Sunday, October 29, 2006

Girls On The Run - Helping Youth Build Confidence

Here's a great story about a youth program in Bellingham, WA, that uses distance running to build confidence and goal-setting skills for girls in the 3rd-5th grade. Can you imagine running a 5k when you're just 10 years old? That's a big deal!

(Bailey White, 9, runs through a tunnel of girls during YMCA's Girls on the Run as part of her 12-week training program; photo courtesy of Philip Dwyer, The Bellingham Herald)

A few great quotes:

"What I really love about this is how long-range goals are taught so well. Now when (10 year old) Etaane tries something, she doesn't see herself limited by the fact she doesn't have experience."
"We're encouraging girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living. And the girls have so much fun, it doesn't seem like we're training them to run."
Perhaps there are a few next-gen ultrarunners in there...

- SD

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Genetically-engineered Marathon Mice Run 92% Farther

This is an old story (2004), but I thought I would pass it on in case you missed it (like me). The Salk Institute in San Diego, CA, successfully modified the genetic code of mice to make them super-endurance athletes. By increasing the activity of the protein PPARDelta, scientists created mice that could run 92% farther, had double the amount of slow-twitch muscle growth, and only gained 1/3 the amount of fat of other mice (even when fed a high fat diet). Who needs EPO or "actual exercise" when you can just tweak your genes?

The research has fascinating implications, both good and bad. It's amazing that science can bring us closer to our full genetic potential, but I suspect it's primary use will be to give couch potatoes easy access to rock-hard abs. (sigh!) And I'm sure the Tour de France will never be the same (or, will continue to be the same but with a new twist). You can listen to a podcast of an NPR discussion about it here.

(Maybe our quads can all reach our genetic potential, like Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman;
photo courtesy of
Bill Comstock)

In a twist worthy of the "Mrs. Frisby and The Rats of NIMH", a couple dozen of the mice escaped into the wild a few weeks after the announcement. So let me get this straight - dial in your full endurance potential and you will be naturally pulled outdoors? Sounds right to me! But we're going to have to pre-engineer some cats too just to make it fair (then dogs, then dog-catchers...will it ever end?).

- SD

Monday, October 16, 2006

Running the Redwoods at the Seacliff Beach 50k

Yesterday I joined 130 trail runners on the beaches of Aptos, CA, for the 2006 Seacliff Beach 14k/22k/35k/50k. I hadn't planned on racing this weekend, but wanted to get a long run in on some new trails. As I went scouring for maps, I saw that Pacific Coast Trail Runs had a race going from the beach right up to the hills and redwoods of the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. A wonderful trail, so why not sign up and race! I grabbed my gear and headed down Hwy 1. By the time I got there, my heart was set on the 50k.

(Racers gather at the start at Seacliff Beach; click on any photo to see full version)

The weather was perfectly overcast in Aptos, CA, as runners from California, Oregon, Massachussets, and one or two from China and India began their warm up. Some of them had just raced at Big Basin the day before, but had enough legs for one more redwood romp. I laced up my Inov-8 RocLite 315's, eager to try them out in a race now that I had clocked a few hundred miles in them. The RocLite's are a bit softer than the Flyroc's I had raced all season, but had the same low-heel, lightweight design. I was enjoying them tremendously for training - now I needed to see if they could hold up to 50k.

(Race Directors Wendell and Sarah give us the details)

The course was a 4-mile run to the first Loma Prieta aid station, then a series of loops that kept coming back to that aid station. The 50k runners immediately started calling it the "deja vu" aid station, since we would visit it four times before heading back to the beach. The course is relatively flat (3700' vertical change), but with lots of short ups and downs as you weave through the redwoods. At 8:30am, the mass start began and we all headed up towards the forest.

(Climbing one of the early hills at mile 2, and poorly attempting to photograph while running)

I set a comfortable pace to begin, running with David Acosta from Monterey, CA. David is studying for his Master's in a nearby military academy, and was doing the 22k as a warm up for the upcoming Silicon Valley Marathon on October 28th. He had some great stories to share about running in Kosovo, Bosnia, Korea, and other war zones where he had been stationed in the Army. He's led quite a life in his 31 years! We reached the first aid station and stocked up, and learned that Oswaldo Lopez (doing the 50k) and James Hughes (doing the 22k) had shot off the front at a wicked pace. Did Oswaldo know that James was going half the distance?

