition area. I thought it was the initial, but I felt like I did my duty. I talked to Brian when I heard him walking about and told him about the situation. Beth was still out running the Yellow Loop in the dark, but she was close to finishing, so he would look for Michelle in the transition area (where fortunately she was).

Daylight came and it was time for me to take over Eileen's Yellow Loop. I was supposed to do a back to back Yellow Loop and Red Loop as I came after Eileen, but in a quick light bulb moment, I asked Ed if he was willing to switch his Red Loop with my Red Loop. He thankfully obliged and that gave me breathing room to rest between the two difficult loops.

I ran the Yellow Loop again, but having done it I knew what to expect. No more pictures this time. I ran it with confidence but not necessarily more speediness. I ran it at a minute per mile slower than the first iteration but I was totally okay with that.

Once I finished the Yellow Loop, I saw Ed with a confused look on his face. He told me he was still running the Red Loop as we discussed, but he was running it with Kathryn. The teams were now told to double up to make sure teams finish on or before 6 PM. The teams had an added bonus of letting the other team member finish faster so that the next team can start even earlier. I had the weird quirk of running the Red Loop now by myself, as everyone would have done Green-Yellow-Red in double teams by the time it gets back to me.

I had another smoothie thanks to Eileen and gobbled up a sausage along with it for a makeshift breakfast/lunch. I had several hours again to recompose myself, get a hydration pack with tailwind ready (my now go to fuel), and change to my next shirt (I was wearing a new shirt after finishing each leg, for freshening up reasons and to not get thrown off camp for noxious body odor).

I ran the Red Loop with no issues. I only wish my phone was working when I made the first summit. It was so pretty that I wouldn't mind coming back to that particular loop in the future (the Razorback Ridge Trail, it now seems to be named, quite appropriately). I did enjoy seeing a few hot shirtless runners, always a bonus in a hot race for me. They quickly disappeared like the mirage they were though. After two more summits, the loop made for a fun descent and a questionable fun run on the roads around camp for a mile or two (it seemed more like two).

It was a tough relay for sure, but all our faces started beaming once we crossed the finish line as a team. All our adversities, difficulties, and problems during the whole relay melted and we savored our accomplishment.

Eileen, Ed and I headed back to San Francisco shortly after, but I came away from the experience with huge love and admiration for the Weeple Army. I have already signed up for the New Year's Duathlon to spend some quality time with them again and get to know them a little bit more and even know more of them.

It may have been a tough two days in physical and mental ways, but I'm glad to be part of this team that endured it together. Another memorable experience that will stay with me my entire life. I'm not raring to do another Trail Relay just yet, but maybe if it's a new location like Vail Lake or Utah, I might be open to it.

Altitude is everything!

Monday, January 26, 2015

2015 Spooner's Cove 25K Race Report

Never underestimate a race, even a destination and/or training race.

I signed up for Spooner's Cove 25K because I wanted to do a trail run outside of the Bay Area. While the Marin Headlands and the trails in the East Bay Area are always a delight to run, I had been running them for over three years now and I was craving the sight (and challenge) of new trails. Spooner's Cove 25K offered that by giving me a taste of the trails at Montana de Oro Park, a three to four hour drive coming from San Francisco.

I chose the 25K distance out of the four distance options (5 mile, 8 mile, 25K and 50K) because it allowed me to explore all of the trails the race has to offer. I could have signed up for the 50K for "double the fun", but I wasn't feeling that I was ready yet to tackle another ultra distance so soon after the North Face Endurance Challenge last December. I also wanted more time to take the scenery in, take pictures, and enjoy the view without fearing that I was running out the clock. I wanted to explore new trails, but not finishing due to the time cutoff was something I wanted to be mindful of. I am very glad I didn't change my mind on this one.

The race started out at Spooner's Cove itself, a seemingly secluded beach with short cliffs. Parking was very limited at the beach, but I was lucky to get one of the last few spots after arriving an hour early before the start of the race. There was also parking a few minutes at the top, and they also allowed for additional parking for the latecomers (which irked a local runner who I talked to who had been going to the race the past few years).

There were roughly a hundred or so runners at the start. Most of them seemed to have signed up for the 5 or 8 mile distance, with the rest doing the 25K and the very proud few (27 of them) signed up for the 50K. The race started on time with everyone doing the same first few miles of the course.

