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."







Sunday, September 28, 2014

Berkeley Trail Adventure 35K - Race Report



Shaken, but not stirred.

This is how I felt at the end of yesterday's "Berkeley Trail Adventure" 35K race, held by Inside Trail Racing. It was an odd contrast to the Coastal 50K that I just completed the weekend prior, and where I felt a lot better going into it and on finishing it.

The race was sold out at all distances 10K, Half Marathon, 35K and 50K. There were an estimated 300 runners signed up for the race. It was another reunion of sorts for me as I saw a ton of trail runners who I knew: Coach Karen, Gabe, Shawna, Char, Sean, Laura, Mindy, Pen, and Monica from Run 365; Patty, Laura, Alina, Jennifer, Brian, Leigh-Ann, Kate, Karen G from previous trail races and runs; Amadeo and Angela from SF Tri; a lot of other friends and familiar faces who I might have failed to mention.

I think I might have pysched myself silly going into this race. I remember vividly the harried looks of the runners passing the Big Springs Aid Station last year of the 35K and 50K runners. I also know the toughness of Inside Trail races given previous races I've ran (Stud and Mud 25K, for example). I started with a lump in my throat and made my fear of this race gnaw into me slowly but surely. It's amazing how much mental attitude and fortitude can make or break your race.

The 35K course had a total elevation gain of around 4600 feet. That is a ton of climbing for a 35K (21 mile) course. From the very onset we had to climb a couple of big hills after a short flat run. I stuck with the strategy of warming up for the first 5K as my coach had instructed. Not that I had the option or gall to run up the first few monster hills, at any rate!

Brian, who just finished Headlands 100, usually runs quite faster than I do, but he decided to hang back as it's his recovery run and ran (or more apt, power hiked) with me up Selby, Redwood, and Volmer Peak. He disappeared quite shortly when we hit the downhill on Seaview Trail. I would have tried to keep up with him and I'm usually faster downhill. What gave me pause on the downhill was all the jagged rocks littered on the trail. I usually have confidence blasting downhill, but I'm better with a flat (even semi steep) downhill. The rocks gave me pause as I didn't want a tumble going into Dick Collins Firetrails 50 in two weeks. Coach K actually experienced it but she's a badass so I doubt she's shaken by the whole thing (she kept on going and even beat my time by quite a margin).

Seaview had some spectacular views, and I was tempted to get my phone out and take pictures (I have never been to this part of Tilden). I hesitated but I moved on. I wanted to keep to my method of not taking pictures while racing.

After Seaview we had a loop around Curran, Wildcat Gorge and Meadow Canyon. I saw Sean briefly as he emerged from that loop and turned left, while helping Laura and another runner get their bearings as they emerged from the other side of the loop, but they didn't start correctly. They ran with me for a while before blustering on with their speedy selves.

After I emerged from Meadow Canyon, I started to head back out. I didn't think I needed to turn left, because that was going to Wildcat, where the 50K runners were going. I hesitated though, because Tim had mentioned Nimitz way at the race announcements (it's a good thing I listened). The run felt short if I was already heading back. Fortunately I saw Kate and Coach K emerge from the loop and head left. I almost cut my race short (and probably surprised other runners in the process if I did so, by finishing a lot earlier than them).

I ran with Kate from then on until the turn around at Nimitz way and back to the aid station. This part of the course was exposed to the sun and paved, which didn't win a lot of the runners going through the course at that time. This is also where I started feeling tummy issues and a little nauseated. I don't know if it was the combination of tailwind electrolytes (which I didn't care of, as it tasted like bitter water), and the peanut better jelly sandwich (which I cared for at first, but the second serving later on I took barely a bite of). I was bad again at my nutrition and drinking today (I felt semi bad at Coastal, but I was eating more voraciously there). I now wonder if something in that pasta sauce I ate the night before ruined my stomach. I have a feeling that could have been it (that or, having had too much caffeine for weeks, I usually have 2 cups in the morning and 1 more at times during lunch).

Kate was nice enough to slow down with me and be my unofficial pacer for the stretch. We chatted about anything and everything. We saw Char, Gabe, Shawna and Coach K heading back from the turnaround, so we weren't too far behind at that point. I did tell Kate that I was slowing down quite a bit and she can go on her merry way, but she was nice enough to keep me company until the Big Springs Aid Station. She even waited as I took care of business (yes, I blessed the rest rooms near Nimitz Way and they were actually nice and not stinky!).

