Thursday, December 28, 2006

Planning My 2007 Race Season

As 2006 comes to a close, I'm already obsessing about the 2007 race season. Like many of you, I get twitchy when I don't have a race on the calendar. Even an upcoming 5k fun run seems to energize me with anticipation and put some spring in my step. But nothing matches the feeling of seeing a full calendar of new races and adventures for the next year. It does more than structure my training...on some deep level, it helps give my life meaning. It is proof that I'm making the choice to live in this world, instead of on this world. Each race is a guaranteed journey of spiritual and physical adventure.

(Rocky likes to run too - this year we're going for the Mutt Strutt 5k!)

Christi, my wife, has observed my race selection ritual for a couple of years now and had some good advice for me. First, she says I'm happiest when I choose new races and new trails, rather than race the same schedule and improve my times. Second, I enjoy the challenge of stretching my comfort zones in at least one race, such as going longer or steeper than ever before. Lastly, she suggests having at least 1-2 destination races where we can take a few days to check out a new town, city, or natural wonder. Sophie, now four months old, casts her vote for anything with lots of recovery time and bright colors. ;-)

With that advice, I have put together my race schedule for 2007. It has a mix of trails, road marathons, triathlons, duathlons, and plenty of opportunities for adventure. My anchor race for the year will be the Tahoe Rim Trail 100m, my first 100-miler.

Pacifica 50k, 1/20 - This is a new race (2nd annual this year) put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs. It's not too far from my house, but I haven't run in this park yet. This will be a great way to tour the whole park in one day.

Pony Express 100k, 3/31 - I had wanted to try this loop course last year, but the race was canceled due to a washed out trail. I really enjoyed the loop format at Ruth Anderson 50k last year since it gave me a chance to run with lots of people I usually only see at the start and end of the race (because they are faster or slower).

Boston Marathon, 4/16 - My job takes me to Boston every April, which happens to align perfectly with the biggest party in town. This year is also the Women's US Marathon Championships which will be fun to watch. A friend has suggested I run in costume this year - if anyone knows where to get a good Godzilla costume, I'll go for it. ;-)

Big Sur Marathon, 4/29 - I've always wanted to do this race down the beautiful stretch of Hwy 1 near Big Sur, and Carmel is a great place to bring the family (including Rocky!). It's also on my birthday, so why not celebrate with a gorgeous run?

Quicksilver 50k, 5/12 - I've heard a lot of great things about this race in the golden foothills of San Jose, CA. Mark Lantz and Mark Tanaka tell me there is nothing flat on this course, and that sounds perfect.

Silver State 50m, 5/20 - Nearly 20,000 vertical feet in 50 miles sounds like an ass-kicking day that is perfect training for the Tahoe Rim Trail 100m. This will be a good checkpoint to see if I'm ready for TRT, especially since I can run on tired legs just a week after Quicksilver.

Mt. Diablo 50k, 6/2 - I need some exposed mountain training for TRT, and the Pacific Coast Trail Runs Mt. Diablo 50k can certainly provide that. This mountain has taunted me for years, since it's what I see from my bedroom window each morning as I look over the bay. Time to meet this devil face to face!

Pacific Crest 1/2 Ironman, 6/23 - My unlucky lottery number at Western States leaves this weekend free to join my extended family in Bend, OR, for an endurance weekend. My 7-year-old neice, Maia, will do the Kid's Tri, while my father goes for another 65+ age group podium finish in the Olympic Duathlon. Christi and Sophie are going for the 5k walk. I'm going for the 1/2 Ironman that tours the Cascade Lakes and runs through Sunriver Resort. Time to dust off that bike!

Tahoe Rim Trail 100m, 7/21 - This is it, my first 100-miler and anchor race for the year. I will be honest with you, the thought of doing this race kinda scares me. The 50k and 50m have kicked my ass the last two years, and this would be doubling down and going all night. But I have a secret plan to help me get through it - I am running this as a tribute to my late step-father, David Rowe. I think of him often as I explore fatherhood for the first time, and was able to conjure 100 fond memories of him to keep me company during the race. It will be fun to "pace" with him, and I'm sure I will get through it with his help. This is also the 100 mile national championships for both the USATF and RRCA, so I'm hoping to get some good pics of the super-elites on the out-and-backs.