(David Acosta and Chris Hacker at the Deja Vu aid station, about mile 11)

David and I headed up the Loma Preita Grade Trail on the first loop, continuing our conversation about how trail running had helped us both find balance in this crazy world. We caught up to a few more 22k runners on the uphill climbs, and Chris Hacker (doing the 50k) caught us on the downhill. David, Chris, and I (the Camelpak crew) finished the first loop comfortably and restocked on food. David headed back to the beach to finish the 22k, and Chris and I started on the first of two 13k loops up to the West Ridge Trail.

(The soft and scenic West Ridge Trail)

I charged hard up the first hill, and after a quick sprint through a hornet's nest (two stings), found myself alone with the forest. The first growth redwoods created a towering canopy that kept the trails soft and lush. No iPod needed on this run, that's for sure! Both times that I ran through a clear spot, the butterflies flew along with me. It felt almost too serene; perhaps life with a newborn has given me a new appreciation for peace and quiet.

(Ah, the beautiful fall colors of...poison oak!)

The downhill side of the West Ridge Trail was fast and furious. It never got so steep or technical that you had to slow down, so it was easy to keep a fast pace. You didn't want to go too fast though - one trip into the waist-deep poison oak on either side would keep you in calamine for weeks. I came off the downhill and returned to the aid station, where they filled up my Camelpak and poured some flat Coke. They said Oswaldo was still setting a cheetah-worthy pace for the 50k, and was already 20 minutes ahead! I got the feeling he knew what he was doing, and had the 4:54 course record square in his sites. Wendell later told me that he had just done the Angeles Crest 100 as his first 100-miler last month, and got 7th. Yup. He knows what he's doing. ;-)

I charged back up the West Ridge Trail for loop #3, feeling energized from the Coke. The hornets got me again (6 stings this time), prompting me into the fastest fartlek I had done in months. Christine Miller and Donna Yee were coming down the other way after inadvertently extending their 35k by an extra 10k, but they were smiling and having a good time. Since I was familiar with the trail this time around the loop, I went a bit harder. I was in the zone, and my runner's high was giving me that warm fuzzy feeling. 50 minutes later I finished the loop, about 3 minutes faster the second time around.

(Donna Yee and Christine Miller on their 45km+ run)

It was at this point it dawned on me that I had been negative splitting this race, and had about 9km to go. If that was true, I could finish in under 5 hours if I kept going hard. How is it possible that keeping up with baby Sophie all night long IMPROVES my times? I put away the camera, ate some Clif Bloks, and charged through the last 2km loop and back towards the beach. I went hard enough that my calves burned, although I couldn't tell if that was hornet stings or lactic acid. The downhill guided my along at a 7 min/mile pace.

(Views from the finish at Seacliff Beach)

With the beach in site, I came down the finishing chute in 4:56:56, good enough for 2nd place. Oswaldo Lopez had crushed the course record in 4:17:23, pacing James Hughes along for a course record 22km finish (1:44, 20 minutes ahead of 2nd place). Julie Bramlet set a Women's course record in the 35km with a 3:13:46, good enough for 3rd overall. Trail Runner Mag Trophy Series contender Adam Blum won the 14km race in 1:00:07. Overall, everyone was making good use of the ideal weather and well-marked course to push the course to its limits.

Leo DeAvila (an Ironman triathlete based out of Los Gatos) and Chris Hacker came in shortly after me for the 50k, with Stephanie Hiller winning the women's division about an hour later. We ate up soup, chili, and plenty of snack foods as we watched the families play on the beach. My legs looked like hell from the hornets, but they felt good and held up to the finish. The RocLite's did well, and were cushy enough to go even longer. It was an epic day!

My thanks to Wendell, Sarah, and the PC Trails volunteers for putting on another great race. I hope to see you at the Woodside 50k in December!

- SD

Monday, October 09, 2006

Scott Jurek wins 246k Spartathlon; Hawker and Djouadi win gold at 100km Worlds

Two ultra news items I thought y'all might like:

Jurek wins 246k Spartathlon in sub-23 hour pace

Scott Jurek became the first US winner of the 246k Greek Spartathlon, clocking a 22:52:18, only the second person to have a sub-23 finish (Yiannis Kouros did 20:29 in 1990, and sub-23 three other times). Scott made the historic run from Athens to Sparta (considered to be the route run by the greek god of ultrarunning, Pheidippides) in hot conditions. Sekiya Ryoichi from Japan, finished 2nd in 24:14:11, followed by Ohtaki Masayuki in 25:19:12 , also from Japan.

(Scott Jurek en route to his Spartathlon victory; photo courtesy of Nikos Afostolakos)

Inagaki Sumie from Japan won the women's division in 28:37:20 (10th), with Takako Furuyama from Japan in 31:40:31 (23rd) second and Mary Larsson-Hanudel from the U.S.A. in third in 31:41:56 (24th).

