Friday, January 26, 2007

Naked trail runner caught and ticketed in Cupertino, CA

Earlier this month, a naked trail runner was caught in the Cupertino-Saratoga Foothills after a year of searching and ticketed for "being nude in public" (sorry, no picture!). You can get the whole story here at the Palo Alto Daily News. I don't know about you, but I would be very worried about falling. I get more than enough damage with clothes on! My favorite quote:
"He's never been rude or scary,'' Ehret said of the nature buff. "Some people like that stuff, playing tennis nude, weird stuff like that.''
In case you clicked through to this blog entry hoping for pictures of naked runners, I will point you to this article on YesButNotButYes -The Top Ten Greatest Women Streakers of All Time. Warning - the pics are full nude, but hilarious. Why do the British love streaking so much? ;-)

And just to be fair, here's a BBC story from 2000 that has a few male streaker pics.

(streaking + cricket = ouch, photo courtesy of BBC)

Hee, hee! Hope you're all having a good weekend.

- SD

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Pacifica 50k - Oceans, Cliffs, and Smiles

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of joining 260+ trail runners at the second running of the Pacifica 50k put on by Pacific Coast Trail Runs (PCT). This two loop course climbs over 9,000 vertical feet along single track and fire roads in the steep coastal range in San Pedro Valley Park, just east of the ocean town of Pacifica, CA. A record crowd braved the morning cold and fog to race 9k/21k/30k/50k options, and we were all rewarded with epic views, plenty of smiles, and the welcome camaraderie that pervades all PCT races.

(Trail runners zig-zag through the San Pedro Valley Park)

I was as giddy as a school girl when this race appeared on the calendar. The 2007 season was officially starting! Not that I was ready – I hadn’t done a long run since before Christmas, and short of carrying 16 lb Sophie Jane around the house, I hadn’t done much cross-training either. Big deltoids and biceps are good for distance running, right? Uh, yeah. Nonetheless, I had my eye on the 5:20 course record that was certainly up for grabs now that the weather was cooperating.

The crowd at the starting line was HUGE – nearly double last year’s count, with over 140 people running the 9k. It was awesome to see all these new faces eager to mingle with Mother Nature. Wendell and Sarah talked us through the course – one steep loop of 9k, one steeper loop of 11k with an out-and-back section at the top. Where’s the top? Go through the clouds and keep on going until there is no more “up”. Those of us in the 50k would alternate for a total of 5 loops.

I noticed familiar smiling faces in the crowd, some ready to race while others were just out for a good time. Jon Olsen, two-time winner of the Rio del Lago 100-miler and 6:04 50-miler at Helen Klein, had his tunes on and was ready to set the pace for the 50k. Benjamin Muradyan was coming off a 3:38 marathon at the Redding Marathon the previous weekend, and was looking forward to getting dirty. PCT regulars Famida Hamif-Weddle, Chuck Wilson, and Mike Savage were also ready to go long, while AJ Flint, Rick Gaston, Sarah Syed, Will “Squirrel Nutz” Gotthardt, and Nike Krasopoulos tackled the shorter-but-still steep distances. One thing for sure – nobody was getting through this course without a workout.

All racers started together, using the first quarter mile of road to slot themselves before tearing up the single track. AJ Flint led out the 9k group along with a cocky pair of 12-year-olds in neon shoes known as the “Baker-Robinson brothers”. Right behind them, Jon Olsen was already setting a wicked pace for the 50k, charging along with Will Gotthardt (21k) and Heather McFalls (30k). We all chugged up the first hill, a two mile maze of false summits that helped everyone get their egos in check.

(AJ Flint lines up with the Baker-Robinson boys; Will says he's going to win, and he does!)

By the time we hit the second hill on the first loop, everyone was comfortably spread out on the single track. I struggled with some technical difficulties (camera holder broke, elastic belt wouldn’t hold, water bottle not sealed) and realized I hadn’t done a thorough check of my gear for the new season before the race. No worries – there ain’t nothin’ that Duct Tape can’t fix. I completed the first loop in 54 minutes, and took a pit stop to fix the gear.

(Sean Brown and James Hughes charge up the first loop)

The second loop was the beast of the course, pitching aggressively into the clouds along the ridge. The majestic mountains reminded me of Hawaii, shooting up in every direction, unrestrained by the surrounding clouds. I paced alongside Michael Kanning, who was trying his second ultra ever after doing the Helen Klein 50 mile in November. After a short conversation he casually mentioned he was only 15 years old! Whoa. I’m not sure how much his Cross Country training at Heartland High in Los Altos was going to prepare him, but I relaxed when he told me his grandpa, 66-year-old Gerd Kanning, was also avid trail runner doing the 30k, and would pace with him on the last loop. He has a pacer, and he has the right genetic pool! Together we navigated the technical single track up to the final two mile stretch of granite road, and huffed up the ridge.

