Thursday, March 29, 2007

Coconut Water - Nature's Electrolyte Replacement Drink?

A friend of mine recently turned me onto coconut water as a refreshing post-exercise drink. The taste is sweet but subtle, but what really wowed me was reading the ingredient label. Coconut water naturally has 650 mg of potassium (15x more than a banana), 25mg of magnesium, and 35 mg of sodium! All of this in a 10 oz, 60 calorie package. It's like nature's gatorade!

After digging around some more, I found that coconut water is similar to plasma and was even given to soldiers in WWII intravenously when plasma supplies were low (1). Some doctors give it to kids with digestive problems, similar to Pedialyte, since the stomach accepts it so well. And here's a bonus for your night time exercise - it's been shown to stimulate reproductive organs in men (bye-bye, Viagra) and increase libido in women over 60. Geez, why haven't I heard of this stuff before?

Coconut water really is "water", not "milk" even though it sometimes has a white color to it. It comes from the core of young green coconuts. I've noticed it can be hard to find in stores. I've been drinking the brands ONE (both the Natural and Acai flavors are nice) and Zico (turn your speakers down before clicking on this link) which I found at natural food stores. It appears you can also buy it online if you are interested.

I would recommend giving it a try, if anything just to add some variety to your drinks. I don't think it has quite enough sodium to be a race-ready electrolyte replacement drink, but it could certainly be part of your cocktail. And I think it would be a stellar hangover cure. ;-)

Happy running. I will see y'all at the Pony Express 100k on Sat!

- SD

(1) Campbell – Falck, D., et al. The intravenous use of coconut water. Am J Emerg Med 2000; 18 (1):108:111.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Your Brain, Motivation, and iPod Playlists

Jeff Leow, a medical student from Austrailia, has a great post on a couple of medical studies that looked into the link between music and motivation to exercise. It includes a short description and diagram of the brain, as well as some videos to keep you entertained.

Highlights include:

* Associations that are unrelated to sport or physical activity may also prove motivating. For example, the theme to a popular television adventure series may promote the desire to engage in physical activity. Moreover, lyrics that are related to determination and strength may also conceivably enhance motivation to exercise more intensely and/or for longer.

* Positive experiences and mindsets yielded positive feelings and a subsequent desire to repeat the behaviour. (Godin, 1994) Therefore, it is important that participation in exercise sessions is a positive experience for individuals (Godin, 1994).

That last one seems kinda "duh" to me, but I think it means "if music makes exercise a positive exerpience, then listen to music when you exercise".

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Endurance and Trail Running Podcasts

I'm not sure how many of you listen to podcasts, but there are some pretty good ones out there for endurance athletes. I thought I might pass on a few links in case you're looking for great, free content.


EndurancePlanet has always had great 10-20 minute interviews with endurance athletes, and is one of the few that has interviews with folks such as Scott Jurek, Gillian Robinson, and Bernie Boettcher. EndurancePlanet was recently bought by Kevin Patrick, who has put more of a multi-sport emphasis on the content, but has also made the production much more professional. I don't mean to knock Izzy, the original interviewer - it was amazing what he could do in a single take interview - but now the production is professionally packaged and a bit easier on the ears. Definitely check out the recent podcasts on the Barkley Marathon (one finisher in the 20+ years of running it), and trail running featuring the KC Trail Nerds (rock on, BadBen!).

The Competitors Radio Show

Hosts Bob Babbitt and Paul Huddle are hilarious in their long format interviews of triathlon pros, cycling greats, performance medicine specialists, and coaches. It's a great way to hear the scoop on Ironman races directly from the front runners. Check out the 1 hour post-Ironman interview with 2nd place finisher Chris McCormack, and Badwater/Ultraman competitor David Goggins.

The Final Sprint Podcast

The Final Sprint Web blog/Web site is frequently updated with running news and micro-stories about products and tips. Their podcasts features 8-10 minute interviews with pro and amateur runners, coaches, and folks with new books out. The quality of the podcast is definitely more amateur than the rest (I love when you can hear the host exhale loudly when the content gets dull), but the content is typically original and interesting.


