Monday, February 25, 2008

Why We Need the Las Vegas 100-Miler

Men's Fitness Magazine named Las Vegas the "fattest city in the US", citing among other things that "Las Vegas residents are 60 percent less likely than average to go trail-running - the 2nd lowest rate in our survey". What? There are so many killer trails out there! (hello, Red Rocks...).But there are a lot of In 'n Out Burgers along the way too, and a bar or two from what I've heard. Perhaps it is time for the Las Vegas 100...

Local TV article here, full article at Men's Fitness here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Are these runners ultra-tough ... or ultra-crazy? (ESPN)

Jonah Keri from ESPN did a good overview of ultrarunning in a recent online article at ESPN Page 2. Some quotes from Scott Jurek, Dean Karnazes, and Yiannis Kouros, as well as descriptions of the more high profile ultras. I didn't realize there were over 350 ultras run last year! My favorite quote:

"Ultra running is a metaphysical event," (Yiannis) Kouros explained. "If you don't have that kind of idiosyncrasy, you will never become an ultra runner, even if you train all your life. I am one of those people who recommend and try to inspire people to get involved with running. But ultra is not a fun-running sport -- it's only for unique souls."

Ultra is not a "fun running" sport? I think Yiannis needs to slow down and carry a camera. ;-)

Read the whole article here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Post-Run Strut

Kristin Armstrong forwarded this Flora commercial to me, which I thought y'all would get a kick out of. The guy staring at the stairs is my post-ultra reality, for sure. ;-)

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Gorgeous Sequoia 50k

This Saturday I had the unexpected pleasure of joining 450+ runners for the Sequoia 10k/20k/30k/50k in the hills of Oakland, CA. I hadn’t planned on racing this weekend, but part of my Valentine’s Day gift from my wife was an afternoon off for a long run, and I had been meaning to cross to bay to visit the redwood trails of Joaquin Miller Park that I had been hearing so much about. What better way then to sign up for a leisurely-paced 50k put on by PCTR?

As I arrived in the chilly glade, it was clear that many were here for more than a leisurely run. Steve Stowers was coming off a sub-5:40 50-miler at the Jed Smith 50, Quad Dipsea top finisher Victor Ballesteros was ready to rumble, and Eric Poole and Chris Rennaker had come down from Ashland, OR to represent the Rogue Runners Club. PCTR Series front runners Will Baker-Robinson (10k), Jason Wolf (30k), Leor Pantilat (20k), and Will Gotthardt (50k) were also here to ensure that pace would be fast in all races. But there were plenty of others here just out to have a good time, and a few first timers too.

(Ready to roll at the start)

I said my hellos to many at the start, including Rich Lapachet (who got married in this park “way back when”), Luis and Beverly Escobar up from SoCal, and local Garett Graubins who was hanging with his 1-year-old son. Technu was spread generously (as was sunscreen) as the sun began to warm the air into the low 50’s. At 8:30am, Wendell and Sarah Doman sent us off and up into the hills.

The pace was furious from the start, with a dozen folks blazing out of the meadow and up some single track to a nice fire road. I ran with 20-year-old Max Shchemelin, in what was only his second ultra (although he placed 2nd in his first 50k at Muir Beach just a few months ago). He was definitely out to race hard today and doing a good job of not letting the front runners force too fast a pace on him. We caught up to Bree Lambert, who was “only doing the 30k” as a warm up for the Rucky Chucky 50k next month. That’s still a solid day of running, Bree!

(Heading up towards the French Trail)

The rolling fire road was smooth and soft, and gave us a chance to spread out before we crossed the peak of the hill and hit the first aid station (mile 2.7). Bree, Ray Sanchez, and I made a quick stop in the sun before plunging down into the eucalyptus groves of the next valley. It didn’t take long for us to get to the French Trail, which took our breath away with the soft, rolling hills that carved a path through the redwood giants. Within a mile, we were all saying this is one of the most beautiful running trails in the Bay Area!