12 Hours of Cool, 8/11 - As long as I'm training for night runs, how about an all-nighter on the great trails of Cool, CA? I've never done a timed event like a 12- or 24-hour, and I love the trails around this area. Sounds like a perfect mix of crazy new things, assuming I can recover from TRT in three weeks.

Mutt Strutt 5k, 8/18 - Rocky insisted that I add this man/dog race and fundraiser for the Penninsula Humane Society. We're hoping to place in the 20 lb and under category!

Trans-Sierra Crossing, 8/26 - This 16-mile trail run/56-mile bike goes up the famed Rubicon Trail near Lake Tahoe, then bombs down the other side. It's the first trail run/road bike combo I've seen, so I would like to give it a try.

Sierra Nevada Double Marathon, 9/22 - If the Pony Express, TRT, and 12 Hours of Cool go well, I should be a contender in the Fuel Belt Series. In this scenario, the SV Double would be a good one for getting points on the board.

New York Marathon, 11/6 - My job is taking me to NYC in November, so I'm going to hang around and run the urban jungle New York Marathon. It may not sound extreme, but for a trail guy like me, it's about the most pavement I can handle!

Santa Barbara 9 Trails, 11/24 - Christi's family is doing Thanksgiving in Santa Barbara this year, so I'm heading back to the scenic and challenging 35-mile SB9T. It was only my second ultra the first time around, so I'm hoping to give it a stronger effort this year.

I've also put in my lottery tickets for the Ford Ironman Triathlon Championship and The Death Ride, neither of which I have ever won. Should one of these come through, I may rearrange a little. Plus there is plenty of space to fit in other races should I have the time and energy.

Too much? Probably. It sure feels good to put it all on the calendar. Let me know if you're going to be at any of these (that means you, Olga and the SS50!) and we'll make sure to get your photo in the race write-ups.

Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I'm a Marathon Maniac!

Per suggestion of a few blog readers, I signed up to be a Marathon Maniac this month. This loosely organized running club is for the 400+ runners who run lots of marathons/ultras each year, and has a welcoming atmosphere of fun and celebration.

The Marathon Maniac club was started in 2003 by three runners who agreed that "more races is better". Center to their club philosophy is the Maniac Criteria that awards each runner with an insanity level based on their biggest streak of marathons in one year. The streak is either "marathons in a row" or "marathons in a year". I get the Gold Level for 15 marathons/ultras in one year, whereas Trail Runner Magazine Trophy Series Ultra winner Van "Pigtails" Phan gets the Titanium Level for 53 marathons/ultras this year.

One cool thing that members can do on the Marathon Maniac Web site is keep track of your marathon/ultra finishes on one page. For those of you who want to log your races but don't want to take the time to do a full-blown blog, this is a great way to just write one or two lines about each finish. Check out Van Phan's 50+ race log for 2006 for a good example.

I hope all of you (Maniacs or not) are having a great holiday. I have a relaxed training plan for these next two weeks - running for fun when time permits, and the tai-chi-with-15-pound-medicine-ball known as holding baby Sophie. My preliminary 2007 race schedule is up on the right - Pacifica 50k is already coming up!

Cheers, SD

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Karnazes Calls It Quits On His Cross-Country Run

Enough is enough, says Dean. Time to get back with family. 28 days and 1,300 miles into his cross-country trek from New York to San Francisco (this was started the day after his 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 days), Dean is throwing in the towel. He made it back to St. Charles, MO, where he began his Endurance 50 challenge, and felt it was enough closure to stop and and head home.

(Which one is the real Dean Karnazes?)

A quote from an LA Times story:
"I had a kind of epiphany," he said. "I missed my family and my kids so bad, and even though I saw them at Thanksgiving and thought I had gotten my fill of them, I realized I hadn' encouraging and supportive as everyone has been throughout all of this, I wanted to be with my kids and be back in their lives."
This quote is from his blog:
"I’ll be taking some time off now. Doing what I’ve been doing, running and getting after some great adventure with others, has been like a dream. I say “like” a dream, because the one critical element missing from the equation is my family. If they were with me, it would be a dream. Without them, my heart is forever torn. I need to get back to them."
I'm glad Dean is back with his family for the holidays. The whole thing reminds me of that scene from Forrest Gump where he's running through the desert and stops to say "I'm kinda tired...I think I'll go home now."