(View of Pacifica from the ridge)

As we got near the summit, the front runners came careening down like a bat out of hell. Will G led the 20k group, with Jon Olsen (50k) and an extremely fast Heather McFalls (30k) right on his tail. They were all running a sub-six minute pace, despite the steep and uneven granite. Rumors of doping with mountain goat blood circled (ha, ha) as we hit the summit, snapped a pic of the clouds below, and turned around.

(A few smiling runners look down on the clouds at the top of the hill)

Michael was still going strong, and led four of us down the ridge trail. We passed a few runners in the technical section, but for the most part, it was smooth sailing on a well-marked course. The park at the bottom was now filled with exhausted runners, eating snacks and soup while cheering on the longer distance folks. I refilled my water bottles and hit loop #3, this time in the opposite direction, after some needed prompting from volunteer Rob Evans to stop yapping and get running (thanks, Rob).

The sun boldly cut through the clouds on the third loop, warming us up to about 58 degrees and permitting the trees and flowers to open up. Our lungs filled with clean coastal air saturated with eucalyptus, releasing our inner animals to run hard through the well-manicured course. I wiped away chunks of mud sprayed from the runners in front of me, then pulled ahead to reciprocate. I know we were supposed to be racing, but it we were having so much fun!

(The sun warms up the valley between the two peaks on the third loop)

As I refilled for loop #4 (a second trip up the big hill), the volunteers said that our group of Michael Kanning, Carson Teasley, and me were 1, 2, and 3 for the 50k. As much as I would like that to be true, I knew Jon was waaaay out there somewhere so that couldn’t be right. The news flash was enough for Michael and Carson to give each other a steely-eyed look and shoot up the hill, neck and neck. I checked my time – just over three hours, which was still enough to be on target with a sub-5:20 run. I popped a few Clif Blox and headed up, fast walking the steep sections to save my hamstrings.

(30k runner Cathy Morgan on her way down the big hill)

I caught Michael at the technical section, about halfway up the hill. He was slowing down but still running, pushing forward with the mental tenacity of a runner three times his age. Although the sun was out, it was definitely colder on this loop and I put on my hat. We saw Jon Olsen coming back, easily 20 minutes ahead of us at our 22 mile mark and only getting faster. Carson was within site, but had quickly put 5-6 minutes on us by charging up the steep stuff. There wasn’t a soul behind us, so we eased up a bit and paced each other to the top. Michael was a sponge for knowledge, asking tips and sharing his goal of running a 100-miler before he gets out of high school. If he can remain that eager on the hardest part of the course, I think he’s a natural!

(Michael Kanning pauses briefly for a picture at the top of Loop #4)

I bid Michael farewell at the summit, and zeroed in on Carson who was about a mile in the distance. I figured if I cranked up the tunes (my “agro” playlist – Breaking Benjamin, Army of Anyone, Foo Fighters, and Prodigy) and tried to make up some time on the technical section, I might be able to catch Carson on the last loop. I heard that he was training for the 2007 Western States, so perhaps he wouldn’t go hard, or might fade, who knows. I cinched down everything and went berserker.

I should have guessed that the phrase “make up time on the technical section” was a recipe for disaster, but didn’t get it until the tunnel vision cleared and I found myself bleeding and bruised on the side of the trail. It happened so fast, I’m not even sure how I went down, only that I was fittingly singing “something is getting in the way/something is just about the break” from Diary of Jane (Breaking Benjamin). If you’ve ever diggered on a granite trail, then you know it’s like diving headfirst into a kiddie pool full of sandpaper blocks. No skin is spared! I took a quick inventory - all limbs accounted for, nothing broken – and got up to walk it off. The cuts on my face, elbows, hands, back, and head looked much worse than they actually were. All in all I was going to be fine, but I was definitely going to be sticking to the sheets tonight.

I tried to convince myself to take it easy and walk the last three miles to the aid station, but my adrenaline-infused body was not going to have it. Let’s just say the little devil on my shoulder has a miniature pair of Inov-8 shoes that look just like mine, and he was screaming “RUN!” in my left ear louder than Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters (and THAT is loud). So run I did.