(The awesome French Trail)

As it got steep, Ray Sanchez and I paced together and took the spur off the loop course for the 30k/50k runners. Ray had just finished a crazy 100+ mile race in South America, and I enjoyed living vicariously through his stories of being lost in a foreign jungle, night running without flashlights, and still managing to come in 2nd place overall. How does one recover from that? Well, by getting into the Badwater Ultra and continuing to train, of course! Ray is a madman.

(Ray gives me a hand in deciphering the course markings)

My downhill running was a bit faster than Ray (honestly, it’s amazing he can run at all this soon after a 100-miler), so I hit the bottom of the hill running solo. It didn’t take long for the race leaders to come the other way, indicating they were already 1.5-2 miles ahead of us at the halfway point. Steve Stowers was charging up front with a 5-6 minute lead, with Victor Ballesteros, Jason Wolf (30k), Eric Poole, Chris Rennaker, and Will Gotthardt in hot pursuit. I hit the aid station (mile 12) in 7th place, which meant I wasn’t doing a very good job of holding back. Garett Graubins had told me that’s why it’s tough to do a race as a long run – you rarely can control yourself when mixing it up with your favorite runners! As fate played her trump card, Garett was at the turnaround to cheer us on, and I got the message. ;-)

(Victor Ballesteros flies along the fire road)

(At the turnaround, photo courtesy of Garett Graubins)

There were lots of smiling faces along the single track as I headed back. I munched on a PB&J square and shed a layer of clothing to accommodate the rising temp (now in the low 60’s). As we rejoined the loop, we caught the rear pack of the 20k runners along the ridge. I slowed to talk with a few of them, and was glad to find them all in high spirits. These mid/back of the back 20k runners are always so impressive to me – you can tell that many aren’t natural runners, yet they are out here busting ass on a tough 20k course and enjoying nature. Their energy propelled me forward!

(On the single track ridge)

As I ran through the last aid station (mile 16), Max caught up with me and led us through the downhill to the start area. He picked up a bottle from his crew and turned on the afterburners, disappearing into the trees. It was tempting to stop and hang out with the families enjoying their picnics in the meadow, so I just charged right through to repeat the 20k loop again.

(These views poked out at every turn)

I put on some tunes to give the second lap a different vibe (U2, Daft Punk, and Icky Thump by the White Stripes), and decided to walk all the uphills to ensure I wasn’t going too hard today. A convenient excuse, for sure, since I was already feeling the 5,000’ vertical this course was going to dish out. At the aid station (mile 21), Marco and the volunteer crew got me set up with Coke, M&M’s, and water. We all chatted about the perfect day and the wondrous trail variety of both the Joaquin Miller and Redwood Regional Parks.

(The trail winds down into the glades)

The French Trail was even more fun on the second loop. The rolling hills were smooth and run-able, with just enough roots to keep you on your toes. A few horses, hikers, and mountain bikers provided a new kind of obstacle, but all were gracious in stepping aside when needed. The equestrian saw my race number and asked “how far today?”, and I hollered out “50k, 15k to go”. His only reply was “you poor, sick bastard”. ;-)

(Charging up the hill on a section of single track)

The sun was HOT as I hit the ridge and started the slow climb back. Rob Silva caught up with me, having no trouble at all with his first ultra. He said the best part of the race was “you can do anything…walk, run, go fast, enjoy the view…I’ve never been in a race like this!”. With that, he charged down a section of downhill and gave me one last wave. I think he’s hooked. ;-)

(A quick howdy before finishing up)

With a quick stop at the aid station for a handful of Goldfish crackers, I took a slow and steady jog for the last two miles to the finish. I crossed in 5:04, good enough for 8th place and one whole whopping point towards the PCTR Series. I was nowhere near the front runners – Steve Stowers had won in a course record 3:55, with Victor Ballesteros just a few minutes behind. Will Gotthardt rallied for a solid third place (4:33), holding off the boys from Oregon. Max Shchemelin had gone strong right to the end, finishing in an emotional 4:34 for 4th overall. Nice work, Will and Max! Juliet Morgan, who had come up from Redondo Beach, CA, won the Women’s Division in 5:37.