If you're looking for a dance/electronica mix all set at the same BPM, then PodRunner is the place. I've found this to be good background music for long runs where you want to sustain a fast turnover. Since there are rarely lyrics, it's not nearly as distracting.

I'm sure there are other good ones, but this is what's on my iPod. You can find all of these within iTunes by searching for their name. If you know of others, be sure to leave a comment and point us to it!

Thanks, SD

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chasing the Mad Russian at the 2007 Way Too Cool 50k (guest blogger Garett Graubins)

Ultrarunner, gifted writer, and new father Garett Graubins is letting me post his great write up about his experience at the 2007 Way Too Cool 50k. If you've read Trail Runner Magazine (or visited their spankin' new Web site) or Ultrarunning Magazine, you've probably enjoyed Garett's writing before. He was a former Senior Editor at TRM, and continues to contribute great stuff to both! My congrats to Lewis Taylor (good pic of him here from last years Oakridge trail festival), Beverly Anderson-Abbs , and the Sunsweet team for their respective wins, as well as everyone else who got out there and ran their hearts out.

Chasing the Mad Russian

Or, “It’s not the four-minute mile, it’s just a four-hour 50K.”

By Garett Graubins

When Adam Ray, Jasper Halekas, and I sat down over beers last December, we mapped out our rough training and racing plans for 2007. Maybe the suds lowered our inhibitions, but our mantra soon became “scare yourself into achievement” and we wrote down our pie-in-the-sky, breakthrough goals for 2007.

One of my goals was to crack the coveted four-hour mark at the March 10 Way Too Cool 50K. I knew this would be a tall order, as many of the sport’s prolific stars have failed to do so. Still, I felt confident through January and the first week of February that I was on target. After recovering from a late-2006 calf injury, my mileage had reached 55-60 mpw and weekly track workouts were reminding my legs that slow-and-steady is not always the top choice.

I also trained knowing that I was going to become a daddy at some point in February. I aimed to cram in as many long runs and speed workouts as possible, since our child’s arrival (predicted by doctors to be Feb 13) would signal a new, quantum demand on my time.

Our little boy arrived exactly as scheduled and I decided that I had effectively entered my taper period about four weeks before the Way Too Cool race day. This was sooner than I had hoped—about 10 more days of intense training with two more long runs would have been ideal.

The weekend after Sawyer was born, I ran the PCT Sequoia Bayview 30K and placed third on a tough course that climbed roughly 3,000 vertical feet (Way Too Cool climbs 3,600 feet). My time was around 2:22 and I took this as reassurance that I might still be on track for a sub-4:00 on March 10.

Apparently, the Sequoia race, along with major sleep deprivation as Sawyer learned the ropes at home, weakened my body’s immune system. About three days after Sequoia I came down with a shivering, coughing cold that sidelined me for a week. Even 18 days later, I had a lingering cough.

As my cold dissipated, I managed some more training runs, but I did these with a “cramming” mentality akin to the night before a major college exam. Five straight days, I covered 6-8-7-9-6 miles with vertical. On the Tuesday before the Cool, I even put myself through a treadmill speed workout at The North Face gym, just to convince myself that I still had some lingering legspeed from January’s track sessions. I clocked a 17:59 5K.

So, against this backdrop, I drove to the 2007 Way Too Cool with Mark Gilligan on the morning of March 10. During the two weeks prior, I had revised my time goal for the race, stating that I would be happy cracking 4:30 in light of my diminished training, illness, and overall state of (lack of) confidence. Still, a little voice in the recesses of my head (that sounded suspiciously like Jasper Halekas, said “Aw Pshaw, you can crack 4:00. In fact, you’ll nail a 3:57.”) I was wondering if I had it in me …

Without revealing TOO much of the Cool plot, here’s a summary entitled “Things that Garett did NOT do at the 2007 Way Too Cool 50K”:
+ Did not putz around at aid stations. Instead, I flew right through them as an aid station volunteer topped off my bottles with water. I estimate I spent a total of :45 total at all aid stations.
+ Did not pee the entire race … probably a sign that I was leaning toward being dehydrated.
+ Did not forget my shoes, like a certain fellow with whom I drove to the race.
+ Did not get lost or even turned around at any point.
+ Did not go out too hard. I clocked into the first aid station (mile 6.1, with lots of downhill
beforehand) in a very comfortable 37:30. This kept me on a four-hour pace.
+ Did not go gangbusters on the uphills. I took what they gave me and did a little power hiking which actually seemed effective in resting the legs.
+ Did not weigh myself down with any accoutrements. I knew the four-hour mark would be close, so I took a streamlined approach, hauling only the most essential weight. No iPod. No sunglasses. No hydration pack. I wore my 10.2-ounce Teva X-1s. I even opted to run with one of my two handheld water bottles empty for the first 6.1 miles, filling it only with my Perpetuem drink powder.

