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...