The short course runners tore it up, with Jason Wolf (2:29:55) and Marianne Baldetti winning the 30k (2:51:53), and Leor Pantilat scoring another course record win in the 20k (1:22:35). Caitlin Smith won the 20k Women’s Division in an impressive 1:36:09. (all results here)

(Will Gotthardt replenishes after an impressive 3rd place finish)

(Women's 50k winner Juliet Morgan with RD Sarah Doman)

I ate more than my fair share of chili and snacks as the smiling runners came trickling in. What a great day in the Oakland hills! My thanks to the great volunteers and RD’s for another fantastic day, and an excuse to see a part of the Bay Area I may not have found otherwise.

I'm glad I had some energy left for the long weekend and on Sunday, Sophie and I checked out the Amgen Tour of California bike race that was in Palo Alto, CA. Those guys sure go fast!

(The cycling pros make mincemeat of University Ave at the Amgen Tour)

- SD

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tidbits - Faceplants, Legend Bernd Heinrich, and more

A couple of tidbits for your Sunday reading:

1. Have you ever bonked in the last mile of an endurance race? It ain't pretty. Kayako Fukushi, Japanese 5k/Half Marathon superstar, demonstrates at the finish of the Osaka International Women's Marathon after going out too hard with the lead pack.

Note, however, that her time was still in the low 2:40's! Thanks to Mark Remy for pointing me to the video.

2. If you haven't seen Dave's (of Altanta Trails fame) interview with ultralegend Bernd Heinrich (recently inducted into the Ultrarunning Hall of Fame), be sure to check it out. 12:27 for the 100-mile distance...that guy is amazing! He also has a great interview with 100-mile/100k champion Janice Anderson.

3. John Fors pointed me to this site for a new theory on cooling your core by keeping your hands cool. Although the fancy technology may be too much for the trails, perhaps there are some lessons in there for us. John had suggested ice water in the handheld bottles, for example.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Go Team Nuun!

I've become a big fan of the Nuun active hydration products in the last few months, much in thanks to other trail runners who recommended it. One tablet dropped into your water bottle creates an electrolyte-filled drink with just enough flavor to cure the taste buds (you can read the science here). Very easy to carry too. Honestly, I'm a little embarrassed I hadn't found them earlier.

Nuun contacted me last month to a part of their stellar Ultra Team, and I was absolutely flattered. You mean that team with Karl Meltzer, Lisa Smith-Batchen, Brian Morrison, Devon Crosby-Helms, Olga Varlamova, and all those REAL runners? I better say "yes" before they look at my finish times. ;-)

Anyway, it's a privilege to be associated with a great company, product, and team. I look forward to seeing you team members out there this season! Hopefully I'm not getting too NASCAR-like with my logos now, but I wouldn't endorse anything I don't swear by. Now if I can just get the folks at Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to return my calls...I bet AJW is up for that team! Any other takers?

- SD

Sunday, February 03, 2008

A Wet and Wild Woodside 50k

Last Saturday I joined 250+ runners for PCTR’s Woodside 10k/17k/35k/50k on a cool winter day in Huddart Park in Woodside, CA. It’s always a pleasure to race on my home course (my driveway is aid station #1) and I was looking forward to my first ultra of the 2008 season. Sharing the course with other smiling runners reminds me how lucky I am to have this playground of redwoods and single track as my backyard, and seeing it through new eyes brings a freshness to the landscape and trails I often take for granted.

Lots of familiar faces were at the starting line of the 50k, including Bev and Alan Abbs, Rajeev Patel, Paul Charteris, Will Gotthardt, Chuck Wilson, Karyn Hoffman, Benjamin Muradyan, Tom Zinkle, Vance Roget, and many PCTR regulars. Eight were signed up for their first ultra, while another handful were trying their first trail run. So exciting to see the new faces! They probably could have picked an easier race to start with – this course has almost 5,000’ vertical, with a good chunk of it in the first five miles. Then again, it’s a heck of a way to christen a new sport!