I breathed a sigh of relief that we weren't going up Seaview as that would have been quite a climb. That sigh turned into a curse though as I quickly passed Big Springs Aid Station, where I volunteered last year, to see Lupine Trail. Lupine Trail was one hell of a climb. Erica and I climbed it and both her and I had to stop several times. Erica was doing great, considering it was her first 35K, first trail race, and she had only done flat road half marathons previous to that. Bonus points to her for doing two loops around Curran, Wildcat Gorge and Meadow Canyon. She was cursing the hills and there were a bunch of young guys smiling as we wound up the hill (they let us through).

Erica started running again once we went down Volmer and Grizzly Peak, but about two miles left into the course, I caught up with her. Her quads and hamstrings were acting up (for good reason). I was still nauseous at that point. We both decided to power walk together even though it was just flats and downhills. Better to keep moving forward than to stop.

When we reached the last mile, I asked if we should start running, even at a slow pace, to finish strong. So we went, both pushing each other to run the last stretch. It felt a little longer than usual, as my watch clocked in at 21.3 at the end, but we did finally find the finish line and went for it. I didn't feel necessarily competitive so I let her go through first. Interestingly enough, on the timing chip, I think she started just a few seconds before me so officially I beat her by a few seconds. I was actually more happy running in with her. I congratulated her for a great race and I told her previously that I hope it doesn't scare her out of trail racing (I have a feeling I'll see her again, but maybe it might be a few weeks before she tries it again, but armed with better information, like carrying a water bottle and reading the trail map).

All in all, not my best race, but something to learn from. My ego was bruised going into Dick Collins Firetrails 50, but this was a training run after all and better to figure this out on this race than Firetrails 50 in the next two weeks.

Shaken, but not stirred!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Coastal 50K Race Report



Warm up the first 10K, cruise the next 30K, do a fast finish for the last 10K.

This was the race strategy that my coach wanted me to employ for the Coastal 50K. It sounds like a good strategy. I didn't mind the first two phrases. I just struggled mentally whether I could a "fast finish" after having run 40K.

The race started at Stinson Beach and ended up at Rodeo Beach. It was the longest point to point 50K I've ever done (but not the longest point to point race, as I have done American River 50 Mile, which is also a point to point race). 117 runners started the race that morning. Two buses full of ultra runners (or would be ultra runners) from Rodeo Beach to the starting point of the race.

It wasn't hard to warm up the first 10K as I had to power hike the Dipsea and Steep Ravine trails shortly after running from the starting point of the race. I was glad a fellow runner and friend Michael Behrman was in the race as well, but knowing he's a lot of faster than me, I wished him luck and hang towards the very back of the crowd of runners. I wouldn't want to be stuck in a runner sandwich where I have a runner I'm following who's faster than me and a runner breathing down my back who's also faster than me. Having "run" up Dipsea and Steep Ravine, and it being only the first 3 miles of the race with already 2000 feet of elevation gain, it would be foolhardy to burn myself out running up it (I'm sure elite ultra runner Jorge Maravilla who won the previous year and who won again this year, beating his time by 10 minutes, is skipping happily up those steep steps).

A few more minutes before the start of the race, I felt some tingling on my right achilles heel. I already felt it tight after a 4 mile tempo run up and down California Street just two nights before. I questioned the wisdom of doing such a hard run at that time, so I decided to be mindful of it the entire time as I climbed up Dipsea and Steep Ravine. I was with a group of other runners who also decided to hang back, but I was hiking up at a comfortable pace with them.

When we reached Pantoll, I did my first pee stop and then proceeded to Bootjack, which I'm familiar with, but not this particular portion. I was happy to start running downhill and began to make up the slower pace that I had while hiking uphill. I passed another trail runner who was walking. After I made my second pee stop at Cardiac, I saw her catch up but she decided to drop. I didn't hear the context of the whole conversation, but she mentioned not having to subject the volunteers to a search party for her (I'm guessing she has an injury of sorts, or maybe the steep climb could have made her rethink of the massive climbs to come up next). I grabbed two gels, downed an electrolyte, and started going downhill on Coast View.