Hawker and Djouadi take 100km gold in IAU World Cup in Seoul

In a high speed battle for the World 100k Championship, French runner Yannick Djouadi won gold with a 6:38:41. In what was mostly a tight race, Djouadi held his pace behind early front runners to pass them around 80km and seize victory by almost 5 minutes. The IAU has a great article about the race here. Great Britain's Elizabeth Hawker held the lead from start to finish to win the Women's division.

(Yannick Djouadi wins the 2006 IAU 100k World Championships; photo courtest of Sean Wallace-Jones)

Congrats also to Anne Lundblad, who set a new PR and Women's Master's record in her sixth place performance.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Beautiful Lake Tahoe Marathon

I had planned to do the Tahoe 72-mile Ultra this last Saturday, but wasn't able to completely shake my cold from the week before. My symptoms were all above the neck and I have been running short distances all week, but I feared an all-night run could drop that virus right into my lungs and take me out for a month (a move dumb enough for a Darwin Award, I'm sure). After conferring with my crew, we decided it was best to do this ultra another year.

(Morning at Commons Beach for the Lake Tahoe Marathon start;
click on any photo to get a full blown version on Flickr)

The gorgeous Lake Tahoe weather beckoned me to at least race another distance, and there were plenty to choose from. This was "Lake Tahoe Marathon Week", featuring a wide range of events such as kayaking, distance swimming, cycling, design-your-own triathlons, extreme golf, runs from 5k's to ultras, relays, the Tahoe Triple (3 marathons in three days), and even the XTerra National Championships. No surprise that everyone was in town for the fun! I opted for the 11th running of the Lake Tahoe Marathon, which ran from Tahoe City to South Shore down the west side of the lake.

(The Lake Tahoe Marathon draws participants from all over the world,
such as Zdenek Danko from Czechoslavakia)

The Tahoe 72-mile Ultra had started at midnight, and by the time I got to the marathon start at 7:15am, Sean Messiner had already gone by, leading the ultra by about 1.5 miles (quick math on his pace - that was 46 miles in 6 hours and 45 minutes - whoa!). As we warmed up, Pam Reed, Sam Thompson, and a few others came by and started down the last 26.2 miles of their all night runs. About 400 had signed up for the marathon, and we all gathered ourselves on Commons Beach in Tahoe City to kick off the start. The elite women led off the pack at 8am (30 minutes ahead of the men, with an extra $500 bonus if they crossed the finish line first), just as the sun warmed the temperature to the optimal high-50's. We cheered on Chris, the sole crank chair participant, a few moments later.

(Race Director Les Wright poses with the elite women at the start)

Tahoe Triple racers were facing the last of three marathons in three days, and most of them looked really good as they stretched out on the grass. They recounted similar stories about the races so far - the first marathon had the biggest hills, the second marathon had the challenge of getting up the day after a marathon, and the last day was "let's just get through this". All of them were clearing having a good time.

(Tahoe Triplers Jon, Brian, and Michael head into their last day)

As the gun went off for the 8:30am start, a pack of six quickly went up front and set a blistering sub-6 minute pace. Considering we were at 5,400' feet and climbing, only elites such as Tony Torres, Johan Oosthuizen (leading the Triple with two sub-3 hour finishes already), and John Weru had a shot at keeping this pace and getting the $500 prize. I settled in around 15th or so, running about a 7 minute/mile pace. I figured I would make the most of the 9 miles of flat running, and slow down if my coughing became too much to bear.

I paced with Mike Miller (Sonora, CA), whom I had met at the AR50 earlier this year. He was running his 10th Lake Tahoe Marathon (only missing one of the 11 runnings to go to a family wedding), and had 10 "Top 25" t-shirts to prove it. In his races to date, he had six age group wins and finish times from 2:52 to 3:15, even finishing second overall one year. As we ran along the shoreline, he let me know what was ahead, and that at our pace I should be able to get a coveted "Top 25" shirt for myself. How cool would that be! But first things first - this cold bug was hanging on, so I didn't want risk getting more sick. Even if I couldn't go fast, I could enjoy the scenery along the way.

(Tunnel of trees on the course, courtesy of Martin D. at seemartinrun)

Mike and I cheered on each ultrarunner as we passed them, and began seeing a few of the 20-mile power walkers that had started earlier this morning. We stayed on pace as we alternated between the road (northbound traffic was blocked for the most part) and a bike path along a nine mile section of McKinney Bay. Locals came out to cheer us on, with more than a few brandishing their Halloween costumes. I ate a few Clif Blox every 30 minutes, and just had water at the aid stations. We hit our first section of hills at Sugar Pine Point, around mile 10.5.

