Monday, July 28, 2014

The SF Marathon 2014 - Race Report

"Va Por Ti Mamushka." This is for my mom.

Mile 0

The morning started uneventfully. My sister Cris, who was running the first half of The SF Marathon, stayed with me the night before and we both woke up around 3:30 AM, intending to leave around 4:30 AM (the first wave of the race starts at 5:30 AM). I had my usual breakfast of oatmeal, which I grudgingly forced in to my stomach even though I wasn't hungry (I learned to eat a good breakfast ever since I bonked badly at a 50 mile race which caused me to not make the 2nd cutoff at mile 36). We left around 4:30 AM, after I must have gone #2 almost four times (I ate pasta and plain tomato sauce the night before, but I did eat a big burger and fries for lunch, which I thankfully didn't pay for, in terms of stomach aches, during the race).

I was waiting for the next bus to arrive while looking at taxis and searching for rides at Uber to see which one is the quickest way to the start, which is a block away from Embarcadero. We missed the 4:30 bus by a few minutes, so we had to wait for about 15 minutes for the next one. Normally not a long wait for a bus, especially in the early morning, but it felt like an eternity after every taxi went by full of other runners and Uber kept on showing a map devoid of the signature black limousines dotted across it. We finally had the bus near 5:00 AM, a little crowded with other fellow runners, but not crowded enough not to ride it.

Hilary, a fellow pacer from Run 365 (the official training program for The SF Marathon) shouted for my name and joined us on the way to the start. She had been pacing for the full marathon distance at Run 365, but decided to just run the half distance, the first half, since it finishes near her home. We went to our exclusive Run 365 tent, but since I'm lucky enough to be an SFM Ambassador, I went to the SFM Ambassador and Pacer tent, which had exclusive porta potties as well, but less of a line. I did my customary business (only a #1, thankfully!) and then started mingling with my fellow ambassadors, but then came back to the Run 365 tent, with my intent to start with the pace group I had been running with for the past eight weeks.

We decided to drop in at Wave 6, to get an early start, and not Wave 8, which is the back of the pack. I started with my pace group, which included first time marathoners Mark, Paulina, Paola, Angie, Vyshalee and Shane; second time SF marathoners Mon and Christine; and first time first half SF marathoners Raven and my sister Cris. I took pictures like a papparazzi of fellow Run 365ers. It was nice to see my best friend Mindy, Coach Karen, volunteers Shannon, Lisa, Andrew, Kristel, and countless other Run 365ers. It was really a big reunion of sorts, old and new runners. Regardless, I was in race mode and planned to run my own race. While it would be fun to run with someone the whole way, it is always hard to do so, as you would have to either run quicker to accommodate their pace, or run slower to accommodate their pace.

Start to Mile 5 (Ferry Building to the Presidio)

As we crossed the start line, I burst into running, and at a fast clip. I still had the serious intent of doing a 4 minute run, 1 minute walk interval, but I planned to run at a good comfortable pace, but at a race pace and not my long run training pace. I heard Mon in the background shouting for the rest of the pace group to slow down since it is only mile 1 (rightly so, especially for first time marathoners). For good or bad at that point, I kept on running the first four minutes and never saw them again the entire race.

I saw Laura Bello, just a half mile from the start. I wouldn't miss her signature polo shirt, which I learned post race is made from wick material and is made by Marmot (she wears them to her 50 milers, emphasis on the s, and she rocks them and it's been a unique thing to see so far). I quickly say hi and bye as she is quite faster than I was.

Around mile 2, I saw fellow SFM Ambassador Taylor and her boyfriend Jesse. I was glad to see them both and had a chat for them, at least for a minute on my run interval. Taylor told me just the day before at the expo that Jesse just finished doing the AquaBike event at the Full Vineman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride), and was going to join her to run the full marathon distance. Quite an accomplishment as that is pretty much the equivalent of a full fledged Ironman triathlon, but just over two days (which can actually be harder, due to the gap in between). It was interesting to hear someone do it, as I toyed with the idea of doing so when I was still dead set on doing the full Ironman Lake Tahoe triathlon. I'm glad to hear someone attempt to accomplish it. I said goodbye after my walk interval hit and went to the right side of the road for my one minute walk and forged on.

The first big hill was Fort Mason. I was planning to do a 4 minute run, 1 minute walk interval regardless of where I was at, but I quickly changed plans. I decided I would power walk this hill and the hill going up to the Golden Gate Bridge. The reason I switched strategies was the tightness on my achilles heel (both of them), which I had Dr Kris Blum work on. It was especially noticeable when I ran up hills the previous weeks leading to the race, so I made the snap judgement call to just walk the hills to prevent heel problems too early on the race. I think I made the right call.

