Thursday, April 30, 2015

Happy Headwinds at the 2015 Big Sur Marathon

Last Sunday, I had the great pleasure of joining 4,500+ runners for the 30th annual Big Sur Marathon in Carmel, CA. This was my 6th time running this beautiful race down Highway 1, and the 6th time completing the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge. It was a windy one this year, but also produced the sun and ocean views that keeps us all coming back. All in all, a fantastic race!

 My girls joined on this trip, eager to help Daddy ring in his 46th birthday with cupcakes at every possible meal. Sophie, now 8 years old, is our bookworm, citing weird-but-true facts at every corner and greeting every dog with breed specific historical highlights. Quinn, now 4, is a whirlwind of laughter and drama, equally adept at eliciting smiles and ruining romantic meals in any public forum. I splurged for a room at the Cypress Inn, the Doris Day-owned hotel that is dog headquarters for Carmel, knowing they would relish a hotel where runners and dogs are at every turn, and Mommy can enjoy a daily complimentary glass of champagne. By race morning, I easily packed on a delicious and worthy extra 2-3 pounds. It’s not the hills that slow your Big Sur times, it’s the curves!

(Quinn helps me pick dessert of the day at The Forge In The Forest)

(Bart Yasso, didn't I just see you in Boston?)
 Race morning was surprisingly warm, with a clear forecast that would be a welcome change from the rainy headwind insanity of Boston six days previous. I had a chance to catch up with a few of the 400 runners doing the Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge (B2B), which just a few years ago was not much more than a dare, but now included trophies, jackets, special finish tents, and the bond of those crazy enough to pony up for the latest bragging rights. Everyone was happy for the sun, but correctly feared the wind could be troublesome. Local Brian Rowlett felt the same, and he tends to predict these perfectly.
(The color guard sets us up)

(Hangin' with the cool kids!)
  I got called out as one of the elites by the announcer at the start, which was super fun. The greatest of all B2B runners, Michael Wardian, was back this year to defend his record-setting overall win that also set Masters (2:27:45) and B2B (4:51:17!) course records. Wardian also ran the Lake Sonoma 50m the week before Boston this year because, you know, he needed a bigger challenge. ;-) Local speedster and 2013 winner Adam Roach was his biggest competition today for sure, being one of the few at the starting line capable of a sub-2:30 on this hilly course. Three time Women’s defending champion Nuta Olaru was not returning this year, which meant that Colorado’s Malia Crouse, locals Christine Taranto and Elizabeth Mueller, and Australia’s Veronica Tysseland would be contending for the crown. I had a 2:48:33 under my belt from Boston, and had hoped to score a combined time under 5:50, weather permitting, so sub-3 sounded pretty good for a goal.

(Michael Wardian and Adam Roach step up to the start)
(Here we come!)

 As the gun went off at 6:45am, we sailed down the first couple of miles of downhill and quickly found a headwind coming off the coast. This headwind, it turns out, would be strong and present for the NEXT 18 MILES. And we thought Boston was bad! Luckily I found a group of runners around the lead women to work with, and we plowed our way through to Hurricane Hill (mile 11) on a 6:45 min/mile pace. About half of the pack were first time Big Sur competitors, smiling at the enormous views that open up at every corner, and yelling their enthusiasm back through the wind to the rest of us. This truly is a magical place that brings out the child in all of us.

(All downhill to start)
(Working with my pack)
(The safety cycle leads us up to Hurricane Hill)
 Hurricane Hill was oddly calm given the crazy headwind, but when we headed down to Bixby Bridge (mile 13) we were forced to work together again as the wind stirred up more than ever. I took a short bio break and lost my pack, slowing necessarily to 7 min/miles to battle the wind solo through to the Carmel Highlands (mile 20).

(The amazing Bixby Bridge)

(Making our way up Hurricane)
(Bixby Bridge at Mile 12)
(Uh, oh...too much cake)
(That view never gets old!)
At this point my legs were good and thrashed, so I just hung on through the hills and ate as much as possible. The strawberry stand at Mile 22 did not disappoint, handing me a baseball size nugget that took a half mile to eat. YUM!

(There's that finish line!)
 I picked up six more spots on the final two miles, recognizing the faces and strides of weary runners ahead of me, only to loose steam in the last 500 yards and give one spot back. Headwinds are funny how they drain you! I crossed the finish in 3:01:57, good enough for 29th place, 3rd AG, and 7th overall for the B2B (5:50:53). Not my best here, but a solid effort given the conditions. (all results) Adam Roach (2:30:48) held off Michael Wardian (2:33:04) for the win, but Wardian cleaned up in the B2B competition with a combined time of 5:00:24! Malia Crouse (2:57) prevailed for the Women's division, beating Christine Taranto (2:59) by just a few minutes. All in all, it looked like the headwind was worth an extra 3-6 minutes for everyone.