We started running around the Valencia Bluff loop which reminded me of running the Big Sur Marathon last year. It never gets tiring to see the water on your side when it comes to running, at least for me. I started taking a few pictures here and there before deciding to leave the rest to my imagination and memory after I have had my fill of taking pictures. I decided to hang back from the very start, becoming a "back of the pack" run early on. I ran on the flats but took a walk break as soon as we started our climbing. And we had quite a few climbs!

Pecho, Rattlesnake, Badger and Valencia Peak trail were some very climbs within just a span of 3 miles. We're talking about a climb of almost 1200 feet at the very top. I don't know if I will ever conquer my fear of heights but I dreaded the climb as we kept on getting higher and higher. I even started getting scared of how we're supposed to go downhill. Luckily, I realized we were going down another way downhill. The 5 mile runners were lucky in that they don't need to get to the top of Valencia Peak (or maybe unlucky). The rest of the other distance runners had to go up and get a rubber band (placed in a precarious place at the top, mind you) to prove that you had indeed made the climb to the top.

After climbing the top, I took in the scenery, and then proceeded downhill. I talked to another couple who got to the peak at the same time I did and they mentioned they were doing the 8 miler. I told them I still had to do the other 8 mile loop going up and down Hazard Peak. At least we didn't have to do everything twice, we both mentioned. It was still a cruel thing for me to reach the start/finish line, where the only aid station was, and go back out to do the other loop. Mentally, it makes for a tough race as you're sorely tempted to just call it a day then and there.

There was some confusion as I arrived as I asked whether I should check in, and initially the volunteers had me cross the mat and another gave me a medal. I told them I still had to do the other 8 mile loop (although it's flattering they didn't think it was weird I finished so early for a 25K distance in just two and a half hours). I picked a couple of items to eat with me while I went on the second loop but I made a mistake of not taking in more water and electrolytes before I left the aid station.

It started warming up as I went up the second loop. I could see the struggling faces of the runners coming back from the second loop of the 25K course. A lot of them only had one water bottle (I had two from my Salomon hydration pack, but I chose to not bring and use my bladder, which was a mistake). Several of them looked like they had already used their water as well. I thought of offering my water to one who seemed in a daze but I asked him if he was okay and he said he was. I then thought that I shouldn't probably give water unless I think anyone really needed it, as I would run the risk of running out of water myself and I had barely started the second 8 mile out and back towards Hazard Peak.

Hazard Peak wasn't as treacherous of a climb as Valencia Peak, but the heat made it a lot more difficult. It was exposed all the way, and the turnaround point seemed like it took an eternity to get to. I decided to walk until I reached the turnaround point, but I also had to walk going back since it involved an uphill climb going back. Another runner stopped and seemed in pain and said she was cramping, so I offered her two of my salt pills (she had water still, fortunately). I saw the lead male and female for the 50K as I started reaching the top before a downhill descent. The lead male runner was young, either a teenager or someone in his 20s, I can't tell. I decided that I should at least beat his 50K time since he was running twice my distance.

I started running downhill with 2-3 miles to go. I drank all of the water I had left at that point and downed the last salt pill I had. I ate a mini snicker bar, but not much else. My fueling was not really the best, but at least I didn't have any stomach issues the whole time during the race (they had no porta potties except for at the start and finish, and really no place you can duck and cover if you wanted to).

I finished the race at around 5 hours and a few minutes. Not my best 25K by any stretch, but I was proud of the finish nonetheless. I got great heat training with this race. I still have to find a perfect balance of carrying too much water and too little water, but I think I'll almost always want to have too much water for any race going forward. Dehydration and heat exhaustion (or heat stroke) is not something I want to risk.

Never underestimate a race, even a destination and/or training race!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Reluctant Race Report: The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Race

As I heard the cowbells clanging, I saw the fog slowly give way to the volunteers at the McKennan Gulch Aid Station at Mile 28. I told them I was happy that they were cheering, but I have decided to quit The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Race at that point in time.

I gave up. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally done.

