Saturday, December 14, 2013

2014 Race Calendar

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to a great 2014!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Race - 2013

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

(Note: All times are approximate...)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mt Tam 50K - Race Report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Rogue Running

#2. a playfully mischievous person

I chose the name "The Rogue Runner" for this blog because I believe that do go rogue from time to time when it comes to my running. In a good way, that is.

This year, I trained for my very first Olympic distance triathlon... while pacing for my second full marathon. I also ran a trail marathon on one weekend, and a 50K two weeks after.

These are not the types of things that coaches would advise someone do, but to be fair I was following what was on our designated training schedule. I just don't know whether they expected someone to sign up for all the races mentioned, especially for the fall trail training race calendar.

Next year, I am up to the same "magic" tricks. I am signed up to do the Big Sur Full Marathon, but I still want to do Wildflower Olympic (or even Long Course) the weekend after. I will be signed up shortly for the San Francisco Marathon, and I'm contemplating signing up for the Vineman Half or Full Aquabike (Swim and Bike without the Run portion of the triathlon).

My race plans for 2014 are already formulating in my head, but I know I have to focus on my goal race in the next few weeks: The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Race. Once I finish that, I can go back to dreaming about bigger and brighter goals.

And oh, yeah, I'm also signed up for Ironman Lake Tahoe.