On the race website, I found some splits. A guy that I didn’t know, named Vladimir Gusiatnikov, had run a 4:16 the year before and I thought this would be a good guideline for the run. I printed them out and taped them to my water bottle. If I wanted to get close to 4:00, I figured I would need to run each mile about :30 faster than “Vlad” as I called him while talking to his ghost on the trail.

I fell into a groove early on and felt very comfortable, pushing the pace just enough that my heartrate was pumping but not redlining. I made it through the first station, Highway 49 (mile 6.1) about three minutes faster than Vlad. It was great to see a crowd of spectators here, and I topped off both of my bottles here, since the next station wasn’t for another 8.35 miles.

I anticipated the heat taking a toll on runners, as temps in the mid 70s were forecasted. So, I took my first electrolyte table as I left Hwy 49. I took a tablet every 40-45 minutes throughout the race.

The race’s first sizable descent, plunging to the Middle Fork of the American River gave me a sense of one of my current weaknesses as a trail runner—running downhill. In this section, Guillermo Medina pulled away while two guys stormed past me from behind. One of them was Rod Bien from Bend, Oregon. Rod and I ran together for the first 1/2 of last June’s Mt. Diablo 50K. I eventually pulled away on the race’s second climb. Today, nobody was passing Rod. He wound up finishing in 3:53ish, flashing some incredible leg turnover on the level spots of the course.

After the descent, we ran a rolling doubletrack for a few miles just a few hundred feet above the American River. I kept Guillermo and two other runners insight. When we turned uphill for the major climb up to Brown’s Bar, I think I found some leg strength that had been dormant on the downhills, and I passed them while power hiking the steeps and running some of the not-so-steeps.

As we reached the top of the climb, we hit a gorgeous rolling stretch leading up to the Auburn Lakes Trail Aid Station. Still, we were pleasantly in the shade. This was the case throughout the day, with very few sections that exposed us to the intense sunshine. It made for some nice miles. Also, there were mileage markers every 1/2 mile and I was able to get a rough idea of my pace by mentally noting my splits. Despite some hints of stiffness in my hip flexors, I was still running between a 7:10 and 7:30 pace on this stretch.

At the Auburn Lakes Trail A.S., I was still outpacing Vlad about :30 per mile and on target for a 4:00 finish time. I topped off one bottle with water and, as I climbed a short stretch, took my second electrolyte table and an Aleve pain reliever. It’s not that I was in pain at this point; I just wanted to be proactive and address some soreness waiting for me later. Good call.

The next section was a gorgeous 6.4-mile loop that ended back at the ALT A.S. I was beginning to feel tired around this point and focused on just maintaining my place. At one point, I passed some non-native bright yellow flowers and saw some stone steps leading uphill to an overlook. I assume this was the memorial to the woman who was attacked and killed by a mountain lion while running here years ago. For the next two miles, I did not see one pink ribbon and actually began to have concerns that I had accidentally run off course.

Out of nowhere, I heard huffing behind me. It was not a mountain lion, but a guy who had found his second wind on this major downhill. He was swallowing up major yardage on every one of his long strides and I noted that he was wearing road running shoes. Many of the runners up here on the course wore road running shoes, including some Brooks racing flats that I’d only seen on track workouts and 5Ks.

Near the bottom of the loop’s major downhill, another guy caught me. Yes, and then another. My spirits started to sag and I wondered if the next 12 miles would be a train wreck that would see me passed by countless people who had run more conservatively.

One guy who passed me was Jeff Riley. He found a nice stride on a level one-mile stretch and I paced off it to the bottom of the race’s steepest climb, Ball Bearing hill.