I woke up quite early at 1:00 AM for a race that starts at 5:00 AM. I did this because I wanted to get a good breakfast in my stomach, oatmeal with a spoonful of peanut butter and a cup of coffee. I also needed to take a shower, do some last minute preparations such as putting body glide and sunscreen all over my body, as well as putting on my gear which included the headlamp, shirt, shorts, calf sleeves, windbreaker and shoes. I was debating whether to wear arm sleeves but given the weather forecast was for mid 50s to mid 60s, I decided to just put it in my drop bag for the Tennessee Valley Aid station, in case it got cold at miles 14 and 45. I didn't have extra arm sleeves for the other drop bag at Cardiac at miles 23 and 35, but I didn't consider it a deal breaker.

Preparations were still in the way when I got to the start area around 3:00 AM, understandably so since the start was still 2 hours away. I found my running group's tent, Run 365, and waited for other fellow runners to come. Peter and Nga eventually showed up, as well as other runners arriving through the shuttles. Then came other fellow runners running the 50 mile event: Char, Leilani, Sean, Michelle, Jake, and Trish from our group. I also saw some other fellow runners and friends I met through other groups: Jesse from Golden Gate Triathlon Club and Matt from San Francisco Marathon Ambassadors. It was also a delight to see other friends volunteering: Josephine, Trina and Monica.

The start of the race came soon enough, surprisingly absent the rain that was forecasted to be at the start at 5:00 AM. I took a sneak peak of the elites gathering through the small funnel for the starting line. I can't make out too many of them, but I think I saw Alex Varner, Chris Vargo, and Dylan Bowman. Off they went and three minutes later, my wave, wave 4 started as well.

I intentionally held back to be at the back of the pack as I most often do at a race. Not that I think I'll be the last one to finish, but because I want to start off slow. After all, we are running for 50 miles, not a 5K or a 10K.

Since I was hanging back, I never expected to be running with Peter early on, but he did run with me until a few minutes after we were directed to turn left towards Bobcat trail by my friend and course marshal Laura. Peter and I chatted for a while about race strategies and then I told him he should not feel compelled to hang back with me, as I knew he was way faster than me (which he was, because he finished the 50 miler faster than any other person in our entire running group).

As we started our ascent up Bobcat, most of the runners started running up the hill. I decided to stick to my strategy of power hiking the uphills, and running the downhills and flats. It made for a long climb up Bobcat, but it felt good running once I was going down Rodeo Valley trail. Once we got down to the flats, I kept on running, past the course marshal again and then to the Bobcat aid station, where my friend Madeleine was volunteering to mark the bibs as having done the Bobcat loop once. Yes, we had to do the 5-6 mile loop all over again. Having done loops in races before, I didn't really mind it at all. I arrived doing the second loop around 7:20, even 10 minutes early from my projected 7:30 am arrival for having done 11.3 miles.

The climbs never stop at this race, so the next one was up Miwok trail, which has a steeper climb in a shorter distance than Bobcat. I started power hiking again, and at this time the 50K has already started, so the elites were already scrambling up Miwok to the top. I am always in awe of runners who truly the run the entire ultra distance. While I still do consider myself an ultra runner, I would say that I hike roughly half of the distance I cover, be it a 50K or a 50 Mile. After climbing Miwok, we turned left and ran downhill at Old Springs Trail towards Tennessee Valley.

When I arrived at Tennessee Valley, it was already at mile 14, almost a mile more than a half marathon distance. I was actually doing pretty well. It was warm enough to leave my windbreaker. I kept on with just one hydration bottle in my hand, but I did take a pill case containing roughly six salt stick pills. I had two pill cases stashed at each drop bag station to quickly take a few salt stick pills to take every hour (at least one). At this point, I was in better shape when I was the previous year where I didn't finish the race, because I had GI issues early on last year, and I remember having to go to the porta potties at Tennessee Valley then.

I proceeded running through Coastal Fire Road and saw my friend Jeff, the first one I spotted from those running the 50Ks. He was doing pretty well and asked me which mile I was at. I knew I was around mile 14, but that was just a rough estimate on my part. Jeff vanished quickly due to his usual speed.

We were greeted with another big hill and big climb, before we descended towards a muddy (and slippery) slope towards Pirates Cove. My experience running The North Face Endurance Challenge 2012 came into mind, but at least it wasn't raining, so the mud was a little caked and less slippery, but still slippery nonetheless. After descending the stairs towards Pirates Cove, making a hard right and going up and down a few rollers, we started descending towards Muir Beach. Again, I was reminded about 2012 but this was a much smaller scale. There was not enough mud to slide down happily (yes, I said happily), but there was enough to still give you an occasional slip if you're not careful (or balanced) enough. Luckily, I have good experience running down mud by now given my two years of experience running trails.