(Pebbles gets a lift from power-walking Mom and Dad as we head up the hills)

The layout of the hills was perfect for warming up - slow rollers, than a small climb, then the two biggies at mile 15.8 and 18. The small climbs helped me survey my leg- and lung-readiness. We worked our way through the first set of hills and hit the halfway point in 1:30:11. We were certainly making good use of the flats!

(Mike Miller tames Purgitory)

As we tackled the first big "Hill from Hell" at Rubicon Bay, I started wheezing a bit and slowed down to a jog. Although it's just an 800' vertical foot climb, it's spread over 1.5 miles and climbs to a lung-pumping 6800' ft, which is enough to tame the "unacclimated" like me. Mike had no problem at all, and set off to hopefully win the Veteran's category (50+) and continue his streak. I slowly climbed my way up to the "heaven" aid station at the top, where hilarious volunteers danced to rock tunes and gave out water by the quart.

(One of the wild volunteers waves as I head down to Emerald Bay at mile 17)

The reward for making the climb was the most breathtaking views on the course. Miles of Lake Tahoe were within sight. As we ran down around Emerald Bay, you could see the course winding ahead (uh-oh...looks like one more big climb). We got close enough to the water to see Fanette Island, complete with the stone Tea House.

(Views of Emerald Bay and the road ahead)

I kept my comfortable pace heading around Emerald Bay, enjoying the serenity and clean mountain air. The temperature began rising into the 60's, but the lake breeze kept me cool. All in all, it was a great day to race. As I looked behind me, I could see the wave of 1/2 marathoners working their way down the hill.

(Two power walkers volunteer to get a photo next to Fanette Island)

At mile 20.5, I crested the last hill and began bombing down towards the finish. The hills are pretty steep here, and I was glad that my trail-tested quads were trained for a beating. I hadn't done a long run since Sophie was born last month, so I was pleased to see I had some energy left for the last 10k. Who knows? Perhaps it was the thought of Sophie waiting for me at the finish that kept me going!

The last few miles were a slight downhill, giving my legs a reprieve. We weaved along a bike path into Pope Beach for the final stretch. I passed Eric Herdman and his pacer who were coming in for second place for the 72-mile Ultra; they asked if I was a 72-miler, and were clearly willing to sprint it out if I was. No worries, mate - just the marathon today.

I crossed the finish line in 3:17:29, good enough for 10th place. The crowd cheered like crazy, and then I realized they all thought I was the 2nd place Ultra finisher. Oops! I guess the announcer didn't get the update. Luckily Eric was right behind me and set the record straight. Sean Messiner, who had won the ultra in 10:27 (80 minutes ahead of Eric), saw me at the finish and looked fresh enough to do another lap of Lake Tahoe.

(Tahoe 72-mile Ultra winner Sean Messiner and me at the finish)

Mike Miller had hung on to win the 50+ age group in 3:12, and came over to meet Sophie and Christi. He's such a great guy! I caught up on the rest of the race and found out that Tony Torres had bested his 2nd place finish from 2005 with a 2:42 win (and biggest cheer, thanks to his huge support group). South African Johan Oosthuizen came in at 2:46 for second, easily winning the Tahoe Triple with his world-record triple marathon time. Lisa Butler came in a few minutes behind me to win the women's marathon title.

(Christi, Sophie and me at the finish line)
I collected the mountain of shwag (wind jacket, medal, license plate frame, and Top 25 finisher t-shirt - SWEET!) and met up with the family to get some food and soak up the sun. It was very cool to have Roger (Christi's dad and my almost 72-miler crew), Christi ,and Sophie at the finish line. That's three generations of support! We drank beer (and formula) and watched as hundreds of smiling runners trickled across the finish line. It was a beautiful day to be running any distance, and I'm glad my cold didn't stop me from joining in on the fun.

(the hardware, photo courtesy of Martin D. at seemartinrun)

My thanks to Les and all the volunteers of the Lake Tahoe Marathon that made this such a great experience. I'm looking forward to trying some other events next year, and hopefully be ready for the 72-miler!

- SD

[Note to bloggers - I'm linking to Flickr for my pics for this race write up, and have "geo tagged" them with Yahoo's new feature. Blogger does weird things to my photos, so I was already looking for a better alternative. My pal Paul Levine and his team are definitely on the right track!]