Life imitates art once again. ;-)


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Good dog, Taz! - Dog saves elite adventure racer in Moab, Utah

Talk about man's best friend...Taz the dog saved his owner, adventure racer Danelle Balengee, after she slipped and fell down a cliff in Moab, Utah, broke her pelvis and had to spend the night in the freezing cold. Taz stuck to her side for the first night, then returned down the 5 mile trail where he got the attention of rescuers and led them to back to her. You can read the full story here.

My favorite quote:

"We were going to try to identify the dog, but the dog basically didn't want to be caught and instead turned around and headed back toward the trail," said Curt Brewer, chief deputy with the Grand County Sheriff's Office. "When that happened, the search crew decided to follow the dog. And the dog took our rescue personnel right to her. I think we would have eventually found her, because we were in the right location, but the dog saved us some time."

Good dog, Taz!

Ballengee's athletic career includes three Primal Quest adventure race victories, four Pikes Peak Marathon wins and a wealth of honors and awards in sports ranging from snowshoeing to mountain running. She was inducted into the Sportswomen of Colorado Hall of Fame in March, 2006.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The "Breakout Principle" and Trail Running

I always feel great after a long run, and for about an hour afterwards, I feel like I'm at my creative peak for the day. Isn't it always the case that you come up with your great idea in your warm down or in the shower afterwards? I had always assumed this rush of clarity was due to the runner's high, breaking a sweat, or the pleasant distraction of nature. But Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Herbert Benson has a different theory which he tested and documented in his book, The Breakout Principle: How to Activate the Natural Trigger That Maximizes Creativity, Athletic Performance, Productivity and Personal Well-Being. In short, he says that it's the point that we back off from a stressful event that triggers our creative peak, thanks to a transformative "relaxation response" that pumps nitric oxide through the body and helps get into the right train of thought.

(Click on the book to get a sneak preview of the text with

In the book, he outlines four critical stages of the relaxation response:
  • First, you must undergo hard mental or physical struggle. A trail run would be a perfect example of such a physical challenge. A period of mental focus, like knitting or a crossword, is an example of a mental challenge.
  • Second, during the period of stress, you pull out the "breakout trigger" that eases the mind away from the day-to-day stresses. Hanson's research shows this is more than just your mind drifting away - it is a biochemical reaction that pumps nitric oxide through the body. Nitric oxide counters the negative effects of the stress hormone (norepinephrine) that comes with step 1, thereby reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and in general lowering the metabolism. Nitric oxide is also associated with increased levels of endorphins and dopamine.
  • Third, your mind makes a clean break (referred to as a "breakout proper") and in that moment, you have a peak experience. What is the peak experience? In general, it's a positive connection of some sort, such as a new way of looking at a problem, a new idea, or perhaps a personal best athletic performance.
  • Lastly, your mind acheives a "new normal state" of mind and body, with improved performance and new brain patterns. I think this is the hour of creative bliss that I feel after my long runs.
One thing that Dr. Benson notes in his research is that it's important to ease off your stressful event before it becomes too stressful. Citing the Yerkes-Dodson Law, formulated by Harvard researchers Robert M.Yerkes and John D. Dodson in 1908, he says that efficiency and performance increase as stress increases, but only up to a certain point. When stress becomes too great, performance and efficiency tend to decline, the researchers discovered. So for optimizing your mental game, going reaaaallly long may not be the best thing.

My Breakout Lesson

I had a life-changing breakout moment on one of my long runs a few years back, and I continue to reference it regularly to keep my life in balance. It happened around mile 9 (where it almost always happens) on a Thursday morning run in Huddart Park, when this thought entered my head:

"There is no such thing as work/life balance. There is only life balance."

It was a simple thought, but profound. At this time in my life, all of my fun actitivites were largely to balance out the stress of my job. I needed to to run to stay fit for long days at work...I had to take vacations because I was of the verge of exhaustion...I had to interact with my family to tether me back to reality after talking about the future high tech all day. It hadn't occured to me think of work as a cohesive part of my life - it was always at odds with everything. Is there a job out there that doesn't create unneeded stress, has respect for my personal life, and embraces who I am? Is it possible to get peace of mind FROM work? Absolutely. I resigned from my job soon afterwards.