The Muir Beach aid station came quickly but I was a little bit disappointed it wasn't near the parking lot where the nice porta potties were. At this point, I wanted to pee already and I didn't know the mileage at the time (we were at mile 18, I would find out later on). I knew the next aid station was at Cardiac and that was a big climb to get up to there, and 5 miles away. I hesitated for a moment, but decided to forge on as it seemed there was only one porta potty and there was already another guy lined up in front of it.

The stretch of road and trail from Muir Beach to Heather Cutoff was actually quite runnable, but I began to slow down. I was fatigued at that point, but in hindsight, I think I was also at the beginning of hitting a wall. I was drinking electrolytes constantly, one bottle's worth through every aid station, but I don't think I consumed enough other food at each aid station to average 200 calories per hour. The fatigue momentarily vanished by watching in awe as the elites like Sage Canaday pass first (who eventually won the race, but by a thin margin of a few minutes). It also vanished when I saw my friend Andrew volunteering as a course marshal as we crossed the road going into Heather Cutoff. I was not all smiles though as I saw the beginning of a muddy climb up Heather Cutoff.

The switchbacks going up Heather Cutoff was a muddy mess. There was a stream of water going down from the very top, cruising towards the middle of most of the trail. There were faster runners wanting to overtake me from behind. There were elites blasting through from the top. It was a narrow trail for the heavy amount of runners going up and down this stretch of the course, and this is where my downfall started.

The climb seemed to take a long time for me but then I was thankful to be at the top, where Coastal trail reconnected. I saw Magdalena Boulet briefly, not knowing it was her exactly until some spectators shouted her name "Magda" as she cruised past me downhill.

Coastal was less muddy, but it was still quite a climb. I was started to not power hike, but just traipse along, which was not what I exactly wanted. It didn't help that I ran out of water and still was a mile or two to the top of Cardiac. I also then decided to eat a mini clif bar I ate from an aid station earlier, but it only temporary helped, and it made me more thirsty in the process given that I had no water to wash it down with.

A half mile left to the aid station, I started getting light headed. I thought this was really bad. I have hit a wall and I'm not even half way done with the 50 miler. I made it to the Cardiac with 20 minutes to spare before the first hard cutoff, but that didn't give me a cause to jump for joy because I knew what was next: Coastal trail from Pantoll.

Lucas took a picture of me (above) as I was drinking a can of coke to get some much needed sugar in me. I didn't really want the caffeine at this point because caffeine messes up my stomach (which it shortly did as I had to go to the porta potty at that point in time for a #2). Before I took my wet wipes to do the dirty deed, Ken advised me to just keep moving forward and my pacer and our common friend Brian should be able to get me back up to speed. Unfortunately, he didn't know at the time I almost decided to drop at that particular aid station. I quickly debated about telling him to contact Brian and dropping at Cardiac, but I felt that I still have the strength to forge on at this point, and I didn't want to let anybody down. It helped that my friends Phil and Angela were cheering me from the top as well. Phil even jokingly told me that "I hope you just didn't eat a banana for breakfast." I smiled weakly as I did eat a good breakfast, but I just didn't keep my nutrition up and regular once I got going in the race.

I decided to keep moving, and this time I had an extra water bottle that I purposely put in my drop bag just for this case where I felt under-hydrated. I also started snacking on the kettle chips as I descended towards Old Mine trail. I saw my friend Amadeo limping and I was concerned, but I cheered him to keep moving on (he spectacularly still finished the race, but posted about possibly being injured, hopefully not a severe one).

When I hit the Pantoll Parking Lot porta potties, I did the dirty deed again. I was getting nervous about Coastal trail, given that is also where I severely slowed down last year. It was the same exact feeling. I was less intimated about the trail this time. It was less muddy than I expected, and given my falling behind and the course changes, there was less runners going up and down the narrow single track trail. Even the spot where I severely cramped last year and learned that I should take salt stick pills for the first time seemed that it was "fixed" to be runnable (not that I ran it).