Mile 5 to Mile 10 (Presidio to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point and Back)

The second big hill came quickly. After running and walking through the nice million dollar houses along the Marina, the second big climb came shortly after a cheer squad from the Sports Basement Presidio. I walked again up the hill, up Lincoln Boulevard. It was amazing to see how many runners taking selfies while going up a hill. I even smiled for a second as someone offered to take another runner's picture of him trying to take a selfie with the bridge background and he declined, preferring the selfie. While I take selfies on occasion, I don't really like the resolution of the pictures taken, as most front facing smartphone cameras have one or two megapixels at the most for the front facing camera. At any rate, it was amazing to see how many runners taking pictures throughout the entire first half of the course (it is the more popular distance, given the chance to run the Golden Gate Bridge from end to end twice).

Weaving in and out of runners was especially harder when I got to the Golden Gate Bridge. Not only were runners taking selfies, posing in ones or twos along the bridge, but some opted to run or walk as twos or threes together. I had to weave in and out as I was running, but then move to the right (as most should do) when walking.

A woman with a black poncho with pink colored words "Va Por Ti Mamushka" was running on the bridge as well. Below her black poncho (I call it a poncho of sorts as it's almost like a blanket with a hole for her head or two capes, one for the front and one for the back) was a picture of a woman. I had seen her at the start and several times so far during the race. I kept on meaning to ask her what it meant and finally did when we crossed paths at the start of the run to the bridge. She said it meant "this is for my mom," and that her mom was a cancer survivor patient. I said that I was running too, and for my mom, and that she passed away. I ran past her for a while, but we've been overtaking each other and leapfrogging each other throughout the course, not competitively which I usually am, I might add, but just because of the way that we ran (especially me because of my run/walk interval).

At the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, I heard volunteers shouting that they were out of water, and there is more water at the next stop. I was thankful I was wearing my hydration pack that day. I had been training with it on all the training runs, but even though it was an additional weight on race day, it was my security blanket. I wanted to be able to sip water whenever I want, and not when the aid stations came. This scenario validated my strategy (note that the water station could have eventually gotten more water again, but they were just out of water at the point of my passing).

I ran back to the San Francisco side of the bridge and it began to be a little roomier for the runners heading back. Part of it was because the runners going to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point were now running on the pedestrian part of the bridge. I thought it was quite early for them to be moved to that point, but it was a smart decision I think given there were more runners now heading back to the San Francisco side than those going to the Sausalito side.

I saw Jay along the bridge going back to SF, and I was slightly surprised as he's a minute per mile faster than me. I briefly cheered him on and went my way.

Mile 10 to 16 (Presidio to Stow Lake)

Going up Lincoln Boulevard was another big hill, and I opted for another power walk, especially since I'll be rewarded with a big downhill right after. I heard a shout for my name from Coach Dan, who was pacing one of this trainees at the Half Full Run Club, and aiming to do a sub 5. I shouted I was in trouble since I saw them at this point, and I'm aiming for a 5:30. I breathed somewhat of a sigh of relief as they told me they were in an earlier wave than I was. Not sure if the sub 5 happened because of the heat (I don't know the trainee that Coach Dan was pacing), but finishing this race is a feat regardless (starting this race for that matter is already an accomplishment).

As I hit the downhill, I ran down to make up the time but not at an irresponsible pace, as I know I am only near the halfway point. Once we descend, go up and down a few rollers on 25th avenue, and go up the first hill after Fulton, the split happens. The first half marathoners keep to the left, the full half marathoners go to the right. This is when the crowd of runners start to thin out, and the marathoners are left to run by themselves. I was actually thankful for this as I had been running with quite a big crowd from the start of the race, and I would rather run with a little bit more room than running like a herd. I saw Alex, which normally runs faster but is choosing to run slower for his heart rate training. Very admirable as I think it's harder for a runner sometimes to slow down than it is to run faster.

I opted to skip the restroom at mile 13, as it still had a line for it. I was hoping to use one at Spreckels Lake or the one near the bison area, or even Stow Lake, but to my disappointment all of them were confusingly closed (I'm guessing they didn't want too much traffic for those and have all runners use the porta potties instead).

I was glad to see fellow SF Tri Club members Deirdre, who was volunteering as a bike course marshal, and Bret, who was running the opposite way, and then ran with me for a few minutes (he was too fast for me and I hit my walk interval). Seeing the two of them gave me a temporary boost. But by the time I hit mile 16, the struggle starts...