(Beach time!)

(Phew! Another fun double)

 As I settled in at Carmel Beach, barefoot and beer-clad in the sand with my girls dancing around me, I marveled at my blessings. I had always suspected that the 40’s could be the best years of one’s life. The 20’s are just too confusing, drowning in a need for purpose that can’t be filled with anything but experience; something you don’t understand until you are in your 30’s and already worried that the easy path has passed. But in your 40’s you chill out, revel in the simplicity of your passions, young enough to breath the ocean air deeply, and old enough to appreciate its rarity. Yeah, 46 years old feels pretty damn awesome.

 My thanks to the incredible race directors, volunteers, and fellow runners of Big Sur. Congrats on making the 30th year a classic, and I hope to see you again! SD

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The 2015 Boston Marathon - A Return to Glory

The 2015 Boston Marathon was a return to glory in many ways, and a welcome one at that. For the first time in two years, the chatter among the chilly 26,000+ runners in the starting area tents returned to the familiar topics of weather strategies, expected PR’s, and life journeys to this moment, and no longer of survivors, redemption, or douchebag terrorists facing the death penalty. Those stories are now just historic footnotes in a race that has already survived 119 years, and shows no signs of stopping (tip o’ the hat to bomb survivors toeing the line at the Boston Marathon). The field of elites had never been stronger, nor the hardiness (heartiness?) of the Boston volunteers and cheering fans who don’t blink an eye at the expected rain and 20+ mph winds. This was to be my 11th consecutive Boston Marathon, and I reveled in its normalcy.

(kit ready!)
 The only strange personal twist was that the 119th Boston Marathon landed on 4/20 this year, the odd (and somewhat random) day of celebration among the marijuana enthusiasts that I now call “my industry”. They all personally know I’m a bigger fan of the runner’s high than anything green, but still, it would be strange not to partake at some level on the worldwide weed holiday. The cannabis industry is mid-renaissance here in the USA, and if the shout out today from Jon Stewart on the Daily Show was any proof, perhaps already nearing its shark-jumping moment. I’m a classic Silicon Valley guy, so I simultaneously fear I am too early and too late in this global phenomenon, but am here for the big wave surfing thrills that occurs when a $100 billion+ industry rises like a phoenix around you. It could be decades before my astrological sign combines my favorite two vices again…a shame not to embrace what fate hath destined.

 Luckily common sense stopped me from any pre-race, epitaph-worthy indulgences. That and deep-rooted personal preference, of course…we always start with the runner’s high if the opportunity presents itself. ALWAYS. EVERY DAY. Am I right?!? Today also happens to be Boston Marathon day, so a runner's high is basically guaranteed. Exercise addiction is so much more fun! (ha, ha)

(Here we go!)
  I walked down to the start amongst my pajama- and swag-clad brethren, enjoying the decorative new fashion reality brought by the restrictive no-bag drop policy. It’s good to know that 40,000+ donations are made annually to Big Brother/Big Sister and other charities in the area, but honestly, I have secretly enjoyed how wardrobe randomness is becoming one of the more charming parts of the Boston experience. One thing for sure – I wasn’t going to shed my goods in this frigid air until we all heard “30 seconds to start”. This once forgotten piece of clothing is, at this moment, the most important thing I have. Tomorrow, it may do the same for another. A powerful lesson in the humblest of moments.

(Keeping the extra clothes until the last minute)
“30 Seconds to Start.” 

 I exchanged pleasantries and good lucks to the runners around me, as we cheered on the Elite Men taking the start. The elites were definitely dressed to go fast, adding little more than gloves and hats to their singlets and shorts. Meb Keflebsghi had returned to defend his outstanding win last year, but would have to beat the best in the world to repeat, including Lesisa Desisa (winner, 2013), Dathan Ritzenheim, Wesley Korir (winner, 2012), Bernard Kipyego (third, 2012), and many more. It was also awesome to see trail runners Alex Varner (wha? didn't he just WIN the Lake Sonoma 50m last weekend?), Mike Wardian, and Sage Canaday in the pack. The elite Women were already en route to Boston, with Buzenesh Deba (2nd, 2014 with a 2:19), Mare Dibaba (another sub-2:20 runner), and American Desiree Linden setting the pace early. The wheelchair racers were going so fast ahead of them, they would finish before Wave 3 of the marathon even began. The best of the best, the fastest of the fast, and we are lined up behind them! Such a cool feeling.

(Here we go! Photo courtesy of CBC)
 As we crossed the start at 10am, I clicked on the Garmin and leaned into a relaxed but fast pace (6:40 min/mile) for the first two miles. It was cold, but the body heat could be adjusted with the pace so I just optimized for core temp. I hit the first 10k in 39:20. Fast, but it sure felt good to be warm!