When I hit the Coastal trail, I started thinking about dropping out again, this time at McKennan Gulch. I did some math and I was going to end up at the aid station by 1:30 PM, which was pretty late considering I told my pacer Brian to expect me at Stinson Beach between 12:30 to 1:30 PM. I realize that as I write this that I totally misread the cutoff time for Muir Beach. I thought it was 3:30, and that would mean I would need to do 13 miles in two hours. The real cutoff was 4:37, and 13 miles in three hours is totally doable. This is a total lesson learned to carry a laminated pace chart with me for all future races. I did carry the pace chart, but I think I was so mentally checked out that I didn't even think to double check the pace charts to see if I remembered the 2nd hard cutoff right.

When I thought about this, that my now incorrect math that I won't make it, I wondered how to get the word to my friend Brian that I won't be able to finish the race. I decided to be on the lookout for my friend Michelle. It was her first 50 miler, and her friend who was supposed to pace her wasn't able to, so I thought at the very least Brian can pace her. I can still change my mind after I told her about this and parted ways, but I wanted Brian's being at Stinson to at least help someone, which eventually did as Michelle successfully crossed the finish line hours later.

The sweepers caught me by the time I was at Willow Camp Trail, and roughly a mile to McKennan Gulch. With my IT band on my left leg tingling, I told them that I will drop at the next aid station. It was a paved road we had to run which was only a mile, but again, like other parts of my run, seemed like forever.

As I heard the cowbells clanging, I saw the fog slowly give way to the volunteers at the McKennan Gulch Aid Station at Mile 28. I told them I was happy that they were cheering, but I have decided to quit The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Race at that point in time.

I gave up. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally done.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

2014 Dick Collins Firetrails 50 - Race Report

(Photo Credit: Audrey de la Cruz)

"All you need to do is get to the next aid station. That's only 3-5 miles from here. You can do it. Once you reach there, you can decide whether to continue or stop. It's your decision, and no pressure."

This is what I continuously told myself from the very start of the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 race. I had decided to use the mental strategy of breaking my big ultra marathon into bite size 5Ks to 10Ks, in order to bank small wins and keep on going.

I decided to take the early start option offered, which allows ultra runners who think they will take more than 13 hours to start earlier at 5:30 AM, instead of the regular start time at 6:30 AM. I had no ego about this decision, as I calculated it would probably take me more than 13 hours to finish the race, given my first and only 50 miler completed was American River 50, which took me 13 hours and 11 minutes. Firetrails 50 had almost 5000 feet of elevation gain more than my previous 50 miler, so taking the early start was pretty much a no brainer.

Around 20-30 people also took the early start option, so it was comforting to know that I would be in the company of other runners. This was comforting because we had to run in the dark due to the early start, so a headlamp was pretty much a necessity. I saw fellow ultra runner friends Laura, Jennifer, and Alina, who were using this as their training race for Javelina Jundred. I saw Tawnya, who was pacing her friend Grace, for the entirety of the 50 mile race (this being the longest run Tawnya has done since finishing a 200 mile race in Tahoe). I also saw fellow ultra runner Angela, who I had crossed paths with at Way Too Cool 50K and American River 50.

To Marciel Road: Mile 3.2

Given my mental mantra and strategy, my first goal was to reach Marciel Road. It was only 3.2 miles away, but those 3 miles had 600 feet of elevation gain in them. I was glad I practiced the first few miles of the course out and back just a week earlier, so this was no surprise to me. I knew we started with a few rollers, a left turn on a wooden bridge, and then a fast hike up Live Oak trail. Having ran the course previously also helped knowing what to look for while running in the dark. I could've sworn I saw another runner got lost immediately a mile into the course (either that or he was looking for a place to hide and do his business).

I reached Marciel Road with no fanfare (and no wasp sting, unlike the previous week I ran, thank goodness!). The aid station was ready for us, but I decided to skip it as I didn't need anything at this point. I had already consumed my gel which I planned to do every 30 minutes and my salt stick every hour, so no need to waste even a few precious seconds surveying the station for fuel.

To Bort Meadows: Mile 7.9

The road to Bort Meadows was a little tougher at times. There were patches when I would be running by myself in the dark and imagined a mountain lion leaping in front of me. I wasn't that scared, but I thought that was a possibility. I did take some time to appreciate the sun rising with an orange glow across the horizon. I was tempted to take pictures, but given my "no pictures" mantra on races, I decided to just etch the beautiful view on my head and hope I remember it for years to come.