Coast View was a good downhill (I'm so glad I wasn't running in the opposite direction!). I kept running downhill all the way, even through the Heather Cutoff. As I finished Heather Cutoff, I caught up with two runners who I eventually overtook as I kept on running on the flats toward Muir Beach. I was flabbergasted as I didn't expect to overtake anyone this early on a race, especially a 50K. I wasn't pushing it, so I just forged on.

Muir Beach had newly renovated restrooms (goodbye stinky porta potties). True to form, I made another pee stop as I felt I was drinking a lot of water. I stopped at the aid station, to eat two quarter sized peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (they never tasted so good in my entire life!). I took a slice of hard boiled potato, dipped it in salt and ate it. I wasn't following my fueling strategy for the race. I bought a ton of gels the day before but as I realized later on that night, I had bought too many of them with caffeine and caffeine upsets my stomach (which was already mildly upset, with a chicken curry dinner the night before). I saw a runner who had passed me when we were at Bootjack at the aid station and he told me I was booking it. I took it as a compliment as I ran to the base of the climb to Muir Beach and then started power hiking up.

The climb up Muir Beach was quite a climb. I haven't been back here since I did the Golden Gate Trail Run. I climbed quite quickly as I found a boost of energy. I passed another runner wearing "barefoot" shoes (vibrams, I guess?) as I entered the single track trail towards Pirates' Cove. In Pirates Cove, I overtook three another runners (again, jawdropping) as I continued to climb after just having climbed up the stair steps. I told them that "I guess that's why they call them ultra marathons, right?". They smiled with agreement. One of them knew me from Big Sur Marathon, a friend of my friend Pen, who just finished Headlands 100 the previous weekend. His name was Roger but that didn't help with the recall. I'll have to look him up on Facebook later on. He told me that the spot just finishing Pirates Cove and starting Coyote Ridge was where he quit last year, and he's back for redemption. I wished him luck as I started climbing again for Coyote Ridge.

Coyote Ridge was another climb. I encountered a couple (at least I think they were a couple) who were climbing as well. I kept up with them until we hit the downhill for Miwok trail. I was glad to get another downhill to keep up with my pace. I had no idea what my pace was because I left my garmin and my phone battery was dying. I was now running this race based on feel, but I had a feeling I'd do well as I have on the races I've done through based on feel. Going downhill I overtook another runner, a very fit but older runner. I've never felt competitive in a race before, but now I felt compelled to hold on to the lead and keep my distance on runners I've overtaken. Not for ego, but to push myself to run faster as a runner. I have noticed I've sort of plateaud pace wise and I need to push myself more, especially if I want to complete my goal race, the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Miler.

In Tennessee Valley, I blessed the rest rooms again (I was almost tempted not to, but the aid stations and rest rooms are 5-6 miles apart, on average). At the aid station, I asked them what mile we were at, I thought we were at 20 at that point, and we were only at 15. I was slightly disappointed, but I brushed it off quickly as I started climbing Marincello. Marincello is a 2 mile hill, which to this day I have never run the whole way through. There was a time I ran/walk it with a fellow runner and felt good the whole way. Being only half way through, I resorted to power hiking the 2 mile hilly trail.

With up comes down, and I was rewarded with a 2 mile downhill, the Bobcat trail. I was feeling good again and I was surprisingly able to run the whole way. I was really hitting my stride with this race. Usually even with downhills I would stop, but I made a short goal to not stop or walk until I hit the Rodeo Valley trail. I walked up the steps and started running again, although still at a "cruise" mode as I was only up to 20 by the time I reached the next aid station.

At the Rodeo Valley trail, I downed 2 cups of coke. Nothing like pure sugar to give me the temporary boost. I put a clif shot block on my short pocket and kept on moving. I knew what was next. It was a climb up Rodeo Valley. At this point, I was getting sick of the uphill climbs and I began to slow down, even though I was still moving. I could tell I was slowing down as one of the two women who I overtook near Heather's Cutoff overtook me as I entered SCA trail. Either I was slowing down or she made good time on catching up (it must be a little bit of both). She said that I'll probably catch up but I muttered that I probably won't. I must admit I was a little bit dinged ego wise, but I'm still ahead of a lot of runners.