One thing I do well is climb. Maybe it’s my Colorado roots or my genetically big thighs and calves. I dunno. But on this climb, I made great progress in catching and passing three people who had passed me a short time earlier. By the top of the climb, a return to the ALT A.S., I was feeling better about myself—a false sense of hope exacerbated by the fact that I had outpaced Vlad my three whole minutes on that loop. I was on target for the 4:00 mark … but just barely.

The next leg of the race—a rolling 5.4-mile leg to Goat Hill Aid station—proved my undoing. I knew as I left ALT A.S. and took a Gu (my third), another electrolyte tablet, and a Tums that this would make or break my run at 4:00. It lifted my spirits to see other runners (still heading out on the course) and some mild downhills on this shady, pine needle-cushioned singletrack were downright heavenly.

On one switchback out of a stream drainage I was surprised to catch a pursuing runner out of the corner of my eye. He passed within a quarter mile and began to pull away. He was lean, smooth striding, and wearing road shoes. I paced off him to the beginning of the next climb, an uphill burn called Goat Hill.

On this climb, I switched back and forth between a jog and a power hike. I caught the guy who had passed me a few miles earlier and he told me that he had been running at the front but missed a turn back on the Auburn Lakes Loop (a few other people made the same mistake, including Jeffery Rogers). His name was Tim and he was a speedster from the Eugene area. He was obviously frustrated:

“This is my first ultra … a friend told me it was a good first one because it is so flat … he’s nuts … this is the hilliest course I’ve ever seen.”

I smiled and kept my legs churning uphill. At the same time, I felt bad for this guy, because he’s obviously a gifted runner and didn’t deserve to be back in my neighborhood. I encouraged him to keep moving along because we were very close to the 4:00 cut off.

At the top of Goat Hill, with the A.S. in sight, I took my final gel as I caught two more guys. It looked like the climbs had taken a toll on them, too. I jogged into the A.S. where a guy wearing a dress and wig filled my bottle with some cold water.

“Hi mom,” I said to him

“I’m not your mom,” she/he said gruffly, “I’m your date later.” Later, at the finish line, I spotted several runners with huge, lip-shaped smudges of crimson on their cheeks and foreheads. One of them, naturally, was the indomitable Gordy Ainsleigh.

Looking at my watch, I had roughly 35 minutes to cover the last 4.6 miles. I rationalized that I could still crack 4:00. For some reason, I had in my head that the final miles would be a cruiser, with beautiful, run-able single track and maybe a big downhill. “Eight minute miles,” I thought, “No problem.” I was wrong.

It was tough to make good time over the next 2.9 miles, as there were a few decent uphills and the downs had some rocky singletrack that I had to pick my way down instead of striding out. Not that I had the legs remaining to really hammer—I was feeling beat up and was running mainly on emotion at that point, pulling a whole mess of motivational tricks to push myself to crack 4:00. The whole time, I kept an ear open for the sounds of Highway 49 and the race’s final aid station.

I glanced at the split times taped to my water bottle several times over the final miles. I was roughly 15 minutes ahead of Vlad’s pace, so I still had some ground to make up. Remember, I had to beat his overall
2006 time by 17 minutes to crack 4:00. I noted that Vlad ran the race’s last 1.7 miles in 12 minutes. That meant I had to make highway 49 by 3:48, 3:49 at the very latest. “Surely the homestretch will be easy running,” said the optimist on my shoulder.

But, as my watch ticked past 3:50, my heart sank. I was braced to dig deep for sub-4:00, but 1.7 miles in sub-10:00, on trails, is ridiculous after 29 miles. I came through Highway 49 at 3:51 and ran right through, on the off chance that I could pull a rabbit out of my pocket. There were many people there, and I had an adrenaline rush as they hollered encouragement. Maybe I could do it. Maybe the remainder of the course was really closer to 1.4, Not.

Any hope dissolved like a salt tablet when I hit a steep, rocky uphill shortly after leaving the A.S. I let out a little howl, knowing that I wouldn’t crack 4:00. At the top of the hill, I caught a view of the Cool Fire Station just beyond a large, fenced-in meadow. That was the finish line and I kicked it in around the field’s perimeter, clocking a finish time of 4:02:32.