My God, it felt so good. To run, to bleed, all of it. My soul was wide awake and my mind was 100% in the moment, unable to think of five minutes past or five minutes ahead. Endless energy flushed through my body, pushing me to lean forward into the trail and leap with every step. I landed at the aid station in a meditative daze, and assured the volunteers I was fine for six more miles before attending to my wounds. Wendell, the RD, whipped out his freshly scarred elbow and told me he crashed in the same place yesterday while marking the course. His elbow was much scarier than mine, so I didn’t feel quite so “bad ass”. Perhaps a trail troll is at work…THOU SHALT NOT PASS!

(Pacifica locals who did not warn us about the trail troll)

We had our choice of clockwise or counterclockwise for the last loop, and I went clockwise (same as Carson, but Jon went the other way to avoid the “false summits that just mess with me”, as he said). After two miles of going hard, I saw Carson climbing the second summit a good mile ahead of me, and knew I wouldn’t be catching him today. I eased up a little bit to take in the views, but not too much. I finished in 5:18 for 3rd place. Jon Olsen crushed the 50k in 4:45 to set a new course record, with Carson in second place with a respectable 5:08. Leslie Antonis claimed her first 50k victory in 7th overall (5:58), and couldn’t wait for her kids to ask “did you win?” when she got home, as they have after every race. Just a few minutes ahead of her, the 15-year-old phenom Michael stuck it out for 6th place (5:51) still smiling at the end. As the remaining 50k finishers came in, it was nothing but smiles all around, all recounting a perfect day for a goregous trail.

(44-year-old Leslie Antonis cruises in under 6 hours to take the women's title for the 50k)

As I tended to my wounds and chatted with the other finishers, we learned that Will G had won the 21k in a course record 1:48:12 with Penny Macphail winning the female division in 1:55:50. The gazelle-like Heather MacFalls tied Ty Strange to win the 30k overall in a course record 2:32:11. Jon recounted running with Heather saying “no way I could keep that pace…a few miles after letting her go, I saw her catching the leader going uphill at full tilt..she was amazing”. Sounds like something right out of the movie On The Edge (a must rental for you trail runners if you haven't seen it).

Map of Pacifica 50k
(Get the GPS specs for my run here)

My thanks to Wendell, Sarah, and the PCT volunteers for a flawless race in a wonderful area I may never have witnessed otherwise. It’s no surprise to me your races are becoming so popular! I’ve got some healing to do, and some good focus areas for my training for the next month or so. I’m also intrigued by being able to run so hard at the 26 mile mark – perhaps I have more in me than I realize, if I can just tap into it without bleeding. ;-) I’m going to volunteer at the PCT Woodside race on Feb 3rd, so I hope to see y’all out there!

Cheers and happy running, SD

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Too Many T-shirts? Make a quilt!

If you're like me, you've got enough race shwag in the attic to outfit a small town. T-shirts, sweatshirts, and jerseys galore - you don't wear them, but they have too much sentimental value for you to part with them. What to do?

This holiday season, I got a gift that solved this dilemma in very cozy way. Using the services from, we had a king-size quilt made of most of my race t-shirts (7 x 7 = 49 shirts). Now we have a cozy blanket that brings back all kinds of memories!

(My "race quilt" - recognize any of these shirts?)

The process was fairly painless, although it took longer than expected (about five weeks end to end, vs the advertised 2-3 weeks). They take a deposit of $100 and send you a kit where you plot the layout of the quilt, choose fabrics and borders, and let them know of any special needs. You send in the shirts, and about three weeks later, a quilt comes back in the mail.

I was very pleased with the end product. They had a good eye for the best way to cut the 14" x 14" squares, including taking the sleeve pattern from the Boston Marathon shirts and getting them in the square. The blanket is actually "quilted", meaning there is a sewn pattern of loops across all the shirts, so it doesn't feel like it was cheaply tacked together.

(If you look close, you can see the quilting pattern on the shirts)

The whole thing set us back about $420, which to a sewing novice like me, feels like a bargain. But best of all, I now have a way to "use" those shirts. I bet it would be a great way to assemble concert t-shirts, fraternity/sorority party shirts, or even corporate t-shirts. Ross Common Quilts and a few others have similar services (and ironically they all seem to be in the same area of Kentucky), so depending on your needs, you may want to look around.

(Sophie loves snoozing with the new blankie)

Do you have other creative uses for your race t-shirts? I know some of you could probably make a hot air balloon with the 100's you have amassed. If you have some ideas, let us know!

