Thursday, August 02, 2018

Victory at the 2018 San Francisco Double Marathon

Last Saturday, I had the great pleasure of joining ~100 ultrarunners for the two-sided fun of the 2018 San Francisco Double Marathon. I say “two-sided” because this race has a unique way of showing you two completely different views of this great city while essentially being the exact same course. How, you ask? Well, you start with the first loop of the SF Marathon course in reverse at 11pm (among full traffic and drunken partygoers), then after a short break, take over the city with 23,000 runners for the official SF Marathon at 5:30am. Same course, but two wildly different experiences! 

(Me with Dean Karnazes, the man who started this crazy race)
Dean Karnazes has invited me to this run for years, when it started as an unofficial double with his Krazy friends. In 2015, it was “legitimized” as an official race option and has grown in participation ever since. I ran it last year for the first time and instantly understood why so many runners came back year after year. There’s nothing quite like it.

(The crazy SF doublers!)

(Claire Gladstone poses at the start, photo courtesy of Claire)
(This guy was crazy enough to pace the 4:55 group on the second marathon. Now that's confidence!)
(Super volunteer Penny McPhail, aka Chicken Lady)
 I watched the sun set as I drove up, parking near the Ferry Building with more than enough time to suit up and get ready. Dean came running up to the start just in time to hear Race Director Lauri Abrahamsen and Course Director Michael Li give us final instructions (Dean had run 18 miles to the start from his house in Marin, as one does). As we crossed the street to the start area, the SFPD had a completely naked man cuffed and face down on the pavement…welcome to the city! We swapped hellos with other runners, and found out there was a pretty good mix of returning athletes, first timers, and a handful trying their first ultra. The weather was an ideal 57 degrees, so with a hoot and holler, Lauri sent us off down the Embarcadero.

(And we're off!)
 Carlsbad, CA’s Stefan Asbock (3rd here last year) set a blistering sub-7 min/mile pace and was soon out of sight, while the rest of us snapped pics of the Bay Bridge and grouped up by pace. My legs wanted to go fast, so within a few miles I was running solo, the RunGo app whispering turn-by-turn directions into my ear as I watched for Stefan in the distance.

 By mile 3, I caught Stefan and we paired up through the Dogpatch and Mission districts. The streets were not blocked off, so it helped to have two headlights to part the sea of revelers on the busy sidewalks. We stuck together through the Haight district, where the cannabis smoke hung in the air with delicious intensity. I hope the aid station is coming soon, I’m getting hungry! But like a total wannabe stoner, I obliviously went right by the aid station.

(The mobile aid station takes care of us, photo courtesy of Michael Li)
 Stefan did find the mobile aid station, so I found myself running through Golden Gate Park by myself. The nocturnal animals lurked everywhere in the fog, including deer, coyote, and what looked like a family of skunk (run away!). A pack of rats devoured a garbage bag so quickly it looked like the bag was rolling down the street, right up until an owl swooped down and picked a squeaking rat from the pack and soared into the clouds, scattering the remaining vermin to the sewers. I’m so glad I did this race – how else would I see the wild side of Park life?
(Raccoons head to work!)
 I refueled at the second mobile aid station (mile 10), with Stefan coming in just as I headed out along the Great Highway. A quick two mile out and back, with plenty of high fives with fellow ultrarunners as we reentered Golden Gate Park and headed towards the Presidio. The city was dead quiet, the streets filled only with the sounds and shadows of my solo running (a great zombie-apocalypse kind of moment). I caught a cool breeze heading up the climb to Baker Beach, and knocked on the window of the mobile aid station minivan (mile 20) where Janeth Siva and Ed Lui got me filled up. They confirmed I was well ahead of schedule (surprise!), and sent me under the bridge.

(Volunteers Janeth Siva and Ed Lui pose with Dean, photo courtesy of Janeth)
(Like angels in the night!)
(Golden Gate at night, photo courtesy of Claire)
 Another coyote tracked along with me through Crissy Field, tag teaming with one more who followed me to Ghirardelli Square. Local escorts! I had no idea coyotes were so plentiful here. Fisherman’s Wharf was, much like last year, the most rats I have ever seen in one place (and a guarantee I’ll never eat at that restaurant). Before long, I reached the finish (3:14:16) and got right to eating fresh meal and changing into fresh clothes.