I still think about "life balance" regularly, especially in this time of the season when my running is purely for fun and not for an upcoming event. Everything contributes to balance, and probably nothing more than finding an easy way to reach your creative peak regularly.

How about you guys? Any breakout thoughts or experiences that have helped you? Feel free to leave comments if you would like. I hope you are all enjoying the holiday season.

Thanks, SD

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ultrarunner and blogger Marc Witkes dies at Tucson Marathon

40-year-old ultramarathoner and triathlete Marc Witkes unexpectedly died of a heart attack at mile 21.5 of the Tucson Marathon this Sunday. Although I didn't personally know Marc, I had read his blog on many occasions, and knew he had completed some of the craziest endurance sports out there (double- and triple-Ironman, Sri Chimnoy 700-mile, Hardrock, and more). He was an active board member of the Hardrock 100, and the President of the popular Durango Moterless Transit (running) Club. He was always promoting local Durango athletes and their accomplishments in triathlon, XTerra, and ultrarunning. He will certainly be missed.

You can read more about Marc's untimely death here at the Arizona Daily Star. If you don't mind the eerie feeling of reading his rather-current blog, you can also do so here. He was a gifted sports writer.

My heart is out to his friends, family, and the endurance athletes of Durango. I hope we all can feel good knowing that he died doing what he loves, and would want nothing more than for us to continue. Tomorrow's run is dedicated to Marc - you were 5 miles from finishing the marathon at a 6:35 min/mile pace, so I will complete it for you to honor your spirit.

Cheers, SD

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Homebound at the Woodside 50k

Similar to 2005, I was able to cap the ultra season with a race in my backyard, the Woodside 50k put on by Pacific Trail Runs. When I say "my backyard", I'm not kidding - the 1/4 mile stretch of trail before the first aid station IS my backyard, and the aid station is in my driveway! Having a race so close is a great way to share my local trails, and honor the parks that I run 300 times a year. Plus it's a nice distraction from wondering if my Western States lottery number was going to come up for 2007.

(Running the redwoods of Huddart Park; photo courtesy of Darcy Padilla)

The Woodside 50k climbs 2,200 feet in 7 miles up Huddart Park, cuts across the Skyline Ridge Trail to Wunderlich Park, then does a loop in Wunderlich before coming back and descending down through Huddart. In total, there is about 5,000 feet of vertical, nearly all of which is in the first half. The entire course is lined with second growth redwoods, lush ferns, and sorrell. About 60 runners came for the 50k, with another 230 or so doing 10k, 17k, and 35k races.

The starting line had some familiar faces, including last year's winner and course record holder Mike Duncan, Rob Evans (recovering from the Javelina Jundred a few weeks ago), Chuck Wilson, Donna Yee, Rajeev Patel, Chihping Fu, and many more. There were also some new faces, such as triathlete Bree Lambert, Rory Fuerst, and the usual handful of first-time ultra runners that Pacific Coast Trail Runs always manages to attract. Lots of smiling faces, each looking to make friends and commune with nature.

(The 50k runners soak in the sun while they have it at the start; that's Mike Duncan up front)

Race Director Wendell Doman warned us that "this is the last of the sun you're going to see until the end", which I knew was true. As we headed down to the first section of single track, the redwoods gobbled up the sun and the temperature dropped into the 40's. Mike Duncan led out a group of eight of us at a brisk pace, and didn't slow down when we hit the hill at Richard's Road about 1 mile in. Rory and I stuck on Mike's heels while the rest faded back. I have raced with Mike enough to know this - he's not trying to burn us out, this IS his race pace! I let Rory know that Mike has been running these trails for over 40 years, so don't let the grey hair fool ya. Rory lives in Tahoe City, NV, but was in town to visit his parents. Although Rory was fairly new to ultra running, he did clock an 8th place finish at Zane Grey 50 last year (9:52) so he had the chops to rock this course. I had my sites set on Mike's course record of 4:29. Last year I finished in 4:39, but I felt I was running much stronger this year. Plus it was the last race of the season, on my home course, so I should go hard. The only thing in my way was Mike, Rory, 3 hours of sleep (from flying in from Philly), and quads still healing from last Saturday's Quad Dipsea. No problemo.