Mile 16 to Mile 22 (Stow Lake to Mission Bay)

The sun started to warm up (or appropriately heat up) Golden Gate Park around mile 16. This was as were rejoining the line of first half marathoners (who veered left at JFK Drive), and were now heading towards their finish line, while marathoners keep on going and make a right towards Stow Lake to run a one mile loop around it. Stow Lake didn't seem like the eternity that it seemed like on my first two times running The SF Marathon in 2012 and 2013. It seemed like a quarter of an eternity, which is a big difference in my opinion. At least I saw fellow Ambassador Carla towards the end of Stow Lake, a quick hi and bye, but it was always good to see someone you know during a race.

I still kept the run/walk interval all the way to the tunnel that goes under Kezar Dr and enters Haight Street. I smiled briefly as one volunteer mentioned how we were all doing this for fun. A fellow runner and I laughed as this is the point which realistically doesn't seem fun at this point, and we start questioning our sanity.

I had another laugh as I cheered a fellow Run 365er who was bubbly as she said hi and that it was all downhill from this point on. I waved my finger from side to side and smilingly said that "No, no, no it isn't." I had meant to say it to be honest with her, and not frighten her. I hope she made it through the race (I don't recall seeing her at the tent, but not all 365ers go to the tent, otherwise it would have been madness).

Along Haight Street, I saw fellow pacer Steve, who I was surprised to see, like others, due to his usual pace of 10:30 minutes per mile. I later learned he bonked at the time I saw him, but I still give him great credit for pushing through such an early bonk. I hadn't bonked yet, but I feel I was getting to that point.

I came down to Mission Street, and I saw the woman wearing the "Va Por Ti Mamushka" shirt. While I saw her several times since the bridge, it was the first time I talked to her again, saying "Great job." She smiled and told me "I'll see you at the finish line." We never did see each other but after the race I wondered if that was my mother channeling herself through her, talking about life rather than the race.

I only saw her once again, at the hill going up towards Bryant Street. She powered through and I never saw her again.

Mile 22 to 26.2 (Mission/Bryant to the Finish)

I power walked the hill up Bryant Street, but this was clearly when I start getting spent. I had used up all the salt stick pills that I had been consuming every hour. I still had several gu gels left, but I wish there was something else to consume at that point. I was hoping for even the Nuun electrolytes at the aid stations, but they were mysteriously non-existent at the whole race, as far as I can recall.

Mission and the Dogpatch were industrial neighborhoods, nothing too picturesque, but necessary towards the trek to the finish line. The reward was the eventual run to AT&T Park and to the finish. The only highlight during that run was seeing fellow runner Alina, fellow Ambassador Laura and the Lululemon Cheer Squad. For the last 4 miles though, I was clearly struggling and had not been able to sustain my 4 minute run, 1 minute walk interval. I maintained my target pace of a flat 12 minutes per mile throughout the race, but started crumbling on mile 22.

I decided at that point that I had enough cushion that I can still attain my goal of a 5:30 finish, even by going at a 15 minute mile pace for the rest of the race. My math may have been bad at the time (and I'm still fuzzy about it as of writing). I was debating how hard to push it as I walked up Terry Francois to AT&T Park (which I don't remember being such a big incline). I told myself I would start running again when it was flat, but I ran in very brief spurts, maybe a minute or so then walk when I was at the park.

As I exited out of the park and towards Embarcadero, I was hoping to see the finish line. Again, I thought of pushing to finish even way earlier than 5:30, but I didn't want to jinx it and not even attain a 5:30, so I played safe somewhere around the middle. I decided I would book it when I see the finish line.

I finally saw it at the mile 26 point. I started running. I briefly saw my best friend Mindy, who confusingly asked if I wanted gu gel this close to the finish. I snappily waved my hand and kept on running towards the finish. I was still running the last 100 meters, but not as strong as I felt on all my previous races. I sprinted what could be the last 25 meters at least and hopefully got a good picture out of it.

Official Finish Time: 5:25:52, 13 minutes and 36 seconds faster than my fastest SF Marathon (and any other marathon I ran for that matter). I was beaming at the finish. I was tired, but I was beaming.

Va Por Ti Mamushka. This is for my mom!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Never Give Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Give Up!

Monday, April 7, 2014

American River 50 Mile Endurance Run 2014 - Race Report

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

4:15 AM

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

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

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

6:15 AM

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

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

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

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

11:30 AM (Beals Point to Granite Bay)

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

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

1:30 PM (Granite Bay to Rattlesnake Bar)

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

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

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

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

4:30 PM (Rattlesnake Bar to Finish)

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

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

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

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

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

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

7:26 PM (Finish Line)

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

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Running with Run 365

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 14, 2013

2014 Race Calendar

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to a great 2014!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Race - 2013

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

(Note: All times are approximate...)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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