Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Wet and Wild 2018 Boston Marathon

Courage in the face of great odds.

Triumph over adversity.

When the prepared overcome the unexpected.

When we, the endurance warriors, toe the line at a race, this is the shared and unspoken dream we hope unfolds. We don’t train so it all goes easily; we train to be laughing at the top of our lungs when the shit hits the fan at Mach 2. If it doesn’t, we just sign up for a new race and go longer, higher, harder, and in more extreme conditions until it does. It is the perpetual pursuit of the real.

And when “the real” delivers? Ooohh man, that’s the good stuff. Ambrosia for the soul. Stripped to the core, ditching our self-imposed ego baggage along the way out of sheer survival, the finish line cleanses us in unexpected ways every time. We dig deep to get there, unearthing pockets of courage, persistence, and humility that powers us beyond our own high expectations, then cross that finish line forever changed. For days afterwards, every moment has a perfect beauty, a glow that hums from the bruises, chafe, and lactic acid-filled muscles that scream in harmony with every handrail-gripping step down the stairs. Those around us may question why we do this, but we know is nothing short of glorious.

(Runners tackling the weather at the 2018 Boston Marathon, photo courtesy of The Boston Globe) 
The 2018 Boston Marathon delivered big time this year. In 14 consecutive Bostons, I have never seen anything like the nonstop weather calamity of this one. From this day forward, “I ran Boston in 2018” is instant legacy and permission to tell the tale of the snow drifts and mud fields at the start, the relentless 20-30mph headwinds that kept the wind chill below freezing, and the endless sheets of rain that sent thousands to the medical tents along the course. A coach at the finish line summed it up perfectly for me - if you made it to Boston 2018, you are a hero. If you finished, YOU ARE A GOD.

(Yes, that's snow along the tent, and enough mud to soak every foot)

(Layer up!)
I arrived at the start layered up like I was trying to avoid an airline $25 luggage fee by wearing all of my clothes at once. Inov-8 shirt, vest, sleeves, gloves, cashmere hoodie (that the moths got to), peacoat (a gift two sizes two big), jeans, a homemade garbage bag hoodie that a homeless guy showed me how to make, extra shoes to toss at the start, and a big roll of contractor garbage bags to hand out (they lasted 15 minutes). My fellow warriors were similarly clad, with extensive use of grocery bag-wrapped feet, shower caps, and hazmat suits. The snow was piled up along the tents in the athlete village, and three inches of mud faced anyone trying to enter, yet there were plenty of smiles and cheers of encouragement once you got in. You don’t come to Boston and not run. You come to eat up everything it has to offer. It was good to have some playmates!

(Layered up and ready to roll!)
I was in Corral 2 this year (#1644…gotta work on that), but had no visions of PR’s today despite being fit. Pictures were also a no go, so the focus would be on “just don’t get hypothermia”. We all yelled out a cheer as the elites lined up at the start – once again, it was the best runners in the world, with a particularly deep field of Americans in the Women’s division (Shalane, Des, Huddle, etc.). I found comfort knowing they were right in front of us, all in for the big dance, come hell or high water (and a forecast for both).

As we sang the national anthem and did the final countdown, I stripped down, but couldn’t get myself to shed the warmth of the soaked cashmere hoodie cinched tight around my face. It may not be fashionable, and the sleeves were already hanging to my knees, but dang it, it was comfy! So be it. My first Boston in a cinched cashmere hoodie with seal flipper sleeves. Let’s roll!

(And we're off! Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe)
It only took a mile before the waves of rain came like the apocalypse, but we got strength from cheering Bostonians who lined the streets in their duck shoes and umbrellas (and a few semi-naked just for fun). The speed of the clouds felt like time lapse thanks to the headwind, and you could see each black cluster of rain and sleet soar through the sky before pelting us with half frozen evil delight. There were some groans, but if it got too bad, you could count on yet another runner doing a Bill Murray Caddyshack impression saying “I don’t think the heavy stuff is going to come down for quite some time”. Yup, still funny!