Bort Meadows came quickly, even my friend Angela was surprised. I didn't take any fuel because I was still good at that time, but a volunteer did offer to take my headlamp. I didn't have a label, but he said he would write it down. He said, "182", and I kept on running. I somewhat regret that later on at the finish when I realize I can't find my headlamp in the box of headlamps. I hope it still turns up when I email Norcal Ultras, but if not, I'll just move on.

To Big Bear Gate: Mile 10.5

It was shortly after Bort Meadows, around mile 7.9, that I saw the first male lead runner, Ryan Neely. I had an hour lead ahead of the regular and elite runners, which was mind numbingly blown away by Ryan (meaning he was running 8 miles per hour, having covered 736 feet of elevation gain... on trails!). At that point, I was almost certain that he was going to win that early on the race. I then saw the second place runner at that point, Jonathan Gunderson, who coached our previous track season for the San Francisco Marathon. He was only a few minutes in trailing Ryan, but I'm not sure what happened to him as I never saw him at the turnaround point, but I could have missed him easily when I stopped at one of the aid stations and/or porta potties. 

Going toward Big Bear Gate, I started getting my rhythm and started passing a few of my fellow runners: Grace, Tawnya, Alina and Angela. I don't know if it was a good strategy or not, but I felt great and since it was mostly flats, I decided to start running at a moderately easy pace since I know there are bigger hills to come. 

It was at this point I was realizing that I was going a bit faster than scheduled. I had assumed a 15 minute mile pace average for the whole race, but I was slightly faster right now due to fresher legs and less hills, so I was going to hit Skyline Gate earlier than even my earliest projections of 9:30 AM to 10:30 AM. I debated about slowing down, but I did tell my crew chief Eileen that in case I don't see her I'll keep on going and I'll just see her at the next aid station.

To Skyline Gate: Mile 15

The middle of the pack runners started showing up and catching up with me at this point of the race. The rest of the elites and middle of the pack who were running 10-12 miles per hour had caught up at this point, given my pace. I didn't mind at all. It was actually refreshing to see the faster runners go by and admire them instead of only seeing them at the start and never seeing them again (until they turnaround for this race, which is out and back). 

I saw a lot of familiar and friendly faces at the Skyline Gate Aid Station. Belinda, who takes the most wonderful trail race photos, was doing her magic capturing the moments, and Philip was with her to cheer us runners on with his cool looking white framed sunglasses and music. The aid station was run by Run 365 and I saw Shane and Trish immediately. I asked for my hydration bottle to be filled with electrolytes (Gu Brew), and didn't see Eileen, so I told Trish if they can tell Eileen to just catch up with me at Lone Oak (I didn't want her to miss me again at the next one, so I thought it was safest to meet me at Lone Oak). 

To Sibley Preserve: Mile 18.4

Sibley is when the rubber starts meeting the road. Sibley was the beginning of a long and steep hike up the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve. I had to pause a few moments to catch my breath, and for the first time I felt my calf twitch (which would be okay for a marathon or 50K, but not halfway into a 50 miler). I started switching to more frequent salt stick intakes to prevent a catastrophic calf cramp. I also kept at the back of my mind that I'm going downhill through this same route later on, so caution must be taken in going downhill as well.

Mid way up to fast hiking up Sibley, I saw the first of my Run 365 friends also running Firetrails 50, Sean. We both acknowledged how hard the hike up was Sibley. He stated he doesn't remember how steep this section was, but then again, we never really ran this portion in the opposite direction. This just goes to show that it's also important for runners to practice the course in the direction that the course is going. I took a mental note to make sure I do this for the North Face Endurance Challenge in December.

A few miles later, I saw another Run 365 friend, Michael. He was a fast runner but he stated he was struggling so he slowed down to fast hike with me a bit. I remember how he did this also at the North Face Endurance Challenge last year when he saw me but he had more energy then. It looked like he was struggling with the heat (I was too). We hiked for a while together, but I didn't want to slow him down because he's way faster than I am so I let him run in front of me and sure enough, after a few minutes, he started running again and I bid him a good race.

To Steam Trains: Mile 21.7

My mind could be muddled, but it was shortly after Sibley that I started seeing the lead to the middle of the pack of Golden Hills runners, including Run 365 friends Char and Jake, who I was delighted to see and gave and received high fives from.