Thanks, SD

Friday, January 12, 2007

Van "Pigtails" Phan Does 53 Marathons /Ultras in '06 (Interview)

Washington runner Van "Pigtails" Phan hit a number of milestones with her incredible streak in 2006. She ran 53 races in one year to get the coveted "Titanium Level" for Marathon Maniacs, completing her 100th race along the way. But she didn't just trudge through marathons each weekend - she ran long ultras and ran them hard, including age group wins at the Lost Soul Ultra 100, Blackfoot Ultra 100k, March Mudness 100k, and a course record at the Watershed Preserve 12 Hour. She trounced the men and women in the 2006 Trail Runner Magazine Ultra Series, amassing 1462 points - 500 more than her closest competitor, and nearly double the amount of Nikki Kimball. Somehow, she also found time to be a Race Director for a couple of races as well.

(Van cuts through the lush trails of the Captail Peak 50m, photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama)

I caught up with Van to hear about her incredible year.

1) First, congratulations on an amazing year! You must be very excited. Was it your goal to reach 53 races in one year?

Thank you! It's hard to believe that my 2006 year of running is over. I didn't start out the year with that goal, but after finishing 9 races by the end of February, I realized that had a good start towards 52 for the year. Any run that had a web site, posted results, and had other runners at witnesses were eligible for race status. But when I reached the 30-race milestone, and even the 40-race milestone, it seemed as if I was still a long ways off of achieving my goal since sickness and injury were always possible factors. I was lucky to get injured only once and missed out on one ultra.

I did DNF one race (my first and only so far), Where's Waldo 100K due to a severe asthma attack that required me to stop after 42 miles. There was a lot of dust on the trail and a nearby forest fire. I had to get hauled off the mountain on horseback. I felt like such an idiot, but when you can't breathe, there's not much you can do about it. I ran 53 because the Last Chance Marathon only started in 2005, and I want to be a part of it as long as it is around.

2) How did you prepare for this? Was there training involved, or just a lot of racing?

After completing 28 races in 2005, I knew my body was capable of running distance races close together. I learned how much I could push myself at a race and still recover in time to run another one. Although I did not win every race I entered, I was able to stay fairly competitive. My training is not as strict as most would think. In 2006, I was not able to maintain regular high mileage weeks (because of work and studying for my boards) unless I had a 100-mile race or back-to-back races. I averaged 57 miles a week for 2006. But it worked out fine because I was either tapering for a race or recovering from one. So there was really no "training"
involved. Running races maintained my fitness level.

3) How long have you been running? How long have you been running ultras?

My first taste of running was with my husband years before we got married. But because I was not able to keep up with him, I ran "scared," fearing that neighborhood dogs would come out chasing me. I developed shin splints and dreaded going out on our runs. That didn't last very long. I started running on my own in April 2001 to stay in shape and lose weight. (I was almost 120 pounds then, which for my just under 5 feet frame was not considered fat but "soft." I am now down to 108). I was in Arizona for a one-month rotation during my clinical year for physician assistant training and did not want to join a gym for that short period of time. So I ran in the mornings when it was cooler and really struggled. I had brought cross training shoes and ran on the sidewalks, which caused hip pain. Slowly but surely, I was able to run a little longer each week. I decided to enter a race when I got back to Washington and did a 12K in June. In early October, I did my first marathon (Portland) after buying a book and following it's training plan. Although I qualified for Boston, I was not able to run for another three months after that race. I continued to run races from 5K to marathons, but always felt much more accomplished with the longer distances.

I remember the day that I discovered that there were races longer than marathons and signed up for Cle Elum Ridge Run in September 2003. My training before that race included several mountainous runs up to 20 miles. I met many of the local ultrarunners during those training runs, such as Carol O'Hare, Scott McCoubrey, Eric Sach, and William Emerson. I thought they were all crazy, running back-to-back long runs on the weekends in their preparation for their ultras. I survived Cle Elum and was hooked!

4) What is your favorite thing about running?

There are so many things I like about running - the people, performing well, working through low times in a race, beautiful surroundings, etc. But if I were pinned down to just limit it to one thing, I would have to say that it is the level of peacefulness that you can reach with running. It's when your breathing is perfect, your legs feel weightless, and your thoughts are simple. To me, this definitely happens more out on the trails. It doesn't happen right away after you start running, and if you run too long, it may go away. I experience it often in my training runs and many times in my races, granted I am not trying to kill myself to get a placement. That feeling keeps me coming back for more.

5) How in the world were you able to recover so quickly for each race? Some of the 100's you did back-to-back with other races.