(Fa, fa, fa, fashion! Photo courtesy of USA Today)
By the 10k mark (40:52), the temperature had dropped again (felt about 35 degrees), and I tucked in with a group of runners that were moving fast. The fog of their charging breath whipped past my head, and the puddle stomping made it feel like rain was coming in all directions. Intros were short, using first name and city/country for brevity, but I soon found “Jamie, Buffalo”, “Rolf, Switzerland”, “Michael, Indianapolis”, and “Rico, Sao Paulo” to be just the right pace. I felt warm enough to chuck the hoodie, just before getting a photo with Santa and having my GoPro die.

(The ever-enthusiastic women of Wellesley)
(...except for that hot shower!)
The women of Wellesley (mile 11) were sparse this year, but those who showed made up for it with soaking, screaming enthusiasm. I swapped wet sloppy kisses on the cheek with my favorite sign holder (“blue lip kisses rule!”), then pushed on through the halfway point (mile 13.1) in 1:24:22. Although I wasn’t paying attention to time, a quick pace was required to keep hypothermia at bay!

(Only the bravest would courtesy of The Boston Globe)
The temperature picked up a well-needed five degrees once we hit the hills of Newton, but Mother Nature made up for it with a relentless wind that tossed us back and forth. The medical tents were all full of runners at this point (mile 16-20), and we were still in the first 1,500 runners! I would later learn that nearly 2,500 were treated for hypothermia symptoms. The critical error seemed to be slowing to a walk and not being able to warm back up, so I kept on my food and hydration and stuck to the quick pace.

By mile 23, my hands and feet were permanently numb, and my hearing started to go (this happens when I get super cold) so I grouped with a few more runners (“Daniel, Denver” and “Brian, Texas”) and we encouraged each other to the final stretch. Boylston gave us a welcome tailwind for about a half a mile, and I finished in 2:53:22 for 819th. A cold but controlled race, feeling good at the finish, so I was quite pleased with the result.

(Des Linden decisively captures the win)
(Yuki Kawauchi, the nicest elite there is, takes home the win)
It wasn’t until I jogged back to my Airbnb rental and jumped in a hot bathtub fully clothed that I learned that Yuki Kawauchi (2:15) had won, and Des Linden (2:39) had won the Women’s division (American women took 7 of the top 10 slots), both breaking 30+ year firsts. Des had her full jacket and mittens on at the finish, and had once again run a nearly perfect split in her sixth attempt. I was so stoked for her! In her post race interview, she recommends to everyone else to just “do the hard work, and keep showing up”. Yup, so true, and something all of the finishers today can relate to.  Extra special that two of the most humble athletes in our sport came out on top in the most dramatic conditions.

(A little pub fare to get warmed up again)

(A finish worthy of celebration!)
I warmed up enough to hit the Boston pubs and relish my favorite part of the weekend, which is hearing the stories of triumph for all the other runners. The veterans among us assured the first timers that this was an epic year, and it couldn’t possibly get any worse. Or maybe, just maybe, it will! Either way, you have to come back. ;-) The tales poured out from Miami, Colorado Springs, Mexico City, Dublin, Tokyo, Auckland, Nashville, Milton (MA), all with camaraderie and a renewed sense of passion. We were all aglow.

My thanks to Boston, the race directors, and the hearty volunteers and cheering crews who stayed out there all day for us. You are the reason this is one of the greatest races in the world! Also a big thanks to inov-8 for keeping me fast, and Injinji for miraculously leaving my feet with no blisters after 26.2 miles in the rain,  I will see you again next April, if not sooner!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Fun In the Fog at the 2018 Marin Ultra Challenge 50k

It was a calm and foggy morning at the start of the 2018 Marin Ultra Challenge (MUC) 50k - great conditions for running, not so much for sight seeing. This was my 4th consecutive year at this headline race from Inside Trail Racing, and I know we can have anything from hot and steamy to cold and windy in the Marin Headlands this time of year. The trails were in great condition, so it would likely be an epic day!