(Climbing up through Huddart Park)

We cranked up Crystal Springs at a near-lactic pace, decimating the 2,200 foot climb to the first aid station (mile 7) in about 55 minutes. Mike led us 99% of the way, per usual. Rory took the lead right before the aid station, and since he didn't stop, quickly put 1000 yards on us. Mike and I gobbled some food and chased after him. The wind had picked up a little, so I decided to keep my hat and left glove (the right one already missing).

(Rory Fuerst takes the lead at mile 7, with Mike Duncan in pursuit)

Mike got the jump on me out of the aid station (I need to work on my "speed grazing"), and it took me a mile to catch him again. We kept peeking ahead to look for Rory, but he was already out of sight. We cruised along for four miles, making the most of the downhills and chatting about running, gadgets, and how lucky we were to have this playground as our backyard. I thought we might catch Rory in the last climb up to Wunderlich, but instead we met up with a gale-force wind that chilled us to the bone. Luckily John Fors and his son were manning the aid station at the top of the hill, eager to feed us warm goodies and fill our water bottles while they braved the wind. They told us that Rory was about two minutes ahead, so he had put a few seconds on us with every mile. Food, stats, and smiles in the howling wind...these volunteers were awesome!

I spent less than 10 seconds at the aid station, put on my hat, and kept up the pace to stay warm. Luckily the wind only lasted about a mile, and soon we were deep in the redwood-sheltered trails of Wunderlich. I love this section of downhill along the fire road, so I pushed hard and left Mike to run solo for a while. I ate a few Clif Bloks and switched back to my visor as the trail warmed up; one clearing gave me a chance to take a quick pic looking over Palo Alto and I couldn't help myself. ;-)

(Looking out towards Palo Alto from Wunderlich)

I whizzed by Salamander Flat (the bottom of the Wunderlich Loop, about mile 18), and began the big climb up. My goal was "no walking", and with that mantra, I started chugging up after Rory. After a mile of climbing, the trail merged with the downhill part of the loop and I got to see some of the other 50k runners smiling and having a good time. They said Rory was ahead, and looking strong. I kept my pace, peeking around every corner in hopes to catch the lead dog.

Instead, I returned to the Bear Gulch aid station where the wind had died down some. They let me know that Rory was 6 minutes ahead, so he was continuing to put time on me despite my fast pace. I didn't lose hope, however - we still have 11 miles to go, and I know the Skyline Trail is deceivingly difficult on the return to Huddart. I went for the power combo at the aid station (flat Coke and m&m's), and headed back as fast as I could.

(Coming back on the lush Skyline Trail)

I charged up each hill, feeling comfortable in pushing my heart rate to my lactic threshold since I knew of each downhill where I could recover. It sure does help to know the course intimately! I kept the water flowing and ate a few more Clif Bloks along the way. My watch was showing I was about 8 minutes ahead of last year's time, so I was on track for a sub 4:30 pace. But as we all know, it's the last few miles where the rubber meets the trail, so to speak.

Back at my home aid station (mile 26), they let me know that Rory was 4 minutes ahead and didn't stop. That meant I was gaining on him, but not fast enough! I refilled my water as fast as possible and bombed down the Chinqapuin Trail, letting gravity pull me down at a sub-7 minute pace to the point that my quads were screaming. Hold on, quads! Just a few more miles!

I was surprised to find that the last section of the course had been changed, allowing us to go all out down a fire road instead of zig-zagging the switchbacks. I continued to go hard, right up to the finish line where Rory was already chilling. He had won the race in 4:14, and I had come in second in 4:24. Just like at the Seacliff 50k, I reached my goal of beating the course record, but finished second to somebody who just CRUSHED it. Rory had gone all out on the last section, and when adding his speed to his time savings from the aid stations, put an impressive new course record on the books.