I needed to keep my ultimate goal of 52 in mind in running my races, especially later in the year when I had already run so many and still had more to go. So before each race, I would tell my husband, "I'm just going to finish today. I'm not planning on racing or doing anything special." He would usually just roll his eyes because he had heard it all before. Then, I would go out and either win the race or place well. He knows me well and also knows that deep down inside, I'm very competitive. In the course of the run, if I was feeling okay and had a good chance of performing well, I would pick up my level enough to push myself, but not so far that I would not be able to recover from the effort. I became very good at listening to my body and what it was capable of. Most of the time I was surprised at how good I felt whether it was a marathon after a 100K or another race within a week of a 100-miler. I just ran based on what my body was telling me. Sure, there were some rough spots, but somehow I was able to work through them.

Everyone knows that there is a fine line between pushing yourself too hard then dying later on and running too easily only to find that you have too much energy in the end. I was able to find a happy median. Contrary to what others might think, I don't follow a special diet, did not do massage or physical therapy, did not stretch frequently, or cross-train. Running 53 races in a year kept me busy enough.

6) What was the hardest part of doing 53 races?

Knowing that there would be no down time. With all the traveling, running, and working, it seemed that I had very few days where I could just relax.

Even writing up my race reports was time consuming. I tried to fit in track workouts, but I just didn't have enough steam in me. I made it a point to participate in training runs to be with my friends on the few weekends that I was not racing. But even those were 20-30mile runs. A couple mountain trail training runs even took up to 8-9 hours to complete. I might as well have run a race that day! It was also hard to be away from my husband so much. He was very supportive all year and attended mostly my very long races or races that were further away where we made a climbing/camping road trip out of. It just was not feasible for him to come to every race. He's self-employed as a high-end furniture maker, so he works a lot on the weekends.

(Van gets wet at the Cle Enum 50k, photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama)

7) Did you have crew or pacers for your longer races? Who were they?

My husband was my crew for my 100 milers and for Miwok 100K. Crewing was new to him this year, but he learned fast. I have never been paced by anyone in a race, but not by choice. I don't like running alone in the woods, especially at night. I'm not usually very talkative during my races but would trade running with someone who was very verbose to running alone.
Often times when I was near someone at night, I would try to stay close by them but would end up sometimes working too hard. I have also been in the situation where I would catch someone and think about staying with them but then had to go ahead if the pace was too slow for me.

I mentioned that I had run with my husband before, but after I took up running for myself, he had to quit due to knee pain. So he has not been able to pace me. His passion is rock climbing, so there were a few races where we did some of that before the actual race day.

8) What are your favorite foods/drinks during the longer ultras?

My intake has not been very elaborate. I am able to down Gu gels fairly quickly and have not been able to tolerate others as well. So I guess that's my gel of choice. I drink Gatorade or Gatorade endurance. I have found that late in a race, I cannot get by with just water because I need the calories that Gatorade provides, even if it is minimal. I haven't experimented with much other replacement fluids but hope to this year. I have been using Succeed for my salt replacement. Ensure has worked well to provide me with calories, potassium, and sodium without upsetting my stomach. Foods that I enjoy during long ultras have been chicken noodle soup, cup-a-noodle soup, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Popsicles on a hot day are heavenly!

9) What were your favorite races this year, and why?

Wow, that's a pretty hard question to answer because I loved them all! But the two that really stuck out in my mind were the Auburn Trail Marathon and Baker Lake 50K. Perhaps because they were both new races for me this year and really tested my mental and physical skills. The Auburn Marathon happened on the fourth day of my "Quadzilla" weekend where I ran the Tahoe Triple Marathon then Auburn. After running for three days on roads and sometimes with crazy high-speed traffic at the Tahoe Triple, I was glad to be back on the trails. For most of the Auburn run, I was just floating and the trails were just beautiful. Everything was perfect-my breathing, the scenery, and the effortless feel of running. The miles passed quickly. I thought that I would be sore and stiff in my legs, but they felt light and free. I went on to finish second woman there, passing three women in the process.

Baker Lake is a local ultra that I wanted to run since 2003. But every year, there was always a problem, such as cancellation due to severe wind damage or me being out of town. So, finally, this year I had a chance to run on this beautiful trail. This race was on the weekend after my Quadzilla and again I felt that there was no way that I could do anything special. It started on roads and my legs felt heavy and dead. I fell behind the front pack in the first 2 miles. But as soon as I hit the trails, my legs woke up and I was able to get back to a good position. It features rolling terrain and is deceivingly tiring. It's almost too runnable! I was behind the lead woman at the turn around by a few minutes and it took seemingly forever for me to catch her. With about 4-5 miles to go, I gained the lead and held on to win by a margin of just over a minute despite major cramping issues. Plus, I won the coveted Baker Bear!