(The rain made for challenging photos)
 The rain splattered us through Ashland (mile 4), Natick (mile 9), and into Wellesley (mile 11), and by the time I hit the Scream Tunnel (mile 12), I couldn’t feel my hand wet-noodling through hundreds of high fives. But I still went for it, of course!

(Fun accidental photo from a rain drop!)
 We hit the halfway (mile 13.1) in 1:23:11, and kept on pace (6:25 min/mile) into the hills (miles 18). So far, I was executing the same Boston strategy that has produced some of my best marathon finish times – pace evenly and aggressively to mile 18, count on your trail running roots to get you through the hills quickly, and the last 10k simply becomes “let’s see how bad you want it”. If you’ve done the speed work, you’ll have the gears both physically and psychologically.

 The fans were amazing through the hills, and the decibel of their excitement was exhilarating. Heartbreak Hill (mile 21) handed us a headwind on the way out, but the downhill was more than enough to hold the pace into the final flats. I glanced down at my watch and, despite working well together with my fellow fast finishers, we had slowed to a 6:35 min/mile pace. Curse you, headwind! With some quick math, I guessed I was still 30 seconds under a sub-2:50, so a little more work to do.

(Santa was there once again!)
 As we turned onto Bolyston (mile 26), it was a free for all. I leaned forward (my best Boylston kick, according to Strava) and crossed the finish in 2:48:33, right on schedule, and feeling good. That is, until we all stopped and simultaneously realized how f’ing cold it was. Foil burrito wrap thingy, please. PLEASE. NOW!!! The volunteers were angels.

(Get wrapped fast!)
 I shuffled into the warmth of the subway (free for runners!), and hustled back to the hotel room for an immediate steaming bath, lunch, and lots of water. What a crazy and adventurous Boston! The elite finishes were amazing too, with Lelisa Desisa (2:09:13) claiming the win and reclaiming the awards ceremony he missed when he won in 2013. Ethiopian Yemane Tsegey (2:09:48) and Kenyan Wilson Chebet (2:10:22) came in soon behind. The Women’s finale was epic, with Mare Dibiba and Caroline Rotich sprinting down Boylston until Rotich pulled away in the last 200 yards. Boston is most definitely back in full form.

(Lelisa Desisa, 2015 Boston Marathon champion)

 I hit the Beantown Pub for beers and stories of the day, then grabbed my PAX and settled into Carrie Nation’s for some cocktails, billiards, and quiet speakeasy celebration. The self-medication has begun! Or did it begin this morning at 10am? Vices do enjoy the company of other vices, after all. 

(If Don Draper were alive today, this is how he'd roll)
 Congrats all runners and volunteers, and thank you Bostonians for another epic adventure. I’ll see you next year! Now off to the Big Sur Marathon to complete one more set of beautiful Boston 2 Big Sur bookends, and cheer in that 46th birthday.

- SD

Sunday, April 19, 2015

I've Stolen the Injinji Instagram Account!!!

The gang at Team Injinji has, perhaps foolishly, let me take over their Instagram account for the Boston Marathon weekend. They call it a #toetakeover. Follow along, or come find me if you are here! 😇

Monday, April 13, 2015

Speed and Sun At The 2015 Presidio 10-Mile/RRCA 10-Mile National Championship

Yesterday, I joined 4,000+ runners at Crissy Field in San Francisco, CA, to soak in the sun and enjoy the challenging course of the Presidio 10-Mile road race. This was my fourth running of this hilly and fast route around the Presidio and Golden Gate Bridge put on by The Guardsmen, and it was once again the Road Runners Clubs of America (RRCA) 10-mile National Championship. It was the perfect tune up for the Boston Marathon just a week away, so I was curious to see how my tempo pace would hold up now that I was finally free of that pesky two-month chest cold. But most of all I was thrilled to join many smiling runners on a perfect sunny day and roll through the familiar world class landmarks of the area. Honestly, we have few excuses to not have a great time given our slice of California heaven. Today would be no exception!

(Hanging with the Guard Dog, the mascot for The Guardsmen)
At the starting line, you wouldn't believe that just nine years ago this race had only 300 participants. Now it's one of the bigger races in San Francisco, with a dozen sponsors including Levi's and Hint beverages, while still retaining that fun and local atmosphere. It's all thanks to The Guardsmen, a fantastic volunteer group that raises money for youth programs, where RD Damon and his hearty crew just keep improving. One thing for sure is that there would be music, pancakes, and beer at the finish...that's all the motivation I need!

After a short parking debacle (one drawback of the bigger crowds), I hustled up to the start line just in time for the 8am start. Phew! I'm worse than Cinderella at midnight with these things, I swear. It's usually at this point I realize I'm missing something (camera this time, but have shown up without shoes before, so anything that doesn't involve sprinting in Crocs is fine by me), and laugh to myself that Mr. Big Shot Chief Blah-Blah Officer is basically a preparation train wreck any given weekend. Then again, maybe that fly-by-night freedom is part of the release that makes racing so fun. It wasn't so long ago that racing was the only structure my life had. 