 I had about a three hour gap before the next marathon started, and spent most of that time eating, drinking, stretching, and moving around. I had learned from last year that taking a nap was a sure way to lock up your legs, so best to stay alert! Stefan (3:33, and with the best post-race chocolate) and Kevin Cochrane (3:49, although with an extra mile, so technically our first ultramarathoner) came in soon after me, and then a steady stream of runners shedding their headlamps and tights for sunscreen and shorts. Round two would begin soon enough!

(Here we go again!)
 At 4:15am, I peeked my head out to the start line and saw nobody. Forty-five minutes later, the Embarcadero was filled with 15,000 runners ready to go! I made it to Corral A just as it left the start area, and slowly warmed my legs up. One…more…lap!

 Lots of company on this lap, with languages from all over the world. As the fog lifted to reveal the Golden Gate Bridge, there were just as many “Vunderbar!”s as “Formidable”s. We squeezed onto the sidewalk (no road closure on the bridge this year), cheering Jorge Maravilla (1st), Alex Varner (4th), and Michael Wardian (10th) as they returned on the other side. There was a fun dirt fire road to get under the bridge this year, and some more trail from the bridge to Hwy 1…trail running rules!

(The Golden Gate Bridge in daytime!)
 My pace picked up considerably as we entered Golden Gate Park (mile 11), the circadian rhythm of the morning bringing me back to life. I passed the 3:45 pace group, then 3:30, then….2:45?!? Oh wait, that’s the half marathoners. (ha, ha)

(Best aid station volunteers ever! Photo courtesy of Claire)
 Once we hit Haight Street, most of us knew the climbing parts were over. Although only 1,200 feet of climbing in total, San Fran has a way to dishing it out swiftly and painfully. I rallied with a few hungry marathoners through the final miles, grateful that the clouds never really broke enough to make it hot. I cruised in to the finish pulled by two sub-3:30 BQ hopefuls, feeling good, and ready for some breakfast.

(There's that finish!)
(Next up, pancakes!)
  The first to greet me as a volunteer saying “congratulations…you won the double!”. I was shocked, by both the win and that they could pick me out of the crowd of finishers. He was happy to oblige my desire for pancakes with a VIP pass, where I got to catch up with repeat marathon winner Jorge Maravilla (and Joaquin!), Alex Varner, and other top finishers, as well as sponsors from Generation UCAN, Air France, and BioFreeze, before heading to the stage for our awards. This race is so official now! The pomp was a lot of fun though.

(On stage for the awards)
(Lots of swag indeed!)
 The official results had me at 3:14:16 + 3:29:38 = 6:43:54 for first, with Stefan Asbock (3:33 + 3:43 = 7:17) in 2nd, and Bradley Fenner (4:01 + 3:50 = 7:52) in 3rd. Twenty-one year old Sadie McGirr (4:25 + 4:38 = 9:03) won the Women’s division. Jorge Maravilla (2:27) and San Francisco’s Bonnie Tran (2:54) won the Marathon, and based on what I heard, a lot of PR’s and BQ’s were clocked.

(Jorge Maravilla for the victory!)
 Once again, a fantastic race experience, and I am already eager to try it again! My thanks to Lauri, Michael, and their ultra crew for helping keep this special ultra alive and thriving, and to Dean for scheming it up in the first place. I hope to see you again soon!

Also a special thanks to inov-8 (kick ass shoes), injinji (52.4 miles and no blisters says it all), and my sponsors for keeping my training on track!

Monday, July 09, 2018

A Day at Mt. Fuji

Halfway through my family vacation in Japan this June, we had the opportunity to experience Mt. Fuji with a few days in the Fuji Five Lakes area. Such a magical place! Here are is a quick photo montage in case you are interested.