So, I missed my pie-in-the-sky goal of cracking 4:00. But I’m not necessarily disappointed. I ran the best race that I could, given the ups and downs of the last month, becoming a daddy (the greatest) and shivering through a few feverish nights (obviously, a down). I concluded that 4:00 at Way Too Cool is right at the edge of my ability as a runner, so it will be a great goal for me to renew in the future. With a little bit of course knowledge, the right conditions, a few more 20ish training runs, another month’s worth of speed training, and some downhill practice, I’m confident that I could do it.

- GG 3/11/07

[Nice work, Garett, and congrats on fatherhood!]

Friday, March 16, 2007

I'm in the Death Ride this year!

My lottery number came up, so I'm in the 2007 Death Ride! Five passes, 129 miles, 15' vertical feet...should be awesome. I've been trying to get into this race for years.

Unfortunately, it's the week before the TRT 100, so I may have to hold back on trying the whole ride so that I don't jinx my first 100-mile run. Luckily the Death Ride is designed to let people drop out at different points along the ride. I'll make sure I hold back, then use the week between the two events in Tahoe to acclimate.

Time to hit the hills!

- SD

Thursday, March 15, 2007

US Mountain Running Team Qualifier in California

I thought I would pass on this announcement about a new qualifying race for the Teva US Mountain Running Team that will take place July 15th on Mt. Tam. For you Dipsea/Headlands regulars (that means you, Roy), here's a shot to get on the US team that will compete in Switzerland this year.

Be sure to note that there are only 60 slots for the race, so be sure to sign up early if you're interested (you can do it here).

- SD

California to Host Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team Selection Race

For the first time in the twenty-plus year history of the U.S. Mountain Running program, California will host a Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team Selection Race. “Having a selection race on the West Coast is a great opportunity for some new mountain runners to learn about our program. Chris Lundy, one of our two-time team members, has done an excellent job getting the permits secured for the event and scouting out a great course,” said Nancy Hobbs, manager of the Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team.

The Mt. Tam Trophy Race will be held in Marin County on Sunday, July 15 with an 8:00 a.m. start time. The 6.5 mile route boasts an elevation change of 2100 feet, or approximately 650 feet per mile and is run entirely on trail, much of which is single track.

The staging area for the start and finish will be located one half mile south of Stinson Beach. The trailhead is at the intersection of Panoramic and Hwy 1 and the start line is one mile east which is visible from Panoramic Hwy. After the start and within one half mile, the course climbs 1000 feet up Steep Ravine Trail including a short ladder climb at 1.2 miles. Descent 1100 feet into Muir Woods to the three mile point, climb back out to Cardiac Hill and return down the famous Dipsea Trail to the finish.

Entries are limited to the first 60 competitors. Donations to the team are encouraged with your entry. The Mt. Tam Trophy Race is sponsored by La Sportiva and Accelerade.

The Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team will compete in the 23rd World Mountain Running Trophy in Saillon, Ovronnaz, Switzerland, during the weekend of September 14-16, 2007. This year’s Trophy races are up/down events (as opposed to even-numbered years when the events are held on uphill courses) with the senior men running three loops of the 4.050 kilometer course for a distance of just over 12km, the senior women and junior men running two loops of the 4.050 course for a distance slightly over 8km, while the junior women run one loop of the course at 4.050km.

The women’s team includes four athletes with the top three finishers scoring for the team. Six athletes will represent the men’s team with the top four finishers scoring. The junior men’s team includes a maximum of four with top three scoring while the junior women’s team is a maximum of three with the top two scoring. Team manager Nancy Hobbs, Colorado Springs, CO, team leader Richard Bolt, Portland, Oregon, team manager for the juniors Dave Dunham, Bradford, MA, and women’s team manager Ellen Miller, Vail, CO will accompany the team to Switzerland.

At the Mt. Tam Trophy Race, the top U.S. male and top U.S. female finisher will receive an automatic team berth. This is the third and final team selection race. The first selection race will be the USA Mountain Running Championships hosted at Mt. Cranmore on June 24 in North Conway, NH. The top two U.S. men and the top U.S. woman finisher at Mt. Cranmore will receive automatic berths on the team. The USA Trail Championships on June 30 in Steamboat Springs will serve as the second selection race where the top two U.S. men, and top U.S. woman will receive automatic berths.