I made a left on SCA towards the bottom of Golden Gate Bridge, near Fort Baker, and this is where I started seeing other runners. They were going in the opposite direction, climbing back up, before going down Coastal for the finish. I didn't see my friend Michael throughout the whole run down to Fort Baker so I assumed he was just too fast that I missed seeing him for that stretch (which proved right, as he finished an hour and 10 minutes ahead of me). At the Fort Baker aid station, there was no more coke, but they had sprite and electrolytes. I even took a bit of beef jerky just to see if I would feel anything different by eating it. They gave us a rubber band to indicate we reached that aid station (just in case some runners cheat by bypassing that aid station and cut the run short, which hopefully doesn't happen).

This was the period I should be on my "fast finish". I told myself that I'm delaying that a little as I felt foolhardy trying to run up SCA. I still had 6 miles to go and although I usually sprint when I see the finish line, I have never picked up the pace that early on a race (if I ever picked it up). I promised myself that I would book it once we got to the downhill, which was in Coastal.

I ran down Coastal like I was running away from a mountain lion. It felt nice to run at a good clip. As I hit another small climb though, I saw another runner, who I overtook in Coyote Ridge, catch up and then overtake me. We ran for a small stretch together, but I decided to let him keep on going while I maintain a decent but fast pace as we still had a good 3-4 miles at that point.

I hit the last aid station, at Rodeo Valley, the one I was just at mile 20. I had only 1.7 miles at that point, but I decided to down another electrolyte and coke. I ran the last 1.7 miles, with minimal stops to catch my breath. I wasn't able to sprint to the finish but I was glad to be able to keep on running the last few miles when usually I customarily slow down to a walk, and then run the last half or quarter mile.

I finished at 7 hours and 40 minutes, which wasn't a PR, but was only 10 minutes slower than Way Too Cool 50K. This was a lot tougher course. I think I could have even PRed on this one if I optimized some stops and ran even a few more segments. At any rate, I was glad to have been able to finish the race strong, and even run 9 miles at a decent pace the next day.

40 miles in a weekend. Not too shabby. I feel ready for Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile!


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pen's Pacer Report: Headlands 100

That wasn't a typo. This is not exactly your typical race report. This is what I call a "pace report," a recap of my experience pacing my friend Pen Perez on her first 100 miler race, the Headlands 100.


The Headlands 100 is not exactly what I would call beginner friendly, or what I would have chosen as my first 100 mile race (if I ever choose one). It is a challenging 25 mile loop going through the Marin Headlands. It starts and ends in Rodeo Beach every time, at which point the runner will have to go through the loop again. The runner will go on a reverse direction, so technically it makes it look like you've only done 2 "unique" loops. I have done a loop race, the Stinson Beach 50K, and it is mentally tough to do them, as your mind plays jedi tricks on you the moment you finish one, making you think whether you have the strength to do one (or more) of them again.

Pen had an attachment to running the Headlands. She finished her first 50 mile race in the Headlands, the Marin Ultra Challenge. She has spent a lot of time in Rodeo Beach with her family. Logistically, she told me that this would also be easier since most of her running friends and family live near San Francisco.

Pen asked me to pace her about a month prior to the race. I was so honored when she asked me to do so. Pen had paced me for the last nine miles in my first 50 mile finish, the American River 50. I was more than happy to return the favor!

The week leading to the race though, I have to say that I was very nervous. It occurred to me that I was pacing her from miles 81.5 to 87.4 of the race. She would have been running for at least 24 hours based on her projected time of arriving at the aid station I will be waiting for her, at Fort Baker. Having never done a 100 miler myself, I would not know how it felt to be running for 24 hours, whether she was sleepy, super sore, injured, etc. It was unchartered territory for me. It didn't change my mind on wanting to pace at all, but I was suddenly made aware of how big a task this might end up being.

Prior to seeing her arrive on Fort Baker that Sunday, I wanted to check in with Pen the day before. I went to Rodeo Beach after some coaching duties at Sports Basement Presidio. Sarah Jayne, who was crewing with Pen, carpooled with me to Rodeo Beach. As we arrived, we saw some familiar faces. We saw Trina in her car, charging her phone along with her cute dog (the name escapes me... Hudson?). We walked together to the Rodeo Beach aid station and saw the crew captain James (Mindy was at Tennessee Valley). Wolf Pack Racing was out in force crewing for Brian Ladrillono, who was also doing his first 100 miler. Belinda, Rebecca, Katrina, and Alison were there (as well as other Wolf Pack Racers whose names escape me, sorry!). Laura and Karen were crewing for an experienced ultra runner, Erica Techeira (her name's familiar, but haven't officially met her). We would later on see Wolf Pack Racing throughout the course, as Brian was anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour ahead of Pen throughout the race (though the gap got closer at times).