(We arrived in June, the tail end of the "rainy season". If you want to hike to the top, best to come in late July)
(The traditional Japanese breakfast is a true feast! Fish, eggs, miso, green up and marinate in the onsen and you're ready for a day on the mountain.)
(The historic Yoshida Trail has goes right to the top of the mountain, and has been a  rite of passage for thousands of years. I woke up at 7am, and didn't see a single person all the way.)
(Yorishiro, in the Shinto religion, are objects capable of attracting and holding spirits (kami). Giant cypress and cedar trees are some of the most sacred, particularly those that are near shrines like 700+ yr old “Taro”, here donning the traditional shiminawa (braided rice or hemp rope) with shide (paper lightning bolts) at the base of the Yoshida Trail up to Mt. Fuji. I was here in a thunderstorm a few weeks ago (a wonderful shinrin-yoku moment), calm and quiet, feeling safe and connected. It has been with me ever since, just a few deep breaths away, like a favorite dream. )
(Taking shelter in a shrine on the way up)
(Later in the day, we took the bus up to the Fifth Station so the kids could check it out. Quinn displayed her prayer skills at the shrine)
(Sorry, kitties back at home...)
(Later in the day, we hiked the "Sea of Trees", the Aokigohara Forest. Those in Western cultures may know this as "Suicide Forest", due to the high numbers of suicides that occur here. There's no creepy vibe here. In fact, when you talk to locals about how Japanese view their focus on the cultural collective and their views on end of life and ties to nature, one quickly understands why it seems fitting.)
(All over Japan, you can find examples of great design and attention to detail. Here a manhole cover is turned into a work of art)
(Christi and Sophie stare down a Mt. Fuji-sized plate of tempura, while we listen to a Japanese singer cover American tunes like John Mayer and John Denver)
There was so much more to this trip, and perhaps someday I'll have the time to put it into words. I highly recommend checking it out!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Full Circle at the 2018 Quicksilver 100k

3am has a special stillness in the mountains. It's as if the earth itself takes a breather from its perpetual spin to float in the dark expanse, and as gravity eases for just a moment, we all get a bit closer to the cosmos above. I had forgotten what that felt like - that connection to nature and the universe all at once. But its one of the many unexpected gifts that await us when we shake up our world with an adventure like the Quicksilver 100k near Los Gatos, CA. As the world sleeps, we are gearing up for a full day romp in this wonderful playground. I hadn't taken a single step yet, but was already happy and humbled!

(Boss says it's time to roll!)
(We are crazy, we are ultrarunners!)
(Plenty of smiles at the start)
Those first few steps could go either way today, honestly. I hadn't run a step in two weeks after a gravity-assisted marathon PR that reduced my quads to hamburger. But the QS100k wasn't on the agenda to race, it was just to finish, nab a Western States qualifier and some UTMB points, and share a sunny day in the mountains with ~200 fellow warriors. Another ~180 runners would tackle the 50k a bit later, and tempt us to drop as they dished out the world famous BBQ at the finish (aka, mile 41 and 62 for us 100k runners). All in all, a great excuse to enjoy every minute of this day.

(Catching up with my friend, TJ)
As retiring Race Director Greg Lanctot and Co-RD Stuart Taylor assembled us at the start, I could see there were plenty here ready to race. This is a perfect check point for Western States in June, with 12,000' of climbing and plenty of long hikes and downhills on exposed terrain in Almaden Quicksilver Park and the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve. Defending Western States champion Cat Bradley was here, as was 100k Road Masters champion Thomas Reiss, Lake Tahoe Triple champ Gaspar Mora Porta, perennial favorite Jean Pommier, and a handful of 20-somethings that look like they could crush this course before lunch time. The 50k had legend Rob Krar up against Team inov-8's Coree Woltering, Chris Denucci, Montana's Rhea Black, the never-aging Cliff Lentz, and Helen Galarakis from Flagstaff...that race was going to be fast for sure! We all flipped on our headlights, and at 4:45am the 100k runners headed into the indigo hills.

(The sunrise glow greets us at the top)
The air was already warm (~65F), so it didn't take long for us to shed all of our gloves and sleeves. I paced along with Mark Tanaka and Ray Sanchez, joking that between the two of them and Jean Pommier up ahead, they had over 650 ultra finishes on ultrasignup. How do they do it?!? Well, they just race all the fact, all three had finished the equally challenging Miwok 100k the previous Saturday. Mark did point out to me this would be my 100th ultrasignup result, so perhaps I am no slouch. Thanks, Mark!

(A few more minutes of shade!)
(Chris Eide and I get a smile boost)
(Feeling good!)
The trails were immaculately marked, so it was easy to go on cruise control and enjoy the scenery and company. There would be five big climbs today, and the first one went down easy like a nice lemonade. As the sun crested the hill, we could see bunnies and quail darting back and forth between the shrubs. We were a bit more cooked on the second climb, where the aptly named "Dog Meat" brought most of us to a hike. My quads seemed to be holding up well as long as I took it easy.