(Wendell starts us off)

RD’s Wendell and Sarah Doman sent us off at 8:30am, and we quickly whittled down to about eight folks rushing through the single track of lower Huddart. Tom Clarke (who had gone sub-5 hours a few weeks ago on the very tough Pacifica 50k) and 24-year-old Kevin Weil went right off the front, with Will Gotthardt, Bev and Alan, and a few others keeping them in sight. The weather was brisk, which made for good running conditions, but the clouds were threatening rain. All in all a classic winter day in Woodside!

I ran with Kevin as we zigged and zagged up Huddart Park, just 20 yards behind Tom. Kevin told me he was fairly new to ultra running, but had the advantage of living in Portola Valley (near Woodside) with Open Space trails right off his front yard. Proving that this is a small world indeed, we quickly figured out that he was in a technology start-up like me, and that his fiancée, Elizabeth McCleneghan (also in the 50k), was going to be in a meeting I had on Tuesday. How weird is that?

(A fast-moving Tom Clarke is too quick for my camera coming up Crystal Springs Trail)

Tom set the pace for most of the uphill grind, showing his roots as a former 5k college track runner for Dartmouth. He stepped aside to let Kevin lead the last section, and Bev came right along with us. There was a fifth runner as well, already cranking heavy tunes and charging hard. Seems like only yesterday I learned at the Woodside 50k not to put too many metal songs on the BEGINNING of the playlist, lest you go too hard in the first part of the race. But he was doing great!

As we peaked near Skyline and headed towards AS #1 (mile 6), my watch read 47 minutes, which is a 4 hour finish pace for those who can keep it up. I was trying desperately to stay aerobic (since I have yet to incorporate speed/hill work into this years training), and watched Tom, Kevin, Bev, and the Rocker head off from AS #1 without me. They disappeared into the thick clouds that saturated the towering redwoods, floating like ghosts.

(Looking both ways as we cross over Kings Mountain Rd)

As I began the traverse over to Wunderlich Park, I popped a Nuun Kona Cola tablet into my water bottle and chugged. I had been introduced by Nuun through a friend just a month earlier, and really enjoyed how the electrolyte tablet added just enough flavor to the drink to quench my thirst. And with 360 grams of sodium, potassium, and magnesium, I was certainly going to keep up on my electrolytes! I brought along a few flavors for a change of pace, stashed in my shoulder pockets.

My legs found a fast and familiar rhythm on this trail. It was a bit fast for a 50k, but I’ve charged this trail so many times on regular 10-mile out-and-backs I couldn’t get myself to hold back. By mile 9, I caught Bev who was being careful not to stress her sore Achilles too much before Way Too Cool. Soon after, I caught the other three. The fog was as thick as gravy now, and it was fun to charge down the hills and see the moisture billowing behind me. A few downed trees made it more like a steeplechase in some sections, but volunteers had clearly done the heavy work to get the worst out of the way. Tom and Kevin let me by to lead, and my legs went berserker despite warnings from my brain that the pace was too fast. I found AS #2 (mile 12) in 1:31, and couldn’t see anyone behind me. Alas, it’s too late now!

(The brave souls of AS #2, photo courtesy of Paul Charteris)

The heroic volunteers of AS #2 were braving the winds and some fresh rain, and still had me outta there in less than 20 seconds. I charged solo down the hill into lower Wunderlich Park, enjoying the sounds of rushing creeks that usually are as dry as a desert all year long. This is a wonderful section of trail that cleanses the spirit as it draws you deeper and deeper into the park, and the rain helped wash away any day-to-day stresses. I felt like a kid as mud splattered in all directions with each step, soaking my Inov-8 320’s and Injinji socks and speckling my legs and face with rusty dirt freckles. It was a full rejuvenation of the soul.

(Looming clouds over Wunderlich Park)

I broke out into a clearing around mile 16, and the dark grey clouds signaled that more rain was a-comin’. But so far, the cool weather and mist was perfect running conditions. My scenery-stealing glance got the best of me when I caught a toe on a fallen branch and went down around Salamander Flat (mile 17). Luckily the handheld water bottles kept my hands safe, but I pulled something in my hip that required some walking to get back on track. Nothing too devastating, so I caught up on hydration and calories while I walked.