I saw Pen arrive at the 6 hour 30 minute mark, around 1:30 PM. She looked fresh as a daisy and full of energy. I marveled at seeing her, as she has done already a doozy of a marathon, yet she was still energetic, ready to go for a second (and eventually third and fourth) helping. Pen drank her Ensure for the first time, I believe (unfortunately not her desired flavor, butter pecan). She also had her electrolytes (Gu Brew, I think). Pen was very organized leading into the race. She had written down all her fuel and nutrition at every point in the race. She was even particular on what time she wanted her spam sandwich on hawaiian rolls (grilled upon arrival), her hash browns and coffee (which she gorged upon arrival at Fort Baker). All that planning paid off beautifully.

On the next day, I woke up early on, shortly after midnight. I slept early the night before but woke up super early due to excitement (and honestly a little anxiety). I checked Pen's status on the race (updated very well and timely, as she has given her crew access to her Facebook account). She just hit the mile 54.1 at 10:45 PM, so she was doing pretty well, having done more than two loops at the time I checked. I started packing for the race. I filled up my Victory bag, which I just purchased the day before from San Francisco Running Company with anything and everything I can think of: body glide, sun screen, band aids, tums, chocolate soy milk, etc. I wore my American River 50 mile shirt for good luck (haven't worn it in a while, and I barely fill it out to the fit I want, haha). I was also texting the crew for updates and it looked like I could swing by Rodeo Beach first, where Pen would be arriving at mile 75, the completion of her third loop, with Sam, who would have been pacing her for 25 miles at the time.

I arrived at Rodeo Beach with some chips, bananas, grapes, and wraps from Safeway. I also brought some coke (a favorite drink for ultra runners given the pure sugar content). Liz and her husband Adam were huddled around a thick blanket at each end, and Sarah Jayne was sleeping on a thick blanket as well like a cocoon. James was getting the spam ready to be grilled. They were tracking runners prior to Pen: the Jester, Brian, and some other runners. Good to know so that it's a sign that Pen would be around the corner.

Pen arrived around 6:30 AM. She didn't look as fresh as she was on mile 25, but she was still wide awake (and even loudly proclaimed it so). They made her sit on a camp chair and put a blanket on her, as they gave her all she needed (including her spam sandwich to go). It was a quick stop for Pen as she blazed off into the sunrise with Liz and Adam.

I drove to Fort Baker to be there early on. I saw the Wolfpack Racing team (they weren't at Rodeo Beach, because Brian had already left the time I arrived then). I chilled at my car for a while until Pen's crew slowly all arrived: Mindy, Trina, James and Sarah. We all waited for Pen eagerly (me the most, I must have visited the stinky porta potty three times to pee while not trying to gag due to the noxious odor).



Pen and Liz and Adam arrived around 8:30 AM. Pen had a wardrobe change at that time, all with the Pen-tastic crew's help. She changed her tank top, removed her jacket, removed some dust from her socks and shoes. She scarfed down her McDonald's hash browns like she hasn't been fed in ages, and drank her coffee with a wide grin (she hasn't had coffee in two weeks due to a caffeine fast, which has helped the caffeine be more potent during the race). In less than 5 minutes she was good to go. We started running. She asked for her pink jacket as it might get cold (it didn't, it actually got quite warm in just a few minutes' time). I ran back for it though just in case. The weather in the Headlands is quite finicky and unpredictable (I know based on previous races like the North Face Endurance Challenge).

We started running a little bit before we hit a hike up to the start of the SCA trail head. I was glad that Pen was still able to run at this point. I asked her how she felt. I quickly regretted it as she mentioned her achilles was kind of weird. Thankfully she brushed it off quickly herself. I thought I wouldn't talk about her state after that. I quickly changed the conversation on positive things. I told her about how everyone was keeping tabs on her progress and how they were so inspired by her. She changed from worrying to being in high spirits. I kept on the conversation to all positive things. I told her and praised her for having already done more than 50 miles at this point, and how she had come a long long way. She wasn't even that far from Brian, who was a pretty strong runner himself. She looked more awake than Brian I told her, and her caffeine strategy worked.