The remaining members of the open squad, (one male, one female), will be selected by the Mountain Ultra Trail Council with input from the team staff based on results at the selection races, past World Trophy events, national and international racing experience including mountain, road, cross country, and track. Athletes MUST run a selection race in order to be considered for the team. To be considered for the team all team members MUST be current USATF members prior to running a selection race. Interested athletes should submit running resumes to: Richard Bolt ( and Nancy Hobbs (

The junior squad (athletes at least 16 years of age in the year of competition and not yet 20) will be selected based on the following criteria:

· Must have posted a 16:45 or better (junior men) and 19:30 or better (junior women) in a 5K road or cross country event. (Equivalent times – from an alternate race distance that translate to the aforementioned time criteria – will be considered for distances other than 5Km.)

· Must have experience running (in training and preferably racing) on courses similar to the event.

· Must be mature, motivated, with a positive attitude to proudly represent the United States and sponsors internationally, under the rules of USATF and the event governing bodies.

· A letter of recommendation from a coach, parent, or mentor-runner must accompany the athlete resume.

Resumes from juniors (including road, trail, track, and cross country results and current training info) will be accepted by Dave Dunham,, through July 15. Late breaking information and results can be added until July 31.

The 2007 Teva U.S. Mountain Running Team will be announced by August 1.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Best California Trails in Adventure Sports Journal

Check out the latest Adventure Sports Journal to get some trail tips from the locals, including me, Catra Corbett, PCTrailRuns Wendell and Sarah Doman, George Lake, Mike Erbe, Terri Schneider, and Francesca Stone. Catra even made the cover!

Here's the photo of me and Rocky on the Tahoe Rim Trail that accompanies the article. I just love this one with his ears going straight up. ;-)

(Rocky and me scoping the Tahoe Rim Trail, photo courtesy of Christi Dunlap)

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sun and Wine at the Napa Valley Marathon

On Sunday, I had the pleasure of joining 2,300 marathoners for the 29th annual Napa Valley Marathon. This point-to-point race from Calistoga to Napa, CA, attracts speed demons and first-timers alike to cruise along the short rolling hills of the California wine country. I thought it would be a good way to check my speed for the upcoming season, and reward myself with awesome food and wine whether I'm fast or not. ;-) We ended up with a sunny day just chilly enough to set all kinds of PR's, whether it be to win the RRCA National Marathon Championships, set a personal best, or just finish your first marathon.

(The vineyards at dusk, photo courtesy of Corel)

I didn't realize until the last minute that there was no race day packet pick-up (which now that I think about it, is the right way for the Chamber of Commerce to plan a marathon!), so I booked a room at the new Gaia Napa Valley Hotel ($85/night) a few miles south of Napa for Saturday night. The girls couldn't join me for this one, so I had a night off to myself. But I couldn't get in too much trouble - there was a 5:30am bus ride waiting for me, and a marathon to run! I checked in, picked up my packet, and had a nice dinner at the bar at the Bistro Jeanty in Yountville, CA. Chef Jeanty kept bringing out wonderful French fare (with less butter for us runners), and I scarfed as much pasta provencale, fried smelt, and onion soup as I could. An 88-year-old local named Giorgio kept me company by telling me all about the good ole days when there were only six wineries (there are now 300+), and the "scandal" that created Lake Berryessa in two years instead of the planned 20. When I asked him how he could remember all that like it was yesterday, he simply said, "hard work, good wine". You gotta love that.

The next morning started bright and early as we took the bus to Calistoga. Most of the people on the bus were first-time marathoners, equally thrilled and frightened for what lay ahead. Kathy Cox and Brett Astell came all the way from Lee's Summit, MO, to see if they had what it took to go 26.2 (turns out they did - 4:05). I saw some familiar faces from the ultra crowd as well - Dean Karnazes, Jasper Helekas, Mark Lantz, Rena Schumann, Mary Coordt, Kathy D'Onoforio, and more. Mark and Rena were here for a training run before Way Too Cool 50k next week, while Jasper was early in his training for the Wasatch 100.