(And we're off!)
We were sent off into the Presidio hills at 8am sharp, and the front runners immediately stretched out the massive pack of runners. As we cruised the first half mile of flat, I ran with former Women's champ and new Mom Sarah Hallas while we watched a pack of five set off on a 5:45 min/mile pace into the first set of hills. I settled into 12th or so, knowing this course was all about saving your legs for the turnover required on the last 2.5 miles. So far, so good!
(Through the barracks we go..)
As we rolled through the barracks of the Presidio and climbed to the top of the peak, I was already running alone and enjoying a few flashbacks. I love how when you run a race a few times, you can remember the puddles of '12, the Boston Strong colors of '13, the cold naked guy of '11...the streets become alive with your memories. At the turnaround (mile 2), it was South Lake Tahoe's Alex Sharp setting the pace, with Turlock, CA's Vojta Ripta, and known-speedster from Santa Rosa, Ezra Becker, both within a few steps. Sarah Hallas had some good competition from SF's Angela Strange, about 10 slots behind us. The second mile marker was about 0.8 we all had a good chuckle as we eased into our world record pace.

(The lead pack takes the downhill fast)
My downhill form let me pick up a few more positions (thanks, trail running!) before we headed into the long stretch across the Golden Gate Bridge. The wind was perfectly still, the sun had baked off the slippery fog, and the police had done a great job clearing the walkways of tourists. Basically, no excuses left, so tuck in those elbows and go, go, GO! The speed check machines clocked us at 11 mph, so I knew we were moving fast. Yet somehow the guys in front of me never get closer...the long distance mirage. 

(Just follow those cones all the way across the bridge)
(Okay, time to put the camera away!)
By the time I finished the return trip on the bridge (mile 6), I had worked my way up to 9th, and picked up one more slot on the downhill bomb to Crissy Field. I was a good 30 seconds off my time of previous years, so it would take some serious stomach-churning digging to get this race done sub-60 minutes. I focused on what I could do, and saw that I was within 30 seconds of two more in front, but also had four guys closing on me quickly. These short races are so tactical! You can't just wait for 10-20% of them to blow up like the ultras. My legs were burning, and I couldn't help but do the math that I would need to pick up 15 seconds/mile to catch these guys when I am already nearing my top speed. 
(Heading down from the bridge, photo courtesy of Chris Bragg)
(The leaders head into the final stretch)
"Well, bad do you want it?"

It's always the question that hits my head at this point, and for some reason, the voice always sounds like Sean Connery in his 007 heyday. If I've put in the training, my head always finds the same answer. I want it, and I want it all. Unapologetically. I want to catch that guy with the grey hair and pick up my 4th RRCA Masters win. I want to simulate the pain I will feel when I go flat out on Boylston Street at next week's Boston Marathon and take a few precious seconds off my marathon PR. I want to earn my beer, pancakes, and post-race PAX'ing. I want my 4-year-old daughter, Quinn, to sprint around the house for hours with my medal around her neck pretending she is winning. I want what we all want...everything I can get by maxing this moment. Honestly, is that too much to ask?
So I leaned forward, stood tall, and pushed my leg turnover to a road runner blur. The pain felt good, cleansing. My form was holding up despite protest from every orifice, but the self-destruct time clock had also been set. With a mile to go, I reeled in one runner as I went gasping by. With 500 yards to go, I pulled in one more while the tunnel vision poured in. Then the finish line came...1:01:17 for 6th, and the Master's win...not my fastest here, but enough for the day.

(To the finish!)
As I hydrated and enjoyed the free breakfast and beer, I found out that Vojta Ripta (59:18) had won, with Ezra Becker (59:37), and Alex Sharp (59:49) all coming in under one hour. Angela Strange (1:03:51) won the Women's division just a few weeks ahead of her wedding, holding off Sarah Hallas (1:04:38) and Sarah Portman (1:05:35). There were also a number of outstanding age group performances, including Roseville, CA's Steven Butler (M55-59, 1:06:29) and Colorado's Bruce Kirschner (M60-64, 1:08:35!). Turns out the "grey haired guy" in front of me was 25 years old...he just happened to have light colored hair. I guess we all see what we need to see in the moment! All in all, an amazing day.

(Hanging with Chris Bragg and William Smith, who was 9th in 1:02:02)
(The band rocks out the 80's tunes)
(Selfie city near the bridge)
(Some nice bling and a tee)
My thanks to The Guardsmen, their great sponsors, and the fun volunteers who continue to make this race so much fun. Next stop, Boston! Hope to see some of you there.

(Quinny gets her medal)
(See what she's like with a medal? So worth it. ;-) )
- SD

Latest Excursions