I was also pleased that I set a PR for every distance this year. For the marathon, I set an 8 minute PR at Newport Marathon with a time of 3:17:09. For the 50K I ran a 4:35 at the Ghost of Seattle Ultra (previous was 4:58 at Hagg Lake in 2004). For 50 mile, I ran a 7:19:34 at Autumn Leaves (previous was 7:42:21 at Mt. Si 2005). For 100K, I ran 10:37:38 at Blackfoot (previous was 11:49:32 at March Mudness-also in 2006). For the 100 mile 27:17:36 at Eagle, it was a PR because it had not run that distance before!

10) Your family/work must be very supportive of your hobby. Do they think you are crazy?

It's just my husband and I at home, and he is very supportive. He understands my drive because he knows that I cannot do anything halfway. If he has not come to a race with me, the first thing he asks when I get home is how it went. I usually tell him all the details, down to the bathroom issues (whether he wants to hear about it or not). My parents and siblings have always considered me crazy, but they are just starting to understand how much this running thing means to me and were pretty excited to see me featured in a local running magazine. It will be fun to show them my story in Trail Runner Magazine when it comes out.

The people at work are pretty clueless. You know how it is with co-workers. Unless they run or do any type of exercise themselves, it is very hard for them to understand what drives us to all do what we do. I think only one other worker does any exercise on a regular basis, which is kind of sad.

(Van smiles through the miles, photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama)

11) Was the TRM Series part of your goal all along, or did you win it just by racing a lot?

I did not set out to win the series. But after March Mudness 100K and the latest press release on the leaders with me being first, I thought I had a good chance of winning it since many of my races already planned for the year were in the series. However, I did add 4 runs in Canada that were not on my list that probably made the difference in me winning.

First was the Blackfoot 100K. I made the decision to run that race fairly last minute. I had just finished a double the weekend before at Watershed where I ran 71 miles in 12 hours and then an easy marathon the next day with one of my running buddies Mel Preedy, who at 73 was running his 300th marathon/ultra. I wasn't sure what I was capable of at Blackfoot since I had never run those trails before and felt the locals would have an advantage over me. Turns out I felt great and broke the course record by about 30 minutes or so. The Canadians really were so kind in opening up their homes to me, a complete stranger. I hope I get a chance to return the favor.

Next was the Eagle 100 Mile run, my first at this distance. My husband came with me this time and crewed for me. We drove and camped at one of the campgrounds that also served as an aid station. Despite temps in the upper 90s and severe muscle cramps at mile 32 that required me to sit in the shade for almost two hours, I finished. Since a decent number of people dropped, I was able to still come in third woman to get 200 points at that race instead of 100.

The last two races in Canada were Walk in the Park 50K (very hot and hard) and Lost Soul 100 Mile 4 days later (even hotter and harder). I was third woman at Walk in the Park and first at Lost Soul. As you know, unfortunately Lost Soul did not get counted in the final tally. To make a long answer short (too late!), it was not my goal all along, but became one as my year progressed, and yes I did win it by racing a lot.

12) You also directed a few races this year, yes? Can you tell us about them?

The first race I directed was in February when Lord Hill, a popular local and free 50K+, was cancelled due to high wind warnings. The Race Director had to make a tough decision last minute because there were quite a few people signed up, something like over 50. With two days to plan, I put together a run close to my home on a nice rolling 9.6 mile loop that people could do 3 times to get in an ultra distance of 28.8 miles. There was also the option of running one or two loops. So my race info was forwarded to all the runners who had planned on running at Lord Hill. The course did not need to be marked much and it was billed as a low-key event just like Lord Hill. We had a pretty good turnout (26) and the winds were not too bad at our location.

The second race was again to replace a run that was cancelled. But this time I had more time to put it together-2 months. However, it was a lot more work since I had to measure the course, mark it, set up aid stations, and make homemade medals as promised on my race site. Well, I didn't HAVE to make medals, but it was to be my 52nd race and I wanted to make it special. The medals were a big hit as well as the race and aid (my husband and his parents). I had hot Butternut Squash soup at the end that really hit the spot. There was a marathon option and a 50K+ option. 23 finished the ultra and 22 finished the marathon. I plan on holding both again in 2007.

13) Any tips you would like to pass on to somebody else trying to attain Titanium Level?

Washington has an incredible number of races of marathon distance or longer, and I was lucky in this regard in achieving my goal. Thirty-one of my races were in Washington, 9 in Oregon, 9 in California (but with the Tahoe Triple and Coyote Fourplay counted as 6 of those 9 races), and 4 in Canada. So my total expense for 53 races was not as exorbitant as most would think. I only traveled by plane once during the entire year. The other races far away just turned into fun road trips with my husband. I know of many others who achieved Titanium, but unless they were sponsored, I'm sure the cost was significant.