At the Steam Trains aid station, I saw Eileen cheering for me and taking my picture as I ran a small incline up to the aid station. We then did the hydration pack switch strategy that I thought of. I had her ready with a hydration pack with a bladder full of ice and water, 6 gels and salt sticks. Since it was getting warm, I got an extra pill case full of salt sticks even though I was only 5 miles away from Lone Oak, the next aid station.

It was mostly down hill going to Lone Oak from Steam Trains and I was glad to relieve my quads, hamstrings and calves from another big uphill climb. What goes down must come up, however, so I remembered that I have to climb back up all these hills I was running down from. No matter, I still used my mantra of just going to the next aid station to make this race more manageable.

To Lone Oak: Mile 26

It was going to Lone Oak that I saw Josephine, Mon, and Christine, who I paced for at the San Francisco Marathon Training Program last year. It was a delight to see them even for a moment and give them high fives like I did to Char and Jake. It gave me a temporary boost as I forged on to start picking up the pace to meet my first pacer, Annabelle at Lone Oak.

I was reaffirmed in my decision to take the early start as I was running downhill toward Lone Oak. I think it was close to 11:30 AM at that point, so if I did the regular start, I would be cutting it close to the cutoff, which was at 12:45 PM (I would have made it by 12:30 PM instead of 12:45 PM). I pretended my cutoff was 11:30 AM for a while, which I would have barely missed if it was the case I was trying to barrel down Meadows Canyon trail. But in truth I should have pretended it was 11:45 AM, in which case I would have had plenty more time to spare.

At Lone Oak, I saw Annabelle and Eileen. I then proceeded to do my very first pee stop, which is a miracle considering my propensity to pee on a race. I switched packs again but now had two hydration bottles in addition, one with ice and water and one with ice and gatorade. A little bit of overkill in hindsight, but I didn't want to let the heat beat me that day.

To Steam Trains: Mile 30.3

Given I was an hour ahead of schedule, and we had some big hills to climb back up, Annabelle and I took it a little bit easier going uphill and we even had a chance to chat about anything and everything. She told me about what races she's done so far: Kauai Half, Giants Half. She hasn't hit the trails since Woodside Ramble so I was a little worried, but then again, she had the advantage of fresh legs and we were on fire trails, which were fairly smooth (for the time being).

Eileen met us at Steam Trains. At that point, I was chafing at places where the sun didn't shine, and I hated it, but I didn't let it get to me. I asked for bandages and body glide, but the wait seemed long for the rest rooms, so I hid behind the porta potty to put the body glide and bandages (but I miserably failed). I went back to Eileen and Annabelle and we went on our way to Sibley.

To Sibley: Mile 33.6

Sibley was as tough going down as it was going up. I can see Annabelle also struggling as she's still technically somewhat new to trails. She also had a lot of slips and almosts (and one very big almost next to a steep cliff face, which made me shout for concern). We both decided to take it easy going even on the downhills. I didn't want to try going downhill faster, not that I was sure I could go downhill faster.

I let Annabelle lead the way, but I also gave some distance between me and her, as I tend to go downhill quick and let it go, so I didn't want to bump into her as I went downhill. Sibley had some steep downhills where it could lead to an injury if you don't take care of how you approach going down the trails.

The path to the aid station was one big uphill climb, which I didn't mind, but I can tell my quads and hamstrings are taking a toll. I usually don't tell my pacers even if I'm not feeling well as I don't see the point. I don't want them to get concerned and I think it's better to just get focused and stay strong and not get them into thinking I'm struggling or having any issues (although it's apparent I am struggling when I start to walk on places I should be able to run normally).

Annabelle and I made a quick pee stop at Sibley before enduring more hikes up and easy runs down going to Skyline.

To Skyline: Mile 37

The road to Skyline wasn't easy. Those 11 miles that Annabelle paced me were a hard 11 miles, regardless of how experienced any trail runner is. I think her fitness level made up for her lack of trail experience, as she would have either fallen on one of her several slips, or she would have been struggling after a few of the monster climbs that we did. She was a manager of a fitness club, so Annabelle is quite fit and adapted well to the task at hand.

Annabelle was also great in that she motivated me to run in times where I might not have if I was by myself. She also made me crack up several times with her humor and her wit. Her energy and enthusiasm really pulled me through out of those tough miles leading to Skyline.