(Lining up at the start for the sold out race)
(Headlights line the ridge of the first climb!)
I had no specific goals for this race, aside from wanting to run a consistent pace from start to finish, up and down the 5,000' vertical of climbing. If I could get a few pics along the way, even better! As we prepared for the 6am send off, I shed my last few layers, opting for gloves, a hat, and a tank top, and said a little thanks to Mother Nature for (hopefully) holding off the storm for a few hours.

The course this year went straight up Hill 88 (groan), but that didn't stop Franz Van Der Groen, Chris Jackson, Lon Freeman (in the 50-mile!), and Jeff Mogavero from setting a blistering pace up front. I slotted about 30 spots back, looking for good picture spots as we climbed above the clouds.

(Getting above the clouds, then turning around to jump back in!)
I recognized the back of the head of Lucas Shuman just ahead of me, a deja vu moment as I had just chased him through Purisima OSP at the Whistle Punk Half just a few weeks ago. He was once again my likely competition for the Masters, and once again descending like a madman! I cruised along with Katie Asmuth (50m), up from Culver City for her first trip to the Marin Headlands, and I tried to point out where the views will be as soon as the fog burns off. She was thrilled to be here, and looked forward to seeing ALL of the Headlands today.

(Cruising with Katie)
(Charging the climb, photo courtesy of ChasquaRunner)
Matt Ward and Ian Grettenburger (both 50m) were all laughs heading up the next climb, so I joined them as we ascended out of the fog. The Golden Gate Bridge was poking through the fast moving clouds like a shark was wonderful! As we ran along the ridge, the fog pushed up to us like crashing waves.

(Matt and Ian in good spirits)

(These climbs get steep!)
(There's the Golden Gate Bridge!)
It was a pleasure to descend Marincello (so often the courses go up this section), plunging into the clouds again, and Chris Denucci got me filled up (with a solid selfie to boot) at Tennessee Valley (mile 10). I was feeling really good thanks to the cool weather, so allowed myself to pick up the pace for the second third of the race, heading towards the beach.

(Chris Denucci gets me filled up)
(The clouds wash up to the trail)

(We climb the ridge)
(Hold your breath, we are going back in!)
(Above the clouds, photo courtesy of ChaquaRunner)
I teamed up with 23-year-old Eduardo Nunez, a recent transplant to San Francisco from Minnesota, and we quickly figured out he was faster on the descents and I was quicker on the climbs. We got down into Pirate's Cove, but could only hear the crashing waves in the distance before turning back up to Muir Beach. I lightened my load at the aid station (at a real bathroom, what a treat!), then chased Ed and Truckee's Peter Bromhall down the street and towards the climb up Miwok.

(Ed is in there somewhere!) 
(Peter enjoys the greenery)
(Ed pulls out of the clouds)
Peter is the Assistant Race Director for the Canyons 100k in Auburn, CA, a race he is planning to do this year, so MUC was a good warm up race for him. As soon as we hit the climb, I peeled off to catch Ed, then later Bryon Powell (the other Bryon Powell), and didn't see a soul until I pulled back into Muir Beach (mile 20) and high-fived waves of 50m runners. Everyone was having a great time!

(Having fun, photo courtesy of ITR)

(50-milers getting it done!)

I charged up the steep climb of Middle Green Gate, recalling this is the climb that broke Lance Armstrong when he ran this race with us in 2016 (he regrouped and got a solid 7th). Oakland's Sam Demello was fast hiking, and was thrilled when he asked if we were half way yet, and I said "mile 22...two more climbs and you are done!". I kept pushing, allowing myself to red line as we got close to the top.
(Sam in getting it done!)
(Fast downhills, photo courtesy of ITR)
Back at Tennessee Valley (mile 25), they let me know Lucas was less than a minute ahead of me, so I leaned into the hill to try and catch him. After 30 minutes of pushing hard, I saw him tearing into the final descent and knew I wouldn't quite match his downhill prowess. I finished in 7th place (4:29), 2nd Master behind Lucas (4:28). Maybe I shouldn't have taken so many pictures! Still, a great day.
I felt like I could have gone another 10 miles at this pace, so clearly my fitness is going well this year.