(Rena Schumann and Mark Lantz at the race start)

One look at the starting line and you could tell this wasn't a simple backyard marathon. This was the RRCA National Marathon Championships, and gazelles like Tom McGlynn, Mike Wallace, and Steve Sundell were going to set the pace. As the gun went off, they clocked sub 5-minute miles right out of the gate in hopes to run a 2:20 Olympic Marathon Trail qualifier. By mile marker 2, the lead pack of seven had already disappeared into the distance.

(Go, go Gadget legs! The leaders line up at the start)

I found a good pace around 6:30/mile, which is fast for me. This was my tactic to "check my speed" - go out 10-15% faster than usual and see how long I could keep my form. I could also see what started to break down first - was it my calves? quads? energy? Finding the weak spots would help me focus the training for the next month or so. If I had to drop, that would be fine - there are plenty of wineries along the way where I could recover in the shade with a nice Sauvignon Blanc.

By mile 4, the top 50 runners had spread out along the Silverado Trail. I was somewhere around 25th or so, still trucking along at a 6:30/mile pace. The short rolling hills were perfect for alternating muscle groups, and there always seemed to be a nice stretch of downhill around every corner (the course is a net 400 vertical foot drop). I caught up to the first women, 24-year-old Devon Crosby-Helms, who had the fast leg turnover of a triathlete. Just as I began wondering if she had the experience to make the distance, we passed mile 5 and she said "hey look, only 15 more miles until this race actually starts". Yep, she's gonna do just fine.

(Runners spread out along the Silverado Trail Road)

Devon and I paced along with Michael Taylor from Salem, OR, who at 42 years old was running his 11th Napa Marathon. Michael had the stride length of an elite distance runner (he said his PR was 2:38) and a road runner cartoon tattooed on his calf, so we knew he had the chops. Michael had an interesting race technique - he was actually running 6:20/mile pace, but every mile he would walk for 5-6 seconds. For the next hour or so, Michael would pass us (meep! meep!), and then we would pass him. But he stayed diligently on pace.

The sun began to burn through the clouds as we passed the Rutherford Ranch Winery around mile 11, warming us up to the high 50's. I got to chat with Devon during the downhills and found out that she had recently crossed over from triathlon training to distance running with great success. She ran her first 50k in 5:05 at the Headlands 50k in August, 2006, against an elite field. After honing her skills a bit more, she ran the Jed Smith 50k last month in 3:32...that's right, 3:32...for 3rd overall. Her goal is to do well at the 100k road nationals this year. Such a talent! She's also hilarious. It was great to run with her.

(Devon is all smiles at the halfway mark, just ahead of Michael)

We hit the half way mark in 1:26:40, which is wicked fast for me. I looked at my watch and said "oh, boy...this is going to hurt at the end". Devon said she was going a bit too hard too, and we both slowed down to a 6:40/mile pace to catch our breath and refuel. I felt better after easing up a bit, and was able to stomach a few Clif Shots. Michael the road runner went flying by us once and for all, and gave us a smile and wave before chasing down the next runner.

We used the downhills over the next four miles to keep our pace just under 6:40/mile, and at mile 18, Devon kicked in the afterburners and took it up a notch. I did my best to keep her in sight, but she was on the war path.

(The mandatory self-portrait, this time at mile 18)

The next few miles were peaceful and quiet, with a cool headwind that had kept us company since mile 15. The towns of Oakville and Yountville were awake for walks and coffee, and plenty of supporters were out to cheer on the crowd. I watched a hot air balloon work its way up the valley towards us, and the hawks soaring along with the runners headed south. Majestic chateaus peaked out from miles of vineyards - remove the guard rails on the road, and we could have just as easily been running through Alsace.

(Long, peaceful miles in the final stretch - that dot is a hot air balloon)

The last long (but small) hill at mile 21 wasn't too much trouble, and I took one last handful of Clif Shots at the top. My watch said 2:14, which meant I was on a 2:54 marathon pace. But Devon said it right - the race had really just begun at mile 20, so it's a little early to claim success. Still, I was suprised I was holding up so well on the pavement.