I was a little bit worried about our time at a certain point, going into Skyline, but we arrived around 3:15 PM, so we had more than 45 minutes to the 4 PM cutoff. We had all different versions of the cutoff, from 2:30 PM, 3:30 PM. When I thought it was 2:30 PM, I was a goner. I took a mental note to have a laminated version of the cutoff times, similar to what I saw my friend Pen had when she ran her 100 miler event. Stressing out on a false cutoff time is never a fun thing, in hindsight.

To Big Bear: Mile 41.5

After being doused on the head and arms with cool water from Pen, given ice on the cap by Josh, salt sticks by Rachel, banana from Brian, and refilled bottles and pack from Eileen, my second pacer Audrey and I started running down West Ridge trail. I quickly hugged Annabelle and thanked her for all her support during those arduous eleven miles.

I got a second wind running with Audrey. It was also running downhill on wider, flat trails I think versus single track rocky and rooty trails that allowed her and I to run side by side and at a quick clip. We also ran quite a few flats.

It was when we hit a few hills again that the wind got taken away from me. Somehow on my watch we were only a mile and a half away from the Big Bear aid station but I started slowing down, even walking some flats and downhills. Audrey was nice enough and patient enough with me. She even entertained me with some conversation and laughs along the way, like Annabelle, so I was again very appreciative.

To Bort Meadows: Mile 44.1

I again started struggling at this point, so I asked Audrey if we can slow down to a walk even if it was flat for a few miles. Several other runners started passing us, but I didn't really care at that point. It was only 3.4 miles to Bort Meadows, but we pretty much took a long time getting there. Another big hill came which I remembered as it was the same one from Golden Hills when I ran it the two previous years. I cursed inside my head as we hiked uphill. I quieted the tired hamstrings and quads, just like I learned to do when I did North Face last year.

When we reached the downhill portion to Bort, I asked Audrey if we can start running. There was a very picturesque view at that point where she asked me if I wanted to pose, but I was grumpy at that point, and I wanted to just make the last cutoff. I thought again it was 4:30 PM for the cutoff, but it looked like it was 5:45 PM. Better to think it's earlier rather than later, I think.

We reached Bort at around 4:15 PM, where a volunteer asked me what to replace the bottles with. I have to say that the volunteers took care of the runners pretty well in this race, myself included. They just didn't stand there with their pitchers, they would grab your bottles, open the caps and refill it for you. That's what I call service! I gave my thanks and we went on our merry way.

To Clyde Woolridge: Mile 45.5

After we ran down to Bort, I asked for a walk break from Audrey. After making the last of the cutoffs, we had over three hours to cover six miles, which is more than enough for me to start feeling comfortable. I could have asked her to push me to run the last six miles, but this was a training race for me. The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile was my goal race, but of course, this race is very important as it sets me for a good mindset going into that race.

I thought Bort was the last aid station, and I forgot about Clyde, which I remembered from Golden Hills. It was only a mile and a half away, but when you've been running for 40 miles, each mile is a struggle (and a win).

We got to Clyde and I consumed two small cups of coke. I was tempted to try ginger ale, but I've never had it so I didn't want to introduce anything new to my body. I'll try it next time for a training run.

To Lake Chabot Cove (and Finish!): Mile 50

Mentally I was already drained at this point, so I barely spoke while running with Audrey on the last few miles. I would only acknowledge with a "Yeah" and "Okay" at times. I tend to clam up and quiet down when I'm facing rough moments, be it in running or in life. I again appreciated Audrey for being calm and patient when I know she wanted to run those last few miles (which is fairly runnable since it was flat with very small rolling hills).

When we got to a half mile before the finish, I told Audrey to go ahead and tell the rest of the team that I'm on my way. I didn't quite get to run the last half mile but I did run when I started seeing the picnic area.

I threw away my two hydration bottles temporarily to the side and ran to the finish and flashed two thumbs up. I hope that was a great picture!

To this day, I look at accomplishing 50 milers with disbelief. I can't fathom what I just did. All I knew is that I ran a few miles, one aid station at a time.

"All you need to do is get to the next aid station. That's only 3-5 miles from here. You can do it. Once you reach there, you can decide whether to continue or stop. It's your decision, and no pressure."