The climb of SCA trail from Fort Baker is quite a hike. I was just glad we kept on moving and hiking. The pace was about a 20 minute mile, but my number one goal is to get her to Tennessee Valley, so that pace given the course and race limit, was still within goal. I kept Pen's spirits up during the climb. There would even be parts where I think we can run downhill. I decided we should slow down a bit though as SCA was a little bit technical, lots of rocks and a steep descent to the left if you lose your footing. At her state, I didn't want Pen to lose her balance while running and careening off the cliff (this was my biggest fear for this part of the course). We finished SCA trail successfully and switched off to Alta and then Bobcat. I told her a private joke along the way and she had a very big laugh which kept her going (sorry I can't tell it without incarcerating myself!).

She began to struggle in Bobcat. We employed the method that Sam used on her, have her run for 20 counts on each foot and then walk a little bit. It worked on Bobcat for a stretch, and we were even running Bobcat continuously for a while (Pen would even initiate the running at times). Once we got to Marincello though, I began to notice she was really getting exhausted. She told me she was getting tired. I told her it's very understandable, given how many miles she's ran. We just kept moving forward.

A mile into our downhill descent we saw crew member Trina (with a pink mustache and glasses as her costume). She was holding up a sign they made for her. She smiled and got a little bit of a second wind to do a few more run walk cycles here and there.



When we got to Tennessee Valley, Tawnya took over. I was so relieved at that point because I'm hoping Tawnya can work her magic on her. Tawnya has done Tahoe 200 just a week before so she can empathize more on what Pen is probably going through. She had her own tips and tricks on how to help her keep moving, such as putting two fingers somewhere on Pen's back to correct her form, which has slouched a little to the right (probably due to exhaustion). Her technique allowed Pen to stand upright and run despite having already run 87+ miles, and through a tough loop including Pirates' Cove.

We arrived at Tennessee Valley around 10:30 AM, so we had about 2 hours in my projection at least before they came back (it was a loop that took them back to Tennessee Valley before they did a last 4 mile stretch to the finish). We waited for Pen to come back one last time to Tennessee Valley, at which point Sarah and Trina paced Pen, while the rest of us drove to Rodeo Beach for the finish.

We arrived at Rodeo Beach to find Wolfpack Racing already celebrating. Brian was already there celebrating and chatting with his crew and fellow runners. I was amazed to see him still all energetic and chatty. We waited for Pen, but we waited with confidence as she had about two and a half hours to do 4 miles. It was a tough last 4 miles, but it was doable.

As we kept on speculating which of the people going down Coastal would be Pen, I decided to hike up Coastal to meet them. I kept on hiking up until I saw them at a distance. I shouted "Go Pen!" and I saw her husband and kids too coming down to cheer her along and take pictures.



We ran down to an amazing finish. James captured the video of the finish, and we all formed a hands bridge for her to run through. It was a big celebration as she crossed the finish line. I teared up (tears of joy of course) as I watched Pen savor her big big accomplishment.



Pen's husband and kids there, and several of her friends. She should look exhausted from having done a 100 miler, but she was still glowing and I'm sure basking in such an unbelievable accomplishment. She made time to hug and talk to everyone at the finish line, including myself. I gave her a great big hug and teared up again. I was so proud of her. I truly don't know if I can replicate such a feat (especially at this time since I'm freaking about two 50 milers, which are only half the distance she covered).

Pen went with us to the beach to take some pictures, and she took a quick and well deserved nap at Rodeo Beach. We even went out for burgers and fries at In N Out, her favorite burger spot and recovery food. We chatted, laughed, took more pictures, relived the moments, and then called it a day (she did have to rest after all, and James took her home, she thankfully didn't have to drive and shouldn't after that).

I'm inspired, but I can't say that I'm doing the Headlands 100 any time soon. I could be tempted to do the 75 mile race maybe as a training race for a 100 miler. If Dick Collins Firetrails 50 and NFEC 50 go well this year, then we can talk about Rio Del Lago 100 next year...

CONGRATULATIONS PEN PEREZ!!! :-)


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!