No matter how much training you do, mile 22 always has some surprises. I think that's part of why marathons and ultras are such a challenge - it's not a matter of "if" something will go wrong, it's a matter of "when", and success is defined by how well you handle adversity in the moment. For this race, it was a combination of things that was signaling to me that I wasn't nearly hydrated enough - twitching calves, dizzyness, and I was really thirsty (oops, too late!). I'm not sure why I didn't carry water on this race - it probably would have been a good idea even if I didn't keep it full the whole time. When I turned the corner onto Oak Knoll Avenue at mile 23, I lost the headwind breeze that had kept me cool and the nausea hit me hard.

(The vineyards made a beautiful backdrop over the entire course)

Thank God for the little aid station at mile 24, where I drank three cups of water and poured a quart on my head. I wasn't feeling great, but I kept running and leaning into the downhill. At mile 25, two women passed me (Mary Coordt was one of them), and I quickly counted in my head that they didn't have enough ground to catch Devon. Knowing that she was about to become a national champion gave me some extra adrenyline to keep my turnover going fast.

The cheering of volunteers and spectators carried me through the last mile of slight downhill grades, and I crossed the line in 2:56:43 (when I didn't have my number on me, they counted the ~20 seconds it took to pull it out of my pocket, so my official time was 2:57:00). Even after fading hard in the last two miles, I had run my fastest marathon ever. What did this mean for my season ahead?!? Only good things, I imagine. I couldn't stop smiling.

(Steve Goddard helped pace his friend, Kevin Conner to a new PR of 2:59)

After some food, water, and a brief massage, I caught up with many of the finishers. Devon had won first female in 2:52, and was busy taking pictures for the press as the new RRCA National Champion. Jasper had finished 7th in a blazing 2:40, while Michael had finished in 2:51 and claimed the 40-44 championship. Steve Sundell had won the race in 2:21:03, just a few seconds ahead of Tom McGlynn. A few minutes behind me, Kevin Conner from Cupertino, CA, finished his first sub-3 hour marathon by chopping 19 minutes off his PR and was already being swarmed by his kids in congratulations. In fact, most everyone I met had made the most of the day to set a personal record of some sort. I sat with my Gatorade and just soaked in the smiles.

(Devon sports her 1980 Napa Marathon t-shirt - all cotton!)

When I went into the cafeteria for one more round of chow, I ran into Devon who was waiting for "her weight in wine", the grand prize for winning. She unzipped her jacket to show us her real prize - a t-shirt from the 1980 Napa Marathon that she got from her uncle. Another runner asked if she had run it, and she replied "yes, I won the zero and under age group". We all had a good laugh, then wished each other luck on the year ahead.

I drove home with the sunroof open, and my mind clear. Sure my body was drained, but my spirit was full of scenery, smiles, and new friends. If this is how the season is going to start, it's going to be a great year! My deepest thanks to the RD and volunteers for putting on a flawless race.

- SD

Monday, March 05, 2007

Making Your Own Toenail Necklace

Gosh, what is an ultrarunner to do with all the lost and blackened toenails from those 100-milers? Why, make a necklace, of course!

I kid you not - below is a picture of Jan Ryerse' toenail necklace that he made from the remnants of his Badwater, Western States, and other expeditions. He also takes donations if you would like to send yours in.

(Jan's seashell-like toenail necklace, annotated to give credit to the donations
click to enlarge...IF YOU DARE!)

Jan was mentioned in an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about ultrarunning today that has a great section on the health effects. Quotes:
Todd Cade, assistant professor of physical therapy and medicine at Washington University, says distance running promotes cardiopulmonary health while lowering blood pressure and lipids. It also raises HDL, the good cholesterol, and has a powerful positive effect on bone-mineral density and body mass index. "But once you start running more than 10 miles at a time, there are some negative effects," he says. "Evidence suggests that there's musculo-skeletal damage, cartilage damage and increased whole-body inflammatory markers. The immune system is weakened immediately after a marathon, and there appears to be cardiac muscle damage and diminished cardiac function immediately afterward. Liver enzymes also increase, which can lead to liver damage."
You can also see a pic of Jan wearing his toenail necklace. Dee-sgusting! But he sounds like a classic quirky ultramarathoner.

- SD

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