(Dog Meat cooks us up!)
On the next descent, we saw the leaders coming back, with local Ben Eysenbach and Jean Pommier a few minutes ahead of a group of five. Cat Bradley looked good around 10th place, and all were running the climbs with ease. I got to the aid station at the bottom (mile 25), likely around 35th place, and fast hiked the return.

(Cat Bradley is all smiles)
San Jose's Qi Song was my trail mate as we covered the rolling hills back to the Wood Road aid stations (mile 31). We compared stories of the crazy Boston Marathon this year, running life in our late 40's, and admired the rattlesnake sunning just off the trail. She was a much faster climber than me, but I had one more gear than her on the flats. We had two or three others with us, all trading off and giving high fives.

(Chihping Fu!)
(Chihping and I have been dueling cameras for over a decade...this time we draw at high noon!)
(Wise hat choice)
At Hicks Road (mile 38), I noticed I was already trying to catch up on hydration. It was in the mid-70's now, but more so than the heat was the reality that I hadn't spent much time training for these super long runs. Reaching for the water bottles was a reminded thing, not an instinctual thing, and I had fallen behind by 30-40 ounces. My new pal Eduardo Nunez (we had met at the Marin Ultra Challenge 50k earlier this year) seemed to be a similar state, regrouping but not giving up yet.  I chugged down as much as my stomach would handle, and headed out.

(Second half excitement!)
(Watch your step!)
We passed through the finish chute (mile 41 for us, but we'll be back!) and I got a selfie with Coree who helped me refill my bottles. He had taken a fall at mile 8 of the 50k, but rallied to get 2nd behind Rob Krar. Amazing! The BBQ smell was tempting, so I just hustled out to commit to the last third of the race, knowing it would be waiting for me.

(Coree helps me out after getting 2nd in the 50k!)
My form was getting sloppy as I warded off twitchy calves, and just as I worried about my shuffle on the single track, I caught a toe and took a digger that left my hands bleeding. Whoops! Well, not much to do about it now, so I pressed on solo for the next 90 minutes. By the time I reached the 4th peak (Bull Run aid station, mile 48), my quads were in way worse shape than my hands. Luckily there were plenty of Quicksilver Club runners to get me seated, eating, washed, and sucking down popsicles. Eduardo joined me for a break, and with an inspiring calf-cramping dance, got us off on that last loop.

(Still smiling!)

(Last loop means lots of smiles)
The turkey/avocado sandwiches were just the trick for both Eduardo and me, and we had enough energy to run and walk our way to McAbee (mile 54). I tried the same recipe there, but it didn't stay down, so it would have to be the zombie climb back up the hill. The scenery was a nice distraction though, as the Lexington reservoir shimmered below us. In the suffering, I found that calm that reminded me that yesterday is gone, and tomorrow isn't to make the most of right here, right now. I could see runners dotting the hills in front and behind me...I was solo, but not alone!

(The hills are filled with runners)
(Keep it moving...)
(Gravity is good!)
(Super volunteers get me rolling again)
Eduardo rallied me one more time at Bull Run (mile 59...almost there!), and we shuffled our way through the relentless up and down to the finish. So many runners passed me, but it was inspiring to see how they had so much energy and words of encouragement. I soon found the finish in 14:04, good enough for 58th place.

(BBQ time)
(Sport that buckle all day!)
(Excellent swag includes a glass, reusable cup, Patagonia shirt and hat, and buckle with frame!)
Once my stomach returned, we enjoyed some great BBQ and shared stories as the sun went down. Ben Eysenbach (9:53) had led end-to-end for the win, with Jean Pommier (10:22) and Ian Driver (10:54) filling out the podium. Cat Bradley (11:15, 7th OA) handily won the Women's division, with Wendy Staniker (12:11), and Ken Huang (12:35) finishing soon after. Overall, 166 runners (75%) made it under the cutoff. (all results) One other runner reminded me I was here for the 50k in 2007...11 years ago! I had come full circle.

I donned the excellent swag, and let out one last cheer as I headed home. My mind was clear and present, and my body was happy to sink into a week long break. Happiness earned is the best kind!

My thanks to the RD's and fabulous volunteers for such a great race!