I was still very pleased with my run. I had managed to come in ahead of my target time, which was 15 minutes faster than last year (albeit some of that gain came from the course change). I also felt surprisingly fresh at the end of the race. Hmmm...perhaps I'm not going hard enough most of the time? As Matthew and the other volunteers served up hot chicked soup and chili, we cheered on the other 50k finishers. Mike Duncan came in at 4:36 for 3rd place, soon followed by Rob Evans (the only guy I know who can get 4th on an "easy" day), Bree Lambert, and Eric Pacenta in 4:41. Bree was running her first 50k ever, and won the Women's division with a course-record 4:41:02, despite falling and cutting up her elbow. I think she has a future in this sport!

(Women's winner Bree Lambert and 4th place finisher Rob Evans at the finish)

In fact, a quick check of the results showed that new course records were established in all distances for both men and women. My congrats to Ralph Lewis (10k in 47:09), Jessica Langford (10k in 51:57), Kevin Keenan (17k in 1:21), Joan Ellison (17k in 1:26), Brent Wright (35k in 2:45!), Patricia Rios (35k in 3:36), and Rory and Bree. Nice work, you guys!

I returned home to find out I didn't get the Western States lottery slot for 2007. On the bright side, that makes me a two-time loser (who thought I would ever say that?), so if I'm up for it, I can get an automatic entry for 2008. Right now, that seems so far away it's hard to imagine. Instead, I'll just read through Ultrarunner Magazine and start obsessing about my 2007 schedule. ;-)

Below is a the Garmin Forerunner map of the Woodside 50k. I've had a great time in the last couple of weeks playing around with the new Forerunner 305 and uploading tracks to and Expect a full report soon!

Cheers, SD

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Local Conservation Efforts Gain Ground on Urban Sprawl

Local and State Conservation Efforts have helped secure over 11 million acres from development in the last five years – that’s 2 million more acres than were lost to urban sprawl in the same time period. This is great news for us trail enthusiasts, and a significant change from any previous 5 year period on record.

(Local trusts saved this open space on Windy Hill; photo courtesy of POST)

The National Land Trust Census, conducted every 5 years, says private land under protective trusts and easements now total 37 million acres, a 54% increase from 2000. Much of this growth has come from two areas – active volunteer efforts by local and state trusts, and a 158% increase in the use of land easements for tax breaks. Together, they have secured acreage the equivalent of Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachussets, and Rhode Island combined.

I’ve personally seen the rewards of hard-working land trust volunteers in action near my home in Woodside, CA. One example is the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), a privately funded local land trust, whom has secured a number of large areas such as the Phleger Estate, the recently refurbished Pigeon Point Preserve along the coast, and the El Corte de Madera Preserve. Each land acquisition seems to follow a similar pattern. Conservationists raise funds, then donate their time to target private lands that could be converted to open space. They then approach private land owners (typically ranchers or farmers who have had the land in their family for many years) and present to them a “land easement”. This legally declares that the land will not be developed, and will be transferred/sold to POST at some future date. In exchange, the land owners get a tax break and can continue to use the land for raising cattle or farming. It’s a good way to get property tax relief while permanently preserving the land as a scenic landscape, wildlife habitat, or other preserve.

(Dark green are areas that POST has recovered)

Once the land is transferred/sold, POST invests more time and money to reseed with native plants, ensure wildlife can thrive, and in general get the land back to its original state. From there POST may manage the property, or in some cases transfer ownership back to the State or other land management (such as being annexed by an adjacent park or preserve). In either case, they do provide permits for usages such as trail runs, docent trips, and more.

POST is just one of many land trusts that are collectively making this big impact. Chuck Wilson (an ultrarunner and 40+ year Bay Area local) recently pointed out to me a number of trusts and volunteer groups just within a few miles – the Greenbelt Alliance, Committee for Green Foothills, the Midpeninsula Open Space Preserve, the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority, and more.

(Another gorgeous open space photo from POST)

My deepest thank you to all who volunteer their time and money to help preserve as much open space as possible. It is one of the greatest legacies a generation could possibly gift, and I personally enjoy the fruits of your efforts nearly every day. I hope the news of the National Land Trust Census gets to all of you, for it is truly remarkable how much impact is being made on a local level. You can read more about the NLTC here in USA Today.

BTW, you can donate to POST (or make a donation on behalf of someone as a holiday gift) by clicking here.

- SD