(Hamming it up for Paul's camera)

Kevin soon caught me on the uphill Oak Trail, and he had an aggressive pace heading back up to the top of Wunderlich. As luck would have it, he soon saw Elizabeth and gave her a high five and she headed into the loop. Tom was about 100 yards behind, as calm as a mountain lion stalking his prey. We had a chance to cheer on the other 50k runners coming down this out-and-back section, and everyone was in great spirits despite the rain coming down harder. Rajeev, in his bright orange rain gear, was the best prepared of everyone for sure!

(Gorgeous redwood trails of Wunderlich)

When I found AS #2 again (mile 20), they let me know that Tom and Kevin had gapped me by about 3 minutes in the last two miles. I was feeling unusually tired, to the point I stopped on the trail for a few minutes to collect my breath. Not sure what was happening here, but I suspected it was just proof that I hadn’t done many 20+ mile runs in the last few months, and certainly not as hard as I just did the last 20. Perhaps it was the fast-charging downhills catching up to me. I pocketed a handful of M&M’s, had some Coke, and took it easy over the next few miles.

Within 20 minutes, I had my groove back albeit a bit slower than my starting pace. I was still fast-walking some of the uphills to keep the exhaustion at bay, but it felt like a decent pace. 35k runners were heading in both directions on the single track and had plenty of words of encouragement for me and each other, and their smiles kept me motivated to keep moving.

(Out and back on the rainy Skyline Trail)

I exchanged a few words with Charles Wickersham, a 35-year-old runner from Modesto, CA, who was trying his first trail run with the 35k. He had a few flat marathons under his belt in the last six months, and I was really impressed with how well he was doing on the technical section on his way back. He definitely has the trail bug now!

One last stop at my driveway aid station for some Coke and water (mile 27, 3:40), and I took the final plunge down the Chinquapin Trail. The rain was coming down in sheets now, filling the air with fresh energy. The skies exclaimed “this ain’t nothin’ yet”, and it was obvious this was going to be a more challenging run for anyone over 6 hours. I thought of the chili waiting for me at the end, and kept up the pace.

(Grabbing snacks at the aid station in my driveway before the last plunge)

Before I knew it, the finish line was in site and I crossed the line in 4:14, good enough for third place. Despite the rest/walking, this was 10 minutes faster than I have ever done this course! Still not enough to catch Tom (who won in 4:02) or Kevin (second in 4:09), but just enough to come in ahead of Bev Abbs (first female, course record 4:15), Ryan Commons and course record holder Mike Buchanan (4:20), and Will Gotthardt (4:22) who all proved to be a lot closer than I thought. Elizabeth (Kevin’s fiancée) held on for second Woman in an impressive 4:55, just a few minutes ahead of the super-fast Karyn Hoffman. 61-year-old Carl Maes from Oakland, CA, broke 6 hours in an incredible run (5:56), just behind Kathleen Stabler who had come all the way from Albuquerque, NM. Everyone was crossing the finish line with ear-to-ear smiles.

(Mike Buchanan, Woodside 50k course record holder, poses for a quick pic)

In the 35k, 23-year-old Leor Pantilat set a course record 2:38:45, while Monica Erdosh from Foresthill, CA, claimed the Women’s title in 3:27:55 (other results can be found here). We ate chili and soup to ward off the cold, and cheered on the finishers as they came in. Mother Nature dished out a good one for us today, but she was no match for the collective spirit of the ultra community breaking in a new ultra season. Reconnecting with nature and friends, enjoying a challenging race…my heart was overflowing with anticipation and optimism for the year to come. With a few hugs and congratulations, we headed out, our sore bodies already looking forward to the next race.

(Tom Clarke and Alan Abbs dig into the post-race goodies)

(Winner Tom Clarke and me at the finish)

Thanks so much to Wendell, Sarah, and Aaron Doman and the fabulous volunteers who braved the weather to put on a fantastic race. It is days like today that I understand you are the backbone of this great sport, and set the standard for the tenacity and positive spirit that encompasses these races.

(50k 3rd place Woman Karyn Hoffman takes a quick pic at the finish)