As far as being able to actually run 52 races (as opposed to achieving Titanium by running in 30 states in a year), I think working your way up like I did with 28 the year before helped me to know what my body could handle. I think doing several doubles may actually be better than running every single weekend so your body and mind can get a little bit of a break.
Don't "race" every race. Make some of them aided training runs. If you have a chance to soak in a cold river after a race, recovery will be much better. I did that at several of my back-to-backs when a river or cold stream was available. Plan your races at the beginning of the year and try to schedule in at least one or two extra races so that if something goes wrong such as injury or sickness, especially late in the year, all your hard work is not lost. If you're not having fun, then change your plan, such as achieving 50 states (but maybe not in a year), running in your dream marathons, or going for a PR whether it is for a certain course or all time.

14) Any tips you would like to pass on to a first time ultra runner?

Don't be afraid of the distance. Be more concerned with spending more time on your feet than in a marathon. Most ultras are on trails, so it will take longer to cover the distance. When I first met Eric Sach, now a friend, I told him that I was planning on running Cle Elum as my first 50K. He asked me what my marathon PR was. At that time, it was something like 3:25. He said that he expected my finish time at Cle Elum to be over 6 hours. I thought, "Yeah, right." It was only 5 more miles. It wouldn't take me THAT much longer. He was right. I finished in 6:21, completely spent, but happy.

For a 50K try to run at least a 20-mile training run in similar trails and conditions. Experiment with eating different types of foods and drinks. Because you'll be out there longer, you'll need to be able to fuel yourself for the long haul. Get comfortable wearing a waist belt or carrying a hand held bottle. If you are usually a middle or back of the pack runner, take the early start if that option is available so that you have a better chance of finishing. That way, when you finish, you'll feel like you've accomplished something special and won't be afraid of trying it again or a longer distance. It will also give you a good idea of your speed and whether you can use the regular start.

Work on hill climbing and try to avoid the urge to run all of them, especially if the race calls for more later in the course. If there is a local trail run of shorter distance, run those. They will give you a pretty good idea of how much longer it takes to run that particular distance and then you can extrapolate for the longer stuff. It's not a good idea to look at previous year's times to get an estimate of how long it will take you, even if you know someone who ran in it. When I first started running ultras, I was passed by plenty of people who I knew I could out-pace in a shorter race but did not have the endurance to keep up with in a longer race. Conditions change every year, so times have to take that into account.

I hope I have not scared anyone about running ultras. You'll have so much fun that you'll get hooked. Even if you have a crappy day, you'll find that working through it will hook you anyway.

15) What do you have in store for 2007?

I'm going to work more on quality than quantity. Sure, I'll probably still run over 20 races for the year, but I hope to increase my speed on the trails. I plan on running fewer road marathons. I need to work on becoming a better hill climber. I want to run some new races, especially 100 milers.

I still plan on running all the local ultras because they are inexpensive and great chances to meet up with my friends. There will be some road trips and maybe a race that will require me to fly (yuck!). Now that I've achieved Titanium, I don't need to worry about getting to a higher level. They better not add more levels! I don't plan on specifically trying to win the TRM series again, but if I place well, that would be cool. It would be fun to return to a few races in Canada such as Blackfoot and Lost Soul to defend my title, but I may not have time for them. I didn't get into Western States, but I'll keep trying. Someday, I would love to do the Grand Slam.

Thank you for taking the time to interview, and happy running!

Thanks for your interest in my crazy running addiction! I think it's excellent that there is a site like this that everyone can go to and voice their love for the running. See you on the trails!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mathematically proved limits on marathon times

What is the fastest theoretical time that a human can run a marathon? According to Dutch mathematician John Einmahl of Germany's Tilberg University, Paul Tergat could improve his world record time of 2:04:55 by 49 seconds. Women marathoners could take as much as 8:50 off Paula Radcliffe's 2:15:25 world record. Sprinters, apparently, could do even better from a percentage perspective.

(Paul Tergat sets the world marathon record in Berlin, Germany in 2003 -
don't tell him he could have gone 49 seconds faster!)

It's all part of the mathematical study of "extreme values" that helps determine upper limits. A quote from the story:
"For a lot of athletes it is probably depressing when they are confronted with our extreme values," Einmahl told the German news agency dpa. "But this is a very serious study - the extreme theory as a part of mathematics and statistics is an accepted science."
It's all math, so there is certainly the chance of a breakout performance. I wonder what the 100-mile limit would be? Perhaps this will be one of Professor Einmahl's graduates thesis.