(The final stretch, photo courtesy of ChasquaRunner)
(Find that finish, whoop, whoop!)
(Race Director Tim Stahler taking care of us) 
(Enjoying some post-race beers)
(Happy volunteers keep us fed!)
It's such a blessing to have good health, and even more so to enjoy it to the fullest in this beautiful playground. The post-race glow was marvelous, so I changed my clothes and got ready for a few hours of chillin'. We shared a few beers while cheering in the other 25k and 50k runners, and heard that Fort Bragg's Jeff Mogavero (3:42) had won the 50k with a new course record! It's hard to imagine going 1 minute/km faster on that course, as fast as I was going....that guy is amazing. Mill Valley's Jenny Comiskey came in soon after me (4:36, 9th OA) to win the Women's division, a solid 20 minutes ahead of her competition. (all results)

Another perfectly executed MUC by Inside Trail Racing, another beautiful day in the mountains. I can't wait for the next one!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Feel Lucky, Punk? Good Times at the Baytrailrunners Whistle Punk Half (Feb '18)

Last Sunday, Race Director Robert Rhodes and the Baytrailrunners Crew hosted their 7th Whistle Punk Half, a trail half marathon through the gorgeous (and steep!) Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve near my home in Woodside, CA. It was a beautiful day, and we made the most of it! More pics than text for this one - just a great day in the forest.

(Robert gets the 80+ runners organized)
 It was a classic winter California day - a chilly 38 degrees in the shade, but pushing 50 degrees in the sun. Layers would be key!

(And we are off!)
(100 feet of flat, then miles of downhill)
The term "Whistle Punk" comes from the old logging days of the 1850's, where the person who sounded the horn when a tree was coming down was called the whistle punk. Robert gave us a blast of the horn as we fell down the hillside.

(We immediately plunge down the first half mile)
(Save those quads!)
(The canopy was chilly)
(Jim is looking forward to the sunny sections)

(Get that sun, Jim!)
(First peak nabbed!)
(And down we go...that's the Pacific Ocean to the right)
(Ahhh, there's that sun!) 
(On the fast Craig Britton Trail)
(Moving fast on the Craig Britton Trail)
(Love this trail!)
(Dancing among the giants)
There was a lot of fast running on the descent to Grabtown Gulch (still my favorite part of Purisima), which quickly slowed most to a fast hike. This is a steep 2.5-mile pitch and you have to save yourself for an even bigger climb at the end, so worth saving up!

(Heading up Grabtown Gulch) 
(Derek is almost to the top!)
(Robert and his Dad manning the aid station)
I met Derek on the climb up (also representing A Runner's Mind in Burlingame, one of the race sponsors), and he was glad to see the aid station. I got a pic, then pushed forward to catch up to Jamil, who had come down from Sonoma County to enter his second trail race of all time, and the longest one yet. He was doing great!

(Jamil getting it done)

(Jamil says thanks to aid station volunteers...just four miles to go!)
Jamil and I chatted briefly into the last descent, and I learned about his amazing health journey where he did some good living in Hawaii, lost 30 lbs, then came back to be a chef. Despite the lively conversation, we almost broke his one mile PR as we came into the last aid station (mile 9). I let Jamil know it's the first third of this last climb that is a doozy, and he smartly paced himself while I recklessly went forward in search of Strava KOM's to no avail.

(The final climb!)
(Doing the climb, photo courtesy of Edmundo Pacheco)
(Into the sun, almost there!)
I felt great on the last climb (1:55), but not quite enough to catch our winner, Lucas Shuman (1:47). Derek passed Jamil in the last mile to nab third, and Kim Beil, Jamie Fend, and Alyssa Dunlap (not related!) won the Women's division.

(Awesome finish medals/coasters)
(Derek brings it home!)
(Jamie Fend and Kim Beil take 2nd and 1st Woman)
My thanks to Robert and his crew for throwing a great party, and giving us all an excuse to play in the forest all morning. If you're looking for a chill race up in these here parts, this is a great one, as is the Whiskey Hill Redwood Run on March 25. Hope to see you there!