[Thanks to The Final Sprint for pointing me to this story]

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

GPS addiction with Motionbased and Everytrail

I'll be the first to admit I'm a trail running geek. If there is an electronic device to try, I'll be one of the first to strap it on, even at the risk of looking like Robocop at the starting line. It doesn't always work out (see my complete electronic meltdown at the Ohlone 50k, or the dead remains of the five iPods I've eaten through in the last two years), but I keep hope alive that the latest updated version of an outdoor gadget will stand up to the rigorous demands of ultrarunning.

GPS Tracking - Cool or Crapola?

Up until this year, I would have said that Global Positioning System (GPS) devices are a class of gadgets that hasn't lived up to its promise. My Garmin Forerunner 201 was such a piece of crap, I could run an entire 50k and barely track one mile of it. Each run would turn into a frustrating bout of trying to get a clear signal, distracting me from nature and the event. Within a few weeks, I had it on eBay with dozens of other frustrated runners struggling with similar entry-level GPS devices, and we were all ready to write off the whole GPS device category. If it wasn't for the comments of blog readers and fellow runners, I never would have guessed the Garmin Forerunner 205/305 (and it's new SiRFstarIII GPS chip)would be such a dramatic improvement.

I bought the Garmin Forerunner 305 about two months ago, and have been very impressed with how well the new GPS chip can receive a signal in the trees and canyons. On average, I am tracking about 90% of the time, which given my penchant for redwoods and ravines, isn't half bad. The watch-sized form factor is also nice. The battery seems to hold out relatively well for 50k and 50 mile runs, but conks out if you go much longer than that. But much to my surprise, I've been reaching for the Forerunner 305 for nearly every run. It took me a while to realize why I was doing it - it wasn't the information I had during the run (since it's always an approximate), it was because of all the cool ways I could use the data after the run.

New Ways to Use GPS Data - Everytrail and Motionbased

Once you have a relatively accurate GPS track of one of your runs, there is an endless amount of things you can do with it on the Internet. Much of this is thanks to the Google Earth/Google Maps team, who have opened up their API to allow all kinds of topographical use. Two great uses of this can be found at and is a new site that allows you to upload your GPS tracks, set up pictures along the route, annotate, and share with others. Their upload software hides the technical details, so you don't need to know the in's and out's of GPX or KML formats (don't ask - it's ugly); just plug in your ForeRunner, and it does the rest. Here's a sample where I uploaded the Woodside 50k:

Click on "View Details" to go to the site and see more about the race. One of the features I really like is the ability to plot pictures along the track. That way people can see a topographical layout of a race and check out where all the sweet views are. You can also look for other trails in the area and see the views from their routes as well. Everytrail is also "blogger friendly" in that it makes it easy to embed a map in your blog entry, much like YouTube has. Take a look at the other users of Everytrail, and you'll see it's mostly hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, all of whom carry a camera. is a subsidiary of Garmin, so most Garmin product users will find out about it in the product literature. The site is geared to be an archive of your events, where you can compare to previous times you did a route and see if you're improving, check out other trails and routes in your area and more. Most of the features are free, but the advanced features will cost you a monthly subscription (so far I'm content with the free stuff). Similar to Everytrail, it has an upload software tool that makes the process of uploading routes very simple. Here is a map created with Motionbased of a run I did in Central Park:

Map of Central Park Recovery Run

If you click on the link above the map, it will take you to the full detail page. Note the added details on the first link for such things as wind speed, temperature, and heart rate information. As a "library" of courses and experiences, Motionbased does a good job of capturing everything it can. There are thousands of users too, so it's likely you will find plenty of paths in any area you are looking. Another fancy (although I'm not sure how useful) feature is the upcoming "player" capability. that allows you to follow along as somebody runs; you can find the option on the right hand side of my Central Park run, if it's turned on.

What's Next?

Do we really need more ways to stay online instead of getting outside? Probably not. In the end, nothing beats a chilled out run in nature with no gadgets to worry about. But these new gadets and services do help in our ability to share the experience online. I think it's great to see Internet sites make use of data beyond the normal rates/speeds, and I bet we're going to see a lot more. A quick check of other sites looking to make use of GPS data shows them popping up everywhere, from mountain biking (, to utilities (GPS Visualizer), to GPS phone mapping (Bones In Motion) and more. I think this is more than just "a GPS product that really works"; it appears to be the beginning of the GPS era. Let my addiction begin now!

Have you got any great GPS advice/features to share? Please let us know!

Thanks, SD

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